Sufficiently Advanced Malice

Save myself some time today.

A good many years ago (early 90’s) I was on an online service known as GEnie (run by General Electric, thus the capitalization). In the “Science Fiction Roundtables” another author by the name of Daffyd ab Hugh (who at the time identified as libertarian and clued me in on differences within libertarianism such as minarchist and anarchist). I’ve long since lost track of him and have no idea what directions he’s gone since. That said, he formulated the following:

“In politics do not attribute to stupidity what can be explained by malice. The truly powerful are rarely stupid.”

Even in the case where the public face is stupid, look to the malice of said public face’s handlers.

Or to paraphrase an expression:

Once is ignorance. Twice is stupidity. Three times is malice aforethought.

According To Hoyt

alien-1905155_1920 Image by maciej326 on Pixabay

It has long been discussed, when talking about public figures “is this malice or stupidity?”

I remember the previous administration inciting this question, and I don’t remember that it was ever resolved.

Post 2016, having observed both the transparent malice and rampant stupidity of public figures (mostly, but not all, on the left) as well as the way they think that stupid malice or malicious stupidity are attractive, has led me to formulate a new axiom, which I first stated inverted, but RES suggested it this way, and it seems to be more fitting: sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from stupidity.

No?

Let’s take the case of our former president. For reasons that a child psychiatrist should have made sense of long before the man came of age, he hated and resented America, the (white) grandparents who raised him, the mother who didn’t desert him…

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Balance of Trade

If there’s one term I really wish people would drop into a deep, dark hole and bury it that would be “favorable” or “unfavorable” balance of trade.  And right alongside it they can bury “strong” and “weak” with respect to currencies.  Thee terms imply things about what is good or bad economically that simply do not match economic realities.

The idea of favorable/unfavorable balance of trade dates back to 18th century and earlier Merchantilist ideas of economics.  According to them, the wealth of a nation was defined by the amount of gold, and to a lesser extent silver, it had in its treasury.  Thus if it imported more (in terms of gold value) than it exported, its gold reserves would decrease and it would be poorer.  One effect of this measure of wealth was that it really only affected the upper classes.  The great unwashed masses and their standard of living was not something the Merchantilists worried about.

One of Adam Smith’s great insights was his defining the wealth of a nation not in the amount of specie that it retained, but in terms of the goods and services it obtained.  One effect of this measure is that it applies to everyone, not just the upper classes.  A nation wealthy by this measure will, generally speaking, have more goods and services available to everyone.

Once one realizes that, then one immediately sees that importing goods and services makes a nation richer.

Let me repeat that:  Importing goods and services makes a nation richer.

And, thus, it sees that if anything, the “favorable” and “unfavorable” balances of trade swap places.

“But we’ve got the money going out and what about domestic businesses and…” Or so the complaints go.

Let’s look at that.

Let’s take a simple case,  Two countries:  A and B.  Country A uses the Dollar.  Country B uses, let’s call it a Credit (a common science fiction term for future currencies).  One dollar equals 100 Credits.  Okay?  Now, Country B is able to produce everything Country A does, but cheaper so that anything that in Country A costs a dollar, they can get it from Country B for 90 credits (90 cents at the exchange rate).

Looks pretty bad for Country A’s merchants and manufacturers doesn’t it?  They can’t compete with Country B selling everything cheaper.  If we stop there, we seem to have vindicated the concept of “unfavorable balance of trade”with the extreme case.  If we stop there.

But we don’t stop there.  The result of this is that Country B has a bunch of dollars.  Country A has goods and services.  What is Country B going to do with those dollars?  They can’t eat them.  They can’t drive them around.  They make poor building material.  And, Scrooge McDuck to the contrary, they make a poor medium for swimming in.  I suppose they could burn them for heat, but that would mean they’re trading an awful lot of goods and services for what amounts to firewood.

Those dollars are only good to Country B if they can trade them, or invest them.  And in the end, they have to trade or invest them in Country A, where they are legal currency.

Let’s dismiss invest at this time–a subject for another day although I’ll make a further brief mention later in this post–and just look at the “trade” side.  How are they going to trade them when everything they want to buy in Country A is more expensive than the locally produced stuff at the current rate of exchange?

