A stolen election? No, but…

I think Biden won the election legitimately.

But.

But there was a lot of stench about a lot of the vote, what with some major courts ignoring clearly written laws about deadlines for mail-in voting, for example. Not enough to swing it, but it still indicates that not many people care about the general level of belief in the rule of law or in democracy in general, which vote-cramming like that to maximize a type of vote well known to be disproportionately beneficial to Democrats by people I can only suppose were part of “The Resistance” eroded further.

I think people who think it was stolen are basically convicting those they suppose to be the thieves based on the Pitchfork Effect, also known as the Reverse Halo Effect— that the supposedly guilty parties are the kind of people freaking out so much about Trump that they *would* rationalize cutting corners like that (or gagging Parler, getting social media to kick Trump off and try to suppress “fake news”, “hate speech”, et cetera) based on the desireability of end results, and so, the logic goes, in the absence of evidence of principle-based self-restraint on the part of those parties, they must have.  I don’t agree with the latter, but I can’t completely dismiss the former.  There’s just too much evidence of bias and freakout in the self-importantly, self-named Resistance to grant a Motion To Dismiss.

The real question is, who will the next decade or so prove right?  I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Big Business will discover that in America, those who side with censorship always lose in the end.

Democracy dies in darkness, indeed

There may be some hope for the Washington Post, since it not only publishes my favorite columnist, Megan McArdle, but also published this— as a farewell, true, so no one can demand he be fired for WrongThink, but still, they did publish it.

As for the content– the guy is obviously quite correct– I never cease to be astonished at the myopia of Progressives. They simply can’t see that the poor don’t serve the rich– poor people overwhelmingly serve other poor people. Nor can they see that a lot of the businesses that employ minimum wage workers or anything close are commodities that can’t pay more for labor without raising prices, or raise prices without either hurting poor people or losing customers and going out of business.

They’re essentially trying to create artificial, de facto, in-the-aggregate ownership of businesses using politics, like unions used to be, but can’t see that in a globalized world, that only works in “resource republics” (and even then not forever, as Venezuelans could attest). By contrast, when most of the value is in labor, applying politics to steal something makes the value vanish.

Basically, it’s the political application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Porcupine’s Sixth Law

Porcupine’s Sixth Law:

Politicians do not want to be effective, but to have the reputation of having fought, preferably dramatically, and purchased, vitally, at the lowest possible price in political capital.

The corollary to which is that they’re often delighted to have a publicly explainable reason why their noble intentions were foiled by those hacking oligarchical badgers on the other side, especially if they themselves didn’t personally believe in the value or wisdom of what the base demanded they fight for and were glad to have a way out of having to accomplish it.  It’s political flopping.

Porcupine’s Laws

I had occasion recently to revisit Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics, which are:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.  (This was actually first formulated by John O’Sullivan, and should so be better known as O’Sullivan’s Law.)
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

And of course I like Jane Galt’s Law, coined by Megan McArdle: “The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.”

In that vein, I have been coining some laws of my own for some time.  The first I already posted about here.

Porcupine’s First Law:

The probability of getting any policy in place varies directly with the product of its profitability to lobbyists by the degree to which it’s too boring for the public to care about it.

Porcupine’s Second Law:

Wealth is not only a matter of what you have, but of what the people around you don’t have.

That is, the cost of living is proportional to the general level of wealth of the people around you, and the lower the cost of living, the more of other people’s work you can afford.

Porcupine’s Third Law:

The responsiveness of government to voters is inversely proportional to the number of political parties in play, while its incompetence is directly proportional.

Porcupine’s Fourth Law (the Law of Conservation of Scandal):

The demand for fascists, racists, et cetera is always far greater than the supply. Combine it with addictions to righteousness, and you get pressure to redefine these things to create more supply.

Corollary to the Fourth Law:

Political linguistic drift is usually an example of this phenomenon:  Whenever the demand for scandal and cheap moralizing gets sufficiently ahead of the supply, activists put pressure on language downward to create new villains.

This is an example of the creation of the “endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary” that Mencken observed was “the whole aim of practical politics”.

Porcupine’s Fifth Law:

Taboo criticisms become truer over time.

This seems almost a corollary of the law of natural selection.  When the natural predators of ideas are eliminated, they grow until stopped by some other force.

The Porcupine Fantasy

I was just reading a piece on The Reformed Broker titled “The Biden Fantasy” and took it into my head to record my own.

My fantasy more or less boils down to this: the Cold Civil War ends in a draw.

But eight words wouldn’t be much of a blog post, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll detail it.  Biden wins, but not by so much that the Democrats can wallow in their own fantasy and self-indulgence.  (I admit that this is quite an ask.  They’re Democrats, after all.)

