Thursday, August 13, 2020

Whether from pandemic or riots, our lifestyle is changing fast


Bloomberg and an associated company teamed up to analyze how Americans are using, or visiting, or interacting with, a number of institutions in our society, and compared it to pre-COVID-19 figures.  The results are eye-opening.

By counting phone signals in 15 designated areas each day for the past three months, the data offer a way to see how many people are returning to where they eat, play and spend money — at mega malls, upscale retail streets and nightlife hotspots. Golf courses are humming again, but so are the nation’s non-profit food banks, underscoring the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The picture that emerges is not of a V-shaped recovery, but of an economy that’s being reshaped, taking its time to heal and threatening to leave permanent scars.

Like a Hurricane

Months of home confinement have left many Americans itching for a night out at the bars, or maybe a getaway to one of those cities where whatever happens there stays there.

Such is the allure of Las Vegas, Nashville and New Orleans. But pedestrian traffic in the main nightlife districts in the three cities ranges from just 15% to 44% of year-earlier levels, according to Orbital’s phone tracking data.

. . .

At the other end of America’s economic strata are those who find themselves without enough money to eat. In March, nearly 200 U.S. food banks suddenly became lifelines to the thousands who never needed such assistance.

Mauled at the Malls

As many as 25,000 stores are expected to close in the U.S. in this year, mostly in shopping malls, according to Coresight Research. Bankruptcies are piling up, leaving landlords and their retail tenants to worry about the future.

At South Coast Plaza in Southern California, the Mall of America near Minneapolis and King of Prussia mall northwest of Philadelphia, activity is returning slowly but still looks down 44% to 76% from a year ago, Orbital’s phone data show. That matches up with what mall tenants are seeing.

. . .

In upscale urban shopping districts from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, the summer flocks of tourists aren’t materializing like usual and activity looks to be 25% to 36% of last year’s level.

There's much more at the link.  Interesting and worrying reading.

What concerns me is that such economic effects aren't being correlated with the influences that may affect them.  For example, if shopping districts are less patronized now than they were before, how much of that is due to lack of spending money (thanks to the economic consequences of COVID-19), and how much due to a lack of security in big-city environments?  If rioting mobs can strip Chicago's Magnificent Mile bare, what hope do the stores there have of persuading regular shoppers to return?  I'd say it's likely that the lack of security is a dominant factor, but I can't be sure about that, because we simply don't know the facts.

Wolf Street provides correlation of the Bloomberg report from other data sources.

... foot traffic in Kansas City is 74% of where it was in the week ended January 15; and ... in San Francisco, foot traffic is 43% of where it was in the week ended January 15.

. . .

Foot traffic into the security zones of airports – the TSA’s daily checkpoint screenings, a real-time indication of how many people are flying – shows similar stall in the recovery, but a much lower levels, still down about 70% from a year ago.

. . .

Office occupancy collapsed in March and April as people stopped going to the office, and the 10-metro average hit a low of around 15% – meaning that office occupancy, as measured by employees entering the office, was down 85% from pre-Pandemic levels. Then there was a mild recovery. But the recovery stalled in mid-June. The average of the top 10 metros (red line in the chart) is at 22.6%, just below where it had been in the week of June 17.

Again, more at the link.

I think security - physical security - is going to be a dominant factor, reshaping the way many of us live, particularly in larger cities.  ASM286, blogging at Borepatch's place, quotes Detroit mayor Coleman Young on the impact of the 1967 riots there:

The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit's losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the riot, totaling twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.

It's no longer just "white flight", of course - it's the flight of economically self-sufficient people of all races from the rioting mobs who expect the authorities to support their lifestyle and put up with their nonsense.  People with sense won't shop in riot-torn areas, won't travel to cities where that sort of danger is more likely, and won't spend their money there either.  More and more, average Americans are voting with their feet, as we've discussed in these pages on several occasions.  I think the exodus is growing by the day.

