URLs du Jour

2022-02-28

  • We're feckless. Totally without feck. Niall Ferguson does not mince words about the guy in charge of our foreign policy: Biden betrayed the Afghans to the Taliban. Now, he's thrown Ukraine to the wolves.

    Last year, Biden abandoned the people of Afghanistan to the Taliban. This year it is the turn of the people of Ukraine to be thrown to the wolves.

    There was never the remotest chance that the threat of sanctions would deter Putin from invading.

    It didn’t help when Biden seemed to suggest he wouldn’t necessarily penalise a ‘minor’ incursion.

    The only thing that would have made Putin think twice was the presence in Ukraine of significant military hardware, but the Biden administration slowed deliveries of arms to Kyiv.

    Last year, it removed sanctions on companies building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, designed by Russia and Germany to bypass Ukraine. What’s more, Biden discovered that China and Russia are hand in glove after he tried to get President Xi Jinping to dissuade Putin from invading Ukraine.

    The naivety would beggar belief if Biden was not manifestly in his second childhood.

    Well, at least we here in New Hampshire won't have to buy any Russian vodka. For a while.


  • Especially the Road to Serfdom. Christian Britschgi wonders (in print Reason): Who Will Pay for the Roads? Apparently not the people who use them.

    The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November, shifts federal highway policy further away from the free market model of "user pays, user benefits" by requiring taxpayers to cough up more money for socialized roads.

    The infrastructure law, supported by legislators of both major parties, allocates about $54 billion a year to federally subsidized highways, which account for a quarter of all public roads in the U.S. That's an increase from the roughly $45 billion included in the last highway bill. All told, the law authorizes $110 billion in new spending on roads and bridges.

    Where will all that money come from? Not from road users, at least not directly.

    Britschgi notes that for an administration allegedly concerned with "equity", shoving costs onto general taxpayers for a specialized service is … well, inequitable.


  • She's not good, but what did you expeect? Kevin D. WIlliamson says why he's Against Judge Jackson. We have to skip down a bit (in an NRPlus article, sigh), but here it is:

    Judge Jackson is well qualified for the position, judged by her résumé and by the fact that she has spent eight years on the federal bench (though less than a year in her current position on the Court of Appeals) without exhibiting any obvious misbehavior — except in one thing: She does not believe in the rule of law.

    And that should be — should be — disqualifying.

    Judge Jackson isn’t any worse than the justice she is replacing and very likely would be better than whoever is next on Joe Biden’s list, but, as a matter of principle, she should be opposed.

    Justice [Clarnce] Thomas is often — and dishonestly — described as a conservative justice or a right-wing justice. But what Justice Thomas actually is, is a textualist justice, which is a fancy way of saying that he is someone who believes that we write our laws down for a reason and that judges — including the highest judges in the land — are obliged to follow what the law actually says, rather than what they wish it said, what they think it should say, or their own idiosyncratic sense of fairness or morality. We call them “justices,” but they are not in the justice business — they are in the law business. And if achieving justice requires a change in the law, then the people must elect new lawmakers to make that change.

    Court-packing is a lousy idea, but if it could be packed with Clarence Thomas clones…


  • Number one on the hit parade… Geek Press features Mathematical Objects which reproduces this Metafilter post.

    That "in order by popularity" list is kind of a hoot. I bet you can guess number one without looking. But I was surprised at the strong showing of Euler's constant.

The Great Leveler

Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I put this on my to-be-read list awhile back, and (as usual) I can't remember exactly why. I should keep notes about that. It does have a couple of favorable back-cover blurbs from Steven Pinker and Tyler Cowen, so I may have been influenced that way.

Reader beware: this is a weighty book of serious historical scholarship, and the discussion is highly technical and detailed in spots. I went into "look at every page" mode in a more than a few spots.

The author, Walter Scheidel, has done a diligent job of tracking down the economic history of inequality (both income and wealth varieties). Specifically, his purpose here is to examine the methods by which inequality decreases. And his primary lesson here is that such methods are easily summarized and all unpleasant; he calls them the Four Horsemen.

The first is modern mass-mobilization warfare. It kills a lot of people, inherent to its bloody nature. And destroys property. It needs to be funded, too, and the participating governments need to divert piles of wealth and resources to building war machinery.

The second is violent revolution, which often targets the wealthy. If they're lucky, by mere expropriation; if they're unlucky, by getting killed (and then expropriation). The prime examples are the Communist varieties, of course.

The third horseman: "state failure", where a government simply falls over its own feet. A modern example is Somalia, but Scheidel describes some older examples too: the Roman Empire, ancient Egypt, and "the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia".

And finally, the fourth horseman is pandemic. (The book predates Covid, but our recent experience certainly provides context to the discussion.) Pandemics kill a lot of people (duh). But (as a result) labor goes into short supply, and laborers (hence) are able to demand increased wages. (Usually to the consternation of their elite employers; Scheidel provides a number of examples of early, largely ineffective, efforts at wage control by decree.)

Now, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But for those folks who think economic inequality is a Major Problem That Must Be Solved, Scheidel paints a very gloomy picture; effective measures are often violent, increase general immiseration, and there are no examples of them working in the long term.

Scheidel seems sympathetic to the goal of reducing inequality; I'm convinced it's not that worthy. He mentions the work of Thomas Piketty a lot, and seems uncritical. (As a philosophical matter, I'm convinced by Harry Frankfurt's analysis in On Inequarlity.)

So I wish Scheidel had gone more deeply into the mechanisms of increasing inequality just as much as he looked at its decrease. One cause is obvious: the evolution of states out of ancient protection rackets. That's alluded to, but it's pretty superficial. In the modern US, there's plenty of that good old "crony capitalism", but a lot of wealth/income accumulation is due to (horrors) people doing a good job at providing goods and services that a lot of other people want to buy. Today's Sanders/Warren populists want to stir up resentment against that, but I'm OK with it.

On a related note, I'd like very much to have seen reference to Deirdre McCloskey's work on the "Great Enrichment". (I'd also like to see McCloskey's reaction to this book, but if she had one, I can't find it.)


Last Modified 2022-03-01 11:06 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-27

  • You know who else liked show trials? George F. Will notes a problem with current judicial practice: Ahmaud Arbery’s racist killers are grotesque, but their ‘hate crimes’ prosecution was a show trial. Those murderers were already sentenced to life in prison. The federal 'hate crime' charge added on… more life in prison. That'll show 'em.

    So, the government can conduct trials for the purpose of virtue signaling — to announce, however redundantly, that it condemns particular frames of mind. A bigot’s shabby mental furniture is, however, not a crime. Were it, what other mentalities might government decide to stigmatize by imposing special punishments? Arbery’s killers had expressed their racism in speech (texts, social media posts, remarks) that no jurisdiction can proscribe. But their federal punishment will be imposed precisely because their speech demonstrated their bigotry.

    Proving the intent behind a criminal act is crucial. And no principle should prohibit ever making punishment proportional to the motive for a criminal act. However, deciding that an actor’s heinous behavior is made more heinous because they had a bad attitude is dangerous. It is one thing for the law to hold individuals responsible for controlling their minds, which presumably control their bodies. It is quite another thing for government to inventory an individual’s mind for the purpose of declaring how admirable the government’s mind is, and perhaps by doing so to improve the public’s mind.

    [Today's Getty image is of the 1938 "Trial of the Twenty-One", back in the USSR, Stalin's effort to get rid of the remaining Old Bolsheviks. 18 of the 21 were immediately shot; 3 were sent to the Gulag and "extrajudicially executed" a few years later.]


  • Maybe a correction. The WaPo suggests I might have been too hasty about the fate of those Snake Island soldiers: Ukrainian officials say border guards may have survived apparent last stand on Snake Island

    Ukrainian border guards who insulted Russian forces this week in a recorded exchange that went viral may not have been killed, Ukrainian officials said Saturday, contradicting an earlier claim by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

    Their bravery is unquestioned; surprisingly, the invading Russians might not have been as murderous as previously thought.


  • Well, hooray! Oops, wait a minute. Christian Britschgi reports the good news at Reason: The CDC Says Most Americans Can Take Their Masks Off

    On Friday, the public health agency released a new COVID Community Levels tool that measures the severity of the pandemic by COVID's burden on the hospital system, rather than the number of cases. That change in measurement means the CDC is now classifying about 70 percent of counties in the country at low or medium threat of COVID. In those areas, the agency is no longer recommending people wear a mask indoors.

    These new guidelines don't change the requirements that people wear masks on well-ventilated airplanes or near-empty buses and subways. The agency is still also recommending that people, including school children in K-12 schools, wear masks indoors in the 30 percent of counties where the risk of COVID-19 is ranked as high.

    Guess what, though? Those 70% percent of counties? They don't include mine (Strafford County, New Hampshire).

    Amusingly, one of the only places I go where masks are still required is the Portsmouth Public Library, in Rockingham County where the threat is "medium". The city dropped its indoor-masking requirement a couple weeks ago, except for the library. Grr.


  • For an even more cynical (probably accurate) take… here's Philip Klein at National Review: CDC Discovers New Masking Science Right in Time for Biden’s State of the Union.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had been stubbornly refusing to revisit its nonsensical masking guidance long after most states had abandoned it, magically discovered new science just days before a desperate President Biden is set to give his State of the Union address.

    Not only was this predictable, but it was predicted by me in this space a few weeks ago. While the CDC would no doubt argue that the situation is better now and so it supports more de-masking, NBC had previously reported that the White House was pressuring the CDC to offer new guidance ahead of the speech. With the crisis unfolding in Ukraine on top of Biden’s mounting political problems, he was desperate to be able to cling to something.

    Klein notes that the new guidelines are just as arbitrary as the old guidelines, and there's "no strong evidence" that indoor-masking mandates are linked with decreased hospitalization rates. But you can get the CDC's details here.

    As near as I can tell from that site, and the numbers at the CDC Data Tracker, we should be "medium" pretty soon.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-26

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • You want to know what I hate? I hate at least two things about this Unherd headline from Park MacDougald: "How Twitter forced us to hate".

    1. Twitter is in no position to "force" us to do anything.
    2. "Us"? I seriously doubt that MacDougald includes himself with the haters.

    But let's see if there's anything worthwhile below the headline:

    It is hard not to be cynical about “the media” these days, especially if you work in it. Spend any significant amount of time reading newspapers and magazines, watching cable news, or following discussions on Twitter, and you notice that a great deal of what is written and broadcast has a drearily predictable quality. Indeed, discrete events seem almost irrelevant except insofar as they can be slotted into pre-existing storylines.

    Take the debates surrounding the trucker protests in Ottawa. The mainstream press, by and large, has attempted to assimilate the protests into categories familiar from the Trump years.

    According to Politico, “far-Right” truckers, some of them sporting “Confederate and Nazi flags”, have “wreaked havoc on Canadian cities”. In the Guardian, one writer warned that the “siege of Ottawa” was an “astroturfed movement funded by a global network of highly organised far-Right groups and amplified by Facebook’s misinformation machine.” Slate, after dropping the trigger words “militia”, “hate”, “extremist”, and “Nazi”, called the protests an “armed occupation of a G-7 capital”. All linked the truckers with the domestic threat posed by Fox News, the Republican Party, and the American far-Right.

    Critics of the establishment have responded with their own counter-narrative, aimed at portraying the truckers in a sympathetic light while focusing attention on the tyrannical response of the Canadian government. After Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergency Powers Act, Tucker Carlson labelled Canada a “dictatorship” and warned that similar measures would soon be coming to the United States. Over the weekend, as Ottawa police attempted to clear the city centre, Twitter was filled with viral videos of police violence against the protestors, juxtaposed with old quotes from progressive leaders praising the BLM protests of summer 2020, intended to highlight their hypocrisy.

    These narratives have a recognisable logic, which holds whether the underlying event is the truckers or the Capitol riot. They are tribal, pitting a virtuous “us” against a malevolent “them”. They are curated to provoke fear of, and rage against, the out-group, often through “empathic triggers” that highlight aggression against the in-group. They are also, in a loose sense, conspiratorial, running together phenomena that have no logical connection except within the pattern of the narrative.

    I don't disagree with MacDougald's description of the symptoms. Hanging the blame on "social media" (not just Twitter, it turns out) is misguided. Viewing the participants in tribalistic warfare as weak minded, easily swayed puppets is just wrong.


  • I'm in no mood to be reasonable about this. But at the Dispatch, Timothy Sandefur makes an utterly reasonable demand: Open the Books on Critical Race Theory

    It’s no surprise that parents are outraged at public schools teaching “critical race theory” (CRT)—or whatever term one prefers for the fashionable notions that America is systemically racist and that the solution is to treat people differently based on skin color. Taxpayers, after all, typically expect the schools they pay for to teach kids history, science, literature, and math—not to indoctrinate them into false and destructive political dogmas.

    Many school bureaucrats deny that these notions are being taught in classrooms, but they are. Former teacher Kali Fontanilla—to cite just one example—recently revealed how schools in her home state of California are “hyper race-focused,” with social science classes centered around teaching that “America was built to only help the white man.” Curricula rooted in CRT dispense with historical facts, and aim instead at instructing black students that capitalism, private property rights, the constitutional rule of law, and other elements of American democracy are inherently biased against them, so that nothing short of a radical overhaul of government and culture can enable them to succeed. White students, on the other hand, are taught that whatever success their families have attained is merely a consequence of undeserved “privilege,” for which they must atone. (As for Asian students, they’re effectively ignored.)

    `

    The problem, as Sandefur notes, is that large swaths of the government school establishment believe that it's their job "to rescue kids from their own parents."

    Making the curricula/syllabi available to parents (and taxpayers) would help shine a light on what's being pushed at the kiddos. That's what Sandefur pushes for, more power to him.

    I'm still holding to my more radical (and totally unachievable) position: repeal compulsory schooling laws.


  • On another front in the ongoing struggle… Stanley Kurtz takes to the New York Times to recount The Battle for the Soul of the Library.

    Recent news stories covering clashes over what books students should read in class and have access to in their school libraries have overlooked a major player in our unfolding scholastic drama. We’ve been reading about traditionalist parents, progressive teachers and politicians of various stripes. Missing, however, has been the figure of the woke librarian.

    What in the world is a woke librarian? After all, through venerable proclamations like the Library Bill of Rights, America’s librarians have long pledged to “provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.” The declaration adds, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” This professional stance is known as “neutrality.”

    By vowing ideological neutrality in the provision of knowledge, librarians ideally enable readers to develop opinions based on broad consideration of the available alternatives. In contrast, librarians who allow their personal politics to control or curtail the provision of information violate neutrality and betray the public trust. A woke librarian, then, is a contradiction in terms.

    Contradiction or not, woke librarians — by which I mean librarians who see it as their duty to promote progressive views on race, policing, sexuality and other issues — are everywhere. Yet the Library Bill of Rights has it right: The library should remain sacred ground — a neutral sphere above the fray — precisely because libraries leaven and inform the fray itself.

    This is why I continue to harp on a couple of local examples:

    • The Portsmouth Public Library published (at taxpayer expense) an "Anti-Racism Zine", 100% woke advocacy.

      (To PPL's credit, however, they do a pretty good job of "ideological neutrality" on the bookshelves.)

    • The University Near Here's Library does its part by hosting its Racial Justice Resources page. Also 100% one-sided woke advocacy. No heretics like John McWhorter or Thomas Sowell allowed!

    These are the two libraries I'm most familiar with; needless to say, they could do a better job of pretending to follow the ideological neutrality recommended by Kurtz.


  • Tsk. NHJournal's Michael Graham reports on NH's Senator Maggie: Hassan Took Campaign Cash From Lobbyist for Chinese Tech Giant Tied to Iran, North Korea. His article is based on a National Review story Senate Democrats Rail against Corporate Influence While Accepting Piles of Tainted Cash. Whoa.

    Quoting from the latter (NRPlus) article:

    […] New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan has frequently returned to denouncing the corrupting influence of money in politics as a campaign strategy. In 2016, Hassan attacked her opponent, incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte, asserting that Ayotte is “bought & paid for by corporate special interests.” Fast-forward five years and Hassan has not dropped the rhetoric — she’s a supporter of the “For the People” Act, which she claimed would stop “corporate special interests that dictate our elections — but she’s happy to continue to let them dictate hers for now.

    In 2021, Hassan accepted $429,150 in contributions directly from Amazon, BlackRock, Intel, Deloitte, Barclays, Nike, and other corporate PACs, and an additional $264,000 through the same loophole Warnock took advantage of. Hassan was similarly at peace with hauling in $522,138 and $77,250 in corporate executives’ and corporate lobbyists’ money, respectively. Notably, Hassan had no issues taking $1,500 from current and former lobbyists for ZTE: A Chinese technology company that’s been fined for exporting U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea and has been designated a national-security threat by the Federal Communications Commission.

    Gee, I was gonna vote for Maggie, but now…

    Just kidding. I was never going to vote for Maggie.


  • But do Republicans deserve to win? Daniel Henninger takes an uncontroversial stance: Democrats Deserve to Lose the Midterm Elections.

    No one has more reason to be shocked by the results of last week’s San Francisco recall election than the three school-board members whom voters threw over the side. The vote totals to kick them off the progressive island were 72%, 75% and 79%.

    Commentaries by Democrats are now emerging to argue the party will be wiped out in November’s midterm elections unless its candidates distance themselves from the progressives. As a long-ago boss of mine might have said as he prowled the loading dock: These Democrats are a day late and a dollar short.

    With readers’ indulgence, I’d like to play the devil’s advocate for the three card-carrying San Francisco progressives. Across the whole landscape of American politics the past five years and more, what evidence has there been that influential Democrats were willing to break with the party’s left? Nearly none.

    A Democrat wipeout in November would be nice. We'd have at least a couple years of gridlock.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-25

  • Apt pictoral comment… from Mr. Ramirez

    [Good Men]

    … and for that matter, incompetent men to behave incompently, cowards to behave cowardly,… I'm no expert, but you don't have to be one to notice that.


  • Impressive. Politico's headline goes up against our PG-13 content target, but: ‘Go fuck yourself,’ Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island tell Russian ship before being killed

    Russian forces have killed all the soldiers who were defending Zmiinyi Island, also known as Snake Island, located in the Black Sea.

    In a final display of defiance, a Ukrainian soldier told the warship that came to attack them: “Go fuck yourself.”

    I hope that courage wasn't in vain. But enough about Ukraine today; as I've repeatedly pointed out, I don't even have dilettante-level competence to comment on foreign policy or military matters.


  • Calling a spade a spade, and a tyrant… well, let's not be judgmental. Jonah Goldberg takes a look at a recent essay Yada Yada-ing Tyranny.

    Imagine I wrote a lengthy essay, with lots of footnotes, numbers, and interesting historical anecdotes, about the German economy from, say, 1932 to 1945. In it I’d make the case that German economic policies alleviated German poverty and improved infrastructure—gotta love that Autobahn!—and I’d argue Germany’s enlightened corporatist approach to industrial policy ensured full employment and real wage growth.

    It wouldn’t be hard to write such an essay. Such a case can be made, particularly if you’re not fastidious about cherry picking your data and examples.

    Now imagine you wrote that whole essay without once mentioning the Holocaust, slave labor, or Nazi expansionism. Call me crazy, but you might be open to the charge of missing the forest for the trees. Some might even accuse you of moral obtuseness—or worse.

    I bring up this hypothetical because over at American Affairs, Arnaud Bertrand, a businessman living in China, has written a lengthy essay extolling China’s economic success story, “How China Defeated Poverty.” And, frankly, I find it an atrocious whitewash.

    Details at the link, including the essay's recommendations from nationalist "conservatives" Sohrab Ahmari and Adrian Vermuele.


  • So let's have a chuckle. Eric Boehm notes the latest attempt at fiscal sanity: Hey, Nancy Pelosi: 'National Debt Should Be a Top Priority'

    Ahead of the annual congressional scramble to piece together a federal budget—a process that will begin in earnest after President Joe Biden's state of the union address next week—a bipartisan group of lawmakers are asking a question that's rarely part of the proceedings these days.

    How are we actually going to pay for all this?

    In a letter sent on Tuesday, 24 members of the House of Representatives called on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) to take some small but important steps to rein in America's out-of-control national debt. The letter highlights the fact that policies enacted during the past five years—including pandemic relief, but also "Congress' perennially broken budget process and fiscal policies"—have added $13 trillion to the projected levels of debt in 2031, at the end of the 10-year window Congress uses for budgeting.

    So I clicked over on that link to discover… Hey, one of those 24 CongressCritters was mine: Chris Pappas, NH-01!

    But the funny part is that Pappas has (so far) voted for every spendapalooza bill that's come his way since going to DC in 2019, including Build Back Better. Like many Democrat House members, his record of voting the way Biden wants is 100%.

    Having him plead for fiscal sanity now… well, it reminds me of the classic definition of chutzpah: when you murder your parents, then plead for mercy because you're an orphan.

    It looks as if he's being redistricted out of my town. It's a shame; I would have really liked to vote against him one more time..


  • "But waste was of the essence of the scheme." We looked at the (inevitable) fraud accompanying the spending which Chris Pappas enthusiastically supported yesterday. Now let's check out some waste, euphemistically described by the Cato headline: Protectionist Buy America Requirements Undermine Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Goals.

    Last November President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), a $1.2 trillion bill that the White House claims will produce benefits ranging from clean drinking water to enhanced broadband. What’s quickly becoming apparent, however, is that the IIJA’s ability to deliver such improvements is being undermined by protectionist measures included in the legislation.

    Buried within the IIJA—on page 866 of the 1,039-page bill—is the Build America, Buy America Act (BABA) which, as the name implies, imposes protectionist “Buy America” mandates requiring the use of U.S.-made products and materials. While such requirements have long been a costly feature of federal infrastructure spending, the BABA significantly increases their bite. Traditionally limited to transportation and water‐​related projects, the BABA expands the spectrum of public works subject to such protectionism to include projects such as dams, buildings, and electrical transmission facilities.

    [Classical headline reference.]


  • Whoa, didn't see that coming. I subscribe, expensively, to the print Wall Street Journal, because it's probably the least biased mainstream paper. And I like their editorial section. And their puzzles. But this news article in today's paper is a laugher: Inflation Threatens to Erode Impact of $1 Trillion Infrastructure Law

    Rising prices and snarled supply chains are poised to blunt the impact of the $1 trillion infrastructure law Congress passed with bipartisan support last year.

    How many roads, bridges, railways, fiber optic lines and other types of infrastructure the U.S. can build or fix under the law—a central accomplishment of President Biden’s that experts say is a generational investment—will largely hinge on the extent of increases in everything from the cost of diesel fuel to workers’ wages.

    Elevated costs for materials and labor are already pushing contractors to charge more for construction projects, government data show, increases that economists and industry officials say could reduce the number of infrastructure projects the new federal money can finance. State and local officials facing higher prices may give priority to easier, less ambitious projects, and some worry that a rush of government spending could exacerbate inflation in the industry.

    I love that citation of credulous "experts".

