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Guest Post - Medium-sized lies

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.22.18

Mossichar writes: Atlantic article on Poland and Hungary:

If you believe, as my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who deserve to rule--because they loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, because they are loyal to the party leader, or because they are, echoing the words of Kaczyński himself, a "better sort of Pole"--then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government?
[...]
in Poland, and in Hungary too, we now have examples of what happens when a Medium-Size Lie--a conspiracy theory--is propagated first by a political party as the central plank of its election campaign, and then by a ruling party, with the full force of a modern, centralized state apparatus behind it.
[...]
In Poland, at least the lie is sui generis. It is the Smolensk conspiracy theory: the belief that a nefarious plot brought down the president's plane in April 2010.
[...]
Much as Trump used birtherism and the fabricated threat of immigrant crime to motivate his core supporters, Kaczyński has used the Smolensk tragedy to galvanize his followers, and convince them not to trust the government or the media. Sometimes he has implied that the Russian government downed the plane. At other times, he has blamed the former ruling party, now the largest opposition party, for his brother's death: "You destroyed him, you murdered him, you are scum!" he once shouted in parliament.

(Super depressing amirite? Let's pretend we're undergrads again.)

Promising as the Lie Size typology is, straight-up 100% Lies are usually quite rare in political life. For instance, even the deplorable Trump's claim "immigrants come to America to sell drugs" is not in fact a Lie (as some immigrants in fact do just that); it is however a grotesque Exaggeration; and that Exaggeration, turned into policy, yields atrocity (little children in cages). From the above, I propose the following for your consideration (Lies for our purposes being interpreted as infinite Exaggerations):

The atrociousness of any given society is proportional to the size of the Exaggerations which govern the lives of its people.
For instance, if one's life is governed by the claim "The well-being of people in Finland may be optimized through implementation of those laws established by officers elected or appointed as stipulated by the constitution of the Republic of Finland" (at time of writing a Moderate-Sized or even Small Exaggeration) one is probably doing okay. By contrast, if one's life is governed by the claim "Kim Jong-un is a goddamn genius" (a Big Exaggeration) one is almost certainly fucked.
(I turn to you clever people to tell me who thought of this exact thing 400 years ago or whatever.)

Heebie's take: greetings from Raton, New Mexico.

I never really had a gut understanding of how lies and propaganda function. I sort of understood propaganda in the context of government PSAs and after-school specials, which ring so tinny and clunky that they never seemed like they could do much harm.

Now I get it! Mossy's proportionality makes total sense to me.


 

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Guest Post - Brexit

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.21.18

Dairy Queen writes: This is sobering and comprehensive.

This part -

second vote campaigners seem either remarkably coy about whether they want to remain on the terms Cameron negotiated or whether some great new offer will be forthcoming - notably on free movement of people - from EU elites supposedly desperate to give us something now they were not prepared to negotiate with Cameron.

So let me puncture that fantasy first: no such offer will be coming.

If we stayed, we could, contrary to what some allege, keep the existing membership terms.

But that's not with a promise of improving them. And I have still yet to meet the senior person in any capital who wants to give Member States the right to impose numerical controls on free movement rights.

For every other Member State, without exception, free movement is not at all the same business as external migration.

And THEIR crisis is about external migration. And for them, the British response to that crisis from both the last 2 Prime Ministers - has essentially been: we have an opt-out from that one. What you 27 do via common policies is up to you. We'll help out with aid in the affected regions.

It still amazes me that virtually the entire British political class still thinks that it's free movement obsessions are about to be shared in the 27. They aren't.

Is consistent with this predictably good Stephen Bush piece.

Opposition to immigration on the continent isn't driven by the free movement of European citizens within the bloc but the migration of people from outside it as part of the refugee crisis. Free movement remains one of the most popular parts of EU membership, commanding in support of more than two-thirds of people in every other EU country bar the United Kingdom. There's an open question as to whether or not the ongoing refugee crisis is part of what drives concern over immigration here in the UK, but that is a conversation for another time.
What matters is that there is no serious prospect of any European politician being politically able to make changes to free movement. To give you an idea of the political implausibility of what Blair is suggesting: Romanian finance minister Eugen Teodorovici recently faced calls for his resignation after he suggested that Romanians should have their movement rights curtailed to prevent a brain drain in his country. (He subsequently apologised.)

Rogers' discussion of sovereignty trade-offs is also succinct and clarifying. It's interesting to live through this as a USian, where we are so used to our own fed-state sovereignty fudges. As a Californian I think our practical hegemony over automobile emissions standards is the right and natural state of affairs, whereas TX textbook standards are an abomination. But of course! I'd like to hear Helen Thompson's thoughts on how the EU's monetary-political union mismatch settlement compares to ours here in the US.

Heebie's take: we are embarking on a road trip! A little hexit-gexit of our own.

The font in the blockquote is annoying, I know. It was doing weird spacing tricks when I tried my usual work-around, and I know there's a "p" command I could use otherwise, and what's with the third degree, you bozo.


