Monday, August 10, 2020

Quote of the day

From Theodore Dalrymple, writing in Taki's Magazine:

America has ceased to be different from the rest of the Western world in remaining religious, with the result that politics is the new religion. It has removed transcendence and salvation from the private and personal sphere to the public realm, where it can lead only to conflict.

Well, if (according to Marx) religion is the opiate of the masses, I suppose we can update that expression to "Politics is the methamphetamine of the millenials!"  Looking at many of the Antifa/BLM demonstrators protesters rioters on our streets, it's hard to disagree . . .


Doofus Of The Day #1,064

Today's award goes to an Australian academic (?) who claims that the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk" is a metaphor for male sexual awakening.  A tip o' the hat to Australian correspondent Andrew for sending me the link.

When creative writing lecturer and author Claire Corbett first learned that the iconic fairytale Jack And The Beanstalk was one long extended metaphor about penises, she laughed.

“First off I thought, ‘Oh this is ridiculous,’” she told

“But then when I thought about it, I saw something in it.”

. . .

Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim first pointed out that the beanstalk was symbolic of a phallus in the 1970s.

. . .

Corbett’s first piece of evidence is the title.

“It’s Jack And The Beanstalk. Not Jack And The Golden Harp or Jack And His Adventures In The Sky,” she said.

“That’s because the beanstalk is driving the action.

“If the beanstalk is maturing male sexuality then Jack And The Beanstalk is a story about male individuation and growing up.”

“Jack and his mother are living alone in the cottage. No dad,” Corbett said. “His mother tells him to sell their beloved cow at market because she’s not giving any more milk.

“Could there be a clearer image of a post-menopausal woman? No more fertility, no more mummy’s milk.

“She’s dried up. Jack is understandably upset by this. He’s being asked to cut a childhood tie to his mother.”

There's more at the link (if you can stand to read such drivel).

That's what happens when academics (?) analyze something in the light of modern fads and foibles, instead of going back to their origins and analyzing them in the light of the times from which they sprang.  "Jack and the Beanstalk" originates in the late 1700's.  I doubt very much whether its original author had even the slightest inkling of male sexual awakening as a "thing", much less tried to write a literary metaphor about it!

(As for Bruno Bettelheim, I note that "Much of his work was discredited after his death due to fraudulent academic credentials, allegations of abusive treatment of patients under his care, accusations of plagiarism, and lack of oversight by institutions and the psychological community."  Why am I not surprised to read that?  Indeed, if the above article's citation of his theories is any indication, all I can say is "No s***, Sherlock!")

This is simply nonsensical.  It's a politically correct fairy tale all of its own.  I'd expect any self-respecting institution of higher education to immediately fire this "lecturer", and ensure that she never again works in education at all, at any level.  Sadly, in today's politically correct world, that probably won't happen.  Instead, she'll be given the chair of a newly established Faculty of Fairy Tale Analysis, and win a Nobel Prize for a post-doctoral thesis on "The Carnal Implications of a Wolf Blowing your House Down".



Memes that made me laugh 19

Seen over the past week on the Interwebs.

(Click to enlarge)


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sunday Morning Music

I was playing songs from my music collection during a writing session last week when the software selected, at random, a couple of songs from a Gypsy Kings album I have.  It was great to hear them again;  it added a little Latin verve to my listening.

The Gypsy Kings are an interesting group.  They're from France, but mostly descendants of Spanish gitanos (Romani, or gypsies) who sought refuge in France after the Spanish Civil War.  Their Spanish music is therefore fully authentic - they were born and raised in that tradition.  They've been successful all over the world.

I thought you might enjoy a full Gypsy Kings concert, so here's one recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2004.

Verve indeed!


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Saturday snippet: The atomic bomb, Hiroshima, and choices

I've quoted before from George MacDonald Fraser's magnificent World War II memoir, "Quartered Safe Out Here".

It's one of the finest memoirs by a British enlisted man to come out of that conflict, ranking right up there with Eugene Sledge's "With The Old Breed", perhaps the best American enlisted memoir of the war.

Fraser's memoir is even more eloquent because he was one of the great raconteurs of British literature after World War II, in journalism, fiction and screenwriting.  He was one of the best authors of his generation, and it shows in his retrospective look at his wartime career.

Since this year marks the 75th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, I thought it might be appropriate to excerpt in full Fraser's thoughts on what that meant to the ordinary fighting soldiers of his generation, specifically those in the Scottish regiment in which he served.  My father, who served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, and would have been part of the proposed invasion of Japan if that had been necessary, spoke very approvingly of Fraser's opinion on the matter.

