URLs du Jour

2022-03-31

  • Clamourous mannequins. I swear, that's the official caption of our Getty image du jour:

    Toronto, Ontario, Canada- January 14, 2013. Window display on Danforth Avenue in East end of Toronto. Clamorous mannequins set up in a scene, style of Oscar's film awards ceremony in Hollywood.

    Yes, it's nine years old, and Canadian, and the caption stops making sense somewhere along the line, but still: can you think of a better description of the Oscars than "clamourous mannequins"?

    I also noticed dueling headlines:

    Variety: 2022 Oscar Ratings: 16.6 Million Viewers, Up 58% From Last Year.

    Deadline: Oscar Viewership Hits Final 2022 Figure Of 16.6M, Still 2nd Lowest Ever.

    Maybe viewership will improve next year, with a few million people tuning in (wondering if|hoping that) Blake Lively will rush the stage to punch out Ellen DeGeneres for making a joke about Ryan Reynolds.


  • Can't you see that man is a nit? Jonah Goldberg says we're all in big trouble When Gaffes Become Policy.

    From suggesting the 2022 midterm election results would be illegitimate if his election reforms failed to pass, to implying that a “minor incursion” into Ukraine by Russia wouldn’t be that big a deal, there are now dozens of examples of the administration retconning Biden’s verbal stumbles. This pattern hit a new low Monday, when Biden—using prepared talking points captured by photographers—insisted, “I'm not walking anything back.” Which made his aides' various walk-backs seem even odder.

    But what’s more worrisome than denying the reality of Biden’s verbal mistakes is making his verbal mistakes reality.

    For instance, initially the White House was rightly careful to not call Putin a war criminal, not because he isn’t one—he obviously is—but because saying so has profound policy implications. The policy suddenly changed when Biden responded off the cuff to a shouted question from a reporter, saying, “I think he is a war criminal.”

    At first, Psaki said Biden was merely “speaking from his heart.” But soon it became the administration’s official position.

    I’m open to that position, but on this and many other issues, I’d like America’s policies to be informed by something more deliberate and considered than a gaffe.

    No matter how entertaining Biden's flubs and deranged ravings can be, it might be better for the country if he were somehow put on a ten-second delay. Like, y'know, the Oscars.

    [Don't recognize the headline reference? Here you go, bunkie.]


  • It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of two mockeries of a sham. And, as Kevin D. Williamson explains: Biden Russia Regime-Change Talk Worse Than a Gaffe.

    “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

    Joe Biden said it about Vladimir Putin. Two seconds later, Joe Biden’s staff members were no doubt thinking it about Joe Biden.

    Politics, particularly on the campaign side, is full of people who excel at verbal cleverness, and, as a result, it is full of people who believe that verbal cleverness is the height of intelligence. Cleverness is overrated. But there is a big difference between a policy of working toward “regime change” in Russia and a policy of talking about working toward regime change in Russia. Words matter, and the words of the president of the United States of America matter a great deal.

    Biden’s people were, almost immediately, engaged in that great Washington cliché: “walking back the president’s remarks.” Biden’s people do more walking back than Younger Bear.

    What President Biden really seems to have in mind is not so much regime change as regime decapitation — getting rid of Vladimir Putin but leaving the rest of the Moscow machinery in place, getting rid of one caudillo in the hope that the next one will be better inclined toward Washington, or, if not more malleable, at least less adventurous.

    Hey, maybe. But it's far from a guarantee. KDW notes that Russia (and before that, the USSR) has long been a state full of "gangsterism and oligarchism." Getting rid of the current guy at the top won't solve that chronic problem.

    [Youngsters, the headline reference is from way back when Woody Allen made funnier movies. Boy, we're really doing the movie thing today, aren't we?]


  • Fear is the mind-killer. Nevertheless, some people need to be afraid of something. For them, Bjørn Lomborg has some advice: Be Afraid of Nuclear War, Not Climate Change

    Weeks before thermobaric rockets rained down on Ukraine, the chattering classes at the World Economic Forum declared “climate action failure” the biggest global risk for the coming decade. On the eve of war, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry fretted about the “massive emissions consequences” of Russian invasion and worried that the world might forget about the risks of climate change if fighting broke out. Amid the conflict and the many other challenges facing the globe right now, like inflation and food price hikes, the global elite has an unhealthy obsession with climate change.

    This fixation has had three important consequences. First, it has distracted the Western world from real geopolitical threats. Russia’s invasion should be a wake-up call that war is still a serious danger that requires democratic nations’ attention. But a month into the war in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres—whose organization’s main purpose is ensuring world peace—was focused instead on “climate catastrophe,” warning that fossil-fuel addiction will bring “mutually assured destruction.” His comments come at a time when nuclear weapons are posing the biggest risk of literal mutually assured destruction in half a century.

    You can click over for Consequences two and three, but I'll summarize: the money currently spent on "climate policies" undermines future prosperity in both developed countries and the poorest countries.

    Bjørn's bottom line: "A world scared witless doesn’t make smart decisions."

    [Headline reference: Yes, another movie.]


  • Also, don't stop thinking about tomorrow. Good advice at the Daily Beast from Komi T. German and Greg Lukianoff: Don't Stop Using the Term ‘Cancel Culture’. Yes, the term has been sloppily misapplied and overused. But:

    But just because the term has been grossly overused doesn’t mean we should give up on its popularly understood definition—which aptly describes a real (and growing) problem. This is the measurable uptick, since around 2014, of campaigns to get people fired, disinvited, deplatformed, or otherwise punished for speech that is—or would be—protected by First Amendment standards. That’s “cancel culture.”

    We say “would be” because the First Amendment does not apply to private companies. So, while the NFL was free to punish Colin Kaepernick, and The View was free to suspend Whoopi Goldberg, these are still examples of cancel culture under our definition, because the subjects of each controversy engaged in expression that “would be” protected, were the First Amendment standard to apply.

    What happened to Ilya Shapiro, David Shor, and Kathy Griffin? Cancel culture.

    What happened to Andrew Cuomo, Jeff Zucker, Harvey Weinstein, Jan. 6 rioters, and the Russian military? Not cancel culture, despite their cries to the contrary.

    German and Lukianoff see plenty of cancelling misbehavior on "both sides."

    [And the headline reference is not a movie.]

URLs du Jour

2022-03-30

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Good advice. From Alan Jacobs:

    I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

    Go, and do thou likewise.


  • Bad idea. The NR editors take apart Biden’s Latest Tax Folly

    Faced with real economic pain, President Biden proposes to tax imaginary income.

    Biden has had some very, very stupid ideas in his 50 years in public life. We won’t say that his latest “billionaire” tax proposal is the dumbest of them, but it’s on the top-ten list.

    Biden’s proposed “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” — which, of course, is not actually limited to billionaires — is an economically illiterate and very likely unconstitutional proposal that purports to make the very wealthy pay their “fair share,” in the conventional language of Democratic demagoguery. It would do so in part by taxing some high-income people on money they haven’t made yet, combining the worst features of the IRS with the worst features of Minority Report.

    Obligatory Don Surber counterpoint:

    NR relies on the charity of others so it sides with its rich benefactors who donate to NR. Opposing higher taxes on the rich makes sense for them. NR writers have convinced themselves that we must protect the wealth of billionaires because eventually the confiscation trickles down to the rest of us.

    Or, shorter: "I can't make a real argument against what NR is saying, so I'll just claim it's arguing in bad faith for its own financial interests."


  • Just one? Allison Schrager pinpoints The Problem with Biden's Billionaire Minimum Income Tax.

    If you thought the White House was done devising bad economic policies, think again. First was the idea to pass a stimulus package that many economists agreed was too large and worsened inflation; then came the plan to shrink the domestic oil and gas industry; next, a push to remake and enlarge the welfare state that never had popular support and, mercifully, faltered in Congress; and now, tucked away in President Biden’s budget proposal, comes a provision for a de facto wealth tax. In some ways, this is the worst idea of them all, though it would be so hard to enforce that its damage would be limited, even if it passed.

