Archive for February, 2012
25 Feb 2012

Come, Friendly Bombs, and Fall on Insufferable Left Coast Cities

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Principal characters in Portlandia

Mark Hemingway discusses the unbearable television program, the absolutely appalling left coast city that inspired it, and the pathological politics infesting places on the Pacific coast.

Portlandia instantly struck a chord as a Garrison Keillor-type takeoff on the edgy urban set. Instead of idyllic Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” Portlandia is where “the tattoo ink never runs dry” and “all the hot women wear glasses.” The show is now in its second season and has even spawned a live comedy tour that’s bringing Portland to a venue near you.

But while Portlandia is more acerbic than Prairie Home Companion, it too can come off as a twee, chiaroscuro character study that spends as much time burnishing the city’s reputation for “West Coast urban cool” as it does mocking it. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I’m just afraid that the real-life absurdities of Portland merit a more cutting critique.

Case in point: One of the most commented-on sketches from the show is a scene from the first episode in which Armisen and Brownstein are sitting in a restaurant. After asking their waitress a series of absurd questions about whether the chicken they are about to eat is local​—​“the chicken is a heritage breed, woodland raised chicken that’s been fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts. .  .  . His name was Colin, here are his papers”​—​the couple ends up leaving the restaurant and driving to the farm to see the environment where the chicken was raised in order to assuage their guilt about eating it.

As a comment on urban America’s foodie culture, the sketch is funny and incisive. But it doesn’t begin to show how insufferable Portland actually is in this regard. Portland’s restaurants are incredibly good, provided you don’t gag on their politics and pretension. It’s common for restaurants to brag about keeping “food miles” to a minimum​—​a rough calculation on the menu informing you how far all the ingredients have traveled to your plate, as if this were a rational measure of the restaurant’s environmental impact. One Portland ice cream parlor I visited recently was inviting patrons to swing by on Saturday afternoon for a meet and greet with the local producer of its “artisanal finishing salts.”

And in 2010, the Oregonian actually ran a story with the headline “Portland pig cook-off followed by brawl over the provenance of pork.” During a local culinary competition a fistfight broke out because one of the chefs​—​the horror!​—​wasn’t using locally sourced pork. The mêlée ended with one of the chefs and the organizer in rough-looking mug shots and the latter in the hospital with a fractured tibia. When it comes to the city’s food obsession, the truth far outstrips Portlandia.

Given the lack of critical attention to the city, I guess it falls to me to state the obvious: Portland is quietly closing in on San Francisco as the American city that has most conspicuously taken leave of its senses.

25 Feb 2012

Government: Jobs For the Idiot Cousin

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Daniel Greenfield has a superb rant on government, regulation, & bureaucracy.

The first and foremost purpose of government is to create government jobs. Going back to the early days of American history a time honored tradition of newly elected politicians was to obtain positions for their friends, their nephews and assorted cousins. In those more innocent times appointing someone an inspector of something was a cordial way of repaying a favor. But the problem with inspectors is that they inspect things.

There are only so many idiot cousins you can hire to stamp papers and frown at things until you have to create an entire new department and then a division and then an agency to give them something to do. And that leads to budget drains and an expansion of government authority that interferes with the lives of people who work for a living.

A few centuries later we live in a country where every place that has more than three people living within three miles of each other is overseen by a multitude of agencies with overlapping levels of authority beginning from the locals to the staties and all the way up to Washington D.C. where the swamps were paved over to construct massive buildings full of agencies all descended from the day someone’s idiot cousin got a sinecure, a government horse and an inkwell in a city that no one used to take seriously.

Many of us would gladly trade off those buildings and those bureaucrats in return for a few dozen idiot cousins drinking in Washington taverns on the public’s dime in a country with no income tax and no one pounding on your door every five minutes because you don’t feed your kids arugula, don’t recycle your trash and don’t care about the latest trendy cause already being written into the state religion. …

The left has rejected the industrialization of mechanical things, but it remains deeply in love with the mechanization of human beings, the mass production of impulses and the programming of their souls. It is constantly drawing up five year plans to achieve one social goal or another, and if the five year plans never succeed, then that just means that it’s time for an even more ambitious ten year plan to fight people who use too much water or don’t teach their children tolerance.

