Banditry is just another matching pennies game. In the movies, you can get away with hollering, “You take the high road; I’ll take the low road,” but all this does is split your forces. Any responsible Dungeon Master will tell you point blank that a split party is a party doomed for TPK. And here, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. A bandit organization can either cover a large geographical area or have a large enough raiding party to take down a decent-sized convoy. Not both. Dealing with natural constraints on ambition is the art of living, whether you’re a butcher, a baker, or a tribute-taker. Complicating the game is that it’s Bayesian. There are two types of traveler, you see. There’s the big, juicy cattle-wagon train, flush with hired guns (and sometimes light artillery) on the one hand and the light, fast, fly-by-night courier type on the other hand. If there were only the big trade convoys, raiding parties would set up appropriate ambushes along the most-likely used trade routes and attack in full force, leaving the old rough, slow logging roads and county blacktop free and clear. Contrarily, if there were only penny-ante quickfoot traders, the bandit organizations, assuming they are interested in maximizing their returns, would disperse, leaving one- or two-man teams to hold up any and all passersby (maybe leaving just enough seed stock to make sure next year’s crop isn’t stunted). The bandits don’t know beforehand which type they’re dealing with, and sending scouts ahead to find out is costly. Similarly, merchants don’t know whether the roads will be staked out by dispersed squads or by a massed force. Under this sickly green sky, it pays to buck trend. The mixed strategy ends up being the most common. Unless, that is, everyone agrees to collapse the uncertainty function and agree to a set of reasonable institutions. It’s costly to raid, and it’s costly to defend. This is the old wisdom, and it’s why we once had police in blue uniforms. Yes, they would shake us down, but they ruthlessly enforced their own self-contained monopoly on violence. And the shakedowns were executed through the tax code so it didn’t feel like a shakedown to most people. And feelings are important. Continue reading “Blood Zombies on Parade”
Month: March 2015
Relentless link copypasta in my ongoing altfic is becoming tedious. I shall henceforth keep episode links here and simply update and link this post. Relational databases, now in blog form!
The Truth Shall Set You Free
On the peace of nuclear detonation:
Twisted tales, lost morals:
It’s Better to Regret Something You Have Done Than to Regret Something You Haven’t Done
Via Angus meets rotten Chestertonian fence-wood:
That One Time I Met a Bull
Immigration under a festering sky:
Locke and Key
Will you speak up? Will you defend me?:
Ich Bin Ein Ausländer
Land of Sunshine
“There is, to the best of my knowledge, no single right and proper method to construct a gallows.”:
Toward a Model of Efficient Self-Governance
(The idiot is me):
Told by an Idiot
What’s the deal with Texas, anyway?:
Blood Zombies on Parade
Almost caught a break there:
Who Am I To Disagree?
What does an EMP have to do with a robber baron?:
Hávamál and the Golden Strand
A Boat, Floating Slaughters His Prey:
Grab What You Can:
Beware sincere turtles:
Brigands and Bandits
We got… high hopes, we got high hopes. We got:
High Apple Pie in the sky hopes
Bark. Bark bark bark bark bark. Bark bark. Bark bark bark:
It’s just a dream, child:
The Seven Million Year Itch
The contents of a heart:
The Siouxie & The Banshees cover is better than the original:
Won’t You Come Out To Play?
What? Marriage is a storied institution, one that demands commitment:
Committed to an Institution
I can’t resist a pretty face:
Previous to His Career as a Prophet
Meow meow meow meow:
Deus ex Interstitio
Canaries and Coalmines
Ab Incunabulis Ad Astra Per Pedes
Girls, Girls, Girls
The Futility of Morality
Frankly, I’m tired of being called a bigot, but that doesn’t matter anymore.
There is now no logical leap required to get from “The state shall not compel me to violate my conscience, which holds fast to a moral tradition at least 3500 years in the making” to “You are a bigoted homophobe.” The two things have come together like the two halves of a beryllium sphere, and there’s no “but…” that is not immediately rejoined with “Spare us the lectures from your angry Middle Eastern storm god.” The most insidious, of course, is the subversion of that moral tradition with the sleight of phrase, “Love thy neighbor” = “Consenting adults,” and, moreover, if you don’t agree, that means you want to put blacks and negros on the back of the bus and make them enter restaurants through the back door.
Like I said, it doesn’t matter. There is no more room for conversation here. None. It’s over. The language has shifted dramatically from persuasive to compulsion. My friend Sam Wilson suggests that, instead of a #BoycottIndiana response to a law preventing the state to compel me to violate my conscience, businesses should employ rainbow stickers. Or whatever. It doesn’t matter.