More importantly, the Republicans keep the Senate, so that Biden’s ability to work with his former colleagues forms a power base that allows Biden to ignore, or, better, slap down the Woke, whose ambitions are the true drivers of American misery right now.  If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter that much to me what happens in the House.  If the Democrats take the Senate, though, my fantasy is that the Republicans take the House.  I admit that that’s not realistic, but viz. the last word in the title of this piece.  (Divided government gets a bad rap.)  In the light of this, Leftist plots to strike structurally by expanding the Supreme Court and waving in two more Democratic-dominated states fade away.  Biden, with bipartisan support, continues holding the hard line against Chinese foreign and economic policy aggressiveness that is Trump’s least controversial policy, while American supply chains diversify to other countries.  Two or three vaccines for COVID get approved, one is generally agreed to be best, and everyone cooperates to make it widespread.

College administrators and professors realize their role in the promotion of this atmosphere and that Progress has a hard limit in a wall of Liberty– in this case the freedom of Trump’s voters to think what they want and to vote– that can’t be taken away without terrible, un-American methods.  At some national convention that I just invented for reverie purposes they renew their ideals about justice, etc., but call for new methods based mainly on outreach and persuasion.  Hollywood tells the story of Trump supporters sympathetically.  Wall Street starts getting serious about offering real financial education, allowing the government to require a year of service as a financial educator in order to become licensed as a stockbroker, or something.  Executive officers in blue areas discover a spine and start arresting and prosecuting the likes of Antifa.  Both sides agree to slap down police unions and limit their power to shield terrible cops from firing and other results of prosecution.

There’s a fine line between the cross-section of an individual’s mind and values, expressed by an appropriately fleshed-out fantasy, and an inane and interminable narcissistic disquisition, full of grandiloquence and fifty-cent words but unballasted by realistic plans for getting any of this done (which, sadly, I lack).  I’ll end this here, then, and hope that you’ll agree I’ve mostly avoided the latter.

The Politics of Entropy

Megan McArdle writes, “I’ve watched so many disaffected conservatives and libertarians explain why they think the Republican Party can only be redeemed by its utter destruction in Tuesday’s elections.”

She adds, “the Republicans…deserve to lose after enabling this fame-addled mountebank”

This has me thinking about the factor these equations have in common: entropy.  I can only assume that by “Republicans” who “enabled” Trump she means the base that she admits the leaders had to submit to. What choice does she imagine the base had? They couldn’t get the GOP leadership to stop dry-humping the donor base and actually fight for them, so their choices were between playing blackjack in the elites’ casino, with the slow advantage to the house, dying by inches, or playing Three-card Monty with Trump. What other games were there? This is why that famous Mencken remark is inapposite. They were getting it good and hard either way. So, they deserve to lose for having declined to surrender to despair? You could reasonably say that Republican leaders deserve to lose for having failed to listen to them and provide other games, but not that the base deserved to lose for making what seemed to them to be an obvious choice.
 
I wish to hell that people would stop thinking of each political party almost as a person. Parties are coalitions of various groups, who are made of coalitions of various individuals, who are made of collections of interests and ideas in their own minds. Do the disaffected that she mentions truly imagine that you can simply excise individual segments and the party bowel will somehow magically resect itself?  And if Trump’s base stays home next time in bitterness while the Democrats have gone way further leftward…where does that end?
 
One reason for that is that, as Michael Brendan Dougherty said in National Review, the country’s social capital is depleting. Any move that foments disunity, even things like getting rid of Trump, has to be paid for somewhere along the line by something that binds us back together. Where is that happening? Individual moments like when Dan Crenshaw said on SNL that Americans can forgive one another stand out strongly mainly for their extreme rarity. Idiot elites have taken the approach to social capital that the Left takes to economic capital—that there’s an infinite supply of it—and so even people as thoughtful as Megan call people racists without seeming to think about what the collective effect is of huge percentages of the country becoming addicted to doing so to other huge percentages of it. It’s just like NINJA loans, with everybody taking the short-term, short-sighted pleasure, except that what we have here is a cheap-moralism bubble which instead of taking down the economy threatens to take down American unity itself. (Say what you wish about the fame-addled mountebank and his base, but he did give people unity and hope, at a time when the politics of entropy had created a strong buyer’s market for it.) Perfect time to attack nationalism, wouldn’t you say?
 
So, I’ll just come right out and say this. We need most of the various newer forms of idealism of our lifetimes to be at least somewhat discredited, because there’s nothing limiting the cheap rush of moral superiority, and “the dose makes the poison”. Either something needs to limit the disunifying temptation to call people racists (my strong preference), or something needs to emerge that pays for the disunity of labeling by reunifying us, which everyone calls for but nobody has Clue One short of Pearl Harbor 2.0 about how to accomplish, or the various -isms themselves as central concepts in American life need to die, because if none of those things happens, sooner or later, the country will.