    Textbook economics argues that wealth taxes are the most distortionary and least efficient of all taxes. Governments need to raise revenue somehow, ideally via taxes that are relatively easy to collect and don’t alter behavior too much by, for example, discouraging people from working or investing. It follows that consumption taxes are efficient, since consumption (spending) is easy to observe, and people need to do it. Income taxes have become relatively easy to collect information on, since most employers need to share pay data with the IRS, and they don’t discourage work at low to moderate income levels. But it’s hard to observe wealth: the IRS does not collect information on it, many assets held by rich people are tricky to value (such as fine art), and the value of wealth can be volatile (consider the Bitcoin millionaire). Taxing wealth also encourages people to shift their assets abroad or into difficult-to-value assets, or simply to understate what their wealth is worth. Many European countries have given up taxing wealth, and those that do impose wealth taxes derive only a small share of revenue from them.

    Schrager notes that the effect on the targeted rich (in the unlikely event this becomes law and dodges constitutional issues) would be for them to shrug their shoulders and move into private equity. Probably crashing the public stock market as a result, right?


  • I blew out my flip-flop. Peter Suderman describes it as Biden’s Desperate Wealth Tax Flip-Flop. He observes that Biden won his party's nomination in 2020 because he was perceived the "moderate" in the race. And one of the bits of evidence for that? His opposition to a Sanders/Warren-style wealth tax. But:

    Yet now, as president, Biden has embraced a wealth tax of his own. In his latest budget plan, Biden proposed something the White House has dubbed the "Billionaire Minimum Income Tax," which applies to all income, realized and unrealized, for households worth more than $100 million. The Biden administration is framing this as a form of "prepayment" on future capital gains—which is to say it's a form of taxation on money that someone has not actually seen, based on the value of their holdings. It's not exactly the same as the wealth taxes proposed by Warren and Sanders, but it's designed around the same fundamental idea: the taxation of personal wealth, rather than of cash income, which often takes the form of difficult-to-value assets.

    Most of the same criticisms that applied to the Warren and Sanders plans still apply: Biden's plan probably wouldn't raise nearly as much money as the administration assumes: Wealth taxes are exceptionally difficult and resource-intensive to administer, which is why most OECD countries that have implemented wealth taxes eventually dropped them. It's also quite likely to be unconstitutional. At minimum, if it passed, it would be tied up in court.

    Suderman guesses that it's not only unlikely to pass, but that it's designed not to pass. And if you're a fan of phoniness:

    Biden is willing to make an obvious phony of himself, embracing a policy he knows is punitive, divisive, unworkable, and virtually certain not to pass—and he's willing to do so simply to get attention. Not only is Biden not a moderate, he is evidently not trustworthy either.


  • What's wrong with the 1619 Project? Well, where do we start? Because, as Phil Magness notes The 1619 Project Unrepentantly Pushes Junk History. It's a review of the book version of Nikole Hannah-Jones's "project"; in this excerpt, he concentrates on Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond's essay on "Capitalism."

    Hannah-Jones' prescriptive call for slavery reparations flows seamlessly from Desmond's argument, as does her own expanded historical narrative—most recently displayed in a lecture series for MasterClass in which she attempted to explain the causes of the 2008 financial crisis by faulting slavery. "The tendrils of [slavery] can still be seen in modern capitalism," she declared, where banking companies "were repackaging risky bonds and risky notes…in ways [that] none of us really understood." The causal mechanism connecting the two events remained imprecise, save for allusions to "risky slave bonds" and a redesignation of the cotton industry as "too big to fail."

    Making what appears to be a muddled reference to the Panic of 1837, she confidently declared that "what happened in 1830 is what happened in 2008." The claimed connection aimed to prove that the "American capitalist system is defined today by the long legacy and shadow of slavery." This racist, brutal system "offers the least protections for workers of all races," she said, and it thus warrants a sweeping overhaul through the political instruments of the state. To this end, Hannah-Jones appends an expanded essay to The 1619 Project book, endorsing a Duke University study's call for a "vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies."

    It's garbage, but it's garbage that appears first on the list of UNH Paul College's Community, Diversity and Inclusion Resources. (Which is uniformly leftist and anti-capitalist, an odd choice for a business school.)


  • "Betteridge's Law of Headlines Confirmed" Department. Drew Cline wonders: Should N.H. pay people to move here?

    House Bill 1524 would create a state National Service Alumni Attraction and Retention Fund. 

    The money would finance “grants to New Hampshire-based employers and institutions of higher education for the purpose of providing financial assistance, workforce development, and education to AmeriCorps alumni and returned Peace Corps volunteers” interested in pursuing post-graduate education or work in the state.

    The plan differs from an existing program in Vermont in scope, but not concept.

    There are a number of practical reasons to oppose this gimmick, but the fundamental problem with it, as Drew Cline notes, is that it sets the precedent of "creating favored classes of citizens by bestowing tax money on politically preferred groups."

URLs du Jour

2022-03-29

  • Understanding "risk". It's the theme of the latest xkcd:

    [Spacecraft Debris Odds Ratio]

    Mouseover: "You say this daily walk will reduce my risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 30%, but also increase my risk of death by bear attack by 300%? That's a 280% increased! I'm not a sucker; I'm staying inside."


  • Diogenes has given up looking for honest men and returned to his barrel. Where he said, "Hey, Joe, get your own damn barrel!"

    (Geez, maybe that joke is too strained?)

    Anyway Chris Stirewalt does not have Diogenes in mind in his article: Biden Has Company at the Bottom of the Barrel

    The 2016 presidential election was so notable, among other reasons, because it pitted the two least-liked major-party nominees in modern political history against each other.

    In an average of the five final high-quality polls of 2016, 41.4 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, and 37.4 percent felt similarly about Donald Trump. That was about 10 points below the candidates in the rancorous 2012 election and about 5 points worse than Trump and President Biden in the historically heinous 2020 contest. 

    Well, if you thought 2016 was a race to the bottom, 2024 is shaping up to be a journey to the center of the earth. 

    The most recent NBC News poll […] has gotten a lot of attention for its finding that Biden has reached the lowest job approval rating of his term at 40 percent. As one would expect, Biden’s poor showing was driven by voter concerns over rising prices and the economy in general. But the poll also dashes Democratic hopes that Biden would get a boost from the mostly united response of Americans in opposition to Russia’s effort to conquer Ukraine. 

    But you know who has even worse approval numbers? That's a pretty easy guess.

    Stirewalt's article sent me to electionbettingodds.com for the first time since November 2020. As I type, the favorite to win the presidency in 2024 is… Donald J. Trump, with a 34.5% chance awarded by the surveyed betting markets. Wheezy Joe is in a distant second place at 15.2%.

    Well, it's early. When I started looking at betting odds for the 2020 election in November 2018, Wheezy was only given a 7% shot at winning the Democratic nomination. He trailed Kamala, Elizabeth Warren, … Caroline Kennedy?!

    And things were volatile. The very next week, Caroline had dropped off the charts. But Biden was behind Kamala, Warren, Beto O'Rourke. And tied with Bernie Sanders.

    Let's go out on a limb: things may change.

    Change for the better? Magic 8-ball says "Reply hazy, try again."


  • Boob Bait for the Bubbas. Ira Stoll notes that Wheezy Joe, not having much success so far in his efforts to start World War III, has moved on to the less ambitious goal of further wrecking the American economy: Biden Is Trying To Pass a Wealth Tax—Again. It Could Be Unconstitutional.

    President Joe Biden got elected in part by portraying himself as a moderate, rejecting calls for a wealth tax by his primary campaign rivals, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.).

    Now that Biden has made it to the White House, though, he just won't drop the idea, even though, like many of his tax-and-spend plans, he can't manage to get it through the Democrat-controlled Congress.

    Biden first floated what I called the "Biden-Wyden wealth tax," after Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, back in October 2021. It went nowhere, thanks in part to the dynamic duo of Sens. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.), who deserve credit for saving Biden from his party's worst policy ideas. It was too much even for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), who, The Washington Post reports, privately derided the Biden-Wyden wealth tax as a publicity stunt.

    How many ways is this a bad idea?

    Many of the same problems that applied to the original Biden-Wyden wealth tax apply to this new iteration of it. It could well be unconstitutional. Its retroactive application violates a principle of the rule of law. The small number of people targeted by it raises concerns about consent of the governed and about taxation without representation. There are practical issues having to do with the valuation of assets whose value may fluctuate wildly over time. We should be figuring out ways to ease the burden of taxation and shrink the size of government, not moving in the opposite direction. The money would be better used by the rich people who own it than by the lobbyist-influenced politicians in Washington.

    I'd like to think this is (as headlined above) is Boob Bait for the (left-wing) Bubbas. But doesn't Wheezy have the left wingers in his pocket already?