It was a fine sunny morning when the news, in its garbled form, ran round the battalion, and if it changed the world, it didn’t change Nine Section. They sat on the floor of the basha, backs to the wall, supping chah [tea] and being sceptical. “Secret weapon” was an expression bandied about with cynical humour all through the war; Foshie’s socks and Grandarse’s flatulence, those were secret weapons, and super-bombs were the stuff of fantasy. I didn’t believe it, that first day, although from the talk at company H.Q. it was fairly clear that something big had happened, or was about to happen. And even when it was confirmed, and unheard of expressions like “atomic bomb” and “Hiroshima” (then pronounced Hirosheema) were bandied about, it all seemed very distant and unlikely. Three days after the first rumour, on the very day that the second bomb fell on Nagasaki, one of the battalion’s companies was duffying with a Jap force on the Sittang bank and killing 21 of them – that was the war, not what was happening hundreds of miles away. As Grandarse so sagely observed: “They want tae drop their fookin’ atoms on the Pegu Yomas, then we’ll git the bleedin’ war ower.” Even then, Nick wasn’t prepared to bet that we wouldn’t be going into Malaya with mules; we would all, he prophesied, get killed.

It took a week, as all the world knows now, for the Japanese government to call it a day, but even after the official surrender of August 14 there was no cease-fire along the Rangoon road; it was almost a fortnight before the Japs in the field started to come in, and the business of rounding up and disarming the remnants began, but by that time I was over the hills and far away, perspiring before a selection board at Chittagong, playing idiotic games of word association, trying to convince psychiatrists that I combined the qualities of Francis of Assisi and Genghiz Khan, that I knew which knife and fork to use, and “actually, sir, the reason I want to be an officer is, honestly, that I’m sure it’s how I can best serve the Army, if you know what I mean, sir.” “Quite so, corporal – now, when I say the word ‘rape’ what’s the first thought that comes to your mind?” “Sir? Sorry, sir, I didn’t quite catch that . . .”

But that was still in the future. The war ended in mid-August, and even before then Nine Section had decided that the fight, if not necessarily done, had reached a stage where celebration was permissible. I joined them in the makeshift canteen, quantities of beer were shifted, Forster sang “Cumberland Way” and “The Horn of the Hunter” in an excruciating nasal croak with his eyes closed, Wedge wept and was sick, Wattie passed out, Morton became bellicose because, he alleged, Forster had pinched his pint, Parker and Stanley separated them, and harmony of a sort was restored with a thunderous rendering of “John Peel”, all verses, from Denton Holme to Scratchmere Scar with Peel’s view-halloo awakening the dead – Cumbrians may be among the world’s worst vocalists, but they alone can sing that rousing anthem of pursuit as it should be sung, with a wild primitive violence that makes the Horst Wessel sound like a lullaby, Grandarse red-faced and roaring and Nick pounding the time and somehow managing to sing with his pipe clenched in his teeth.

Like everyone else, we were glad it was over, brought to a sudden, devastating stop by those two bombs that fell on Japan. We had no slightest thought of what it would mean for the future, or even what it meant at the time; we did not know what the immediate effect of those bombs had been on their targets, and we didn’t much care. We were of a generation to whom Coventry and the London Blitz and Clydebank and Liverpool and Plymouth were more than just names; our country had been hammered mercilessly from the sky, and so had Germany; we had seen the pictures of Belsen and of the frozen horror of the Russian front; part of our higher education had been devoted to techniques of killing and destruction; we were not going to lose sleep because the Japanese homeland had taken its turn. If anything, at the time, remembering the kind of war it had been, and the kind of people we, personally, had been up against, we probably felt that justice had been done. But it was of small importance when weighed against the glorious fact that the war was over at last.

There was certainly no moralising, no feeling at all of the guilt which some thinkers nowadays seem to want to attach to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And because so many myths have been carefully fostered about it, and so much emotion generated, all on one side, with no real thought for those most affected by it on the Allied side, I would like just to look at it, briefly, from our minority point of view. And not only ours, but perhaps yours, too.

Some years ago I heard a man denounce the nuclear bombing of Japan as an obscenity; it was monstrous, barbarous, and no civilised people could even have contemplated it; we should all be thoroughly ashamed of it.

I couldn’t argue with him, or deny the obscenity, monstrosity, and barbarism. I could only ask him questions, such as:

“Where were you when the war ended?”

