Friday, April 29, 2011

In brightest day...

Consumer Reports News discusses a study aimed at determining the shape of the "green" movement's image problem:

Those asked said that going green is too expensive, too niche and only for "crunchy granola hippies or rich elite snobs."

The study was conducted by OgilvyEarth, an advertising firm dedicated to "mainstreaming green". Within, they offered an interpretation of the results:

Then there’s the guilt. "Green is a major mood kill," said the study. "People told us they feel guilty about everything from their flat screen TV to their Sunday paper to their Christmas tree," said OgilvyEarth. "Flooded with guilt, they want to retreat to the comfort of ignorance."

Way to fight the image of elitism and snobbery, guys.

Seriously, I love the idea of living sustainably. I love fixing things rather than replacing them, and would produce all my own food and get all my energy from solar panels if I could. But I'm not gonna wear your damned hair shirt. Whether or not they want to admit it, a substantial portion of the public face of the green movement is just a bunch of tyrannical, busybody puritans who've traded in their Bibles for Birkenstocks. It's a new way to self-flagellate while controlling and feeling superior to the insufficiently-pious heathens who KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO. There's a lot of overlap between my values and the green movement's values, but their attitude and politics make me want to run over a baby seal with a humvee. These folks aren't the majority of greenies, but the majority of greenies allow them to set the tone of the conversation.

Want to mainstream green? Marginalize the kind of people who put smug bumper stickers on their Prii and organize combative Critical Mass rides, and for God's sake, stop trying to use the law to force people to do things your way. Is it really all that shocking that people respond badly to evangelizing, guilt, and coercion as marketing tactics?

Why I love the internet

Behold: the Royal Army's 1937 small arms training manual for the Webley revolver.

Note the emphasis on ambidextrous shooting, topping off your ammunition whenever possible, and dry fire practice for improved trigger control.

Contrast with the Russian Imperial Army's revolver technique.

Several early 20th century authorities say that only the US and British Empire took handgun fighting seriously back then. Of course, all those authorities were American and British, so I suppose a grain of salt may be called for.

I would walk five hundred miles

Just reached Carteret.

Doing this only during breaks on workdays is really killing my time. Must make some time to walk on a weekend.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A clean desk...

I realize I'm not the only person who can't keep his computer desk clean.

But I just realized there's a StarTAC next to my hand as I'm typing away, and it's been there as long as I can remember.

It's possible this is becoming a problem.

I didn't vote for ya!

Tam says what I've been thinking:

For Vishnu's sake, people! Royalty? Hereditary nobility? In the 21st Century? Can there be any belief more retarded (and I mean that in the most literal sense of the term: the opposite of "advanced") than that someone is an extra-special snowflake because they won the Mommy and Daddy lottery? Have you looked at, say, the Habsburg family photo album?

What other charming ancient custom would you like to see them do for a warm-up act? Hold a slave auction? Expel the Catholics and Jews? Stuff a bunch of virgins in a giant wicker man and set it alight? Hey, I have an idea! Let's make sure there's a black bean in the groom's first slice of wedding cake!

The switch to digital television broadcasting happened just in time; I'd hate to think a bunch of advanced aliens were watching NBC's Meredith Vieira gushing her way through this period piece.

If this was just a British thing, then fine; tradition and all that. But by the last estimate I heard, two billion people are expected to watch this broadcast. Two billion. A third of the entire fucking human species tuning in to watch an unremarkable German Briton dei-gratia his way down the aisle? Really? Really?

I love my work

From General interwebs


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Birth in a Nation

This morning, the White House released President Obama's long-form birth certificate. Any chance at all we can move on now from the fixation on the certificate and the fixation on those who fixate on the certificate?

[h/t to Ian.]

Two great tastes that taste great together

From Cartoons

"Hey! You got your Oglaf in my XKCD!"

[Oglaf very, very NSFW.]

"God has no place within these walls!"

USA Today publishes a condescending Easter editorial about how Christianity is awesome and atheists suck.

LabRat at Atomic Nerds thoroughly unpacks its faulty assumptions and misconceptions.

In short, Mr. DeStefano's editorial is nothing but another tiresome retreading of the same fatuous criticism we've heard a thousand times before: "Atheism is wrong because it leads to conclusions I find emotionally unsatisfying."

