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October 2013

Does Not Compute

As some of you have been discussing and its bewildering array of shortcomings, here’s Mark Steyn on other grand projects that didn’t quite work out: 

The witness who coughed up the intriguing tidbit about Obamacare’s exemption from privacy protections was one Cheryl Campbell of something called CGI… CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive.

Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve all had bathroom remodellers like that. But in this case the database had to register some 7 million long guns belonging to some two-and-a-half to three million Canadians. That works out to almost $300 per gun — or somewhat higher than the original estimate for processing a firearm registration of $4.60. Of those $300 gun registrations, Canada’s auditor general reported to parliament that much of the information was either duplicated or wrong in respect to basic information such as names and addresses. Sound familiar?

The rest

Friday Ephemera

A Goblin Shark, gobblin’. // Baby shower vagina cakes. // The adventures of BatDad. // Digital attack map. DDoS around the world. // Self-harming machines. (h/t, Simen) // Spacesuit factory, Tomilino, Russia. // Watch pitch drop, or not. // This platypus likes belly rubs. // L-train, Chicago, 1967. One of these. // The rogue’s lexicon, 1859. “Sluice your gob with rag-water.” // His girlfriend made that. // More government efficiency. Only five million faults? // Jakarta’s monkey dolls. // Morse code translator. (h/t, Kurt) // Artist draws portraits on LSD, circa 1950s. // Car ad of note. // How many countries are there? // For Hallowe’en, obviously.

Elsewhere (102)

Ed Driscoll quotes Kevin D Williamson on the joys and innovations of socialist thinking

California is running out of things in the present to tax, and its future does not look terribly bright, so it has resorted to taxing the past. A combination of judicial shenanigans and legislative incompetence resulted in California’s reneging on tax incentives that had been offered to some businesses — and then demanding the retroactive payment of taxes for which businesses had never been legally liable. Small-business owners, some of whom had sold their businesses years ago, suddenly got demands for taxes running well into the six figures. And, California being California, it had the gall to charge those businesses interest on taxes they had never owed. 

Somewhat related

Via sk60, students demonstrate their grasp of a certain event in 20th century history

We found all of the students who participated in our survey to be very bright and articulate. If they did not know the answer to any of the questions we posed, it is because they were never taught it in public school. 

Greg Lukianoff on pretentious grievance and its advantages

[Jonathan Rauch] talks about the idea of an offendedness sweepstakes. That essentially, if you make the argument that “I’m offended” is the ultimate trump card on what people are allowed to say, you shouldn’t be surprised that the standard for being offended gets lower and lower and lower. It’s only human nature that if you have a trick that lets you win any argument, you’re going to play it. 

Lukianoff provides some vivid examples of this manoeuvre. If you want to see the kinds of people to whom it appeals, see also this

And Theodore Dalrymple on the anti-capitalist millionaire named Banksy:

Banksy is a cartoonist and social commentator whose works appear on buildings, bridges, and other constructions rather than in newspapers or in The New Yorker. He has turned himself into a Scarlet Pimpernel figure, whose aversion to public appearances has proved the best possible publicity. His work is often witty and pointed, though his choice of targets for satire is purely conventional and precisely what one might expect of a privileged member of the intellectual middle classes. Only in his manner of proceeding is he truly original. In other respects, his work seems that of a clever adolescent — one who is now approaching middle age.

A longer, more detailed profile by Dalrymple was quoted here previously. As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.

The Cupcake Menace

Keenly attuned to pressing issues of the day, the Guardian’s Matt Seaton tells us we just aren’t agonising about cupcakes enough. And when I say cupcakes I obviously mean,

Butter-iced snares of self-loathing that sell precisely because they exploit young women’s insecurity about their looks and identity, and offer a completely false and self-defeating solace of temporary gratification, almost certainly followed by remorse and disgust. 

It seems our Guardianista is upset by cupcakes being a bit girly. And that somehow, for reasons that aren’t clear, these tiny cakes are exploitative and induce all manner of psychological problems in the womenfolk of the world. It’s a bold claim, I think you’ll agree. According to Mr Seaton, 

They’re not just cakes: like any cultural artefact, they have implicit values baked in. And the values I see in cupcakes are of a demeaning, self-trivialising sort of hyper-femininity. 

