Uber Meets Liberalism Uber Alles

There are days when I wonder whether Salon is for real, or whether it’s an elaborate gag, similar to the theory that all of Paul Krugman’s and Tom Friedman’s columns are actually written by a bunch of madcap interns at the Heritage Foundation wondering how long it will take New York Times readers to figure out.

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(Click to embiggen)

We’ve commented here before about how Uber, the app-based car service, is catching on and roiling the comfortable taxi cartels in city after city. A few taxi operators have actually been cleaning up their cars, and giving extra training to their drivers to be more polite and customer friendly. Funny how competition does that sometimes. Of course, Uber is not the only app-based car service start up; Uber is now facing stiff competition from Lyft.

Today Salon outdoes itself with “Why Uber Must Be Stopped.” Be sure to take in the artwork nearby of how they understand the story pictured nearby, but also savor the indignation that Uber and Lyft might stoop to unscrupulous practices to gain a competitive edge over each other:

What is Uber? A paragon of free market efficiency and technological innovation serving the greater convenience and comfort of the general public? Or living proof for why capitalist societies require regulation?

You won’t really have much trouble guessing where Salon comes out on this last question will you? Anyway. . .

. . . if you are inclined to see Uber as the acme of ruthless and amoral profit-seeking, then the latest news on Uber’s “deceptive tactics” is just one more confirmation of how the company will do anything to win. . . There’s little doubt that Uber is the closest thing we’ve got today to the living, breathing essence of unrestrained capitalism. This is like watching Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller in action. This is how robber barons play. From top to bottom, the company flaunts a street-fighter ethos.

Liberals have always been able to go from zero-to-Robber Baron faster than a Porsche can do zero-to-60. And it always ends the same way: Monopoly! We must regulate!

So here’s what’s going to happen. Society is going to realize that power as great as Uber’s needs to be checked. Uber, by virtue of its own success, will demonstrate where the lines need to be drawn for the general good. When Uber is the only game in town, the necessity for comprehensive requirements for commercial insurance and background checks will be obvious. When Uber starts using its logistics clout and unlimited investment capital to go after UPS and Hertz and FedEx, regulators will start wondering about antitrust issues.

Liberalism uber alles! Or at least over Uber!

One weakness of Uber’s business model is that it is easy to replicate, but so are cheap hamburgers, which is why we have lots of fast-food burger chains and we don’t need a Big Mac regulator, and why Uber is unlikely to achieve any kind of durable monopoly position. One way they actually might, however, is if app-based car services become subject to government regulation, in which case the industry will become cartelized for the benefit of incumbent firms. The scholarship on this point, and the empirical evidence behind it, is overwhelming—so overwhelming that you’d think even Salon might get it.

Then, too, we must make the obligatory reference to Schumpeter on how creative destruction is the heart of a dynamic market economy:

But in capitalist reality as distinguished from its textbook picture, it is not that kind of [price] competition which counts but the competition from the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization (the largest-scale unit of control for instance)–competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage and which strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives.

In thinking about the hardball Uber is playing against Lyft, you’d think there’s never been a case of, for example, a Procter and Gamble salesperson browbeating a supermarket chain into filling its shelves exclusively with P&G products, or a movie studio demanding preferred placement in a theater chain, etc.

Or perhaps we might wonder how Salon might have covered other instances of new business models upending the competition. Wonder no more. Here’s how Salon would read if it had been around for the last 100 years:

Why Airplanes Must Be Stopped

These greedy Wright brothers are threatening to upend city-to-city rail service with their dangerous flying contraptions . . . Wait, what? You mean the railroads were the original Robber Barons? Oh, never mind. . .

 

Why Southwest Airlines Must Be Stopped

We can’t allow this Greyhound bus with wings to offer $19 fares from Dallas to San Antonio: what will happen to TWA and Pan Am if this business model catches on?

 

Why Trucks Must Be Stopped

As if airplanes weren’t enough of a threat to railroads, now we have all these truckers hauling cargo all over the place. What’s that? Jimmy Hoffa you say? He says what?—The drivers can be unionized? Oh, never thought of that. . .

 

Why FedEx Must Be Stopped

We can’t allow overnight package delivery by airplane! It will undermine package delivery by truck and the speedy and polite parcel delivery service of the Post Office. . .