But the reasons why machines work is because people design them. Machines however cannot design machines. When the average functionary is as devoid of autonomy and innovative thinking as your Windows PC, then the society will begin crashing as it encounters errors not in its programming. Deploying masses of asses to tackle social problems while following a rigid script filled with inflexible assumptions is a surefire way to fail and use that as an excuse to throw more men at the job.

Failure is built into the system. Large armies of men following orders is a good way to grind down equally large armies. It’s not a way to run a country. Human industrialization creates bureaucratic hives which worsen everything they touch. It fills the country with functionaries following scripts that require them to confiscate our freedoms for our own good, a good that even in their limited definition they cannot achieve.

The very inflexibility of the idiot cousins guarantees their tenure. The more they fail, the more of them are needed. If we spent X amount of money to achieve Y without achieving it, then next time we must spend X+2. It’s the linear mechanical logic of the idiot who can only think in terms of tackling every problem with more resources until it finally cracks. If our last machine didn’t do it, then our massive EDUTRON 2000 which is twice as big and costs twice as much will surely educate all our children properly.

We have been throwing idiot cousins are the war on poverty, at discrimination and at overeating. And now we’re poorer, more bigoted and fatter than we used to be. Given another generation we’ll have trouble getting up out of bed at the homeless shelter long enough to carry out hate crimes. That’s not the official progressive party line which says that we are more tolerant than we used to be, even as they discover five new kinds of bigotry over the weekend. And as for poverty, it’s tempting to say that the only people who got rich fighting poverty were the idiot cousins, but even they are worse off in a country which is poorer than ever and which can only afford fattening food.

Like the Soviet Union, the progressive agenda never fails, it just succeeds so much that it moves on to fight new challenges, like racist babies, the imminent destruction of the planet and understanding how right wing talk show hosts brainwash people into hating all their programs. There are never defeats, only strategic retreats. Each setback is an opportunity to create a new agency full of idiot cousins with a 40 billion dollar budget in order to “invest in our future”.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

25 Feb 2012

Seven Fat Years and Seven Lean Years

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Conservatives (really more accurately referred to as “liberals”) argue that the free market produces superior allocations of resources because of its natural access to superior information on supply and demand provided by the voluntary input of enormously large numbers of individual human beings. The free market consequently inevitably operates on the basis of better information than any possible small group of political leaders or experts can ever hope to possess. Beyond mere utility, the free market additionally has morality on its side. Human beings are morally entitled to exchange what is their own, whether goods, services, or currency, as they desire and think best. The alternative to freedom is always coercive force, and freedom is intrinsically morally better than coercion.

Progressives reject the free market, noting that it fails to make the idle prosperous, the incompetent and the unlucky successful, and the improvident and intoxicated equal in security and material success to the responsible and provident.

Since the free market never actually seems able to deliver heaven on earth, progressives proposed that government should intervene to establish a safety net to assure that no one, no matter how unlucky or ill-behaved, should be left without the necessities of human existence.

Progressives demand that we should all surrender some significant portion of our economic liberty and deliver control over the free market to government specifically because they believe that the rule of credentialed experts will deliver superior results.

The Progressive experiment, which has gone on for many decades now, has survived this long because of the capacity of capitalist enterprise to deliver prosperity and economic growth despite being shackled by ever-increasing levels of regulation and despite the diversion of substantial percentages of economic output to entitlements.

Our expert rulers, in reality, merely exchanged an ever-increasing slice of the entire economy for more political support. Their calculations were fraudulent and completely risible, burying information unfavorable to their ends, achieving balanced budgets by phony bookkeeping, and invariably relying on wildly optimistic projections to cause their plans’ mathematics to add up.

In good times, progressive experts have always spent more, added new programs, and constructed new bureaucratic empires, piling the promises for the future up to the stars. When the budget didn’t really add up, they simply placed their trust in the ability of the capitalist system to deliver enough growth, soon enough, to save them, and simply kicked the can of fiscal responsibility down the road to be dealt with later.

Now, of course, in both Europe and America, the music has finally stopped, the game is over. There is no more road to kick the can down. America and Europe have hit the point where the costs of government are dramatically impairing the free market’s ability to deliver prosperity and growth. The capitalist goose has been shaken and squeezed and strangled, but there is no increase in egg production occurring.

It seems perfectly evident to me that, if what the progressives believe, that the rule of scientifically trained experts can improve upon the results of the free market, those experts would have, in the course of all their training and elite education, encountered Chapter 41 of the Book of Genesis in which Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that seven fat years will be followed in turn by seven lean years, and counsels Pharaoh to set aside a portion of his government’s revenues to cover future shortfalls during the seven lean year recession.