Two more, I think, for our ongoing series. Via Patrick Brown


Continue reading "The Cupcake Menace" »

Elsewhere (101)

From earlier this year, the late Norm Geras on communist cool

Born in communist Czechoslovakia, Dalibor Rohac is unsettled by the continued displays of the symbols of communism by people on the political left. In view of the millions of victims of communist regimes, he finds it difficult to understand the surviving taste for the hammer and sickle, Che Guevara t-shirts and the like. Rohac mentions some possible explanations for this: that few people grasp the magnitude of the crimes of communism; that, whereas totalitarian fascism was always a poisonous idea, communism may be seen as a good idea that went wrong... A good idea gone wrong as may be, communism didn’t just go wrong in some minor or insignificant detail, but on a vast scale, and the manner in which it went wrong wasn’t only the manner of what one calls a ‘mistake’… No one with a genuine attachment to humane ideals should want to be associated with, much less bear upon their person, the iconography in question. It should have been completely discredited.

At the same time, for my part I do not find it so difficult to understand why this hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened, because the left is far from having rid itself of those tendencies towards apologia for dictatorship and disregard for human rights that prevailed in the mid-20th century… Moreover, we are not talking here, as is sometimes alleged, of only a small fraction of the left - the far left: unreconstructed Stalinists, the SWP and its penumbra, and so forth. They form, to be sure, a core region of the anti-democratic indulgence I mean. But it also has a large hinterland among well-meaning ‘liberals’… The regrettable fact of the matter is that too much of the left still gives anti-capitalism and/or equality priority over the norms of democracy, liberty and human rights; and this is why the iconography tainted by the deaths of millions of innocent people is still seen as being cool where it no longer should be.

Unsurprisingly, I differ from Norm on one point, a point I think of as quite important. Communism – Marxism and its variants – was never a good idea. It is, and always was, a monstrous idea, a license for coercion, atrocity and horror - predictably so. And not coincidentally, it was conceived by, and has since entranced, some very unpleasant people

Mark Steyn on being sued by a fool

I’m currently being sued... by Dr Michael Mann, the eminent global warm-monger, for mocking his increasingly discredited climate-change “hockey stick.” So Dr Mann has sued for what his complaint to the court called “defamation of a Nobel prize recipient.” In fact, Dr Mann is not a “Nobel prize recipient.” But, as Donna LaFramboise recently pointed out, he has spent many years passing himself off as one. The nearest he got to a Nobel was as one of several thousand contributors to one of various reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2007 shared a Nobel Peace Prize. So Dr Mann is a Nobel laureate in the same sense that my mother is: She’s Belgian, and Belgium is in the European Union, and the European Union was collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. My mum does not claim to be a Nobel prize winner, but Dr Mann did, on an industrial scale, including in his publicist’s bio, his book jackets and his website — until, in the wake of his false complaint, the Nobel Institute in Oslo declared that he was not a Nobel laureate at all. In that sense, Dr Mann is, indeed, a fraud. It is a fascinating legal question whether a man guilty of serial misrepresentation can, in fact, be defamed.

John Hinderaker on Big Government economics

“We must increase our debt limit so that we can pay our bills.” As Tyler Durden notes, this is the “most disturbing sentence uttered during the debt ceiling debate/government shut down.” […] There are around 72 million American children under the age of 18. If you do the maths, assuming they are on the hook for our debts, that means that currently each American child is around $236,000 in debt. Since only around one-half of Americans are federal income taxpayers, it would be more accurate to say that each future taxpayer owes $472,000. If two of them get married, they owe just short of $1 million, with more debt being piled up every day and with interest costs sure to increase. These numbers can be sliced and diced in various ways, but any way you look at it, it is insane that those in Washington who wanted to blow past the statutory debt limit without hesitation so that we can “pay our bills” are hailed as responsible. Here is a hint: if you have to borrow money to pay your bills, you aren’t paying your bills.

Somewhat related

“The federal government is America’s largest employer,” Obama said.

Continue reading "Elsewhere (101)" »

Friday Ephemera

DOG TV. A channel for dogs. // Polyester toilet. // Car Park. // Giant squid pillow. // Miss Ping does her thing. // A gallery of collections. // More joys of public transport. // Straw sculptures. // Superyachts. // Because you’ve always wanted to see a panoramic bull chase. // Circle board. Needs work, I fear. // Invisible Man audiobook. (h/t, Kate) // Attention cake makers. // Medieval Land Fun-Time World. // Farewell, Norm. RIP. // Not everyone is cut out to drive. // Falling to Earth at 834 mph. // Big fish. // Fifteenth-century-Flemish-style aeroplane toilet selfies. (h/t, dicentra) // “Clearly, toilets are supposed to flush, not explode.” 

It’s Harder Than You’d Think

IKEA is that friendly shop where you get cheap furniture from the inside of a giant, unending warehouse. Black metal is the kind of music that sounds like someone screaming while trapped inside a burning church. They each possess a fervent fan base. And to tell you the truth, the names of the furniture in IKEA sound a lot like the names of black metal bands. Consider this quiz an educational way to learn the difference.

