Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Socialists Rebrand

So, Friday, Vin Scully made some remarks about socialism during the evening broadcast:
 “Socialism failing to work as it always does. This time in Venezuela. You talk about giving everybody something free and all of a sudden there’s no food to eat. And who do you think is the richest person in Venezuela? The daughter of Hugo Ch├ívez. Hello. Anyway, 0 and 2.”
He was, of course, correct, but I wanted to rebut this nonsense by Craig Calcaterra:
Probably worth noting, though, that Scully is wrong about why Venezuela is in such a bad place right now. It’s not socialism. It’s (a) a horrible currency policy that is not unique or required by socialism; (b) rampant speculation on currency which is a pretty capitalist sort of thing; and (c) politicians who fear making hard choices because of electoral consequences which, again, is not unique to socialism.

Also: the people in charge of Venezuela since Chavez are part of the more business-oriented wing of the party and the rampant inflation that has led to shortages was fueled with kerosene in the form of currency subsidies to business in Venezuela, particularly the oil industry. If you want to make a case that propping up big oil is a socialist thing that’s fair, but if you’re doing it to disparage Venezuela and elevate that which we do in the US of A, don’t go looking at how we treat Big Oil here. It might make your argument . . . complicated.

Anyway, here’s a long take on the problems of Venezuela which says all of this way better than I can:
http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/25/does-venezuelas-crisis-prove-socialism-doesnt-work/
Well,
  • (a) is only necessary because the government refuses to let the bolivar float and allow price discovery mechanisms to find the true exchange rate
  • (b) is a consequence of hyperinflation that the government uses to evade its true debts
  • (c) "hard choices" means what, exactly? Not taking over toilet paper factories by force?
I have no idea what he means by "business-oriented wing of the party", but it doesn't seem to have any effect on the operation of the state, which has since seen fit to seize and loot that country's equivalent of Best Buy. Some "business".

But I guess we shouldn't be surprised. When the socialists publicly fail, as they always do, their adherents scurry away, seeking to find others upon which to tag the blame — or better still, to cast out the failures in a kind of long-running game of "no true Scotsman". They've worked for decades to erase the S in NSDAP, distance themselves from North Korea, and so on. Lawrence W. Reed put it well in a recent Foundation for Economic Education essay:
Socialists are so intellectually slippery that they could crawl through a barrel of pretzels without knocking the salt off. It’s socialism until it doesn’t work; then it was never socialism in the first place. It’s socialism until the wrong guys get in charge; then it’s everything but. Under socialism, do you shoot the cow or just milk it 24/7? One thing I know for sure: When the milk runs out, socialists will blame the cow. Maybe the reason why socialists don’t like personal responsibility is that they don’t want to be held personally responsible.
"[S]ocialism", he concludes, "is nothing more than a nebulous fantasy. It’s a giant blackboard in the sky on which you can write anything your heart desires and then just erase it when embarrassing circumstances arise." Just so. The rebranding of Venezuela has already begun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Eric S. Raymond: SJW Hordes Attack Meritocracy, Civilization Itself

I have known of Eric S. Raymond for many years, and appreciated his many contributions to open source software; yet dearer to my heart is his maintenance of the Jargon File, a dictionary of hacker terms that eventually saw print in The New Hacker's Dictionary. I recently encountered an essay on his blog from late last year detailing a rumor (one he felt delivered by someone "both well-informed and completely trustworthy in the past") that various "women in tech" organizations had set repeated traps to accuse ranking figures in open source software of sexual assault, in order to bring such people (and the movement they represent) to heel.
“They have made multiple runs at [Linus Torvalds].” Just let the implications of that sink in for a bit. If my source is to be believed (and I have found him both well-informed and completely trustworthy in the past) this was not a series of misunderstandings, it was a deliberately planned and persistent campaign to frame Linus and feed him to an outrage mob.
This activity is a natural outgrowth of commercial feminism. It serves no other purpose than eliminating meritocracy, as defined by people actually writing code and making it work in the real world, and replacing it with credentialism and endless political infighting.
We dare not give less than our best. If we fall away from meritocracy – if we allow the SJWs to remake us as they wish, into a hell-pit of competitive grievance-mongering and political favoritism for the designated victim group of the week – we will betray not only what is best in our own traditions but the entire civilization that we serve.
The SJWs behind this madness must be fought as Charles Martel fought the Umayyads at Tours, or else that civilization will collapse. This is no small threat: "What’s there", Raymond continues, "is totalitarianism in miniature: ideology is everything, merit counts for nothing against the suppression of thoughtcrime, and politics is conducted by naked intimidation against any who refuse to conform." With open source software backing everything from servers to supercomputers to routers to phones, the stakes are enormous. The collateral damage, sadly, will be women seeking to gain counsel in open source circles from high-ranking men, a perverse incentive created by people who do not understand second-order effects.