The current international economic crisis demonstrates vividly that contemporary progressive economic planning is not only inferior to free market results, it is decidedly inferior to Bronze Age Middle Eastern economic administration.

Essentially what has happened is that progressive establishment elites, those who claim the right to rule over all the rest of us on the basis of their superior wisdom, training, and credentials, have flown the Entitlement State airplane right into the ground. They wrecked the economies of a large number of nations by creating a crisis through market interference and mismanagement. They have issued too many promises and threaten to bankrupt their nation’s economies far into the future.

The current recession proves, once and for all, that the wise men of progressivism were never very wise at all, and that their claim of a right to overrule liberty and the free market on the basis of superior wisdom and morality is not well-founded.

When you steer the cart off the road, you don’t get to take the wheel again and continue driving. It is time for a change of driver.

25 Feb 2012

At the Recent National Open Field Coursing Association’s Grand Course

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Swift greyhounds are closing on the jackrabbit.

(photos by: Herb Wells — click on images for larger picture)

When he reverses course and dashes back right through their legs!

23 Feb 2012

Arizona GOP Debate

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I didn’t watch the whole thing, but in the portions I witnessed I thought everyone did rather well. It seemed to me that the contest for the GOP nomination process had really accomplished a few things: weeding out some less prepared and less articulate contenders and polishing the performances of the survivors.

My only dissatisfaction really revolved around so many of candidates attacking one another, and trying to gain a personal edge by means of cheap shots and obviously opportunistic assaults on one another’s previous statements and records. If it were up to me, I’d have boat-hooked Ron Paul out of there on the basis of a real excess of that kind of thing.

Personally, I still like Gingrich best. I think he tends characteristically to draw upon a broader understanding of history and political theory than anybody else, and I am much attracted by his imagination. Assuming we win in November, the next president’s task is going to consist of presiding over a major reconsideration of the federal government’s role and responsibilities, developing a much more serious approach to budgeting, and –in essence– managing the transition from the Welfare Entitlement State to a new version of an American growth and opportunity state. I think Gingrich’s superior knowledge and intellect would be strong assets, and I think his fecundity in producing new ideas and new approaches would be invaluable.

Romney, as I’ve noted before, delivers consistently the smoothest, most professional, and most attractive portrayal of presidential leadership. He speaks passionately in defense of capitalism. He is obviously a highly competent and thoroughly responsible guy, and though he has not run for office or governed previously as much of a conservative, his current embrace of, practically amounting to a death-grip on, conservative principles seems sincere. Watching Romney perform, one is forced to conclude that he would do a decent job. His would not be a really revolutionary administration. He would funk and compromise all the really tough calls, but he would generally do just fine.

It seems remarkable how much Rick Santorum has grown into the role of conservative movement champion and front-running candidate. In some earlier debates, he seemed a somewhat irrelevant dark horse outsider, and even more of a cranky traditionalist scold than Michele Bachmann. Now, he has picked up the mantle of the hero and he’s wearing it well. He is the living embodiment of clean cut, ordinary old-fashioned Americanism, and he expresses himself reasonably and with admirable clarity.

It is generally fun to hear from Ron Paul. He no longer really belongs up there, I thought, but it is a pleasure to see libertarian positions as totally heretical from the establishment perspective as going back to the gold standard and simply abolishing the EPA, advocated seriously in a presidential debate. Ron Paul has his own distinctive manner of speech and presentation. He reminds one of some very bright, well-loved, and barking mad uncle, who can (and will) speak for hours on his own particular bizarre obsessions and can actually entertain you in the process, despite your knowing perfectly well just how far from the reality we inhabit is the home of Uncle Ron. I do wish, though, that Ron Paul would climb down off his sanctimonious libertarian high horse, and quit abusing all his opponents in extravagant terms for conventional previous behavior or votes. There is an annoying streak of Puritan hypocrite in Ron Paul.

I don’t think last night’s debate changed the situation much. Jim Geraughty, in his emailed Morning Jolt, had the most to say about Romney:

Romney is, bit by bit, proving to be a better debater than people thought. Yes, he’s pretty shameless about going after opponent’s inconsistencies and unpopular positions that he himself held earlier in his career — but the audaciousness of it tends to leave the opposition flustered and infuriated.