  • Another dumb idea. And this one is local. Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center observes: Requiring U.S. steel in N.H. public projects would hurt taxpayers and workers

    With inflation at a 40-year high and March approaching the highest one-month gas price increase on record, this would be a strange moment for legislators to purposefully inflate public works costs for taxpayers. But that could happen, started by a Senate vote this week.

    Senate Bill 438 would raise costs on New Hampshire taxpayers for the sole purpose of protecting jobs in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and New York. It has 14 co-sponsors, 58% of the Senate.

    The bill would require all state-administered public works projects of $1 million or more to use American-made steel. Similar bills are being pushed by the steel industry in state legislatures around the country. It is a classic example of protectionism masquerading as patriotism.

    There's enough of this taxpayer money-wasting going on at the Federal level; we don't need to make things worse here.


  • Finally, a good article in WIRED. If you look up "photosynthesis reaction" at the Google, you'll see a deceptively simple equation:

    [Photosynthesis]

    Plants do this: suck in carbon dioxide and water, and use the energy of incoming photons to change those molecules into sugar and oxygen. And they've been doing it for billions of years, thanks to the dumb-but-persistent workings of evolution putting together a pretty stupid enzyme. (Click the pic, Wikipedia will give you the deets.)

    Which has long made me wonder: how come we smarties can't come up with a synthetic version of the same idea, much more efficient? Suck as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as you want! Climate change solved! You're welcome!

    A recent WIRED article comes pretty close to exploring that idea: A Bold Idea to Stall the Climate Crisis—by Building Better Trees

    Of all the potential fixes for the climate crisis, none has captured hearts and minds quite like tree planting. It’s a goal that seemingly everyone can agree on: Scientists, politicians, even billionaires are putting their heft behind efforts to green the land with new forests that will capture carbon and—hopefully—lock it away in trunks and soil for decades.

    But no climate fix is ever that simple. Multiple studies have found that tree-planting campaigns don’t always deliver the benefits they promise. If newly planted forests aren’t properly cared for and monitored, the trees can die and any carbon they stored will be released back into the atmosphere. Sometimes there aren’t enough seedlings for these programs in the first place. The mass enthusiasm for tree-planting programs has sparked a partial backlash, with scientists arguing that planting trees is important, sure, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it’s a silver bullet for the vast challenges of the climate crisis.

    Other scientists point to a different problem with mass tree-planting efforts: the trees themselves. What if existing trees just aren’t good enough at storing carbon? If scientists could find a way to increase trees’ carbon-sucking potential, we’d be unlocking more cost-effective carbon capture with every tree planted. A better tree could be what we've been waiting for. We just have to make it.

    Interesting! Trees are nice, but my vision is more techy: arrays of panels, maybe looking like solar panels, that just sit there in the sun. Water is pumped in as needed, CO2 is absorbed, sweet O2 is emitted, and… sugar comes out the other end. Which we put on our cornflakes.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-28

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • What Ketanji Brown Jackson should have worn to her confirmation hearings. Our Amazon Product du Jour of course! But I'm pretty sure that would not have impressed Kevin D. Williamson, who wonders: Ketanji Brown Jackson . . . Closet Originalist? (And, yes, Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies.)

    [NRPLUS] Political life — like the rest of life — would be a lot simpler if people would just tell the truth.

    If I thought for a minute that Ketanji Brown Jackson meant what she said in her confirmation hearings — in which she described the judge’s relationship to the law in approximately the same way Antonin Scalia would have — then I’d be perfectly happy to see her on the Supreme Court. If I believed for one minute that she would subordinate her own political preferences to what the law actually says, then I wouldn’t care if she’d been on the board of Planned Parenthood or Mike Bloomberg’s dopey anti-gun group, because — here’s the critical thing — it wouldn’t matter. Not to her performance as a judge, anyway. While there will always be good-faith disagreements, a Marxist who is a committed textualist (if we can imagine such a thing) and a right-winger who is a committed textualist should, in theory, mostly come to the same or similar conclusions.

    As Randy Barnett observes in the Wall Street Journal, the intellectual triumph of originalism is now so complete that even left-leaning activists such as Judge Jackson feel compelled to pretend to be originalists. “I believe that the Constitution is fixed in its meaning,” Jackson assured senators at her hearings, before adding that “the original public meaning of the words” is “a limitation on my authority to import my own policy.”

    KDW goes on to recall, accurately, that Elena Kagan "positively lied her way onto the bench" back in 2010.


  • Would be nice, especially since we're paying for it. I'm checking out the substack of Lawrence M. Krauss, opinionated theoretical physicist. We'll see how it goes. I liked his post about Science magazine: The Public Deserves the Best Science.

    Earlier this month Science magazine, whose editor since 2019 has promoted the notion that science is systemically racist and sexist, ran four hit pieces on physics in a single issue. It was claimed that physics is racist and exclusionary, run by a “white priesthood,” and based on “white privilege.”

    The articles themselves were inconsistent at best. They promoted a specific viewpoint and sometimes made claims that were manifestly contradicted by their own examples. I don’t want to spend a lot of time here critiquing the specifics, or the magazine in general, because I don’t think either are worth it. But it is worth summarizing some of the misconceptions they promote. If one hears the same things over and over again, even if they are not true, it is easy to begin to believe them. So, it is important every now and then, to step back and question the assumptions on which they are based.

    Krauss lists five misconceptions, (a)-(e). Here's (a), and Krauss's rebuttal:

    (a)  If the representation of various groups in scientific disciplines does not match the demographics of the society at large, the cause must be racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination.

    This is the starting point for most claims of racism or sexism in science, and for the recent rise of “anti-racism” initiatives most closely associated with Critical Race Theory. But one of the most basic things one learns in science is that correlation is not causation. Without some control over confounding factors or some other clear empirical data validating a theoretical model, it is impossible to isolate the cause of this effect. Most areas of human activity are self-selecting. To argue that people don’t become scientists because they are excluded by the scientific community is an extraordinary claim. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is not to claim that racism or sexism do not exist in society at any level. Nor that examining such demographics might not be useful. But to lay this demographic on the doorstep of science without further justification is inappropriate. Moreover, there is a lot of empirical data that shows quite the opposite. Namely that in societies that are more egalitarian on issues of gender or race, self-selection effects produce as much or more variation in sex or gender ratios in the choice of professions as any other factor, something that clearly can’t be explained on the basis of sexism.

    That's a very Sowellian insight. So I'm hopeful Krauss will continue in that vein.


  • tick, tick...BOOM! Nope, no Oscars for tick, tick...BOOM! last night. But that's not important right now. Power Line talks about a totally different topic: Zeno’s Paradox: A Modern Instance. Specifically, the Doomsday Clock, controlled by the shaky hands of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Their rationale for leaving the clock unchanged despite Russia's saber-rattling invasion of Ukraine?

    And while the new US administration made progress in reestablishing the role of science and evidence in public policy, corruption of the information ecosystem continued apace in 2021. One particularly concerning variety of internet-based disinformation infected America last year: Waves of internet-enabled lies persuaded a significant portion of the US public to believe the utterly false narrative contending that Joe Biden did not win the US presidential election in 2020. Continued efforts to foster this narrative threaten to undermine future US elections, American democracy in general, and, therefore, the United States’ ability to lead global efforts to manage existential risk.

    In view of this mixed threat environment—with some positive developments counteracted by worrisome and accelerating negative trends—the members of the Science and Security Board find the world to be no safer than it was last year at this time and therefore decide to set the Doomsday Clock once again at 100 seconds to midnight. This decision does not, by any means, suggest that the international security situation has stabilized. On the contrary, the Clock remains the closest it has ever been to civilization-ending apocalypse because the world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment. In 2019 we called it the new abnormal, and it has unfortunately persisted.

    As I've pointed out before: at times of actual nuclear peril, the Atomic Scientists were much cooler about it.

    Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962? The clock was at 11:53pm.

    Yom Kippur War in 1973? All the way back at 11:48pm.

    Maybe it's "time" (heh) to retire the Doomsday Clock.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-27

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Watching the Oscars tonight? Me neither. I can't remember the last time I even tried. Kyle Smith considers the ceremony to be The Movies’ Salute to Television.

