30.12.19

TRADE UNITES, POLITICS DIVIDES.

I treat that as a valid statement generally, and it applies in particular to climate change alarmism.  Don "Cafe Hayek" Boudreaux elaborates: "The general public would surely pay more attention to climate reporting if programs such as yours were to substitute realism for incessant apocalypticism."

There's more blessing-counting from Michael Barone.  "We're Living in the (Almost) Best of Times." Specifically, "The natural tendency of most people is to ignore positive trends. They are neither the lead stories on your local newscast nor mentioned in shouting matches on cable news."

Go, read, understand, reflect.

Happy New Year.

AFTER THEY'VE TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE?

Lloyd Alter, writing for Tree Hugger, has a frisson of delight at people in the Road Lobby recognizing that ... the bicycle lobby might have a point.
Let's close those parking lots, convert on-street parking lanes to bike lanes, paint dedicated bus lanes on every street, stop widening highways, who could object to that? Given that the researchers note that people said they really want to drive less, surely they would all support this.
The "researchers" he refers to are authors in Harvard Business Review, contemplating "nudging" European (!) commuters employed at airports (in Europe, often more easily gotten to by rail or bus than is the case in the States.)

It's not about nudges, it's about getting the incentives right.  City Observatory contributor Joe Cortright spelled it out.
If we priced the use of our roads to recover even the cost of maintenance, driving would be noticeably more expensive, and people would have much stronger incentives to drive less, and to use other forms of transportation, like transit and cycling. The fact that user fees are too low not only means that there isn’t enough revenue, but that there is too much demand. One value of user fees would be that they would discourage excessive use of the roads, lessen wear and tear, and in many cases obviate the need for costly new capacity.
You'd think that might be something environmentalists and libertarians could make common cause on.

CHUCK TODD, RELUCTANT WRESTLING PROMOTER?

Last Sunday's Meet The Press might well have been the Circling of the Wagons by the Coastal Establishment, concentrating on the perceived fantasies of the Deplorables.

How else explain a first panel comprising "the executive editor of the Washington Post, Martin Baron, and the executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet."  That conversation got to this interesting bit of self-awareness by Mr Baquet.
I grew up in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, and had never been outside of Louisiana or Mississippi until I was about 17 years old. So it’s -- whenever I go home, and my family teases me that I'm now considered one of the great leaders of the elite. I do think, however, that we have to do a much better job, I agree with what Marty said, understanding some of the forces that drive people in parts of America that maybe are not as powerful in New York or Los Angeles.
At its best, that is what the meritocracy is supposed to do.  As an aside, I suppose we should be grateful that no subsequent panelist took Mr Baquet to task for being insufficiently aware of his privilege.  That doesn't bother me, there are parts of the academic enterprise that have self-marginalized.  At no time during the show, however, did anybody suggest that it came to this, dear reader, when the Smart Set started using finger quotes whenever they uttered the word, truth.

The show has drawn a lot of fire from the traditional places, with Stephen Kruiser quipping, "Chuck Todd Suggests That Trump Voters 'Wanna Be Lied to' Because Noah's Ark or Something."  He's less charitable toward the panel than I was.
Making this an even more unholy convergence of all that is wrong with modern American journalism, Todd's guests are the executive editors of The Washington Post and The New York Times, the two main architects and peddlers of the "Trump voters are unenlightened rubes from the icky parts of America" narrative.

This condescension is the cancer that's killing American journalism, and it's metastasizing.
If you want the tu quoque deflection, News Busters' Nicholas Fondacaro obliges.  His colleague Tim Graham suggested that the producers brought Matthew Continetti of Washington's Free Beacon on as designated "punching bag."  I found an observation by Mr Todd, during that segment, more instructive.
I mean, we are now aware that there are some politicians who want to come on this show, because they're hoping to get a viral moment to use for fundraising. And the minute we caught wind of that, we won't put those folks on. And it's sort of like, yeah, it's fun to get chastised by the mainstream media.
Put another way, there are some politicians who are wise to Mr Todd's schtick, and a good wrestling promoter has to rig the matches in such a way as to achieve his preferred outcome.

What, though, is the Nash equilibrium of this game?  Libertarians, populists, and conservatives recognize that Chuck Todd will give them a harder time than he will Democrats, establishmentarians, and Great Society liberals.  Those cage match segments are probably more interesting than the usual Dan Balz - Tom Brokaw at-the-end-of-the-day snoozefest that these shows used to offer. Fewer eyeballs, cheaper advertisements.

Let me offer one more anomaly: during the Sunday shows I watched, there were multiple commercials from Cascade, a manufacturer of dishwasher powders; and Jet Dry, a manufacturer of a dishwasher rinse agent.  Cheaper advertisements, or perhaps awareness that Our President's digs at environmentally friendly appliances that don't perform well have some purchase?

MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY, AS SOLID AS THE LACKAWANNA RAILROAD.

We know how that story ended.

Forbes recently released an analysis of the financial status of the country's private not-for-profit colleges and universities, under the title "Dawn of the Dead."  Apart from the claimants to high status in the U.S. News league tables (which strongly correlate to being hedge funds with medieval robes) it's pretty parlous.

Merge or perish has been "a long time coming," notes Craig Newmark.

For the railroads and the steel companies, heck, reality even caught up with the automobile companies, it was merge and perish.

28.12.19

GETTING TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER.

We'll close out the first year of not-regular Saturday bridge columns with a fun hand that could have paid off even better.

The bidding is more challenging than the play of the hand, as the number of possible auctions is several orders of magnitude larger than the number of possible hands, which are 52 choose thirteen.  And all for 105 possible contracts, do the math.


I could have raised "Two Diamonds" to that "One Heart" response, and perhaps that would have been wiser, even with a flattish hand and partner likely having a suitable stopper in Hearts.  The partner bot immediately bids game.  Note there is no box around that bid, indicating one of the special bids that get Cliff Notes treatment from the simulation.  Thus I decide not to push higher: there might be some convention to get there.

On to the play: the South hand is open, and East leads the ♣3.  Take stock in the North hand, the closed hand for this diagram: no losers in Spades; the Hearts should all be good; one Diamond must fall to the outstanding Ace, and the dummy takes care of the Clubs.  Here's how it goes: win the first trick with the Queen on the board; cash the Ace to safeguard against any annoying Spade leads from the defense; four rounds of Hearts draw all the trumps; now go to work on the Clubs, when I saw the Jack, Ten, and Nine come out, that Eight would have been good, but I ruffed with the ♥5 that was still in reserve to be able to lead a little Diamond toward the King; that finesse didn't work, but now West is almost in an end-play situation (the bridge version of Zugzwang I alluded to previously) having to lead toward the commanding Diamonds and the ♥8 also in reserve: the best hope, to lead a high Spade, trumped in the closed hand, then two rounds of Diamonds for plus two.

DEMOCRATS CAN'T CAPITALIZE ON THE PRESIDENT'S BROKEN PROMISES.

National Review's Kevin D. Williamson, no fan of Trumpian Populism he, elaborates.
In 2016, Trump promised Americans sustained 3-percent economic growth, but the economy has not met that standard. He promised a shrinking trade deficit, but the trade deficit has grown. He promised to build a wall along the southern border and to make Mexico pay for it, which he has not done. Which is to say, on the core issues of economic growth, trade, and immigration, President Trump is a failure by his own criteria.
It might suffice for the Democrats to point these things out, but they're off chasing something else.
[Massachusetts senator Elizabeth] Warren is unlikely to outdo Trump on a nationalism agenda, but nonetheless she has maneuvered herself into a position that is both bad policy and bad politics.