Cities who, by their tolerance of riots and unrest, have caused that exodus, will probably (and real soon now) rue the loss of ratepayers and consumers that it represents - because there's nothing and no-one to replace them.

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #1,065


Today's award goes to Bouygues Telecom, a telephone company in France.

A woman in south-west France, who received a telephone bill of nearly 12 quadrillion euros, has had the real amount she owed waived - after the company admitted its mistake.

Solenne San Jose, from Pessac outside Bordeaux, said she received a huge shock when she opened the bill for 11,721,000,000,000,000 euros.

This is nearly 6,000 times France's annual economic output.

. . .

The former teaching assistant said she "almost had a heart attack. There were so many zeroes I couldn't even work out how much it was".

The phone company, Bouygues Telecom, initially told her there was nothing they could do to amend the computer-generated statement and later offered to set up instalments to pay off the bill.

In the end, the company admitted the bill should have been for 117.21 euros only, and eventually waived it altogether.

There's more at the link.

In case you're interested, that bill amounts to US $13,821,872,040,000,000.00 at current exchange rates - almost US $14 quadrillion.

Isn't it typical of such companies that, when called out for their mistake, instead of admitting their error, they offered a payment plan?

Sheesh!

Peter

Cultural appropriation - food edition


Courtesy (?) of Gun Free Zone, I found food for my nightmares last night:




Haggis?  On a pizza?  Talk about cultural appropriation - but who's appropriating what?

On the other hand, I suppose it fits.  After all, the Scottish influence in Italian food is well-known.  I mean . . . where do you think Mac-aroni got its start?




Peter

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

*Sigh* I guess I'm a technological dinosaur . . .


I started working with computers in the 1970's, as an operator, then as a programmer, then as a systems analyst, project leader and manager.  I remember punched cards (I wrote and ran my first programs using them, and heaven help you if you dropped the deck of cards on your way up the stairs to the computer room!);  JCL, with all its demanding, finicky standards to trip up unwary programmers and sabotage their tests;  System/360 and System/370 mainframes (including upgrading the mainframe's magnetic-core memory - using real magnetic cores strung on wire frames - from one to two megabytes, which everyone thought was wildly extravagant and costly at the time);  minicomputers such as DEC's PDP and VAX machines;  the very first PC's (yes, including the Apple 1 and the first IBM PC);  the use of CICS for online systems;  and so on.

In particular I remember the agonizing process of developing programs from scratch.  One would diagram the specification in the form of a flowchart, which one would have to "defend" in a meeting with the senior programmers, who would try to pick apart the logical sequence one had established to accomplish the task(s) concerned.  Once one had passed that step, one coded the program (I used COBOL in business, plus a number of other, more esoteric languages - not excluding profanity - for specialized tasks), compiled it, then ran a series of test data through it to ensure it did what it was supposed to do.  While all this was going on (and it could take months for a big, complex program), changing user requirements and modifications to the specifications kept one busy chasing one's tail (and using even more profanity instead of COBOL!).  When the first artificial-intelligence-based tools came along, later in the 1980's, to help automate the systems design and programming process, they were a godsend.

Things have come a long way since then.  It's bittersweet for me to read about "apps" that don't require much programming knowledge at all.

As a recent MBA graduate, Leytus had plenty of ideas for apps, though he lacked skills in software development, a common barrier to would-be tech entrepreneurs. But then he discovered Bubble, a drag-and-drop builder with a deceptively simple interface. It’s one of several advanced ‘no-code’ tools enabling hundreds of thousands of people without technical backgrounds to create their own apps, effectively eliminating the need to learn a coding language before launching a start-up.

To demonstrate what the tool could do, Leytus relied on the novelist’s adage – ‘show, don’t tell’ – and used Bubble to hack together a fully functional web app he named Not Real Twitter. He gave it a cheeky tagline: “Just like Twitter, but worse… a lot worse.” While it worked like the real thing, his goal wasn’t to give disaffected Twitter users a new home. Leytus was in the early phases of co-founding AirDev, where he today helps start-ups and enterprise clients leverage no-code app builders. He wanted to show his prospective clients what he could quickly build without actually writing code himself.

