NASTY, BRUTISH, AND SHORT

Posted in Rants on October 6th, 2015 by Ed

I'm the last person in the field of political science who is qualified to hold court on political theory. Like most people trained in American politics I know the relevant philosophical touchstones of the people who wrote the Constitution – Locke, Hobbes, Mill, etc – thoroughly enough to avoid embarrassing myself and to teach it effectively in the context of non-theory courses. Accordingly I do know a couple of useful things. One such nugget of knowledge is that nearly every one of the hundreds of competing definitions of terms like state and sovereignty boil down to, as Hobbes put it, a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

That does not imply that individuals may never use force legitimately. Common law tradition back to the dawn of civilization recognizes, for example, that the individual can act in self defense when attacked. But as the state retains the right to determine whether an act of self defense is justified, even this is not a proper exception to the state monopoly. The reason that this idea is so central to the definition of a state or a legitimate, sovereign government is that if every individual or self-appointed group is able to determine for him- or herself when the use of force is justified and legitimate, then that's not a state. That's not a society. That's what Hobbes was referring to when he described the "State of Nature." Without a state monopoly on the use of force, the use of force becomes unpredictable to the individual. Whereas I can walk to work and feel reasonably confident that I will not be shot at random (note that this is not impossible, merely unlikely enough that I walk to work without a phalanx of personal bodyguards and a small arsenal of weapons to fend off highwaymen who might, in a term that almost certainly cannot be used in polite conversation anymore, Shanghai me) in a world in which everyone gets to decide when to use force without the threat of state retribution or punishment I can't do that. Like everyone else in society, as Hobbes explained so long ago, I would have to devote so much of my energy, resources, and existence to defending myself that I'd engage in no other productive activity. And despite my best efforts at self-defense, I'd learn that no man is an island when anarchy reigns and life would indeed be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

As I posted over a year ago during the Trayvon Martin trial, this is essentially what "Stand Your Ground" laws produce. Every individual is left to decide when he or she feels threatened enough to justify using force to defend themselves from a threat (real or imagined). And if we're all making that decision on our own, using our own criteria, and without the threat of sanction (As written, the laws make prosecution nearly impossible; what prosecutor could establish that I did not fear for my life if I insist stridently enough that I did, regardless of whether that fear was justified or rational?) then we are teetering on the edge of a very dangerous precipice here. The fantasy of gun enthusiasts is that everyone will go around armed, that Good Guys are easily distinguishable from Bad Guys, and that somehow people making this decision independently according to no objective standards will use lethal force judiciously and wisely. In a nation of 320,000,000 people that seems pretty likely, right?

In Michigan this week a woman with a legally permitted concealed handgun pulled out her weapon and blazed away at someone she believed she saw shoplifting as the purported thief drove away from a Home Depot store. This woman, who was judged by the state and the few mechanisms of screening in place to be competent to walk around with a loaded gun, is not smart or rational enough to have thought what a normal person might in that situation – Maybe write down the license plate and call 911? Maybe tell a store employee and let them handle it according to their established and well rehearsed corporate policy? No, her judgment was that it was necessary to respond to what she believed was a nonviolent petty property crime by firing several rounds at a moving vehicle, the consequences of which could have been disastrous in any number of ways. And this is in a society in which the threat of sanction exists. She can be, and might be, prosecuted for her wanton and irresponsible actions. That wasn't enough to make her pause or to knock any sense into her.

The more people we arm, the more we are forced implicitly to trust that the people with guns will make just decisions about when and how to use them. Forgive me for saying that absolutely nothing about the American concealed carry gun enthusiast as a class rouses merits faith. Advocates can claim until they're blue in the face that most of them are sane and rational and Good; whether that is true is irrelevant. Ninety-five percent isn't good enough in this case, leaving tens of thousands of unstable and untrustworthy knuckleheads out there armed and ready to act out their Rambo fantasies. And in the long term it is not alarmist to ask how a society is supposed to survive when one of the defining powers of the state is privatized.

TENSIONS RUNNING LOW

Posted in Rants on October 5th, 2015 by Ed

Video of angry Air France employees, perhaps as many as 3000, getting rowdy outside of the company headquarters to the point that two executives had their clothes nearly ripped from their bodies were popular on cable news and around the Internet on Monday. Nobody appeared to be seriously hurt, and news reports made no mention of anyone requiring medical treatment. Tailoring, on the other hand, appears to be necessary for some of those involved.

I wish we saw more of this in the U.S. I really do. I have no desire to see anyone injured. I do, however, have a strong desire to see people react to the slow dismantling of their middle class existence with human emotions – anger, maybe – that are perfectly natural under the circumstances. I'd like it if people didn't take everything done to them in the name of quarterly earnings lying down, or like dead-eyed cattle following the ass in front of them into the slaughterhouse. I think it would be nice if the people who make these decisions had to pause, even for just a moment, to wonder if they're going to be mauled by a crowd of people they've just decided to fuck, and thereby decide to be maybe just a bit less draconian in their decision-making as a result.

It's not that rowdy behavior like this accomplishes anything substantive; it's that this is how this is supposed to work. People should get mad when they get screwed. They should get mad at the people who screwed them, especially if it was done to increase their already substantial compensation even further. This is what bothers me about American labor. Everyone from the unions to the media to the workforce itself approaches these economic upheavals with listless resignation. "Well, we did the best we could" counts as fiery labor rhetoric now. It's probably your fault, the rest of society says to the newly unemployed. The laid off have been convinced that they're powerless – and they're not wrong now – and whatever anger they have is re-routed by the media and their social betters. They get mad, but they get mad at the Mexicans or affirmative action or liberals or "banks" (read: Jews) or ivory tower academics. Even worse, their emotions are redirected toward things that explicitly have nothing at all to do with their situation or economics (Kim Davis, someone a-comin' for their guns, unisex bathrooms at a college they can neither afford nor get into, War on Christmas). They just know that their mad, and like any angry person they look for something to be angry toward. Leading them there isn't rocket science.