Go on, test your knowledge

Reheated (36)

For newcomers, more items from the archives. A flavour of what goes on here.

Two Balls Bad, No Balls Good.

The Guardian’s Mike Power denounces the barbecue patriarchy. It’s “sexist,” “ugly” and “oppressively penetrating.” 

According to Mr Power, there’s nothing uglier than the sight of menfolk indulging, often knowingly, in a clichéd male behaviour – cooking for friends and family, and making sure that everyone is having a good time. “This grilled-food gender split is ubiquitous, odd and unacknowledged,” says he. This may strike readers as a bold, indeed preposterous, claim to make. One of the rituals of the barbecues I’ve attended is the good-natured parodying – one might say acknowledgment – of precisely those conventions. “Man make fire. Man cook meat,” etc. Perhaps we’re to imagine that only the keen social observers who write for the Guardian have ever noticed such things or found them worthy of amused comment. More to the point, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr Power that quite a few people, male and female, actually enjoy the role-play opportunity of the barbecue - the theatre, the ritual, the fun. Even – heresy! – gendered fun. But hey, the point is that some of you heathens are still arranging your leisure time and social gatherings in a way of which our Guardianista disapproves. Your barbecues aren’t being gender balanced in the way he would like. 

I’m Sorry, But Your Utopia is Just a Little Creepy.

On sacrificial children and the “anti-family.”

The endlessly entertaining Laurie Penny – who entertains us for reasons she doesn’t quite comprehend – pointed her readers to a breathless endorsement of the fatherless family. New Enquiry contributor Madeleine Schwartz dubbed this non-nuclear unit the “anti-family,” thus signalling its countercultural radicalism and general sexiness. We were told, based on nothing much, that “a couple cannot raise a child better than one [person] can.” Apparently, the “diffusion” of the family unit – which is to say, absent fathers, hardship and subsequent dependence on the state – “is one of the most exciting things to happen to the American social pattern since sexual liberation.”

He’s So Liberal, You See.

Make way for George Monbiot. Being a socialist, he’s better than you. 

George, after all, is known for his immense modesty, as when he expressed his contempt for those who dare to disagree with him, all of whom were waved aside as dullard conservatives struggling with racial phobias. “The other side,” he announced, is “on average more stupid than our own.” Guardian readers - known far and wide as The Great Thinkers Of Our Era™ - were told in no uncertain terms that “conservatism thrives on low intelligence” and “appeals to stupidity.” “Conservative ideology,” said George, “is the critical pathway from low intelligence to racism.” And all of this in contrast with liberals such as himself, who are allegedly “self-deprecating” and “too liberal for their own good.” 

Improving Us From Above

Robert and Edward Skidelsky want to save us from all the nice things they enjoy and that we shouldn’t want.

“Why don’t more people aspire to living a good life?” asks our architect of tomorrow, before blaming Margaret Thatcher. Why doesn’t the rabble want what he knows is good for us? And what’s good for us, apparently, is not earning more than Mr Skidesky deems “enough.” It seems we shouldn’t want to travel the world, as Mr Skidelsky does, or sunbathe by the pool at the Caracas Hilton, as Mr Skidelsky did, or own a house as comfortable and spacious as his. “Keynes never owned a house in his life,” we’re told. “Neither for that matter did Virginia Woolf.” And so why should we, the little people? Mr Skidelsky imagines his inferiors “living good lives, surrounding themselves with beauty.” It’s just that he’d rather we didn’t get to own much of it, or have enough money to make more of it happen. Utopia, you see, will “require some restriction.”

And by all means plunge into the greatest hits

Little Knots of Agony

Hush now, you patriarchal rubes, with your whiteness and your privilege. Our educated betters are about to speak.

I hear a screech of mental feedback

Yes, his whiteness and genitals were the only problem. The salacious fantasies of “revolutionary terror” and global class genocide? She’s fine with that. Marx may have been a man, and a white one at that, but hey, he knew “what’s up.” And along with his comrades, he planned to fix all that. With the “complete extirpation” of “reactionary peoples” – i.e., bourgeois troublemakers like thee and me. Oh, there’s more. Ms Johnson, a “strong black woman and lover of poetry,” has some facts to impart, literally:  

Continue reading "Little Knots of Agony" »

Friday Ephemera

Some heavy tongue action. // There’s plenty of meat on a Chinese hornet. // “If a man were in that chamber, unprotected, he would first boil, then explode.” // The loveliness of Mars. // Robert Mitchum croons. (h/t, Kurt) // Because you’ve always wanted concrete plates. // Snakes wearing top hats and moustaches. // Best try this first with someone else’s TV. (h/t, MeFi) // All glory is fleeting. We’ll have to fix that. // Fun with J-Lube and washing-up liquid. // New York of the ‘70s. // The sizes of galaxies. // When animals gather. // Penn & Teller on “diversity.” (h/t, Mr Briggs) // “Apparently our penis beaker is strange and not the done thing.”