And there’s the secret:  at the current rate of exchange.  If the Dollar, instead of being traded at 100 Credits per dollar, were traded at 90 Credits per dollar, They would be able to buy from Country A at the same price as from their own Country B.  That would also mean that people in Country A would be able to buy from their own Country A at the same price as from Country B.  This “weakening” of the dollar compared to the Credit, means that Country A’s manufacturers and merchants are better able to sell their product both domestically and internationally although at the same time it’s making goods and services available to the buyers more expensive.  It’s not exactly obvious whether this is a good or bad thing on balance.   This despite the tendency of many to automatically consider a “weak currency” to be bad and a “strong currency” to be good.  Both have their good and bad aspects and great care must be exercised in looking at why a currency is weak or strong in making that determination.  And even so, “reasonable men may justifiably disagree.”

Voluntary exchange, both in goods and services, and in the currencies involved, would tend to quickly correct mismatches.  Going past the simplistic model of everything being cheaper in one country than the other by the same amount, the same principal still applies  The exchange rate (again, assuming voluntary exchange in the market) will tend toward an average and one country will produce some goods and services more efficiently with different goods and services produces more efficiently in the other.  Country A might import more steel (perhaps to the consternation of steelworkers) but export more grain (to the joy of farmers).

And, of course, we cannot completely ignore investment.  Instead of buying a country might choose to invest.  They have the same amount of currency:  Country B received some number of dollars from its sale of goods and services to Country A.  But instead of using those dollars to buy goods and services in turn, they might use it to invest in enterprises in Country A.  They might buy property in the hopes of reaping rents and appreciation in value (which will tend, through competition, to increase other properties values).  They might invest in factories, putting people to work producing more goods and services.  Sales outlets, again putting people to work providing their goods and services to others.  These things are beneficial when done by domestic investors.  They do not change their nature when done by foreign investors.

So people need to stop thinking in terms of “favorable” or “unfavorable” balance of trade.  A balance of trade is not favorable or unfavorable by itself.  It is only in the context of the larger economic picture that the benefits or detriments of the details of that particular balance can become known.  The catch is that the detailed effects are often not obvious, which can lead to heated disagreements even among those who do try to look at that big picture.

The one thing that history has shown us, though, is that interference with the system of voluntary exchanges rarely if ever works out better than allowing it to freely operate.

Observation about the Anti-Federalists

I’ve been listening to biographies of the various Founding Fathers of the US.  I started with John Adams (inspired by seeing the musical 1776 and his character in it).  I followed that up with Patrick Henry (a personal favorite from the time I had Virginia History back in fourth grade), then Sam Adams, and currently James Monroe.

There are a couple of things I noticed.

First, one of the things the Anti-Federalists insisted on was a “Bill of Rights” in the Constitution.  The claim was that without the protection of certain rights the government would be sure to infringe on them.  The Federalists insisted that without powers to regulate things like Speech and the Press, the government had no power to infringe on them.  I would make a side note that I believe Hamilton made that argument explicitly in The Federalist Papers–but once the Constitution was in place, Hamilton was all in favor of “implied powers” not explicitly listed.

However, on looking into the biographies it’s easy to see why the Anti-Federalists were so adamant about the government exercising powers not granted to it.

When Patrick Henry, one of the most ardent anti-federalists, was governor of Virginia, the governership was largely ceremonial, with little power.  That did not stop him from exercising whatever power he felt necessary, particularly in support of Washington and the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

When James Madison, in his turn, was likewise governor of Virginia, he too had no hesitation in exercising powers he was not supposed to have, including calling out the militia when he deemed it necessary, a power granted by the Virginia Constitution to the Assembly.

Then there was Thomas Jefferson.  While an argument could be made that the Louisiana Purchase fell under the President’s authority to negotiate and sign treaties (for ratification by the Senate), he questioned whether he actually had such authority.  That did not stop him from making the purchase.

All of them had what they thought were good reasons for exercising power not granted to them (or at least that they thought was not granted to them) in the respective constitutions from which they gained their authority, so stipulated.  Still, they exercised powers they did not have and, thus, they had no reason to believe others with reasons they felt less justified, would also exercise such powers.

It’s easy to believe that others will do something when you’ll do it yourself.

Bathroom Sink Woes

Under the heading of “live and learn.”

Some time back the drain in one of the bathroom sinks broke.  It functioned in a way that was different from what I’d seen before.  Instead of a rod and lever to control the pop-up valve there was this cable assembly in which the core rotated to actuate the plug.  The fitting where the cable attached to the drain broke off.  This meant that the fix was to replace the entire thing–faucet and drain both.

So, I begin by removing the trap so I can get the drain.  That comes out nicely.  Then I begin working on the faucet.