    Just a few years ago, the Oscars featured big stars such as Sandra Bullock in big movies such as Gravity, but the slate of nominees gets increasingly esoteric. And the theatrical distinction has been erased: This year’s top two contenders are TV features that got only a token release in theaters: Apple TV’s CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), a feel-good movie about a girl growing up in a family of deaf people, which won the Producers Guild of America’s top award; and Netflix’s The Power of the Dog, a revisionist Western from New Zealander director Jane Campion that has won dozens of awards, including the Critics Choice honors. The movie’s theme of closeted homosexuality is of such intense and enduring fascination to the Oscars (American Beauty, Moonlight, Milk, Call Me By Your Name, The Imitation Game) that the movie seems like a shoo-in, though it has lost momentum in the awards season lately.

    Only two women have ever won the Best Director Oscar, so Campion’s win in that category is a foregone conclusion, which means factors other than merit are playing a big role in the selection, which is exactly why people don’t watch awards shows anymore. If they’re just a reaffirmation of the wisdom of identity politics, who cares? We don’t need a three-hour telecast reminding us that the Academy is committed to honoring diversity. People know corruption when they see it, and the Oscars are corrupted by an eagerness to display inclusivity. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for Sam Elliott to win. That guy will be lucky if he ever works on a studio movie again.

    Confession: I watch about 30 minutes of the local TV news when it's not sports-preempted. The station (WMUR) is an ABC affiliate, and they're not above shamelessly plugging the upcoming show during the broadcast. As "news".

    One of their pitches is that the ceremony will be "historic". A sample "news" story from the national network: 7 potential historic wins to watch for. You don't want to miss history being made, do ya bunkie?

    There's a long history of Hollywood couples being nominated for Oscars the same year -- and this year there are two.

    Omigod! To think that Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz could win Best Actor and Actress (respectively).

    The second pair: Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons, but they're just engaged.

    What are the other 6 history-making possibilities? Well, Jane Campion could be the third woman to win Best Director! (Are you excited yet?) I assume she'll be chanting "I'M NUMBER THREE! I'M NUMBER THREE!" in her acceptance speech.

    In even less interesting news:

    • Ari Wegner could become the 1st female best cinematographer winner!
    • Troy Kotsur could become the 1st deaf best actor winner! (In which case you can forget about that Bardes/Cruz thing mentioned above happening. There's only so much history to be made.)
    • Lin-Manuel Miranda could achieve EGOT status! (Winning Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony awards.) And that would be the … seventeenth time that's happened. ("I'M NUMBER SEVENTEEN! I'M NUMBER SEVENTEEN! I'M…")
    • Drive My Car could win something, and that would be a first because it's Japanese.
    • Ariana DeBose could win for the same role Rita Moreno won for 60 years ago! (But that would mess up the Plemons/Dunst parley ahove.)

    But is there anything else historic? Well, sure! The Aussie site Women's Agenda noticed the History making all female line-up to host Oscars 2022!

    For the first time in Oscars history, three women will be hosting the awards this coming March.

    Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes have been named as the hosts of the 94th Oscars ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences confirmed this week.

    The all-female line-up will be the first time the ceremony, arguably Hollywood’s biggest night, will have a host since 2018, and the first time in 35 years it has had three presenters share the stage. In 1987, the ceremony was hosted by Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan.

    I am unsure the venue will be able to contain the excitement of seeing this much star power concentrated on one stage.


  • I wish Mitch Daniels were president. Of the US, not Purdue. A primer: Rebating tax dollars doesn’t ‘cost’ a state anything. It’s your money!

    A newspaper account early this year reported on pending legislation that would “slash billions of dollars worth of taxes” in my home state of Indiana. The article was more interesting for its word choices than for its content. Twice, it stated that the proposal would “cost the state” money. Twice, it warned that the state would “lose out” on large sums. And the article capped its evident alarm by labeling the bill a “potential hit” against both state and local governments.

    This is not to pick on the writer. As yet another young reporter in the parched landscape of what was once local journalism, she couldn’t bring a firsthand, historically informed philosophical understanding to the assignment. The article simply showed the implicit biases now thoroughly ingrained across what these days is referred to as the corporate press. The negative slant about the tax policy in question, a legitimately debatable matter, is less important than the mentality it reflects about whose money we’re discussing.

    Hey, whatever happened to “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”?

    But (Google-"research" coming up) this site notes the original quote (from Finley Peter Dunne's 1902 book Observations by Mr. Dooley) has context lending it a less noble slant:

    “Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”

    Apparently it helps to be stinking drunk to make that observation.


  • Another phrase that reveals that the speaker is probably being less than honest. And that phrase is… well, read Alex Baiocco, policy analyst at the Institute for Free Speech: When They Attack 'Dark Money,' They're Really Attacking Free Speech

    By adopting Democrats' strategy of attacking so-called dark money groups at this week's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, Republican senators are fueling efforts to undermine core First Amendment protections.

    Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, denounced the "role of far-left dark money groups like Demand Justice" in his opening remarks. And he wasn't the only one to do so. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) made vague references to "the most liberal people under the umbrella of Arabella." Prior to the hearing, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) criticized the "dark money" being spent to "raise [Jackson's] profile."

    With friends like… well, Republicans and Democrats, the Constitution doesn't need enemies.

Love in the Time of Contagion

A Diagnosis

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

For folks seeing my one-star rating at Goodreads: it's subjective, I just didn't like it. As the kids say (but usually abbreviate): your mileage may vary. It might be useful and insightful to someone else, maybe you. Theoretically possible. But not me.

Why did I read it? Well, it's my library book rule: if I check it out, I have to read it. I might not have checked it out if we were in the pre-Covid days of leisurely library browsing: glancing at a few pages might have caused me to put it back on the shelf. But we've gotten into the habit of putting books on hold online, picking them up a few hours later.

I thought it would be a safer bet. I really liked Kipnis's previous book, Unwanted Advances. I blogged about her conflicts with Kampus Kancel Kulture pretty frequently in the 2017-2018 era: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. But there's not much about that here. No warning signals were emitted when I listened to her interview with Nick Gillespie at Reason. So:

It's purportedly an examination of how the Covid pandemic has affected our intimate relationships, with callbacks to the AIDS disaster of the 1980s. There's precious little actual data on that here; Kipnis relies mainly on her own experience, and those revealed to her by her acquaintances. An example is her fourth chapter, in which she talks about her Zooming with an ex-student "Zelda", described as "queer, Black, and very online". Sample paragraph describing a social media incident Zelda had to deal with:

So why had [Frank] sent [Zelda] Camille's tweets? "Okay, this is kind of messy," she said, laughing a little self-consciously. Zelda had known that Frank knew Camille—in fact she'd first encountered Camille on one of Frank's social media pages, and texted him when she and Camille first started dating to say "Wow, Camille's cute and kind of cool." Frank hadn't at first told Zelda that he'd also had a brief thing with Camille until Zelda said, "You're acting weird, like did you sleep with her," and he said yeah, and Zelda was like, okay whatever. Frank also knew Olivia, Zelda's current girlfriend, and he was just scrolling through his timeline and saw Camille's tweets, figured they were about Zelda and probably thought, Camille's making a fool of herself, so I'm gonna screenshot these tweets because they'll be gone soon.
The legend of Zelda takes up about 40 pages of this 210-page book. I was uninterested the whole way through, but really uninterested in that.

But guess what? "Queer, Black" folks have fraught relationships, just like white heterosexuals. Things are certainly exacerbated when a large chunk of that aspect of their lives is revealed in social media. (To show off my fuddy-duddiness, being promiscuously sex-obsessed is probably adding to the drama.)

That's not all, but that's enough. I was occasionally amused by Kipnis's prose artistry, but she's just not speaking to me here.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-26

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It's (mostly) Language Day here at Pun Salad! Let's lead it off with Caroline Breashears who provides A Reader’s Guide to Newspeak 2022.

    Are you behind on Newspeak? Are you still using Oldspeak terms like “freedom?” If so, it’s time to update your vocabulary, abandoning useless words that clutter your brain. Master Newspeak, and you’ll never have to think again. 

    “But wait,” you say, “I enjoy thinking!”

    Of course you do. And so did Winston Smith in 1984, right up until his holiday in the Ministry of Love. While Orwell depicts the experience as torture, it was really the Igsoc version of retraining, which I am happy to provide here, minus the starvation.

    As Winston’s guide, O’Brien, explains, “The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement.” To magnify those emotions, Newspeak bypasses reason. Consider these examples from the dictionary’s latest edition:

    Capitalism: This word is the magic eraser of arguments. It wipes away any opposing argument by evoking images of bankers wearing top hats and monocles, all the better to see their filthy lucre. If your teachers’ union wants a raise, just yell, “Our fight is against capitalism.” No one will realize that you’re the one after money.