Those behind this can go to hell.

Brock Turner, And The Difficult Job Of Reforming Rape Law

The case of former Sanford swimmer Brock Turner raping sexually assaulting one Emily Doe is by now well-documented: on January 17, 2015, she went to a frat party, and got blackout drunk. She awoke in a hospital to find police and medical personnel attending to her, whereupon they informed her she had been raped behind a dumpster. (Her attacker had been driven off when, by chance, two Swedish students encountered Turner and Doe, and pinned Turner until authorities could arrive.)

The original complaint contained five charges, three of sexual assault and two of rape, but the prosecuting attorney dropped the latter at a preliminary hearing in January. This is curious given that California rape statutes contain the following:
261. (a) Rape is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator, under any of the following circumstances:
(3) Where a person is prevented from resisting by any intoxicating or anesthetic substance, or any controlled substance, and this condition was known, or reasonably should have been known by the accused.
(4) Where a person is at the time unconscious of the nature of the act, and this is known to the accused. As used in this paragraph, “unconscious of the nature of the act” means incapable of resisting because the victim meets any one of the following conditions:
(A) Was unconscious or asleep.
263. The essential guilt of rape consists in the outrage to the person and feelings of the victim of the rape. Any sexual penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the crime.
That would appear to be pretty open-and-shut, at least for rape, especially since "sexual intercourse" is left undefined. (Turner was initially charged under 261(a)(3) and 261(a)(4).) Turner lately received a smack on the wrist of a mere six month sentence, of which he is likely to only serve three, and that in the county jail, not the state penitentiary. Such a light sentence has naturally yielded a torrent of vituperation aimed at the judge, including death threats and other vulgarities.

The obvious problems of race, and perhaps more, personal affiliation did not escape the eye of the New York Post's Shaun King, who was rightly dismayed at the injustice of Turner's sentence versus what routinely gets thrown at blacks:
Do you know how many young black boys and girls, sometimes as young as 13 and 14 years old, are tried as adults in court rooms all across America and given mandatory minimums of 10 years and 20 years and even life in prison? Thousands. Tens of thousands.
In a more recent column, King pointed out the 15-to-25 year sentence handed down to football player Corey Batey at Vanderbilt for a similar rape as a very particular example.  But white skin isn't the only difference, given Turner and the judge both attended Stanford. One gets the real sense that some ring-knocking is going on here, and so, the discussion necessarily turns to reforming the system, and thither to Robby Soave's remarks at Reason.
Turner's victim did not get as much justice as she deserves, and the process was, in her own words, re-traumatizing. She's very brave for sticking with it—she provided a public service by drawing attention to Turner's criminal behavior. Her case shows that the criminal justice system is in need of reform. But it's still the best vehicle for the adjudication of violent crime.
But what reforms? He doesn't say, and it seems to me fairly obvious in cases like this that the answer, at least, ought to contain something like
  1. Questions about victim dress and promiscuity, however veiled, should be off the table at any phase of the trial.
  2. California statutes need to clarify that rape does not exclusively consist of sexual intercourse.
Cases like Turner's are comparatively rare; the gauntlet of torturous questions asked of most rape victims will necessarily be broad, and frequently unpleasant, especially given the difficulties outsiders have in reading consent after the fact. But the problem, of course, will be that the proposals above will likely have no takers, and will further be seen as wildly inadequate; the convict-on-accusation crowd will demand no less. But surely, we can agree that the judge deserves censure. As Popehat founder Ken White wrote,
There are two ways to see good fortunate [sic] and bad fortune.  You can say “someone who has enjoyed good fortune should be held to a higher standard, and someone who has suffered bad fortune should be treated with more compassion.”  But America’s courts are more likely to say “someone who has enjoyed good fortunate has more to lose, and someone who has suffered bad fortune can’t expect any better.”