There's also a heck of a lot of strawmanning about who atheists are and what they believe. I've been religious; I know what the ineffable presence of God feels like. No-true-Scotsman me if you please, but I have felt the warming light of faith, as have most Hindus, neopagans, Hellenists, Asatru, and for that matter most atheists. I don't "have faith" that Yahweh, Shiva, Apollo, Ninhursag, Osiris, Al-Uzza, and Ba'al Hadad definitely don't exist; it's just that when all their worshipers claim that their faith leads them to certainty, and many of their certainties are incompatible, it's hard not to start thinking that maybe the feeling you're feeling is something other than the Assurance of Eternal Truth you've assumed it was.

The inherent problem with the "debate" between Christianity and atheism in America is that each side has a tendency to caricature the other into a monodimensional cartoon version of what it actually is. Within the atheist community you have the thoughtful minority that's done its best to unpack and analyze the basis and implications of its assumptions, the raving evangelist minority out to belittle and convert anybody who doesn't share their certainty, and a large majority that doesn't spend much time thinking about their belief structure and would much rather get on with more interesting parts of their lives than argue about it. Exactly like the Christians community.

Is it fair to attack Christians for being a bunch of irrational busybodies who are incapable of dealing with the world without magical thinking and who spend all their time snooping into other people's bedrooms to feed their unaddressed daddy issues? If you think so, then go right ahead and assume that all atheists are humorless, bitter robots unable to appreciate curiosity and wonder. The rest of us have grown out of this kind of stereotyping, and know how wildy wrong this one is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo

CNN cites international economic trends suggesting that by 2016, the United States will no longer be the world's dominant economy.

As the comments show, this kind of story is like an ink blot. America is failing because of globalization. America is failing because of protectionism. America is failing because of immigrants. America is failing because of isolationism. America is failing because of greedy rich people or because of greedy poor people. America is failing because we don't adequately embrace the Democrats' or the Republicans' agenda. America is failing because of too many or too few taxes. Because of the gap between the rich and poor, or because of the priorities of those who obsess over the gap between rich and poor. Because of Obama or Bush or Clinton or Bush the Elder or Reagan or Roosevelt. Because of terrorists or welfare queens or racists or American Idol.

Me? I dunno. I can tell you why I think we're in decline, but what's the difference? I'm just one more guy on the internet convinced he knows what's going on. And while we argue about the cause, you can't help but wonder whether, just through the method we've chosen for discussing and dealing with these problems, we're choosing to decline. Wherever you think our problems come from, we're sure as hell not going to solve them by deciding our fellow citizens are the enemy, and voting between two parties that each promise half-fixes and escalated culture wars.

We obviously can't prevent the end of America forever; all fighting for survival is a stalling tactic. But the end of America and the end of American dominance over the international economy are hardly the same thing, and it does no good to confuse the two. The international community will be infinitely worse off having to cater to China than to the US, but as for us, I can think of far worse fates than taking a big step back from empire.

Friday, April 22, 2011


At the Art of Manliness forum, ove poster asks a fairly standard "what would you bring" zombocalypse question, asking participants to list weapons, vehicles, and something else:

5. Person to repopulate earth with or watch your back

What you mean, "or", paleface?

If I can only bring one person, that person's gonna have to be a multitasker.

Better living through science

It looks like three-parent babies will be the test-tube babies of this decade.

The process uses the DNA from a man and a woman plus the mitochondrial DNA from a second woman, and is intended to allow women with mitochondrial diseases to bear their own biological children without passing on the disease.

But from a polyamorous point of view, this is really an awesome way to fuck with the legal system.

"Yes, yes, but which of you are the biological parents?"

"We all are, your honor."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"It's not sexist when *we* do it."

Anti-gun Pittsbugh Tribune-Review columnist unpacks the factors he thinks are slowing the adoption of guns by women.

Based on the tenor of his comments, I'm just surprised he left out "'cause a gun won't help you make me a sammich".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Megan McArdle makes an excellent point that, if you want to argue that big business can't exist without society* and therefore society has a right to tell people how to conduct private economic transactions, then it's awfully hard to argue that society has no place telling people how to conduct private sexual relationships, given how dependent our present ideal of sexual freedom is on, at the very least, a legal system for prosecuting and punishing rapists.

It's a point leftists would do well to consider the next time they wave off moral objections to the annual crop of thousand-page regulations of every aspect of economic life, and the right the next time they figure their mandate to Defend The Family justifies their intrusion into my choice of spouses.

One interesting note from the comments section:

We also often wish to introduce steps to protect a minority, in a democracy, against a majority. And what many right wing types would say is that we need to take steps in a democracy to try to protect the majority against a well-organised minority proposing a solution that transfers a small amount of money from each taxpayer, too small for any individual taxpayer to worry about, to the members of the minority, which are small enough that the amounts they get are well worth lobbying for.