The phoenix of idealism

I was recently asked on social media whether the redefinition of a term was a bad thing.  The questioner asked, in essence, why not?  Because there’s all this “soft racism” out there that we need to address.

Yes, the redefinition of a term is generally a bad thing.  Whenever there’s a term with social, moral and political juice, it becomes a horse that everyone tries to hitch their pet cause to, or stretch to cover what they want or don’t want.  People were persuaded to accept the term racism back in the 1960s, or whenever, under one definition, probably best described as being what prevented King’s children from being judged by the content of their character.  Those were the conditions under which people consented to make opposing racism a societal value.  And now it’s being used to persecute people for the most minor claimed examples of it, and as a cover-up for personal failure and bad behavior, by people for whom being judged on the content of their character is the last thing they want.

Things fall apart.   Idealism gets corrupted and co-opted by the greedy, whether for money or for power. History teaches that this happens over and over and over again.  Unions used to be about a fair shake and became bloated and greedy and corrupt. The Catholic Church began selling forgiveness in advance for committing sins.  Supporting the troops became the military-industrial complex.  The real democratic consent of the Constitution became SCOTUS reading whatever’s popular into the interstate commerce clause and the 14th Amendment.  Now it’s happening with racism, sexism and so on, and it’s tearing the country apart.

I said all this in reply.  I ended with this thought: if we need to fight “soft racism”, then come up with a new term and popularize it. In the end, all real social and political accomplishment boils down to persuading people in their private hearts. Anything short of that is burning the ship’s timber for fuel.

Identities

I’ve been reading the massive, but excellent, World War II novels by Herman Wouk, who recently died at the age of 104.  The Winds of War deals with the situation leading up to the war and the beginning of it.  War and Remembrance takes the story until the end of the war.  Wouk, who was Jewish and a veteran of the war, wrote quite a lot, amidst the battles and conferences and life on the Home Front, about facts and ideas relevant to anti-Semitism and why Hitler rose.

I mention all this because in my mind it dovetails a good deal with commentary on the terrible situation in America today.

Certainly the half-baked comparisons of Donald Trump to Hitler are part of it.  “Half-baked” is the right phrase.  He doesn’t hate anyone, from anything I can tell, except perhaps people who are critical of him, but even them he doesn’t do anything bad to except maybe fire them, if he can.  He hasn’t persecuted anyone or put them in camps.  He hasn’t sicced the IRS or FBI on his enemies.  He hasn’t even denigrated entire groups whose differences are based on something they can’t help.  You can call him a lot of bad things with complete accuracy, but not “Hitler”.

The reason the comparisons are not completely irrelevant are entirely to do with his supporters and the way he rose, and that’s what I want to talk about today.  In essence, the situations are alike, as overreach in a conflict of identities.

Out of many World War II conflicts of identities, two are most relevant.  Non-Jews versus Jews, and the winners in the First World War versus the losers.  Religion and nationality, basically, were the identities.  One could say that it was the uncultured versus the cultured, but that would be revisionist history.  Universities and newspapers went over to the Nazis aplenty.

Anti-Semitism was a centuries-old story, but this particular clash of nationalities was a somewhat new kind.  In response to a war begun and prosecuted in considerable part by German militarism, and whose destructive effect was magnified by technology to a degree with which no one had any experience, England and France in their horror and shock were easily able to rationalize to themselves being self-dealing and particularly contemptuous of and hard on their enemies.  The 1920s roared for them, while Germans were carrying baskets of millions of marks to the market just to buy bread.  But to England and France any analysis of the rightness of their demand that Germany pay the cost of the war in gold, began and ended with “but the War!”  Out of which Hitler rose.

The parallels to 2016 are clear, I think.  Successful, powerful identity-based groups being self-dealing, and contemptuous of and hard on their defeated enemies, both culturally and economically, and having an all-purpose rationalization (something along the lines of “but social justice!”) to deflect any criticism.  Relying, in fact, just as did England and France, on norms that made any escape by their enemies of the box they put them in seem impossible.  We’re just lucky that enough norms remain that we wound up with someone as relatively harmless as Trump.  The warning, however, should be heeded.