 

Why FAX Machines Must Be Stopped

We can’t let people have FAX machines. It will undermine the Post Office’s first class mail delivery.

[The Post Office actually did want to prohibit privately-owned and operated FAX machines.]

 

Why Email Must Be Stopped

We can’t allow email! It will make FAX machines obsolete! And undermine the Post Office’s first class mail.

 

Why Amazon Must Be Stopped

We can’t allow Amazon: it will kill off independent bookstores.

 

Why Salon.com Must Be Stopped

It is lowering the IQ of liberals everywhere. Oh, wait—never mind. Carry on in fact.

Stephen Hunter: Thoughts on Ferguson

We first got to know Stephen Hunter when he was the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post movie critic. He is best known as a successful novelist, and he happens to know a great deal about guns. Sniper’s Honor is his new Bob Lee Swagger novel. Here he offers his reflections on the shooting incident in Ferguson and the media coverage of it. Submitted for your consideration:

So much has been written about the incident at Ferguson, Missouri, that it’s remarkable none of it is of any use. So let’s try something new.

My idea is to look at the shooting as a shooting, not as an avatar of social malaise, a tragedy or an inevitability. Instead, let’s determine what can be learned from the few facts known and considered incontrovertible. I am no expert but I do know a little about this stuff.

SUB-JP-BROWN-2-master495 The four shots that hit Michael Brown in the right arm, according to autopsy drawing provided by Dr. Michael Baden at the insistence of Brown’s own parents, penetrated the outside, leading edge of that limb, just inside the bone. Thus it seems unlikely that those shots, assuming they came directly from in front, could have penetrated the arm at those locations while maintaining a front-to-rear angle.

Try this simple test. Raise your arms. In that position, examine which surface of your arm is vulnerable to frontally incoming gunshots. Clearly, it is the inside, unless you torque your arms inward in order to make the outsides vulnerable to incoming shots, an inconceivable notion. As I see it, Brown’s arms were not up when he was shot, at least four of the six times.

Or let me put it this way. Stand naturally. Place your left forefinger on a spot you determine to equate to one of the wounds. You’ll see that it faces the front. Now, keeping the finger in place, raise the arm. NOW the spot faces the rear and the bullet direction is clearly front to rear.

Next examine the pattern of the four shots. Beginning at the thumb, they are spaced a few inches apart, in a rising line on a rightward bias, essentially climbing the arm. I see this pattern on the handgun range all the time, as do most shooters. It is a consequence of shooting quickly without aiming, a sure signature of a shooter in a panic mode (as when being charged by a much larger assailant) or someone preparing for just such a moment.

This is what happens: the gun, no matter if gripped properly in two hands or improperly in one, rises in recoil in each shot and the shooter brings it back down as he resets the trigger and fires again. But the reset is faster than the full return, so the subsequent shot is fired from a higher location; thus the bullet strikes higher. It is typical of anyone except perhaps a Special Forces professional or a full-time professional competition shooter to produce this pattern on a target when shooting fast and without aim, relying on crude instinctive reflexes instead of technique.

When I look at the shot placement in the Baden sketch, I infer the officer is firing as fast as he can pull the trigger without aiming, but merely pointing; he’s not looking at his sights (crucial to aiming) but at the man oncoming. Thus he sees he’s striking to the left margin of the target (the arm) and makes a gross correction, though he continues to place his shots more highly. His fifth shot hits the eye, the young man drops immediately and is tumbling forward when the sixth shot hits him in the top of the head. The officer was locked into the fast-fire scenario and even if he observed the effect of the fifth shot, he was unable to command his trigger finger to halt before firing the sixth.

Finally, I note that much has been made of the fact that Brown was shot six times, as if that’s somehow relevant. A man shooting in defense of his life, police officer, soldier, or citizen, will shoot until his adversary is down. Many–but not Officer Wilson–will then shoot him a couple of more times on the ground, to make certain. People who think six is “a lot” are not familiar with the speed at which a reasonably trained shooter can fire six times with a semi-automatic pistol. The answer is less than two seconds. I bet I could do it in less than one.

Thus any insistence that Michael Brown was shot with his hands up or an inordinate number of times is simply unsupportable by the known facts. It should not be assumed or repeated in any journalism that considers itself informed and unbiased. One of the saddest aspects of contemporary journalism–I worked on great newspapers for 38 years–is that almost no one on staff knows a single fact about things that go bang in the night. Some can’t tell an earplug from a rubber bullet or a semi-automatic from a full-automatic. Thus reportage on shooting incidents is always woefully flawed by ignorance and the public is ill-served, as in this disgraceful case.