 

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Guest Post - The mechanics of wealth drain

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.19.18

Minivet writes: I haven't fully digested this, but it seems plausible that the UK exploited India in ways that did not appear as trade surpluses in even 20th-century official statistics.

The headline figure of $45m is maximally adjusted to the present, assuming investment returns of 5% a year, but we know from Piketty that's either reasonable or, if it includes inflation, low.

Unfortunately the actual paper appears to be a book chapter, so less prospect of getting it out of academic databases, I think?

Heebie's take:

Here's how it worked. The East India Company began collecting taxes in India, and then cleverly used a portion of those revenues (about a third) to fund the purchase of Indian goods for British use. In other words, instead of paying for Indian goods out of their own pocket, British traders acquired them for free, "buying" from peasants and weavers using money that had just been taken from them.
It was a scam - theft on a grand scale. Yet most Indians were unaware of what was going on because the agent who collected the taxes was not the same as the one who showed up to buy their goods. Had it been the same person, they surely would have smelled a rat.

and

After the British Raj took over in 1858, colonisers added a special new twist to the tax-and-buy system. As the East India Company's monopoly broke down, Indian producers were allowed to export their goods directly to other countries. But Britain made sure that the payments for those goods nonetheless ended up in London.
How did this work? Basically, anyone who wanted to buy goods from India would do so using special Council Bills - a unique paper currency issued only by the British Crown. And the only way to get those bills was to buy them from London with gold or silver. So traders would pay London in gold to get the bills, and then use the bills to pay Indian producers. When Indians cashed the bills in at the local colonial office, they were "paid" in rupees out of tax revenues - money that had just been collected from them. So, once again, they were not in fact paid at all; they were defrauded.

 

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All Scoot Scoot God Damn

Posted by Stanley
on 12.19.18

The rental electric scooter trend has reached my town, and I'm having a very conflicted reaction.

On the one hand, fun! No, seriously, it looks fun as hell.

OTOH, no helmets? And these swiftly moving devices are going to be used by the same distracted humans who already suck at using roads and sidewalks? Not to mention drunk people? I predict DISASTER.


 

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Books Lately

Posted by Ogged
on 12.18.18

Let's do a year-end book thread. Notable books read, not necessarily published, this year, and a little yea or nay summary.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Guess what! It's amazing! He has this unusual combination of being very impressionable and becoming zealous about whatever he's into, while having a comforting-fiction-piercing perceptiveness. It makes for great writing. He dies in the end.

How Should A Person Be?. Lots of very annoying artists being artistic, punctuated by passages of such insight or wisdom that they make the whole book worth it. Also lots of fucking to the point of enough with the fucking.

Jesus' Son and The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. There are lines in some of the stories in Jesus' Son that are so good you actually have to stop for a while. A few of the stories get a little tiresome with all the losing and drugging, but it hardly matters. The stories in Largesse don't have quite the sharp daggers of JS, but "Triumph Over the Grave" is one of the best short stories I've ever read.

Holes. A kids' book, ostensibly, but so well done; the boys and I really enjoyed it.


 

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Barry Freed -- NYC Meetup?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.18.18

Barry's around and available until 12/20 -- anyone want to come out for drinks? If so, name an evening and a bar.


 

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Extracurricular showcases

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.18.18

There's a thing which sort of bugs me, which I don't think is sexist in intent, but ends up having disparate impact, but I can't figure out how else it should be. The issue is extracurricular activities, and team sports versus everything else.

Team sports have weekly spectator and cheering opportunities. Or sometimes twice a week. Every other activity I can think of has a single spectator/cheering opportunity at the end of a season - an art portfolio gets taken home or hung in a public space, a ballet or instrument recital, a play is performed, or if it's an individual sport like gymnastics there's maybe an invitation for parents to come watch a special session.

(I suppose tennis and swim teams have weekly matches? I don't really know. I took tennis lessons for a few years as a kid and never actually played a match, for reasons I was never clear on.)

The effect for us is that eight weekends in a row, we pay attention to the kid(s) playing on a team sport, and the weekend gets shaped around that event, and then twice a year we pay attention to the kids who are not doing team sports. The gap bugs me.


 

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This Is A Thing?

Posted by Ogged
on 12.17.18

WTF?


 

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Guest Post - Opportunistism

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.17.18

Lurid Keyaki writes:I feel this one should be in the pipeline too (via):

Harvard is using its $39 billion endowment to snap up massive amounts of rights to aquifers all over California, making a dark bet on water scarcity to profit off forthcoming mega-droughts

miss you guys

Heebie's take: This whole topic makes me so uncomfortable - private interests angling themselves in the world of climate change - that I can't think straight and logically, and just keep thinking of reductionist one-liners about who should stay out of what. I mean, it's a cliche that every natural disaster is an opportunity for investors to buy up public assets and privatize them. This isn't worse than that. Both make me uncomfortable!

Amusingly: back in 1997 or so, my dad got ahold of the local Unitarian Universalist bank account, and invested it in the tech bubble, and made them a small mint before getting them out with gracefully prescient timing. They now have a much nicer facility on a pretty patch of land than the one I grew up attending.

(The tangential association being a nonprofit investing in the real world.)


 

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