    But I love even more that "some worry" part at the end. You mean some people out there might realize that dumping a trillion of "free" money into "projects" might just drive up prices for scarce resources those projects require?

    I don't expect the editorial side of the paper will treat this chowderheaded article with the disrespect it deserves, but maybe we'll get a very diplomatic rebuttal.


  • Going together like chicken and waffles. The Antiplanner looks at something that seems to surprise even him: A New Level of Transit Incompetence. He discusses the ludicrously expensive efforts to expand BART out in the Santa Clara Valley, but I found this addon interesting too:

    […] the Twin Cities Metro Transit admitted that there would be huge cost overruns for the Southwest light-rail line that it is building to the wealthy suburb of Eden Prairie, and that the line could be delayed by four years. According to media reports, “original cost” for the project “was around $2 billion,” but the media has a short memory. In fact, back in 2011, the projected cost was just $1.25 billion, which means the current estimate of $2.75 billion is, after adjusting for inflation, around a 100 percent cost overrun.

    Incidentally, this is the line for which the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council introduced the concept of “regional transit equity.” At the same time as it proposed to spend well over a billion dollars to build a light-rail line to a wealthy suburb, it would also spend $3 million building around 200 bus shelters in poor neighborhoods in the region. $15,000 bus shelters for the poor; multi-billion-dollar trains for the rich: That’s social justice!

    Let them eat bus shelters!

    Also discussed: transit projects in Maryland and Hawaii, all examples of overpromising, under-delivering, and (above all) waste.

    Thanks to Chris Pappas, among others.


  • I can occasionally make an on-target observation. So we were finishing up watching the Amazon miniseries "Reacher", and as the bloke playing Reacher entered a diner in one of the final scenes, he avoided a gent going out. And I said the Mrs. Salad, hey, I think that was Lee Child!"

    Yay, me. According to IMDB, it was.


Last Modified 2022-03-02 6:25 AM EDT

The Spirit of Manchester

Remembrances of Life in Small Town South Dakota

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

In 1961, when I was 10 years old, my family moved to suburban Omaha, Nebraska. Soon afterward, Gary and Judy Marx moved in next door with their young son John. Their even younger son Daniel showed up a little bit later. Gary was an on-air personality at WOW radio (590AM); he had a deep confident voice perfect for radio of the day. (My own tastes were for KOIL, up at 1290 on the dial, the local top 40 station.)

They were great neighbors, deeply involved in community projects. Eventually we moved on. I went to college in California, my sister to Iowa State, and my mom moved to her old home town in Iowa after my dad died in 1972. Gary's talents and interests career took him on an American-dream path, best summed up by his Amazon author page. We remained Christmas-card acquaintances, with me reading in awe of their travels and careers.

Gary died in 2019, and this is his final book, given to my sister by Judy, passed along to me. It's the story of Gary's early life in Manchester, South Dakota, a very small town in central South Dakota, on US 14. If you were driving from Chicago to Yellowstone or the Black Hills before they built I-90, you probably went through, and may not have noticed it if you blinked.

The book includes a lot of stories about his family and upbringing, intertwining with the history of Manchester and environs. There's a lot to tell, and Gary paints a rich and detailed picture of life in the middle of South Dakota in the 1930s, 40s, and early 50s. These folks survived the Depression, the Dust Bowl, WWII, and did so with grit and humor.

There's not much left of Manchester except memories; it was fading even when the Marx family lived there. Gary was admonished to "watch out for wells and cisterns" while wandering through town, those left behind when houses and buildingss were razed. But a vicious F4 tornado in 2003 was the coup de grâce obliterating the town. Nobody was killed, but the few remaining inhabitants moved away. What's left is a monument, erected in 2017. (Pictured here, that's Gary and Judy on the left.)

How to Find Your Way in the Dark

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Another book plucked from the NYT list of The Best Mystery Novels of 2021. And, by coincidence, the third book this year set around World War II. The subject(s) listed in my library's catalog:

Murder -- Fiction | Stand-up comedy -- Fiction | Orphans -- Fiction | Antisemitism -- Fiction | Jews -- Fiction | Revenge -- Fiction | Hartford (Conn.) -- Fiction
A little out of order, but that could be a pretty good plot summary right there.

It begins in 1938, with 12-year-old Sheldon Horowitz returning with his father to their home in Massachusetts. They've been to Hartford for a memorial ceremony for Sheldon's dead mother, who perished with her sister in a movie theater fire. To add on to the dreadfulness, their truck is forced off the road by a malevolent stranger, and Sheldon's father is killed.

Orphaned Sheldon is stunned, and vows revenge. He's taken in by his widowed Uncle Nate, who has two older kids, Abe and Mirabelle. Nate works at the Colt Armory in Hartford, where he's being tasked by the manager to figure out how a few manufactured weapons are going astray. This winds up complicating Sheldon's quest quite a bit. Abe and Mirabelle have their roles to play as well, with their paths interacting with Sheldon's, and taking surprising, occasionally shocking, turns.

In fact, their stories take years to tell, going through World War II. A dizzying array of plot twists, including a sojourn to the famed Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel, where Sheldon and his buddy, Lenny Bernstein (but not that Lenny Bernstein) seek their futures.

That just scratches the surface. Sheldon is a tremendously likeable main character, full of guile, intelligence, and a surprising amount of wit for a kid. In fact, for a book with so much tragedy and death, there's also a considerable amount of comedy. It somehow works very well.


Last Modified 2022-02-27 4:09 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-24

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • When your friends go crazy. S. E. Cupp writes the epitaph at the New York Daily News: Conservatism is over. ‘Conservatives’ admit it. Well, darn my socks.

    It's about the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, starting today, going through Sunday down in Orlando. S. E. used to go, but now…

    Conservatism and the principles and philosophies that underpin it slowly disappeared along the way, co-opted and then fully replaced by Trumpism — defined loosely as: whatever Trump said last.

    That made CPAC, a conference about conservatism, a bit awkward. Not just because Trump and not conservatism took center stage, but because conservatism was nowhere to be found on the agenda.

    [… ]

    It seems as though the right may finally be starting to drop the charade. This weekend, ACU chairman Matt Schlapp confessed to Steve Bannon, “The conservative movement, which I don’t use, I call it the American movement, ‘cause that’s all it is, we are no longer conservatives, we are Americans who love our founding.”

    To put that statement in sharp relief: The chairman of the American CONSERVATIVE Union, who runs the CONSERVATIVE Political Action Conference, whose website states boldly, “We define conservatism,” and whose group calls itself the nation’s “oldest conservative grassroots organization,” and who rates lawmakers on scales of liberal-to-conservative, and who tells supporters to sign up for “conservatism in your inbox,” and “Join the conservative fight,” says “we are no longer conservatives.”

    Listen, you’ll get no argument here. But this is a breathtaking admission, that in order to service the overweening ego of Donald Trump and satisfy his rabid and impressionable voters, the once-leading conservative organization is simply jettisoning the conservatism.

    Well, that's disappointing.


  • Sure, go ahead and make me feel worse about paying my taxes. David Boaz brings our attention to The Inevitability of Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Trillion-Dollar Spending Programs.

    Now we are embarked on a much larger government spending program. Tony Romm of the Washington Post points out, “Totaling nearly $6 trillion [over two years], the loans, grants, direct checks and other emergency assistance summed to more than the entire federal budget in the fiscal year before the coronavirus arrived.” How’s it going? Well …

    In Stamford, Conn., a 46‐​year‐​old resident pleaded guilty after putting a portion of $4 million in coronavirus aid toward the purchase of a Porsche. And a Mercedes. And a BMW.

    In Somerset, N.J., a 51‐​year‐​old woman allegedly invented employees, inflated wages and fabricated entire tax filings to collect $1 million in loans.

    And in St. Petersburg, Fla., a federal judge sentenced to prison a 63‐​year‐​old man who obtained $800,000 on behalf of businesses that did not exist.

    Hundreds of such cases have been reported. “And the aid continues to be a ripe target for criminals nationwide, the full extent of which is only beginning to come to light.” Gene Sperling, President Biden’s chief coordinator for stimulus spending, says that “immense fraud” is the administration’s biggest oversight challenge.

    And these are just the people they caught.


  • "I'm sorry, sir. We are not following the science on this flight." Jacob Sullum announces that your in-flight movie will be Gaslight: Flight Attendant Unions Want Passengers To Wear Masks Forever

    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to require face masks in airports and on airplanes even as Democratic governors across the country are lifting mask mandates for indoor settings where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is much higher. And while that federal mandate is scheduled to expire on March 18, flight attendant unions want the TSA to extend it.

    That position is unsurprising in the sense that the unions have always strongly supported the TSA mandate, which was first imposed more than a year ago. But it makes little sense given the weak justification for the mask rule and its adverse impact on flight attendants.

    Jacob notes that the flight attendants' "enthusiasm for hygiene theater is of a piece with its enthusiasm for security theater."


  • One more member of the Peej Appreceiation Society. It's John Tamny: P.J. O’Rourke Taught Me How ‘Unfairly’ Great American Life Is.

    [I]in a Cato speech roughly twelve years ago he talked about how he would respond to his daughter when she told him something was “unfair.” O’Rourke would say “You’re very cute. That’s not fair. You’re fairly well to do. That’s very unfair. Most of all, you’re American, which is REALLY unfair. You better hope life never becomes fair.”

    What O’Rourke said stuck with me, and it’s what I say to my own daughter Claire every time she tells me something is unfair, which is all the time. The frequency of it gives me a chance to frequently tell her what’s so true: that she won the proverbial lottery in being born American.

    O’Rourke was so right about this. In a world of nearly 8 billion people, many of whom have never even flipped on a light, Claire was born American. So was I. It wasn’t O’Rourke’s most memorable or even funny quip, but the view here is that it was easily his most important.

    Something I should try to remember, given all the kvetching I do.


  • And, on a related note… the Google LFOD News Alert brings us another befuddled Canadian, Marg. [sic] Bruineman, writing in Barrie [Ontario] Today: Confusion reigns in mixed-up protest messaging. What's mixed up about it? Well…

    An MSNBC reporter broadcasting to an American audience this weekend, surrounded by ranters as he is “harassed and screamed at” reporting from Ottawa, also seemed taken aback when he said: “We apologize this is not the kinder and gentler Canada you may be used to seeing.”

    In another video posted online, a CBC news crew is booed and heckled after finishing a live report in Ottawa.

    Beyond the aggression and demonstration of what the American reporter found to be very un-Canadian behaviour is some very confusing messaging.

    There’s the bail hearing of one of the convoy organizers over the weekend in which her husband asks about asserting First Amendment rights.

    "What do you mean, first amendment? What's that?" Judge Julie Bourgeois is reported to have replied.

    Then there’s a photo BarrieToday published of an Ottawa protester holding up a sign that reads: “Live Free or Die,” which has long been the official motto for New Hampshire, an American state. He's flanked by Canadian flags, an American flag distinctively behind him with a Quebec flag in the distance.

    Read that bit again: "What do you mean, first amendment? What's that?" Yes, Canadians: you lack the protection of your liberties that (however imperfectly) we take for granted down here.


Last Modified 2022-02-25 5:43 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-23

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  • Harsh but fair. Kyle Smith talks smack about the prez: No One Fears This Pathetic Old Geezer. Which would be fine, except about that whole Ukraine thing.

    Last June, ahead of a Russia–U.S. meeting, Time magazine conjured up a piece of embarrassing cover-art propaganda featuring Joe Biden’s aviator glasses reflecting Vladimir Putin. At last, a U.S. president had Putin in his sights! Finally we’d get back to putting Russia in its place.

    “How Biden Plans to Get Tough on Putin During Their Geneva Summit,” promised a breathless story by Brian Bennett. A senior administration official suggested Biden, despite the “chaos” that President Trump had supposedly unleashed in the world, would use a combination of unity talk — everyone in Europe was on the same page about Russia, supposedly — and thinly veiled threats about retaliatory cyberattacks to show Putin who’s boss. “The whole goal is to have [Putin] come away saying, ‘The Americans are onto us and have us encircled,’” the official told Bennett. The writer editorialized that, “Biden is qualified to lead the approach. He’s spent decades in debates on U.S.-Russian relations as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.” Whew, then.

    More at the link, mostly for NRPlus subscribers.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Unfortunately, Jonah Goldberg already used "Liberal Fascism". But is it really that far off the mark? The WSJ editorialists on Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Tyranny.

    Modern liberals can hurtle from extravagant tolerance to suppression without batting an eye. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dramatizes the tendency.

    Mr. Trudeau’s new powers rely on defining the disruptive but peaceful truckers as a security threat akin to violent terrorists. His emergency law, a broad prohibition on public assemblies and even indirect support for them, ensnares tens of thousands of Canadians as “designated persons” whose assets must, per another of his new laws, be found and frozen by any financial institution, without due process or court supervision. There isn’t an appeals process in case of error, and so far 200 accounts are frozen.

    I get that the truckers and their trucks had to be removed. But it was a traffic problem, not a terrorism problem.


  • Follow the science! Eric Boehm reports the latest study that happens to fit my priors: Voting Out Incumbents Boosts Economic Growth, Decreases Corruption.

    Throwing the bums out is, for lack of a better word, good.

    "While other studies have focused on the benefits of democracy, which gives citizens the opportunity to remove incumbents from office, we focus on a different question: what happens when citizens seize this opportunity," write Benjamin Marx, Vincent Pons, and Vincent Rollet, in the National Bureau of Economic Research paper.  "Overall, we find that voting for change matters: electoral turnovers deliver improvements in country-level performance along many dimensions."

    Doesn't necessarily descend to the state level, but it's better to be safe than sorry.


  • True dat. I try not to post more than one link per day for any source, but Mr. Richard Wallace of Carlsbad, California is very pithy in his WSJ letter: Government Has No Shame.

    Regarding Daniel Henninger’s “The Super Bowl of Sin Taxes” (Wonder Land, Feb. 17): What is legalized is advertised. Billboards and TV commercials for the lottery, casinos and cannabis all promote self-destructive behavior. Governments shrink the odds of winning the lottery to increase the odds of a roll over with the gigantic buzz of a billion-dollar payout. The government has no shame. I work in financial services, where firms and professionals are fined and barred from the industry for actions not in the best interest of their clients. We should hold government to the same standard.

    Up here, the lottery folks have the worst advertisements. (In comparison, the state liquor stores are pretty quiet.) My modest proposal from a while back: if the odds against winning $X in a state-sponsored game of chance is N to one, then for every ad the state runs showing people gleefully winning $X, it must also run N ads showing people losing.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-22

  • Whoa, that's a lotta twos in today's date. And, shoulda seen that coming, people with nothing better to do are going a little crazy.

    Social media is awash with excitement as February 22, 2022 approaches, the date all numbers will line up to give the 2.22.22 date.

    The unique date is a palindrome, which means it reads the same forwards and backwards, and has been dubbed 'Twosday' by social media users as it happens to fall on a Tuesday.

    And some other social media users wonder why people are getting so excited about <voice imitation="neil_degrasse_tyson">a coincidence springing from a combination of our essentially aribitrary numbering system with our equally arbitrary calendaring conventions and spacial arrangment of the sun, earth, and moon?</voice>

    Ooh, look, my car's odometer is about to roll over!

    [Neil deGrasse Tyson voice added via inspiration/plagiarism of an Iowahawk tweet.]


  • Those darn neoliberals. Okay, we talked about the thorny history behind the term "neoliberal" just the other day. So try to ignore that word in Glenn Greenwald's headline: The Neoliberal War on Dissent in the West. The article works just as well without it.

    When it comes to distant and adversarial countries, we are taught to recognize tyranny through the use of telltale tactics of repression. Dissent from orthodoxies is censored. Protests against the state are outlawed. Dissenters are harshly punished with no due process. Long prison terms are doled out for political transgressions rather than crimes of violence. Journalists are treated as criminals and spies. Opposition to the policies of political leaders are recast as crimes against the state.

    When a government that is adverse to the West engages in such conduct, it is not just easy but obligatory to malign it as despotic. Thus can one find, on a virtually daily basis, articles in the Western press citing the government's use of those tactics in Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and whatever other countries the West has an interest in disparaging (articles about identical tactics from regimes supported by the West — from Riyadh to Cairo — are much rarer). That the use of these repressive tactics render these countries and their populations subject to autocratic regimes is considered undebatable.

    But when these weapons are wielded by Western governments, the precise opposite framework is imposed: describing them as despotic is no longer obligatory but virtually prohibited. That tyranny exists only in Western adversaries but never in the West itself is treated as a permanent axiom of international affairs, as if Western democracies are divinely shielded from the temptations of genuine repression. Indeed, to suggest that a Western democracy has descended to the same level of authoritarian repression as the West's official enemies is to assert a proposition deemed intrinsically absurd or even vaguely treasonous.

    But (GG goes on to point out) we are democracies. Which goes to show that "democracy" just ain't enough to prevent that boot stamping on a human face, for ever.


  • It's left-wing day at Pun Salad. First Glenn Greenwald, now (actual Marxist) Freddie deBoer, who notes: We Are Experiencing Definitional Collapse. As if that were new. Again, search Orwell's essay for his observation on "the word fascism". But Freddie's got some good points. Excerpt:

    What we are living through is definitional collapse. Our moment is one in which anything is possible because nothing means anything. Every last set of orienting principles in politics is being dissolved in the acid bath of culture war, before our very eyes. I am telling you: never in my lifetime have political terms meant less. You can easily imagine a world where vaccine skepticism was left-coded - indeed, in the Trump years it was! - but in this particular reality your thoughts on vaccines overrule your feelings about the means of production. That condition is the product of pure contingency, chance; there is no a priori reason the left-of-center would treat vaccination status as a definitional landmark. But right now that is what yelling people yell about, and there is no ideology anymore, no ideas, only Yooks and Zooks.

    In other words there is a vacuum of meaning, in our politics, and the really scary question is what will fill it. The right strongman, whether R or D, could ride in and get 65% of the electorate to support him as he casually dispensed with law and democracy, giving the people the firm hand they so desire. We’ve just been lucky that our recent leaders have been so corrupt, feckless, and decrepit that no one’s taken the reins. But we won’t be lucky forever. If Obama tried to seize dictatorial power he’d do so with the permission of half the country. I would bet my life on it.

    He's very pessimistic about the future. I'm more optimistic, because (1) that's my nature; and (2) I've lived through chaotic times before.

    Of course, this time could be different.


  • It really is left-wing day at Pun Salad. Because here's Matt Taibbi with the days best headline, When Boring People Turn Dangerous: Canada's Insane Power Grab.

    On Christmas Eve, 2018, New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin published, “How Banks Unwittingly Finance Mass Shootings.” Chronicling the credit card history of the man who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida Sorkin noted Omar Mateen had not merely spent $26,532 on weapons and ammo in the eight months before the 2016 attack, but had wondered if his doing so had raised red flags:

    Two days before Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 more at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, he went on Google and typed “Credit card unusual spending…” His web browsing history chronicled his anxiety: “Credit card reports all three bureaus,” “FBI,” and “Why banks stop your purchases.”

    He needn’t have worried. None of the banks, credit-card network operators or payment processors alerted law enforcement officials about the purchases he thought were so suspicious.

    Sorkin’s piece ended up being an argument in favor of credit-card companies, payment processors, banks, and others working together to bring about a Minority Report-style panacea in which society’s dangerous folk could be cyber-identified and stopped before they commit horrific acts. At one point he quoted George Brauchler, the District Attorney who prosecuted the Century 16 movie shooter in Aurora Colorado, James Holmes:

    “Do I wish someone from law enforcement had been able to go to his door and knock on his door and figure out a way to talk their way into it or to freak him out?” he said of Mr. Holmes. “Yeah, absolutely.”

    I’ve never owned a gun and have been sympathetic to gun control ideas for as long as I can remember. Sorkin, however, was not talking about gun control. He was theorizing a quasi-privatized vision of social control that would bypass laws by merging surveillance capitalism and law enforcement.

    Okay, stop rolling your eyes at Taibbi's use of "surveillance capitalism". (Maybe you can come up with three or four more accurate labels.)

    Why, I'm old enough to remember the freakout when people thought that the Patriot Act would allow Dubya to snoop through your library checkout records.


  • It's Tuesday, so… it's time to take a look at today's newsletter from Kevin D. Williamson, with the provocative headline: Taft’s Revenge. That's Robert Taft. It's very good, which is not surprising. But I want to skip down for my excerpt to his musings on the word "libertarian":

    Our use of the word is complicated by the fact that there are small-l libertarians as well as a capital-L Libertarian Party. Small-l libertarians in the United States have mostly been associated with the Republican Party and, to a lesser extent, the Libertarian Party, though there is a strain of libertarian who feels more at home with the Democrats.

    The libertarian intellectual David Friedman once commented: “There may be two libertarians who agree with each other on everything, but I am not one of them.” David Friedman, who is associated with the radical “anarcho-capitalist” model of libertarianism, is the son of Milton and Rose Friedman, who are associated with the Republican-leaning kind of libertarianism. There is a lot of diversity within the libertarian family. F. A. Hayek, a hero to many libertarians, rejected the word libertarian in favor of liberal, and Ayn Rand, another hero to a certain kind of libertarian, hated the word libertarian — and the people, too, whom she regarded as morally degenerate, making common cause with “religionists, anarchists, and every intellectual misfit and scum they can find.” Rand’s denunciation reminds me of George Orwell’s similar feelings about his allies on the left: “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”

    I sometimes describe myself as a libertarian, and William F. Buckley Jr. subtitled one of his books “Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist,” though many orthodox libertarians would disclaim him (and me). The closer you look at libertarian, and other words of that kind — liberal, conservative, etc. — the less useful they will seem. Bill Buckley was a conservative, George Will is a conservative, and people keep telling me that Donald Trump is a conservative, and many people who have called themselves conservative for a long time define their politics as opposition to George Will’s most recent column, or Bill Kristol’s, or Jay Nordlinger’s. So it is fair to wonder if conservative actually means anything — which is a separate question from what it should mean. Hayek called himself a liberal, and in Europe the sort of people we call libertarians are called liberals, as they are in some English-language political writing, including in the United States. Some of our newly minted nationalist-populists have picked up liberal in that sense, and they deploy it as a term of abuse for free-trade, market-oriented conservatives. At least they are using the word more or less correctly, so they have that going for them.

    And, well, that's enough, but if you're worried about self-pigeonholing via claiming allegiance to a one-word label… well, you should be. RTWT.


  • I thought I noticed a faint halo around my head when I looked in the mirror this morning. And it turns out there was a good reason for that, upon reading WalletHub's ranking of 2022’s Most Sinful States in America.

    Some states are more well-behaved than others. In order to determine the states that most give in to their desires, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 47 key indicators of immoral or illicit behavior. Our data set ranges from violent crimes per capita to excessive drinking to the share of the population with gambling disorders.

    Quibble with their methodology if you want, but New Hampshire comes in at number 45. Very well-behaved. (Who beat us? Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont(!), Wyoming, and Idaho.)