“In Glasgow.”

“Will you answer a hypothetical question: if it were possible, would you give your life now, to restore one of the lives of Hiroshima?”

He wriggled a good deal, said it wasn’t relevant, or logical, or whatever, but in the end, to do him justice, he admitted that he wouldn’t.

So I asked him: “By what right, then, do you say that Allied lives should have been sacrificed to save the victims of Hiroshima? Because what you’re saying is that, while you’re not willing to give your life, Allied soldiers should have given theirs. Mine for one, possibly.”

It was a bit unfair, perhaps, if only because I am rather heavily built and he was an elderly philosopher and I was obviously much moved, which may have flustered him, because he was unwise enough to say that that was the point – we were soldiers, the bomb victims were civilians. I did not pursue the question whether the lives of your own soldiers should be sacrificed for the safety of enemy civilians, because if you get into that particular moral jungle you’ll never come out; but I did point out that we were, in fact, civilians, too – civilians in uniform, and could he understand our possible resentment that people whose lives and liberties we had been fighting to protect (him, in fact) should be ready to expend us for the sake of Japanese?

He was getting quite alarmed now, because I do have a tendency to raise my voice in debate. But he stuck to his guns and cried “Japanese women and children!”

I conceded this, and pointed out that I had three children – but if I’d gone down in Malaya they’d never have been born; they would, in fact, have been as effectively deprived of existence as the children of Nagasaki. Was he advocating that?

He pointed out, fairly, that I might not have gone down in Malaya, to which I (only too glad to escape from the argumentum ad hominem which I’d introduced, because it makes you sound like a right moaning “I-was-there” jungle-basher) retorted that someone would surely have bought his lot in Malaya, and how about his children?

He bolted, predictably, along the only escape route open to him – and a well-worn one it has become – by saying that the bombs were unnecessary because Japan was ready to surrender anyway, and it was only done because Truman wanted to use the thing to frighten the Russians, and all this talk that it would have cost 50,000 Allied lives to storm Japan was horse manure, because it would never have come to that.

“You think,” I said, “you hope. But you don’t know.”

Yes, he did, and cited authorities.

“All right,” I said. “Leave aside that I am arguably in a better position than you are to judge whether Jap was ready to surrender or not, at least at the sharp end, whatever Hirohito and Co were thinking – are you saying that the war would have ended on August 15 if the bombs hadn’t been dropped?”

“No, of course not. But not long after . . . a few weeks . . .”

“Months, maybe?”

“Possibly . . . not likely . . .”

“But at any rate, some Allied lives would have been lost, after August 15 – lives which in fact were saved by the bombs?” Not mine, because I’d been in India by then, and the war would have had to go on for several months for me to get involved again. I didn’t tell him that; it would just have confused the issue.

Yes, he admitted, some additional Allied lives would have been lost; he didn’t say they were expendable, but he plainly thought so.

“And that would have been all right with you? British, Indian, American, Australian, Chinese – my God, yes, even Russian – all right for them to die, but not the people of Hiroshima – or you?”

He said something about military casualties being inevitable in war (he was telling me!), but that the scale of Hiroshima, the devastation, the after-effects, the calculated immolation of a whole city’s population. . .

“Look,” I said, “I’m not arguing with you. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you. I just wanted to know where you stood, and to mention some points which you may not have considered, and to have you ask yourself if you are really in a position, morally speaking, to say who should have died and who shouldn’t?”

“Well!” he said, looking aggrieved. “Where do you stand?”

“None of your goddam business,” I said, sweetly reasonable as always, “but wherever it is, or was, it’s somewhere you have never been, among people whom you wouldn’t understand.” Which was a bit over the score, but these armchair philosophers who live in their safe havens of the mind, and take their extensive moral views without ever really thinking, or exploring those unpleasant dark corners of debate which they don’t like to think are there – they can, as Grandarse would have said, get on my wick.

As to where I stand – oh, in so many different places. They change with time, and my view is coloured by many different considerations. These are some of them.

The dropping of the bombs was a hideous thing, and I do not wonder that some of those who bore a part in it have been haunted by it all their lives. If it was not barbaric, the word has no meaning.

I led Nine Section for a time; leading or not, I was part of it. They were my mates, and to them I was bound by ties of duty, loyalty, and honour. Now, take Nine Section as representing those Allied soldiers who would certainly have died if the bombs had not been dropped (and remember that Nine Section might well have been not representatives, but the men themselves). Could I say, yes, Grandarse or Nick or Forster were expendable, and should have died rather than the victims of Hiroshima? No, never. And that goes for every Indian, American, Australian, African, Chinese and other soldier whose life was on the line in August, 1945. So drop the bomb.

