Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Some jargon and a triumph of capitalism

Jargon can be obscurantist at times but can also be useful.  Most trades and occupations have their own jargon as a quick means of communication.  I have been involved with quite a few trades and occupations in my life so am pretty jargon-loaded.  I try to keep it within its own context, however.

An example of jargon occurred recently when I saw a carpenter about to throw out something that had some bolts and nuts in it.  I checked that he really was throwing the nut out and he said he was.  I then unscrewed the nut, took one second's look at it and said: "That's a three eight whitworth".  In reply he agreed that the nut was worth keeping.

So what had I said?  What had my bit of jargon conveyed?  To answer that fully you need to know about Joe Whitworth.  Whitworth was an engineer in mid-19th century Britain.  One of the things he did was make bolts and nuts (he made a good sniper rifle too).  And his bolts and nuts were very good. People found them to be stronger and more accurate. So after a while people wanted to buy Whitworth bolts and nuts only.  So all makers of bolts and nuts had to convert to "Whitworth standard" if they wanted to stay in the business.  And they did.  No government devised the Whitworth standard and no government made people use it but the standard became fixed and a fixed standard was found very useful.  And until other nations caught on it gave British machine-makers an advantage. The French were amazed at how quickly Britain could build gunboats for the Crimean war, for instance.

And America caught on too.  The American "National Coarse" standard is only a slightly modified version of the Whitworth specifications.  You can usually use NC and Whitworth bolts and nuts interchangeably (Yes.  I know about the pesky half-inch size).

But then it gets even more interesting.  Because a Whitworth thread is coarse it is very strong but it is also a bit wobbly for some precision purposes.  So a fine thread was also needed.  Alas!  Mr Whitworth did not bother with that.  So it fell to others to devise fine threads.  And by that time the clammy hand of government was felt.  Governments took it upon themselves to set the standards.  And in true government form they messed it up.  The British fine standard (BSF) and the American fine standard (SAE) are quite different.  No interchangeability any more.  A big part of the advantage of standardizion was lost.

So, to get back to my original story, I was telling the tradesman that the thread in the nut was coarse (Whitworth standard) and that the diameter of the bolt taken by the nut was three eighths of an inch.  I could tell that measurement by eye, as most people in the engineering trades could.


A small silver lining to Thad Cochran's crooked victory in Mississippi

TEA PARTY insurgent Chris McDaniel came tantalizingly close to knocking off Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi's Republican primary runoff last week, but a surge in black voter turnout saved the six-term incumbent's bacon. Cochran's election to a seventh term in November now seems a foregone conclusion, and boy, are a lot of conservatives mad.

"There is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that's decided by liberal Democrats," McDaniel fumed on election night, slamming Cochran and the GOP establishment for "once again reaching across the aisle [and] abandoning the conservative movement."

But whatever else Cochran's victory meant, his "reaching across the aisle" made his victory a noteworthy instance of something that supposedly doesn't and can't happen even in today's Mississippi: A white GOP politician sought support among Democrats, and particularly black Democrats. And far from being politically powerless, they tipped the election.

Under Mississippi's open-primary rules, anyone who hadn't already voted in the Democratic primary could vote in the Republican runoff. The Cochran camp openly solicited crossover support, as John Hayward wrote in Human Events, "through a combination of race-baiting attacks on McDaniel, and touting his ability to make government larger and bring home more goodies from Washington." National Review called it a "Two-Faced Victory": In majority black neighborhoods, Cochran's ads and mailers played up his support for historically black colleges and food stamps. In predominantly white districts, other pamphlets highlighted his support for the National Rifle Association and his opposition to abortion and Obamacare.

What especially outraged many conservatives was a flyer circulated in largely black precincts bearing the ominous heading "The Tea Party intends to prevent blacks from voting on Tuesday." It urged voters to re-elect Cochran in order to prevent a "return to the bygone era of intimidating black Mississippians from voting." No one is surprised when Democrats play the race card that way, Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience, but for the Republican establishment to do so was "really reprehensible."

It was reprehensible. But really: Who over the age of 11 is surprised when incumbents resort to reprehensible tactics to beat back a challenger? Or when voting blocs and politicians who normally wouldn't give each other a second glance across a crowded room choose to snuggle up as bedfellows in order to maintain the power, perks, and pork that they value most? The NAACP's most recent civil rights "report card" gives Cochran an F, but that didn't stop black voters from turning out in force. "With Cochran, we know what we've got, and we like what we've got," the president of the NAACP's Jackson branch announced.

Somehow all the voter intimidation that the Tea Party was accused of plotting never materialized. On the eve of the election, The New York Times fretted that McDaniel's campaign was bent on "Scaring Away Black Voters in Mississippi." But black voters weren't scared. There was no reason they should be. This isn't June 1964, when volunteers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were murdered by the Klan for trying to register black citizens to vote. It is June 2014, when at the faintest whiff of voting-rights discrimination a battalion of civil rights attorneys is ready to march into federal court.

The Supreme Court's 2013 ruling on the Voting Rights Act triggered hysterical fearmongering. But as the Mississippi results confirm, black voting rights in America are in no danger at all.

When the Supreme Court last year struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, critics warned frantically that minority voting rights were in mortal peril. Congressman John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, said the court had "put a dagger in the heart" of what the civil rights movement had achieved. The ruling was "as lamentable as Plessy or Dred Scott," wailed The Atlantic. From the hue and cry, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the court had pronounced Jim Crow-era literacy tests and poll taxes constitutional after all, and advised black voters to forget about ever flexing their electoral muscles again.