Why doesn’t it matter? Well, somewhere along the way in Western Civilization (say 1950) it became clear that the cultural guardians of public morality actually were imposing it, and, I’d say, mercilessly imposing it. The pushback was forty years in the making, which means that a generation passed away and a new one came along which did not understand the pushback. So they pushed back, passing laws, which, as we know, are backed with the full authority and force of the government. Since the nineties, another generation has gone and come, with the resulting push back. Now we shall wrest the authority and force of the government from the hands of the enemy in order to fetch a bigger hammer.
As for me, I have consigned myself to bigotry, and I will bow my head to the punishment which will be meted out against me until A) I get my mind right, or B) I die. The problem with choice A), of course, is that no one is actually making arguments anymore, just shouts and legal threats to comply. Thank God for B).
I happen to eschew militancy for submission. In other words, in general, I just want friends, so I’ll nod my head quietly and hope I don’t have to actually engage in violation of my conscience, like some unfortunate others. I also have the advantage of a fair amount of book-learning, which I can use to weasel my way through tricky obstacles. Alas, there are those of my moral persuasion who are far more militant than I am.
I wonder only what kind of conflagration it will be: bodily, symbolical, typological…
Probably all of the above, for it has always been thus. As a Christian, I rejoice in the theology of exile.
Encreasing the Dominion Through Prison Time
What makes Aaron Schock’s departure so disturbing is the almost entirely dropped kayfabe, and we all know what happens when a society drops kayfabe. I remember remarking at the time, considering his penchant for fantasy, that if I were Schock I’d sprint out of the closet, claiming as many of the letters in the acronym as I could for the sake of jury sympathy. But, no, he didn’t do that. He simply resigned, and is resigning himself to a term in prison. This will never do.
He’s practically broadcasting that the whole thing is a sham of grabbing fistfuls of money which belong in the public treasury, putting government prosecutors on hold for a couple of years, lying and obfuscating while laundering the money into numbered accounts in various offshore “banks” just before a plea deal is reached to either avoid jail altogether or to procure a minimal sentence, to keep up appearances, then emerging quietly from prison to be escorted to a deeee-luxe apartment in the Chicago skyline to party with fellow-thieves until age
or decorum prevents.
The trick, of course, is putting government prosecutors on hold for a couple of years, and this is where Schock is embarrassing the whole lot of us, like Karen Hill, when she visited Henry in prison, throwing contraband into the open so that the prison guards had to do quite the two-step to keep up appearances. In a euvoluntary exchange, Aaron, one must give and take, and you have not given the sovereign his necessary encrease of dominion to earn your lifelong vacation, that is, after a quick character laundering through the prison system, where you can publicly repent. The public would have gladly returned a wink and a nod.
We need moar laws, dummy. I hope they throw away the key.
Told by an Idiot
Among those unfamiliar with the hunting behavior of apex predators, it is a common misperception that great cats are in the habit of piercing the jugular vein and carotid artery when making a kill. Appearances, after all, can be deceiving. The tiger does indeed seek the throat, but the killing bite is mild, almost tender in its affection. Crushing the windpipe or rending the sinew of a muscle-bound water buffalo neck puts those extremely-important lateral incisors and canine teeth at great risk. A cat is neither a crocodile nor a shark: if its pearly whites snap off, that’s all she wrote. Instead, for large game, those big scary fangs straddle the carotids, compressing them in the interstitial tooth gap, restricting the flow of blood to the brain. Unconsciousness comes quickly, which means the cat spends a lot less time and energy fighting a beast much larger than itself. Instead, it keeps the clamps on and waits patiently for brain death. Compared to, say, canine alternatives that rely much more heavily on tearing and bleeding out, death by great cat is considerably less unpleasant. Continue reading “Told by an Idiot”
The Siren Song of Dictatorship
In the lands of the Magna Carta, we have similar signs in our public kitchens: how to wash, how to dry, to what temperature to cook our meats, etc. I was washing my lunch dishes in a public kitchen in the Niagara Region of Ontario, being instructed very kindly by the signs in the mysteries of the Three Sink method of washing dishes, and I was struck by the tender motherliness of the signs which were placed there by the Niagara Region Department of Public Health.