On the economy, Trump has seen modest success after tax cuts and deregulatory efforts. The Democrats oppose these for ideological reasons, but also because they have the stink of Trump on them.

A more intelligent approach for Democrats (and for us lonely few anti-Trump conservatives) would be to concede that the president’s positions on issues such as illegal immigration and trade speak to concerns that are genuine and legitimate while pointing out that his actions have been in the main ineffective or genuinely destructive. But the Democrats are so committed to their exotic fairy tale — Trump is a monster, Trump is a Nazi, Trump is a white nationalist, etc. — that they have forgotten how to run an ordinary campaign against an ordinary failure.
Put another way, the current administration's trade policies are a potted version of the industrial policy that was so popular during the shift out of heavy industry in the 1980s, without the alleged gravitas of Ira Magaziner or Robert Reich: and riling up the so-called coalition of the ascendant against Our President's bad manners might play well with that part of the Democratic base.

Those modest successes: are they good enough to keep some of the old-style Republicans on board?

Perhaps that victory will go to the side that chooses to be less crazy.

THE DIVISION OF LABOUR IS LIMITED BY THE EXTENT OF THE MARKET.

Change the extent of the information market, by making information easier to acquire (assessing it might be another matter) and the division of labour among experts, rulers, and the ruled changes.  It never was omniscient expertise, and it transpires that a CIA analyst, Martin Gurri, wrote a book, The Revolt of the Public, that suggested the transition from a siloed to an open administrative architecture might have been messy.  That led to an interesting conversation between Mr Gurri and Vox columnist Sean Illing.  The key observation appears almost Coasian.
When you look at the form of modern government, when you look at our structures of power, our institutions, we tend to think of government as something that was created in the 18th century by the founders. But the truth is that it was shaped in the Industrial Age. It has an industrial form and it’s very top-down. It is very hierarchical. It has an almost religious faith in science and expertise.

And a system like this requires a semi-monopoly of information for the domain of each institution. Government needed to control political information, and the politicians and the media all kept a pretty tight circle of information. These are the gatekeepers that decide what’s worth knowing and how it’s known, and for all the downsides of this system, it did keep a lot of ignorance and error at bay.
The first paragraph elides a lot of history, in the transition from departments of Treasury, State, War, and Justice plus the Post Office to whatever the current administrative state is; and yet in a world of costly information perhaps there is a case for those semi-monopolies to circumvent both voting and the price mechanism.  Substitute the administrator for the entrepreneur.  But in the same way that market tests could sweep away tightly-integrated firms with layers of management, tightly coupled administrative states could be swept away when they lost legitimacy.
People can’t organize around a common idea or worldview, but they all seem to agree that they’re pissed off and they’re against ... the system.

So this 20th-century Industrial Age-model of democracy, where rulers are at a distance from the public, is gone. Now it’s embarrassingly clear that the rulers, the elites, don’t really know what’s going [on] or what they’re doing. And at the same time, the public has no shared organization, no common leaders, no ideology.

Instead, we have a divided populace united only by its disdain for the status quo. That’s a very destabilizing situation, and it’s what I was anticipating when I wrote my book.
Emergence is often like that. What could the buggy-whip makers do about the motor-car, or the integrated steel mills about thin slab casting?  They couldn't make it go away, although they could engage in rent-seeking or blaming it on imports or something, and consumers could still vote with their money.  Now consumers are in a position to vote with their votes, and they have (as the conversation is noting) evidence that the current crop of policy entrepreneurs aren't doing so well.
I’m increasingly frustrated with the elites. Look, you can’t run a modern society without some sort of hierarchy. Let’s get real. It can’t happen. So that means that you cannot run a modern society without some sort of elite class. So whatever the public is doing, it’s never going to end up in a perfectly flat society in which we all rule ourselves in some protesting way.

So we need structure, we need institutions, we need elites. But I’ve been astounded by how clueless so many of these elites are. Because of what I do, I’ve interacted with lots of important people, and they simply don’t get it.

The 20th century was so comfortable for them. They stood at the top. They talked down and nobody talked back. They want to return to that world and it can’t happen. So the elites are in a reactionary mode. They feel like the internet is this horrible thing. It has to be regulated back into the 20th century.

But that’s pure fantasy.
Emergence is like that, and it takes a columnist for a site run by and for self-styled progressives and aspiring technocrats to an interesting place.  Mr Illing goes first.  "People obviously want change, but most have no idea what that would look like. There are no serious alternatives to the global liberal order — at least no serious democratic alternatives — and so we seem stuck in a highly unstable period of transition with no sense of what’s on the other side."  That "no serious democratic alternatives" is the not unreasonable fear that more than a few technocrats might end up with their head on a pike pour encourager les autres.  Mr Gurri responds.
It’s so important to remember that we’re in the very early stages of a profound transformation from the Industrial Age to something that doesn’t even have a name yet. These things take time, and you or I may not even be around when this transition is finally complete.

But yes, the danger is that right now the public only has one modality: negation. We’re saying “no” to the system. But if you push hard enough without a vision of what comes next, or even any interest in what comes next, then it becomes nihilism, destruction for destruction’s sake. And that can sometimes seem like a form of progress, but it’s very dangerous.

So a lot of people today fear fascism or authoritarianism, but what I really fear is nihilism. And yet we’re still at the very beginning of this era. While it may seem disastrous and destabilizing now, in 50 years or 100 years it might look totally different.
Mr Gurri compares this era to the late 1840s in France and Germany, only this time world-wide, and the struggles between those continental powers ended with the United States triumphant.  Then, though, and perhaps now, the framing architecture of governance might have been robust enough to the secular challenges to create an administrative state suitable to the era of cheaper steel and more costly information.
The gut feeling I have is that we will get new elites. And I think the dynamic between the public and elites will change because the new elite will understand that there is advantage to be had in being closer to the public and not in disappearing at the top of the pyramid.

The only thing we can be sure of is that things will change. And look, it’s entirely possible that things will end up in a better place. Whatever one thinks of Industrial Age democracy, the truth is that it wasn’t all that democratic. There were hundreds of layers between the average person and people in power.

That’s not how democracy is supposed to work, but we accepted it. It worked well for a while. But the informational environment today is such that that kind of system can’t survive. This is a different era and it will require a different model of democracy.
Perhaps I can, at the end of the year, cycle back to the meditation that opened Advent.  How many layers of administration were there between Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, and Caesar Augustus, enrolling what he thought was the whole world?  In the intervening years, there has come, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, on the one hand a corrupt self-dealing establishment laid low by the modern information technologies of that era; on the other hand, there are only four layers of management between parishioner and Pope.

EVERYTHING ELSE IS ELABORATION.

Reason's Steven Greenhut laments the tendency of aspirants to national office to recycle the nostrums of elections past.  His principal focus is on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, aspiring to a new commitment to the War on Poverty (the original having turned out so well, after all.)  The essay notes a number of other not-so-good ideas from before rising again.  By all means read the essay.

The key takeaway, though, is the strong form of Reynolds's Law.  "You can give a poor person a middle-class house, but that doesn't automatically give them the social skills to turn them into bona fide members of the middle class."

Just as regular readers have been seeing for years.