Last Modified 2022-02-25 6:03 AM EDT

Broken

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I've been reading Don Winslow's books for a long time. I thought his previous book, The Border, was wrecked by injecting of his (tedious unhinged lefty) political views into the plot. So I started in on this most recent work with trepidation: more of the same?

Good news: there's only a little bit of that here, and it's kept within tolerable limits.

It's a collection of six novellas, each running approximately 50-60 pages. With lots of short paragraphs and incomplete sentences, a staple of Winslow's prose. Reading Winslow is as easy as eating ice cream. (Not too quickly, you'll get a headache. Not too much, you'll get a myocardial infarction.)

We have:

Broken — A very dark, very gritty tale of two cop brothers. (And mom is a cop dispatcher.) One brother is rule-breaking, ultraviolent, super-effective at taking down the operation of a local drug kingpin. Unfortunately, the kingpin retaliates against the other brother, very nastily. It's not hard to see what's coming: a (literally) explosive, bullet-filled climax.

Crime 101 — The infamous "101 Bandit" operates up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, pulling meticulously-planned heists of high-value merchandise. He is looking to pull off (oh oh) one last big job, then retire. Things don't go as planned, thanks to a cop obsessed with his capture.

The San Diego Zoo — This one is hilarious. Opening sentence: "No one knows how the chimp got the revolver." But a young cop is tasked with getting it away from him. And gets tangled up in the aftermath, as he investigates the pistol's provenance. And finds love.

Sunset — A legendary bail bondsman is coming to the bittersweet end of a lucrative career. But not before he needs to have a bail-skipper tracked down.

Paradise — California pot growers go to Hawaii on vacation, see an opportunity to open up a little new agricultural territory on Kauai. Unfortunately, that is deeply resented by the existing organization, and things quickly turn violent.

The Last Ride — This one gets a little political, as a Border Patrol agent working down in Texas gets concerned about the family separation/kids in cages thing. He's especally concerned about Luz, separated from her mom, kept apart by bureaucratic snafus. He becomes obsessed with their reunification, at a steep price.

What's surprising is Winslow's occasional resurrection of characters from his previous work. Including one that I'm pretty sure hasn't been around since 1996. (I've avoided using names above.) It's not necessary that you read Winslow's complete oeuvre before reading this, but you will miss out on those little thrills of recognition.


Last Modified 2022-02-22 9:51 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-21

  • Pun Salad is trying, and failing, to imagine the New York Times as a serious newspaper. A recent tweet:

    Yes, that's the NYT making a reference to their June 12, 2020 article, J.K. Rowling's Fans Imagine Harry Potter World Without Her. Why would they do that? Because of her unacceptably science-based views on transgenderism.

    If you read that, I suggest you also read Ms. Rowling's (June 10 2020, two days before the NYT article) essay describing why she's said the things she's said. And then decide who's saner, she or her ex-fans.


  • Crypto made me do it. Slashdot has a funny headline: 'Crypto Ruined My Life': the Mental Health Crisis Hitting Bitcoin Investors. It's based on a vice.com article. Excerpt:

    Countless people have watched thousands of pounds disappear before their eyes.... Many crypto-investors are ordinary people taking a risk with their life savings rather than elite traders who can swallow sudden losses. A recent CNBC survey of 750 crypto investors found that a third actually knew very little about what they were investing in. The question is: What happens to these people when they lose big...? It seems like this fast-growing investor community is generating its own fast-growing mental health crisis....

    Um.

    Let's see: you sink a lot of your money into a risky investment, apparently either (a) without realizing that it is a risky investment; or (b) maybe not even understanding the concept of "risky investment".

    I'd speculate that crying "crypto ruined my life" is inaccurate; you ruined your life.

    And I'd further speculate that maybe that "mental health crisis" merely reveals a pre-existing condition.


  • Isn't it pretty to think so? Arnold Kling writes on The Convergence Assumption. First quoting James Miller:

    […] we indulge the myth that there is no such thing as a gifted child. As the New York Times reports, California’s school reforms are built around this conceit explicitly. Everyone of common sense knows that this conceit is untrue. But if you find yourself ideologically compelled to profess belief in it (as many progressives are), you will also be required to profess belief in the blank-slate notion that, since everyone has equal natural talent at math, then any group-based statistical variations (say, between Asians and whites at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, for instance) must be rooted in discrimination or privilege (and so should not be accepted).

    Arnold observes:

    What I call the convergence assumption is the assumption that everyone is fundamentally the same, so that it is more natural to expect people to develop the same skills and adopt the same values than for divergence to persist. Miller is accusing progressives of holding the convergence assumption, but are any of us innocent of it? It might be that people tend to converge on the convergence assumption.

    For example, when I recently wrote that progress comes from experimentation, evaluation, and evolution, I got pushback from a reader. He argued that the value systems of Hispanics and Africans are sufficiently different from Western values that the United States could lose its ability to maintain order while engaging in experiments. He claims that we have reached the point where we no longer seek to assimilate other cultures into our own, and we are in the process of watching our culture and institutions fade as a result.

    I used to be a fervent believer in America as a "melting pot". That belief could be in trouble.

    [Headline reference explained if necessary.]


  • Better ways are good. Bjørn Lomborg is preaching to my choir, but that's OK: We need a better way to fight climate change

    Fossil fuels still deliver the vast majority of energy. The European Union puts climate at the top of its political agenda, yet more than 80% of its primary energy needs are met by fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. Despite endless environmental talk, solar and wind contribute only about 3% of Europe’s total energy.

    Making a transition from fossil fuels to green energy is costly. Solar and wind can only deliver electricity, which accounts for less than a fifth of total energy consumption. Moreover, as Europe is learning, leaning on unreliable sources like wind leaves households vulnerable: Wind speeds were unusually low for most of 2021, causing much of Europe’s current energy pain.

    He recommends R&D. Specifically spending more money on R&D. But shoving money at a problem doesn't necessarily solve it.

    I'm still pulling for artificial photosynthesis for carbon capture.


  • Checking the news feed… Nope, no invasion as I type. But Kevin D. Williamson makes a good point, irrespective of What's Happening Right Now: There Is No ‘Ukraine Crisis’. Instead, it's a "Russia Crisis".

    The Biden administration is threatening Moscow — and Vladimir Putin personally — with purportedly unprecedented economic sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine.

    Why wait? We should impose the sanctions now.

    For one thing, Russia already has invaded Ukraine. Russian forces poured into the country and took over a part of it in 2014, sparking a still-active conflict that has killed thousands of people. There are Russian troops in Ukraine right now, contrary to Moscow’s denials. Russian cyberattacks already are under way. President Joe Biden says the Russians already are involved in “false flag” operations to secure for themselves a pretext for another invasion.

    The war has already started. Now, it is time for us to decide what, if anything, we are going to do about it.

    I'm very weak on anything having to do with foreign policy; it's a quagmire of unpredictability and unforeseen consequences. But KDW is pretty convincing, as always.

The Revolt of The Public

and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium

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This book was originally published in 2014. The author, Martin Gurri, brought out this second edition in 2018, updating it with the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. And with a new introduction by Pun Salad fave Arnold Kling. Who leads off with:

"Martin Gurri saw it coming."

And, reading it in early 2022, after witnessing subsequent (mostly Covid-related) "revolts of the public", I can only add: "Boy, did he ever."

Gurri's thesis is that technology (mainly the Internet and inexpensive access thereto) has radically transformed the relation between "elites" (government, political parties, mainstream media) and the "public": roughly, the rest of us, as reflected in spontaneously-created groups motivated by a uniting cause. This is a worldwide phenomenon, and Gurri goes into detail on a few manifestations: Egyptian uprisings in 2011, Iranian uprisings in 2009, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street…

Which is kind of the problem. When was the last time you thought about Occupy Wall Street? Gurri notes that such movements derive their power by being "anti", often breaking into the nihilistic. Having no positive program to offer, they can flame out, get co-opted, vanish into irrelevancy. But it's the nature of this new dynamic that implies that the next uprising will be coming around the corner soon enough.

Gurri notes the fundamental problem with the elites; they, like the fabled emperor, really do have no clothes on. They pretend to certainty, where there is none to be had. They predict badly. They boldly lead us into blind, dark alleys. Double standards, scapegoating, and hypocrisy are common. They have a barely concealed contempt for the great unwashed. And this is becoming increasingly apparent to everyone.

What to do? Ideally, elites should exhibit more humility and honesty. Politicians should explicitly disavow "only I can fix it" messianism. And the rest of us should knock off the nihilism. Whether it's the nihilism of the cranky solitary blogger (ahem), or the nihilism of tear-it-all-down tribalism. It would be nice to see progress in that area, but … nope, I can't see it either. At least not in the short term.

The hardcover book has a (frankly) garish color scheme (heavy use of magenta), and contains color photographs. Unusual! It is published by Stripe Press, an innovative small publisher in San Francisco. (I have another one of their books, Where is my Flying Car? on my to-be-read stack.)

URLs du Jour

2022-02-20

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  • You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. In my web wanderings, I didn't run across references to "neoliberalism" very often. (And I see my spellchecker doesn't know about it either.) But when I did, it was always a smear, an epithet, a scare word. Jesse Walker does a masterful job of teasing out the lexicographical/political history of the concept: It's the End of the Neoliberal Era, and We Still Don't Know What Neoliberalism Is. (From print-Reason, now out from behind the paywall.)

    It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that no one knows what the hell neoliberal means. Plenty of people are quite sure they know what it means. It's just that they can't agree on a common definition.

    Consider two articles published in two different left-wing magazines. The first, written by Megan Erickson for Jacobin, is a critique of "unschooling," an informal, self-directed, countercultural sort of homeschooling that dispenses with tests, lectures, and predetermined curricula. The movement is beloved by many anti-corporate leftists, but Erickson warns them that its "values of freedom, autonomy, and choice are in perfect accordance with market-based 'reforms,' and with the neoliberal vision of society on which they're based."

    The other story, published by Dave Zirin in The Nation, denounces the Brazilian authorities for pouring public money into stadiums for the World Cup and the Olympics. Such subsidies are "neoliberal plunder," Zirin declares, because "neoliberalism, at its core, is about transferring wealth out of the public social safety net and into the hands of private capital."

    So unschooling is neoliberal even when it is explicitly anti-corporate, because it resembles an idealized free market. And stadium subsidies are neoliberal because they rain wealth on corporations, even if they override market principles in the process. What a capacious word this is.

    It would have been easy, but lazy, to leave things there. It wouldn't be the first time leftists were fundamentally incoherent in their language. But JW is an excellent detective of political ideology and language, and his results are impressive.


  • Educrats in action! Abigail Shrier watches as The Gender Cult Marches On.

    A reader sent me a trove of materials for “Equity Month” courtesy of the Chicago Public School System, available here. It’s worse than you think.

    Things to note:

    • Preschoolers (age 3-5) are to be taught what “Queer” means, what “Non-binary” means and told: "When someone is not a boy or a girl, maybe they feel both, they are non-binary or queer."

    • Teachers of preschoolers are told to read from The Story of Harvey Milk, stopping at “Harvey was proud of the flag, and proud of himself.” Are you proud of yourself, little one?

    • Even Special Needs kids (including the non-verbal and those on the Autism Spectrum, who tend to fixate) are to be instructed to create BLM flags and indoctrinated in the alleged difference between sexuality and gender.

    • Every single part of the school day becomes a reason to teach children about being transgender, or America’s systemic racism. The lessons are inserted into every part of the day — even P.E., Visual Arts, Drama, Library Lessons and Music. The P.E. materials for grades 4-5 must be seen to be believed:

    [PE Indoctrination]

    Sometimes all you can say is "yeesh". Also adding after a few seconds of careful consideration: "We really need to repeal compulsory schooling laws."


  • David Henderson is probably one of them consarned 'neoliberals'. But he has a pretty good suggestion for our lawmakers, which they won't accept: Let Freedom Rein In Big Tech.

    There’s been a lot of push from both left and right for the US government to regulate “Big Tech.” On the right, for example, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, proposes two remedies for censorship by Big Tech. The first is “for Congress to regulate Big Tech like public utilities or common carriers, compelling them to serve all customers without viewpoint discrimination.” The second is for the Supreme Court to “limit Big Tech censorship.” On the left, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) has a bill titled American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO) to regulate large tech companies that she thinks suppress competition. And this is just a shallow dive into the regulatory waters. Both left and right have proposed other regulations of Big Tech.

    I’ve got another option: trust freedom to rein in Big Tech. Let other companies compete to provide services that some critics think Big Tech should provide. Will this sometimes happen slowly? Yes, although it will typically happen way more quickly than any government solution. The freedom solution, moreover, will avoid the unintended consequences that come about when government steps in to regulate.

    Henderson is perfectly aware of "Big Tech" quashing views and movements of which they disapprove; he has a few specific examples he'd like to tell you about.

    But I find this completely obvious: there's nothing wrong with Google/Facebook/YouTube/etc. that Big Government won't make much worse.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-19

  • I, for one, am glad I am not an Ohio GOP Senate candidate. Because it's getting kind of PG-13 in the Buckeye State, according to Allahpundit. Ohio GOP Senate candidate: My male competitors are overcompensating for their tiny weiners [sic]. At issue:

    Allahpundit analyzes the state of play for the May 3 primary. Yes, it's that far away, and things are already getting that nasty.

    He also explains his unconventional spelling of "wiener".


  • And it's not just Ohio. George F. Will checks out South Carolina, and proclaims: Behold the Republican somersaults for Trump.

    The House of Savoy on the Italian Peninsula was a dynasty so fickle across the centuries that critics said it never finished a war on the side on which it started, unless the war lasted long enough for Savoy to change sides twice. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) fascinates not because she is the House of Savoy in human form, although she is, but because she exemplifies a phenomenon that has rarely been less rare — consistently inconstant politicians.

    Mace became a congresswoman on Jan. 3, 2021, three days before President Donald Trump incited the assault on the Capitol. On Jan. 7, she said, Trump’s “entire legacy was wiped out yesterday” when he, as she later said, “put all of our lives at risk.” Asked in the days after the attack if she thought he had a future in the Republican Party, she said: “I do not.” He noticed.

    She trod a sinuous path back toward obeisance, but Trump, unmollified, this month endorsed Mace’s Republican primary opponent. The next day, Mace stood in front of Manhattan’s Trump Tower and made a 104-second video. It was a grovel akin to Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV standing barefoot in the snow for three days outside the castle of Pope Gregory VII, hoping to have his excommunication reversed. (It was, but Gregory, who had a Savoyesque knack for changing his mind, later excommunicated Henry again.) In her video, Mace says she was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, worked for him in seven states in 2016 and thinks he made America, freedom and democracy “stronger all around the world.”

    When reading a GFW column, you can learn a lot of history and politics. I was pretty ignorant about the House of Savoy, but after following that link, I, uh, … well, if I ever go on Jeopardy!, and they have a clue about it, there's a slightly better chance I could ring in.

    As a RINO, I'll be voting the GOP ballot in the New Hampshire primary election (September 13). Keeping my options open, but a candidate paying blind obeisance to Trump would probably be a deal-killer for me. And in November I'll probably wind up voting for whatever wacko the Libertarian Party nominates.


  • Let's get it out of the way: 90% of politicians are literally Hitler.

    Just kidding. But it's (apparently) Wall Street Journal-worthy news when someone says that in some specific situations. On page A6 of yesterday's paper: Musk Tweet Compared Justin Trudeau, Hitler.

    Elon Musk tweeted and later deleted a meme comparing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler.

    The Tesla Inc. chief executive’s tweet came in response to a CoinDesk article about the Canadian government sanctioning dozens of cryptocurrency wallets tied to funding trucker protests in the country.

    Mr. Musk, the world’s richest person, tweeted a meme of the Nazi leader with text that said, “Stop comparing me to Justin Trudeau. I had a budget.”

    Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment. A representative for Mr. Trudeau didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    Responding to the since-deleted tweet, the American Jewish Committee condemned Mr. Musk and demanded an apology. “He must stop this unacceptable behavior,” the group said in a statement. “Musk may believe posting a meme comparing Justin Trudeau to a genocidal dictator who exterminated millions is an appropriate way to criticize policies he disagrees with. It is not. It never is. Musk must apologize and find other ways to voice his displeasure.”

    I don't want to make a huge deal about this; after all, much higher up on the page (with a color photo) is a more riveting story: "Sweet Success: Stolen Pickle Mascot Found". (If you must, here.)

    But come on. Down here in America, we've been living with pols telling us that Donald Trump was literally Hitler for years. Anyone remember this?

    Sarah Silverman has never been known as a tame comedian, but she pushed the envelope big-time on Thursday's episode of "Conan," when she came out dressed up as Adolf Hitler – mini-mustache, swastika armband, the works.

    The purpose of this cringe-worthy costume was so "Hitler" could respond to the ongoing comparisons between Donald Trump and the Nazi dictator -- Louis C.K. being one of the most vocal proponents of that idea. For his part, Trump has called the comparisons "ridiculous."

    To its credit, the American Jewish Committee is pretty even handed in its condemnation of "X is Hitler" arguments. (Also "X is Stalin" arguments.) But (let's face it) it's an irresistible tactic for the lazy arguer.

    (I confess that I may have been lazy in the past.)


  • As if "democratic" theft would have been better. For more on the kind of thing that led Elon to make his inapt comparison, click over to read J.D. Tuccille at Reason: Canada’s Panicked Government Engages in Undemocratic Theft

    Emergency powers, threats to freeze the finances of peaceful protesters, and smearing critics as terrorists—it has to be China, right? But no, it's our neighbor to the north, under a leader with a bad case of China-envy. For all the world to see, a panicky Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is throwing a tantrum over protests against restrictive pandemic policy that warns us how quickly an established democracy can lose its mind. It's an advertisement for the value of cryptocurrency and other means of escaping the reach of the financial police state.

    Part of Canada's problem is that the country has rarely seen large numbers of people take to the streets in opposition to government actions. As a consequence, officials and some members of the public are wigging out over what would cause people elsewhere to shrug.

    "By the standards of mass protests around the world, the 'Freedom Convoy' snarling Downtown Ottawa ranks as a nuisance," The New York Times editorial board pointed out last week. "The number of protesters, about 8,000 at their peak, is modest; there have been no serious injuries or altercations, the truckers stopped blaring their horns after residents got a temporary court injunction against them."

    What we need here is…


  • Good advice. Of course, it's from Kevin D. Williamson: Put Down the Torch. Pick Up a Book.

    On the subject of burning witches, C. S. Lewis shared an interesting observation. The problem with the anti-witch campaigns of yore was that the witch-hunters were wrong on the facts, not that they were wrong as a moral matter. If there had been people among us possessing occult powers that they used to kill their neighbors or to make them sick, causing the cows to go dry or the crops to fail, then it obviously would be the right thing to treat them as the very worst kind of criminals — as murderers, which is what they would be. The problem is that witches aren’t real — a matter of fact, not a matter of moral judgment.

    One of the most important arguments for freedom of mind — the freedom that comprehends freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of inquiry, freedom of religion, etc. — is that the thought police are very likely to be wrong about things. Whether they are acting in the context of a free society or an unfree one, people who wield political power tend to reflect very strongly the prejudices of their time, their nation, their race, their class, their sex, their religion, their political party, etc. And we do not have to speculate about how things work out when new ideas — or new facts — encounter a political force invested with the power to suppress them: We have many examples in the historical record. Galileo was right and the Inquisition was wrong, but the Inquisition had the power to prohibit Galileo’s books, which might never have seen the light of day if not for the efforts of the heroes who smuggled his manuscripts out of Italy so that they could be published in Amsterdam.

    NRPLUS, sorry. It's very good. You should subscribe.


  • Meanwhile, Twitter has succumbed to the torch-bearers. Sahil Handa and Seth Moskowitz point out Twitter's Flawed Justification for Censorship

    In the past few months, Spotify, Substack, and Reddit have all resisted calls to censor content on their platforms. Joe Rogan is still on Spotify despite demands to punish him for spreading COVID misinformation; Substack reaffirmed its commitment to journalistic freedom after pressure to ban contentious authors; and Reddit held firm against calls to centralize content moderation of its community forums. In our era of censoriousness, when the values of free speech and open discourse are under constant pressure, these developments are worth celebrating.

    But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. While some tech platforms are standing up for free expression, others are restricting it. Chief among the restrictors is Twitter. And while only about a quarter of Americans use the platform, dismissing it as a niche corner of the internet would be a mistake. Twitter is where breaking news spreads fastest and where much of the news cycle is made. If you doubt the platform’s influence on our public discourse, just consider the number of news cycles that were dominated by Donald Trump's tweets—at least until he was booted from the platform.

    All this is to say that Twitter plays a special role in public discourse, and this influence makes its efforts to restrict speech all the more concerning. Twitter’s poor form on this issue—banning accounts, removing tweets—has been pointed out repeatedly, and the company has deflected with a set of justifications. We think it is worth addressing these justifications one by one, detailing the flaws and potential for abuse in each of them.

    Those "justifications" seem pretty iffy. And in practice, they (in some combination) worked to suspend the account of Defiant L’s for a while, whose schtick is to juxtapose (unsuspended) tweets by others. Sample:

    If you're on Twitter, Defiant L’s is a pretty good follow.


Last Modified 2022-02-19 11:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-18

[LFOD]

  • Hi, Art Philistine here. And I freely admit that I have no idea why the painting on your right is titled "Live Free or Die". But I found it at the Denver Post via my Google News Alert, and it's kind of nice. It is being shown at the Waiting Room Gallery in "RiNo". Which is the too-cute shortened appellation for the "River North" Art District in Denver, Colorado. ("Hey, look at us, we can be cool just like New York!")

    The painting is credited to Eve Krawiek, who is apparently also known as Evonne Noel Avalos (Instagram). Best wishes to her.


  • Yes, we are. Jim Geraghty asks: We’re Paying for All of That 'Free' Money Now, Aren't We? (One of the rare instances where Betteridge's Law of Headlines doesn't apply.)

    It is ironic that the economics crowd is currently having a loud and angry argument about “modern monetary theory” — the notion that because the U.S. Treasury creates the money, the federal government can spend as much as it likes year after year and everything will turn out just fine. We’ve been inadvertently practicing “modern monetary theory” for a long while without formally declaring it; this is what happens when no one in Washington even pretends to care about the deficit and the debt. Spending is high and bad when at least one of the parties pretends to care; when everybody, including most Republicans, stop pretending to care, the borrowing and spending gets so high that it sets off runaway inflation.

    It would be a better world if lawmakers actually cared about the deficit and debt. But pretending to care, or needing to look like they care, forced them to mitigate their spending proposals at least a bit. The pandemic, the rise of a more leftist Democratic Party, and Democratic control of Congress all aligned to boost federal spending way higher than it had ever been before.

    And now we’re paying for all of that “free” money.

    I've bolded a key phrase. This is why, these days, I consider myself a RINO, literally a Republican in Name Only.