The first problem was that the entire assembly was old, probably installed when the house was built.  That meant that between lime buildup and corrosion everything was essentially fused solid.  It took a great deal of hammering, grabbing with channel-lok pliers and a whole lot of swearing I finally got the faucet off.

Second problem, a minor one but still an annoyance.  The hot water shutoff valve, even when I cranked it down as tightly closed as I could still dripped.  I put a cup under it to catch the drip but it was fast enough I had to dump it frequently.  And when I had to dump it the water continued to drip.

Replaced the drain first, then reinstalled the trap.  Finally (yeah, right) I put the new faucet in place.  Get the hoses installed and…

Problem number three.  Cold water leaks, badly, from the connection between supply hose and faucet.  So I shut things down again, and remove the faucet and hose.

Oh.  The seal is missing.  So mistake one was in reusing the old hoses.  And not noticing (because I didn’t know to look for it–this was my first time doing this) that the seal was missing.

Problem 4, however, was that when I was trying to tighten down the connection to stop the leak (not knowing the problem was a missing seal) instead of tightening it, I had twisted the short copper line that was part of the faucet assembly.  No, there was no untwisting that without breaking it.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to go out and get a replacement.  I leave the hot water supply hose connected to the shutoff valve and fed up to drip into the sink.  At least I wouldn’t get a puddle overnight.

Next morning, shopping for parts.  I get a duplicate of the same faucet (so I can use the drain I’d already installed) and I get a pair of replacement supply lines.

I fasten the supply lines to the faucet assembly outside the sink.  This way I can use one wrench on the fitting on the copper tube side, and another on the supply hose so I can tighten then without twisting and damaging the copper tube.    I’m able to feed the hoses through the holes in the sink.

Fastening the hoses to the shutoff valves was more difficult this time–getting them lined up against the stiffness of the hoses until the threads engaged was a bit of a challenge but, with a little patience–and more swearing–I got them started and a wrench completed the job.

The next step was to wipe up the spilled water and leave it for a while to see if there was any more leakage.  I also closed the plug and filled the After about an hour, everything was still dry under the sink and although the water level had dropped, there was still some remaining.  So, the plug doesn’t provide a perfect seal, but well enough for most usage.

And done.

 

Home Defense Firearms: A Blast from the Past

When it comes to home defense, a strong argument can be made that the best, the absolute best, weapon for defense against a home invasion is a compact semi-automatic rifle with certain, particular features.

Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, criminals often continue to function after being shot, often after being shot several times. “The dead man’s ten seconds” is a phenomenon well and long known (the phrase comes from the Civil War). The criminal may be effectively dead from the first shot, but they still have the ability to do a great deal of harm before they’re stopped. Thus, it may take multiple shots to stop them. Maybe they’ll spend their entire “dead man’s ten seconds” staring down at the hole in their chest.  Maybe it’s easy for you to bet other people’s lives that that’s how it will go down but maybe instead they’ll use that ten seconds to hurt or kill the homeowner unless distracted by, oh, other holes being put in their body from repeat shots until they do stop.

We have repeated reports of people in military theaters shooting an individual multiple times and having them continue to fight.

And that’s not even counting that robberies are often committed by more than one person. Again, local news reports suggest that the majority of home invasions involve multiple attackers.

Now, maybe in the “average” it’s over after only a couple of shots. But one can drown in a stream that “averages” 6 inches deep if one happens to step in a hole that’s 8′ deep (the rest of the stream only being 4″ or so, so the “average” comes to 6″). But multiple attackers requiring multiple shots each to put down is one of the scenarios a “civilian” may face, and this without a partner, without backup on call, with just what they can grab ready to hand.

In high stress and fear situations human beings have certain common issues. One is that fine motor skills go to hell. Simply working the action of a rifle or handgun can become a thing of fumbling when one is in fear for ones life (a necessary condition of use of lethal force in all jurisdictions in the US). Much better a simple action of “aim, pull trigger, aim, pull trigger”. Thus, semi-automatic. (Police and civilian firearms trainer and recognized expert witness on firearms matters discusses the effects of fear on ones shooting ability in his book Stressfire among others.)