27.12.19

NOW TAKE THE NEXT STEP.

Portland, Oregon Streetsblog contributor Buff Brown objects to the city adding lanes to Interstate 5.

He's correct, there will be construction delays, and no net change in congestion afterward.
Transportation planners know building more car capacity causes more driving. Growing evidence shows the amount of miles driven, not congestion, is the major factor in greenhouse-gas emissions and vehicle crashes. Indeed, California has mandated [miles driven] analyses for its environmental analyses and discounts congestion delay as an environmental measure.

Here’s what really happens when we widen a congested road. In the short term:

  • some drivers who avoided the congestion by using parallel roads will use it,
  • some drivers who delayed their trip will no longer delay their trip, and
  • some drivers who skipped their trip completely will now make it.
In the long term:

  • some drivers will travel farther for trips or live farther away, and
  • some cyclists, walkers, transit users will drive; some will need to buy a car.
As has been proved time and again, road widening does not relieve congestion — it just raises the number of vehicle miles traveled, a phenomenon known as “induced demand.”
Yes, indeed.

It might not be sufficient to fret about the hardships the motor age imposes on people of modest means, though.
Given the damage that the Rose Quarter project, the 217 widening, and other highway projects will do to Portland’s environment and public health, Portland’s leaders should be firmly lobbying for our legislature to redirect those billions of dollars to bike, walk, and transit projects only. Their lack of action is painful and disheartening.
That will appeal to people of a dirigiste bent who would just as soon order the masses onto the trams. It's a missed opportunity, though, as the roads do not pay for themselves, the road commissioners are not thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs with money-losing assets, and people respond to incentives.

YOU HAVE TO WORK FOR YOUR REFUND.

Voice mail hell is by design.  "Americans spent an average of 13 hours disputing a purchase or resolving a problem with customer service."  The researchers suggest that such behavior is directly related to the absence of competition.  "[I]n markets without much competition, companies are more likely to implement a tiered complaint process and profit from the reduced payouts to customers."

Perhaps so, your cable company and air carrier will likely be the most notoriousBy no means, though, are they the worst sinners in the congregation.

The article suggests that the more irritated consumers, as judged by voice-stress bots (or perhaps, requests for supervisors) are more likely to get satisfaction.
These smart technologies determine the caller’s level of anger by remotely monitoring the tone and pace of voice. If the level of anger reflects a chance the customer may leave the company, then the call is transferred to a more experience operator to handle the complaint.

This allows companies to exploit customers’ individual differences in age, race and gender so that only the “squeakiest wheels” are compensated.
Apparently not making a scene and not coming back is no longer sufficient market discipline, it is now necessary to make a scene, get a refund, and then, if practicable, not come back.

THE POVERTY OF CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM.

The latest iteration of the unending Star Wars story spins out, to the discontent of those who would have you believe it introduces too many woke prejudices into that galaxy a long time ago, too far away, as well as to the discontent of those who would have you believe it's Triumph des Willens with a John Williams score.

Think I'm kidding?  Check out Tim Kreider's essay in the Newspaper of Record.  First, the naïve view thought to appeal to the kids of the era.
Now that it’s one franchise among many, “Star Wars" seems timeless, but the original is very much a product of the 1970s: Mr. Lucas began writing it while American troops were still in Vietnam and Nixon was being consumed by his dark side. It’s remembered now as a proto-Reaganesque, reactionary backlash against the morally ambiguous cinema of the ’70s, but it’s also a countercultural, anti-fascist fable about shaggy young outsiders fighting a revolution against the faceless, armored henchmen of a military technocracy. The Empire is comfortably identified with our favorite movie enemies, the Nazis, which helps disguise the fact that they are also, metaphorically, the imperialist invaders of Vietnam, confident in their devastating firepower to crush an ill-equipped insurgency. This subtext got a lot less subtextual in “Return of the Jedi,” in which the occupiers’ superweapons are thwarted by the guerrilla tactics and crude booby-traps of a pretechnological people.
He continues. (Let me enlighten you, deplorable, from my throne at the Cathedral.)
Lots of critics pointed out that the coda of “Star Wars,” when three heroes march up a corridor between columns of massed soldiers, is a visual quote of the wreath-laying at Nuremberg in “Triumph of the Will,” but everyone seems to assume this is a random allusion, devoid of historical context. It’s not as if Mr. Lucas was oblivious of the source. His film is full of fascist iconography — all, up until this moment, associated with the Empire. Assuming this final image is deployed intentionally, it might be most hopefully interpreted as a warning: Don’t become the thing you’ve fought against. The intimation of a hidden kinship between our hero and his enemy was right there in Darth Vader’s name all along — the dark father.

The ostensible moral of “Star Wars” is anti-technology, pro-“feelings” — a very ’70s sensibility. The Empire is a rigid, militaristic hierarchy, obsessed with its high-tech weaponry. But underlying it is an older tradition, represented by Darth Vader, that’s religious, mystic.
I recall a graduate school contemporary of mine raising the possibility that "Darth Vader" meant "dark father," and yes, that came to pass during Empire Strikes Back; and later we discover that somebody sliced Anakin's hand off the way Vader sliced Luke's hand off.

Maybe it's best to think of it all in fun, and that's where Mr Kreider leaves it (after lamenting that the 1978 version is currently in Disney's version of the Oak Island Money Pit.)

On the other hand, logic dies in darkness, and Jeffery C. J. Chen gets a platform to elaborate.
Star Wars is shot with “Orientalizing” stereotypes — patronizing tropes that represent an imagined East, or the Orient, as inferior to the rational, heroic West. Think, for example, of the uniformed conformity of the evil Empire vs. the scrappy (American) individualism of the rebel heroes, the vague Eastern mysticism of the Force and its Shaolin-cum-Samurai practitioners, and the uncomfortable racial stereotypes embodied in the hookah-smoking Jabba and the miserly Watto.
No Nuremberg Rallies for the Republic here. Apparently no cross-references between the corrupt interplanetary senate that midwives the dark side and Star Trek's Borg, either.

That's not where Mr Chen wants to go, though, not a-t-all.
Even those who have noted these prejudices could be excused for not noticing the presence of such tropes in another key element of every Star Wars film: John Williams’s iconic musical score. Williams’s music associates the “good guys” with the grand orchestral style of the European Romantics (think of the beautifully hummable melodies for Luke, Leia and Rey), while the themes for the “bad guys” are expressed in the vocabulary of Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern music.
Really? I once raised, on a faculty discussion list, the possibility that the closing music in what became the first episode (young Anakin the pod racer) called to mind the first movement of a Shostakovich piano concerto: and a colleague in music noted that I was not totally off base to do so.  Play it, play the closing music, then play the Imperial March, which isn't quite right to parade your storm-troopers through Berlin, but it would not be out of place in another Shostakovich rendition of the rhetoric of Nazi orators, and it might have been anticipated in Prokofiev.

Never mind, he's on a roll.
This may seem incidental or unimportant. But this music reinforces, even at an unconscious level, the primacy of Western culture against an imagined “other” that reproduces harmful prejudices in pop culture that, given the power of mass media, has larger political consequences.

Star Wars builds on a long history of using Eastern music to depict evil on - screen or to convey to moviegoers that they are entering an alien world. It is an established Hollywood technique, going back to such classics as Max Steiner’s music for “King Kong” (1933) and “Casablanca” (1942), and Maurice Jarre’s score for “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962). This way of scoring movies reflects the training of the first generation of film composers, who introduced the tropes of European opera into Hollywood music. Among Steiner’s many influences were Richard Wagner, who popularized the leitmotif (associating a character with a musical theme), and Richard Strauss, whose opera “Salome” about a necrophiliac princess from Judea summarizes all the tropes of Orientalizing music.