Weren't we supposed to learn when we were children that "the store won't miss it" isn't an excuse for shoplifting?

[* - And I'm not going to argue that isn't true. Our megacorporations get extraordinary benefit from manipulating and gaming federal regulations; without the mountain of well- and ill-intentioned laws creating a million opportunities for regulatory capture, I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see most of the current biggest players collapse.]

Not much new there

As usual, the new Hyperbole and a Half is awesome.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Until David Kopel pointed it out, I had no idea that anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord happened on the same day as the beginning of open combat in the Warsaw Uprising.

A hell of a day, April 19th. Fifteen thousand American colonists with fifteen thousand muskets, or a thousand Jews with a cache of smuggled handguns and molotov cocktails. The beginning of a new Republic, or a desperate clawing for a few weeks of freedom before the inevitable massacre.

It's a day for remembering what's worth fighting for.

Speaking of big nerds

One of my Better Thirds manages a paint-your-own pottery store. And is a big nerd. I left her this morning searching for ringtones that would make her new Droid 2 sound like a Portal sentry gun*.

Later this morning, she sent an image of today's front-desk sign:

From General interwebs


[* - This should be a lot of "fun", particularly since she uses the thing as an alarm clock. I don't look forward to the first time she gets a call late at night and we wake up to a creepy, childlike voice saying "Are you there? I see you!"]
On this day 236 years ago, fifteen thousand American citizens left their homes to go shoot at government employees who were trying to seize their military-style assault weapons.

There's so much you can learn, when you're on a pachyderm...

This past weekend, we had a White Elephant road show in York, PA, where we were hired by Red Falcon armouries (whose wares are far nicer than their website) to play at a birthday party.

The audience was about ten people.

It was easily the most fun show we've ever done, and the best we've ever been treated by a venue. Any time part of your payment is a bona fide homemade redneck breakfast, you're gonna be able to chalk it up as a win.

Plus, those folks really know how to pick a birthday cake:

From General interwebs

Android hell is a real place

I am not surprised that today's Woot shirt sold out.

I was a little surprised that it sold out by six thirty this morning.

Geeks sure do love their Portal.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I would walk five hundred miles

Despite rain and a frickin' snowstorm stymying my schedule, I'm still trying to push into this walking project. I'll try to start pushing through the miles on weekends as soon as the weekends aren't full of road shows, holidays, and NRA conventions.

Right now, I've gone as far as Metuchen.


A century ahead of schedule

Google unveils first-gen universal translator.

Right now, it only works for English input. And machine translation is still, ah... less than ideal. But given a bit more development, we'll be looking at auto-translating smart phones, automatic subtitling of movies... Frankly, the end of bilinguality for most common purposes.

Now get me a working phaser and a Makerbot that can print Earl Grey, and we'll have all the things I want most from Star Trek.

The politics of identity are confusing

Consumerist posts about population-change maps that show people are moving in large numbers from the hearts of cities to the outskirts.

They make a snide remark about "white flight".

But they point out that, amongst the signs of widespread exodus, a few neighborhoods deep in Detroit show gains in population.

Citing said gains, the very first comment makes a snide remark about "gentrification".

So, what--you don't want white people in or out of your backyard?

For science. You monster.

As previously noted, gunnies are big nerds. But kinky folks... Well, let them show you.

[All links nudity-free but NSFW. Unless your work is _awesome_.]

Kink Engineering is an online retailer of latex fetish clothing and accessories. And they're big damned nerds.

How big? They're partnered with Necronomicox, a Lovecraft-inspired silicone sex toy manufacturer*.

But man, Until the teasers, I sure as hell didn't see their latex fetish Portal tribute coming. I'm not so into latex, but holy hell, do I want a rubber Aperture Science lab coat. They have a surprisingly unlatexed Chell, a Companion vac-cube, what appears to be an allegorical GLADOS dominatrix, and of course, cake.

They don't show the "grief counselling", but I'm sure it was memorable.

[* - How much has the internet changed the world? I can type that sentence.]

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The machinations of dragons are oiled with the blood of the workers

Michael Noer of Forbes, compiler of the Fictional 15*, nerds out and shows us his process for estimating the value of Smaug's treasure hoard. Discounting nigh-unvaluable items like mithril shirts and assorted antique weapons (but including the Arkenstone of Thrain), he sets out to estimate the dragon's size--using tables from Dungeons & Dragons--and determine a minimum value based on the minimum size of a pile of gold and silver coins large enough for it to curl up on. Then he adds the minimum area of diamonds necessary to cover Smaug's belly (except, of course, for the large patch in the hollow of his left breast), uses an ingenious formula to value the Arkenstone, and ends up at 8.6 billion dollars, seventh on the list. Beautiful.