    More helpful information at the link.


  • But that's not the only guide you'll need. Judson Berger provides additional help to the confused with A Guide to Pronoun Guides. It's a sampling of wisdom, example:

    This comes from the University of Maryland. Using context clues, we can infer that “binary assumptive” means bad. The UMD guide lists several terms that apparently fall under this category and generally should be avoided as a result. They include “ladies and gentlemen” (a thousand MC careers just died) and more:

    • Ladies and gentlemen
    • Boys and girls
    • Men and women of the faculty
    • Brothers and sisters
    • He or she
    • S/he
    • Sir/madam

    "I'm old enough to remember" when "he or she" was considered to be a recommended non-sexist replacement for "he".


  • You say "banning", I say… David Harsanyi explains it in small words: No, School Boards Are Not 'Banning Books'

    Accusations of left-wing free speech authoritarianism—whether through corporate restrictions, the state targeting “misinformation,” the shouting down of dissent in universities, or the canceling of dissenting voices—are well-documented. Attempting to even the ledger, liberals have begun alleging that conservatives are engaging in “book bans” in public school districts.

    The newest outrage on this front comes from a ProPublica investigation in which Superintendent Jeremy Glenn of Granbury Independent School District in North Texas is taped saying chilling things like: “I don’t want a kid picking up a book, whether it’s about homosexuality or heterosexuality, and reading about how to hook up sexually in our libraries.”

    (“Minutes later,” reports ProPublica, “after someone asked whether titles on racism were acceptable, Glenn said books on different cultures ‘are great.'”)

    ProPublica repeatedly refers to the efforts of a volunteer committee set up to review titles as a “book ban.” This is a category mistake. Public school curriculum and book selection are political questions decided by school boards. Schools have no duty to carry every volume liberals demand.

    I haven't visited a K-12 public library in a long time. But the librarians at the University Near Here are pretty blatant about what they recommend/push. See, for example, their "Library Resources" page for Black History Month. Ibram X. Kendi, Ilhan Omar, Angela Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, …

    Good luck finding any equal treatment of libertarian/conservative voices. Is that "censorship"? "Banning"?


  • A job you couldn't pay me to do. Kyle Smith notes the tough task undertaken by our journalists: Media works overtime to clean up Joe Biden's word salads

    For decades, Joe Biden was known as a glib speaker. These days, he’s more like an aggressively weird word chef, tossing unrelated ingredients together into a strange bowl of thoughts. Step right up, Americans, and get yourself a sample of the presidential word salad!

    A German reporter this week asked President Biden a bizarre question about how, assuming he is defeated when he runs for re-election, possibly by Donald Trump, he would stop the next president from undoing things he has done. Biden’s answer should have been, “That’s not how this works. Ex-presidents don’t get to tell their successors what to do, sorry. Re-elect me!” Instead, he wandered around for hundreds of words of barely intelligible stream-of-consciousness remarks:

    “I don’t think you’ll find any European leader who thinks that I am not up to the job. And I mean that sincerely. It’s not like, ‘Whoa …’ It’s that — that — the point is that when — the first G7 meeting I attended, like the one I did today, was in Great Britain. And I sat down, and I said, ‘America is back. And one of the — one of my counterparts, colleagues, a head of state, said, ‘For how long? For how long?’ ”

    Biden wound up concluding, “But the next election, I’d be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me.”

    The media spun this loopy, defensive digression as “Biden torches Trump on world stage, talks trash about 2024,” or “Joe Biden shades Donald Trump’s 2024 hopes without even mentioning his name.” (Back in the real world, the average of the last three polls show Trump beating Biden by an average of three points.)

    If there's a Biden/Trump rematch in 2024… well, that's a reason to despair for our country.


  • Those who can't do… Nicholas Wade wonders about his fellow science writers. Are they Journalists, or PR Agents?

    The worldwide toll of deaths from Covid-19 has just hit 6 million, nearly 1 million of which are in the United States. Few science stories are more important than understanding where the Covid virus came from. Yet the science writers’ section of the press corps has proved strangely incapable of telling the story straight.

    Two hypotheses have long been on the table. One is that the virus jumped naturally from some animal host, as many epidemics have done in the past. The other is that it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, where researchers are known to have been genetically manipulating bat viruses in order to predict future epidemics. Both hypotheses are plausible but, so far, no direct evidence exists for either.

    The rule for covering such a story is obvious: write about both possibilities as evenhandedly as possible until the truth emerges. But science writers have consistently trumpeted any developments favoring natural emergence while downplaying or ignoring those pointing to a lab leak.

    Wade details the recent attempts to push the "wet market" theory, backed by relatively thin evidence.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-25

[Opportunity Cost]

  • Veep Thoughts. That's stolen from Power Line, but here's the latest tweeted video and alleged transcript:

    I have no idea if that's a fair rendering of her comments. And at this point, I don't care much.


  • Sounds like a very bad Pixar sequel. But it's not, it's Jonah Goldberg's G-File: Rise of the Underminers. You'll have to click over to see where he's going with that title, because I'm going to excerpt something further down, Senator Marsha Blackburn asking Ketanji Brown Jackson…

    Sen. Marsha Blackburn asked Judge Brown if she could offer a definition of the word “woman.” Brown demurred, saying she couldn’t because, “I’m not a biologist.”

    Coverage of this has been scant in the mainstream media. When I searched Google News for “Ketanji Brown Jackson” and “biologist” I got one Daily Mail piece, some transcripts, and one or two “analysis” pieces that mention it in passing, as a data point in a larger “Republicans pounce” vein. The New York Times did have one 470-word blog post along these lines.

    Jonathan Weissman begins: 

    Republicans have spent hours this week trying to portray Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as an extremist on issues of race and an apologist for child sexual abusers. Late Tuesday, Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, added another social issue to the list of cultural grievances the G.O.P. is foisting upon her in her confirmation hearings: gender — specifically, what makes a woman a woman.

    Okay, so partisan Republican strategy is newsworthy. You know what else is newsworthy? That a woman who was nominated to be on the Supreme Court explicitly because she is a woman cannot offer a ballpark definition of what a “woman” is on the grounds that she’s not a “biologist.”

    I’m no fancy pants lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that the concept—and biological reality—of what defines a female intersects with all sorts of legal questions. Someone can fact check me, but I do think it has some bearing on this thing called “abortion.” Title IX might also make a passing reference to this apparently ill-defined condition that applies to a majority of Americans.

    Yes, that was a pretty transparent dodge.

    But lest you think that Jonah has gone full right-wing troglodyte on us, he has a useful summary of Andrew McCarthy's takedown of the "she's soft on kiddy porn" charge that some GOP senators have tried to make stick. That's garbage.


  • Good question. Needs to be raised higher. Megan McArdle notes The key question raised by Lia Thomas’s swimming success: What is the purpose of women’s sports? She notes the many people claiming it's "unfair" that Thomas's male biology is allowed to compete against actual girls.

    The progressive answer that we’re just trapped by convention, mired in outmoded definitions of gender. As society catches up with the emerging consensus, people will shed their faulty intuitions and recognize that trans women obviously belong in the women’s division. This is essentially the logic of comparing Thomas to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.

    Yet there is something wrong with that analogy. We aren’t going to be educated out of our feeling that there are major differences between biological men and women. The male/female performance gap appears at puberty in most sports, and quickly becomes so large that most cisgender women would never be able to compete at more elite levels if we weren’t segregated into our own leagues. Women’s sports exist to benefit us, not to keep us from hogging men’s glory.

    Both arguments have obvious merit. Yet ponder them long enough and you eventually realize that only one of them supports the case its proponents are trying to make. Because taken to its logical conclusion, “biology is unfair, but that doesn’t give you the right to exclude better athletes from competition” isn’t a great argument for including Thomas in the women’s division. It sounds more like an argument for abolishing women’s sports in favor of one, open league.

    I'm going to say something pretty sexist: I recently watched the tag end of a NCAA womens' basketball game while waiting for the news to come on. I thought it was pretty slow and boring. Worse, even the announcers didn't seem to be that interested, as if their minds were on where they were going to dinner afterward.