In other countries there are still competing messages. They have the same Murdoch journalists telling them to be angry at immigrants or the gays or Big Government. But they also have union leaders and other figures in their lives telling them that The Company is screwing them and The Boss is not their friend but rather someone who will fleece them at every opportunity for no reason more nefarious than that is exactly how this system works. Call me a crackpot or a sadist, but I think our nation and our economic system would be a lot healthier if the CEO class endured the occasional smashed windshield. That is preferable, at least to me, to a reality in which the working class of this country hero-worship the same group of people who are forever kicking the rungs out of their economic ladder.

CAVALRY

Posted in Quick Hits on October 4th, 2015 by Ed

Last week I pointed out that Caterpillar is laying off thousands of workers, many of them from its central Illinois operations. But don't worry because alternative employment is on the way: the local paper notes that franchise restaurants are blowing up here. Not literally blowing up, but as the kids say. Let no one ever again question the munificence of the free market!

In a happy coincidence, the property developer that provides a home to these various franchised gristle huts is run by the wife of the Caterpillar CEO, so I imagine they can sort out how many people making decent money to fire based on the needs of the menial service industry over a light dinner every now and again.

Oh, and since I can't think of new things to say ever ten days when there's a noteworthy mass shooting – we have to separate them now into normal background static mass shootings and ones that are actually shocking enough to merit attention for a day or two – I'm just going to repost Bill Bonds now that I've already taken the time to type up the transcript.

NPF: SWEET, VINEGARY JUSTICE

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 1st, 2015 by Ed

I am not a wine person. Emphatically not. I enjoy it and if you put it in front of me I will drink it, but I don't know anything about it and no effort is made to disguise that fact. The only adjectives you'll hear me use to describe it are on the level of "Good." or "This tastes like communion wine / Nyquil." Its history has some interesting moments though. Like the Great French Wine Blight in the 1860s.

Sometime in the 1850s – best estimates suggest 1858 – an unwelcome visitor made its way from the United States to Europe. No one knows where it went first or how it got there but it is known that by 1863 a North American aphid called Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, aka Phylloxera, was appearing in vineyards. The aphid specializes in the roots of grape vines. Being endemic to the Americas, American grapes are largely resistant to Phylloxera. In a reversal of the introduction of European diseases like smallpox to the Americas during colonization, European grapes had no resistance whatsoever to the new visitor. French wine grapes with famous names that became wine of exorbitant value died en masse. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Well, there was one thing. But the French didn't want to do it. They could graft France's legendary wine grape vines onto American grape roots. In theory this maintained the integrity of the French grape varieties, but many purists thereafter considered French grapes tainted by the process of being crossed with their American cousins. Regardless of one's position on that issue one thing is certain: had the American roots not been used, most or possibly even all of France's legendary wine grapes would have been lost. So the bright side is that they all survived for us to enjoy today.

There is a segment of the wine enthusiast community that reveres wine made from the "pure" French grapes, i.e. wine bottled before the aphid made its journey and changed everything. While wine from before 1860 would be valuable today regardless, French wines of that era are especially sought after for their use of the untainted Gallic grapes. Stories of people paying insane prices for such bottles of wine are numerous. Two are particularly amusing to me. They will amuse you too, provided you are a terrible person like me.

In 1985 Malcolm Forbes, magazine publisher and father of 90s punchline presidential candidate Steve Forbes, paid over $150,000 for a bottle of something called Chateau Lafite 1787. Then he did as rich d-bags tend to do and showed off his grand acquisition in the most conspicuous way. He put it in a grand display case under a light. A very bright light. A very bright light that generated a lot of heat. Heat that dried and withered the centuries-old cork. Eventually it shrank and fell into the precious beverage. That was $150,000 well spent.

Forbes looked like a miser compared to wine collector William Sokolin, who paid over $500,000 for an 18th Century Chateau Margaux. While showing off his purchase at a social event in New York, Sokolin – wait for it – accidentally knocked the bottle off a serving cart and, in what I can only imagine was the slowest slo-mo in human history, watched it tumble to the ground and shatter. What does one even do in that situation? For half a million bucks I would get down and lick it off the carpet. I mean, if the alternative is having everyone at a fancy social event watch you have a complete emotional breakdown then I don't think it's any more shameful. At least get some on your finger and rub it on your tongue. No shame. Do what you gotta do.

The only potential consolation is that many wine experts believe that wine of such advanced age is likely undrinkable anyway. Sure, let's go with that.

FANTASTIC

Posted in Quick Hits on October 1st, 2015 by Ed

Donald Trump says that if he is president, all of the Syrian refugees accepted by the United States "are going back."

If the Cardinals start me at quarterback this week, I want to start out by establishing the ground game. I really feel like we need to get David Johnson more involved in the offense, and the tight end position has been under-utilized in the passing game. Moving Larry Fitzgerald to the slot has worked out brilliantly so I don't see a need to make changes there. At least once I want to take some deep shots at Michael Floyd, and of course you have to throw the occasional post corner to Smokey Brown to keep the safeties honest over the top.

Oh, sorry. I thought we were playing "fantasy scenarios" and I wanted to use one that's equally likely to happen.