Williams, who was born in 1932 and grew up with this generation of composers, epitomizes the Wagnerian approach to film scoring. Each character in Star Wars has his or her own musical identity, a compositional technique Williams also uses to brilliant effect in other franchises, such as “Indiana Jones,” possibly the most famous modern example of cinematic Orientalism.
Wouldn't it be equally valid to suggest that, today, "Shall We Gather at the River" or Adeste Fideles might signal to the wokerati that they are entering a strange land?

In the end though, it's not about music or movie-making at all, it's about making the core curriculum even more coreless.
The solution is certainly not to blame these composers, but to be more aware of the way music, especially music written for popular media, can shape our understanding of the world. There are plenty of young composers of non-Western descent whose work deserves to be heard and to frame our stories, and there are plenty of established artists, such as Tan Dun, Joe Hisaishi or A.R. Rahman, who could be hired for Hollywood assignments.
Yes, and that's the way to deprive young people of the way to understand the writings of years past.

LET BERNIE SANDERS BE THE LAST INFLUENTIAL HIPPIE.

Please.
We Boomers have been maligned in the media and by politicians since back when we were wearing bell-bottom jeans, when women were putting flowers in their usually long or frizzed-out hair, and when any guy with the slightest facial hair grew a beard or at least a mustache (lately, it's that we're keeping jobs from young people by not retiring, or rthat we're hurting their retirement future by opposing any cuts in our own benefits!) More importantly we were marching against war, against nuclear weapons and arms spending, and condemning the empty consumerism of our parents. In obtaining our attire from thrift stores and traveling the roads by thumb, we were challenging the premise of capitalism itself, saying that it wasn't what you owned that defined you, it was what you stood for.

We were reading the Realist, R. Crumb Comix, New Times and Ramparts, as well as writers like Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Herbert Marcuse, Betty Friedan, Malcolm X, Marshal McLuhan and Henry Thoreau for our worldview.
That's a Common Dreams (where else?) writer, Dave Lindorff, calling for one last wallow in Woodstock.

I repeat, because repeat I must: "Baby boomer" neither implies nor is implied by "hippie."  Considering what damage Marx and Trotsky did to lives all over the Third World (including the holders in due course of the Kievan Rus), what damage Marcuse did to the curriculum, what damage Friedan did to relations between the sexes, and what McLuhan did to coherent beliefs (I'm skipping over Malcom X and Thoreau as they're really outliers) maybe it's just as well the likes of Mr Lindorff have been maligned and pushed to the margins of serious thought.
We got married, raised families, bought oversized and over-priced cars and houses, got sucked into being investors in IRA and 401(k) plans (trusting in stock markets instead of labor unions), and became consumers instead of people. We became better-off versions of our own parents. Some of us even became Republicans or Neo-liberal Democrats, worried more about our own gain than about those who were being left behind or crushed by what we used to call the "System," and ignoring what our nation was and still is doing to the world.

During all these intervening years, as we've lost our way, Bernie Sanders has stayed the course. Four years too old to be officially a Baby Boomer, Sanders, born in 1941, hails from that demographic cohort that, during the Nixon years, to its undying disgrace, came to be known, and even to self identify, as the Silent Generation consisting of those born between the wars or during WWII. Sanders, though, has never been silent. He protested and faced arrest as a student defending the rights of American blacks and opposed both US apartheid and the Vietnam War. He then entered politics as a socialist, winning election as mayor of Burlington, VT (which under his leadership become known as "the People's Republic of Burlington" … and as one of the best US cities to live in). Later he moved on to Congress, first as a representative and then as the state's junior senator—a position he still holds.

Bernie Sanders, my fellow Boomers, is the person we were supposed to be as we grew older and wiser: An obstinate and outspoken defender of the downtrodden, a rejector of consumerism, and a defender of the notion that we all are better off when we demand that government help those who are the neediest, not those who are the most wealthy and powerful.
Put another way, many of the younger Boomers wanted nothing to do with the foolishness the main press lauded, and more than a few of Mr Lindorff's birth cohort grew up, and recognized that there were a few Silent Generation pied pipers, such as Mr Sanders and Ralph Nader, and more than a few vicars of vacillation, all about process over substance.  Never mind Mr Lindorff's conceit. "It's about saving the world."

There is never much good done by those who affect to trade for the public interest.

ENOUGH OF ORWELL'S FREAK MAGNET.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, he wrote a passage about the cultists that tend to attach themselves to socialism.  It gets even better as rewritten in Orwell's Revenge: "[O]ld Etonians, fruit-juice thinkers, nudists, sandal-wearers, sex maniacs, Quakers, Nature Cure quacks, pacifists, and phesbian leminists."

I've never fully understood how every sort of exotic preference somehow attaches itself, or gets itself attached, to Marxian thinking.

Apparently the proletarians currently abiding in Sweden (the workers having no country, dear reader) are similarly perplexed.
Almost half of the members of the Communist Party in Malmö are resigning. Instead, they plan establish a new workers' party that doesn't put as much emphasis on things like multiculturalism, LGBT issues and climate alarmism, which have become the staples and rallying calls of today's left.

Nils Littorin, one of the defectors, explained [in Swedish -- Ed.] to Lokaltidningen that today's left has become part of the elite and has come to “dismiss the views of the working class as alien and problematic”. Littorin suggested that the left, as a movement, is going through a prolonged identity crisis and that his group, instead, intends to stick to the original values, such as class warfare.

“They don't understand why so many workers don't think that multiculturalism, the LGBT movement and Greta Thunberg are something fantastic, but instead believe we are in the 1930s' Germany and that workers who vote [right-wing] Sweden Democrats have been infected by some Nazi sickness,” he explained to Lokaltidningen.

The right-wingers' major gains from the working class are, according to Littorin, a token of widespread dissatisfaction with liberal economic migration that leads to “low-wage competition” and the “ghettoisation of communities”, a development that “only benefits major companies”.

According to Littorin, one of the underlying problems is a “chaotic” immigration policy that has led to cultural clashes, segregation and exclusion due to an uncontrolled influx from parts of the world characterised by honour culture and clan mentalities.

Littorin described multiculturalism, LGBT issues and the climate movement as state ideologies that are “rammed down people's throats”. According to him, phenomena like LGBT-certification and the cult around 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg and “other -isms” happen at the expense of the real issues, such as income equality.

“Pride, for instance, has been reduced to dealing with sexual orientation. We believe that human dignity is primarily about having a job and having pension insurance that means that you are not forced to live on crumbs when you are old,” Littorin explained.
Like every other faith tradition on the left, including Social Gospel Christianity, there is angry sectarianism.
Owing to its long-standing socialist traditions, Sweden currently has two active communist parties, the Communist Party and the Swedish Communist Party, both dating back to the 1970s. Despite formally remaining loyal to Marxism-Leninism, the two are not on speaking terms. Also, the Left Party, which unlike the two aforementioned ones has parliamentary representation, was called the Communist Party for several decades.
Before the new year is over, it's likely that this comrade himself will stand accused of some sort of Nazi sickness.

23.12.19

TIME FOR A LONG WINTER'S NAP.