  • Maybe she meant cow-tipping came from slavery. Hey, it's plausible! Phillip W. Magness goes after a less plausible claim: Did Tipping Come from Slavery? The 1619 Project Lies Again

    Is the common act of tipping your waiter at a restaurant really a successor to slavery’s harmful legacy? Does tipping your bartender or Uber driver mean you are perpetuating the structural racism of the 19th century? These are the implications of the latest claim by Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the New York Times’s 1619 Project.

    In a characteristic tweet-thread, Hannah-Jones declares that “[t]ipping is a legacy of slavery and if it’s not optional then it shouldn’t be a tip but simply included in the bill. Have you ever stopped to think why we tip, like why tipping is a practice in the US and almost nowhere else?”

    It’s not the first time that the 1619 Project has made bizarre claims that try to connect mundane aspects of everyday life to slavery. When investigating Hannah-Jones’s theory of tipping however, I soon discovered that claims linking the practice to slavery have recently become a trendy talking point of the economic far-left.

    Some of that "far-left" talking point is meant to argue for applying standard minimum wage to tipped workers. Ironically, there's a far better argument for the racist origins of minimum wage legislation. And even now, it disproportionately hurts Youth of Color. Shouldn't we just get rid of it?


  • I'm generally in favor of adding "warp speed" to any operation. Because I'm a trekkie. But Ronald Bailey has something more specific in mind: Time for an Operation Warp Speed to Develop Pan-Coronavirus Vaccines

    Cases of COVID-19 are again rising in much of Europe due to the spread of the BA.2 version of the omicron variant that appears to be 30 percent more infectious than its already highly contagious progenitor. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is, as usual, way behind the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, the agency has decided to take its sweet time again and only begin to consider next month the emergency use authorizations for further booster doses of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. By that time, a new wave of infections caused by the spread of the BA.2 version of the omicron variant will likely be cresting in the United States.

    Let's take brief look at the history of FDA dawdling. Based on preliminary positive results, Israel approved COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for its older citizens in July 2020. Taking those data into account, the Biden administration urged the approval of COVID-19 booster shots in mid-August. This plan apparently sparked "anger" among FDA bureaucrats who, according to Politico, feared that "political pressures will once again override the agency's expertise." Even as the delta variant wave of infections began rising in August, the agency's experts finally got around to approving boosters for older Americans in late September. It took until late November for the FDA's experts to authorize boosters for all adult Americans just as the omicron variant tsunami was taking off.

    Let's see how many Americans the FDA can kill this time around.

Termination Shock

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Using geoengineering to mitigate climate change has a long pedigree. Here's something I wrote about it back in 2006, which references a Reason article that Gregory Benford on the topic back in 1997. Yes, a quarter-century ago.

My insight then—and now, for that matter: geoengineering is something we're only going to get better at doing as technology and climate modeling improve. But we've all had the arguments about setting our home thermostat. Imagine the issues of setting the global thermostat: multiply the arguers by a billion or two; recognize that they are devoid of familial love; give many of them armed forces and nuclear weapons.

I'm not saying that Neal Stephenson reads my blog, but… yes, this idea makes for a pretty good plot device.

It's set in the near future, when global warming is starting to bite. Down in Texas, "earth suits" with self-contained refrigeration are standard attire for venturing outdoors in the day. Catastrophic flooding and nasty hurricanes are common. Into this messy situation flies (literally flies) Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia, Queen of the Netherlands. Saskia to her friends, "Your Majesty" otherwise. Her incoming jet is diverted to Waco, where its landing is disrupted by a stampede of feral hogs onto the runway. That stampede is (sort of) caused by Rufus, who is on a Captain Ahab-like quest for revenge against a particular feral hog, deemed "Snout" for his unusual facial characteristics. Revenge for…? Well, it's much worse than a missing leg, be assured.

But that's pretty much over by page 40 of this 706-page monster. Rufus and Saskia join up forces to get her to Houston to meet the colorful billionaire T. R. Schmidt, aka "T. R. McHooligan" or "T. R. Mick" to those frequenting his chains of restaurants and truck stops. He has an audacious scheme, which involves taking Saskia and her accumulated retinue to the Flying S Ranch in the remote Chihuahuan Desert above the Rio Grande, where… well, you get a pretty good idea looking at the book's endpapers.

Also in a separate (but evenutally intersecting) plot thread, there's a Canadian-Indian young Sikh named "Laks". He seeks Sikh fame and fortune by volunteering for combat along the disputed India/China border, moving the so-called "Line of Actual Control" based on the combat with (I am not making this up) sticks, rocks, and snowballs. This brings fame, but unfortunately also misfortune, which sets him up for an eventual confrontation with… see above.

I'd like to think of this as Stephenson's funhouse mirror take on Atlas Shrugged, with T. R. Schmidt as John Galt, Saskia as Dagny Taggart, Rufus as… I dunno, one of those other guys? It's been well over fifty years since I read Atlas Shrugged.

Expert Failure

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Yes, that's a November 7, 1940 picture of "Galloping Gertie" on the cover, the collapsing Tacoma Narrows Bridge, built by the "experts" of the day; fortunately the only fatality was Tubby, a cocker spaniel who was left in the last car to drive on the bridge, as the owner crawled to safety.

So I was expecting (hoping?) a rollicking account of egg-on-their-faces "experts" whose grand schemes are brought low by reality. Not what I got, though. This is a relatively dry thesis; the author, Roger Koppl, is a professor of finance in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, and his book is written in standard academese. It's clearly one salvo in an ongoing slow-motion debate on the role of experts in (mostly American) government and society. (Amusingly, his school's web page lists him as one of its "Faculty Experts".)

Koppl goes back to the ancient Greeks to find the roots of the notion that experts can and should be in charge of public policy. You remember Plato and his philospher-king idea. (Koppl floats the theory that Socrates might have bribed the Oracle of Delphi into proclaiming him the wisest man in Athens. Darn, another hero tarnished.)

What's wrong with that? Shouldn't smart people be telling the rest of us dullards what to do? Koppl draws on Hayek's theory of knowledge to argue that's the wrong path; it's literally impossible for even very smart experts to gather enough data in their brains to match the wisdom engrained and distributed throughout society. Koppl also references the public choice theory of Buchanan/Tullock, arguing that it's fallacious to imagine a coterie of disinterested experts; they're as human as the rest of us, subject to bias and self-interest. And they are largely shielded from the consequences of their decisions.

In sum, giving experts "monopoly power" to make decisions is a mistake, for the same reasons that monopoly businesses are problematic. Koppl argues for open competition between experts, allowing free entry into that noble priesthood. To simplify: we need expertise very badly, but we mustn't toss the car keys to the "experts" and let them drive.

Koppl's writing style verges on the muddy; although he's a Hayek fan, his prose often makes Hayek look like Lee Child in comparison. Some of that is due to the academic need to Cite Sources, which Koppl does in spades:

Information choice theory includes identity as a motive of experts. Aberlof and Kranton (2000, 2002) introduce identity to the utility function. Aberlof and Kranton (2005, 2008) put identity into the utility function of the agent in an otherwise standard principal-agent model. Cowan (2012) and Koppl and Cowan (2010) spply the principal-agent model of Aberlof and Kranton (2005, 2008) to forensic science.

I'm sure there are readers deeply immersed in the relevant field who might find that to contain useful information.

Koppl winds up with a chapter on the "deep state". He equates this, roughly, with what Ike called the "military-industrial complex" in his 1961 farewell address. That's reflective of the term's origin, referring to the unwarranted influence of defense contractors, the military bureaucracy, and their civilian enablers. That's important, sure. But it's not hard to see the term could well be applied more broadly to every coalition of self-interested bureaucrats, legislators, and their beneficiaries inside and outside the formal government. You don't have to be a Breitbart News conspiracy-theory believer to see that as a problem.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-24

[Red Tape]

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour by Michael Ramirez… illustrates some recent under-reported news. The WSJ editorialists haven't missed it though: Gary Gensler Stages a Climate Coup

    Russia’s assault on Ukraine is changing the world—except Washington, D.C., where the Biden Administration is continuing its war on fossil fuels as if energy security doesn’t matter.

    The latest strike came Monday when the Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-1 to advance a proposed rule requiring public companies to disclose climate risks. The proposal, which was issued with only Democratic votes, is contrary to SEC history, securities law, and sound regulatory practice.

    Public companies are already required to report “material” events and risks, which the SEC defines as information a reasonable person would consider important. SEC Chairman Gary Gensler is redefining materiality as whatever BlackRock and progressive investors want to know. The 510-page proposal will require the public disclosure of risks to physical assets from climate change as well as from government anti-carbon policies.