In New York, such signs are squared and harsh, with a concentration of primary colors, mostly reds for do not and green for do, and as much black for high contrast military instruction as is warranted. Residents of New York are brow-beaten into compliance. Niagara Region Health officials have taken a far softer approach, rounding the corners of their signs, dipping amply into the pails of paint holding pastels, using lifelike drawings of human hands and human beings instead of stick figures and representational symbols. In the Niagara Region, there is happiness in compliance. There is no mention of a fine anywhere to be seen.
“Yes,” I said to myself, while I moved my dish from sink to sink to sink. “I am happy here. I want to come into compliance.”
As an aside, I was looking at my bank account, you know, debits and credits, and I noticed that there is a need for better writing in certain quarters of the internet. If anyone is interested in a lazy intellectual with some decent writing chops who might need some dough to make a more gentle case for, I dunno, a ruler who ascends organically from a given culture to make better subjects, instructing them as a mother instructs a child, well, make an offer.
Toward a Model of Efficient Self-Governance
There is, to the best of my knowledge, no single right and proper method to construct a gallows. A few elements are common to just about every design, but the grim carpenters’ flourishes of the scaffold reflect the tastes of the community and the eye of the builders. There is always a raised platform; there are always stairs leading to the platform, usually thirteen; there is always a crossbeam around which to string the noose; and there is always a trapdoor to launch the condemned into the hereafter. Beyond that, the timbers of the frame are a matter of discretion. Supporting braces and thick beams are common for permanent installations. Temporary gallows will often rely on a nock rather than a full cleat to hold the bitter end of the killing rope. A shoreside hanging can even rely on a high tide and the scuttling claws of the merciless deep to clean up the turgid mess left by a dead man dancing. Continue reading “Toward a Model of Efficient Self-Governance”
Proto-emo Has a Mid-Life Crisis
Adam Gurri and I were chatting over a recent post of his, and I found myself saying things that sounded like something an adult might say. Open in my tabs were the complete works of Tool, a Dead Milkmen song, and one from the very arcane My Dad Is Dead. Until very recently, in my mind’s eye, I was still wearing Ocean Pacific short pants and my Vans skateboarding shoes, riding the boardwalk down by one of the white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, banging on the door of a cop’s car to see if he’d harass us (those were the days), then taking off down the culvert with my friends.
This same ideology I took to college in Chicago, where it is very cold, and I learned to be very disappointed, riding the Green Line through the Cabrini Green development, thanking God for my luck in not being born there, cursing with the same mind my luck that I was only lower-middle class and not destined for the Gold Coast. Fortunately, records were being churned out at an incredible pace, reinforcing these childish notions. Tons of records. Great records. One lashes out in futility against downtown Chicago, and one is rewarded with another great Pale Saints record.
You’ll notice in the comments section a note by Virginia Postrel that this has been done before, citing 1936. Adam Gurri will reflexively cite the Gutenberg Press, and so forth. I imagine there was a similar crisis when someone invented a faster way to bake a cuneiform text. The children have children and are forced to think about childhood. The trick, of course, is to avoid repristination, that is, creating for someone else a present that is the hoped-for past. Auto-recursion, you see, will trap your children, and they will lash out in futility against the cold downtown in disappointment until they learn to lash out against you.
The occasion for this meandering post is an offhand remark made by the admirable Spivonomist about our shared worldview. He coined a lovely phrase, in application also to me, “sarcasm across the chasm.” See, in my mind’s eye, though I have been a professional for twenty years now, I have only just recently dressed myself in grown-up clothing, putting off my Vans and putting on brown or black oxfords, as the case requires, learning to listen a tad more while speaking a lot less. I said “learning.” The enraged futility can only produce so many endorphins, and I no longer associate them with happiness, just a feigned world-weariness. It’s not even real. Banging on the cop’s car door wasn’t anything in the way of genuine indignation: the records told me to do that.
Like the HAL-9000, I can tell you exactly when I became self-aware, almost to the day: it was summertime, 1986; I was 13 years old. Madonna was on the radio, and I eschewed her music (but not her body) for an obscure, angry, little frontman from Athens, GA, the great Michael Stipe of R.E.M., well before he started trying to write lyrics to be understood or even deciphered by the public. My sister took the cassette tape out and put Rainbow Brite in, and I struck her, and therein realized the freedom afforded by anger.
Alas, the wheels will grind anger out, slowly and finely, to make a flour for a delicious cosmic cake. Many who have stooped to drink from the sweet Pierian do not have the time or the money to drink deeply “enough,” whatever enough may be, considering the impossibility of being an expert at anything these days. Narrow expertises can be mastered in short order, through much tribulation, but are quickly discovered as insufficient for a career. That’s where crass politics steps in, the jostling of shoulders for a place at the trough to change the world forever, and occasionally talent prevails (does it? Everything tastes like ash nowadays), but more likely failure and disappointment will rule, and another great record will reward.