The halls are decked and the vintage trains are running.


Thanks to all for looking in. Cold Spring Shops will take a few days off at Christmas and New Year's.

WHY DO THE NATIONS SO FURIOUSLY RAGE TOGETHER?

The past year, heck, the past few years of the decade about to turn, have been years of rebellion against existing orders.  That brings out the Serious Thinkers, attempting to find Serious (and sometimes predictable) causes.  The Nation's Ben Ehrenreich doesn't quite say, the final coming of the collapse of late capitalism, but in characterizing events as a "global rebellion against neoliberalism," it's clear what outcome he would prefer.
Something is happening here. But what? And why now? In the last 12 weeks, protests have spanned five continents—most of the planet—from wealthy London and Hong Kong to hungry Tegucigalpa and Khartoum. They are so geographically disparate and apparently heterogeneous in cause and composition that I have not yet seen any serious attempt to view them as a unified phenomenon.
But of course, there is.
All of the countries recently experiencing popular revolts—and most of the rest of the planet—have for decades been ruled by a single economic model, in which the “growth” celebrated by the pedigreed few means immiseration for the many, and capital streams into American and European accounts as reliably as sewage flows downhill.
I'm not sure whether it's "immiseration" for many, or some formerly-favored people, industrial workers in the Western industrialized countries, losing income relative to formerly desperate people elsewhere, and I'm not sure how to put the freedom rallies in Hong Kong into this box: and the ongoing impeachment of Our President might be something done at the urging of the left wing of the Democrat caucus, and yet there are many members of the Permanent Bipartisan Establishment, including more than a few Republican-identifying individuals who might be going along secretly, who would not object to conviction and removal.

A John Fund reminiscence of the emergent collapse of the Warsaw Pact from thirty years ago is relevant.
I asked [some residents of East Berlin] what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said a beautician, one said a nurse, and one said a teacher. But the oldest and wisest, whose name was Monika, looked up at me and said very slowly: “It doesn’t matter what we become when we grow up. They will always treat us like children.”

That sentence really defined Communism in its waning years. People were rarely taken away to a political prison. Instead, there was an insufferable and widespread paternalism. It weighed down people’s spirits and prevented them from becoming what was the best within them.

We parted almost tearfully, exchanging addresses so we could swap postcards at Christmas. She wrote that her application for university studies had been rejected because of her views.
The cancel culture of today's vanguard works the same way.  Mr Fund concludes that what happened in East Berlin is relevant to what's going on in Hong Kong.

What we might be seeing is the first manifestation of what J. H. Kunstler calls the "long emergency."  It's no longer possible, Joel Kotkin suggests, for the governing classes to keep staples cheap.
Whether in Europe, East Asia or the Americas, this new middle-class rebellion may be seen as what one Marxist publication called “a strike against the rising cost of living.”

Although the leftists identify this more with protests against things like subway fare hikes, in the latest uprising the key has been those things, notably energy and housing prices, which threaten to “proletarianize” the living standards of the not long ago decently comfortable.

In virtually every high-income country, and increasingly some developing ones as well, the middle class, as a recent OECD report states, is looking “increasingly like a boat in rocky waters.” Overall, particularly in the West and nations like Japan, this decline has been accelerating for three decades. In the United States, among children born in 1940, about 90 percent grew up to experience higher incomes than their parents, according to researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project; that dropped to only 50 percent among those born in the 1980s.

There’s a clear a loss of confidence in the future among the middle orders, and most particularly their heirs. Three-quarters of American adults today predict their children will not grow up to be better off than they are, suggests Pew. These sentiments about the new generation are even worse in France, Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany. In Japan, a remarkable three-quarters of those polled believed things would be worse for the next generation.
Markets reallocate resources, and everybody now understands how to make consumer goods cheaply, which isn't going to turn out well for the less-credentialed residents of the rich countries. In addition, the bid-rent curves in the big cities, worldwide, appear to be getting steeper. (That's something Mr Kotkin grasps, although it's not the easiest thing to explain in an essay for a general audience).
In all these places global capital — much of it from China itself — has boosted prices beyond what most middle-income families can afford. In each homeownership is now increasingly out of reach, particularly for the young. Although some of this reflects market forces and capital flows, much of the price rise, particularly in California, parts of the Northeast, Britain and Canada reflect urban containment regulatory policies that restrict housing supply, particularly on the periphery, where land costs tend to be cheaper.

Recently these policies have been propelled by largely flawed notions that increasingly high density would make housing cheaper and produce lower GHG emissions. Actually, the densest places with the strongest regulation are almost always those with the highest levels of unaffordability. Yet it is in the energy arena where “green policies” have solicited the greatest push-back in a large number of countries.
Meanwhile, Chris Hedges has no confidence in any sort of vanguard, including the flailing current meritocratic elite.
This spirit of meanness corrupts the far right and the far left. It defines the Christian fascists and the alt-right as it defines many in antifa and the black bloc, although unlike their fascist opponents the far left in the United States is a marginal, poorly organized, ideologically bankrupt and ineffectual political force. As societies polarize, the attempts by reformers and moderates such as Sanders and Warren to halt the disorder, defuse the mounting hatreds and antagonisms that are increasingly expressed through violence and salvage democratic norms prove fruitless. The oligarchs do not respond to their appeals and eventually the disenfranchised lose patience with the impotence of the moderates.
He and Mr Kotkin are in accord on one point, though: the pitchforks and tumbrils might be next. "All societies are plagued by social inequality, but when those on the bottom and in the middle of the social pyramid lose their voice and agency, when the society exists only to serve the greed of the rich, when income inequality reaches the levels it has reached in the United States, the social fabric is torn apart and the society destroys itself."

A Bookworm Room post makes a similar point.
People fighting back against political and cultural leaders who have become an international class bound by ties, not to their own countries, but to other world leaders. The transnational elites posture for their fellow transnationals and enacts policies that enrich only themselves. The one thing they’re not doing is taking care of the people in their charge.
A Fifth Wave essay raises the possibility that attempting to understand the discontent using any of the conventional paradigms (Marxian, populism, any of the ruling models of governance) might be futile.
While few are calling for revolution and absolutely no one is proposing alternatives to representative government, the public’s alienation clearly runs deeper than mere hostility to the elites.  There is, I believe, a powerful if inchoate craving for structural change.

This would be a good time to bring up the pessimistic hypothesis.  It holds that the loss of control over information must be fatal to modern government as a system:  the universal spread of revolt can be explained as a failure cascade, driving that system inexorably toward disorganization and reconfiguration.  Failure cascades can be thought of as negative virality.  A local breakdown leads to the progressive loss of higher functions, until the system falls apart.  This, in brief, is why airplanes crash and bridges collapse.

For systems that are dynamic and complex, like human societies, outcomes are a lot more mysterious.  A failure cascade of revolts (the hypothesis) will knock the institutions of modern government ever further from equilibrium, until the entire structure topples into what Alicia Juarrero calls “phase change”:  a “qualitative reconfiguration of the constraints” that gave the failed system its peculiar character.  In plain language, the old regime is overthrown – but at this stage randomness takes charge, and what emerges on the far side is, in principle, impossible to predict.
Put another way, the ending of a saecular order is emergent, and it ought come as no surprise that the outlines of what takes its place will be emergent as well: and thus have rigidities not robust to future challenges.