And it was not only their lives, as I pointed out to my antibomb disputant. To reduce it to a selfish, personal level . . . if the bombs had been withheld, and the war had continued on conventional lines, then even if I’d failed my board and gone with the battalion into Malaya, the odds are that I’d have survived: 4 to 1 actuarially speaking, on the section’s Burma fatalities. But I might have been that one, in which case my three children and six grandchildren would never have been born. And that, I’m afraid, is where all discussion of pros and cons evaporates and becomes meaningless, because for those nine lives I would pull the plug on the whole Japanese nation and never even blink. And so, I dare suggest, would you. And if you wouldn’t, you may be nearer to the divine than I am but you sure as hell aren’t fit to be parents or grandparents.

It comes to this, then, that I think the bombing was right? On those two counts, without a doubt. If it wasn’t, what were we fighting for? And then I have another thought.

You see, I have a feeling that if – and I know it’s an impossible if – but if, on that sunny August morning, Nine Section had known all that we know now of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and could have been shown the effect of that bombing, and if some voice from on high had said: “There – that can end the war for you, if you want. But it doesn’t have to happen; the alternative is that the war, as you’ve known it, goes on to a normal victorious conclusion, which may take some time, and if the past is anything to go by, some of you won’t reach the end of the road. Anyway, Malaya’s down that way . . . it’s up to you”, I think I know what would have happened. They would have cried “Aw, fook that!” with one voice, and then they would have sat about, snarling, and lapsed into silence, and then someone would have said heavily, “Aye, weel,” and got to his feet, and been asked “W’eer th’ ‘ell you gan, then?” and given no reply, and at last the rest would have got up, too, gathering their gear with moaning and foul language and ill-tempered harking back to the long dirty bloody miles from the Imphal boxes to the Sittang Bend and the iniquity of having to do it again, slinging their rifles and bickering about who was to go on point, and “Ah’s aboot ’ed it, me!” and “You, ye bugger, ye’re knackered afower ye start, you!” and “We’ll a’ git killed!”, and then they would have been moving south. Because that is the kind of men they were. And that is why I have written this book.

Quite so.

For a trenchant memoir of Fraser's later years, and his caustic observations on it, see his "The Light's On at Signpost".

Both of his memoirs are highly recommended reading, as are all his books.


Friday, August 7, 2020

Steam heating systems to combat a pandemic? I didn't know that

There's a fascinating snippet of history in a Bloomberg article about steam radiator heating systems.

It turns out that the prodigious output of steam-heated buildings is the direct result of theories of infection control that were enlisted in the battle against the great global pandemic of 1918 and 1919.

The Spanish Influenza, which caused just over 20,000 deaths in New York City alone, “changed heating once and for all.” That’s according to Dan Holohan, a retired writer, consultant, and researcher with extensive knowledge of heating systems and steam heating.

Most radiator systems appeared in major American cities like New York City in the first third of the 20th century. This golden age of steam heat didn’t merely coincide with that pandemic: Beliefs about how to fight airborne illness influenced the design of heating systems, and created a persistent pain point for those who’ve cohabitated with a cranky old radiator.

Health officials thought (correctly) that fresh air would ward off airborne diseases; then as now, cities rushed to move activities outdoors, from schools to courtrooms. When winter came, the need for fresh air didn’t abate. According to Holohan’s research, the Board of Health in New York City ordered that windows should remain open to provide ventilation, even in cold weather. In response, engineers began devising heating systems with this extreme use case in mind. Steam heating and radiators were designed to heat buildings on the coldest day of the year with all the windows open. Anybody who’s thrown their windows open in January, when their apartment is stifling, is, in an odd way, replicating what engineers hoped would happen a century ago.

. . .

As a Covid-haunted winter looms, residents of steam-heated buildings may get another opportunity to crank their radiators up and put them to their intended use. Holohan says he’s bemused to see his field of expertise reemerge in connection with the current pandemic, as ventilation is being again promoted as a key strategy to cut infection.

There's more at the link.

It's also interesting to connect the dots between the heating of buildings and the general adoption of the germ theory of disease, which gained acceptance at about the same time that heating and "fresh air" became widely accepted as factors for good health.  There was considerable opposition to the germ theory, which was only reluctantly overcome, and in some cases persists to this day.  Indeed, one aspect of germ theory denialism - the so-called "Sanitary Movement" - became a major force behind cleaning up cities, their air, and water supplies.  That, in turn, paved the way for heating systems to warm up the newly-abundant fresh (but very cold) air in winter.

