The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Land of the Free

In reading Dan Simmons's synopsis of the Iraq war, I came across the picture of Royal Navy hostage Faye Turney, smoking a cigarette during her televised confession. In Iran, unlike England or New York, this is not a crime.

[Update 27 June: Tim Harford addresses the specious economic rationalizations for smoking bans.]

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Mark Tapscott paints the broad outline of our rent-seeking legislatures:
This is why there is no evidence of increasing public support for the GOP in recent weeks despite the failling ratings of the Democratic majority in Congress. The root problem is a bipartisan inability - or refusal - to adopt policies supported by clear majorities of the American people. Those policies for the most part involve a significantly lower level of government activism, whereas the political class for the most part seeks only a higher level because it benefits, financially and otherwise, from the higher taxes, greater federal spending and heightened importance of public institutions.

This is the inevitable result of safe incumbency -- with little or no fear of losing their offices, legislators can safely concentrate on how best to reap their benefits.

Kimberley Strassel shows the fertile new ground currently being explored:
It's a green dream come true, carte blanche to promulgate endless regulations barring tree-cutting, house-building, water-damming, snowmobile-riding, waterskiing, garden-planting, or any other human activity. The section is vague ("protect," "assist," "restore") precisely so as to leave the door open to practically anything.

To maximize the value of a good, one must make it scarce. To maximize one's own profit, one must ensure a steady supply of that good. The energy bill is an exploratory venture, an attempt to seed a valuable resource for our rulers to reap in the fulness of time. And here the good in question is developable land, almost certainly the most valuable single thing in our society.

Green groups and other self-appointed protectors will cooperate with lawmakers to accomplish the first goal, throttling development with a hail of regulations and complaints. But when the lawmakers have a hand in the till, whether it be a percentage stake or a favored nephew, the second goal will be paramount; the regulations will not be promulgated, and the green groups will remain silent rather than jeopardize support for the "larger goals". [Among which I do not suppose governmental honesty is paramount. ]

To see the consequences, compare America to England, with its green belts and local development vetoes. The average American home buyer spends 3.5 years income to buy 700 square feet per person; the average Briton spends 7 years income to buy 350 square feet. This is not due to England's greater population density -- huge swathes of the countryside are empty. It is the deliberate result of regulations designed to favor the ruling and landowning classes.

On the plus side, your air-conditioning bills will be low.

[Via Glenn Reynolds and Bruce McQuain.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No Quarter

Marc Danziger has written an extremely perceptive essay on the breakup of MyDD and the new aristocracy. Read the whole thing, but here is the heart of it:
That aristocracy is increasingly detaching itself from the interests of the modern proletariat - those who sell their labor a day or month at a time in a cubicle or restaurant uniform. The modern proletariat is the richest in the world - but in a flattening world, that can't and won't persist. To those who ride in Town Cars, that's not a horrible thing - the help gets cheaper, after all, and more docile as it realizes how close it is to the edge and how their island of social and economic stability is shrinking.

Chris Bowers and other Netroots notables have pointed this out, and taken upon themselves the mission of saving the Democratic party from its aristocrats. Mr. Danziger wrote the appropriate critique before I could:
You're looking in the wrong place because you're arrogant jerks (hey, I read all your stuff - trust me, you're arrogant jerks) and instead of looking out your window at the American people and thinking about their dreams and hopes and how you can advance them, you persist in looking in the mirror (or looking on your computer screen and reading all the blogs that make you go "Yeah!" (new acronym: BTMYGY!) and believing that Of Course everyone thinks that Catholics are repressive assholes, and Of Course the average Rethuglican is a gender criminal, and Of Course typical Americans who worry about people who cut other people's throats on video on the Internet are bedwetters.

Well, as an arrogant jerk, I can sympathize. What common ground, besides the Porkbusters campaign, has either side of the blogosphere ever offered the other? More specifically, what am I willing to offer?

When I think of something, I'll post it.

[Via Glenn Reynolds.]

Watching the Detectives

A Pajamas Media article describes the scene in Ramallah, and also the scene captured by the media for its unfortunate viewers:

... the various foreign television reporters positioned themselves in front of the masked gunmen and spoke seriously to the cameras about the rising tension in Ramallah, trying their best to make it sound as if they were in the middle of a war zone. But if their cameramen had panned out for a wider shot they would have shown crowds of mostly young men hanging around, eating snacks, buying cold drinks from vendors, and taking photos with their mobile phones. There was no sense of fear or menace at all. I even saw one photojournalist, who works for an American newspaper, giggling a bit as she aimed her camera at a masked fighter who was posing...
Any of these journalists could have panned away from the terrorists' [that they are presently terrorizing only their own countrymen does not change this fact] photo opportunity. They did not; they served the terrorists at the expense of their own viewers. Thus they honored the de facto bargain long agreed on both sides: terrorists will provide dramatic footage, and in exchange the media will display it with a maximum of drama and a minimum of context, like a star painting hung alone in a gallery.

This is your visual media in action: helping your enemies lie to you.

[Via Glenn Reynolds.]