That might give pause, particularly to the vanguardists of a Marxian bent, as much of the discontent Mr Ehrenreich sees as with "neoliberalism" is really with the soft totalitarianism of expertise.  Richard Ebeling explains at length.
The ideological denominations under the general collectivist calling include old-fashioned Marxists, reborn democratic socialists, paternalist progressives, traditional and neo-nationalists, “Make America Great Again” mercantilists, race-conscious tribalists, and Earth-worshiping environmentalists who seem to value all living things except man.

Combined, these collectivist charges add up to a worrisome and potentially dangerous threat to what has been generally understood as the free society, over especially the last three hundred years or so. All these collectivists view themselves in their own different ways as “progressives,” with government plans to make the world a better place for all.
Perhaps, in the failure cascade, all that is holy in the above list will be profaned; so, too, might the Enlightenment notions of perfect liberty.

The Bookworm Room post goes there.
Across the world, as weary, beaten-down people look at a ruling class that sees them as despicable, dirty deplorables, these ordinary people, these normals, need to rise up and say, “It’s time for them to go.”

And here’s a word of warning to the ruling class: You managed to keep a lid on things for seven decades after WWII. The people’s discontent, though, is boiling. Bad things happen when the pressure from that boiling finally blows off that tightly pressed lid. I suggest that the Western world’s ruling class, as well as the ruling class in China and the Middle East, gracefully backs away from the levers of power before its members get their greedy, smug little hands blown off of those same levers.

Be assured that I’m not advocating a bullet-style revolution. I prefer my revolutions at the ballot box. But when a people become too discontent, the ballot box is suddenly no longer an option.
What Reason columnist Steve Chapman sees as building in Hong Kong might be the worst case scenario more generally.
The brave idealism of the people of Hong Kong is enough to stir the heart of anyone who cherishes freedom. But the harsh reality is that they are unlikely to get more of what they demand. The movement could end because they accept this modest victory and go back to their normal lives. Or it could end in tears and blood.
The next few years promise to be ... challenging.

MORE EVIDENCE OF TOO MANY MID-MAJOR BASKETBALL TEAMS?

Hustle Belt columnist Zackery Vannieuwenhze discovers a disturbance in the Force.  "Did Oakland’s arrival to Division 1 change the trajectory of EMU hoops?"  Sorry, I exaggerate.
Prior to Oakland’s emergence, Eastern served as the school in the area for a lot of Metro Detroit’s top talent. Not only among players coming out of high school but talented players looking to return to the area as transfers. In recent years, OU has added numerous transfers from Power Five schools and many of those transfers come with ties to the Detroit area.

Oakland has another major benefit as well: the campus has been steadily growing.

EMU has famously seen their enrollment stagnate— then drop precipidously [c.q.]— as the school has struggled to stay out of debt. In contrast, Oakland’s enrollment is now just roughly two thousand students less than Eastern’s, and has recently announced an increase of students living on campus, while Eastern closes residence halls.

One reason why Oakland has such interest in their basketball program is that they do not sponsor a football program. Per the NCAA, Oakland reported 48,276 fans across 16 home games which is good for a 3,017 average. Eastern reported just 30,452 fans across 18 games which was good for a 1,692 average attendance.
Look, we're not exactly talking Kohl Center let alone Cameron Arena level attendances, and what are two rival one-bid conferences in an environment that is moving in the direction of the power conferences realigning in such a way as to render the current basketball tournament format superfluous?  That's going on independently of whatever shifts in academic reputation (and usable capacity) among Oakland and Eastern: that's something with a much longer history.

THE RENT SEEKING WILL SIMPLY TAKE DIFFERENT FORMS.

An advocate for the presidential campaign of Senator Sanders takes rival Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, to task for doing what candidates for high office do.
"It's very telling and concerning that one of the campaign's major bundlers would talk like that," the individual told Axios. "What would this suggest about the way he's going to interact with Silicon Valley if the implication is pay-for-play? If that's the way he's operating, it's in the public interest for people to know what's being said."
It gives the senator a chance to push his usual talking point.
Sanders pointed to the number of billionaires that have donated to Buttigieg's campaign and said, "This is why three people own more wealth than the bottom half."

"We need to get money out of politics," said Sanders. "We should run our campaigns on that basis."
Generate fewer rents, and you will have fewer opportunities for rent-seekers to traffic in influence.

Unfortunately, the gentleman from Vermont would like to have more politics.  If the money can't influence, something else will.

22.12.19

IV. ADVENT.


This week's meditation: what lessons do the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin provide about the nature of the permanent government, or the deep state if you will?

JACOB RIIS GOES TO MCDONALD'S.

Chris Arnade, who may have coined the phrase "front row kids," came from a hardscrabble neighborhood in Florida, earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, discovered that using his quantitative skills to value derivatives proved more rewarding than using them to get funding for some time on a particle accelerator.  Then the financial crash happened.  He subsequently became curious about addiction, and then about life more generally in the poorer quarters where the ragged people go.

It seems fitting with Christmas and the Feast of Stephen approaching to devote Book Review No. 13 to his Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America.  Although Mr Arnade began by talking with, and photographing, addicted and homeless people in New York City, his travels took him all around the States.

His narrative focuses on place and faith, two dimensions of the human environment that are frequently discussed by the chattering classes, although sometimes that becomes an exercise in oversimplified aggregation.  Thus, in the most recent presidential election, the journals of opinion became a forum for "Should these places be abandoned?"  The exodus of the ambitious people, which Mr Arnade recognizes as part of his own experience, likely began long before the black swan events confounded the models of option pricing.  The people who remained, however, had their reasons for remaining, the despair of their existence notwithstanding.

Likewise, in the matter of faith, it's easy for members of the political class to create an aggregation of Others who believe in the literal truth of the Bible and the sinfulness of same-sex marriage and other secular delights.  That's not the sort of congregation Mr Arnade found: there might be such churches, just as there are the mega-churches in less downscale communities with their Prosperity Gospels, and there are the congregations of the World Council of Churches (that nobody goes to anymore?) preaching their Social Gospel that contemporary social democratic urges are simply what the Apostle Paul had written about.  The congregations he visits, however, worship in repurposed storefronts rather than high street edifices, and witness is are more about mutual support and recognizing one's frailties and seeking purpose, and they're not necessarily Christian, and the finer points of theology or political purpose are not in the message or the prayers.

What then, about the social science?  I invoked Jacob Riis for a reason:  Dignity, like How the Other Half Lives before it, is more likely to provoke other people to dig into the causes and cures.  Here it gets challenging, as Mr Arnade observes, "our nation's problems and differences are just too big, too structural, and too deep, to be solved by legislation and policy out of Washington."  Moreover, Mr Arnade sometimes refers to the people he meets as "back of the back row."  Another way of putting it is: people in desperate circumstances who, had they lived in the Roman Empire of Tiberius Caesar or the Bohemia of King Wenceslas, would be ... dead.  The back row problems he documents are what, two hundred years ago, we would understand as ... the ordinary challenges of life.

Likewise, the circumstances which induced Mr Arnade to leave are relatively recent.  "A community built on non-credentialed value -- place, faith, and race -- didn't work for me and excluded me."  That's always been the promise of the common schools and the bourgeois norms, isn't it?  It worked well enough for Mr Arnade, and applied globally, it has worked tolerably well for some people who, fifty years ago, might have confronted the same odds as the shepherds abiding in the fields and the peasant gathering winter fuel.  It's not clear now whether the gathering places of the back row kids were abandoned by the front row kids, or whether other forces were at work.  As institutions emerge and evolve only slightly faster than geologic time, there are likely to be plenty of research opportunities.  With the competition to get to the front row turning into a positional arms race, with accumulating evidence that on occasion, the meritocrats get things wrong, bigly, this might be the time to bet on emergence: new ways of recognizing talent whilst continuing to improve the odds for people born into the most difficult of circumstances.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

JUST DEVOLVE, ALREADY.