A huge percentage of problems crop up as a result of a mismatch between politics and pressures.  Peace and justice frequently depend on there being a norm among leaders to say, in essence, “Yes, we have the power, politically speaking, the self-justification, to go farther against our opponents, but we won’t.  There is a point of taking at which the long-term consequences begin to be poisonous.”  It’s a discounted-future-rewards problem, but also a Prisoner’s Dilemma.  You can’t get only one side to have that norm, because being on the losing side over and over swiftly gets old.  Identities, particularly identities like religions or Wokeism that are based in considerable part on moralizing and righteousness and not being “that other side that’s immoral and unrighteous”, tie our hands and make that kind of norm less likely.

Good fake news?

  There’s been a lot of repetition, aimed at the virtuous goal of promoting social distancing in today’s COVID-19 pandemic, of the facts that Philadelphia did not cancel a parade in late September of 1918 and had, ostensibly as a result, a very high mortality rate from Spanish flu, and that St. Louis did cancel one, and had a much lower rate.  There is probably some causation here—it did some good, I’m sure—but less than a casual glance would suggest.

First, Philadelphia was a city in a coastal state.  Looking at the various charts available, both contemporary (such as the one below) and modern, a reader can immediately see that cities in coastal states were much harder-hit than Midwestern cities.  Ports of arrival and nearby places received the illness first.  In an era before most airplane or automobile travel, it took more time to travel inland.  St. Louis’s mortality rate was low, it’s true, but that was true about most other midwestern cities as well.  According to a chart on p. 109 of American Pandemic:  The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, by Nancy Bristow, over about six months (September 8th, 1918 to March 1, 1919) Toledo, Ohio had an influenza mortality rate of 0.22%, St. Paul, Minnesota had one of 0.35%, and Louisville, Kentucky one of just over 0.06%.  St. Louis’s rate of 0.28% maps very well with distance from seaports.

It doesn’t seem to map well with official reaction, which was more stringent in most places than parade cancellation.  “In San Francisco, for instance, theatres and cinemas were hurriedly closed and the municipal authorities issued an ordinance mandating the wearing of gauze masks in public.”  That was much more stringent than a one-time cancellation of a parade, yet over those six months San Francisco’s mortality rate from influenza was higher (0.66%)1 than Philadelphia’s (0.50%) and much higher than that of St. Louis (0.28%).  “Boston had churchless Sundays”—0.60%.  In Washington, D.C. “it became an offense for the sick to leave their homes”—0.57%.  (Quotes from Living with Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 by M. Honigsbaum, p. 122.)

Now, I can see ways to poke holes in my own argument, the way I was taught in school and the way most repeaters of the parade-no-parade factoid don’t.  (On average, the shorter facts are, the faker they are.)  Older coastal cities were probably more likely to have a higher population density than midwestern cities and than more recently developed ones like Los Angeles, growing up around trolleys and cars instead of horse and foot.  And, too, exactly what other anti-flu measures did each of these cities enact, and when, and how long did their restrictions last?  What was the average age of their population?  Perhaps most important, as you can see, over the ten weeks when the flu was at its worst Philadelphia was by a small margin the worst city2, even when compared only to other major coastal cities, and the short term matters a lot today, because our primary goal is the slowing of the infection rate until science can catch up, and the prevention of the overwhelming of the health care system.  All of these are perfectly valid objections (albeit on the side of we-don’t-know-yet, which suggests to me that we shouldn’t say yet.) and the various social-distancing measures that the target of my critique supports are by and large good.

Still.  My point is this: it bears pointing out that despite the good intentions of the repeaters of the meme and despite the fact that social distancing does work, this is a prime example of how history can be distorted for social purposes.  History doesn’t work that way.  Fake news does, and so in the debate about it we ought to raise the question: what do we do about fake news when it’s proffered with good intentions and has good results?

The policy flab of a one-party jurisdiction

In the face of California’s posturing environmentalism, NIMBYism and civic rot, insurers have dropped fire insurance coverage for over 350,000 customers in the state.
There was a moment in the saving of GEICO back in the 1970s– under an aggressively expansionist management, it had taken on foolish risks and become badly under-reserved– when the new CEO met with the chief insurance regulator of New Jersey and explained that they had to have a rate increase. The regulator was a crusty, arrogant old man. He refused to allow it. The CEO took GEICO’s license to offer insurance in New Jersey out of his pocket and threw on the astonished regulator’s desk, and walked out. He immediately sent telegrams to every GEICO customer in NJ, canceling their insurance, before the regulator could go to court to stop him.  They got their increase.
 
High-handed behavior is one of those rare things that is both easy to criticize and easy to admire. Often, though, beyond analysis, it is as necessary as a fastball is to a change-up. It shows you weren’t bluffing. In this case, it shows they won’t engage in business under conditions that have become unprofitable, and won’t allow politicians the cover of a delay that allows them to obscure the connection between bad, if popular, policy and a lack of business.