  • Desperately Seeking Scapegoats. Eric Boehm notes some recent news: DOJ, FBI Will Investigate Companies for 'Illicit Profits'

    The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it will begin investigating companies for earning what it believes to be excessive profits amid surging inflation and ongoing supply chain issues.

    In a press release, the department said its antitrust division would begin to "deter, detect and prosecute those who would exploit supply chain disruptions" to earn what the department calls "illicit profit." The goal of the initiative, according to the department, is to prevent companies from "overcharging customers under the guise of supply chain disruptions."

    The problem, of course, is that the supply chain disruptions are quite real—and inflation across the economy is the result of both those large-scale issues and government actions, including last year's $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and protectionist policies. To the extent that private companies are raising prices, those things are the likely culprits—and higher prices are the market's way of allocating scarce goods most efficiently, not evidence of price gouging.

    Eric goes on to bemoan the "economically illiterate" analysis of Senators Bernie and Fauxcahontas.


  • Being a jerk does not make your ideas more popular. Our Canadian buddies might want to read Janet Bufton at the UnPopulist: Canada's Freedom Convoy Is Undermining the Cause of Freedom.

    OTTAWA, Ontario: The Canadian Freedom Convoy — protests that took off when unvaccinated truckers facing cross-border travel restrictions joined the original coalition of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and other sundry right-wing groups — have become a touchpoint in the culture war. To the left, the Convoy is an assault on democracy — a Canadian January 6. To the right, it’s a stand for freedom!

    The reality is complicated.

    The Convoy is not as serious a threat to democracy as the storming of the U.S. Capitol. But it also isn’t any cause for celebration, even for those who believe that it is high time Canadian authorities roll back COVID-19 restrictions. Indeed, the Convoy’s main accomplishments are increased polarization of Canadians, further politicization of the pandemic, an increase in support for illiberal crackdowns on protest rights, and renewed support for harsh policing. In other words, the exact opposite of what any freedom lover should want.

    Sounds like a failure to read the room, i. e., your country.


  • Meanwhile, back in the states… Laura Williams notes some troubling memoranda from Uncle Stupid: It’s Always about Fear.

    A National Terrorism Advisory Service bulletin released last week identified the number one terroristic threat to Americans as “the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. Government institutions.”

    Free speech, and specifically the right to criticize our government, is being reframed, in real time, as a threat to public health and safety. You are being primed to fear thought crimes, in which criticizing the US government is equal to a violent act. The federal government is creating a public health pretense for silencing those who tell the truth about the US government’s very real history of victimizing its own citizens. 

    To take away your most basic civil liberties, overzealous governments rely on your fear. They cultivate, stoke, and stimulate it. Then they demand new powers to fight it.

    This is where all that bizarre equivalence-drawing between "speech" and "violence" gets us. Those students who get marinated in this balderdash during their higher education years go on to work for the Department of Homeland Security, and…

URLs du Jour

2022-02-17

  • Depending on the metric used to measure "worse"… Andrew C. McCarthy is on the short list of people on whom I think I can depend for legal takes. And here's his take on the latest kerfuffle: Did [Special Counsel John] Durham find something worse than Watergate? Not so far.

    Trump supporters and others, justifiably alarmed by “deep state” abuse of power, are right that it is a scandal, one that merits far more attention than it has gotten from the media-Democrat complex. Nevertheless, there is a flaw in their Watergate comparison, at least if Durham’s theory of the case is sound. 

    To be of Watergate dimension, a scandal needs proof that government officials were the puppet masters behind the political spying against Trump — that the government drove the conspiracy. According to Durham, that is not what happened. Instead, he alleges that presumably well-meaning government officials were having their strings pulled. They were mere dupes of the real masterminds: Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives. 

    Fair enough. I'm trying whenever possible to keep myself open to "it's not that bad" arguments, because this story as reported at conservative news sites really confirms my priors.


  • How about the Trump-haters at the Dispatch? Andrew Egger is on the case: Making Sense of the Latest Clinton-Trump-Russia Court Filing.

    According to the new filing, [Senior VP of Neustar Rodney] Joffe (referred to throughout as “Tech Executive-1”) used his perch as a leader at a well-placed company—“exploited his access to non-public and/or proprietary internet data,” in Durham’s parlance—to obtain large amounts of raw internet data touching Team Trump, and put his associates to work analyzing it “for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump” in order to please “certain VIPs” at the Clinton campaign and its counsel, the firm Perkins Coie.

    Durham’s most explosive assertion—and this was new to the latest filing—was detailing that internet data, which [Clinton campaign attorney Michael] Sussmann had taken again in updated form to the government in February 2017: domain name system (DNS) data connected with, among other entities, “Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and the Executive Office of the President of the United States.”

    Egger notes that the internet data consisted of DNS query logs. And explains that a DNS query translates hostnames (like 'punsalad.com') into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (like 199.26.84.122). A DNS query is usually (but not necessarily) the prelude to connecting to a remote host.

    Andrew's conclusion is measured:

    Again, there’s little evidence to suggest any of these actions were actually illegal. But who can look at them without disgust?

    None of this is to excuse the Team Trump exaggerations we’ve seen on this story this week. But it is worth noting that one of Trump’s political strengths from the very beginning was his attractiveness to people inclined to believe all politics works like this: a swamp of political elites hobnobbing with business elites and media elites to bring about mutually agreeable ends.

    This may be a reductive and oversimple way to view the world. But it’s easy to see how people come by it when you see a story like this, which features a tech executive hoping to land a job with an incoming candidate’s administration, working with that candidate’s lawyer and exploiting government connections to collect dirt on that candidate’s opponent—with an assist from some university researchers for good measure, just to round out the illustration—and then laundering that dirt through chummy relationships with a credulous press. And that’s not even to consider the repeated attempts to get federal law enforcement involved in a wild goose chase.

    Of course it wasn’t worse than Watergate. Why would it have been? There’s no need for criminal dirty tricks when you already know all the right people.


  • Experts and humility go together like marshmallows and croutons. Nevertheless, Veronique de Rugy explains Why Experts Should Embrace Humility After Their Inflation Miscalculation.

    As the greatest inflation spike of the last 50 years occurs, the utter failure of economists, their models and many pundits to foresee what was coming is worth highlighting. Of course, the biggest malfunction in the story was that of the Federal Reserve itself, which had a clear mandate to keep prices stable, and seems surprised by their lack of stability.

    It's no understatement to say that the Fed failed to properly anticipate the inflation surge. On Feb. 8, 2021, Raphael Bostic, the president of the Atlanta branch of the Fed, said, "I'm really not expecting us to see a spike in inflation that is very robust in the next 12 months or so." A few days later, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren echoed this sentiment, noting that he would be "surprised" to see broad-based inflation sustained at a level of 2% before the end of 2022.

    As the saying goes, problems often start at the top. When testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in February 2021, Fed Chair Jerome Powell predicted that it might take more than three years to hit the 2% inflation goal.

    Powell has been renominated for a second term at the Fed. You'd think he'd be too embarrassed to accept, but no.


  • But could it solve Maggie Hassan's problem with getting re-elected? Eric Boehm is scornful: There Are Many Problems With Democrats' Plan for a Federal Gas Tax Holiday.

    First, it would blow an estimated $20 billion hole in the Highway Trust Fund at a time when the fund is already slinking toward insolvency. That hole would have to be filled sooner or later by either raising taxes, transferring revenue from somewhere else, or reducing the number of fund projects.

    Coming on the heels of the Biden administration's massive infrastructure bill, which has already weakened the historical norm of using user fees (like the gas tax) to fund road and bridge projects, this would constitute another step toward forcing a broad base of taxpayers to pay for infrastructure projects they might not use.

    The more immediate problem, however, is that there are two possible outcomes of a gas tax holiday. Either the tax break will be significant enough to artificially depress prices at the pump, which necessarily translates into drivers being encouraged to buy more gasoline—or…it won't be.

    It's pretty obvious that it's a desperate re-election ploy by (among others) my state's senator Maggie Hassan.


  • Science needs saving from politics, period. But Vinay Prasad has a suggestion for a smaller victory: How to Save Science From Covid Politics.

    Scientific knowledge is supposed to accumulate. We know more than our ancestors; our descendants will know far more than us. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, that building process was severely disrupted.

    Federal agencies and their officials have claimed to speak on behalf of science when trying to persuade the public about policies for which there is little or no scientific support. This ham-handedness—and especially the telling of “noble lies”—has gravely undermined public trust. So has the hypocrisy of our elites. Look no further than the Super Bowl, at which celebrities and politicians had fun mask-free, while the following day children in Los Angeles were forced to don masks for school.

    The upshot is that science and public health have become political. We now face the very real danger that instead of a shared method to understand the world, science will split into branches of our political parties, each a cudgel of Team Red and Team Blue.

    We cannot let that happen.

    Well, we shouldn't let it happen, but I'm not betting against it.


  • And finally… a few more Peej apprecations, first from Kyle Smith: P. J. O’Rourke: What He Knew.

    P. J. O’Rourke once told me that he was not as good at making jokes as David Letterman’s writers, and he didn’t know as much about policy as the guys at the Cato Institute. But! He knew a lot more about policy than Letterman’s writers, and he was a lot funnier than Cato’s wonks. He could write trenchantly about politics and simultaneously be really funny, and that made him just about unique when he came along. You could get a take on politics that was scathingly on-target while snorting chocolate milk out your nose.

    I’m not talking about “Washington funny.” Before P. J., the 202 was a comedy Gobi where the micro-droplets of humor conjured up by hacks like Art Buchwald and “PBS wit” Mark Russell were received as gratefully as a downpour. Nor was O’Rourke the second coming of Hunter S. Thompson, to whom he was sometimes compared. O’Rourke did, like the earlier Rolling Stone political writer, have an affinity for the hilarious run-on insult — “In July 1988 I attended the specious, entropic, criminally trivial, boring, stupid Democratic National Convention — a numb suckhole stuffed with political bulk filler held in that place where bad malls go when they die.” Thompson, like O’Rourke, was an excellent reporter, and he wrote in bold, slashing colors with exaggeration that became hyperbole that became absurdity, but O’Rourke not only made it rain acid, he wrote about politics with actual setup-punchline jokes, always aware that the truth is funny. “Washington is a fine place for journalists to live as well as to brown-nose,” he wrote in Parliament of Whores. “It has plenty of the only kind of people who can stand journalists — other journalists — and plenty of the only kind of people journalists get any real information from — other journalists.” To me, his heirs are the funniest political writers today — Jonah Goldberg, Kevin Williamson, and that guy at Vox who keeps saying we need to save the Republic by burning the Constitution. (Okay, that last one is funny mainly to me because I hear everything he writes in the voice of Ralph Wiggum.)

    And here's David Henderson: P.J. O'Rourke, RIP

    I loved his book Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics. In a review of the book I wrote somewhere, I said, “So think of O’Rourke as a modern Adam Smith, with these two differences: O’Rourke’s data are more recent, and you’ll get side-splitting laughs on every page.”

    My favorite passage is the opening paragraph:

    I had one fundamental question about economics: Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? It’s not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they’re boiling stones for soup. Nor can education be the reason. Fourth graders in the American school system know what a condom is but they’re not sure about 9 x 7. Natural resources aren’t the answer. Africa has diamonds, gold, uranium, you name it. Scandinavia has little and is frozen besides. Maybe culture is the key, but wealthy regions such as the local mall are famous for lacking it.

    And here's Charles Murray: PJ O’Rourke—A Tribute

    The thing about PJ O’Rourke, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 74, was that everyone wanted to be around him. By “everyone,” I don’t just mean the right-wingers I hang out with, most of whom share PJ’s classical-liberal politics, but also neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz, who also loved him, and a number of leftists. PJ wrote much of his best stuff for Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone.

    The attraction that PJ had for these disparate people was simple. PJ O’Rourke was an incomparable companion. I looked forward to a dinner with PJ (i.e., an evening of drinking with PJ) with the same anticipation that I long ago looked forward to first dates. I was sad when PJ relocated from Washington to New Hampshire, even though I could still read his writing, because I knew how much I would miss the pleasure of his presence. He could be puckish. He could be delightfully self-deprecatory. His wit could be demurely wicked—comparing Clinton to Trump, PJ observed that while Hillary was wrong about absolutely everything, “she is wrong within normal parameters.” And yet I cannot recall a single instance, no matter how many times the bottle had gone round, when PJ was malicious. The PJ I knew was gentlemanly. It was as much a part of his persona as the humor.

    RIP, Peej. You had a lot of famous friends, but many more schlubs like me who could only aspire to your wit and insight.


Last Modified 2022-02-17 3:16 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-16

  • Well, darn it. P.J. O’Rourke has died. If you browse the conservative/libertarian sites, you'll find any number of remembrances, uniform in their depiction of Peej as a funny, smart, and profoundly decent guy.

    His books take up (I just measured) sixteen inches of shelf space at Pun Salad Manor. I've been a fan since the 70s, when I started reading his National Lampoon stuff in college. (Occasionally filthy, always funny, sometimes unexpectedly sweet.)

    Here's an excerpt from the NYT obit linked above:

    Becoming more libertarian than liberal, he went to New York in 1972 and there started writing for National Lampoon, which was founded in 1970. Among his more infamous articles for the magazine was one in 1979 titled “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.”

    He was a co-writer of Lampoon newspaper and yearbook parodies and helped promote the careers of John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest. From 1978 to 1980 he was the magazine’s editor in chief.

    “As the boss, I had the people skills of Luca Brasi in ‘The Godfather’ and the business acumen of the fellows who were managing New York’s finances in the 1970s,” he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, in an article that carried the headline “How I Killed ‘National Lampoon.’”

    Certainly one our guiding mottos at Pun Salad is from his Parliament of Whores:

    Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

    I've gathered a few links to appreciations, in no particular order:

    And, well, you get the idea. He will be profoundly missed, and his passing leaves a hole in our hearts.


  • Commentary on the Prime Minister of America's Hat:


  • They wish. Kevin D. Williamson (in one of his rare appearances outside the NR paywall) writes of The Forever Emergency.

    Some of us, it seems, are positively going to miss the Covid-19 epidemic.

    If there is a sense of impending post-pandemic lamentation from some of our progressive friends, it is because they believe that, contrary to the advice of bottom-feeding Chicago demagogue Rahm Emanuel, they have let a good crisis go to waste.

    The other Emanuel brother prominent in our public life, former Obama administration adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania, seems ready to let the Covid crisis go. In a conversation hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association in January, he argued that while there remained work to be done in reducing Covid incidence and transmission, the emergency is coming to a close. “Covid should begin looking like a flu,” he said. “You get it, and you stay home so you don’t infect other people. When you’re feeling better, you can go into work, probably wearing a mask for a few days to reduce the chance of infection. We’re simply going to get back to the life that we’ve known, with some modifications.”

    Cynical me suspects that President Wheezy will announce victory over Covid in his State of the Union speech on March 1.

    That's what he means when he deems ending mask mandates "premature": it's not March 1 yet.


  • Or maybe we'll have to wait until November 8. Eric Boehm suspects The Midterms Will End the Pandemic.

    It takes a lot to make a libertarian look forward to the next election.

    Like, say, two years of miserable government mandates ignored by some of the very people imposing them. Like watching over 70,000 maskless adults (and many celebrities) partying at a major sporting event in a city where children are required to wear medical-grade masks to school and keep them on while playing sports. Like imposing border controls on immigration and travel meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, and then keeping them in place (with no off-ramp) long after the virus is spreading here.

    For once, we can be thankful that another election season is already upon us since politics is the last realm where the pandemic is dominating decision-making. The economy emerged from the omicron wave in better shape than expected. Sunday's Super Bowl was the latest signal that lots of Americans are done with the health theatrics of the past two years. But even the political class' commitment to COVID policy is wavering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and President Joe Biden might be refusing to offer much hope that COVID-related mandates should be lifted soon, but they are increasingly being undone by rank-and-file Democrats who are looking at favorability ratings that are falling nearly as fast as COVID case counts.

    Eric could be right, but I'm still betting on March 1.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

    Bryan Caplan really tried to be a diligent scholar. But, he says, No One Cared About My Spreadsheets.

    The most painful part of writing The Case Against Education was calculating the return to education. I spent fifteen months working on the spreadsheets. I came up with the baseline case, did scores of “variations on a theme,” noticed a small mistake or blind alley, then started over. Several programmer friends advised me to learn a new programming language like Python to do everything automatically, but I’m 98% sure that would have taken even longer – and introduced numerous additional errors into the results. I did plenty of programming in my youth, and I know my limitations.

    I took quality control very seriously.  About half a dozen friends gave up whole days of their lives to sit next to me while I gave them a guided tour of the reasoning behind my number-crunching.  Four years before the book’s publication, I publicly released the spreadsheets, and asked the world to “embarrass me now” by finding errors in my work.  If memory serves, one EconLog reader did find a minor mistake.  When the book finally came out, I published final versions of all the spreadsheets underlying the book’s return to education calculations.  A one-to-one correspondence between what’s in the book and what I shared with the world.  Full transparency.

    Now guess what? Since the 2018 publication of The Case Against Education, precisely zero people have emailed me about those spreadsheets. The book enjoyed massive media attention. My results were ultra-contrarian: my preferred estimate of the Social Return to Education is negative for almost every demographic. I loudly used these results to call for massive cuts in education spending. Yet since the book’s publication, no one has bothered to challenge my math. Not publicly. Not privately. No one cared about my spreadsheets.

    My guess is that his readers were either (a) people like me, who just assumed he'd done things correctly; or (b) people who didn't like his thesis, but were too afraid that attempting to rebut his calculations would be fruitless.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-15

  • Feeling unfree? Well, there's probably a reason for that, if you're reading this in the US of A. The Heritage folks have come out with their latest Index of Economic Freedom, comparing nation by nation. And …

    The United States’ economic freedom score is 72.1, making its economy the 25th freest in the 2022 Index. The United States is ranked 3rd among 32 countries in the Americas region, and its overall score is above the regional and world averages.

    The U.S. economy, which was growing moderately well before the COVID-19 pandemic, contracted sharply in 2020. Growth recovered in 2021. A decade-long trend of flagging economic freedom, interrupted briefly in 2019, has continued. Driven lower by a sharp decrease in its fiscal health score, the U.S. has recorded a 3.0-point overall loss of economic freedom since 2017 and has fallen from the upper half to the lower half of the “Mostly Free” category. Business freedom and rule of law are strong, but the economy is being crushed by reckless government overspending.

    This should not have been unexpected. But it's extra depressing to read the list of countries we are behind. (Canada!?)


  • But maybe it doesn't matter. Because, as Stephen Green relates, according to Experts: Freedom Is Fascism.

    The Canadian-government-funded CBC published a “freedom is fascism” attack on liberty this weekend, quoting “experts” who claim that the word “freedom” has become “flexible” and “common among far-right groups.”

    Let’s see who’s really doing the flexing, shall we?

    The CBC quotes Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the Oshawa-based Ontario Tech University, who claims that the problem with “freedom” is that “You can define it and understand it and sort of manipulate it in a way that makes sense to you and is useful to you, depending on your perspective.”

    Because of that, the word “has thrived among far-right groups.”

    The left has already made "racism" a worthless word; as George Orwell tells us, that happened long ago with "fascism". It's about time for "freedom" to be defined away.


  • For more on that… David Harsanyi has also noticed that (especially in Canada) The Left Vilifies Freedom.

    The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently set out to explain why the word “freedom” has become a “useful rallying cry” for protesters in the trucking convoy. Freedom, it added, “has become common among far-right groups, experts say.”

    It’s worth noting here that the addendum “experts say” is perhaps the laziest scam run by contemporary political journalism. It is little more than columnizing by proxy, or what Kyle Smith calls, “opinion laundering.” Journalists scan the websites of think tanks, advocacy groups, and universities to find some credentialed ideologue who will repeat every tedious bit of liberal conventional wisdom the reporter already believes. While we may need experts to explain quantum computing or synthesize complex mathematical data for us, we hardly need them to smear political adversaries. Reporters are already aficionados in that field.

    David also notes the sneer quotes journalists routinely put around "religious liberty", while never affording the same treatment to even more debatable "social justice" or "women’s rights".


  • While the news side of the newspaper remains quiet… at least the editorial side of the WSJ has begun to notice: Trump Really Was Spied On.

    Special Counsel John Durham continues to unravel the Trump-Russia “collusion” story, and his latest court disclosure contains startling information. According to a Friday court filing, the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign effort to compile dirt on Donald Trump reached into protected White House communications.

    The indictment revealed that Mr. Sussmann worked with “Tech Executive-1,” who has been identified as Rodney Joffe, formerly of Neustar Inc. The indictment says Mr. Joffe used his companies, as well as researchers at a U.S. university, to access internet data, which he used to gather information about Mr. Trump’s communications.

    That kind of seems like a huge deal to me. And folks of a conservative bent seem to agree; it's all over "our" side of the web.

    But it's leaking into the other side, slowly but surely. At the New York Times, the coverage seems to be in the "conservatives pounce, but move along there's nothing to see here" mold. Headline: Court Filing Started a Furor in Right-Wing Outlets, but Their Narrative Is Off Track.

    WASHINGTON — When John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel investigating the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference, filed a pretrial motion on Friday night, he slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump.

    But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news — the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies.

    Upon close inspection, these narratives are often based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation. They also tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims. Yet Trump allies portray the news media as engaged in a cover-up if they don’t.

    Uh, maybe. We'll see, I guess.


  • Is the revolution over? If you were wondering about that, N.S. Lyons has your answer: No, the Revolution Isn’t Over

    At least in the Boswash (the corridor of East Coast establishment power running from Boston to Washington), using January to make public predictions about the year ahead is an ironclad tradition. Usually these predictions end up being completely wrong, because no one here has any idea what they’re talking about. I hope that holds true in my case, because I want to use my mandatory annual forecast to dump a few gallons of cold, contrarian water on what seems to have recently become a fashionable prediction: that the “woke” ideological revolution roiling the West has peaked and will soon be in full blown retreat.

