Today’s quickies – April Fools’ day

Initial Confession: I have no smartass April Fool to spring upon you.

  1. The wonderful world of signalling loyalty

When Barack Obama was POTUS, i had to read all manner of subtle (and sometimes decidedly non-subtle) allegations against him.
One of the more insidious dog-whistle type allegations was that he had “divided loyalties”. This was, of course, a coded language way of saying “he is not one of us”. One Of Us, in turn, was whatever judgmental shade you cared to throw on his character, be it that he was possibly a Muslim, or that he was The Wrong Color, or even that he wore a tan suit. Pick the symbol.

Shane Morris over at Twitter has been looking out at the US world, and..Lordy Lordy..what did he notice way back in 2017?

The thing about NASCAR is they always respect the flag. pic.twitter.com/KebzvvezBV— Shane Morris (@IamShaneMorris) September 26, 2017

It seems that a lot of folks out there, who seem to like flag-waving A LOT, are displaying the battle flag of a defeated secessionist army.

Hmmm. Sure looks like divided loyalties to me.

2. The UK Electoral Commission is bullshitting the public

The UK Electoral Commission just issued a report about infractions committed by Leave supporting organizations. This thread from Jolyon Maugham neatly dissects the mind-boggling bullshit level of the report. Essentially, the Electoral Commission is saying that even if Vote Leave has committed further infractions, it does not intend to investigate them. This is supine twaddle.

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Things people tell me – 1

Many years ago, when I was on one of my periodic rants about the general level of economic and political literacy in electorates, the person I was talking to remarked “you don’t seem to think much of the intelligence of electorates do you?”

He was dismayed when I cheerfully said “No I don’t”.

More recently, my sister, exasperated that I thought the decision by the UK electorate to Leave the EU was one of the stupidest decisions ever made by an electorate, said to me “so are you saying that all the Leave voters were wrong?” She was further dismayed when I said Yes.

Both of those responses are examples (if any were needed ) that my chances of being elected to political office in any current Western political system are somewhere between zero and none.

Yes, I am not impressed by the decision-making capabilities of electorates. They have shown for a long long time that they are quite capable of making bad decisions, both for their own interests, and those of the country they live in, if they are convinced by a combination of media blitzing, bullshit masquerading as fact, and men and women in sharp suits talking in resonant well-modulated voices.

There is some fundamental math to back up my cynicism. Starting with the reality that 50% of the population, by definition, is of below-average intelligence.

Then there is everyday evidence. Like the evidence in this thread about the voters in Missouri.

Despite deteriorating metrics of economic and medical health, electors are electing the same people over and over again.

Now, before people accuse me of “picking on the heartland” or some such, let me point out that I am not that much more impressed by voters in other states. California, for example, voted for the infamous Proposition 13 in the 1970s, which has led to endemic property tax distortions in the state. Effectively, many electors voted themselves a perpetual property tax break. The continual move towards deciding major strategy directions in governance by voter propositions has led to a situation in California where the Governor of the state is actually not in control of most of the state budget. Around 1/3 of it is mandated by propositions, 1/3 is controlled by Federal mandates, and the remaining 1/3 is controlled by the legislatures. This, of course, creates the paradox where the legislators have less and less power to effect change, which in turn pisses off the voters, who vote for yet more Propositions, which in turn restrict what politicians can do…you can see where that is headed. It is actually direct democracy by stealth, and I am not a fan of direct democracy, especially after watching the unhinged way in which many Americans behaved and talked after 9/11. An electorate in charge of the political process at that point in time would probably have nuked the 4th amendment, and destroyed the 1st and 5th Amendments. (We got the PATRIOT Act instead, which is bad, but not THAT bad).

The tendency of electors to vote against their own best interests is one of the paradoxes of modern Western democracy. However, when you analyze it through the lens of human psychology, the underlying reasoning becomes more apparent. Most of the people voting non-sensibly are frightened by something. Fear is a great motivator, but not necessarily for good decisions or actions. (Neither is anger, another voting motivator).

The most sensible explanation I ever read about voting patterns in poor states started by pointing out that the people at the bottom, such as the long-term unemployed and people on welfare, seldom vote. They are already alienated from the political system. The trope peddled by the GOP that the Democratic Party is supported by the non-working spongers (or skivers as they call them in the UK) is total bullshit. But it sure does sound good to the people on the next rung up the ladder, who are insecure and worried that they will fall down into that zone. Those frightened people vote in large numbers.

