Friday, June 21, 2013


The left-wing media in the US has a new meme, by which I mean a practice designed to spread its beliefs. Muslims who do bad things (e.g., jihadis, religious fanatics, and dictators), are now referred to as “conservative” Muslims. The mullahs in Iran are “conservatives,” for example, and so are the Boston Marathon bombers. Other, nicer, Muslims are called “moderates” or “liberals.” The purpose, apparently, is to connect the bad guys with “conservatives” like Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson or Ted Cruz. The young, good-looking Muslims in the central square, the ones demanding elections and freedom---they are called “liberals” by CBS and CNN and the New York Times and all the rest. They're more like Joe Biden, in other words.

It's subtle. You don't notice it at first. But today, I heard it expressed more explicitly on KYW, the all-news radio station in Philly. Reporting on the election of Hasan Rowhani as Iran's new president, the newsreader described him as a “moderate” but then explained this was a relative term since the only men permitted to run for the office were “conservatives.” “It's as if all the candidates for president in this country had to be members of the Tea Party,” she explained helpfully.

Connecting foreign evil with your domestic political opponents is a tactic most famously employed by Franklin Roosevelt toward the end of World War II. In his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944, FDR looked past the war to the future of politics in America:

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis---recently emphasized the grave dangers of 'rightist reaction' in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called "normalcy" of the 1920's—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.”

This was the first time anyone had ever connected “rightist reaction” (what we would call conservatism), with fascism. Previously, fascist movements around the world were seen as socialist phenomena, and closer to communism than anything else. Germany and Italy were viewed as left-wing dictatorships.

In the early decades of the 20th Century, every Western country had a lively fascist movement, though the fascist movements in different countries often had idiosyncratic features. (Mussolini had his own peculiar racialist views, for example, but he had nothing against Jews.) In the US, the home of fascism was the Progressive movement, which embraced eugenics, the Ku Klux Klan, Father Coughlin, Jim Crow laws and the corporatist policies of the New Deal. These associations became an intolerable embarrassment for FDR and the Democrats once America went to war with European fascists and Americans came to appreciate just how evil fascist ideas could be.

Brilliantly, in this speech, FDR showed Progressives the political solution to the problem. In one stroke, fascism became a right-wing phenomenon and nice American lefties could no longer be blamed for it. And from that day to this, we have all been taught the political spectrum FDR invented. At one end is communism and at the other is fascism. From constant repetition alone, we have all come to believe that communism is a left-wing philosophy but that fascism somehow grew out of right-wing, conservative ideas.


Saturday, June 15, 2013


Today, Kevyn Orr, the recently-appointed Emergency Financial Manager for the city of Detroit, met with creditors to discuss a 134-page report on the city's prospects. He is attempting to work out arrangements so that Detroit will not have to enter a formal bankruptcy proceeding, which would leave its fate up to a court. Detroit is already in default, and has suspended payments to unsecured creditors.

One issue in this continuing saga concerns the Detroit Institute of Art, the second richest municipal art museum in the country, with paintings and other art objects worth more than a billion dollars and an endowment in the neighborhood of $100 million. The collection is usually described as “encyclopedic,” meaning it contains objects from virtually all ages, styles and parts of the planet. You dig Etruscan? They got it. Van Gogh? They got him too, along with furniture, sculptures, armor, decorative items from across the centuries, iconic religious works. They are a bit short on the Elvis-on-velvet portraits I'm fond of, but they've got everything else, a billion dollars worth of it.

So Mr. Orr is going to sell off the art at the DIA in order to pay off some of the city's debt, right? Or honor its decades-old promises to pension-holders, right? Well, no. That would be an affront to Detroit's devotion to its “cultural heritage,” or something. (If you have ever been to Detroit, you are probably chuckling at the idea that the sorry little town has a “cultural heritage.” I lived there for ten years and I don't remember it.) According to Mr. Orr, the possibility of selling the art is off the table. He and those supporting him even managed to get a formal “opinion” from the Michigan Attorney General saying that the art is not simply owned by the city, but is actually held in a “charitable trust” for the people of Michigan and can never be sold to satisfy debts.

Or as Bernie Madoff was once heard to exclaim, “You mean I don't get to keep my Bentley???”

I'm not saying all of Detroit's debt was the result of Madoff-style fraud, but it wasn't exactly bad luck either. Detroit has been run by thieves and rogues for decades, and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is not the first Motown politico who found himself heading off to an extended stay with the department of corrections. Detroit got this way on purpose. They elected crooks and buffoons, and then they elected more crooks and buffoons and then they elected more crooks and buffoons. It's not easy to wind up owing several billion dollars. It takes work. It takes lies. And it takes a long time.