Last night, he jabbed at Santorum, “When I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the Bridge to Nowhere.” Really, after lines such as that, people doubt Romney’s willingness to go after Obama? If nominated, Romney will probably lacerate Obama on the individual mandate, not cutting spending, insufficient support for drilling, demonizing the wealthy, and so on. Obama may coolly point out Romney’s past support for those positions, and I suspect Romney will just ignore it and point out that those positions are the wrong ones, and the American public opposes them. Would voters prefer the consistent man who stands for ideas they oppose? Or will they prefer a flip-flopper who currently holds the positions they support?

You and I — who have watched Romney debate as a passionately pro-choice candidate, brag that he would be better for Massachusetts gays than Ted Kennedy in 1994 — look at his current emphatic finger-pointing during these debates, and think, “He might just be saying what he needs to get the nomination. I don’t know if I trust him. He sounds sincere now, but Massachusetts liberals probably thought he agreed with them in 2002, too.” But I suspect casual voters ignore anything before, say, last weekend. I suspect they put a whole lot more into a candidate’s nonverbal communication, and whether that conveys sincerity and constancy, than anything that would require them to, you know, read something. If you doubt me, look at Obama’s election.

22 Feb 2012

Expensive, But Fascinating

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WSJ:

In March, Harvard University Press will publish the Dictionary [of American Regional English]’s Volume V, finishing off the alphabet with slab through zydeco, nearly half a century after the first fieldworkers fanned out in “Word Wagons” to 1,002 communities across America, administering a 1,600-item questionnaire to sometimes-suspicious, often-perplexed locals.

The fruits of their labors have been a feast for the lexicographically inclined ever since. What does a patient in the South mean when he complains of dew poison? What does a waitress in California mean when she offers you coffee and snails? Where would you go if a New Englander directed you to the willywags?

(Answers: The patient has a rash on his feet or legs. The waitress is offering you cinnamon rolls with your cup of joe. The New Englander means what others might call the boonies.)

22 Feb 2012

The Obama Tax Plan

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James Pethokoukis observes that Americans would have limited grounds for rejoicing: (his Tweet) “We go from having the 2nd highest corp. rate to 4th. That’s it? Thank goodness for Belgium!”

The current U.S. economic recovery is arguably the worst in modern American history. Incomes are flat, housing is moribund, and the past three years have seen the longest stretch of high unemployment in this country since the Great Depression. Yet President Barack Obama—with the backing of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner—has the temerity to propose a corporate tax reform plan that would actually raise the tax burden on American business (and de facto on workers, too) without lowering rates to an internationally competitive level. This is a terrible, terrible plan:

..The Obama-Geithner plan would lower the statutory corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent, currently the second-highest among advanced economies. But that would still leave the combined U.S. corporate tax rate—state and federal—at 32.2 percent, far above the OECD combined average of 25 percent. The U.S. combined rate would be a bit below slow-growing Japan and France but above the U.K. and Germany. That’s not nearly good enough. Canada just lowered its corporate tax rate, for instance, to 15 percent. So instead of having the second highest corporate tax rate in the world, the United States would probably be fourth behind Japan, France, and Belgium.

21 Feb 2012

Father Saves Son From Mountain Lion With 3″ Knife

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MySanAntonio:

A 6-year-old boy was attacked by a mountain lion while walking near the lodge at Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park with his family Sunday night.

The boy suffered non-life-threatening injuries — scrapes and puncture wounds to his face, according to park officials.

His father was able to fight off the cat by stabbing it with a pocket knife.

The attack occurred on February 5th. Mr. Hobbs stabbed the lion with a Spyderco Calypso pocketknife with a 3″ blade. Better to have any weapon on hand than no weapon.

21 Feb 2012

Zombie Trailer Park

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Addictive. Play here.

20 Feb 2012

Canada’s Gun Registry Dies

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Before killing himself, the deranged 25-year-old son of an Algerian immigrant shot to death 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989 as a gesture of personal revenge upon Feminism, which he blamed for ruining his life.

Canadian authorities might have deported all anti-feminist Muslims likely to produce defective offspring, but instead they blamed guns, passing Bill C-68 in 1995, which created a Canadian Firearms Registry.

Registering every firearm in Canada was marketed as a measure that would prevent crime, but in reality criminals don’t register guns and the ownership and specific identity of the weapon used in crimes is very rarely a meaningful issue.