Dweller on the threshold

Van Morrison celebrates his sixty-ninth birthday today. Singer, songwriter and musician, Morrison is an artist who has absorbed all the strains of American popular music and recapitulated them in his own unique voice. Born in Belfast, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the greats in the pantheon of the Cosmic American Music.

Beginning with Astral Weeks in 1968, Morrison experienced a tremendous burst of creative energy that is also reflected on Moondance, His Band and Street Choir, Tupelo Honey and Saint Dominic’s Preview.

“Caravan” is one my favorite songs from this period. The song represents Morrison’s take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” as well as a a salute to radio and to the music that has inspired him. “Caravan” is not only one of the highlights of Moondance, it’s also one of the two songs that Morrison performed with the Band at the Band’s final concert on Thanksgiving in 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Band’s Robbie Robertson had to talk him into the other song he performed that night, a beautiful version of “Tura Lura Lura.”

Martin Scorsese documented Morrison’s performance with the Band on film in The Last Waltz (video above). Morrison overcame a major case of stage fright to steal the show. Greil Marcus covered the show for Rolling Stone. Marcus described Van’s performance:

Van Morrison made his entrance and he turned the show around. I had seen him not many minutes before prowling the balconies, dressed nondescriptly in a shirt and jeans, scowling; but there he was onstage, in an absurd maroon suit and a green top, singing to the rafters. They cut into “Caravan” — with [producer] John Simon waving the Band’s volume up and down, and the horns at their most effective — while Van burned holes in the floor. He was magic, and I thought, Why didn’t he join the Band years ago? More than any other singer, he fit in, his music and theirs made sense together. It was a triumph, and as the song ended Van began to kick his leg into the air out of sheer exuberance, and he kicked his way right offstage like a Rockette. The crowd had given him a fine welcome and they cheered wildly when he left.

Scorsese’s camera caught Van with the barest hint of a smile as he exited stage left. “Hey, Van the Man,” Robbie Robertson exulted.

Van is still going strong. I saw him last when he came through Minneapolis in December 2007. By my lights he remains a riveting, essential and enigmatic artist, live and on disc.

Let’s bring him back for an encore or two. YouTube offers a lot from which to choose, including some complete shows. In the video below, Van performs “I’ve Been Working” backed by a hot, hot band. He even takes a short solo on mouth harp. This is fun.

The video below captures a dramatic 1970 performance of “Cypress Avenue,” live at the Fillmore East. In the video one catches a glimpse of the personal vision that has carried him through his long and productive career.

The College Board: marching the U.S. to the left one history lesson at a time

In this post, I discussed the left-wing ideology behind the College Board’s development of new curriculum for the teaching of AP U.S. History. Here, I want to discuss how left-wing ideology is manifested in the College Board’s “Framework” for the AP U.S. History exam, which you can find here.

One manifestation is, as you would expect from a leftist project, is the downplaying of our Founding. If you read the document quickly, you might miss our constitutional moment altogether.

If you happen to come across it, amidst the constant enumeration of mistreatment of minorities and women, your main takeaway will be that the Constitution botched the issue of slavery. And your main takeaway about the Founding as a whole, aside from its “class” implications, will be that it helped spark the slave uprising in Haiti and the French Revolution.

This is “globalist” American history run amok. It’s also enough to make you wonder whether our Founders should have turned down their invitation to come to Philadelphia.

Things are no better when we examine the Framework’s treatment of 20th century American history. Consider the Progressive Era, about which the Framework states:

Progressive reformers responded to economic instability, social inequality, and political corruption by calling for government intervention in the economy, expanded democracy, greater social justice, and conservation of natural resources.

As Ron Radosh points out, there is no indication that progressive reform may have been instituted by corporate regulators for their own benefit, at the expense of small manufacturers and producers. This view of progressivism, developed by modern scholars, is not acknowledged.

That’s ironic because the College Board claims that it is simply updating the teaching of AP U.S. History to bring it into conformity with the “findings” of current scholarship. I agree with Stanley Kurtz that it’s absurd to characterize ideological spin as the equivalent of recent discoveries in physics or chemistry. But if new “findings” are going to be incorporated, they shouldn’t be confined to those that affirm the liberal narrative.