“It was very difficult to explain to somebody without giving them something to look at,” says Leytus. “[Cloning Twitter was] more convincing than me just saying, hey, this can actually make pretty powerful stuff.”

He added an all-caps note on the clone’s homepage addressed to Twitter: “PLEASE DON’T SUE US.” Luckily, they didn’t. He posted about the app on Hacker News, a social news website, and his story quickly became an example of the no-code movement’s potential.

Five years later, Leytus decided to repeat the challenge again, as the 2015 version is “no longer representative of what you can build with no-code technology”. He and the AirDev team have built an updated clone, dubbed Not Real Twitter v2, with a design that looks like modern Twitter. He says it reflects how much tools like Bubble have matured, with improved functionality and greater support for mobile devices.

It may be surprising just how much you can accomplish without knowing an iota of programming language, or writing any code at all. Projects like Leytus’s show the potential for nearly anyone to jump into development – a field that’s currently opaque to those without certain skills. Could no-code development be the future of web-based innovation – and, if so, what does that mean for how we build the ‘next big thing’?

There's more at the link.

When an entire company - no, almost an entire industry - such as Twitter is based on a program (or series of programs) that can be written without any of the hard-learned expertise that we had to master in the "bad old days" . . . that's depressing.  Talk about feeling redundant!

Of course, I haven't been involved in data processing, except as an end user, for many decades;  but I haven't forgotten how it felt to be a much-sought-after specialist in a top-end field.  Things sure have changed . . .

Peter

The US Postal Service as an election football


I'm growing more and more annoyed at left-wing and progressive complaints that President Trump is trying to neuter the US Postal Service, in order to disrupt postal voting and "steal the election".  (Right now, of course, anything and everything he does is painted as "stealing the election".  I'm waiting for someone to insinuate that when he ties his shoelaces, he's actually tying the election up in knots!)

Let's remember that the current process of reforming the USPS began in April 2018, as CNBC reported at the time.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

President Donald Trump on Thursday issued an executive order to set up a task force to study the United States Postal Service and recommend reforms.

. . .

The task force will evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS, the order said. That includes examining the postal service’s role in competitive markets, the state of its business model, workforce, operations, costs and pricing. The task force was ordered to look at the decline in mail volume and how that affects the USPS’ self-financing and the agency’s monopoly over letter delivery and mailboxes.

“The USPS is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout,” Trump said in the executive order.

The USPS has incurred ”$65 billion of cumulative losses since the 2007-2009 recession,” the document said. It added that the agency had been unable to make payments for its retiree health benefit obligations that “totaled more than $38 billion” at the end of fiscal 2017.

“It shall be the policy of my Administration that the United States postal system operate under a sustainable business model to provide necessary mail services to citizens and businesses, and to compete fairly in commercial markets,” Trump wrote.

There's more at the link.

Any business running at those sorts of losses would have been forced into bankruptcy long ago.  USPS reforms were, and still are, vitally necessary from a business standpoint.  Anyone with a couple of working brain cells to rub together can see that.

As for the latest measures, Bloomberg reports (bold, underlined text is again my emphasis):

The U.S. Postal Service overhauled its organizational structure, as Democrats called for an investigation into whether the changes implemented by President Donald Trump’s postmaster general pose a threat to mail-in ballots for the November election.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday said the new structure, organized around three business units, will increase efficiency by reducing costs and boosting revenue.

. . .

Democrats ... wrote Friday to the Postal Service’s inspector general asking for an investigation into staffing and policy changes implemented by DeJoy, a Republican donor appointed in May.

Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, who also joined the letter, said Saturday in a statement that the operational changes at the Post Office were “inappropriate” so close to the election.