Judge Persky and his ilk can’t stop being human.  But they are bound by oath to try to be fair.  When a judge says you are very fortunate and therefore it would be too cruel to interrupt that good fortunate just because you committed a crime, they are not being fair.  For shame.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Greatest Swindle

I was at the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, a couple weeks back, and encountered a piece by Thomas Hart Benton entitled "Plowing It Under". In it, a sharecropper tills a field with the aim of making it fallow to qualify for a stipend under FDR's Agricultural Adjustment Act. Or at least, to make it possible for the landowner to receive such a stipend:
Sharecroppers, of course, received little if any of such subsidies, and in fact were forced further into penury, as Jim Powell wrote in 2003 at Cato:
The Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933) aimed to help farmers by cutting farm production and forcing up food prices. Less production meant less work for thousands of poor black sharecroppers. In addition, blacks were among the 100 million consumers forced to pay higher food prices because of the AAA.
Powell also cites other New Deal legislation as having racist effects if not outright intent:
  • The Wagner Act, which allowed closed shops that were de facto discriminatory in many instances.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority, which flooded lands worked by sharecroppers but gave them no compensation.
  • The Works Project Administration, which channeled money predominantly into states with comparatively few blacks; blacks could be counted on to vote for FDR anyway. Consequently, their votes were unimportant.
Democratic indifference to the consequences of their policies on blacks (viz. Eric Garner, and a long line of others besides) is as common now as it was then, yet blacks continue to side overwhelmingly with Team Blue. It reminds me how much of politics is invested in the party system, in culture, and in historical us-vs-them pissing contests.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Fandom Is Broken" And Other Silly Ideas

About this:
  1. GamerGate = "terrorist hate group"? Grow up. Your definition of "terrorist" is too broad.
  2. Re: the Ghostbusters reboot, if you don't have enough funny moments to make a funny trailer, you lose. Also, it's a comedy, but neither the franchise's new masters nor its executrices have any visible skill at that art.
  3. OH HAI LET'S PICK A SINGLE RANTING POST AS TYPICAL OF PEOPLE I HATE. Weak.
  4. Death threats are always so much bluster. Read The Gift of Fear some time. (They do, however, have some commercial value.)
  5. How dare people engage with and have an opinion about books, movies, TV shows, and videogames, and worse, have the temerity to inform their creators. I'm sure most creators would rather their output exist in a vacuum, Emily Dickinson style. Right?
  6. I don't know the canon well enough, but Captain America's embrace of Hydra appears to have been a commercialized rape of the character, destroying it for no particular good reason other than sales. You do that, you will hear from the fans, and in some very unpleasant ways.
  7. Funny how you failed to mention how it was the SJWs who chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Why is that? Yes, I know, he claimed afterward that it was a new project whose time he did not wish to split with social media; fine. Nevertheless, it does not excuse the behavior of the People's Front Of Judea, nor does it absolve the author of this piece of pinning the worst excesses exclusively on people he apparently dislikes for other reasons.
Update 2016-06-02: Christopher Landauer elsewhere pointed out Devin Faraci's follow-on post that is so larded with self-contradiction it's hard to tell whether it amounts to self-parody:
Over the years I have written extensively - and with passion - about the need for more representation in our media. About the need for more actors of color in our films, about the need for more queer characters in our stories, about the need for more perspectives behind the scenes to better represent the great diversity of people who love the pop culture we all love. Nothing has changed for me. I still feel that way.

I believe that people should let the decision-makers know that they want more stories featuring underrepresented groups. I believe that the only way to get more representation is to let the suits and the bean counters know that there's an audience for this stuff, to loudly proclaim your willingness to buy tickets or comic books (and then follow up on it by actually buying tickets and comic books). Everyone should let the companies behind the stories we love know that they would like to be included in them.

But the line is crossed when you go from "Disney, I would really like to have a queer princess in one of your cartoons" to "I demand that the writers and directors of Frozen 2 make Elsa canonically queer." You can - and should! - let the higher ups know the kinds of stories you want told. You should not demand that storytellers tell their stories in the ways that you want. 
This strikes me as fundamentally an impossible demand, the idea that once a franchise is in place, it is up to the creators and the creators exclusively to set the story arcs and world. The second quoted graf above stands in stark opposition to the third.