So the idea that Detroit has some “cultural heritage” residing in the Picassos and Van Dykes and Egyptian antiquities, and it's really really important to them and we can never ever take it away is---well, it's ridiculous. I mean, if the Audubon bird drawings were so damn important to these people, maybe they should have found a way to fund their pension plans sometime in the last fifty years, or laid off a few employees they couldn't afford, or told Kwame to pay for his own orgies. It's not like this happened overnight. I worked in Detroit in the late 1980's and it was a failed city then. The amazing thing to me is that it took this long for the Motor City to crash and bleed out.

Sorry, kids. If you don't pay your bills, you lose the mansion, you lose the exotic petting zoo, you lose the collection of medieval armor. And what, really, is the problem with selling off the art? No one is going to set it on fire. The people and museums who acquire it will pay a lot of money for it, and you can bet they will take good care of it. In fact, they will probably take a lot better care of it than Detroit would because they will have the resources to provide it with the security and atmospheric controls and restorative and curatorial services it needs.


Thursday, June 6, 2013


The US is the only country that taxes income earned outside the United States by Americans who live outside the United States. There's a reason for this. The US does it because it can. No other country could get away with it.

American income-earning ex-pats (as opposed to retirees), are relatively few in number, and they have no political power. Also, since they are spread all over the world, it's impossible to organize them. It's also likely that one reason they live overseas is that they are not particularly interested in US culture, including US politics. Finally, American ex-pats and sojourners do not work in other countries because they are unable to make a living in the US and thus must go overseas to support their families. Generating remittances to send home is not the reason Americans work in foreign countries.

In every other country, there is a (sometimes large, sometimes small) group of people who depend on remittances, and these remittances come primarily from one place---the United States. If Brazil, for example, decided to tax income from Brazilians living in the US, they would run into resistance from people in Brazil whose sons, husbands, etc., work in the US as cooks and maids and doctors and businessmen. That money, earned in the US, is already getting repatriated to Brazil because a piece of it is being sent back to the family. If Brazil tried to tax that money as it was earned in Chicago, there would be enough annoyed mommas in Rio to make unpleasant political noise.


It has taken about twenty years, but “no problem” appears to have replaced “you're welcome” as the preferred response to “thank you.” For quite a while, it was a youthful hipster usage, but “no problem” is no longer an informal or slang expression. My impression is that a good-sized majority of American English-speakers under thirty always say “no problem” in all situations where us geezers would say “you're welcome.” Fifty years from now, “you're welcome” will sound archaic or old-fashioned or prissily formal.

Another language development is the use of what I call the WWII war-movie radio alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.) to bring the acronym-speak of the internet into spoken language. (It is actually called the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.) On the internet, for example, DC means “I don't care,” but instead of using DC in spoken language, you will sometimes hear “Delta Charlie.” This often happens when the internet acronym is obscene, like WTF. This becomes Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, largely for the humor that's in it but also because it puts an additional layer of meaning between the f-word and its expression. “WTF” itself is still a bit crude, and no archbishop would be caught dead in a ditch saying it. He might get away with “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” however, and even be thought sophisticated and cool for doing so.


Loosies” have returned.

Older folks, those with some memory of the 1930's and 1940's, know what they are. In the mom-and-pop corner stores of urban neighborhoods, there would always be an open pack of cheap smokes behind the counter so a customer could buy one cigarette, usually for a penny. Around 1960, loosies disappeared.

Today, with millions fewer jobs, with federal disability rolls now topping ten million and record numbers of Americans on food stamps, there are once again corner stores in poor neighborhoods where you can buy one cigarette. It will cost you more than a penny, however.

The checked swing is a common enough event in baseball. The pitch is delivered, the batter begins his swing and then stops himself, or tries to. If the pitch is not in the strike zone, the umpire must decide whether the batter “went around” and should be charged with a strike. If the home-plate umpire rules the pitch is a ball, the catcher may seek an appeal of the call to the first-base umpire (for a right-handed batter) or the third-base umpire (for a left-handed batter).

The checked swing call, and the appeals, cannot be found in official baseball statistics but you might be surprised by how much the checked swing has been studied by baseball geeks. See: However, to my knowledge, nobody keeps track of how many appeals are successful and how many are denied. Considering that virtually everything else in baseball is counted or measured, this seems odd.

It has been my impression that base umpires vary widely as to their likelihood of calling a strike on a checked swing, but there is no real data on this question. Obviously, America needs to know which base umpires are more likely to call a checked swing a strike. Otherwise the terrorists have won.

The rule allowing an appeal to a base umpire is also too limited. It is only permitted on a pitch the home-plate umpire has called a ball, and it can only be requested by the catcher. The explanation usually given for the first restriction is that a base umpire would be overruling the home-plate ump if he were to change a strike call to a ball. In other words, it is felt that if the home-plate ump is certain the batter swung at a pitch, he should not have his call overturned by a colleague.