“The drastic changes to the Postal Service by an overtly partisan Postmaster General are another example of the president’s attempts to prevent millions of Americans from having their votes counted,” she said.

. . .

The Postal Service on Friday reported a quarterly net loss of $2.2 billion on revenue of $17.6 billion, compared to a net loss of $2.3 billion in the same period last year.

Again, more at the link.

I point out that the massive USPS losses reported since 2009 were largely incurred under a Democratic Party administration, which supervised it for eight out of the ten years prior to President Trump's reform initiative in 2018.  At any time, measures could have been taken to solve the problem, but were not.  However, when a Republican president attempts to tackle the Augean stables of USPS deficits, suddenly his critics are screaming that it's all about politics, not about efficiency.

If the USPS is now losing quarterly what it used to lose annually, that's simply unsustainable.  The taxpayer can't be expected to bail out deficits and arrears of that magnitude.  Things have got to change.  Reform has got to be implemented.

For the first time in a long time, the USPS is being run by a (very successful) businessman, rather than a bureaucratic or political apparatchik.  I wish Mr. DeJoy every success in what is by any standards a gargantuan endeavor.  He has to overcome not just years, but generations of bureaucratic and institutional inertia, and an entrenched trade union mentality among many of the Post Office's workers.  It's going to be extraordinarily difficult to overcome those obstacles.  I hope he succeeds in spite of them, because if he doesn't, the USPS will soon collapse under the weight of its own maladministration and the consequences thereof.

Meanwhile, I think a lot of the progressive and far-left angst about USPS reforms is due to their wanting to use them as a convenient excuse if they don't do as well in the November elections as they think they should.  Note, for example, what Common Dreams - a Democratic Party "talking points" organization that gives the lead to many other left-wing commenters and media - has to say.

Already under fire for recent policy changes at the USPS that mail carriers from within and outside critics have denounced as a sabotage effort to undermine the Postal Service broadly as well as disrupt efforts to carry out mail-in voting for November's election amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the moves unveiled late Friday were viewed as an overt assault on democracy and a calculated opportunity to boost Republicans' long-held dream of undercutting or privatizing the government-run mail service while also boosting their election prospects in the process.

"Another Friday night massacre by this administration—and this time dealing another devastating blow to our postal service," said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) "The American people deserve answers and we're going to keep fighting for them."

. . .

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, warned what occurred Friday is designed to weak the Postal Service, slow vote-by-mail, and disrupt the 2020 Census ... Clarke said the administration's intentions are clear: "DeJoy, a Trump donor with no experience inside the postal service, has been installed to cause chaos and disruption at a time when the timely delivery of mail could not be more critical."

More at the link.

Not one word from Common Dreams about a quarterly USPS deficit running into multiple billions of dollars.  Not one word about deficits, inefficiencies and abuses running back not just years, but decades.  Not one word about the real, undeniable need for USPS reform - just bitter complaints that those reforms are actually a Republican plot to disrupt the election.  When I see that, I see attempts to manufacture an excuse for electoral failure, not honest, balanced reporting.

I doubt very much that the reforms implemented by Mr. DeJoy are politically motivated.  I've been in business myself, hold a Masters degree in management, and was a company director before I became a pastor.  When I look at what he's doing, I see undeniable, basic business reality staring me in the face.  As far as the USPS goes, it's reform, or collapse under the weight of accumulated inefficiencies - and collapse pretty darned soon, at that.

You'll have to decide for yourselves who's right about this.  For myself, I'm in no doubt at all.  I daresay Benjamin Franklin (the first US Postmaster-General) would approve of Mr. DeJoy's reforms.

Peter

Falling crime rates? Not so fast . . .


We've spoken before in these pages about how bureaucrats "fudge" statistics to present the most favorable image to the public.  It's long been the practice in many cities to either not record, or mis-classify, violent crimes, in order to allow local politicians to boast that they're being "tough on crime" and point to the statistics as evidence that they're doing a good job.