    Lyons finds this optimism to be mistaken. He offers 20 (yes, 20, Two-zero) reasons why. Here's number one:

    1. One does not simply walk away from religious beliefs. What is called “Wokeness” – or the “Successor Ideology,” or the “New Faith,” or what have you (note the foe hasn’t even been successfully named yet, let alone routed) – rests on a series of what are ultimately metaphysical beliefs. The fact that their holders would laugh at the suggestion they have anything called metaphysical beliefs is irrelevant – they hold them nonetheless. Such as:

    The world is divided into a dualistic struggle between oppressed and oppressors (good and evil); language fundamentally defines reality; therefore language (and more broadly “the word” – thought, logic, logos) is raw power, and is used by oppressors to control the oppressed; this has created power hierarchies enforced by the creation of false boundaries and authorities; no oppression existed in the mythic past, the utopian pre-hierarchical State of Nature, in which all were free and equal; the stain of injustice only entered the world through the original sin of (Western) civilizational hierarchy; all disparities visible today are de facto proof of the influence of hierarchical oppression (discrimination); to redeem the world from sin, i.e. to end oppression and achieve Social Justice (to return to the kingdom of heaven on earth), all false authorities and boundaries must be torn down (deconstructed), and power redistributed from the oppressors to the oppressed; all injustice anywhere is interlinked (intersectional), so the battle against injustice is necessarily total; ultimate victory is cosmically ordained by history, though the arc of progress may be long; moral virtue and true right to rule is determined by collective status within the oppression-oppressed dialectic; morally neutral political liberalism is a lie constructed by the powerful to maintain status quo structures of oppression; the first step to liberation can be achieved through acquisition of the hidden knowledge of the truth of this dialectic; a select awoken vanguard must therefore guide a revolution in popular consciousness; all imposed limits on the individual can ultimately be transcended by virtue of a will to power…

    I could go on, but the real point is that these are faith-beliefs, and ones capable of wielding an iron grip on the individual and collective mind. And they have a strong civilizational resonance, because they are in fact not arbitrary but deeply rooted in a metaphysical struggle that effectively stretches to the very beginning of Western theological and philosophical thought. In other words, “Wokeness” is much more than just a political program. And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, because…

    The other 19 are equally bleak. Sorry, but check 'em out.

One Hudred Years of Solitude

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Motivation: this book was on the New York Times shortlist of fiction from which they asked their readers to pick "the best book of the past 125 years". Since I hadn't read it, I put it on the TBR list. So: one more down, eleven to go!

And I actually owned a copy, a paperback edition I bought back in the 70s for $2.50. Although I had to retrieve it from my daughter. I remember bouncing off the book, not making it through the first chapter back then. My wife remembers that I read it due to a recommendation I received from "that girl". Um, could be. But that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.

Philistinism warning: the good folks at Goodreads encourage you to rate your reads subjectively, not on some cosmic scale of quality. On the cosmic scale of quality, this one would have to rank very highly. The author, Gabriel García Márquez, got the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 1982, and this is said to have been his magnum opus. And I can (sort of) see the appeal, because the prose is evocative, the timeline is epic, there's plenty of sex, violence, tragedy, comedy, absurdity,… well, you name it. It's got magic realism, and that's often fun.

But I have to be honest: I didn't care for it. Didn't find the characters sympathetic or even interesting, and I lost track of who was who pretty quickly. The similar names didn't help; makes Russian novels with their multiple patronymics look like child's play. Didn't like the mile-long sentences and the multi-page paragraphs. Disgusted by the newborn baby carried off by ants. (Yes, I read to the end.)

And García Márquez was a Castro sycophant. Didn't care for that, either, although I tried to ignore that while reading.

Plot summary: The book describes the rise and fall of the fictional Columbian town of Macondo, accompanied by generations of the Buendía family, Mostly bad things happen.

A magic town in Columbia, and a troubled founding family … hey, It's just like the Disney movie Encanto! Well, except for almost everything else.


Last Modified 2022-02-15 9:12 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-14

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Or, more pointedly: "progressives" vs. progress. Arnold Kling notes the conflict: Progressivism vs. Dynamism

    Almost a quarter century ago, Virginia Postrel published The Future and its Enemies. That book advocates for dynamism. But unlike Smith and other smug advocates for active government, Postrel articulated the libertarian view that dynamism comes from decentralized experimentation.

    Progressives are misguided about progress. If you want a dynamic society, don’t root for government to lead the way. Instead, root for government to create a background of order that permits progress to proceed.

    I have an aphorism that progress comes via the three e’s: experimentation, evaluation, and evolution. It does not come via intelligent design.

    It's tough to resist putting "progressives" in sneer quotes. (You'll note I succumbed to the temptation here.) It's a name they chose for themselves, and it seems to get less accurate by the year. Their proposals seem straight out of the 1930s: central planning, social engineering, citizens increasingly dependent on government, strict controls on business, class warfare, etc.


  • And maybe I should have mentioned virtue-signalling above… Kevin D. Williamson explains Why Progressives Can’t Quit Their Masks.

    While there has been a quietly energetic campaign to memory-hole the fact, some of you will remember that, in the run-up to the 2020 presidential campaign, vaccine skepticism was a Democratic thing, not a Republican thing. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, and every third progressive nitwit on Twitter cast doubt on the safety and the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines that were being developed under Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to expedite a vaccine. It was childishly predictable: With Election Day looming, anything that might redound to the credit of the Trump administration had to be cast into doubt or held up for scorn. We are governed by people who have never mentally or morally progressed beyond the politics of the junior-high lunchroom.

    After the election, the Democrats and the Republicans settled back into their familiar respective grooves. Republicans who had sympathized with the Trump administration’s early efforts to play down Covid-19 went back to pooh-poohing it, Democrats returned to their peculiar form of technocratic pietism. Democrats sacralized the vaccines, Republicans scorned them and talked up quack cures. And masks became the burqa of the Covid era, with the Subaru-mounted mutaween of suburbia zealously guarding the new public morality.

    KDW goes into the history of the ritual of head/face covering. He's good on that stuff. Those "Science is Real" yard signs are fine, but how to inform people of your impeccable views when you're away from home? Just slap on an N95 respirator, baby!


  • And maybe I should have mentioned attempted suppression of dissent above… Charles C. W. Cooke notices one of your "progressive" news sources kinda losing its shit: CNN Accuses Joe Rogan of 'Unleashing' Genocidal and Insurrectionist Forces

    CNN spends an inordinate amount of time trying to destroy its rivals in the media market — whatever they may pretend they do, this is the role that is actually played by both Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy — so it should not come as a surprise that the network has been among the most vocal critics of the podcaster Joe Rogan, about whom its staff have grown progressively unhinged as the attempt to cancel him has gained steam.

    On Wednesday, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota said that she was “out of ideas for what to do about Joe Rogan.” But, alas, the broader network is not. This morning, John Blake published a piece of “analysis” — this is the word CNN uses for opinion pieces it hopes to launder as something else — that links Rogan’s words with the attack on the Capitol on January 6 and the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and accuses him of helping to reverse the progress that has been made in America since 1945.

    CCWC's characterization of Blake's "analysis" as "unhinged" seems mild, but see what you think.

    I sometimes want to take folks like Blake by the lapels and say something like: "Look: if your values, visions, and ideas could be credibly threatened by Joe Rogan's use of the N-word… well, maybe, just maybe, your values, visions, and ideas weren't that sturdy in the first place."

    Instead, I say that to you. And I keep my hands off your lapels.


  • And maybe I should have mentioned looking at certain totalitarian regimes with rose-colored glasses above… Jeff Jacoby writes on that Commie hellhole just off the Florida coast: Cuba’s dictatorship, not the embargo, is what needs to go.

    Feb. 7 marked the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation imposing an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba. Other JFK milestones are recalled by media and political elites with esteem or affection. Not this one.

    “Cuba has been under US embargo for 60 years. It’s time for that to end,” declared David Adler of Progressive International in The Guardian. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, argued in an essay for Univision that “the US embargo is opposed by every other nation in this hemisphere,” so that “in a failed attempt to isolate Cuba, we have isolated ourselves.” Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, long a supporter of normalized ties with Cuba, tweeted that “the Cold War is over” and condemned the embargo as “a policy that has failed for decades, all the while inflicting incalculable suffering on ordinary Cubans.” And The Nation, boasting that it had opposed Kennedy’s trade ban from the outset, ran yet another article denouncing it under the headline: “Cuba: 60 Years of a Brutal, Vindictive, and Pointless Embargo.”

    This is par for the course. In the face of the oldest dictatorship in the Western hemisphere and one of the cruelest on the planet, men and women who regard themselves as enlightened aim their outrage not at the regime that tramples human rights, strangles freedom, and violently represses its critics but at America’s longstanding policy of not doing business as usual with that regime. By contrast, many of those same voices rightly call for restricting trade by companies tainted by slave labor in China’s Xinjiang region, just as they earlier endorsed sanctions against South Africa during apartheid. Why, when it comes to Cuba, do they demand not the lifting of the communist oppression but of the trade embargo meant to resist it?

    JJ notes that the US embargo is actually pretty "porous". And other countries are perfectly free to trade with Cuba and have no restrictions on tourism. That hasn't led to the freeing of Cuba's people.

    Of course, our embargo hasn't led to the freeing of Cuba's people either. So is the embargo just symbolic?


  • What they really want is… If you were under the impression that the push for "Indigenous Peoples' Day" was about … well … celebrating Indigenous People, this story in this morning's lousy local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, will disabuse you: NH bill for Indigenous Peoples' Day in August draws opposition

    A Republican-backed bill to preserve Columbus Day and have New Hampshire celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day in August drew opposition at a public hearing this week, in a reprise of a fight last legislative session when Abenaki leaders spoke against the August date.

    Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican, who is a co-sponsor of House Bill 1173, favored the August date, which would correspond with the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. He presented the August date as a compromise and a way of ending what he called the “intersectional wars.”

    You, being a normal person, might think that a day in August, aligned with similar international celebrations, would be fine for this.

    Oh, normal person. You are so wrong.

    Asma Elhuni, an activist who works with the nonprofit Rights and Democracy, said replacing Columbus Day is an important expression of the state’s values. Elhuni is also a resident of Concord, which recently opted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. She opposed HB 1173, along with 68 people who signed in remotely. Four people logged support of the bill.

    It's not enough that the Indigenous get their day. Columbus must be erased!

    But this is pretty funny:

    “We can’t be honoring violence,” Elhuni said about Columbus’ legacy, adding that as a Libyan American she hopes the United States can celebrate immigrants, but not by glorifying violent history.

    Asma, it's not as if Columbus had a monopoly on violence.


  • And finally, in our LFOD coverage: A report from the Winnipeg Free Press notes, with barely concealed dismay, troubling trends in America's Hat: Convoy protesters embrace U.S. revolutionary symbols

    The symbols that are part of an anti-vaccine mandate protest in front of the legislature are most often signs touting “freedom” and Canadian and American flags. On Friday, the day the province announced it’s speeding up the plan to lift pandemic restrictions, a new flag appeared.

    [Gasp! Mon Dieu!]

    The yellow banner with a snake and “Don’t Tread on Me — Live Free or Die” popped up on the Broadway median.

    I should also mention the cracked history the report presents as fact:

    The yellow snake flag — the Gadsden flag — dates back to the American Revolution and has been used by groups pushing for minimal government and more extreme causes, like the Tea Party that rose to prominence protesting the first African American president, and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, said Helmut-Harry Loewen, a retired Winnipeg sociology professor who studies extremism and hate groups.

    The traditional Gadsden Flag doesn't include LFOD. It was adopted in 1775. General John Stark didn't pen his famous missive including the phrase until 1809.

    And painting the Tea Party as an "extreme cause" devoted solely to "protesting the first African American president"… well, please.

    Anyway, good luck on that Covid stuff, Canada. And keep the bacon coming.

Noise

A Flaw in Human Judgment

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I enjoyed reading Daniel Kahneman's classic, Thinking Fast and Slow (belatedly, back in 2017). And even though that work might have relied too much on research of doubtful replicability, I still was tempted to read this latest work. It's co-authored with Olivier Sibony (apparently a business consultant type), and Harvard lawprof and popular non-fiction author Cass Sunstein.

The book discusses and summarizes a specific way "judgments" go wrong. Specifically, when humans are presented with the same set of relevant facts about a situation, and are asked to decide on a specific conclusion, they "should" come up with the same answer. But they don't.

The authors distinguish two kinds of judgment flaws: bias, where the decision process is giving consistently wrong answers; and noise, where the answers are scattered widely. They propose a simple experiment: take out your smartphone, pull up the clock, which probably has a lap timer function. Use that to (for example) try to measure 6 (or so) "laps" of 10 seconds each, without looking. (For extra credit, do it without counting in your head.)

Your average lap time will (almost certainly) not be exactly 10.0 seconds; this is bias: your inner clock is running fast or slow. But your results will also (again, almost certainly) scatter around that average, and that's noise.

Noise in judgment is very often bad. Examples used in the book: judges vary widely in the sentences they impose on criminals guilty of the same offense, with similar histories and situations. That can be due to the judges having lenient/strict sentencing standards, but "studies show" it can also be due to the time of day, whether the judge's home team lost its last game, what they had for lunch, … That's not the way we'd like to think the justice system works.

Other examples are drawn from the business world: setting insurance premiums, making hiring decisions, doing performance evaluations, the merger and acquisition process, etc. Here, excessive noise in judgment can result in dysfunction and corporate ruin. Unsurprisingly, there have been a lot of studies done on the sources of noise, although noise hasn't risen to the popularity of its partner in crime, bias.

The book describes a number of strategies to minimize noise, mostly in the corporate/government spheres. For example, they encourage more reliance on noise-free "algorithms" to substitute for flawed human judgments.

I would have liked to see a little more emphasis on how individuals can tame their inner noisiness, but the diligent reader can probably construct some useful personal advice from the book's discussion.

To their credit, the authors consider criticisms of noise-reduction. For example, they look at Cathy O'Neil's book Weapons of Math Destruction, which purports to show how "algorithms are increasingly used in ways that reinforce preexisting inequality."

(Note: I suspect that often means: "algorithms give us answers we don't like.")

And they often consider cases where a certain amount of noise can be beneficial. For example, it can cause your decision-making to evolve and adapt to changing environments.

So: it's an interesting read, a little dry in spots, and my interest waned in the business-intensive sections. (I could imagine that corporate execs could find those extremely interesting, though.)

URLs du Jour

2022-02-13

  • No kraken this year either. Jacob Sullum has made a point of keeping track of erstwhile Trump election lawyer Sidney Powell. His latest: Sidney Powell Disowns Her Kraken, Saying She Is Not Responsible for Her Phony Story of a Stolen Election

    Former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, who is fighting sanctions against her in Michigan, complains in her appeal that the federal judge who approved them "does everything possible" to make her and her colleagues seem like "overwrought, dangerous lunatics." If you watched the bizarre news conference that Powell and other members of the campaign's "elite strike force team" held a couple of weeks after the 2020 presidential election, or any of her numerous TV interviews regarding the imaginary criminal conspiracy that she said had denied Donald Trump his rightful victory, you know that she does not need any help to look crazy.

    Powell came off as a lunatic because she always seemed to sincerely believe the nonsense she was spouting: that Democrats across the country had used fraud-facilitating election software and phony ballots to steal the election for Joe Biden in an elaborate scheme that somehow involved deceased Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Dominion Voting Systems, and "the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China." So it is a bit startling to read these words in the brief that Powell and fellow lawyer Howard Kleinhendler filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit this week (emphasis added): "Millions of Americans believe the central contentions of the complaint to be true, and perhaps they are."

    Sullum relates the sad history of Sidney's back-and-forth on the veracity of her wacky conspiracy theories.

    It was pretty sad to see my friends at Granite Grok get sucked into Powell's conspiricism. They even had a tag for Kraken-relevant posts. The last one begins "Sidney Powell’s single-minded devotion to bringing truth to the 2020 election fraud…"

    That was from December 2020, and … well, the Groksters are still pushing various evidence-free conspiracy theories, but apparently they've thrown Sidney under the bus.

    Meanwhile, the actual released Kraken seems to be the many lawsuits filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Sidney and a host of other theorists.


  • Because it seeks to divide us by race. Asra Q. Nomani writes at UnHerd on Why anti-racism should be resisted.

    “Young boys and girls must grow up with world perspectives”. On 22nd April 1965, Martin Luther King Jr, speaking at a meeting of the Massachusetts legislature, lamented the “tragedy” of school segregation. With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the US had finally dismantled the Jim Crow laws — which King had joked about burying a decade earlier. The nation had come to King’s conclusion: “Segregation debilitates the segregator as well as the segregated”.

    Almost six decades later, from Massachusetts to Colorado, Jim Crow is being resurrected in public schools — this time through euphemisms such as “affinity circles”, “affinity dialogue groups” and “community building groups”. Centennial Elementary School in Denver, for instance, advertised a “Families of Color Playground Night” earlier this winter, on a marquee board outside the school. Last week, the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, hosted a “meet and talk” with actress Karyn Parsons from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” — exclusively for its “Students of Color affinity group”. “If you are a student of color or multiracial, please join us!” the invitation from a seventh grade teacher read.

    Ms. Nomani goes into detail on the example of Wellesley Public Schools. Their "diversity, equity and inclusion" director, Charmie Curry, hastened to set up a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students (grade 6-12), faculty/staff, and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community who wish to process recent events”. (The relevant recent event was the Atlanta spa shootings.) When asked if white kids could participate, the response was handed down:

    This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian-American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White. If you identify as White, and need help to process recent events, please know I’m here for you as well as your guidance counselors. If you need to know more about why this is not for White students, please ask me!

    They might as well have added: "We don't want to try to justify this racial segregation in writing, because it might get out."


  • For the next edition of Profiles in Desperate Electoral Pandering … A Wall Street Journal editorial notes a local pol: Suspend the Gas Tax, They Cried

    The contradictions of climate politics keep piling up, and the latest is a call from Democratic Senators running for re-election this year to suspend the federal gas tax. Hello? Isn’t the point of Democratic climate plans to raise the price of fossil fuels so we use less? Or at least it is until rising gasoline prices begin to have political consequences.

    Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan on Wednesday introduced legislation to waive the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax through 2022—long enough to get them past tough re-elections in November. Co-sponsors include Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto —also up in November—as well as Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Nevada’s Jacky Rosen.

    Irony is a slippery concept for me, I'm always getting it wrong, so I'm appreciative when an authoritative source points it out:

    Another rich irony: Senate Democrats who want to suspend the gas tax support President Biden’s Build Back Better Act that would impose myriad new taxes on U.S. oil and gas. But shhhh, keep that one quiet from voters.


  • But I'm pretty sure this is irony…

    Yes, to avoid getting canceled by craven Dartmouth administrators, the Dartmouth College Republicans decamped from the Live Free or Die state, moving this event down the road and across the Connecticut River to White River Junction, Peoples Republic of Vermont.

  • Good question. And it's asked by Robert H. Bork, Jr.: Why Does Ted Cruz Buy Into Klobuchar’s Socialist Bill?

    Ted Cruz doesn’t shrink from invoking the “s” word, inveighing against socialism at every chance he gets. The Texas senator often dissects progressive bills to reveal heavy-handed government policies hidden behind deceptively innocuous names. He passionately decries the humanitarian and economic ruin of his father’s homeland, Cuba, imposed by the most extreme (and perhaps inevitable) form of socialism.

    Ted Cruz is also hopping mad at the left-leaning censorship from Big Tech companies, seeing in their “woke” content decisions against conservatives a genteel form of socialist authoritarianism.

    “Big Tech today represents the greatest accumulation of power — market power and monopoly power — over information that the world has ever seen,” Cruz said in a Senate hearing last year. “They behave as if they are completely unaccountable. And at times they behave more like nation states than private companies. . . . When it comes to content moderation, they are absolutely a ‘black box.’ They refuse to answer questions.”

    All of which makes one wonder: How could it escape this inarguably bright man that he voted to bring a bill to the Senate floor that would subject American business to socialism and make Big Tech social-media companies more woke and dedicated to the censorship of conservatives than ever before?

    It's an awful bill, and Cruz should know better.


Last Modified 2022-02-22 4:21 PM EDT

The Woman in the Window

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Woman in the Window]

The IMDB rating is pretty dismal. And it garnered no fewer than five Razzie nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Amy Adams), Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.

And yet, I kind of enjoyed it. I didn't fall asleep, it kept me guessing. The pandemic may have lowered my standards. And a small confession: I only watched it because a WSJ review of the recent The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window miniseries suggested I should watch this first.

Amy Adams plays Anna, and she's pretty messy. She lives in a large Manhattan townhouse, with only a grubby tenant occupying an equally grubby apartment in the basement. A nasty case of agoraphobia makes it impossible for Anna to go out. (Her shrink has to make house calls.) She's on a bunch of prescription drugs, which she freely mixes with goldfish-bowl-sized glasses of wine. She tells people she's separated from her husband and daughter. And she spends her free time surveilling whatever neighbors she can see from her windows.

Which means (of course) that she witnesses a murder in the apartment newly occupied by the Russell family. But is it real, or is it a hallucination enabled by the drugs, wine, and her general looniness?

You'll notice a lot of big names on the poster. Among them, only Amy Adams is onscreen for very long.


Last Modified 2022-02-13 10:03 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-12

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • "What Did You Expect?", Part CCXVI. Kevin D. Williamson thinks Uncle Sam Is a Predatory Lender. And he makes a pretty good case.

    As Democrats prepare to run themselves into a cinder-block wall at 103 mph in the midterm elections, progressives are desperately trying to grab the wheel and swerve. Because our policy-making class consists mainly of people who lack the moral imagination to consider anything very far beyond their own immediate parochial interests, progressives are once again turning to that supposed national emergency: college loans.

    The case for college-loan forgiveness is not economic; the median borrower spends less than 4 percent of his income on payments. It is purely political. The relatively well-off urban and suburban professionals who are responsible for a disproportionate share of student debt have the Democrats’ ear, and people who are actually poor do not, in part because Democrats are confident that in poor communities votes can be secured through other means. And the people at the last stop on the college-loan money train — the university personnel whose jobs are funded by student debt — are a powerful constituency themselves.

    KDW goes on to mention an inconvenient truth: the Americans in the direst of dire straits are the young men with a mere high school diploma or less. The pols who weep the loudest for the "relatively well-off urban and suburban professionals" don't have much to say to them.

    Except, maybe, to dismiss them as "deplorables".

    But for another look at Uncle Stupid's "compassion", check out a recent WSJ article: Program to Cut Student Debt Sticks Some With Even More.

    Thousands of healthcare workers join the National Health Service Corps each year, pledging to work in places with too few medical providers in exchange for help repaying their student loans.

    Job disruptions caused by the pandemic have shaken that bargain. Layoffs have put a growing number of these workers in violation of their contracts and exposed them to heavy penalties, sometimes many times the aid they received.

    Ouch. To adapt what Otter said to Flounder in Animal House: "You screwed up. You trusted the government."


  • Words from the guy with the suitcase. Vodkapundit has a small transcript of President Wheezy's remarks: Tired of High Gas Prices? Biden Will 'Work Like the Devil' to Bring Them Down (SPOILER: He's Lying)

    I’m gonna work like the devil to bring gas prices down which I’m gonna work into make sure that we keep strengthening the supply chain to bring the cost of energy and everything else and the goods that come to America… down… by helping the ports 24/7 by changing a whole range of things that, you know, what’s happened with COVID, COVID has caused significant increases in prices in the supply chain.

    I watched longer excerpts. They are no more coherent.


  • USPS delenda est. More on "bipartisanship", from Eric Boehm: Congress Wants Taxpayers To Bail Out the Postal Service

    A first-class stamp costs more than ever, and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) recently received a $10 billion loan from the federal government as part of a major pandemic relief package passed in 2020.

    Now, Congress might force taxpayers to cover the cost of retired postal workers' health care—something for which the supposedly self-financing agency has always been responsible.