The miasma theory of disease may have been inaccurate, but the public health solutions begun to combat “filth” and “sewer gas” would have abiding, salutary effects. The anticontagionists built a public health infrastructure and professionalized its management, improving the lives and safeguarding the health of millions. The sanitarians’ science was wrong, but their activism in the name of the public good benefited all Americans. Indeed, most medical historians believe that the sanitation movement, and its attendant improvements in urban health and food safety, contributed far more to the increase in Western life expectancy in the 20th century (primarily through the prevention of infectious diseases) than did much of modern medicine. The turnaround in mortality rates came well before the rise and general use of vaccines and antibiotics.

Again, more at the link.

So, if you live or work in a building with old-fashioned steam heat radiators, let them remind you of our sometimes shaky medical history.


Should the NRA be dissolved?

It seems the New York Attorney-General has filed suit to dissolve the National Rifle Association (NRA) in response to what she calls "fraud and abuse".

Attorney General Letitia James claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday that she found financial misconduct in the millions of dollars and that it contributed to a loss of more than $64 million over a three-year period.

The suit alleges that top NRA executives misused charitable funds for personal gain, awarded contracts to friends and family members, and provided contracts to former employees to ensure loyalty.

There's more at the link.

On the one hand, I'm reluctant to see the NRA disappear, because it does so much good for the shooting community:  education and training programs, assistance to local shooting ranges, etc.  On the other hand, as I've said in these pages before, the open corruption exhibited by its current leadership is inexcusable.  There's no way I'll donate to or support the organization unless and until a wholesale house-cleaning has been conducted, and Wayne LaPierre and all his cronies and supporters are evicted from the NRA once and for all.

I'm very conflicted about this lawsuit.  It's been filed by an Attorney-General who's been outspoken in her determination to tackle the NRA as a symbol of the "gun culture" she deplores.  I'm sure there's political animus involved on her part.  On the other hand, if she's right about finding corruption and illegal activity in the NRA, she's entirely within her rights to file for its dissolution - and that may not be a bad thing.  Indeed, if LaPierre and his cronies are determined to hold onto control no matter what, it may be the only way to get rid of them.  The problem will be to stop them moving into other organizations and mounting a take-over bid.  Prison terms might be the only way to avoid that.

Whatever happens, the shooting sports community will be impacted by this mess.  I suggest we all do our best to support other activist groups who'll work to support our Second Amendment rights - organizations such as Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, etc., as well as regional and local groups.  I also hope right-minded individuals within the NRA are already taking steps to "export" its training programs and other important operations to other groups, so that if the NRA disappears, they can continue seamlessly under another umbrella.

Even if the NRA survives, there's the problem of what to do with those complicit in any illegal or corrupt acts.  I hope they go to prison.  They deserve no better, and they've forfeited our trust.  Strip them of their ill-gotten gains, and let them rot behind bars.


When the "rule of law" makes no sense, vigilante law takes over

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) has just published a very good article examining why respect for the law is diminishing among Americans.

Given the events of the last few months, there can be little doubt that Americans’ respect for the rule of law is dissipating, and this is happening in no small part because inconsistencies in the law are becoming obvious.

. . .

Governor Cuomo recently issued emergency orders that New Yorkers must wear face masks in public, practice social distancing, and self-quarantine when they return to New York from various high-risk states. The Governor managed to violate all three of his own rules recently on a trip to Savannah. A private citizen who behaves contrary to his own rules is merely a hypocrite. But when an elected official does so, it sends a message to the people. It tells them the official’s orders just aren’t that important.

. . .

In response to COVID-19, the government has suspended all manner of rules and regulations originally enacted for public safety. To encourage telemedicine, the Department of Health and Human Services suspended rules requiring medical professionals to have separate licenses to practice medicine in multiple states. The Food and Drug Administration relaxed regulations in order to allow companies producing COVID-19 test kits to get the kits to market faster. The Department of Transportation suspended rules limiting the number of hours truckers could drive per day so as to get products to markets faster. It’s inconsistent that the government would find it necessary to suspend rules enacted for our safety in order to make us safer. Either the suspension is not making us safer, or the suspended rules weren’t making us safe to begin with.