In an ideal world, voters would vote in a visionary fashion not based on reflexive responses to fear or self-interest. Alas, I now understand that this is unlikely in the current political climate. We will see a lot more Missouri-type trainwrecks unfold in the next few years.

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ICE and the insidious process of stripping citizenship from naturalized Americans

As a naturalized American citizen, I may have been way too complacent and entitled about my status.
It is clear, based on recently revealed information from FOIA requests, that ICE is very keen to investigate naturalized US citizens in order to discover any possible grounds for stripping them of their citizenship, which will, in many cases, result in their deportation back to…well, who knows where.
I suddenly have this feeling that, in practical terms, I am not a real American. The unadulterated glee with which many of my fellow Americans are greeting efforts to demonize, marginalize and expel people Not Like Them is forcing me to consider the possibility that I may be living in a society that suffers from a pathological weakness, namely a willingness to be led down the path of exclusionary nativism, to fascism and beyond.
In summary, I am wondering if this is a place where I am going to be happy to spend the rest of my life.
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The rumoured McLaren staff revolt and the underlying realities

Reality can be harsh.
Mclaren, a team that has not won a race since November 2012, signed a deal with Honda during 2013 for the 2015 season. Ron Dennis, the founder of the modern McLaren that we know, stated in 2015 that in his opinion, it was not possible for any team to win without being a “factory” engine team for a major manufacturer. McLaren had been nowhere compared to Mercedes in the 2014 season, and Dennis concluded that no customer team could enjoy the same access, and hence the same level of integration and optimization, as a factory team.
We know the history of the McLaren – Honda relationhip since 2015. The relationship, never a good one, finally collapsed last Spring and Summer, when Honda turned up for Winter testing with a powerplant that kept failing, vibrated the hell out of itself and the car, and was lacking in power. After putting Honda on a strict plan to force them to provide a powerplant by the end of the Summer that approached Mercedes customer power, McLaren walked away from the relationship in September 2017, and the Honda engine deal is now with Toro Rosso. The Honda program is now on its third leader in 4 seasons, so there have been consequences inside Honda for the poor performance of the powerplant.
However, all of the time that McLaren was struggling to be competitive with the Honda powerplant, the team had a ready-made excuse for poor on-track performance. It was the same mantra: we would be a lot more competitive with anybody else’s powerplant in the car. This narrative of a potentially front-running team hobbled by a sub-standard power unit was bought into by the drivers, and team management, who said it consistently a lot in the 2017 season.
Following the break with Honda, McLaren, having failed to agree a deal with Mercedes, signed a 3 year deal with Renault. Zak Brown and other McLaren leaders made encouraging noises, pointing out when asked that Red Bull, despite not being a “factory” team (and in fact, despite having re-badged their Renault powerplant as a Tag-Heuer), were winning races. The expectation was that McLaren could be a top 8 team again, capable of podiums, with a chance of a win.
Although the McLaren-Renault car of 2018 is more reliable and more competitive than the McLaren-Honda car, it is still not competitive enough. The car qualifies in about the same place as it did when powered by Honda, and is more consistently competitive in race trim, but it is still not fast enough. So far this season, there is not even the sniff of a podium.
Formula 1, under the current hybrid powerplant formula, is a two-tier series. Mercedes, Ferrari and (on a good day) Red Bull are in Tier 1. The remaining teams are in Tier 2. Absent a sudden change in aero regulations or car development, this is likely to be the status quo until the end of the 2020 season and the beginning of a new engine formula.
In the meantime, Fernando Alonso has seemingly shifted gears away from trying to win in Formula 1 to achieving the rare feat of a win at Monaco, a Formula 1 world championship, a win in the Indianapolis 500, and a win at Le Mans. He appears to have realized that, out of options for any further wins or championships in Formula 1, he should chase the quadruple crown, only achieved by one man (Graham Hill).
McLaren is reported to be keen to keep Alonso in the organization, and to that end is involved in detail discussions with Andretti Autosport to set up an Indycar team for Alonso for 2019 and beyond. The series would be delighted to have Alonso, and if enough sponsorship can be found, it is possible that 2018 will be Fernando Alonso’s last season in F1.
The lack of competitiveness of the Mclaren-Renault car, plus the seeming diversion of resources away from F1, has led to rumours of a staff revolt. There have already been staff changes, with Tim Goss, a long time employee, leaving his job as Technical Director (chassis) in April.
The coalescence point for the rumours appears to be the potential availability of Martin Whitmarsh. Whitmarsh was the CEO of the racing team until he was fired by Ron Dennis in 2014. He was given a generous severance deal that apparently prevented him from working in Formula 1 for a lengthy period of time, so he took a job as the CEO of the UK’s Americas Cup yacht team for several years, a job that he relinquished in November 2017.
Whitmarsh was eventually replaced at Mclaren by Jost Capito, poached from VW by Ron Dennis, but Capito, being Ron’s man, was dismissed soon after Dennis left the organization that he founded, and Zak Brown became the CEO.
Recently, Whitmarsh has been seen in and around the McLaren garage at races, having seemingly been welcomed back into the fold following the departure last year of Ron Dennis. He has now (wittingly or unwittingly) become a lightning rod for the rumours of staff discontent.
The rumours seem to have the following narrative: Eric Bouiller has no credibility as the team manager, because the car is noncompetitive and he cannot explain why. Zak Brown has no credibility because he is distracting McLaren by trying to set up a team in Indycar, and allowing Fernando Alonso to drive in other racing series.
Solution: Bring back Martin Whitmarsh.
There are some problems with this idea, in no particular order:

1. Whitmarsh is supposed to be well-liked in McLaren. This may be true, but sometimes the reason why a leader is popular is that they are not kicking the corporation along. McLaren’s on-track performance declined while Whitmarsh was the CEO. It is not clear how or why the expectation that it will improve if he returns is valid. The idea of getting Whitmarsh back seems to be more rooted in “his name is not Bouiller or Brown”.
2. There is next to no chance of Mclaren winning a Formula 1 race prior to 2021. Renault’s powerplant is not at the level of Ferrari or Mercedes, and the performance of this year’s car shows that it is a good, not great, car. (The problem with blaming your powerplant supplier is that when you change suppliers, your stock excuse disappears). McLaren does not have the engineering bench of Red Bull, so the idea of a “wild card” win is over-optimistic.
McLaren, if it wants to plausibly be a winning racing organization, has to move into another series. The WEC is expensive at the top level, the regulations are in flux, and the series lacks enough promotion muscle outside of Le Mans. Indycar is the next best series from a fit and financial standpoint. A winning McLaren indycar would be a powerful distraction from the average performance of the current F1 team, and if enough sponsorship can be found, it would be self-financing. Winning cures a lot of ills within a competitive organization.

The idea that parachuting a single person into McLaren will magically restore the team’s fortunes is not realistic. Most of the issues with the F1 team are the result of poor strategic decisions. The strategy of going with Honda was the correct one, but the results were not there. McLaren, realistically, is in survival mode in F1 until 2021. Any new CEO is unlikely to be able to change that reality.

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Why the NFL is losing the battle with Donald Trump

Every week (or so it seems) the NFL finds itself deeper and deeper in the mud while seemingly unable to get out of a wrestling match with the President.
The reasons are pretty simple.

1. The NFL owners may be wealthy, but many of them have an appallingly defective understanding of human nature.
2. They also (like many self-made men) are conceited and self-confident enough to think that they can negotiate anything with anybody and get a result in their favor. Including the President.
3. NFL owners do not (under any circumstances) want NFL Players to have the same power as players in other sports such as basketball.

Those 3 mindset imperatives are the reasons why the NFL is now in a mess almost entirely of their own making.
And Col. Morris Davis explains the whole mess from Trump’s point of view:


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The screw tightens on the NFL over the Kaepernick and Reid collusion cases

The collusion cases filed by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid against the NFL are moving through discovery. We have now reached the stage where parts of the testimony are being leaked. For a start, internal team communications show clearly that many teams viewed Colin Kaepernick as a starting quarterback. There is also a cunning trailer of yet more damaging testimony via the classic speculated “mystery witness”.
The leaks, unsurprisingly, are not good for the NFL.
However, they are even worse for President Trump. If correct, the testimony given by Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, shows that Donald Trump was threatening and pressuring the NFL and its teams to get them to change their business practices – in this case, the rules related to the playing of the National Anthem. This is a specific violation of the law, as explained here:

The NFL may be moving towards a point where they have to start seriously considering how to settle the collusion complaints. If the complaints move to a full hearing, even if collusion cannot be proved, the PR damage to the NFL will be immense, especially if (as is likely) all of the testimony is revealed. Worse still, the NFLPA, already under fire internally for not fully supporting the players over the anthem protests, may find itself forced by its members to announce how it will protest the new anthem policy (probably by keeping players in the locker room during the playing of the anthem). There is rumored to be a lot of player anger over the new anthem policy and the blackballing of Kaepernick and Reid. The NFL has over 70% black players, so player anger is a real potential issue. Rival football leagues are also starting operations.