Wisdom fits in here, somewhere, not the “good judgment” wisdom, but the “I’ve suffered through this once or twice before” wisdom, the one that begins to tolerate imperfection and recalcitrance. I’ve heard that there is a wisdom that learns to distinguish between those who are imperfect and the imperfection they foist on us, in order to be able to fully love an imperfect person, but I’m nowhere near achieving that kind of zen.
YouTube has made it easier to revisit my childhood, even so far as to re-watch the television commercials which delayed the gratification of Saturday morning cartoons. Nevertheless, there remains a measure of nostalgia, and I like it. Endorphins do, indeed, flow, but they now create a lens for observation of things I might have been through a few times, at once making my sarcasm more delightful and also less-used. The wistfulness of nostalgia is gone for me, and I’m glad of it. Now nostalgia buffers that enraged futility which is so much a driver of idealism and ideology into something more useful. In my circles we say, “approaching an anxious world with a non-anxious presence,” as impossible an ideal as any, but far more self-aware of its limitations than anything that seeks to actively affect the world.
When I riffle through my record collection, I am more inclined to turn each one over individually, looking over it, and I can feel myself yield up a kind-of smile, recalling the context of acquiring that particular record, whom I was dating, the measure of fear I had toward the world–more inclined to do that than to listen to the music lest I discover that it is not as great as I believed it to be.
Happily putting on oxfords for the young people: this is the reward in being ground out slowly and finely. It goes on even after abject failure, poor lass.
An Unfinished and Imagined Conversation
Yesterday I had the good fortune of meeting a very wise and distinguished scholar and sitting with her for a spell. The following is how one conversation ended and how it might have continued.
Me: There is a young writer I had been following whose career has recently taken off, but it seems to me to have been for the worse. She was an excellent and careful writer within her area of expertise, but now all she does is churn out hit piece after hit piece, and it is clear from the content of those pieces that she has not bothered to read much of anything by the people she attacks.
Her: Her employer has taken a drastic turn for the worse. I don’t see how it can survive.
Me: It will be worse if it does survive. A writer like her needs mentors. Experienced people with principles who will not let her print a word without doing her due diligence. Instead they’re bringing out the worst in her, nurturing a mediocre partisan crowd-pleaser.
Her: You’re right that a good environment is needed. I only ever had one article published by her employer, years ago, and the editing was fantastic. They made me work for it, let me tell you. The fact-checker, who was excellent, went on to get a PhD.
Me: She definitely does not have that. As far as I can tell most of the other people there aren’t much older than she is, and what they want is exactly what she delivers: pieces that partisans love, and opponents love to hate.
Her: That is a shame.
Me: And the Internet, which can be such a wonder, and is how I even know of her in the first place, has made things much, much worse for her. These pieces she writes, they invite the worst from the groups she targets. And so, as is all too common, the very worst, scum-sucking juveniles from those groups go after her and say the vilest stuff, not just insults, but death and rape threats, that sort of thing. Truly disgusting. And in doing so, they make her feel that she has been righteous from the beginning. It’s a mutually reinforcing cycle and I think it’s very unlikely she’ll get out of it any time soon.
Her: It used to be that a young writer started at a paper and they were kept under the watchful eye of an old, experienced editor. This editor held them to a high standard, even if they had the most boring beat—which the new ones always did. But they learned!
Me: On the other hand I think there’s a tension here, and it gets to the heart of the story of the Great Enrichment. There’s two ways to look at that old news room. From one perspective, it is a place where apprentices are introduced to a craft by experienced practitioners. From another perspective, it is a place where the old are gatekeepers to the young and impose their way on them, as well as on the industry.
Her: Like the old craft and merchant guilds in Europe.
Her: We’re definitely being too indulgent in golden age thinking. Yellow journalism has a history as long as journalism itself; from a certain point of view, longer.
Me: That’s always been my belief. I’ve never thought that journalism or news or what have you was in decline, because I honestly never thought the old system had much to recommend it.
Her: I think that’s a little too harsh to the old system. It produced a lot of writers and thinkers of quality.
Me: But it also seems hard to believe that we’re worse off now because of lowered barriers to entry.
Her: Well, think like an economist for a moment. Lowered barriers to entry make it possible for cheap, low quality competition to come in.