    With little fanfare and broad bipartisan support, the House of Representatives voted earlier this week to pass the Postal Relief Act of 2022. The bill sweeps retired postal workers into the already strained Medicare system, whether they want to join or not, and excuses the USPS of having to self-fund health benefits for its retirees.

    And let me add Eric's ending zinger:

    It wouldn't be accurate to describe Congress' plan to shift workers from the underfunded USPS health care plan into Medicare as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. No, it's more like moving deck chairs from the Titanic to the Lusitania.


  • Wow. Just wow. George F. Will lets loose on the Illini, Chicago branch: Even by today’s standard of campus cowardice and conformity, this repulsive episode is noteworthy.

    A sludge of ignorance and cowardice oozes so constantly through today’s campuses that institutions acquire immunity through recidivism: Progressivism’s totalitarian temptation is too commonplace to be newsworthy. Academia’s vindictive intolerance has become humdrum.

    The University of Illinois at Chicago, however, is so repulsive that attention must be paid to Jason Kilborn’s ordeal. He is enduring, as the price of continuing as a tenured law professor, progressivism’s version of an ancient torment: the pillory. He has been sentenced to multiple debasements devised by UIC, which is wielding progressivism’s array of tools for mind-scrubbing and conformity-enforcing.

    Kilborn’s troubles began in December 2020, when he used, in an exam concerning civil procedure, a hypothetical case about a Black female manager suing a former employer, charging that she had been fired because of her race and gender. She alleged that other managers had called her — this is how the slurs appeared in Kilborn’s hypothetical — a “n_____” and a “b_____.”

    And then it got much worse. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has more on the case.

Clark and Division

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Another book plucked from the NYT list of The Best Mystery Novels of 2021. It's also the third fiction book I've read in 2022 that's Japan-related in some way; that's a coincidence, I think. Or maybe I'm ? No, I don't really think so.

The first-person narrator is Aki Ito, a young Nisei (US-born to Japanese immigrants) girl. The Ito family is living a decent life in Tropico, California (now part of Glendale). But that life is disrupted by World War II; they are uprooted and sent to the Manzanar internment camp. But there's a program to move camp inhabitants from Manzanar to "safer" locales, away from the West Coast. So the Itos sign up, and are destined for Chicago; older sister Rose goes ahead of the rest of the family to make arrangements.

But very bad things happen to Rose while she awaits the rest of her family. And on their arrival, they get the horrific news: Rose is dead, having been hit by a Chicago Transit Authority train at the (dum dum dum) Clark and Division Street subway station. Suicide or accident, say the authorities. But heartbroken Aki is dubious: could she have been pushed? She vows to find out more about what happened.

But other parts of her life go on, too. She finds work, she attempts to fit in with the Japanese community in Chicago, and she's also at the age where she thinks young men might not be yucky after all. So that's a part of the book, too. (She thinks she might want to be a nurse. Given her diligence and deductive powers, I'd think she'd make a pretty good detective.)

The author, Naomi Hirahara, did a vast amount of research (detailed in the back matter) to get the historical, geographical, political, and sociological details right. It's very impressive and moving.


Last Modified 2022-02-21 7:09 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-11

  • Jackass is taken. How about an ostrich?

    [Rewriting History]

    It's almost as if they're trying to lose.


  • Americans distrusting their government? You don't say. Tsk. George F. Will invites us to Witness how progressives in government forfeit the public’s trust.

    The transportation secretary has spoken, illuminating why, early in this third pandemic year, Americans by the many millions are ignoring government’s supervision. “Zero,” Pete Buttigieg recently proclaimed, “is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways.” He larded this fatuity with dollops of the usual rhetorical fat that greases governmental grandstanding — references to the “unacceptable” status quo, the wonders that will be worked in conjunction with “our stakeholders” hither and yon, through “sustained, urgent, yet lasting commitment,” etc.

    Buttigieg actually is going to have to “accept” many vehicular deaths and injuries because the road to zero is paved with pipedreams: Banning vehicles that move faster than 5 mph might not suffice, so vehicles must be banned. His policy applesauce is harmless. The implications of George W. Bush’s second inaugural address — remember the commitment to “ending tyranny in our world”? — were not. And neither is the excessive pursuit of safety from life’s dangers, of which viruses and their permutations are just one of many categories.

    GFW notes that this is just one example of the totalitarianism inherent in "transforming risk aversion into a supreme virtue." It's not clear how cynical adherents are. Do they really believe in the nonsensical and unattainable goals they demand, or is that just an excuse to accumulate power?


  • Unfortunately, statists never let a little detail like "high implausibility" stop them before. Ronald Bailey highlights something that should be good news: Worst-Case Climate Change Scenarios Are Highly Implausible, Argues New Study.

    Back in the bad old days of the 2010s, folks like David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019) warned, "The UN says we're on track to get to about 4 degrees or 4.3 degrees of warming by the end of the century if we continue as we are." Or you may remember author Gaia Vince asserting in 2019 in The Guardian that "experts agree that global heating of 4C by 2100 is a real possibility."

    Before rushing to kit out your climate prepper bunker, you might want to take a look at the new study by University of Colorado climate change policy researcher Roger Pielke that confirms what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in August 2021, namely that the worst-case climate scenario is increasingly unlikely, and that while our future will be warmer, it will not be catastrophically so.

    In the meantime, build nuclear power plants, and work on artificial photosynthesis for pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. You're welcome.


  • A bully pulpit indeed. Jerry Coyne invites us to come see the claptrap: Time Magazine tries bullying its readers into Wokeness. He looks at a recent article, titled (hey kids what time is it?) It's Time For White People to Have Tough Conversations. It's by one Savala Nolan, "Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law". And (as noted), Coyne deems it "about the most offensive and authoritarian piece of Woke claptrap I’ve ever read."

    He's not wrong. Nolan looks at her white progressive acquaintances (remember, she's at Berkeley) and despairs. Yes, they've got their BLM yard signs, they've read and nodded along to Kendi and DiAngelo, they voted for Obama!

    But:

    They disappoint and frustrate and sadden me because their work—as earnest and crucial as it is—frequently fails to demand the participation of the white people with whom they have the tightest, most honest, most intimate relationships. Their husbands, their parents, their wives, their children, their best friends. The people with whom they have the most currency, the most likelihood of creating a long-term trajectory of change. The people who are most exposed and connected to their (racialized) desires and fears, their conscious and unconscious beliefs, their choices and preferences—the heartwood of the very racial hierarchy they say they want to address. Time and again, I’ve observed white people approach “the work” with heartfelt intensity—but no clear, persistent will to spread it to the most significant white people in their lives.

    Shorter: they don't nag their friends and family enough. They fail to proselytize! At every opportunity!

    Thought experiment: imagine you are a devout Christian. And you're concerned that the country isn't Christian enough. Make the appropriate substitutions in Nolan's argument about how your fellow Christians should confront the inadequately religious.

    And then try to convince me that Wokism isn't a religion.


  • More of a "scam" than a "loophole", but… Steven Taylor looks at the latest on the student debt front: The Giant ‘Gainful Employment’ Loophole

    Colleges and universities proudly flaunt their “nonprofit” status while many of their graduates are mired in debt and their highest-paid employee is their football coach. Why, then, are they getting a pass on accountability standards?

    That should be the central question this month as Department of Education regulators gather to revive an Obama-era rule called “gainful employment.” The original goal and underlying principle were laudable: Federal funding ought to be cut off from colleges that leave graduates with underpaying jobs and mountains of debt.

    The rules, however, were lopsided and insulated degree programs with similar or worse outcomes at public and nonprofit institutions from meaningful scrutiny. With very few exceptions, they applied only to students enrolled in educational programs at for-profit colleges and nondegree programs (e.g., certificate and diploma programs) at public and nonprofit institutions. In other words, the same protections weren’t afforded to the roughly 12 million undergraduate students enrolled in degree programs at public and nonprofit schools.

    [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] An opening paragraph from a recent WaPo article is quoted:

    A bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Ithaca College costs $132,656, on average, and two years later, graduates are earning $19,227. A philosophy degree from Oberlin costs $142,220 and graduates two years later make $18,154, on average. At Syracuse, a bachelor’s degree in studio and fine arts costs $137,888; two years later students who got one are earning an average of $17,624.

    I don't suppose it would help to airdrop a few hundred copies of Bryan Caplan's The Case Against Education (link at right) into that gathering of DOE regulators. Fun to imagine though.


  • I'm not cheering at all. But at AEI, Kevin R. Kosar manages 1 cheer for postal reform. He looks at the legislation recently passed in the House, finds it mostly inoffensive. However, it moves the USPS further away from being self-supporting. And:

    Concerningly, the bill’s Section 202 would demand the USPS “maintain an integrated network for the delivery of market-dominant and competitive products” and to deliver “at least six days a week.” Translated into non-legalese, this provision would force the USPS to maintain enough people, sorting machines, etc. to deliver both paper mail and parcels regardless of demand. This seems imprudent seeing as the future demand for paper mail and parcels is anything but clear. The former has plunged 40 percent over the past 15 years, and the USPS regularly warns that parcel volumes will plunge should big shippers (like Amazon) divert volume to other delivery channels. Section 202 also might make it harder to accurately price postage as the costs of this “integrated network” may not be readily attributable to any particular class of mail or parcel. (A few years ago, I found the USPS fails to attribute more than 40 percent of its costs to any particular products.)

    It also, Kosar notes, fails to consider the Big Question: "For what purposes do we need a Postal Service for in the 21st century?"

URLs du Jour

2022-02-10

  • <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice>

    Well, another streaming service subscription to add to the pile… More information here: 'Futurama' Revived By Hulu


  • Or they can just tell you what they think you want to hear. Kevin D. Williamson wasn't expecting honesty, and he didn't get it: Democrats Can Have Cheap Gas or They Can Have Radical Climate Policy

    Senators Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.) and Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) are proposing to suspend the federal gasoline tax for the rest of 2022. This profile in cowardice comes from two Democrats whose party is facing a possible midterm wipeout thanks to high inflation that has been made worse by its spendthrift policies.

    This tax cut is, of course, precisely the wrong idea — particularly from the Democratic point of view.

    Treating inflation with a tax cut is like treating high blood pressure with meth. The problem we have comes from too much money sloshing around the economy chasing too few goods and services as supply chains struggle to reassemble themselves. The conventional Keynesian view, to which Democrats ordinarily swear allegiance, is that you should raise taxes when you have an inflation problem, taking money out of consumers’ pockets, and thereby putting some deflationary pressure on economic activity.

    It's an NRPlus article, so unless you're in that blessed state of subscription (and you should be) you probably won't want to Read The Whole Thing. I'll toss in another KDW dig at Maggie:

    “To combat climate change,” Senator Hassan insists, “we must build a cleaner energy future.” Fair enough. But then there’s the silent addendum: “as long as nobody in my state has to pay a nickel for it.”


  • Reply hazy, try again. Nobody at Reason expects to get the whole truth from politicians, so Jacob Sullum's headline is unsurprising: Partisan Politics Cloud the Capitol Riot’s Significance.

    You may have heard that the Republican National Committee (RNC) described last year's Capitol riot as "legitimate political discourse." Although that is what The New York Times and other news outlets reported last week, it is not actually true.

    It is true, however, that the RNC, which used that phrase when it censured Reps. Liz Cheney (R‒Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R‒Ill.) for participating in the House committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021, did not explain what it meant until after its misbegotten resolution generated a predictable storm of criticism. The episode illustrates why neither Republicans nor Democrats can be trusted to give an honest account of what happened that day or what it signified.

    RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pointed out (somewhat correctly) that the January 6 committee has actually started investigating "circumstances"; those circumstances include engaging in perfectly legal activity protected under the Constitution.


  • Just say "nope" to Snopes. David Harsanyi has a bone to pick with a ‘Fact-Checker’ on Crack.

    The Biden administration is funding the distribution of “safe smoking kits” — colloquially known as “crack pipes” — to help reduce substance abuse. Perhaps this is a helpful program, though maybe not. I couldn’t say. What I do know is that increasingly people are having a difficult time distinguishing between “things that are untrue” and “things conservatives say that annoy me.”

    Example: “Did Biden Admin ‘Fund Crack Pipes’ To ‘Advance Racial Equity’?” asks a fact-checker at Snopes. The verdict? “Mostly False.”

    Except, as David points out, it's literally true.

    Or was. Snopes has since changed its rating to "Outdated", based on the Biden Administration's backtracking.

    At Snopes, "Outdated", apparently means "You know the thing we said they weren't doing? Well, they've stopped doing it"

    Also see: Ann Althouse for additional comments.


  • First, good news about "Futurama". And now this! Scott Lincicome thinks This ‘Libertarian Moment’ Could Be More Lasting.

    A common jibe in the pandemic’s early days was that it had eradicated all the libertarians. This “no libertarians in a pandemic” dunk was misguided even back then (see my March 2020 rebuttal for why), but it did have a bit of a point: 2020 saw not only multiple spurts of unprecedented, emergency state action, but also a significant increase in Americans looking to the government for help. At the same time, there were signs of supposed “market failures”—empty store shelves, overcrowded hospitals, etc.—everywhere. Given that expansions of government power often remain long after their impetus has disappeared—a classic “ratchet effect”—it wasn’t so hard to believe that the COVID-19 crisis would usher in a new American era of big, activist government.

    But a funny thing happened on our way to democratic socialism: America pushed back. Across the country, in all sorts of ways, Americans reacted to the state’s activism, overreach, incoherence, and incompetence and… kinda, sorta, embraced libertarianism. Some writers are now starting to notice. “It’s too soon to call this a libertarian moment,” says the Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker, using the frequently invoked term for the sudden onset of fiscally conservative, socially liberal policies that just as suddenly retreats after invocation. “But we seem at least to have reached a point where doubts about the wisdom of growing state control are salient.” Conservative columnist Sam Goldman sees something similar: a “new libertarian moment” that’s arrived in the form of “opposition to restrictions on personal conduct, suspicion of expert authority, and free speech for controversial opinions have become dominant themes in center-right argument and activism.”

    Dispatch non-subscribers will be able to read a lot of Scott's analysis, but not all.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-09

  • Hey, you know that face mask study?

    It had a neat graph! Easy to understand:

    [Bogus CDC Graph]

    But Jacob Sullum says That Study of Face Masks Does Not Show What the CDC Claims. And I'd guess he's right.

    A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supposedly shows that wearing a face mask in public places dramatically reduces your risk of catching COVID-19. The CDC summed up the results in a widely shared graphic that says wearing a cloth mask "lowered the odds of testing positive" by 56 percent, while the risk reduction was 66 percent for surgical masks and 83 percent for N95 or KN95 respirators.

    If you read the tiny footnotes, you will see that the result for cloth masks was not statistically significant. So even on its face, this study, which was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Friday, did not validate the protective effect of the most commonly used face coverings—a striking fact that the authors do not mention until the end of the sixth paragraph. And once you delve into the details of the study, it becomes clear that the results for surgical masks and N95s, while statistically significant, do not actually demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, contrary to the way the CDC is framing them.

    You know, I occasionally try to do my bit to debunk wild claims about Covid and vaccines. It's really tough to use any CDC-based evidence when doing so, though, because of things like this. Jacob's bottom line: The CDC "has proven that it cannot be trusted to act as an honest broker of scientific information." Harsh but fair.


  • What's that smell? Ah, there it is. Jonah Goldberg opines that The RNC Really Stepped In It by Censuring Cheney and Kinzinger.

    But where the RNC leaders really stepped in it—again, figuratively—is that they wrote the censure resolution so stupidly, people stopped talking about Cheney and Kinzinger and started talking about how the Republican National Committee officially described the January 6 riot as “legitimate political discourse.”

    RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel insists that the resolution wasn’t meant to describe the violent attack on the Capitol and Capitol Police as “legitimate political discourse,” even though there’s nothing in the resolution’s text to support her claim. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for a moment and chalk up the poor phrasing to McDaniel’s trademark incompetence instead of her patented Trump sycophancy (this is the woman who, after all, dropped the name Romney to placate the former president).

    Which brings me back to my question. Does McDaniel think tracking and smearing human feces around the halls of Congress qualifies as “legitimate political discourse”? I mean, that wasn’t technically violent activity. Were the Capitol custodians tasked with cleaning up the foulness actually engaged in the rich conversation of American democracy? If someone did that at RNC headquarters, would McDaniel say, “Good for you, exercising your First Amendment right to engage in legitimate political discourse”?

    More on this tomorrow, I fear.


  • Does anyone do an actual litmus test any more? I mean, I did, but I'm way old. I only hear about them metaphorically these days. For example, Stanley Kurtz: How to End Political Litmus Tests in Education

    A new and pernicious tool for enforcing ideological conformity is sweeping across America’s colleges and universities. Recent developments show it threatening K–12 as well. I’m talking about “diversity statements,” mandatory affirmations of woke ideology by K–12 teachers and professors seeking employment, promotion, or tenure. Diversity statements amount to political litmus tests: “Prove your fealty to woke ideology, or surrender your hopes of advancement.” These vows of ideological conformity are an affront to liberty of conscience and academic freedom. Not yet widely known to the general public, educator diversity statements are quietly snuffing out the final flickers of dissenting intellectual life in our education system.

    Nevertheless, diversity statements can be stopped. The wave of resistance to woke ideology coursing across the states can turn this troubling trend around. Here’s how. Together, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, North Carolina’s James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and I have just issued model state-level legislation designed to bar the use of diversity statements — and all other political and ideological tests — at public K–12 schools and universities. The model is entitled the “End Political Litmus Tests in Education Act,” and you can find a link to the text here.

    Looks like another good way to get the progressives at the University Near Here to freak out.


  • That's what they want you to think. Damon Linker has news: Life is not a simulation.

    There is no Big Idea for which I feel greater contempt than the suggestion that we're all living in a simulation. The runner up is the claim that we should seek fun and fulfillment in a technologically simulated reality — the so-called metaverse or virtual reality.

    Now, don't get me wrong: I loved the original Matrix movie as much as anyone who smoked too much pot in college and spent too many evenings embroiled in rollicking dorm-room philosophical bull sessions. Dude, what if we're really just brains floating in vats and all of this is just an illusion controlled by scientists in a lab somewhere ...

    Such musing is fun precisely because it's irrefutable, changing nothing about our experience of the world other than positing that it's somehow less real than it seems. Or rather, it takes off from a vague feeling of unreality that occasionally haunts us as we go about our days, then intimates that this somewhat queasy sensation is a gateway to the underlying truth of everything: It's all a lie, a cosmic game of charades. Nothing is what it seems. We're all just playing parts in a script written and dictated by some hidden, higher power. The world, our lives, everything we care about only seems to be real and to matter. In reality, it's all a hoax, a ruse, a ... simulation.

    But it isn't.

    Click though for Linker's argument. If you need convincing.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-08

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Well, no, that's not actually true. I've never been in Facebook Jail. And ever since I learned that Facebook is a toxic place to debate politics, I've never even gotten close. I unfollow friends who use Facebook to debate politics, … and it's fine.

    But that doesn't mean all is well. Will Duffield writes About Those Facebook Ads Calling for More Internet Regulation. As the song says, it's a tale as old as time:

    Facebook recently began running a series of advertisements calling for increased Internet regulation. In the videos, featured employees argue that because Facebook’s content moderation can’t please everyone, the government should set standardized speech rules for all platforms. This unsatisfying argument treats the market for speech governance as a problem. It endorses a solution that would benefit Facebook at the expense of its competitors and runs afoul of the First Amendment.

    In one of the advertisements, a Facebook employee named Aaron explains the current situation. “There’s very little agreement whether we should be leaving more content up, taking more content down, with any particular rule or issue that we’re looking at,” he says. “We’re not going to make everybody happy. Without regulation, we’re really navigating that space as best we can.”

    All of this is true. No one set of rules can ever satisfy everyone. Peoples’ preferences are varied and diverse. However, Facebook sees this as a problem. It wants government regulation to supplant platforms’ varied rules with a single, standardized set of speech guidelines.

    As Duffield says, big firms are all for government regulation, the more complex the better, because it ties up their smaller competitors in expensive compliance knots.

    We'll see how that works out for Facebook.


  • Asking why he does this is pointless. Why do his friends and family let him do it? J.D. Tuccille makes the point that should be obvious: Biden’s False Gun Claims Are a Lousy Basis for Law

    President Joe Biden so frequently and willfully tells lies about firearms that, if he were a podcaster talking about anything other than guns, aging rockers would trip over their walkers in a rush to sever even the most tenuous ties to him. Of course, we live in an age of misinformation and disinformation and probably should expect nothing better from the White House. But Biden proposes to impose ever-tougher rules based on his repetitive malarkey, illustrating the problem of governments wielding their vast regulatory apparatus based on misunderstandings and malice.

    "Congress needs to do its part too: pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, close loopholes, and keep out of the hands of domestic abusers — weapons, repeal the liability shield for gun manufacturers," Biden huffed last week in New York. "Imagine had we had a liability — they're the only industry in America that is exempted from being able to be sued by the public. The only one."

    Big, if true! But it's not. As it turns out, gun manufacturers are not immune from lawsuits for flaws in their products. The law that Biden seemingly references and to which others making similar claims point to is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed in 2005 after a spate of lawsuits accusing gun makers and dealers of creating a public nuisance. It immunizes the industry against lawsuits when some end user engages in "the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm."

    Biden also propounded on his previously debunked claim that Americans couldn't buy cannons in the era in which the Second Amendment was ratified. Doesn't anyone tell him that he's making a fool out of himself?


  • Warning: numeracy required. John Tierney urges us toward Understanding the Covid Odds.

    It’s obviously not easy to give up fear of Covid-19, to judge from a recent survey showing that the vaccinated are actually more frightened than the unvaccinated. Another survey found that most Democratic voters are so worried that they want to make it illegal for the unvaccinated to leave home. But before you don another mask or disinfect another surface, before you cheer on politicians and school officials enforcing mandates, consider your odds of a fatal Covid case once you’ve been vaccinated.

    Those odds can be gauged from a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, published by the Centers for Disease Control. They tracked more than 1 million vaccinated adults in America over most of last year, including the period when the Delta variant was surging, and classified victims of Covid according to risk factors such as being over 65, being immunosuppressed, or suffering from diabetes or chronic diseases of the heart, kidney, lungs, liver or brain.

    The researchers report that none of the healthy people under 65 had a severe case of Covid that required treatment in an intensive-care unit. Not a single one of these nearly 700,000 people died, and the risk was miniscule for most older people, too. Among vaccinated people over 65 without an underlying medical condition, only one person died. In all, there were 36 deaths, mostly among a small minority of older people with a multitude of comorbidities: the 3 percent of the sample that had at least four risk factors. Among everyone else, a group that included elderly people with one or two chronic conditions, there were just eight deaths among more than 1.2 million people, so their risk of dying was about 1 in 150,000.

    How does that compare to other risks we deal with? Click through to find out! Well, here's a snippet: "Going anywhere near automobiles is a bigger risk".


  • The metaphorical reference to 18th-century technology is appropriate. Chris Edwards describes the IRS Train Wreck.