Then an even bigger nerd points out that his size estimate for Smaug is unreasonably based on a misinterpretation of the D&D table. Correcting the figure, and using textual evidence from The Hobbit for support, he reruns the math and gets a minimum of 191.7 billion bucks, excluding the mithril shirt whose value Gandalf says was "greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it".

Suck on that, Scrooge McDuck.

[* - Which is awesome, if flawed; Bruce Wayne is worth many, many times more than Tony Stark.]

Fetchez la pistolet!

British friend-who-lives-in-my-computer knirirr is a scholar of modern but endangered European martial arts. One of his ongoing projects is the translation of French instructor Joseph Renaud’s 1912 book on street defense, "La Defense Dans La Rue". This is a great service to English-speaking enthusiasts, and I'd recommend it to anybody interested in practical, untheatrical defensive martial arts and how they've been taught through the twentieth century. "Every person walking the street at night should carry a revolver," he says, and this was just 99 years ago.

Knirirr could tell you better than I could how much unarmed fighting instruction has changed since Renaud, but of greatest interest to me is his brief chapter on self defense with a revolver.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Renaud assumed his Parisian students could simply decide to buy revolvers and carry them in their overcoats. It's easy to forget just how recently Europe decided to get collectively hysterical about guns.

He recommends carrying a "38 Smith and Wesson", but avoiding the newfangled hammerless models because you want to shoot single-action when taking a shot at a fleeing mugger. He considers "semi-automatic Browning" a "fashionable weapon of today", but declines to recommend it as he can't vouch for its reliability. He insists on practical training at short distances with the actual gun you carry. He recommends unaimed point-shooting at slightly undersized silhouette targets, evidently counting a hit anywhere on the body as a success. He recommends against using a holster, and suggests that at very close ranges you plan to shoot the attacker through your overcoat pocket. He suggests the reader try shooting with the index finger along the gun's frame, pulling the trigger with the middle finger, because it "makes instinctive shooting more accurate".

It's a very, very strange mix of advice.

It being tax season and all

A quick jaunt back to Rome, the Eternal Analogy.

Roman taxation was done in a way calculated to minimize collection headaches for the state. From the Republican period through to Diocletian at the end of the third century (and from there to the end of the Empire, with some modifications), Rome didn't collect taxes directly from her subjects. She took bids from tax farmers for the rights to collect from specific regions, collected from the winner, and considered that year's taxes paid. The contractor then set out collecting cash from the lucky province to recoup his investment and make a profit; anything he collected beyond his bid was his to keep. This worked out exactly the way you'd expect. It's why the authors of the New Testament show that Jesus turned no one away by emphasizing that he associated with foreigners, gentiles, lepers, criminals, prostitutes, and even tax collectors.

Even the most hardcore libertarians, not being anarchists, accept the need for some amount of government, and therefore for some amount of taxation. However free-market obsessed they may be, I doubt many would advocate outsourcing taxation to private companies.

Some other parts of the political spectrum, though...

To boldly go...

Descriptivist linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum over at Language Log is feeling a bit put-upon:

I occasionally wonder whether people might be picking up the wrong idea about the descriptive orientation we tend to promote here on Language Log: because we so often point out that edicts defended by conservative usage pundits lack support from either decent writing or common sense, people might imagine that if college papers were graded by a linguist everyone would get an A+, because the instructor would endorse and excuse all their mistakes.

Not at all. We just figure that once 16 people out of your class of 30 have started copying a given mistake, you'll declare it a regional dialect.

In more serious news

President Obama proposes to cut the deficit by Four trillion dollars divided by twelve per year.

I know, it sounds more impressive when you say PRESIDENT WILL CUT DEFICIT BY $4 TRILLION overtwelveyears.

It's only a tiny fraction of what we need to cover our deficit. Calling it a "staggering" cut is pretty silly, given its proportion to the cuts we need. And even if we could get the deficit under control, we still need to deal with the ever-increasing interest payments on the debt we've been taking out to pay our bills. But the reason this news isn't made of pure suck is the signalling going on:

In a move that will anger the Democratic base, Obama is also suggesting further cuts to come from reforms to Medicaid, which provides basic health provision for the poor, and Medicare, which provides healthcare for those over 65.