Legislation creating the Firearm Registry was passed on the basis of estimates that promised that licensing fees would take care of nearly all its costs.

In reality, the gun registry cost $2.7 billion, 1350x the original estimate.

Why Projects Fail
:

It was originally expected that the project needed only $2 million of investments while registration fees would cover the rest. In 1995, the Department of Justice reported to Parliament that the system would cost $119 million to implement, and that the income generated from licensing fees would be $117 million. This gave a net cost of $2 million.

At the time of the 2002 audit, the revised estimates from the Department of Justice revealed that the cost of the program would be more than $1 billion by 2004/05 and that the income from license fees in the same period would be $140 million. The annual operating costs of the program are reported to be $15 – $80 million.

Last Wednesday, the Canadian Parliament voted to end the Registry of long arms. $2.7 billion later, it was concluded that the Registry had never resulted in the solution of a single murder.

20 Feb 2012

War on Drugs

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One of my commenters responded to my expressing support for legalizing drugs:

Lets assume your motive is constitutional and not because you are a drug user. I think then we can agree on a few things:
1) Most of the drugs that are now illegal are harmful and possibly fatal to use as prescribed. I doubt you believe crack is good for you so I’m going to assume you agree with this.

2)If someone forced my to take crack (or cocaine or heroin etc) they would be assaulting me perhaps even guilty of attempted murder. Again it is a no brainer so I will assume you agree.

3)A child under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to things an adult can consent to. If someone gives my child drugs and my child cannot consent legally then they are “forcing” my child into a harmful/deadly act. Again, a no brainer. About now you are beginning to see where I’m going with this and are looking left and right for a way out.

4)Anyone who tries to kill/assault/attack my child has stepped over a deadly line and I have a constitutional right to protect their life and use deadly force. I assume suddenly you aren’t agreeing with libertarian interpretations of the constitution and want to disagree with me even if it forces you to flip-flop on your beliefs. So that’s it! I will agree to accept that drugs should be legal and we have a constitutional right to put poison in our body if we choose AND you agree that I have a constitutional right to protect myself and my minor children and I can constitutionally use deadly force . Yes! I am saying legalize drugs and tell parents they can shoot anyone selling, sharing or giving their child drugs. All in all I think it is a good compromise, what do you think?

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Like most people who attended college when the Baby Boom generation was young, I did heaps and piles of all kinds of drugs. I’m now getting on in years and am long past all that. I have long since quit smoking, and am obliged to watch my diet fairly carefully. I wish I could do all the things I used to do at age 20 in exactly as carefree a fashion now as then, but there is no possibility of such a thing at all. I do get plenty of drugs, though. I have several prescriptions for regulating blood pressure and so on that I have to take every day.

I have enough experience of life to know perfectly well that some people will kill themselves using drugs recklessly and excessively. But I also know that actually an even larger number of people will inevitably proceed to ruin their lives and kill themselves with alcohol.

We recognized, long ago, that alcohol prohibition didn’t really stop people from drinking. It merely created a hugely profitable black market and caused a nationwide wave of crime and violence. Legal alcohol is associated with harm, but in fact produces much less harm.

The question of your children is a red herring. Has anyone recently forced any of your children to eat free pâté de foie gras or nefariously and at gun point made them consume Godiva chocolates?

If you raise your children properly and they do not inherit special weaknesses and neuroses, they ought to be able to drink alcohol and use drugs responsibly and without major untoward consequences at appropriate ages and occasions like most people.

If drugs were not especially forbidden, there would no drug dealers for you to shoot.

20 Feb 2012

Why Not?

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James Delingpole is not only sound on Anthropogenic Global Warming pseudo-scientific fraud, he is able to articulate the fundamental moral problem with drug prohibition quite succinctly.

    VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul decried the “war on drugs” Thursday night, telling supporters in Washington state that people should be able to make their own decisions on such matters.

    Voters in Washington are likely to decide this year whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana

    “If we are allowed to deal with our eternity and all that we believe in spiritually, and if we’re allowed to read any book that we want under freedom of speech, why is it we can’t put into our body whatever we want?” Paul told more than 1,000 people at a rally in Vancouver, a suburb of Portland, Ore.

Yep. Go on… friends. Tell me: why not???

In a follow-up post, Peter Robinson quotes Milton Friedman in support of Delingpole.

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