Of course, the reality is the diametric opposite.  City crime, particularly inner-city crime, is way up across the country, and getting worse.  Therefore - inevitably - the efforts to mask that are getting more blatant by the day.  Philadelphia is the latest example.

"They're definitely cooking the books," agreed one veteran detective. "At least 50 percent of them [suspicious deaths] are really homicides, and that's being generous."

The murder rate in Philadelphia -- already the second-highest in the nation among the ten largest cities -- is on a  record pace this year with 255 murders as of Aug. 2nd. That's a 34 percent jump over this point in 2019, when we had only 190 homicides. At that monthly rate, the city will hit 437 murders for the year, the highest number since 2006, when the city racked up 406 murders. The all-time record, which could be broken this year if the weather stays hot, is 497 murders in 1990.

Along with a record number of murders, the number of dead bodies being classified by the cops as "suspicious" is also on the rise. So far this year, there have been a reported 97 deaths classified as "suspicious," which kept them out of the homicide total. While the department faithfully tracks homicides, it does not publish annual statistics for suspicious deaths.

About the rising number of suspicious deaths this year, the veteran commander said, "Most are definitely being used to hide homicides." He speculated that of the 97 suspicious deaths, as many as 80 of the cases marked "S" are probably murders.

There's more at the link.

There are many other crimes that are not being properly classified.  Take rioting, for example.  How many actual riots, involving property damage and/or injury to citizens, have taken place in cities like Minneapolis, MN, Portland, OR or Seattle, WA over the past few months, yet have never been recorded as such?  Instead, they're noted as simply "creating a disturbance" or "simple assault" or "disorderly conduct".  Those aren't felonies, and therefore don't show up in the serious crimes statistics.

This can have a direct and immediate effect on people across the country.  If you're looking to move to a safer place, and rely on official statistics to decide what fits that category, the odds are fairly good that you'll be misled - but in the absence of accurate information, no-one knows they're being misled (unless they have access to local people who can tell them more accurately what's going on).  In the same way, national crime statistics are skewed, because the FBI and the Justice Department can only classify the crimes reported to them by local and regional police forces.  If those reports are incomplete or manipulated, that'll carry over to the national figures as well.

Just one more thing to be aware of as you try to chart a safe course for yourself and your loved ones through the mess that is America today . . .




Peter

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

It's time, and past time, to form local groups for mutual assistance and security


I've said on several occasions in the past that we should get together with like-minded individuals and families, to help each other through economic and social hard times such as we're presently experiencing.  I suggest that's now become a need rather than a nice-to-have.  Things are deteriorating to the point that, as Benjamin Franklin said:

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

Brandon Smith tells of how he tried to expand his small group of like-minded individuals, and the reaction against his efforts from local leftists.

I feel it is time for bigger discussions with the wider community on what people plan to do if the dangerous situation does not improve. In other words, are they going to work together? Or, are they going to remain isolated from each other?

This is a vital question, because it is becoming increasingly possible that a full spectrum collapse will strike the US in the near term.

. . .

I decided to engage with the larger community by starting a local club that discusses firearms, preparedness and current events. I put the word out in as many places as I could, including tacking up fliers around town ... The initial response was overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people are ready for this kind of information, and setting up the discussions in a more public forum gives people a greater sense of involvement and shows them they are not alone in their concerns. To that end I decided to hold the discussion at a local public park.

Then, I started getting emails and friends of mine started getting angry Facebook responses when discussing the club...

Officials from the city council using the primary city government email were not happy, though they did not identify themselves by name. They claimed the club could not hold an “event” in the park unless we got permission and permits from the city council, along with insurance. If we did not, then police would be sent to kick us out of the park.

. . .

I thoroughly researched the use and legality of public parks for free assembly and found that as long as your group is not blocking access to the park for other people, blocking roads or engaged in criminal activity then the demands for permits do not usually hold up in court and removal by police is not justified. Constitutionally, you are protected.