In addition to the traditional Democratic demands that we eat the rich and cut military spending, the President is proposing cuts to one of the Democrats' sacred cows. His actual proposal may have trivially modest cuts. But even speaking of a willingness to discuss Medicare is a very good sign. Democrats have built a large portion of their constituency on dependence on Medicare, and scaring dependent voters into voting for them rather than for the evil Republicans who'll take away "their" money*. Having a liberal Democratic President from Chicago come out and say Medicare isn't sacrosanct could be a very good sign indeed. We do need to talk about cutting back our out of control military spending, and tax increases may be inevitable, but cutting Medicare is another essential part of the solution; we can no longer pretend that we can recover while completely shielding either party's altars. (We need to address Social Security, too, which may just not be rescuable, but Medicare is a good start.)

Don't get me wrong; there's a very good chance he has no intention of ever making meaningful cuts, and just wants to offer a meaningless pittance so come election time he can tell his faithful, "look, I even offered Medicare reform, and the evil bankster-sympathizing obstructionist PARTY OF NO rejected it!" But there's potential here that wasn't there before. I'll take it.

[* - Just as Republicans have sunk a ton of political capital into conflating "we spend more on war than every other nation in the world combined and can carry on two occupations simultaneously" with "we can defend ourselves", to scare their base with the implication that Democrats want to leave us defenseless against the Korean commie mutant zombie biker terrorists...]

Overthinking puff news

Lada Gaga denounces plastic surgery among pop stars, says it promotes insecurity.

Frankly, I like Lady Gaga. Her music is catchy and delightfully insane, and she's a very successful artist when you realize that what she's doing isn't pop music; it's performance art.

It's interesting that she doesn't feel pressure to get surgeried up. I assume it's because her particular schtick doesn't rely on the kind of homogeneity that other mainstream pop stars need. When a large part of your marketability comes from being attractive, you need to push as hard as you can into the physical categories that appeal to--and are inoffensive to--the broadest possible group of consumers. When everybody does that same market analysis, everybody's going to end up looking very similar.

If Gaga can hold her career together in the long run, Madonna-like, it'll be interesting to see whether she feels more pressure to get cosmetic surgery when she starts to look older. Having the same chest, butt, and nose as everybody else may not be an integral part of the image she markets, but looking young may be.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Mirror of Anne Arundel

It's not a surprise that the Washington Post has its panties in a twist over the failure of Maryland's proposed new gun laws to get traction. What's a bit perplexing is that they're hanging their banner from such a particularly weak argument:

For a second time in three years, Vallario (D-Prince George’s) also did not allow his committee to vote on a bill that police and prosecutors in Prince George’s and in Baltimore said was a top priority for reducing homicides: a mandatory 18-month prison term for anyone convicted of carrying a loaded gun without a permit.

Now, let's pretend for the sake of argument that Maryland wasn't currently being taken to the Supreme Court for using its "discretion" to deny all applications for carry permits.

Being a convicted felon or drug addict in possession of a firearm is already a federal crime, and Maryland's permit process doesn't require firearms training.

So this "top priority" law "for reducing homicides" would have the singular effect of locking up noncriminal citizens for a year and a half--and in the process making them felons--for neglecting to pay the seventy-five dollar fee to the Secretary of the State Police before exercising a Constitutional right.

Somebody could take Olympic gold for the mental gymnastics necessary to pretend this harassment of gun owners has anything to do with public safety.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

...into a region of supernatural wonder...

From the dust jacket of This Great Struggle: America's Civil War by Steven E. Woodworth:

Lincoln understood what was at stake in the American Civil War: ...survival of self-government in the last place on earth where it could have the opportunity of developing freely.

I can see where it would take 426 pages to make the case that sending in two million soldiers to kill people who have rejected your authority until they're forced to obey you is "preserving self-government".

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Good morning, Mr Dallas. You have three points remaining."

[Since Ian and I are going back and forth with replies too large for comment boxes, I'm responding here to his post on Government, cars, and maintenance: ]

Consider that for a hell of a lot of us, government is more like a gun than like a car: it does a few things well, many things badly, and quite a lot of things catastrophically badly, and far too many people want to use it to tell others what to do. A gun is most effective and controllable when you don't also ask it to be a corkscrew, a phone, and a bidet, so you keep it simple and focussed on a small number of tasks.