Well, don't tell that to McDaniel, who was confident that his bid to knock Cochran off the November ballot had gone from "the improbable to the unstoppable." Instead it was McDaniel who got knocked off. Cochran's appeal to black voters may not have been honorable. It certainly wasn't conservative. But it was indubitably effective: In the 24 Mississippi counties with black majorities, turnout soared by an average of 40 percent from the primary to the runoff. One of the most senior members of the state's Republican establishment just won the fight of his career. What turned the tide was the exercise by black citizens of their right to vote — a right that is no longer endangered anywhere in America, not even in Mississippi.



There’s only one meaningful metric that will determine ObamaCare’s future

Since the end of the initial open enrollment period, there has been a marked rise in the frequency of a certain type of argument – an argument which I hear with regularity inside the Acela corridor, but almost never outside of it. The argument goes something like this: regardless of the political toxicity of Obamacare, it is here to stay, and the laws opponents and Congressional Republicans need to wake up to that fact, or else.

The “or else” could be anything, and is essentially interchangeable. The most common prediction is of electoral doom; less so are predictions of revolutionary protests in the streets, turning to violence in defense of their Medicaid benefits, or losing broad swathes of traditionally red states in the Senate contests this year, or most recently, a prediction that Republicans will lose 90 percent of women voters in 2016. And yes, I’ve heard all of these and more in recent weeks.

This argument has a milder version which is repeated in the more sensible press. These observers concede that yes, Obamacare is still very unpopular, and yes, premiums are still going up, and yes, it’s signed up fewer uninsured than we expected and even those newly insured are barely favorable of it… but still, they insist, talk of repeal and replace is just politicians irresponsibly playing to the more radical elements of their conservative base. Forget the polls – Obamacare is here to stay.

I think this is a mistaken view of the political realities at play here. Perhaps this is driven by the drumbeat of “good news, everyone” which has been put forward by supporters of the law. But in an era when wonks are so plentiful, data journalists fall fully ripened from the trees, and explainers flower with the glorious frequency of endless summer, it’s easy to lose sight of the simplicity of factors which will determine whether policies maintain their permanence or are dramatically reformed.

It’s a mistake to assume there is a magic number, a point of uninsured who gained insurance, a statistic of Medicaid signups, or a percentage of average premium increases which will mark the point where Obamacare is safe from Republican assault. The average American voter and policymaker is not watching these factors – they are aware of Obamacare’s performance primarily through how it impacts their livelihoods, costs, and constituents. The opponents of the law are far louder and more motivated than its supporters. And that is very unlikely to change any time soon.

This is why I do not understand the assumptions of inevitability on the part of the law’s supporters. The Republican Party has put the repeal of President Obama’s signature law at the center of its agenda for years. It has taken repeal vote after repeal vote and made pledge after pledge. As a matter of partisan priority, there is nothing greater. And one more year of Obamacare will not change that.

Every single feasible candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination will loudly declare their support for repealing the law. Most will also offer a policy replacement, culled from the various technocratic and free market think tanks or from the legislation currently introduced in Congress. Whoever Republicans choose as their nominee, their favored replacement will become the de facto alternative Republican plan which party leaders and elected officials will all be expected to defend. And should the Republican candidate win, it is inconceivable that they will not have run on making the replacement of Obamacare a top priority for the first 100 days in office.

Republicans are not going to back off their efforts for repeal. It is a top priority for their national base, for their donors, and for their constituents. If Republicans have the Senate, it becomes that much easier – but even without it, the margin will be narrow, and the possibility for dealmaking outranks the likelihood that every single Democratic Senator will toe the line and pass on the opportunity to help remake health policy as they see fit. And while the election of Hillary Clinton or another Democrat would prevent this circumstance and protect Obamacare from assault, assuming that such an election is inevitable is really what you’re saying when you say Obamacare is here to stay.

The political legacy of Obamacare and the 2012 election is a vindication of monopartisan governance. Great domestic policies are no longer achieved via bipartisan give and take or the leadership of careful compromisers – they are rammed through with the support of your party and your base when you have the power to do so. I fully expect to see Republicans attempt to do that should they retake the White House.

So what are we to do in the time until November 2016? Well, in the meantime, we can discuss the other factors and outcomes of this policy in the ways they impact America’s insurers, hospitals, drugmakers, and industries. But we should not lose sight of the fact that it is this political outcome, and this outcome alone, which will determine whether Obamacare survives or not. It’s just not that complicated.



Harry Reid and Senate Dems Refuse To Actually Legislate

With Democrats scared that they're going to lose the Senate in the November 2014 elections, they've been very hesitant to actually legislate. Doing so would require some of their members to actually take a position on some important issues, and in response to that, they're just grinding everything to a halt.

Well, more than usual.

The Associated Press actually delves into the issue. There's nothing wrong with refusing to legislate - a government that isn't doing anything is a government that isn't doing any bad things - but Democrats often blame Republicans for "blocking legislation."

Here's the AP report:

    "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., now is requiring an elusive 60-vote supermajority to deal with amendments to spending bills, instead of the usual simple majority, a step that makes it much more difficult to put politically sensitive matters into contention. This was a flip from his approach to Obama administration nominees, when he decided most could be moved ahead with a straight majority instead of the 60 votes needed before."

It's not just Harry Reid stopping action on the floor of the Senate. Even in the committee process, Democrats are halting action:

    "In the Appropriations Committee, long accustomed to a freewheeling process, chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has held up action on three spending bills, apparently to head off politically difficult votes on changes to the divisive health care law as well as potential losses to Republicans on amendments such as McConnell's on the coal industry."

While the AP describes this as a new trend, this is pretty par for the course in the Obama era. Harry Reid hasn't allowed Republicans so much as a hint of a say in the legislative process in the Senate. That's just how President Obama likes it, as well.

As the AP writes, the top Democrats that they're trying to protect are Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana). All three of them are considered some of the most vulnerable Dems this November.


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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