When the law becomes incomprehensible and inconsistent, people lose faith in both the law and government institutions that secure it. This may go a long way toward explaining the growing political animosity of the past decades. In ceasing to be a nation of laws, we have become instead a nation of lawmakers. If the law is to be king, it must speak in a clear and consistent voice. And if that can’t happen, it should say as little as possible.

There's more at the link.

Sadly, that's typical of most governments, and has been throughout history.  The initial tendency for any government is to rule imperiously.  "Do as I say, because I say so!"  Kings and emperors were notorious for this.  As democracy spread, the new style of government found it necessary to persuade people to respect the law rather than merely command it;  but that wasn't too difficult if obedience to the laws was associated with receiving benefits from the government that made them.  "You want roads, and sewers, and street lights, and good governance?  Then you have to accept these rules and regulations along with them.  They're part of the package.  Rebel against them, and your towns/cities/states will become a lot less habitable."

After a while, when society grew too big, and there were simply too many people to pay attention to minor groups or problems, the unelected bureaucracy took over.  Politicians were too busy attending to the broad sweep of problems to worry about how to implement solutions.  Instead, they delegated that authority to faceless bureaucrats who didn't have to answer to the people for what they did.

That's how a simple legislative act like establishing the Transportation Security Administration can lead to endless delays and pettifogging bureaucracy imposed on our travel.  As FEE's article points out:

TSA regulations ... restrict the size of liquid containers that may be brought on board aircraft. Passengers caught with over-sized containers are required to throw them in a trash can located at the security checkpoint. If over-sized liquids are a danger, they should be disposed of in a secure location, away from people. If they aren’t a danger, the TSA is simply wasting people’s time and causing aggravation by collecting them. The rule is inconsistent with the rule’s implementation.

Quite so.  Those regulations aren't included in the law establishing the TSA.  They're add-ons by faceless bureaucrats drunk with power.  "Do as I say, peasant, even if it doesn't make sense, or you won't fly today!"

An even worse danger is when politics determine how the law is applied.  Take St. Louis, Missouri.  Rioters who are clearly breaking the law are arrested by police - and immediately released without charge by the left-wing District Attorney, who sympathizes with their position.  On the other hand, the McCluskeys, who took up arms to defend their home (entirely in accordance with the provisions of Missouri law) are charged with "brandishing a weapon" by that same DA, in defiance of the law (so much and so obviously in defiance of it that the State's Attorney-General immediately moved to dismiss the charges, and the State's Governor promised to pardon the McCluskeys if necessary).

When the enforcement of laws is selective, depending on the political views of those charged with their enforcement, then the rule of law no longer applies.  That's one of the primary reasons why the USA is in such turmoil today.  The law is not being equally or fairly applied in far too many jurisdictions.  Did the residents and businesses in the so-called "CHOP" zone in Seattle consent to be stripped of police protection, and governed by arbitrary "mob rule"?  Of course they didn't - but they weren't asked for their opinion.  Political correctness overruled their rights under the law.

Tragically, such policies and incidents can have only one outcome.  People will take the law into their own hands, because they can't trust the authorities to administer it fairly and even-handedly.  Are demonstrators approaching a neighborhood, and those living there know the law enforcement authorities will do little to protect them from extremists?  Then they're going to protect themselves, by any means they deem necessary.  Genuinely peaceful demonstrators will be treated the same as violent extremists, because there's no time or inclination to distinguish between them.

What's more, locals will probably obstruct any subsequent investigation, because they have to look after their own.  After all, they know law enforcement authorities won't.  Indeed, in some jurisdictions, investigators may turn a blind eye to defenders' transgressions.  After all, when so many demonstrators are calling to "defund the police", the police know who's on which side - and they're almost certainly reluctant to crack down on their own supporters.  If evidence conveniently "can't be found" to support charges, those charges will never be brought.

I fear vigilantism and "lynch law" are about to make a comeback, because in the absence of the even-handed, objective rule of law, there's little alternative.


Thursday, August 6, 2020

"The Incredible Economic Costs of Political Censorship"

That's the title of a long, but very interesting article by Aaron Clarey about the real cost of political correctness and "woke"-ness to the US economy, both businesses and consumers.  He goes into a lot of detail about how political and social issues are creating an economic burden of colossal proportions.  Here's a lengthy excerpt from a still longer article, which I do recommend you read in full.

So what is politics but a dump truck full of sand being poured into the US economic engine?

Here this is not so much Big Tech as it is every company that has decided to pursue a marketing strategy of [corporate social responsibility] and corporate virtue signalling.  The explicit financial outlays corporations have made to "celebrate diversity" or "celebrate Gay Pride month" or hire something as wasteful as a "Diversity and Inclusion VP" ... is a profligate waste of money.