The problem with expansive government is that, quite frankly, you end up with serious problems that elections may be unable to fix. It's all well and good to demand that people get involved in selecting better candidates in the primaries, but when government is literally involving itself in thousands of aspects of private life, it's impossible to get the kind of consensus necessary to deal with most of them, even given an infinite number of primary candidates. Every voter ends up deciding what subset of abuses is important enough to fight to defend against, and only the most "popular" ever get a referendum. And by the time you've fought off restrictions on gay marriage; two more major, five dozen more middlin' and two hundred more minor abuses have been enshrined in law, and the minor ones never get enough attention individually to repeal, so they pile up forever until they glaciate.

I'm not saying I want a a car that can only do 25; I'm saying I want a car that does transportation really, really well, and don't want to be forced to pay extra and limit my options with the forced addition of a thousand extra mandatory features from the major to the trivial, only a few of which I want. Competition only solves that problem so much when every car is a fairly random thousand-feature set. (And in this metaphor, I even get to unilaterally choose the car!)

Similarly, I want a government that's really, really good at catching and punishing thieves and murderers, and fucking up countries that try to invade. And if it sticks pretty closely to those realms, I have faith in our ability to control it. Making it an enormous, sprawling package deal that tells me who I may marry, how long my rifle's barrel must be, what substances I may put in my body, whether I may refrain from buying medical insurance, how much interest I may take on when borrowing money, what terms I may accept in an employment contract, how much of my paycheck I must donate to which poorly-run mandatory charities, how much of my dignity I may retain while travelling by air, whether I may have sex for money, what I may build on my property, what kind of light bulbs I may use, what countries' cigars I may smoke, which year my ancient Roman coin collection must stop at, what public places I may not photograph, whether I may sell my extra kidney, how I may and may not encrypt my data, and how much grape juice I'm allowed to ferment each year is not a recipe for a free society, however vigilant and involved the people.

Assuming that you can make a perfect system that will run forever without maintenance is foolish; a vigilant populace committed to freedom is a non-negotiable requirement for a free society. But reality demands that government be kept small enough to be within that population's ability to peacefully control, and our modern good-idea-let's-make-it-a-law style of government simply isn't.

There's so much you can learn, when you're on a pachyderm...

So. My earlier post about elephant hunting, liberal angst, and ritual chanting?

A friend of mine quoted it in a Wired article on the subject, prompting a fringe liberal to start angsting and ritually chanting, spending a page and a half of text trying to rules-lawyer around the fact that this was a consensual, mutually beneficial arrangement between one party that needed food, money, and a lack of rampaging elephants, and a second party that wanted to provide all three.

It has the usual implicit assumption that, no matter how consensual and mutually beneficial everybody involved may think it is, the arrangement must be inherently exploitative because one party has more resources than the other. It has the paradoxical assertion that the appropriate solution to said exploitative inequality is to make poor people dependent on food handouts*, the implication that the hunt is morally tainted if the hunter kept the elephant's tusks, the insistence that hunting non-endangered species is also morally repugnant because we should act like they're endangered, goddammit... It's a greatest-hits compilation of hippie sociology.

There's also this weird digression about how you can't call elephant meat free-range and organic because those are good karma power words while bushmeat is a bad karma word, and anyway game meat is less healthy than farm meat and will give you AIDS and ebola, all of which makes me wonder whether the post was actually composed by a human brain, or just a machine running find-and-replace with fringe-liberal buzzwords.

But as before, none of this is news. It happens every time fringe liberals notice a story that involves evil monocled capitalists. It's as natural and unremarkable as the tides, or as fringe conservatives comparing gay marriage to marrying a clock.

What prompted my response was this particularly entertaining bit of straightfaced doublethink, freely edited out of the morass for comic effect:

... Regulated hunting? Do you have any idea what you are talking about?...[The evil, monocled capitalist] paid between $60,000-$70,000 for this hunting project...[you are] assuming that regulation and hunting and the issues in Africa are synonymous with those in America (and unfortunately, for [you], they are not.)

I concede the point to the honorable gentlewoman from Colorado. Said hunt was most certainly not regulated to the same level of strictness as hunting in North America**.

Can a conscious mind capable of operating a computer honestly think that "threatened" animals are at risk because a tiny community of super-wealthy sportsmen can pay tens of thousands of dollars (plus the significant costs of the hunt itself) to "evade the long standing consequences and just pay off locals to be able to hunt where they want to", when the same critters are routinely being machinegunned by poor local poachers with cheap, Soviet-surplus Kalashnikovs? Can Hanson's razor really explain a detachment from reality this severe, or is Skynet just fucking with me?