I was combing out the bookmarks, and found this Liberty Unyielding post from 2017, when the self-styled progressives were still trying to figure out why the voters rejected their anointed president, rather than looking for a pretext to impeach the disruptor.
The ascendant progressive idea of government – what it’s supposed to be, the relation in which it should stand to us – is what makes Americans less and less interested in agreeing with each other.

The reason for that is that the progressive idea raises the stakes on agreement, to an unworkable level.

Once the concept of inherently interventionist government takes hold, actively trying to reorder everything in our lives with the force of the state, it is no longer possible to agree with political opponents on a host of things.  The cost of doing so is too high.  You’re signing up for too much.

The cost of agreement becomes extraordinary, when every tick in the agreement box means a new law, a new regulatory imposition, and a new reason to tax or “redistribute.”  Eventually, there’s no living left, in this model; it’s all government regulation, mandates, and confiscation.

We have gone such a long way down the path of progressive interventionism that many people younger than perhaps 60 or 70 today can’t even see what an astonishing amount of sheer government we have hovering over us.  We used to be able to simply have differing opinions on a whole lot of things, without those opinions incessantly triggering actions of the government.  But that is no longer the case.  Now, every opinion on everything is the basis for a new law or a lawsuit.

Under those conditions, it is far too costly to agree with people, or even to remain silent, on things we could once go our entire lives without commenting on as political issues at all.  Failing to speak out now too often means that the next thing you know, something that didn’t even matter is being made into a mandatory catechism for your children in the public schools, or is sucking more money out of your wallet in the form of taxes or regulation, or has become a condition of legal employment, unless your employer is willing to court endless lawsuits.

There is no compromising with this concept of government.  When every agreement triggers the same type of government mechanism, the only political option is disagreement, whether on facts, implications, or conclusions.  To avert the inevitable pouncing of the government juggernaut, one has to keep disagreement alive.

People on the left tend to favor the bigger, triggerable government, although it’s not all of them who do.  Many of them have a hazier vision – a Bernie Sanders-type vision – than the progressive activists who know exactly what the politics they favor lead to.

The Bernie Brigade has a lot of the starry-eyed folks who don’t especially want to know from mechanisms-of-government (and who definitely don’t).  You can represent to them until you’re blue in the face that confiscating the entire wealth of the “1 percent” wouldn’t pay for everyone to go to college now – or pay everyone’s medical bills – much less keep paying for it in the future, and they just don’t want to hear it.  They feel a certain way.

But it is perhaps more important about them that they can’t all be pigeon-holed as conscious fans of intrusive government.  Progressives by definition are such fans.  Progressivism is about bureaucratic statism.  Progressives were all in for Hillary, and a continuation of sprawling, bureaucratized, incessantly dysfunctional government.
Yes, and there are still a lot of people signing up for new Grand Plans.

Credentialed Elites plus Presidential Power plus Tax and Spend ... eventually collapses of its own weight.  Perhaps with the voting coalitions taking new forms along the way.

Here's how the Liberty Unyielding post concludes.  "Unless government is rolled back, the only way to maintain a form of liberty and opportunity is to split ourselves off from each other, elect unconventional public officials who don’t intend to keep doing the same old things, and be sure to keep disagreeing, lest an excess of careless agreement make the weight of government, willy-nilly, fatal."

IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD WARNED THEM.

Inside Higher Ed guest columnist Ryan Craig evaluates higher education's bitter harvest.  "What’s really new is the war on sense -- an inability or willful failure to draw correct conclusions from a set of facts -- which is a frontal assault on higher education’s value proposition."

It came to this, dear reader, because too much of higher education fell in love with the excessive relativism of some toxic currents in French philosophy, because that made subverting the dominant paradigm easier, and distorting "critical thinking" to mean "going along with trendy objections to the Way Things Are" something to dress up in wordnoise.  That worked, until it stopped.
If colleges and universities are unwilling to stand up for sense, I see three possible paths. The first is to give up the pretense of educating students and simply focus on preparing students for first jobs in growing sectors of the economy. Some are already heading down this good and honest (and ultimately faster and cheaper) road.

The second -- and this is really only available to SEC, Big 10 and Big 12 schools -- is to formalize their transmogrification into football and basketball sports franchises.

And the third is to do nothing and watch as millions of students -- appalled by insincerity and hypocrisy -- opt for alternative pathways.

In a country where sense is under attack like never before, colleges and universities need to put up or shut up. Because the evidence is in that higher education’s current deal is as sweet as a Cinnabon and as sickening as Facebook.
Dip into the bull session, and you discover at least one participant who pulls the mask off that critical thinking.
"Critical thinking" is a poorly defined concept and therefore an empty goal for higher education. I happen to fall largely, although not entirely, on the author's side of today's partisan divide, but we shouldn't simply expect that everyone will accept our own assumptions and conclusions by claiming that those who disagree with us aren't "thinking critically." Institutions of higher education can reclaim some of their authority by dedicating themselves to specific, well-defined goals: skills in languages and computation, training in formal logic, the ability to engage in skeptical scientific empiricism, and knowledge of the ideas and controversies in particular intellectual disciplines.
Yes, but that would mean turfing out all the purveyors of special education and all the other impedimenta that prompted me to say Enough.

21.12.19

WHEN SANTA CLAUS LEAVES TRICKS IN YOUR STOCKING.

Under the rules of contract bridge, a player must follow the suit led, unless he is void in the suit, in which case he may discard, or, if there is a trump suit declared, play a trump card.  There are penalties for improperly discarding or trumping.

This week's not-regular-Saturday bridge column will illustrate another consequence of the rules, which is that a player must play a card to each trick.  I got into this situation a few weeks ago.


I have twenty points, not quite enough for Two No-Trump, but it's a little strong for a short club.  Thus the conventional 2♣, "I've got some good stuff," eliciting the conventional 2♦, "I don't really have diamonds, tell me more about your hand."  I've got the distribution and high cards that almost anything will now be good for at least Two No-Trump.  The partner bot responds with 3♠, which the simulation kindly interprets as a "stronger minor."  There are eleven high card points over there, and I'm not sure exactly how to interpret the interpretation, so I offer a game on the cheapest terms, with Three No-Trump.  It's probably dangerous to go to a small slam on 31 high card points, but that's why we play them.

The opening lead is the Eight, in this case fifth-highest, but equal to third-highest in that hand.  Out comes the dummy, time to take stock:  four good Spades; a stopper in Hearts as well as a loser; only four Diamonds outstanding, but with the Queen and Jack both out against the Ace, King, Ten, and a bunch of little ones, that could be trouble; three good Clubs and a couple of extra winners in the dummy.