Elsewhere (100)

Theodore Dalrymple on the delusions and dishonesties of Marxist fathers: 

Marxism was replete with heresies and excommunications that tended to become fatal whenever its adherents reached power. There was a reason for this. Marx said that it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness. In other words, ideas do not have to be argued against in a civilised way, but rather the social and economic position of those who hold them must be analysed. So, disagreement is the same as class enmity – and we all know what should be done with class enemies… A genre of apologetic literature grew up in the Twenties and Thirties. I have a collection of it; perhaps my favourite is Soviet Russia Fights Neurosis. How could intelligent people not have laughed? They didn’t laugh, though; they believed it, because they wanted to. What they did not want to believe was the abundant evidence that, from the start, the Bolshevik Revolution was a human catastrophe. Contrary to what many think, Solzhenitsyn revealed nothing in the Seventies that had not been known from the Twenties on. I have a contemporary account of the famine in the Ukraine, complete with photographs of piles of cadavers. Intellectuals devoted great dialectical effort to showing either that the evidence was false or that its meaning was different from that given it by “bourgeois” people.

The pathologies of Marxism and its adherents have been aired here before, see, for instance, here, here and here.  

Nick Gillespie on trimming a little fat from the state:

The shutdown provides the country with a perfect moment to ask why a federal government whose spending habits are an insult to drunken sailors everywhere is paying above-market compensation to hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” workers. The Department of Education is far from the only federal agency where massive numbers of take-them-or-leave-them employees hang their hats. According to Government Executive magazine’s incomplete tally, 90 percent or more of the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Committee, and the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development are considered “non-essential.” And let’s get real: When the Department of Commerce claims that a relatively tiny 85 percent of its workers are “non-essential,” we know we’re being played.

David Marcus on arts funding versus arts diversity:

The NEA and the tax exempt status of many arts organisations are hurting the very art forms they purport to support. They are in fact making American art less relevant to Americans’ lives… It is simply accepted that government support of the arts creates better, and better attended art. In fact, the perverse market incentives enshrined by federal tax expenditures through deductions for arts giving and direct government support have been accompanied by a decrease in attendance and a crisis in theatre… Fewer and fewer people go to theatre even though the federal dollars keep rolling in. These government dollars are not expanding the base of arts attendees, but rather subsidising the entertainment of wealthy, white people. Government dollars are not content neutral, a cultural ground game is being executed by the progressive Non Profit community to ensure that culture remains the sole preserve of leftist ideology… According to the NEAs own numbers the percentage of Americans who attended theatre dropped by thirty percent from 1992 to 2008. In that time the number of 501 (c) 3 tax exempt theatres doubled, from about 900 to about 1800. The total number of tax payer dollars dedicated to those companies also increased. So more companies are getting more money to create theatre but fewer people are attending.

And the playwright David Mamet on the same:

It is only in state-subsidised theatre (whether the subsidy is direct, in the form of grants, or indirect, as tax-deductible donations to universities or arts organisations) that the ideologue can hold sway, for he is then subject not to the immediate verdict of the audience but to the good wishes of the granting authority, whose good wishes he will, thus, devote his energies to obtaining.

The political uniformity and extraordinary conceits of our own pubicly-funded arts establishment have entertained us many, many times. As when the writer Hanif Kureishi told Guardian readers that culture, as represented by him, is “a form of dissent,” while the paper’s theatre critic Michael Billington claimed that a reduction of taxpayer subsidy for loss-making plays is nothing less than “suppression” of that “dissent.” Likewise, when the playwright Jonathan Holmes claimed that he and his peers are “speaking truth to power” – I kid you not – and insisted, based on nothing, that “the sole genuine reason for cuts is censorship of some form” and “the only governments to systematically attack the arts have been the ones that also attacked democracy.” You see, the suggestion that artists might consider earning a living, rather than leeching at the taxpayer’s teat, is apparently indistinguishable from fascist brutality and the end of civilisation. Though when the status quo in London’s dramatic circles is overwhelmingly leftwing, and when publicly subsidised art and theatre tend to favour parties that favour further public subsidy for art and theatre, what “dissent” actually means is somewhat unclear. And reluctant taxpayers please take note: Despite all the years of providing hand-outs, you’re now the oppressor. Yes, Mr Holmes and his peers are “speaking truth to power,” and for that they must have power over your wallet. And your wallet, and yours.


Continue reading "Elsewhere (100)" »