[* - To be fair, it is true that the hunt in question didn't permanently address the problem. If you want to advocate for sustainable, local, appropriate-technology solutions by going to Zimbabwe and teaching rural communities how to make their own 2 bore muzzleloaders, you'll have my enthusiastic support.]

[** - Where poor, non-European, preindustrial natives with acceptably high levels of skin pigmentation have long since hunted most of the charismatic megafauna to extinction.]

Flapper. Bellydance. Fusion.

Perhaps you didn't hear me.

Flapper. Bellydance. Fusion:

[h/t to Phlegmmy.]

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Huckabee I D.G. Rex F.D.

I bitch a lot about Democrats these days, but don't get me wrong: that's just because they're the ones screwing my country up the most at this moment. I was all about the Republican-hate back when President Bush was the one wiping his feet with the Constitution, and as soon as the pendulum swings back, I'll be foaming at the mouth about the frickin' GOP again.

And as though he specifically intended to give me a reminder and a preview, Mike Huckabee went ahead and publicly fantasized about forcibly indoctrinating Americans into fundamentalist theocratic pseudohistory at gunpoint.

As much as I hated President Bush, and as much as I hate President Obama, President Huckabee could conceivably be worse than either, and his election would severely undermine any faith I still have that this country can be saved peacefully.

It's-a where you keep de water heater

Pardon me for a moment while I commit libertarian heresy.

We libertarians, we love precious metal currency. You don't have to go far online to find libertarians decrying modern worthless fiat money--paper tickets and cupro-nickel tokens--which are responsible for the ever-escalating inflationary forces that ruin economies, stealthily tax wages and savings, and temporarily prop up unsustainable government programs until the bottom falls spectacularly out of the whole system. And ancient Rome, the Eternal Analogy, gives us vindication in this belief.

From General interwebs

At left, a denarius of Vespasian from around AD 70, probably about 80% silver, give or take. At right, a double-denarius* of Diocletian from around AD 300, 2% silver if any.

Republican denarii had traditionally been nearly pure silver, and remained so until Nero sneakily** debased the coinage to around 80% in an attempt to cover his severe budget crisis. Over the next quarter-century, successive emperors would pretty randomly shift between reestablishing the integrity of the denarius and plundering it for quick cash, so that the purity of any given coin of that period can now only be established by core drilling and chemical testing.

After the first century, though, Rome settled into a slow decline in the integrity of its currency, the silver content gradually decreasing until, by Diocletian's time, the denarius was just a base-metal token with a symbolic trace of silver, or none at all, and the terrible inflation showed it. Under Julius Caesar, you could bring your standard one-modius bucket (about two gallons) to a Roman grain merchant and expect to fill it with wheat for about three sestertii, 3/4 of a pure-silver denarius. After Nero, the same bucketsworth cost about two of those 80% denarii of Vespasian. By Diocletian's time, his emergency price controls attempted to fix the price of a modius of wheat at 100 denarii, suggesting that it was trading for much more on the open market. Debasing the currency had caused an average inflation rate of at least 20% per year, so ruining the currency that--after those price controls worked as well as you'd expect--Diocletian ended up scrapping the centuries-old Augustan currency system entirely in favor of a new system based on the argentus, a roughly 80% silver coin. But the damage was already done, the economy now unrescuable, and Diocletian's successors reresorted to debasing the argentus to pay their bills. Inflation continued even faster than before, and before you know it, sic transit Roma invicta.

I've joked that while the Romans were stupid enough to let their emperors gradually debase their currency into worthlessness, we enlightened moderners had the wisdom to let our emperors do it all at once.

From General interwebs

At left, a 1964 US quarter, 90% silver as it had been from the very first coins of the Republic. At right, a 1965 quarter made entirely of copper and nickel.

America's broken 20th century political philosophy was fundamentally unsustainable, and the only way to pay for it was to follow in the footsteps of the Empire, refusing to learn from the past and replacing good money with worthless tokens--first tyranically seizing the people's gold in the 30s, then debasing the rest of our coins into worthlessness, leading to elevated inflation and a gradual slide toward catastrophe.


But this analysis, as much as I hate admitting it, is just not accurate. See, that high average rate of inflation in Rome wasn't spread evenly across the centuries between the initial debasement and Diocletian. Up to the mid-third century (by which point the denarius had been debased down to around 40-50% silver), the rate of inflation since the earliest records from the Republican era seems to have been about 1% per year***--very stable by today's standards. It wasn't until the late third century that inflation exploded to such an extent that it so badly mutated the average.