Sometimes you let the opposition take the tricks they are entitled to.  Sometimes you go for what you can and hope for the best.  Best thing to do when East plays the Jack is cover with the King, then do everything possible to avoid giving up the lead.  First the Spades: discard the ♥4 and the ♦2 from the dummy; East tosses the ♣2 under the ♠ Ace; now time to get to work on the Clubs.  That puts the defenders into what chessplayers call Zugzwang: on the second Club West discards the Ace: there is still a commanding Queen out there, so that's not as drastic as it seems; but that comes out on the third Club, and now it's between protecting a Heart winner, the Ten or shortening the Diamonds.  The Queen is last out of the dummy, with discards of the ♥5 from the closed hand and the ♦5 by West.  Lead the ♦4 toward the Ace, forcing out West's Queen, then lead the ♦3 toward the King, forcing out East's Jack.  Now mop up with the last two Diamonds, with the defenders compelled to discard their length in Hearts.  Plus one and time to call it an afternoon.

BY THEIR FRUITS SHALL YE KNOW THEM.

This Francis Turner essay (via Sarah Hoyt at Insta Pundit) summarizes the discontents of voters with the behavior of the Permanent Government.
[Impeachment] has pretty much illustrated the complaints of both Trump and the Tea Party (remember the Tea Party?) about how the US is governed by a shady corrupt cabal of Washington insiders who put their own well being ahead of the country they are supposed to serve. We’ve seen a whole load of witnesses that look remarkably like “Deep State” come forward and bitch about how Trump is ignoring them and hurting their tender feelings and generally being a big meany. And we’ve had editorials from the NY Slimes and other similar MSM outlets that more or less say “The Deep State is good because it’s trying to stop Trump” as opposed to the denials of a year or two earlier that Deep State was a thing. In other words this impeachment is enabling Trump to go back to what he campaigned on in 2016 “Drain the Swamp” and have countless soundbites showing that he was right.
There are likely people who would discredit the essay in full for that "Slimes." Look, I could have gone full 1974 on you and used a [characterization omitted] there.  But the establishment press have likely abdicated any claim to respectability.

The paragraphs preceding the excerpt above are more instructive.
Secondly the way the proceedings have been conducted means that no one who has paid a small bit of attention and is not a NeverTrumper thinks it was in any way impartial. Even if Trump were as bad as he is claimed to be by the Dems, the way that due process and other similar bedrock parts of the anglospheric legal code have been ignored is far far worse. That famous Thomas More quote about tearing down the laws to get the devil does seem to be remarkably apt and that’s not a good thing. Just as with the way the Democrats in the Senate changed the rules to get Obama’s justices through without thinking what that meant when they weren’t in charge, this one is going to be bad for the next Dem president with a Republican House of Representatives. You can read / watch Jonathan Turley’s testimony to the impeachment hearing to see that I’m far from the only person who sees it this way. Combine this with the way that somehow the whole thing has become incredibly urgent and this looks even more like an attempt to ram through a conviction without properly evaluating the evidence. This looks particularly bad now as it is happening at the same time that the Horowitz report shows that the FBI was guilty of ‘suppressio veri’ and ‘suggestio falsi’ with respect to the Trump/Russia investigation and generally lying to the FISA Court. [Aside: For those of us paying attention the fact that the court itself has asked the FBI to explain why it should be believed on future FISA warrent applications is telling.]  Humans, on the whole, have a sense of fairness and get upset when they perceive others acting unfairly. It will be amazingly easy for Trump to play on this sense of fairness to get votes next year. Plus this weak impeachment thing has effectively inoculated Trump against any future impeachment because he can simply defend himself claiming that it is more of the same, even if that hypothetical one were actually justified in some way.

Moreover in the process of finding this molehill to impeach on, we have seen far greater coverage of the Biden family’s general sleaziness than we might otherwise have. In other words impeachment is helping Trump’s re-election campaign by focusing negative attention on his leading opponent, for precisely the reasons that caused the impeachment process to start. At this point it seems like the only way the senate will agree to judging impeachment is if Trump is allowed to call lots of witnesses about the Biden family’s behaviour so the Dems are now on the horns of a massive self-inflicted dilemma. Do they fail to pass the impeachment docs to the senate for consideration and thus avoid pesky things like witnesses being called and cross-examined or do they allow that and accept that Republican senators are going to ask repeatedly how a cokehead could justify such a large salary from Burisma.
That essay preceded the latest wrangle, between the speaker of the House and the majority leader of the Senate over the conditions under which the articles of impeachment will be delivered to the Senate.  It's enough to make a postmodernist giggle.

THE CASE FOR FREQUENCY, CONNECTIVITY, AND (DARE WE ASK) FREE REIN TO 110?

The Commonwealth of Virginia will take ownership of the Blue and Gray Line.
Virginia will send $525 million to CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., for right of way and existing track on three rail lines.

The agreement will allow the state to build and own track for high-speed passenger rail service, including expansion of Long Bridge, a 115-year-old railroad bridge across the Potomac River that is critical to passenger and freight service along the Eastern Seaboard but operating at near full capacity.
The purchase is of the former Richmond Fredericksburg and Potomac, now part of the CSX portfolio of railroads including the old Chesapeake and Ohio, Seaboard Air Line, and Atlantic Coast Line, all of which handed off trains for Washington City and points as far north as Boston to the Blue and Gray at Richmond.
Virginia also has an agreement with Amtrak, which would allow the addition of six regional trains for daily service between Richmond and Washington, including one next year, more than doubling capacity and allowing trains to depart almost every hour. The expanded capacity also would allow additional train service to Norfolk next year and Newport News by 2026.

Currently, five regional trains serve Staples Mill Road Station in Henrico County but only two stop at Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom because of the current track layout. An additional four long-distance trains stop at Staples Mill in runs between the Northeast and Southeast. State officials say those trains also could serve Main Street Station with additional rail improvements.
The hope is that additional trains will entice some people to use them, rather than contribute to the congestion on Interstate 95.
State transportation officials say the project would relieve traffic gridlock on I-95 at one-third of the cost of adding a new lane to the interstate and allow a major expansion of commuter rail service in Northern Virginia, including additional trains through Manassas that would siphon rush-hour traffic from the heavily traveled Interstate 66 west of Washington.
One of these days the transportation departments will discover that those additional lanes won't alleviate congestion.  On the other hand, if they justify the rails as a way to spend less money, I'm not going to carp.
In contrast, a state study estimates that adding one lane to I-95 for 52 miles between Springfield in Fairfax County to Thornburg in Spotsylvania would cost $12.5 billion, but that by the day it would open it wouldn’t significantly relieve long-term rush-hour traffic congestion.

“We’ve just got to move away from a transportation system so heavily concentrated on adding asphalt — we can’t afford it,” said Trip Pollard, senior attorney for community and land planning at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
For "wouldn't significantly relieve" write "will have no effect on." But they're catching on.

The project will provide additional capacity for intermodal and expedited freight traffic, including the Tropicana train, if that's still running.  We'll see if that works out for CSX the way I'm hoping the upgraded Alton Route will for Union Pacific.  Apparently, though, the historic boulevard running, two tracks in the main street of Ashland, will continue.

On the other hand, read this, the deal includes "75 miles of right of way on the abandoned S-Line between Petersburg and Ridgeway, N.C., to eventually allow high-speed rail service to the Southeast." That's the former Seaboard Air Line, recall that in railroad jargon, an air line is straight track, and Seaboard had the faster, straighter, mostly single-track line between Richmond and Raleigh, but the population centers were mostly along the former Atlantic Coast Line with two main tracks and that's what the precursor companies to CSX kept.

But if they want a southern Neubaustrecke, I don't mind if they borrow my ideas.