The Framework also sugar coats the New Deal:

The liberalism of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal drew on earlier progressive ideas and represented a multifaceted approach to both the causes and effects of the Great Depression, using government power to provide relief to the poor, to stimulate recovery, and reform the American economy.

Radical, union and populist movements pushed Roosevelt toward more extensive reforms, even as conservatives in Congress and the Supreme Court sought to limit the New Deal’s scope.

There is no reference to the criticism of the New Deal by historians like Radosh who deny that it stimulated recovery (the U.S. suffered through what was dubbed “the Roosevelt depression”) and who note the corporatist structure of The National Recovery Administration (NRA). Instead, we are told, with apparent approval, that radicals, unions, and populists pushed for more measures to improve life, which conservatives tried to obstruct.

When we get to the Age of Reagan, the College Board transforms itself from cheerleader to cynic. We are told the following, for example:

President Ronald Reagan, who initially rejected détente with increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric, later developed a friendly relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, leading to significant arms reductions by both countries.

Reagan, then, was a flop-flopper at best and a hypocrite at worst. He succeeded in foreign policy only when he adopted the pacific “let’s all get along” approach favored by the left in these matters.

The College Board does not entertain the obvious possibility of a causal relationship between Reagan’s tough initial stand and the improved relationship that ensued when Gorbachev began the process of throwing in the towel.

There’s plenty more in Radosh’s essay, as well as in this analysis by Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars. Radosh concludes:

The newly proposed AP placement test curriculum is part of the New Left’s goal of making “a long march through the existing institutions” that would end with a new radicalized United States, on the road to socialism. By emphasizing hegemony in the sphere of culture, taking their cue from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, they have now moved a further step ahead in that long march.

Is Radosh overeacting? I don’t think so.

Why Renewable Energy Is Hopeless

At Watts Up With That?, Ed Hoskins spotlights the intractable problem with solar and wind power: much of the time, the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. This means that in practice, solar and wind facilities can produce only a small fraction of their nominal capacities. This chart requires a bit of study; for three countries, the U.S., Germany and the U.K., it contrasts the nominal (“nameplate”) capacity of wind and solar facilities with their actual production of energy:

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In each case, the actual energy produced is only a small fraction of the rated capacity. It isn’t hard to understand why this is true:

[T]here is a major problem with these renewable energy sources. Their electrical output is not dispatchable. Their output is entirely unable respond to electricity demand as and when needed. Energy is contributed to the grid in a haphazard manner dependent on the weather, and certainly not necessarily when it is required.

For example solar power inevitably varies according to the time of day, the state of the weather and also of course radically with the seasons. Essentially solar power might only work effectively in Southern latitudes and it certainly does not do well in Northern Europe. In Germany the massive commitment to solar energy might well provide up to ~20% of country wide demand for a few hours on some fine summer days either side of noon, but at the time of maximum power demand on winter evenings solar energy input is necessarily nil.

Electricity generation from wind turbines is equally fickle, as for example in a week in July this year shown above. Similarly an established high pressure zone with little wind over the whole of Northern Europe is a common occurrence in winter months, that is when electricity demand is likely to be at its highest.

Conversely on occasions renewable energy output may be in excess of demand and this has to dumped unproductively. There is still no solution to electrical energy storage on a sufficiently large industrial scale. That is the reason that the word “nominally” is used here in relation to the measured outputs from renewable energy sources.

Wind and solar power are industries that are destined to remain in their infancy, if not forever, then certainly for the indefinite future.

Obama’s (G)Rand Strategy?

There is a decent case to be made that the United States is overextended in the world, or that the United States should not be, as the simpleminded phrase has it, the “world’s policeman.” Even short of that view, we often overestimate our capacities for intervening and controlling events in chaotic places like Libya. I thought Obama was actually correct to stay out of Syria, though if so he should have kept his mouth shut about “red lines,” and a couple of well-placed MOABs on Bashir Assad’s favorite palaces were certainly in order.

Our current and recent commitments have been extremely costly in both blood and treasure, and it is an immutable fact that the American people do not like long military engagements. Any president contemplating what to do overseas has to keep that in mind when he forms strategy and makes commitments.