    As the editorial notes, a similar SEC mandate was rejected in the courts back in 2014 as unconstitutional "compelled speech". Didn't stop the SEC, though.


  • But look for more of the same. Eric Boehm notes some fondness for the Imperial Presidency: Progressive Lawmakers Ask Joe Biden To Do Their Jobs for Them With Executive Orders.

    From banning gas and oil drilling on federal lands to fixing problems with the Affordable Care Act and overhauling the immigration system, a group of congressional Democrats is pushing the Biden administration to take executive action on a host of issues that Congress apparently can't or won't deal with.

    Someone might want to remind them that Democrats have a majority in both chambers.

    But why go through the effort to pass legislation when you can have a president do it with the mere stroke of a pen? That's the energy emanating from the seven-page "Recommendations for Executive Action" memo published last week by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a coalition of about 100 left-wing lawmakers.

    Democracy is fine until it stops you from getting your way. Then you start demanding that the president assume dictatorial powers. It's the "Progressive" thing to do!


  • Cheap stunts turn out to be not that cheap. Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center says: A gas tax holiday is just a holiday from reality. Some local pols have suggested New Hampshire suspend the state's (23.8¢/gallon) gas sales tax. But:

    Because the gas tax is a user fee, a holiday would stop charging people for use of the public roads for its duration. But it wouldn’t stop the wear and tear on the roads. If that funding is not made up later, the state would have to forego repairs and maintenance, replace the lost revenue with higher taxes or transfers from somewhere else, or find some way to reduce costs.

    Other gimmicks have been proposed, but they are hopelessly costly and/or deliver relatively little "relief".


  • On the other hand… Elizabeth Nolan Brown details The Right and the Wrong Way To Address High Gas Prices. Her point is that gas tax holidays are probably the least bad way to address gas prices. But still:

    [A gas tax holiday] is arguably the good side of government action to reduce fuel prices—saving consumers money by temporarily forgoing taking some of their money.

    Gas taxes are relatively targeted at transportation and road-related spending, however, so decreasing that tax revenue without decreasing spending just means making up for it somewhere else. Drivers may save a little at the pump, but end up having to pay higher taxes later to close the deficit created by these tax holidays.

    There's also something inherently gimmicky about temporarily suspending gas taxes in response to political pressure. (And it's a bit ironic that Democrats want to reduce gas prices now after arguing for years that higher gas prices were good for environmental reasons.) But saving consumers money by temporarily forgoing taking some of their money is arguably a better plan than simply handing out cash in hopes of stopping inflation.

    I have zero confidence in either federal or state governments getting this right in the short or long term.


  • Maybe I guy I can vote for? Well, we'll see. Haley Byrd Wilt seems to be a fan: Will Hurd, Unfiltered

    Former congressman and Central Intelligence Agency officer Will Hurd is acting like a man who wants to run for president. 

    When asked directly about running in 2024, he won’t rule it out. “If the opportunity is there, I’ll evaluate it and see if I can pull it off,” he tells me in a phone interview.

    The Texas Republican’s slick website, explainer videos about current events, and speaking engagements have kept him in the political fray, despite wrapping up his time in Congress at the end of 2020. That’s why readers might be tempted to see Hurd’s new book, American Reboot, as part of a larger campaign strategy, neatly fitting into the conventional Here’s-Why-I-Should-Be-President genre.

    I've put American Reboot on my get-at-library list; no hurry, there's still 700 days or so until the 2024 New Hampshire Presidential Primary. One warning flag: Hurd calls climate change an "existential crisis". Assuming he knows what "existential" means… well, it's just not. People who say that sort of thing are scaremongers.

    Ms. Witt points to Hurd's "slick website", but (according to Google) there's nothing there about climate.


Last Modified 2022-03-25 10:39 AM EDT

Big Sky

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This is the fifth entry in Kate Atkinson's "Jackson Brodie" series. (And so far the last, but I hope to see more someday.) It shares characteristics of previous books: Jackson, a private investigator, is absent in large swaths of the text; there are multiple points-of-view centering on different characters (sometimes the same scene is described from a different point-of-view); stream-of-consciousness narration; time jumps (without the courtesy of dates, you just have to pay attention and figure it out).

And extremely sordid behavior, specifically a sex-trafficking ring preying on young girls brought into the UK from abroad. And despite the dark and perverse goings-on, there's much humor in Ms. Atkinson's descriptions and dialog.

I'm not exactly sure if all the loose ends were eventually tied up. As noted, Ms. Atkinson demands close attention, and I may have missed something. But enough of them were.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-23

[Mediokrity]

  • Probably better than the Body Snatchers, but not much. At Tablet, Jacob Siegel chronicles the Invasion of the Fact-Checkers. With the subhed: "Who are you going to believe, the Democratic Party’s new official-unofficial, public-private monopoly tech platform censorship brigade, or your misinformed, disinformed eyes?"

    It's full of great anecdotes, some you've probably heard. Sample:

    The pandemic would shine an especially harsh light on the role of fact-checkers as information cops for America’s power elite—and the dangers of that role. Far from identifying “dangerous misinformation,” fact checkers were instrumental in the multipronged effort to suppress inquiries into the origins of the global pandemic that has killed nearly 6 million people. In February 2020, The Washington Post chided Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton for promoting a “debunked” “conspiracy theory” that COVID-19 had escaped from a lab. In May 2020, the Post‘s Glenn Kessler, who is a member of the IFCN advisory board, said it was “virtually impossible” for the virus to have come from a lab. Those were the facts ... until a year later, when Kessler published a new article explaining how the “lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.”

    How to understand the epistemological process that could lead a seasoned fact-checker to do a 180 on a matter of utmost public importance in less than a year? The simple answer, which has nothing to do with Kessler’s individual character or talents, is that when it really counts, the fact-checker’s role is not to investigate the truth but to uphold the credibility of official sources and their preferred narratives. Kessler’s mind changed at the very moment when the Democratic Party machinery began charting a new course on an issue that was hurting the party at the polls.

    An important article, and a devastating criticism of "fact checking". I wonder if PolitiFact has already classified it as "Pants on Fire"?


  • Another example of "Should, but probably won't." Jonathan Chait, of all people, gives well-meaning advice to his party: Democrats Must Defeat the Left’s War on School Achievement.

    The recent pandemic school-closing experiment gave many American parents their first exposure to an exotic strain of thought on the American left about public schooling: that learning loss is nothing to worry about because educational outcomes are fake or unimportant. San Francisco school-board president Gabriela Lopez, before voters flocked to the polls to fire her, infamously dismissed the harm from closing schools by insisting, “They’re just having different learning experiences than the ones we currently measure.”

    But this idea was not created by the pandemic, and the return of in-person schooling has not killed it off. The progressive attack on academic achievement is a small but potent movement that has gained a foothold on the left and poses a serious threat to both American public education and the Democratic Party.

    That worldview is especially popular among education schools, teachers unions, and the network of advocates allied with and often funded by them. It is cogently expressed in a New York Times op-ed today by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and education professor Jack Schneider, the authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School and the hosts of a popular education-policy podcast.

    What’s most interesting about the op-ed is its candid admission that the education backlash, which progressives have dismissed as overblown, is very real. The authors concede that “a sense that the focus on race and social justice in Virginia’s schools had gone too far, eclipsing core academic subjects” produced a “furious backlash” in that state, as well as in San Francisco and New York, where voters also rebelled against progressive efforts to deemphasize calculus in California and scale back magnet schools and tracked courses elsewhere.

    I think it's arguable that "educational achievement" and "government schools" have never been entirely compatible concepts. The incompatibility has only gotten more noticeable.


  • In comparison, the left's war on the legal system is over, with the left winning. Bari Weiss hosts Aaron Sibarium at her substack, and he writes the sad story: The Takeover of America's Legal System

    The adversarial legal system—in which both sides of a dispute are represented vigorously by attorneys with a vested interest in winning—is at the heart of the American constitutional order. Since time immemorial, law schools have tried to prepare their students to take part in that system.

    Not so much anymore. Now, the politicization and tribalism of campus life have crowded out old-fashioned expectations about justice and neutrality. The imperatives of race, gender and identity are more important to more and more law students than due process, the presumption of innocence, and all the norms and values at the foundation of what we think of as the rule of law.