. . .

But real cost to the US economy comes at the micro-economic level.  Specifically, "diversity/sensitivity/sexual-harassment/CSR/otherwise-political" meetings.

Why an accountant has to sit through a meeting of any political flavor is beyond any sane, rational person's guess.

Why you're forcing your entire labor force into an "environmentalism" meeting to "save the planet" can only be a statement to your political-radicalism and not your ability to be a manager.

And why you shut down the presses, so you can have some huckster in the form of a "diversity consultant" insult your entire staff by falsely accusing the of race/sexism, means you're just a grade a political prick who really wants to destroy employee morale.

With employers replacing merit with traits, they not only piss off their largely un-bigoted labor force, they also heavily disincentivize people to perform their best.  And as they promote people based on the color of their skin and not their content of character, there is a huge talent loss to the corporate sector of the economy.  So when you tally up the costs of:

  • The explicit financial costs expended on political virtue signaling
  • Lost economic production do to unnecessary meetings
  • The demoralization of your employees accusing them of being race/sexist
  • The loss of loyalty from your employees
  • The lower economic production
  • The exodus of your best talent to competitors or self employment
The total economic costs to society are easily in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

But this is just one example of political grains of sand getting in everybody's engine.  The (largely) leftist political zeitgeist is everywhere in the US.

I've spent about a week's worth of labor going through THREE different merch sites because Cafepress won't allow "guns" on their products, Redbubble won't allow anything Corona-related, and Zazzle is just a nightmare of an interface to use.

A buddy of mine I know uses his wife's SS number as a shell company to get government contracts because "vagina > dick."

Nearly every college student has to waste 2 years and $40,000 taking unnecessary leftist-liberal arts prereqs to get degrees that has nothing to do with them.

And how many death by a thousand cuts do you think these debatably-valid mask mandates are costing society both in terms of micro-economic costs as well as mental illness?

These daily micro-transactions/costs add up, slowing economic production as we waste time jumping over these unnecessary hurdles, all because corporations (among other institutions) insist on politics and political censorship.

And then finally, switching costs.

Though, not major, if corporate politics gets too insulting, people will leave.  This was the case where nearly every corporation converged and universally took a knee, and sent out some kind of lecturing "letter from the CEO" essentially accusing their entire customer base of being rac/sexist.  The taste left in customers' mouths when corporations go political is not pleasant to any one.  But being accused of being "toxic," "racist," "sexist," or plain simple "evil" is not acceptable at all.  And so now many people want to leave certain corporate brands and find new ones.

In the case of Gillette razors, this is simple.  You simply don't buy Gillette or any Proctor and Gamble product.  But what about cell phone providers?  Retirement brokerages?  Banks?  Or anything more infrastructural to your life?

Now we once again have a triple cost of labor.

The customer has to go and research and find a company that isn't a marxist, insulting, sanctimonious, virtue-signaling slime bucket (which is harder than you think as all corporations have jumped on the virtue signaling bandwagon).

The customer also has to change and update all their credit card numbers/billing addresses/EIN/etc. etc. (I got to have this fun experience when I was switching from Patreon to Subscribestar).

The company losing the customer now has to spend resources on closing the account, but not first without having the uneviable customer service rep waste resources trying to plead with you to stay.

Then the company acquiring the new customer has to spend resources setting up your new account.  Happy as they may be to take your apolitical business, they still need to spend resources setting it up.

If corporations had just shut the f up about politics in the first place, following the golden rule of you don't talk politics or religion, they could have kept their clients, saved their money, and people would have been happy with the good product at a fair price they were selling.  But no, corporations had to get woke, they had to introduce politics, and now we all get to spend our afternoons changing usernames and passwords...which, if you didn't know, doesn't improve the economy or society.

In the end there is no way to tally what the costs of politics, political censorship, and corporate virtue signaling is.  As an economist I would put the back-of-napkin calculations at easily half a trillion in explicit financial costs, but (more importantly) easily two trillion in lost potential economic production.  And this says nothing of the ancillary mental and psychological costs of stress, frustration, anger, even suicide/depression people suffer (least of all, those unfortunate souls who have to sift through all the horrific content being uploaded to Big Tech platforms).  But whatever the number, it is a steep price to pay to either pander to advertisers' political sensibilities, pander to society's preferred politics, or to pander to the political pet-projects of the now-Gen X managerial class who truly believe "diversity" is a marketing strategy.