Fair enough. But the other limitation seems unfair. If the catcher can request a ball be changed to a strike, why can't the batter? Suppose there is an 0 – 2 count when the pitcher throws a ball outside the strike zone. The hitter offers a checked swing, but the umpire calls the pitch a ball. Meanwhile, the pitch skitters past the catcher while the batter, believing he has swung at the pitch, runs to first on the dropped third strike.

When the smoke clears, the batter is standing on first base but is called back to the plate to complete his at bat, with the count now 1 – 2. WHY CAN'T HE APPEAL TO THE BASE UMPIRE IN THIS SITUATION? Why can't the batter seek a ruling that yes, he really did strike out? If the catcher can ask that a checked swing be ruled a strike, why can't the batter seek the exact same ruling?


Sunday, June 2, 2013


In Florida, Kaitlyn Hunt is an 18-year-old high-school senior. Her girlfriend (name unknown, so let's call her Juliette) is a freshman in the same high school. They are in love. They have had sex. Juliette's parents disapprove of this relationship so they called the cops. Kaitlyn is now facing felony sex charges for which she could get a dozen or so years in chokey and be placed on the Sex Offender Registry for the rest of her life. The most serious charge is “lewd and lascivious assault,” which sounds like something that used to happen in London in 1852, doesn't it? I mean, seriously---the word ”lascivious” still appears in a criminal statute? When is the last time you used the word “lascivious” in a sentence non-ironically?

The story is all over the internet, of course, because they are both girls, but situations like this arise frequently, usually involving somewhat older boys and somewhat younger girls, AND THEY HAVE HAPPENED SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME. They should not be crimes, but in our modern age, these tales of teen love often wind up on a police blotter because they may be indistinguishable (legally) from the situation where a 45-year-old on-line creep tricks a troubled 12-year-old girl into meeting him in a motel. To those of us who are capable of making reasoned distinctions, especially those of us who may have a dim recollection of teenage love, treating Kaitlyn as a predator and Juliette as a victim is ridiculous. But that's what often happens in the land of zero tolerance.

Let me tell you what's wrong with this picture. It's the law. It's the age of consent, which for a thousand years was twelve. In the year 1000, the law recognized that twelve-year-old girls knew what sex was. They knew what it meant. They knew what it meant in 1900 as well, and they still do, of course. But in the 20th Century, the legal age began to creep up, and now it is 16, 17, or 18 across America, depending on the state.

What has changed is the relationship between the individual and the state, or if you prefer, the nanny-state. The “age of consent” no longer has anything to do with whether a girl or boy is capable of the act of consent. It has to do with what the state deems “appropriate” or wise. A twelve-year-old boy or girl is not going to be terribly worldly or sophisticated, and will often make bad choices, but that has always been true, and it doesn't mean they don't know what sex is. This used to be the concern of the twelve-year-old's parents and relatives and neighbors and ministers and rabbis. Now, however, it has become the business of the police and the legislature and the governor. The story of the 20th Century is primarily that of the state getting larger and the individual getting smaller. The legal transfer of responsibility for a person's sexual behavior from the individual to the state is one piece of that frightening trend.

The purpose of statutory rape laws and the age of consent was to prevent evil men from manipulating and using young girls who really didn't know what the men were after. Today, the primary purpose is no longer to punish genuine criminals but rather to “protect” girls who know perfectly well what men are after but who may make choices they later regret. In 2013, the laws take those regrets, those second thoughts, and interpret them retroactively as crimes the men have committed. This new legal view of statutory rape fits neatly within that strain of modern feminism that seeks to infantilize girls and women by persuading us to view them primarily as victims, as people who cannot be held responsible for the choices they make. Hence the sexual harassment codes found on college campuses, codes which take “sexual harassment” far beyond its legal definition to include flirting or risque remarks or other types of unwanted attention that women and girls have somehow managed to deal with for millennia.

(If I were a teenage girl, I would be outraged by these laws, and I'm more than a bit puzzled that young girls seem to accept their infant status without objection. I mean, there are 17-year-old single mothers working two jobs who cannot “consent” to a sexual relationship. There are 17-year-old girls who go to Harvard and are still legally viewed as jailbait.)

I sympathize with Kaitlyn and Juliette, and I guess that means I'm not much of a feminist, but people have rights even when they are eighteen and thirteen. Kids own themselves and own their bodies and sometimes fall in love and sometimes burn with a lust that cannot be reasoned with. That's one part of the human condition. When I was a teenager, nothing short of a gun to our heads would have prevented my girlfriend and me from doing what we wanted to do with each other. Parents, priests, disapproving aunts, policemen---none of them would have had any effect on us (and some of them tried).

My girlfriend was not a “victim” and I was not a “criminal” by any definition of those terms that make sense in a free society. And neither are Kaitlyn and Juliette.