    Americans don’t expect to get great service from government agencies, but the current performance of the Internal Revenue Service is a train wreck. The pandemic slowed IRS operations and exacerbated the agency’s existing deficiencies. At the same time, Congress has been loading up the tax code with new and expanded benefits and tasking the IRS with handing out hundreds of millions of aid checks.

    The IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) recently documented the operational mess at the IRS:

    • IRS telephone service is “the worst it has ever been,” with the IRS answering just 11 percent of incoming calls in FY 2021. [p. 3]
    • The IRS mails tens of millions of notices each year, often requiring responses. It used to take the IRS about 45 days to turn around correspondence, but now the “processing time for some categories of correspondence has been running six months or longer.” [p. 3]
    • The number of disputes the TAS handles between taxpayers and the IRS soared from 167,000 in 2017 to 264,000 in 2021. [p. 4]
    • Mountains of unopened mail have piled up at IRS facilities leaving millions of taxpayers in financial limbo. The IRS ended the 2021 season with a backlog of more than 35 million returns, and today “millions of returns and amended returns still remain unprocessed.” [p. 20]
    • Last year, “tens of millions of taxpayers were forced to wait extraordinarily long periods of time for the IRS to process their tax returns, issue their refunds, and address their correspondence,” and this year IRS service “could be as bad, and potentially worse.” [p. 33]

    Why is this happening?

    I use TurboTax and file online, but it's very tempting to toss my monkeywrench into the IRS machinery by submitting my taxes on paper.

    It's been 46 years since Jimmy Carter called the US tax system "a disgrace to the human race". Still true.


  • Burning question du jour. Slashdot asks: Should Audiobooks Be Narrated by AI? And points to this Publisher's Weekly article: AI Influence on Audiobooks Grows—As Does Controversy.

    Oooh, controversy!

    Proponents of AI audiobook narration tout its much lower production costs (compared to a traditional recording of a human narrator) as a way to improve profitability of audiobooks as well as allowing publishers to publish more audiobooks that have limited audiences. But according to actor and narrator Emily Lawrence, cofounder of PANA and president of its board of directors, “It’s very easy to reduce this issue to dollars and cents, but it’s very complicated and nuanced.” If AI narration proliferates, “it’s not just narrators who will lose their jobs,” Lawrence said. “There’s an entire ecosystem of people who rely on audiobooks for their livelihood. People who direct audiobooks, people who edit audiobooks, people who check audiobook narration for word-for-word perfection against the manuscript.”

    I was just about to leave a comment on Slashdot, but a number of fast-fingered weisenheimers beat me to it. For example: "Automobiles shouldn't be allowed, there's a whole buggy whip industry which will be killed off."

    A number of commenters disdained the machine-read versions of books they'd experienced. Fine. But as time goes by, AI is only going to get better and cheaper at reading. Until the Butlerian Jihad, I wouldn't recommend book-narration as a promising career path.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-07

  • Watching the Olympics?

    [Police State]

    Me neither. Although I've committed to watching if Mrs. Salad notices that Ice Dancing is on.

    I'm hoping she won't notice.


  • I'd say it's because college administrators are craven unprincipled hacks, but… For a slightly more civil take, use this allegedly free link to read John Hasnas's theory Why Colleges Don’t Care About Free Speech. His example is the denunciation of a (poorly-worded) tweet from Georgetown Law's Ilya Shapiro by the dean of Georgetown Law, William M. Treanor. Followed by placing Shapiro on "academic leave".

    Hasnas notes that Treanor's comments and actions were in violation of Georgetown U's explicit free-speech policy. So?

    Regardless of Mr. Treanor’s political views, he has every reason to do this. University administrators get no reward for upholding abstract principles. Their incentive is to quell on-campus outrage and bad press as quickly as possible. Success is widely praised, but there is no punishment for failing to uphold the university’s commitment to free speech.

    The solution is to create an incentive for schools to protect open inquiry—the fear of lawsuits. First, universities should add a “safe harbor” provision to their speech policies stating: “The university will summarily dismiss any allegation that an individual or group has violated a university policy if the allegation is based solely on the individual’s or group’s expression of religious, philosophical, literary, artistic, political, or scientific viewpoints.” This language would be contractually binding. Second, free-speech advocates should organize pro bono legal groups to sue schools that violate the safe-harbor provision. This would make it affordable for suppressed parties to bring suits over the violation of their contractual rights.

    That's a pretty good idea. Cynical me says it's so good that it probably won't happen.


  • Can our nation censor its way back to cultural health? David French has an answer: Our Nation Cannot Censor Its Way Back to Cultural Health. His essay is long, but very good. And here's a long excerpt:

    I have never in my adult life seen anything like the censorship fever that is breaking out across America. In both law and culture, we are witnessing an astonishing display of contempt for the First Amendment, for basic principles of pluralism, and for simple tolerance of opposing points of view. 

    At this point the cancel culture stories are so common it’s hard to know where to start. In the last several days we’ve seen concerted efforts to fire The View host Whoopi Goldberg for ignorant comments about the Holocaust and Georgetown law school lecturer Ilya Shapiro for a poorly worded tweet arguing for a race-blind Supreme Court nomination. Both Goldberg and Shapiro apologized, but they’ve both been suspended.

    Yet the worst examples of cancel culture don’t apply to famous or prominent people at all. The most haunting piece I’ve read about rising American intolerance was penned by my friend Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic. Called “Stop Firing the Innocent,” it details the ordeals of ordinary people who become involuntarily notorious. At this point cancel culture is so plainly, obviously real, that I’ll just re-quote progressive writer Kevin Drum:

    And for God’s sake, please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending that wokeness and cancel culture are all just figments of the conservative imagination. Sure, they overreact to this stuff, but it really exists, it really is a liberal invention, and it really does make even moderate conservatives feel like their entire lives are being held up to a spotlight and found wanting.

    At the same time that the evidence of far-left intolerance is overwhelming, a few of us have been on a very lonely corner of conservatism, jumping up and down and yelling about the new right, “Censorship is coming! Censorship is coming!”

    And we were correct.

    My only gripe with French's title: back to cultural health? When was that golden era, exactly?


  • I'm pullin' for Palin. And so is Kevin D. Williamson, with respect to Sarah Palin v. the New York Times. (NRPlus)

    After the 2008 election and “The Masked Singer” and all the rest of it — finally, here is a contest Sarah Palin deserves to win.

    The former Alaska governor, vice-presidential candidate, and reality-television clown has sued the New York Times for libel, and she deserves to prevail. The Times editorial page libeled her, straight up, and the court should find in her favor.

    It does not matter what you think of Palin, or what you think of the New York Times. I have had plenty of occasion to criticize both of them over the years and a few opportunities to praise each of them, too. Palin vs. the New York Times is perfect culture-war fodder, but this isn’t a culture-war question. This is first a legal question, one in which Palin has the better case, and then a broader question of how our news media go about their business — and here the New York Times has offered a master class in what not to do.

    At issue is a Times editorial in which the paper blamed the Palin campaign’s political rhetoric for the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. “The link to political incitement was clear,” the Times claimed. This claim was false — a fact conceded even by the Times itself. In truth, there was no link between the Palin campaign’s advertising and the Giffords shooting, much less a clear one. Even if we were to concede that Palin’s advertisements constituted incitement — which they most certainly did not, being utterly ordinary political material — nobody has shown any link between that material and the shooting.

    Sigh. Now I have to comb through 17 years of posts, looking for libelous statements.


  • Pun Salad, on the other hand, promotes Magic 8-Ball. Jerry Coyne listens to Commie National Public Radio, and is kind of put out: NPR promotes tarot.

    It seems that many venues of the “mainstream liberal media”, like National Public Radio (NPR) and the New York Times, are devoting more space to woo: dowsing, tarot, talking to the dead, astrology, and so on. Now the MSLM has become a bit savvier about this nonsense. It often claims, as in the NPR “Life Kit” article below, that these things don’t really work through magical methods, but they help you get in tune with your feelings and become psychologically more astute. (Any person with more than a few neurons would ask an astrologer or tarot reader, “How come you’re not rich from forecasting the economy or stock market? And people are getting smarter about that.)

    Still NPR, in the article below, walks a fine line between psychology and magic. And if you need psychological support or help in making a decision, there are always friends (preferably women, who are less prescriptive and tend to listen more than do men), or, if you want to pay, there are therapists, who don’t profess any magical abilities.

    The NPR article: Tarot can't predict the future, but it can help you make that big decision.

    Professor Coyne calls this kind of stuff "woo", but I'm old enough where that just reminds me of Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee":

    We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee
    We don't take no trips on LSD;
    We don't burn no draft cards down on Main Street
    But, We love living right, and being free
    We don't make a party out of loving
    But we like holding hands and pitching woo;
    We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy
    Like the hippies out in San Francisco do

    Left as a comment on the post: "Next up on NPR: Researchers say scrutiny of podcasts is overdue."

    Yes, an actual NPR story contained those words. Based on the above, I'd suggest sending NPR folks copies of the Bible with Matthew 7:5 bookmarked and highlighted.


  • Can you stand one more Joe Rogan post? Well, here's one anyway. Ann Althouse looks at a Variety article discussing the decision by India Arie to yank her music from Spotify because Rogan used the n-word a bunch in the past. Ms. Arie objected to his "language around race". Ann:

    If we're going to take the "language around race" seriously and withdraw from group projects that include you with someone who's said something racially wrong, then where can you go? What can you do? And won't we also take the language around gender seriously? All of the machinery of pop culture will collapse.

    And she also points out:

    ALSO: If you search Spotify for the "n-word" (written out), you'll find lots of songs and spoken word. There are artists who use that word as part of their name and at least one who has that as his entire name. And I saw multiple profiles that had just that word as their name, including one whose profile picture is a photograph of a naked, erect penis.

    Yeesh. Well, thanks for letting us know about that, Ann.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-06

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Yeah, he really said that. Sort of. Our Amazon Product du Jour is one of those too-good-to-check quotes that murmurs "probably bogus" into a skeptical ear.

    But no. The good folks at Monticello checked it out:

    "I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery" is a translation of a Latin phrase that Thomas Jefferson used: "Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem." It has also been translated as, "I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude."

    The site also provides the context, a 1787 letter to Madison. Which also contains the equally-popular quote "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

    And (sigh) yes, I realize TJ could well have added "…except for our slaves, of course."

    Amazon also has products that feature the original Latin, if you'd prefer to be less well understood.

    If you actually want to visit Monticello, however…

    Fully vaccinated guests are no longer required to wear facial coverings when outdoors at Monticello. All guests age 5 and up must continue to wear a face covering when indoors, and when on shuttle buses.

    That "dangerous freedom" thing only goes so far.


  • Say pretty please and maybe I'll think about it, Robby. Robby Soave pleads: Educators, Please Stop Teaching the Characteristics of 'White Supremacy Culture'

    Earlier this week, Washington University in St. Louis held an online workshop titled, "Is Professionalism a Racist Construct?"

    The event attracted plenty of criticism from conservative media. Fox News made fun of its online description, which is filled with social justice jargon: "So-called professionalism is coded language, a construct that upholds institutional racist policies and excluding practices." But the presenters seemed to welcome the controversy; Cynthia Williams, assistant dean of community partnerships at the university, bragged that she was getting into "good trouble."

    The entire presentation is available online, and it's just as cringeworthy as its conservative critics expected. Notably, the presenters cite the antiracist educator Tema Okun's "White Supremacy Culture" a body of dubious work that makes all sorts of unfounded and frankly racist assumptions. Indeed, the presentation includes a slide, "15 Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture"—though the slide only mentions five—that claims possessing a sense of urgency, preferring quantity over quality, wanting things to be written down, perfectionism, and becoming defensive are aspects of white supremacy.

    We've posted on this pernicious claptrap here and here. And we'll adapt John McWhorter's comment from that previous link: Any white person who embraces the idea that precision, punctuality, politeness, objectivity, literacy, etc. is “white” is, quite simply, a bigot.


  • What is to be done? Arnold Kling says what is not to be done: Wokeism Will not be Defeated Politically. His post is an accumulation of wisdom from others, for example a Weekly Dish commenter:

    So sure, I’m aware that there’s a problem here. But the solution is not to ban specific ideas from being taught. (When has that ever worked?) Because the problem is not CRT. It’s activist teachers, teaching kids what to think, rather than how to think (to use your own words). And I don’t want kids indoctrinated with [Christopher F.] Rufo’s ideas any more than I want them blindly believing in Robin DiAngelo’s.

    And the Weekly Dish proprietor his own self:

    The trouble is that banning courses restricts discourse, and does not expand it. It gives woke racialist theories the sheen of “forbidden knowledge.” It removes the moral high-ground from those seeking to defend liberal learning from ideologues of any variety. And it sets an early lesson for kids that the right response to bad arguments is to get authorities to suppress them — exactly what the woke believe — and not to marshal arguments that refute them. Greg Lukianoff calls this “unlearning liberty.”

    I get that. I'm not sure what the "solution" is, either, unless you're willing to adopt one of Pun Salad's more radical policy suggestions: abolish compulsory schooling.

    [Apologies for the headline's classical reference. Pun Salad is not Leninist.]


  • Great moments in Nanny Statism. Dominic Pino notices a Tax Foundation report of a medical journal study of one of those laws enacted with the Best of Intentions:

    Earlier this month, JAMA Internal Medicine published a study about the impact of banning flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts. The study found, not surprisingly, that the sale of flavored tobacco decreased following the ban. By comparing sales in Massachusetts with sales across 27 other states, the authors observed that sales had decreased more in Massachusetts than in the control states.

    Such a result would indicate that the flavor ban has been a success. Unfortunately, the study left out a very important piece of information: cross-border trade. The end result of the ban, in fact, is that Massachusetts is stuck with the societal costs associated with consumption, while the revenue from taxing flavored tobacco products is being raised in neighboring states.

    While the authors acknowledge this shortcoming in the study design, the omission severely skews the conclusion. In fact, the flavor ban has been far from successful, as sales in both New Hampshire and Rhode Island experienced double-digit growth—almost making up for the entire decrease in Massachusetts.

    That's just the legal sales.

    If you are in the mood for video, see Reason TV's "Great Moments in Unintended Consequences", Volumes One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.


  • Profile in courage, Cornhusker edition. National Review's John McCormack highlights the pushback of one GOP senator's rebuttal of the Republican National Committee's reference to the "Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse" in the recent formal censure of Reps Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

    Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse issued a brief statement in response to the censure: “January 6th was not ‘legitimate political discourse’ and I’ll say it again: It was shameful mob violence to disrupt a constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress to affirm the peaceful transfer of power.”

    In response, RNC spokesmodel Ronna McDaniel gasped, sputtered and pointed to this Federalist article: Only 10 Percent Of J6 Committee Subpoenas Relate To The Capitol Riot.

    Pino's interpretation of the Federalist article:

    [T]he censure’s reference to “persecution” of “ordinary citizens” was apparently intended to refer to subpoenas sent by the January 6 committee to people such as Steve Bannon, the organizers of the January 6 “Save America Rally” outside the White House, and John Eastman. The January 6 committee has also subpoenaed members of Congress and White House officials — including Kevin McCarthy, Mark Meadows, and Ivanka Trump — who were in touch with President Trump on January 6.

    I'm entirely convinced that Democrats are blowing up January 6 out of proportion to its actual significance.

    I'm also entirely convinced that (most) Republicans are devoted to minimizing it, out of blind loyalty to Trump. Sasse (as usual) is a lonely voice of sanity.


Last Modified 2022-02-06 11:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-05

  • Inside every progressive is a totalitarian screaming to get out. That's according to David Horowitz, and (because I try to be charitable) I hope he's wrong about that. Yet, as Matt Welch notes, some progressives seem determined to provide confirming evidence. AOC: Facebook's 'Disinformation' Has 'Sabotaged' Pandemic Response.

    On Tuesday, in a piece that drew surprisingly few headlines, Yahoo Finance interviewed progressive darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), who reiterated her calls to break up Facebook, making in the process this wildly inflated claim and assertion of authority:

    There are some things that the United States provides that are welcome….There are also things that we want the United States to stop exporting, and one of those things is disinformation—disinformation through U.S.-founded companies like Facebook that have absolutely slowed and frankly sabotaged the global effort to fight against the coronavirus.

    Given First Amendment constraints and the dispersed information architecture of the internet, Congress is no more likely to stop the export of "disinformation" (however ill-defined) than it is to stop the sun from rising in the east. But maximalist hyperbole about social media wickedness has also proven increasingly popular in the executive branch, where Big Tech's regulators lie in wait.

    It's an extremely good article; let me make explicit what's usually implicit: Read The Whole Thing. Especially if you're someone who thinks government can push, prod, and hammer Big Tech into ushering in Social Media Utopia.


  • Another progressive screaming "Sabotage". I guess it's a theme in those circles. "We'd be in great shape if not for these scapegoats messing things up." Kevin D. Williamson highlights Jayapal: Sabotage At the Starbucks. (NR Plus article, sorry)

    A lot of horrible stuff can go on in this world without the ladies and gentlemen of Washington, D.C., taking much notice — but when prices go up at Starbucks, you can bet Pramila Jayapal is on the case. She knows her people.

    On Wednesday, Representative Jayapal (D., Wash.), the socialist-adjacent whackadoodle chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, demonstrated the fine grasp of economics for which socialist-adjacent whackadoodles have long been famous when she blamed “corporate greed” for recent price hikes at Starbucks. Now, given the generally loopy and irritating corporate activism that Starbucks has indulged in over the years, it does not exactly break my tender little heart to see these rat bastards get a whole venti cup of imbecilic Seattleite coffeehouse radicalism poured right down their corporate shorts.

    KDW's summary: "When the utopians start blaming the saboteurs, there is trouble on the way."

    [I hate to be a shill, but NRPLUS is a pretty good deal. Right now: $6 for the first 12 weeks, $69/year after that. And, unlike those Amazon images you'll see here and there on Pun Salad, I do not get a cut.]


  • You think the Road to Serfdom would have a speed limit? If it does, nobody seems interested in enforcing it. George F. Will recounts Profligate Democrats, delusional Republicans and the $30 trillion sprint toward deficit disaster.

    There is an exception to the federal government’s general inability to accomplish anything briskly. It drove the national debt past $30 trillion this past week, which only two years ago it had not been expected to accomplish until 2026.

    Defenders of the government’s fiscal performance say: Who could have predicted the pandemic? But that is the point — prudent people expect the unexpected and plan risk management accordingly. Instead, today’s deficit doves are doubling down on their hubris, asserting (in the skeptical words of the Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl) “that this time they can predict interest rates decades in advance.” The average interest rate on government borrowing has fallen from 8.4 percent to 1.4 percent since 1990, a decline economists did not forecast but which many now forecast far into the future.

    The "delusional Republicans"? Their proposal fixes things…

    By a slew of politically inconceivable deep cuts to discretionary domestic spending, and cutting eligibility for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and repealing significant parts of the Affordable Care Act. While the RSC was perpetrating this performative gesture, why didn’t it also propose requiring lobsters to grow on trees?

    Unfortunately, the voters … well, you know how that sentence ends, don't you?


  • What could go wrong? The WSJ editorialists sit down for some Face Time With the IRS.

    The Internal Revenue Service we will always have with us. But does it have to be in your face? That’s the question to ask as the agency wants to use a new biometric standard for identification with too little regard for security, privacy or concerns about government power.

    The tax agency announced in November an $86 million partnership with ID.me, a private contractor, to create an “improved identification and sign-in process” for its website.

    Taxpayers can currently access their IRS records with a username and password. But starting this summer, anyone who wants to check a child tax credit or look up a quarterly payment will have to provide a good deal of personal data, which could include multiple IDs and personal utility or insurance bills.

    Because I am an idiot, I attempted to set up ID.me authentication a few weeks ago, at the prodding of the IRS website. It was arduous. And then I was asked to take a selfie with my phone and upload it. OK, here… and it refused to accept it.

    I suspect I triggered some sort of ugly limit. This does not appear to be a humanoid face, Captain. ID.me didn't provide any indication of the problem or hint about what to do. Instead I was directed to accumulate some additional documentation and arrange for an online interview.

    Yeah, no thanks.

    I'd like to think I'm reasonably tech-savvy, and I can't imagine the disaster when (ahem) less-geeky people attempt this.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-04

  • Oy. And also vey.

    As I type the "interim definition" is:

    Racism occurs when individuals or institutions show more favorable evaluation or treatment of an individual or group based on race or ethnicity.

    As definitions go, it's not great.

    Saying that racism "occurs" is, well, wrong. An -ism is a belief system. It exists apart from actions which "occur".

    Oh, well. Ignoring that confusion: why restrict racist actions to those that only show more race-based favoritism? Shouldn't we include those that show less?

    And why are we dragging ethnicity into this? Don't we have a different word for that, like "ethnocentrism"?

    But what I like about the definition: it pretty much condemns "affirmative action" policies as racist.

    True. But way too honest. Which almost certainly means this definition won't last long at the ADL site.

    For additional amusement, see Jonathan Greenblat, the ADL CEO tapdance around the issue: Getting it Right in Defining Racism.

    He means well. But the subtext is pretty obvious too: "We need to come up with a definition that won't cause too many of our donors to walk away in disgust."


  • Last year's misinformation is today's conventional wisdom. Matt Taibbi on The Lab Leak "Conspiracy Theory".

    After Covid-19 hit America’s shores, a question naturally arose: how did this happen? Most of us assumed the mystery would soon be unraveled, that the society of epidemiological detectives who found everything from the rat that transmitted Lassa Fever to the leak that caused viral outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt would nail down the origin of the pandemic.

    It didn’t happen. We were initially told something about bats, a weird animal called a pangolin, and a Chinese “wet market,” but never heard the full story. A combination of the virus originating in an authoritarian state and a sudden seizure of incuriosity among the international press corps led to a strange coverage détente, in which we weren’t told exactly what happened, but we were told all sensible people were sure of what didn’t happen. 27 scientists in The Lancet put it this way in mid-2020: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

    Taibbi includes two videos from Matt Orfalea which are either brilliantly hilarious or infuriating, depending on your mood. Here's one:

    But I was assured Joe Rogan was the real problem.


  • Just to be clear, Jonah and Whoopi are not siblings. But Jonah has something to say about her Goldberg Variations.

    I’ve never been a big fan of Goldberg’s (I have different views about the plural category Goldbergs). But I think this episode raises all sorts of larger issues worth discussing. Just in case you missed the controversy, she said a bunch of ignorant things about the Holocaust. I don’t think any of them came from a sinister or antisemitic place. The woman has been saying for decades that she identifies as Jewish (more on that in a moment), which would be a weird thing for an antisemite to do. While antisemites say a lot of ignorant things about Jews, not every ignorant utterance about Jews is necessarily antisemitic. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes historical ignorance is just historical ignorance.

    But what was interesting was how confident Goldberg was in her ignorance—and why she was so confident.