When an attack comes, you can’t be sure that everyone in your household is all together. You may, for example, have to go get the kids. This doesn’t involve hunting the “bad guys.” I don’t recommend that at all. Get your family together and defend them if the bad guys come to you, but “get your family together” may require some moving around. Now, when you’re moving around, you may have to do things like open doors or work light switches. Or maybe (it’s dark, say, and this occurred after everyone was in bed) you need one hand free to hold a flashlight. Maybe you have a light mounted on your rifle but, well, you’re looking for your kids. It would be good to have a light you can shine on things without pointing your gun at them, don’t you think? (First rule of safe gun handling is treat any gun with the respect due a loaded gun but the second rule is “never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.” What that means regarding using a light mounted on your firearm to look for family members is left as an exercise for the student.) A “pistol grip” simply makes it easier to handle and keep control of the rifle in such circumstances. Also, a more “compact” design is easier to maneuver down hallways, through doors, and the like.

The attack happens at night? When you fire the muzzle flash blooms in front of you, temporarily blinding you. Who knows what can happen in the couple of seconds it takes your eyesight to recover? A flash suppressor/hider doesn’t actually suppress or hide the flash. It diverts it to the side where it interferes less with your vision allowing you to keep eyes on target allowing you to assess whether the attacker had been stopped or if you need to keep shooting, and if you do need to keep shooting you can aim rather than fire blindly (literally) and trust to luck.

A rifle is easier to aim accurately than any handgun. A centerfire rifle has more stopping power than any handgun.

Now, maybe you’re not the one available to grab the rifle.  Maybe it’s your wife (or husband if you’re a woman reading this–or whatever if you’re in a non-traditional relationship.  I won’t judge) who’s smaller than you (or larger).  Or maybe you sometimes use the rifle out in the cold while wearing heavy, thick clothing and sometimes when its warmer so you don’t have so much heavy clothes on.  A stock that can be adjusted for length helps size the rifle for easy, comfortable, accurate shooting.

Now note what I’ve just described: a compact rifle with a pistol grip, “large” capacity magazine (actually “standard” capacity since that’s what these rifles are designed for), flash hider, adjustable stock, and possibly a rail to which a light can be attached. While there’s no “shoulder thing that goes up” (Carolyn McCarthy can never be sufficiently mocked for that) what I’ve just described is an “assault weapon” per the media and folk like the Brady Campaign. (Not an “assault rifle” as defined by the military since that definition calls for fully automatic capability.)

It also happens to describe the best tool for defending your family against one of the between 4 and 40 thousand home invasions that occur every year.

How many of those 4 to 40 thousand families, many with children, are you willing to sacrifice?

Alternate History Speculation

I have been branching out from my earlier study of economics with a study of the early history of the United States, although from a biographical perspective.  I have been listening to, via audiobook, biographies of various Founding Fathers.  I started with John Adams, then Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and now James Monroe.  The sequence has been perhaps a little bit quirky, partly because biographies of some of the individuals I wanted to learn more about were not available on Audible (RIchard Henry Lee for one).  Mainly, it’s just been whoever struck my fancy at the time.

The biography of Monroe that I’ve been listening to on Audible is proving quite interesting. One of the things I’ve noticed, particularly after listening to one on Patrick Henry is that it would seem that one reason the anti-Federalists believed that without an explicit Bill of Rights the government would assume powers not granted to it by the Constitution is that’s what they not only would, but did do. Both Henry and Monroe assumed powers as Governor of Virginia that they explicitly did not have (the position being mostly ceremonial anyway).

I was also puzzled, in the Monroe biography, by John Adams’ response to Monroe about Monroe’s diplomatic mission to France. It didn’t seem to fit the impression of Adams’ character that I got from his biography. On reflection, this was when Adams was catching heat from all sides–backstabbing from the Federalists (damn you, Hamilton) and vicious attacks from the Democratic-Republicans. I suspect Monroe just caught the fallout from that. OTOH, maybe it’s my estimation of Adams’ character that’s incorrect. After all, each of these books I’ve been listening to has been taking a very “partisan” view in favor of their particular subject individual–which is perhaps better than a “muckrake” but still bias is bias. At this point, it’s hard to tell where the truth lies. Suffice to say that one could recognize them as good men of their time, even if flawed.

But let me put on my writer hat for a moment.  Here’s an alternate History speculation: At one point, after a very heated exchange of words, James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton very nearly come to open violence, a duel.  Aaron Burr, acting as Monroe’s second, manages to make sufficient peace between the two to head off the duel but what if…:

Aaron Burr fails to prevent the duel between Monroe and Hamilton. Hamilton killed years early. (Yay!  You may come to the conclusion that I have little love for Alexander Hamilton.  You may be right.)

Result: Adams easily wins a second term. Federalists remain a significant power in both the House and Senate. Does Jefferson get the Presidency after Adams, just delayed four years?

And then what?