The debasement of the currency up to that period was done explicitly to inflate the money supply, but it didn't seriously inflate prices. By design or (much more likely) by chance, the increase in currency supply closely tracked the growth of the Roman economy: as the supply was increasing, the demand increased commensurately, keeping the value of the money stable. Had the emperors not increased the currency supply through debasement, they would actually have caused deflation, with its attendant woes. The hyperinflation that began in the late third century was caused by a lack of confidence in the currency, not by its debasement.

The active principle in preventing predatory inflation wasn't the silver per se, but popular resistance to inflation, as expressed through resistance to debasement. The emperors who needed to hide their incremental adventures in alloying could only increase the supply of money by so much at a time. The modern American government can print as many paper (or, for that matter, electronic) dollars as it wants, while a 30% silver denarius still requires you to have that silver on hand. Those late-Roman coins made with no silver at all during the period of hyperinflation? They were struck in such huge quantities that metal detectorists still pull them out of the ground in hoards of tens of thousands. You can buy some of them today for
under ten bucks.

A well-run government practiced in exercising restraint can theoretically walk the line, keeping the increase in supply of a fiat currency proportional to the growth in the economy; failing that, a vigilant and informed populace can refuse to tolerate irresponsible money-printing. But most libertarians don't regard well-run government practiced in exercising restraint or vigilant,
well-informed populations as sustainable resources. As in all things, any informed libertarian resistance to fiat currency must be a matter of balancing negatives on both sides: a commodity-based currency means regular deflation, but inhibits irresponsible overprinting of
money; a fiat currency allows you to avoid deflation, but requires you to trust your government or your citizens to be perpetually responsible and vigilant. There may be an intelligent case to make for precious metal currency, but simply condemning fiat currency through analogy with Rome ain't it.

[* - The Augustan currency system was clearly designed to confuse tourists. The most common coins were the small copper as, four of which make a large brass sestertius, four of which make a small silver denarius. But if the portrait of the emperor is wearing a radiate crown, the value is doubled to a dupondius, a quinarius argentus, and a so-called antoninianus, respectively. None is clearly marked with its denomination, and you can only tell by looking at the coin's size, material, and crownedness. Even so, the quinarius inscrutably breaks the pattern by being a tiny silver coin with a radiate crown. Some of the coin names that refer to numbers (denarius, quinarius and sestertius, referring to "ten", "five" and "two and a half") don't match up with their values, because their names are based on the pre-Augustan system in which an as was one-tenth of a denarius. This is why I love making my Cthulhu Invictus players deal with authentic currencies--converting their Roman money to Alexandrian drachmae on arrival costs slightly more sanity than looking Hastur in the eye.]

[** - Using a process of "surface enrichment", in which a copper-alloyed coin blank was soaked in acid, dissolving the copper in the surface and leaving a respectably deep layer of pure silver that would fool eyeball and touchstone tests. Later emperors would use additional "brightening" techniques to hide the ongoing debasement until the pretext became too strained to continue.]

[*** - Sitta von Reden's Money in Classical Antiquityhas a good, concise, well-cited discussion of the timeline of classical inflation and its underlying evidence, for those (like me) who can't bear to wade through the original German research papers.]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why I can no longer identify as "liberal":

Because if you can't understand that your stated goal of "promoting an actively anti-oppressive space" isn't advanced by telling a burlesque performer that she can only perform dances appropriate to her race, you have serious problems. Not least of which is five or six too many multicultural studies classes.

Ritual chanting of the sacred words "appropriation" and "colonialism" will not change this fact, no matter how hard you believe in your moral superiority.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oh, show me the way to go home...

Corporate CEO takes part in regulated hunting project to cull non-endangered elephants that threaten native African villages. Poor people's crops are saved, and they eat free-range organic meat for weeks.

Confused liberal angst ensues: poor people didn't starve, but charismatic megafauna were killed for sport by a person with a socially unacceptable combination of external genitalia and inadequate skin pigmentation. Chanting of of the sacred words "privilege" and "imperialism" relieves social anxiety, and life goes on as usual.

Not news. Not worthy of comment.

Unignorable, however, was this comment at Consumerist:

Well maybe people shouldn't be living in areas where their only food is endangered elephants. There are some parts of this world that were just not designed for humans to live, and for him to go and provide this "service" is appalling.

Some parts of the world. Not "designed" for humans to live. Speaking about Africa.

For the love of God and all that is holy, please tell me this dude's just trolling.