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Bullshit Argument Rules

Quickly thrown at counter.social this morning, here are my 10 Bullshit Argument Rules.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #1
An assertion is not an argument. Claiming that X is true without offering any evidence means that you have not made your case, and the burden of proof still rests with you. Claiming that the other person has to refute X shows that you have no understanding of the basis of logical argument, and you are probably going to have what is left of your ass handed back to you across the debating forum, and quickly.

Bullshit Argument Rule #2
If anybody claims that what they are about to say or support is “just common sense”, get ready to hear or read something that might superficially be logical, but in reality is more likely to be fallacious, nonsensical, bullshit, or a combination of all three.

Bullshit Argument Rule #3
If a person’s posting or argument begins with some variant of “all the people I know think X is true”, then that person is arguing from the fallacy of anecdotal evidence, and they most likely have no useful proof that their assertion or argument is in fact true.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #4
It is a really bad idea to claim that you are an expert on any topic before you start discussing it. This generally activates any smart person’s bullshit detector. Real experts have no need to boast, they are confident in their knowledge and skills and expect that people will soon notice this.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #5
Any assertion or argument that contains juvenile ad hominems is unlikely to positively impress anybody who thinks seriously about the subject. Most likely it will lead to the conclusion that the arguer is behaving like a juvenile. This tends to not yield positive results in discussion with adults.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #6
The assertion “you don’t know what you are talking about therefore I am not going to listen to you” is generally not going to be seen as a good faith attempt at discussion. Because it isn’t. It is normally an attempt to shut down discussion and walk away.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #7
Inviting somebody who disagrees with you to leave the country if they don’t like something is not an argument. It’s another rather bad attempt to end discussion, a juvenile dismissal, logically worthy only of dismissal and contempt.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #8
Arguing in slogans is not using your own voice. You are using somebody else’s voice, and you will not build any credibility in discussion or debate. You are essentially signalling that you are good at mimicry and not much else. A skilled debater is going to fillet you like a supermarket tilapia, and you probably won’t even notice.

Bullshit Argument Rule #9
DO NOT COMMUNICATE IN MEMES ON ANY SERIOUS SUBJECT.
Memes are somebody else’s voice, mangled quotations or soundbites recycled visually. They are quite often nonsensically wrong, and they merely reveal you as lazy and unwilling to actually do the hard work of constructing and defending a position.

Bullshit Arguments Rule #10
Any assertion or argument that is ridiculous, by logical definition, can be ridiculed, and probably will be.

Bullshit Argument Rule #11
If you want me to respect your arguments, have good ones, and be prepared to discuss and debate. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
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Saturday Thoughts – 19th May

1. Outsourcing and the British royal family
The British government is an excellent example of the pioneering of outsourcing. The Royal Family hived off the messy business of governing to the current government hundreds of years ago in exchange for annual payments. With the current Brexit mess, they are probably sitting in the palaces sipping tea thinking “Thank God this mess is their mess to solve”…

2. Brexit shenanigans – packing the House Of Lords
Over the decades, many governments have been thwarted by the ability of the House Of Lords to delay or modify legislation passed in the House of Commons. This is actually a deliberate feature of the UK political system. The idea was that the Lords would operate as a check and balance on the government of the day.
The current government, not liking that the Lords has been steadily and persistently voting down government legislation related to Brexit, is now doing something that previous governments often threatened to do, in shows of public bluster, but never actually did. They are asking the Queen to create a number of new Life Peers who will be able to outvote opposition on the Brexit legislation package.
Leaving aside that there may be one or more total scumbags in the list of peers (which is full of DUP leaders, because of the Conservative Party alliance with the DUP), this sets a dangerous precedent. In an ideal world, the Queen would send the list back to 10 Downing Street with “nice try – NO” scrawled across it. Since the Queen is not supposed to get involved in politics, this is unlikely to happen, but it should.
Once the Conservative Party is replaced by a different party in government, we can expect to see this “packing” tactic used by the next government. This is, at its heart, banana republic politics coming to the UK.

3. The phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
David Graeber first wrote about this concept in 2013. He has now expanded it into a book.
We all know that such jobs exist. What Graeber asserts is that a very significant percentage of the world’s jobs, especially in highly evolved Western countries, are bullshit jobs. As he points out in this interview, the idea that humans, devoid of an 8-to-5 job, would end up as directionless depressed drones is just not true. This is his answer to one of the obvious questions.