From a certain point of view Obama’s desire to reduce America’s role or responsibilities is not per se objectionable. Rand Paul, it should be noted, embraces the same idea, and for some of the same reasons. But to realign the world order so as to reduce American responsibility (and costs) requires a serious and long-term grand strategy to replace the United States as the essential pillar of the world order.

It requires someone of the genius of the men who helped Harry Truman knit together the NATO alliance and our Cold War doctrines in the 1940s, or of the capacities of Nixon and Kissinger when they inherited the Vietnam mess and the decayed foreign policy consensus of the late 1960s. It would require the formation of new alliances and regional counterweights to step in forcefully where America no longer wishes to commit. It would require some harsh measures on our part to make certain countries assume more responsibility for policing their neighborhood. It would require making a lot of reluctant countries assume responsibilities they’d rather just slough off to us. It would take a decade or longer for such realignments to take shape and have effect. Ceasing to be “the world’s policeman” will not mean that the world won’t need policing.

Does anyone think Obama or anyone around him is of this far-sighted caliber, or even thinking this way? Hillary Clinton? John Kerry? Valerie Jarrett? Samantha Power? This crew makes Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cy Vance look like Metternich, Castlereagh and Talleyrand by comparison.

Obama proceeds from the leftist assumption that America is the cause of the world’s problems, and that if we withdraw from the world things will improve because all these Third Worlders are so much better than we let them be. Call it foreign policy by guilt.  To the extent Obama has a strategy at all, it is to appease Iran, or possibly his own kind of “Nixon-to-China” moment, i.e., “Only Obama can go to Iran.”  He doesn’t seem to realize that no American can go to Iran.  The opening to China worked because we knew that China viewed the Soviet Union as its main adversary in the world, and as such there was something in it for them as well as us.  But Iran regards the United States as its chief enemy, and none of Obama’s smooth talking will change that.

Nau Cover copyRand Paul proceeds from the formulaic and doctrinaire libertarian assumption that all we need to promote peace and prosperity in the world is lots and lots of free trade.

Obama is a lost cause obviously, but Rand Paul and every other potential Republican candidate for 2016 ought to read Henry Nau’s book Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy Under Jefferson, Polk, Truman and Reagan. I think Nau lays out precisely how you’d go about forming a grand strategy along the lines suggested above.

An excerpt from the introduction:

Today in foreign policy literature and public discourse, conservative internationalism does not exist. Liberal thinking dominates the internationalist tradition, and conservative thinking has been classified historically as either nationalist or realist. More recently, liberal critics have tried to conflate conservative foreign policy with neoconservatives (neocons) and George W. Bush. But important tenets of conservative internationalism, such as small government, limited priorities, and armed diplomacy to achieve timely compromise, not unconditional surrender, are not synonymous with neoconservatism; and despite his liberal internationalist rhetoric, George W. Bush has the instincts of a nationalist and realist, not a neocon. His freedom agenda did not exist before the 9/11 attacks, and that agenda was undermined after 9/11 chiefly by his nationalist focus on victory and realist aversion to nation-building.

Rams cut Michael Sam

The St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam today, as they trimmed their roster to the limit of 53 players. Sam is bidding to become the first man to play in the NFL while openly gay.

Despite being cut, Sam’s chances to play in the NFL remain decent, I think. Sam showed plenty of ability during the pre-season. In one game, he sacked Johnny Manziel (known, for some reason, as “Johnny Football”) twice. This was nothing new for Sam. He sacked Manziel as a junior and as a senior in college.

Why didn’t Sam make the team? Not, as far as I can tell, because of anything having to do with his sexual orientation.

Sam’s problem was that an undrafted free agent named Ethan Westbrooks came out of nowhere and had a fine training camp/pre-season at defensive end (Sam’s position). The Rams are stacked at defensive end, so the last slot was always likely to go to the player who performed best on special teams. That player turned out to be Westbrooks.

In all likelihood, the Rams will place Sam on their practice squad next week unless another team claims him for its 53 man roster. As the name suggests, members of practice squads practice with the team as if they were part of the regular roster. However, they can’t play in games unless they are elevated to the regular roster.

Typically, players are elevated if there’s an injury at their position or if someone on the regular squad performs poorly. Meanwhile, other teams can claim practice squad members at any time.

All-in-all, I’d say that Sam’s prospects of eventually making a 53 man roster and getting on the field in a regular NFL game are pretty good if he keeps working hard.