Me: It also makes high quality competition able to enter the market that might have been excluded because of the higher barriers. When Sam Hammond and I had a similar conversation, he pointed out that William F. Buckley was only 30 years old when he started National Review. Though Josiah Neeley quickly pointed out that Buckley also hired a lot of seasoned veterans, unlike the case with the young journalist we discussed.
Her: There’s something to Sam’s example though. The media industry has never stood still; it was changing in Buckley’s time. It doesn’t seem as dramatic now, compared to the Internet. But it was a big part of what was going on.
Me: All this aside, I still wonder about the narrative of apprenticeship as opposed to the narrative of liberation. Doesn’t the young journalist I mentioned show how the latter erodes the quality achieved by the former?
Her: The name of the game is experimentation. And the old quality rarely goes away. The last crowd at her employer were thrown out, but I’m sure they’ll turn up and some young writers will benefit from their experience somewhere. Meanwhile, maybe that institution has been gutted, but a thousand experiments crop up every day. The blog you and your friends created is a part of that.
Me: A very small and very obscure part.
Her: The old knowledge and skills are largely preserved, while new knowledge and new skills—and entirely new practices—are generated all the time. This is the strength of the liberated, dignified system of market-tested betterment.
Me: You know I agree with you. It’s just a shame to see someone so promising fall through the cracks.
Her: Of course. But you can only expect so much. We’re fallen creatures, and even the most virtuous of us are liable to stumble along the path.
Me: I’ll hold out hope that this is just a stumble, then.
At this point—long before it in fact—I had been monopolizing her time for too long, and we stood up to mingle with the group.
The Discovery of A Market
Adam Gurri, who kidnaps beloved pets and children in an effort to encourage us to post, has his Amish. Spivonomist has torched the earth. As for me, I see the world through the lens of children’s hockey programs.
Each little fiefdom has its rink or two, whereupon each Fall they charge, say, $700 per child to participate in their hockey program. Forever and ever, amen, $700 bought about 25 hours of ice time and a plastic participation trophy at the end of the season.
At the end of last season, my older son’s team finished second in our nearest fiefdom’s program, losing in the championship game 7-4, or something like that. Against a field of five or six teams, we were above average in our ability to score goals; that’s why we were in the championship game. Well, after the regular fiefdom season, some of the coaches enroll their teams, independently, in private tournaments, which are limited to other such teams.
It is important to note here, for the uninitiated, that these fiefdoms are called “house” leagues, as opposed to traveling all-star teams, which are called “select” teams, and not at all related to the torture of a “travel” team, which is for the insane.
Thus twenty or so house teams are competing against each other in a privately produced tournament. My son’s team met a team in the first game in the first round and were skunked 5-0. The score, had it not been for some miraculous goaltending on our part, could have been 12-0. We protested. “Surely this team is a select team!” we exclaimed, and demanded an investigation. Surely not: this team was a house team from a league in Wheatfield. “But Wheatfield doesn’t have a rink!”
Ah, but it does, a privately owned and operated rink.
We did double-takes amongst each other, each muttering to his neighbor, “There are private house leagues?”
At Wheatfield, for $800 per child, you buy about 50 hours of ice time, plus the enthusiasm of other free peoples who are interested in their children’s competitive and physical development, including competent and responsible coaching, minus the cheap plastic participation trophy, all of which made the decision to risk climbing the wall out of the fiefdom more than sensible. No wonder they skunked us! Compared to $700 for 25 hours of ice, along with the dour attitudes exhibited by us who were squeezed by the iron fist of the cabal of old men who were running the program “the way it was when we were kids,” well, need I say further?
News of this spread like wildfire. Fiefdoms emptied out; other private organizations were discovered. These private organizations began to compete with each other in mid-season for this flood of dollars. In addition to that, the region has seen the construction of, I think, six new pads of ice (a big number) within the last two years.
Instead of the usual “See ya next year” valediction, we now are putting our resources together, measuring each of the programs against each other, deciphering who might be coaching at what level and whether he is better for my child than this other coach, who is also very good. “Are you thinking about returning to the fiefdom?” is met with howls of derision.
I don’t know quite what this phenomenon is: the sudden discovery of a market by many buyers and the subsequent flooding of it, with the responding development of that market for the benefit of those paying to be in it. I’m sure it has a name and has been examined inside and out.
I’m looking forward to seeing my kid again, and I hope Adam Gurri has kept him healthy enough to play hockey next year.