Q. What do you think people would do all day?
DG: Well, first of all, we’d go back to having a local hang out. Most societies have that — a place where people go during the day to be sociable beings. Maybe in the Middle East it’s a tea house, if you’re in France or Spain maybe it’s the cafe. The point isn’t what you do there, it’s the sociability. I made a joke about what people would be doing if they had basic income, they’d be at the cafe arguing about their politics and their much more complex polyamorous love affairs. Because they have more time to make for more interesting gossip.

4. Ask Feynman
As was quite often the case, Richard Feynman said it all:


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Sunday thoughts before I head back to work…

1. The Trump decision to help out ZTE
People on the internets are to varying degrees stunned by the decision of Donald Trump to suddenly decide to work with China to get failed Telco ZTE back into business.
This is no suprise.
Donald Trump wants a summit with North Korea.
North Korea is a client state of China, which supports it economically, and is seen by China as a buffer state between itself and South Korea.
There is no way that North Korea will attend a summit with the United States without the tacit approval of China.
China is playing a beautiful game of quid pro quo. Trump wants the prestige of a summit (and by the way, apart from releasing 3 US citizens, 2 of whom were detained since Donald Trump became POTUS, North Korea has made NO concessions whatsoever to the United States so far), but in order to get a summit, he has to give China something in return. China, as it tends to do, has driven a hard bargain, and is attempting to humiliate Trump along the way, to put him in a still weaker position where he needs a Big Win from the summit, and will make further concessions to North Korea and China to get that Big Win.
This is China playing chess while Donald Trump golfs.

2. Yet more Trump support buyer’s remorse
So, once again, we hear whiny businesspeople lamenting “when I voted for Donald Trump, I expected him to screw over The Undeserving Folks. Not good honest Deserving folks like me and my buddies”. This time, Maryland crab fishermen are discovering that when you start to look like a country stuffed full of assholes who don’t want to accept or hire immigrants to do dirty low-wage jobs..well, you have a shortage of people willing to do those jobs.


This should be, to those of us not blinded by partisan mind-distortion, blindingly obvious. Yet the Trump supporters suddenly sound like all of their critical evaluation faculties went AWOL at voting time, and now they are only just realizing that Donald Trump is a venal, self-interested asshole who doesn’t on a human level give a damn about anybody else.
Well, congratulations guys, but you’re a bit slow on the up-take. Now you need to start eating some crow. Right now I have empathy for these folks, but absolutely no sympathy. They should have known what and who they were voting for, and if they did not, well, time to wise up and learn how to engage in due diligence next time round.

3. The bizarre lack of personal responsibility of snowflake authoritarians
Bari Weiss is being dragged on the internets over an article that she wrote that essentially claims that abuse of self-identified conservatives by liberals resulted in a number of them deciding to become Trump supporters.
This idea is intellectually risible. If somebody freely and voluntarily decides to support an asshole, they don’t get to blame other people for making them vote for the asshole. This is a total negation of the entire dictum of personal responsibility that I constantly have to read and listen to from conservatives
Weiss may well be correct that some Trump supporters decided to support Trump because those mean Liberals hurt their feelings. However, as one commenter said, if “abuse” from liberals made them vote for Trump, they were most of the way towards that decision anyway. It’s also not a good look for people when they can be that easily persuaded to vote for an asshole. It makes them look weak, gullible and easily led. So Weiss’s article, which might be read as a logical explanation by some, is in fact a tacit admission that many conservatives are indeed, as I suspected, thin-skinned credulous fools.

4. Another Texas school district scandal (surprise, surprise)
The Katy ISD has a scandal with its superintendent, who was accused (among other things) of bullying.
The school district, unsurprisingly, has decided to get rid of the superintendent, but, lacking the willingness or ability to terminate for cause, it instead has negotiated that he will leave in January 2019 with a payoff of $750k.
At the same time, the district, not content with throwing good money at a departing employee, is also funding lawyers to see if critics of the school district can be charged with defamation.
Apart from the reality that, as a practical matter, it is extremely difficult to prove defamation in the USA, Katy ISD may end up spending a lot more money than it intended. Texas has a robust anti-SLAPP statute, and any defendants may not only apply for dismissal, but may also file under that anti-SLAPP statute to recover costs and lawyers fees.
I have no idea why Katy ISD thinks this sort of officially-sanctioned chickenshit move is a good idea.

5. Mooslems? Antifa? Nope, just another collection of Very Fine People
Another day, another SovCit conviction…the biggest threat from domestic terrorism is angry, twisted white folks. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
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