    “I think of race as being something that I can see,” she said to Stephen Colbert, trying to clean up her comments on The View. “So, I see you and I know what race you are.” In other words, by her own admission, Goldberg’s understanding of race and racial history is literally skin deep.

    I’m not interested in coming to her defense, but this is understandable, because that’s how a lot of people talk and think about race today. First, though, some history.

    And we could all use us some history, so click over. Especially revealing: Whoopi's show The View is produced under ABC News.


  • From beyond the grave. Steven Hawyard channels Aaron Wildavsky (1930-1993) on Whoopi Goldberg. Reproducing part of his essay, “The Search for the Oppressed”:

    There can be too much of a good thing. There must be some limit to the proportion of oppressed minorities—for if there were no limits, inflation would run rampant and the value of the commodity would be entirely debased. So, knowing where to look, it is not surprising to discover that there are informal procedures for “de-minoritizing” or “de-oppressing” groups whose inclusion had heretofore been taken for granted. The classic case in out time concerns another group to which I belong: namely, Jews. The current tension between Jews and blacks refers largely to an important event that, because it did not take place at a specific time and was not announced, has escaped attention.

    I refer to the indubitable fact—first—that sometime in the mid-1960s blacks replaced Jews as the nation’s number one oppressed minority and—second—that, toward the end of that decade, white radicals succeeded in having Jews removed from the parlance of left critics of society as “minority,” despite the fact that they constituted no more than 3 percent of the population and were still undoubtedly subject to minor forms of discrimination in banking, business, social life, politics, and elsewhere. It took Christians 1,000 years to go from oppressed minority to inquisitorial majority; those clever Jews seem to have done it practically overnight. Let us investigate this strange case further.

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Somebody actually said that.


  • It's a funny old world. Bari Weiss hosts Winston Marshall at her substack: When Artists Become the Censors. After a brief tour of the travails of rock musicians Back in the USSR:

    I’m not suggesting the music scene of the West today, or the creative industries more broadly, resembles this top-down authoritarian dystopia. There was a time when the censoriousness did come from on high: Moral majoritarians on the Christian Right and conservative organizations like the Parents Music Resource Center worked hard through the 1980s and ‘90s to censor artists. In Ice-T’s 1989 song “Freedom of Speech,” he took Tipper Gore, a co-founder of the PMRC and the wife of future Vice President Al Gore, to task:

    “Yo, Tip, what’s the matter? You aint gettin’ no dick?/You’re bitchin’ about rock ’n’ roll - that’s censorship, dumb bitch /The Constitution says we all got a right to speak /Say what we want, Tip - your argument is weak”

    But in 2022, the censors are not in charge of governments. Something resembling a bottom-up authoritarianism has become the norm. Or perhaps one could call it lateral censorship. It’s artists shutting down other artists—or trying to.

    Last week, Canadian-American rock god Neil Young made a clarion call against free speech. Displeased by The Joe Rogan Experience’s Covidian contents, Young demanded that Spotify remove Rogan’s podcast—or remove him. Days later, Young’s music was off the platform, though you can still stream his songs on Apple (ignore their forced Uyghur labor in Xinjiang) and on Amazon (but don’t read about the company’s infamous working conditions in James Bloodworth’s book “Hired.”)

    Keep on rocking in the free world, Neil.

    Well, there I go, endangering Pun Salad's PG-13 rating again.

    Here's something I didn't know: Al and Tipper Gore are still married, despite having separated in 2010, and "dating other people".


  • Can you stand one more thing about Joe and Whoopi? It's not as if there aren't other important things going on. But David Harsanyi has thoughts: Whoopi Goldberg & Joe Rogan: Two Very Different Cancel Cultures

    Though I haven’t seen any prominent conservative call for the firing of Goldberg, these double standards will almost surely harden conservative views on open speech. There will be tit-for-tat pearl-clutching and pressure campaigns, but mostly there will be calls for revenge. You can only expect people to live under two sets of rules and standards for so long. A large chunk of the Left’s time these days is taken up with attempts to undercut open discourse. And not just the bunch of crybabies at Georgetown Law who are trying to get Shapiro fired for clumsily expressing the view of 76 percent of Americans, or “media reporters” at CNN, or Vox explainer dudes who believe free speech is one of the “biggest” threats to “liberalism,” or musicians trying to pressure Spotify to de-platform Rogan; it’s the president and politicians who pressure companies to shut down speech they disapprove of.

    Nor is it only well-known apostates who live in fear of committing speech crimes. A recent Manhattan Institute study found that 45 percent of employees under 30 are scared of losing their jobs because “someone misunderstands something you have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from your past online.” This kind of noxious anxiety should not exist in a liberal nation.

    None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be critical of things people say or that every nut has a God-given right to a television show. It does mean that those trying to cancel or chill speech are acting in illiberal ways. Either you believe in free expression as a neutral principle, or you don’t. Those who don’t are usually authoritarian. Though like most authoritarians, they don’t even know they’re the bad guys.

    Yes. Friends, if you haven't read your John Stuart Mill lately, Ian Underwood at Granite Grok has you covered:

    But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.


  • Did I mention there were other important things going on besides creeping illiberalism? The Techdirt website can be pretty tedious at times, but occasionally it's very good, like this post from Mark Masnick: Can We At Least Make Sure Antitrust Isn't Deliberately Designed To Make Everyone Worse Off?

    For decades here on Techdirt I've argued that competition is the biggest driver of innovation, and so I'm very interested in policies designed to drive more competition. Historically this has been antitrust policy, but over the past decade or so it feels like antitrust policy has become less and less about competition, and more and more about punishing companies that politicians dislike. We can debate whether or not consumer welfare is the right standard for antitrust -- I think there are people on both sides of that debate who make valid points -- but I have significant concerns about any antitrust policy that seems deliberately designed to make consumers worse off.

    That's why I'm really perplexed by the push recently to push through the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” from Amy Klobuchar which, for the most part, doesn't seem to be about increasing competition, innovation, or choice. It seems almost entirely punitive in not just punishing the very small number of companies it targets, but rather everyone who uses those platforms.

    In case you had any warm thoughts about the GOP: out of 11 cosponsors of Klobuchar's bill, 6 are Republicans.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-03

  • I'm not proud to admit it, but I laughed.

    But there are more serious thoughts out there…


  • Charlie Cooke, what do you think about Whoopi Goldberg's suspension? "Thanks for asking, Pun Salad! Whoopi Goldberg's Suspension Is Illiberal and Irrational. Specifically…"

    What Goldberg said was factually incorrect, yes. But so what? Figures on political TV shows say stupid and historically illiterate things every day — including about the Nazis — and nothing much happens to them as a result. What, exactly, was different about this one? Is warmed-over critical theory prohibited now?

    And why does anyone care? ABC’s president explained that the suspension was a product of Goldberg’s “hurtful comments.” But who, specifically, was “hurt”? The View is a talk show, and a particularly stupid one to boot. Is there anyone in the world who takes it as gospel? I simply do not understand the mechanism by which viewers are supposed to be damaged in some way by watching an actress make mistakes on live TV. Where is this “hurt”? What does it look like? How long does it last? And how is it assuaged by barring Goldberg from the program for a fortnight? Goldberg isn’t the CEO of American Airlines, or the president of the Historical Society. She’s a participant on a chat show. No one in America is affected by her errors.

    Thanks, Charlie. For another view…


  • Let's hear from Robby Soave. Robby, do you agree with Charlie about the "illiberal and irrational" thing? "Sorry, no, Pun Salad! Instead, I hold to the opinion that Whoopi Goldberg's 2-Week Suspension From The View Is Idiotic."

    I have yet to find anyone who agrees with the punishment. Goldberg's comments do not appear to come from a place of maliciousness toward Jewish people—in fact, she has described herself as a non-practicing Jew in the past. What purpose does the suspension serve, except to chide a political talk show host from talking about politics? Goldberg made her claim, and was called out and repeatedly corrected. She wasn't underplaying the horrors of the Holocaust or denying anti-Semitism, she was earnestly making a point that, as it turns out, is wrong.

    Fascinating. For our next guest…


  • Arnold Kling, you are Jewish. Surely you have some unique perspective on the Whoopster? "Not really, Pun Salad! But I'd like to say something In Defense of Whoopi Goldberg."

    First, the snark: By Joe Biden’s criteria, Whoopi Goldberg is more qualified than Laurence Tribe—to pick a name on the left—to fill the pending Supreme Court vacancy. End of snark.

    Her comments on the Holocaust were erroneous and in bad taste. But as a free-speech absolutist, I defend her right to say things that are erroneous and in bad taste. And as a Jew, I am ashamed of the Jewish establishment leaders who pounced on her remarks and helped cause her employer to “suspend” her for two weeks.

    The charge that was immediately made against Goldberg, and to which she later pleaded guilty, is that the remarks were “hurtful.” This is a red flag that the critics are crybullies. Whenever the criticism of speech is that it is “hurtful" to some group, I say that it is time to defend the speaker and criticize those who find it “hurtful.”

    Good point, Arnold. And I liked that snark.


  • Tristan Justice, do you know what company owns the ABC television network? "Why, yes I do, Pun Salad. That would be Disney. And I'd like to point out that Disney's Double Standards Go On Full Display In Goldberg Suspension."

    Goldberg’s treatment comes in stark contrast to how the same company handled online outrage when “Mandalorian” star Gina Carano made a Holocaust comparison with logical and factual bases. In February last year, Carano was promptly fired after the actress wrote on Instagram that mass political violence such as that of Nazi Germany begins with hatred of one’s neighbors.

    Ouch. Bet they wish they had that one back, amirite? Maybe Whoopi will hire Gina as a recurring character on the upcoming Star Trek spinoff series Guinan!


  • And in case you haven't yet awakened… Eric Boehm points out America’s $30 Trillion National Debt Should Be a Wake Up Call.

    America's national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time ever in October 2008.

    By mid-September 2017 the national debt had doubled to $20 trillion. That was so recently that it probably feels like the week before last. Remember Donald Trump issuing a threat of nuclear war against North Korea from a New Jersey country club? Did you see Thor: Ragnarok in theaters? That was fall 2017. It was less than five years ago.

    Yesterday, data released by the U.S. Treasury confirmed that the national debt reached a new milestone: $30 trillion.

    The speed with which the federal government has piled up the third mountain of 10 trillion I-O-U notes is truly remarkable. Yes, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic drove government borrowing and spending to stratospheric heights—but even before COVID appeared on the horizon, the operative question about the national debt was when not if the country would hit $30 trillion. The drivers of the debt are an unbalanced entitlement system and a persistent gap between government spending and tax revenue—the result of more than two decades of poor decision making in Washington, where politicians from both parties have carelessly borrowed to pay for everything from foreign wars to $1,200 checks for most Americans (even those earning six-figures) during the pandemic.

    The culprits, unfortunately, are easy to find: (1) Democrats; (2) Republicans; (3) Voters.


  • George F. Will has a clickbait headline? Well, maybe for political geeks. Here it is: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have much in common, with one vital, deflating difference.

    Transfixed Americans, watching from afar, are perhaps nonplussed by events in London. There, Her Majesty’s first minister is, as this is written, in danger of losing his lease on 10 Downing Street because he lied. Astonishing.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson might survive, for a number of reasons, one being that he, like two of the five most recent U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton and Donald Trump), has the awesome strength that comes from being incapable of embarrassment. Also, to his critics he can fairly respond: “What did you expect?”

    He has never disguised his belief that in any situation, truthfulness is merely one option among many, and not to be preferred over more advantageous or just more entertaining choices. As Winston Churchill said of another politician (evidently Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin), he “occasionally had stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”

    And, all right, all right, I won't make you click over to find out the "one vital, deflating difference." It turns out that it's not a difference between Trump and BoJo, but…

    Simon Kuper notes in the Financial Times that Johnson’s net favorability rating collapsed from +29 percent in April 2020 to -52 percent in January 2022. “Here, in microcosm,” Kuper writes, “is the uniqueness of American polarisation”: Those who favor Trump are bound to him as with hoops of steel, come what may. This total indifference to evidence is today’s “American exceptionalism.”

    We dodged that bullet here at Pun Salad.

URLs du Jour

2022-02-02

  • Oy.

    We are apparently going to need a new word for "invidious race-based stereotyping".

    Ed Driscoll has a good post at Instapundit commenting on the change. A comment I liked, credited to Noam Blum: ADL now stands for "The Anti-Definition League".


  • Because a President can only do so much to drive the economy into a ditch. George F. Will records: Biden proposes saddling an already struggling Federal Reserve with two political activists

    Today’s Federal Reserve illustrates this axiom: When a government entity cannot, or would rather not, adequately perform its primary function, or when it feels that its primary function is insufficiently grand, the agency will expand its mission, thereby distracting attention from its core inadequacy.

    Next Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee will hold confirmation hearings for two presidential nominees to the Federal Reserve Board — Lisa Cook, to a seat on the Fed’s Board of Governors, and Sarah Bloom Raskin, to be vice chair of the Board for bank supervision and regulation. Both would ratify the current Fed’s penchant for mission creep — actually, mission gallop. The Senate should tell both to express their abundant political passions through more suitable institutions.

    Click through for the many, many ways Cook and Raskin are ill-suited for controlling a major driver of the American economy.


  • The first thing we do, lets… Fire the Statisticians!

    No, that's not what Kevin D. Williamson is actually advocating:

    Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish caudillo, is surely a typical politician of our times — our very, very, very stupid times. Faced with high inflation caused in part by his illiterate crackpot regime’s loosey-goosey monetary policy, he ordered an even loosier-goosier policy, cutting interest rates even further on the theory that high interest rates are just a bankers’ plot against him — and by “bankers” you can go ahead and just say “Jews,” which is what the Erdogan regime habitually does.

    The unsurprising result is record-high inflation. And when his government’s chief statistician produced statistics attesting to the collapse of the Turkish lira, Erdogan — who has the heart of a tyrant and the brain of a not especially bright wombat — responded by firing the statistician.

    That’ll show ’em!

    OK, just one more excerpt:

    Among the greatest and saltiest of these anti-elitists is Senator Elizabeth Warren, the phony Cherokee princess who holds forth on the plight of the dispossessed from her Cambridge manor while negotiating tax cuts for rich metropolitan property owners such as herself. Do you know the expression, “That’s the least you could do!” That was Professor Warren’s job description at Harvard: She did the least she could do, teaching only one class and collecting a paycheck in excess of $400,000 for doing so. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is who is here to tell us that the problem with inflation isn’t daft Democratic policies but — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — greed, in the form of “price gouging” enabled by “concentrated corporate power.”

    It's not an NRPlus article, so you really have no excuse for not Reading The Whole Thing.

    [Headline reference explained, if necessary, here.]


  • Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, commies gotta commie. Randal O'Toole has (apparently) started up his own blog, The Antiplanner. This sample article is informative, but also kind of a hoot: Marxists for High-Speed Rail.

    American high-speed rail advocates must be thrilled that Marxist-communists, as represented by The International magazine, have endorsed high-speed trains in the United States, which they describe as “trains against capitalism.” To build high-speed rail, the article says, we must “return to the path blazed by the Soviet Union, and make use of its tools: central planning and public spending.” Because these tools worked so well there!

    The article praises the Soviet Union for building “one of the greatest systems of railways the world has ever seen.” This reminds me of a statement by University of Washington Russian Studies professor Daniel Chirot,” who once said that, by 1980, the Soviet Union had built the “finest nineteenth-century industrial economy the world has ever seen” (I’m quoting from memory but you get the idea).

    It's … um, impressive, I guess … to see unabashed nostalgia for the USSR. As you might guess, Randal rebuts the sentimentality for the old Evil Empire.


  • "Why is a laser beam like a goldfish?" Via GeekPress, ominous news from Time magazine: Artificial Intelligence Can Now Craft Original Jokes—And That's No Laughing Matter.

    Don’t you hate it,” says Jon the Robot, gesturing with tiny articulated arms at an expectant crowd, “when you’re trying to solve inverse kinematics equations to pick up a cup and then you get ‘Error 453, no solution found’?” The crowd laughs. “Don’t you hate that?”

    An experiment billed as a comedy act, Jon is the brainchild of Naomi Fitter, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University. The tiny android performs when a handler (who must also hold the mic) presses a button, then tells the same jokes in the same order, like a grizzled veteran comic at a down-market Vegas casino.

    But the robot’s act is more human than it might first appear. Jon is learning how to respond to its audience—it can now vary the timing of its delivery based on the length of the audience’s laughter, and append different responses to jokes based on the level of noise in the room. It can deliver one line if a joke gets a roar of laughter (“Please tell the booking agents how funny that joke was”) and another if there are crickets (“Sorry about that. I think I got caught in a loop. Please tell the booking agents that you like me … that you like me … that you like me”).

    Mike, insert a funny quip about how an AI could only improve Saturday Night Live here.

    [Heinlein fans will recognize the riddle in the headline, and realize why I thought it was appropriate. If necessary, some context and the punchline here.]


Last Modified 2022-02-02 7:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-02-01

  • "Show me where the free speech touched you, child," said the Vice President of Inclusive Excellence. Making the rounds:

    Don't show this to anyone at the University Near Here, it might give them ideas.


  • But making matters worse… Yes, CRT/Wokism is bad news. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) takes notice of a bad reaction to bad news: New wave of bills on race and sex stereotyping violate academic freedom.

    As legislatures across the country begin or resume legislative sessions in the new year, lawmakers are introducing new bills that would seek to regulate how race and sex are addressed in K-12 classrooms and in America’s colleges and universities. Problematically, most of this year’s crop of bills that apply to the collegiate setting present unconstitutional intrusions into what can and cannot be taught.

    When these bills first started appearing last year, FIRE was quick to point out that while legislators have broader (but not unlimited) authority to set K-12 curriculum, the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom prevent the government from banning ideas from collegiate classrooms.

    The 65-year-old case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire is quoted. Our state has an unproud history of litigation about how the citizenry is allowed to express its views. In addition to Sweezy, see: Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire; Cox v. New Hampshire; Wooley v. Maynard.

    And some would like to add to the list:

    While some 2021 bills with unconstitutional classroom restrictions, like Pennsylvania’s HB 1532 and Ohio’s HB 327, remain pending in 2022, FIRE hoped that lawmakers introducing new legislation would take notice that the curricular bans were a constitutional non-starter. We were wrong.

    In legislatures across the country, including in states like Alabama (HB 8, HB 9, HB 11, and SB 7), Florida (HB 57 and SB 242), Indiana (HB 1134 and SB 167), Iowa (HF 222), Kentucky (HB 18), Missouri (HB 1484, HB 1634, and HB 1654), New Hampshire (HB 1313), New York (A 8253), Oklahoma (HB 2988), and South Carolina (H 4799), the bills contain unconstitutional bans on what can be taught in college classrooms. They must not be enacted in their current form.

    You want to show people that Your Side is just as bad as Their Side? This is how you do that.

    In addition, shutting down CRT at UNH would deprive Pun Salad of a lot of opportunities to point and laugh.


  • I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it. Ronny Soave notes the growing rebellion out west: Hispanic Students Were Forced To Learn Critical Race Theory. They Hated It.

    During the 2020 fall semester, Kali Fontanilla—a high school English language teacher working in the Salinas, California, school district—noticed that many of her students were failing one of their other classes: ethnic studies. This was at the height of the pandemic, and instruction was entirely online, leaving many students in the lurch. Still, Fontanilla thought it was odd to see so many Fs.

    Salinas has a majority Mexican population; all of Fontanilla's students were Hispanic and were learning English as a second language. Education officials who propose adding ethnic studies to various curriculums—and making it mandatory, as the Salinas school district did—typically intend for privileged white students to learn about other cultures. There's a certain irony in requiring members of an ethnic minority to study this, and an even greater irony in the fact that such students were struggling intensely with the course.

    "My students are failing ethnic studies," says Fontanilla, who is of Jamaican ancestry. "I would say half of them are failing this ethnic studies class."

    This made Fontanilla curious about what the course was teaching. All of the high school's teachers used the same online platform to post lesson plans and course materials, so Fontanilla decided to take a look. She was shocked by what she saw.

    "This was like extreme left brainwashing of these kids," says Fontanilla. "Critical race theory all throughout the lessons, from start to finish. The whole thing."

    Robby has screenshots. Ms. Fontanilla is pretty brave to risk getting blackballed for her "uncongenial" truth-exposing. Just imagine all the school districts lacking people with such bravery.

    [Headline reference explained here, if necessary.]


  • Without them, we wouldn't have any standards at all. Bari Weiss writes On Decency and Double Standards at Georgetown. And she, bless her heart, has a long memory:

    I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days about a tweet by a Georgetown professor.

    Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement.

    All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.

    That tweet was written in 2018 by Georgetown professor Carol Christine Fair about Republican senators who supported Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

    Fair also writes a blog called Tenacious Hellpussy, which she describes as “a nasty woman posting from the frontlines of fuckery.” There she notes: “Cunty women get shit done.” 

    I fully agree, though I might call it chutzpah. For evidence, we need look no further than Fair herself.

    Well, that's gonna wreck Pun Salad's PG-13 rating.

    Nevertheless, at the time, Georgetown stood behind Fair's free expression rights.

    Now consider how different the treatment Georgetown has afforded Ilya Shapiro, who has now been placed on Administrative Leave for a tweet that everyone (including Shapiro) agrees was poorly worded, and for which he's apologized. The "standards" used are obvious, and as Bari concludes:

    But the tragic reality here—what the cases [of] Fair and Shapiro show—is that there is no reward for being decent or admitting regret or apologizing. In our increasingly graceless culture, decency can be a one-way ticket to exile.

    We'll see what happens, I guess.


  • Mister, we could use a man like Milton Friedman again. Andrew Stuttaford asks and answers: What Is a Company For?

    The rise of stakeholder capitalism has focused attention on the question of what a company is for. In the U.S., at least, that question was thought to have been answered decades ago. The primary purpose of a business was that it should be run for the benefit of its owners — the shareholders — a view discussed and defended at length by Milton Friedman in an article for the New York Times (those were the days) back in 1970.

    The notion of shareholder primacy has, however, been under attack for some years, especially since a large number of CEOs co-signed a Business Roundtable redefinition of “the purpose of a corporation” in a way designed to fashion “an economy that serves all Americans,” language not too far removed from the “common prosperity” that is now (allegedly) the goal of the Chinese Communist Party, as the CCP reins in China’s private sector. That both the Business Roundtable (with its promotion of the idea that a company should meet “the needs of all stakeholders”) and Beijing have both embraced concepts that owe not a little to corporatism is striking. That stakeholder capitalism has found a generally warm welcome across the Atlantic is rather less so: Christian Democracy and other infinitely less savory European takes on corporatism (stakeholder capitalism is essentially an expression of corporatism) have roots on the continent that stretch back to the premodern era. Finally (adjust your tinfoil hats please), I’d add that stakeholder capitalism has long been a preoccupation of Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (“Davos”).

    It's been over fifty years since I read Atlas Shrugged (skipping over the 60-page John Galt speech). But I can still notice corporate heads trying out their James Taggart impressions.