There's much more at the link.  Very worthwhile reading, and food for thought.


The Congo mine that made the Hiroshima bomb work

Seventy-five years ago today, on August 6th, 1945, the first atomic bomb used in combat was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  It killed 70,000-80,000 people through blast and the subsequent firestorm, while another 70,000 or so were injured.

Many people still don't know that the uranium used in the bomb did not come from North America.  It originated in an obscure part of Africa.  The BBC reports:

The Shinkolobwe mine – named after a kind of boiled apple that would leave a burn if squeezed – was the source for nearly all of the uranium used in the Manhattan Project, culminating with the construction of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

. . .

The story of Shinkolobwe began when a rich seam of uranium was discovered there in 1915, while the Congo was under colonial rule by Belgium. There was little demand for uranium back then: its mineral form is known as pitchblende, from a German phrase describing it as a worthless rock. Instead, the land was mined by the Belgian company Union Minière for its traces of radium, a valuable element that had been recently isolated by Marie and Pierre Curie.

It was only when nuclear fission was discovered in 1938 that the potential of uranium became apparent. After hearing about the discovery, Albert Einstein immediately wrote to US president Franklin D Roosevelt, advising him that the element could be used to generate a colossal amount of energy – even to construct powerful bombs. In 1942, US military strategists decided to buy as much uranium as they could to pursue what became known as the Manhattan Project. And while mines existed in Colorado and Canada, nowhere in the world had as much uranium as the Congo.

“The geology of Shinkolobwe is described as a freak of nature,” says Tom Zoellner, who visited Shinkolobwe in the course of writing Uranium – War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World. “In no other mine could you see a purer concentration of uranium. Nothing like it has ever been found.”

Mines in the US and Canada were considered a “good” prospect if they could yield ore with 0.03% uranium. At Shinkolobwe, ores typically yielded 65% uranium. The waste pile of rock deemed too poor quality to bother processing, known as tailings, contained 20% uranium.

In a deal with Union Minière – negotiated by the British, who owned a 30% interest in the company – the US secured 1,200 tonnes of Congolese uranium, which was stockpiled on Staten Island, US, and an additional 3,000 tonnes that was stored above ground at the mine in Shinkolobwe. But it was not enough. US Army engineers were dispatched to drain the mine, which had fallen into disuse, and bring it back into production.

Under Belgian rule, Congolese workers toiled day and night in the open pit, sending hundreds of tonnes of uranium ore to the US every month. “Shinkolobwe decided who would be the next leader of the world,” says Mombilo. “Everything started there.”

All of this was carried out under a blanket of secrecy, so as not to alert Axis powers about the existence of the Manhattan Project. Shinkolobwe was erased from maps, and spies sent to the region to sow deliberate disinformation about what was taking place there. Uranium was referred to as “gems”, or simply “raw material”. The word Shinkolobwe was never to be uttered.

This secrecy was maintained long after the end of the war. “Efforts were made to give the message that the uranium came from Canada, as a way of deflecting attention away from the Congo,” says Williams. The effort was so thorough, she says, that the belief the atomic bombs were built with Canadian uranium persists to this day.

There's more at the link, including the less savory side of the mine and the damage it's done to the Congo over the decades since then.

I've been in that area.  Shinkolobwe isn't far from the road between Lumumbashi and Kolwezi, in southern Congo.  I've traveled between them more than once.  I knew there was a mine there, still operational at the time, but didn't know the details.  It's interesting that I had to wait until I was on another continent, decades later, to find out its history.


Trite, perhaps, but still very, very true

Here's Stephan Pastis' "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip from last Sunday.  Click the image to be taken to a larger view at the strip's Web page.

That's something I tried to get across to my congregations as a pastor.  Am I praying for God to do something?  Guess whose hands and feet and eyes and ears and mouth he has to do it with?  That's right . . . mine.

When I hear people saying that "something should be done about" or "the government should fix" this, or that, or the other problem, I find all too often that they mean someone else should do it.  Challenge them to be part of the solution, and they'll recoil in indignation.

It's the old saying writ large about "putting your money where your mouth is".  Too few of us are prepared to do that.  It's a permanent challenge to me, too, and a salutary reminder that I have to practice what I preach, and not just say it.  Actions speak a heck of a lot louder than words - and I don't mean activism, demonstrations, rioting and extremism, either.  Any fool can tear down.  It takes a worthwhile human being to build up . . . and that starts with us.