I emailed the official or officials back and reminded them that they risk a civil court issue by trying to stop people's free speech on public property, and warned them that the city would be subject to bad press as well. I was perfectly ready to refuse removal and to be arrested if it came to that.

Another interesting discovery: The park in question was host to a bunch of BLM protesters only two weeks earlier. Did they have to get permits and insurance to hold their “event” in the park?

. . .

This was clear political bias applied to the usage of public property.

I have learned from past experience that these types of people do not like a stand-up fight; so they prefer to try to frighten you away from doing a thing through intimidation instead. They try to get you to give up voluntarily by painting a host of consequences in your mind. You start to worry about all the things that MIGHT happen; no one wants to have confrontations with cops these days, you don't have to be insane like BLM to have concerns.

. . .

Long story short, the meeting was a success. I met a lot of locals that I had not talked with before that had the same concerns I did, and we discussed primarily the issue of community security if the system completely breaks down.

There's more at the link.

There are a number of points to take away from Mr. Smith's article.
  1. There are probably a great many people like us out there, needing only to be informed to come together and work towards goals and objectives we share in common.
  2. We can expect opposition and interference from those on the left, particularly so-called progressives.
  3. We need to understand the system of laws and regulations under which we live, so that we can use them to defend our rights and not be intimidated by their wrongful use by opponents.

I'm not sure that so overt an approach is viable in many larger towns and cities - the risk of confrontation with Antifa/BLM supporters is too great.  However, I think a discreet word-of-mouth approach to friends and colleagues whom you think are trustworthy is not a bad idea.  They, in turn, can approach others they know.  This can lead to the organization of local "cells", for want of a better term, for mutual assistance and cooperation.  These need not be anything like a "secret society" or something like that.  They're simply a tried, tested and time-honored way to organize in support of a particular goal or goals.  Nevertheless, if you live in an area dominated by hard-left-wing politics (for example, Seattle, Portland or Minneapolis, to name but a few), a more clandestine cell network might be a suitable way to keep your activities under the radar, so to speak, and avoid unnecessary confrontation.  That's not a bad idea, IMHO.

With the elections approaching, and the forces trying to destabilize our society growing bolder, we need to take our stand against them and work to shore up, support and protect what we hold dear.  We also need to help each other through the current economic hard times, which may get much worse before they get better.  We can't do any of that as scattered individuals.  We need each other.

Peter

What's the consumer economy doing in your neck of the woods?


I've been watching local shops for some time, and I'm seeing trends that don't bode well for the future.  I'd like to describe them, then ask you, dear readers, to let us know in Comments whether you're seeing similar or different things in your area.  Let's help each other stay informed.

The quantity and variety of consumer goods available has diminished fairly drastically over the past couple of months.  Yesterday, for example, I went shopping for a few necessities, including canned tomatoes.  To my astonishment, a local supermarket (Aldi) and a big-box store (Sams Club) had no canned tomatoes whatsoever in normal sizes on their shelves.  Sams Club had some (not many) of the big five-pound commercial catering cans of tomatoes, but that was all.  I've never seen both stores completely out of so basic a product before.  I'm sure I would have found some if I'd tried other stores, but I didn't have time for that.

I'm also noticing a definite reduction in consumer choice.  Where one used to be able to buy, say, ten different kinds of canned beans, there may now be three or four.  Furthermore, some brands are simply unavailable.  Aldi's house brand of canned beans was so sparse that the store had brought in several lines of Goya beans at twice the price per can, something it would normally never do.  I asked the manager about that, and she shrugged and told me it was the only way they could keep some products in stock.  The factories that produce Aldi's house brands are sometimes unable to buy enough stock to process it, or enough cans to pack it.

There's also a definite and relatively rapid upward trend in prices.  Almost across the board, consumer prices are increasing.  I'd guesstimate that they've gone up at least 20% since the onset of the coronavirus, and up to 50% for some products (for example, eggs) that are in strong demand.  Gasoline had dropped to below $1.40 a gallon locally, but it's back up in the $1.90-$2.00 range already.  Meat is up at least 30% across the board, with some prime cuts of beef almost double what they were at the beginning of the year.  Anything imported from China, including automotive parts, is more expensive, and some can't be had for love or money, thanks to the disruption in shipping from Chinese factories.  Automotive spares and consumables are also in short supply, presumably because more people are changing their own oil and doing their own minor vehicle repairs to avoid having to pay dealers and service centers for the privilege.  A local dealer where I take my car has furloughed some mechanics due to the drop in customer demand.

While certain products that were formerly hard to find have come back into stock, others have not.  Toilet paper appears to be readily available once more, but paper towels are still scarce.  (Sams Club had only one brand available yesterday, and was limiting sales to one pack per customer.)  Soda manufacturers are apparently producing only their most popular lines, due to shortages of raw materials.  I'm partial to orange soda like Fanta, but it's very hard to find in these parts, because local producers simply aren't making it.  They're reserving production for what's most in demand, and "niche" customers like me will just have to put up with it.  Same with diet sodas;  I'm seeing far fewer diet brands available than normal.

I've spoken about firearms and ammunition shortages in these pages several times in recent months.  It's getting worse, not better.  My favorite online ammo vendor, SGAmmo, had no 9mm. ammunition at all in stock the other day - the first time I've ever known their cupboard to be bare.  My local firearms dealer is still reasonably well stocked with both guns and ammo, but that's because the owner is a canny soul who built his stockpiles in the "fat years", in order to be ready when the "lean years" arrived.  He has people driving two to three hours each way to buy from him, because no other store in the area is as well-stocked as his.  He's not gouging on prices, either - at least, not his regular customers - which is praiseworthy, IMHO.

What's the consumer economy doing in your area?  Please let us know in Comments.

Peter

No, snowflake, you don't get to tell the cops what to do


I couldn't help laughing at a tweet from an observer about the Portland riots last week.




The responses are alternately funny, and depressing in their stupidity.  An example of the latter:




Uh, Abby, how shall I put this?  When the riot is ongoing, and the cops have to move on to stop other rioters doing stupid things, they are not required to wait for a female officer to arrive.  The circumstances don't allow for that.  Therefore, they're entirely within their rights to search you and render you harmless to them, regardless of gender issues, then move you someplace you can't pose any further threat to law and order.  That will free them to address the crimes and violations still being committed by your fellow rioters, without having to remain on their guard against you.

That's settled law all over these United States.  Circumstances alter cases.  If the situation requires it, the niceties of preferred conduct give way to cold, hard reality.  After the fact, if you think abuses were committed, you're free to sue those involved - but not until the danger is over.

You may be upset at the cops making fun of transgender issues.  That's your privilege.  However, there are many others who find that very amusing.  As American Thinker points out:

... the Portland cop shop is applying Alinsky:

Rule 4 ("Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules"), Rule 5 ("Ridicule is man's most potent weapon"), and Rule 6 ("A good tactic is one your people enjoy").

Sounds fair to me!  If Alinsky tactics are being employed against the cops, turn about is fair play.  Furthermore, you're complaining about the conduct of those you're openly trying to defund, denigrate and demoralize.  What else did you expect, snowflake?  Did you think they were going to curl up into a ball and cry about it?  I suggest a (rapid) study of Newton's Third Law.  It applies to street demonstrations as much as it does to physics.

As for other police reactions in Portland, see these two articles:


I don't think they're joking.  I hope readers who live in and/or near Portland have taken note, and are taking steps accordingly.

Peter

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 . . .




Peter

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 news.com.au.

“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".

Sheesh!




Peter

Memes that made me laugh 19


Seen over the past week on the Interwebs.






























(Click to enlarge)






Peter

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!

Peter

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.

Peter

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.

Peter

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.

Peter

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.

Peter

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.

Peter