    Critics of those values are nothing new, of course, and certainly they are not new at elite law schools. Critical race theory, as it came to be called in the 1980s, began as a critique of neutral principles of justice. The argument went like this: Since the United States was systemically racist—since racism was baked into the country’s political, legal, economic and cultural institutions—neutrality, the conviction that the system should not seek to benefit any one group, camouflaged and even compounded that racism. The only way to undo it was to abandon all pretense of neutrality and to be unneutral. It was to tip the scales in favor of those who never had a fair shake to start with.

    Today's Yale Law students are tomorrow's…


  • Shortest article ever? James Freeman tells us there's Something Joe Biden Hasn’t Forgotten. Or at least his speechwriters haven't forgotton.

    Three years ago this column noted the poor decision by the Business Roundtable, led by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, to rewrite its principles. All but a handful of the CEOs of large corporations that comprise the group’s membership went along with Mr. Dimon’s proposal that a corporation should not simply focus on serving shareholders but instead commit to serving a larger universe of vaguely defined “stakeholders.” These include people who have no stake in the business and are neither employees nor customers. Some of the accommodating CEOs might have seen the new statement as a cost-free virtue signal to generate a few days of positive public relations. But three years later, politicos like President Joe Biden seem to view it as leverage.

    The Business Roundtable’s rewrite was a mistake because serving the long-term interests of shareholders necessarily requires executives to treat non-owners fairly—to attract and retain a talented workforce, to provide good value for consumers, to deal reasonably with suppliers, and to respect the laws and customs wherever a business operates. On the other hand, “stakeholders” are often activists pursuing political agendas that they couldn’t persuade voters to approve and for which they won’t have to pay. There’s no good reason to elevate their gripes above the interests of customers, workers, owners and voters. Milton Friedman, who would go on to win a Nobel Prize in economics, explained more than half a century ago the flaws in declarations like Mr. Dimon’s:

    What does it mean to say that the corporate executive has a “social responsibility” in his capacity as businessman? If this statement is not pure rhetoric, it must mean that he is to act in some way that is not in the interest of his employers.

    Unfortunately Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to want to let the Business Roundtable off with pure rhetoric. He visited the organization’s Washington office on Monday and after urging the assembled CEOs to prepare for possible Russian cyberattacks, he brought up the Dimon declaration.

    Biden, unsurprisingly, was all in for getting companies to be run according to his preferences. And the implied "or else" was pretty clear.


  • Commie Radio delenda est. Jerry Coyne is a liberal Democrat, but even he's dismayed by The slow death of NPR.

    I suspect that any number of us could have written this piece at Unherd—at least in echoing its message—but it was written by William Deresiewicz, author, critic, and former English teacher at Yale.

    What I mean by the above is that many readers have declared themself sick to death of NPR, offended by its fulminating wokeness that once wasn’t there. And if you deny that NPR is getting woker and woker, hewing to a “Progressive Leftist” line with little deviation, then you haven’t been listening. I have the local NPR station as the only one set on my car radio, and now I almost prefer silence, for what comes out of the speakers is absolutely predictable.

    Why would somebody want to listen only to news that fits your ideological bias? The radio, like a college, is an instrument for learning, and, when partly funded by the taxpayers (as NPR is), should help challenge our thinking. Taxpayers don’t fund the New York Times or Fox News, yet even in this article Deresiewicz doesn’t mention the one-sidedness of a station that’s partly funded by tax dollars. What he’s beefing about is the ideological slant of NPR. The fact that it’s publicly funded only makes its one-sidedness more objectionable. Believe me, if Fox News were funded by taxpayers, Democrats would be up in arms, and I’d be among them.

    The Deresiewicz article is here.


Last Modified 2022-05-11 7:11 AM EDT

Windfall

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Windfall]

Another Tuesday night movie during the March Madness dearth of new TV, a Netflix free-to-me streamer. I saw a review at WIRED that got me interested enough to watch it.

The IMDB raters are pretty brutal (5.8 as I type); I liked it somewhat better than they did.

The movie opens with a guy (billed as "Nobody" in the credits) wandering around a very nice house opening drawers, finding money, an expensive watch and a gun. When he's careful to wipe his fingerprints from the surfaces he's touched, we get the clue (aha!) he's up to something illegal. Unfortunately, the home's owners (billed as "CEO" and "Wife") show up unexpectedly, discovering the thief.

That's just the first complication "Nobody" encounters. "CEO" turns out to be a tech billionaire, and "Wife" is his vaguely-dissatisfied spouse. Things rapidly turn into a negotiation about how best to extricate themselves from this unstable and sticky situation. And it is really sticky, because "Nobody" is tempted by CEO's offer of more cash, enough to start a new life far away and hopefully not be arrested. But getting that much money takes time, and that lets the movie last for about 90 minutes, as all three players get seriously on each other's nerves. Eventually, another character arrives making things even more unstable, violence ensues. Who will walk away?

URLs du Jour

2022-03-22

  • I have only myself to blame. I turned on CBS to watch "The Equalizer" at 8pm on Sunday. (I don't like it much, but Mrs. Salad does.) Unfortunately, sportsball caused the network programming to be delayed, so we wound up watching "60 Minutes" for a while, apparently still on the air even after Rathergate.

    What perked up my ears a little was this segment, looking at housing inflation. The on-air title was "Through the Roof" (get it?), but the online headline is wordier: "Would-be home buyers may be forced to rent the American dream, rather than buy it."

    It followed the tried-and-true strategy: "Let's look for a bad guy we can blame, and make uncomfortable with gotcha questions." That didn't work well in this case. Lesley Stahl opened:

    Every American is feeling the bite of inflation. Groceries cost more, gas costs more, everything seems to cost more. This past week, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in an effort to tame the highest inflation in 40 years.

    The cost of rent is really through the roof. Residential rents across the country went up an average of 15% last year – nearly twice the overall inflation rate. That's particularly painful for tenants, because according to Census Bureau data, they now often have to spend as much as half their total income on rent.

    Why are rents rising so much? Well, it turns out that big Wall Street firms are playing a role, but we found the fundamental problem was years in the making…and will take years to fix.

    Lesley, I don't know a lot about economics, but I'm pretty sure that prices are an effort to match (1) supply and (2) demand. Rising prices are often a case where demand is growing and supply is not keeping up.

    That's a very boring story, though, and so Lesley concentrated on those "big Wall Street firms". Her Sunday Scapegoat was Gary Berman, "CEO of Tricon Residential, a Toronto-based company that has quietly become one of the largest owners of single-family homes in the United States."

    Ooh, "quietly"! Note the implication of shadiness.

    Unfortunately for Lesley, Berman didn't cooperate by being a nervous Nathan Thurm type. He appeared straightforward and honest, explaining as best he could that the success of his company was providing a product (rental housing) that people wanted.

    The piece tried to use "Wall Street" as a swear word, implying that its nasty investors were running up prices by buying housing in hot markets like Jacksonville and Austin. Which mixes up cause with effect.

    There were tiny glimmers of actual cause:

    In the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, construction of new housing came to a grinding halt. But even when the economy recovered, home construction didn't.

    Um. Why not?

    60 Minutes leaves that largely unexplored. Kind of a lost opportunity. They could have looked at (a) zoning laws; (b) growth restrictions; (c) onerous regulation of financial markets; (d) building codes and regulations. All these tend to restrict supply, driving prices up.

    As for their claim that "the fundamental problem … will take years to fix": guess what, Lesley? It will take even longer when you misstate what the "fundamental problem" is.


  • The non-virtue of selfishness. Chris Stirewalt has had it up to here with A Selfish Kind of Historical Relativism. Specifically, current claims that we live in a unique time of sociopolitical upheaval.

    Between November 1963 and April 1975, America ripped itself to pieces. In a period shorter than it’s been for us since the financial crisis of 2008, we assassinated our president, assassinated his brother, assassinated the world-historic leader of the civil rights movement, after having assassinated the second most prominent civil rights leader. We almost killed segregationist George Wallace during one of his presidential campaigns, which is less frightening than the fact that Wallace won 46 electoral votes. There were riots in more than 100 cities, and not the looting of a Ferragamo store,  but the wholesale destruction of big chunks of cities. Chaotic destruction raged through the large industrial cities of the north. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, there was hell on earth.

    On foreign policy, the United States faced its first military defeat overseas in our history, and did so after the federal government perniciously lied to the American people about the nature of that conflict. The tragedy of Vietnam was a heartbreaking consequence of a federal policy that was confused, dishonest, and impossible to ever fully implement even if it had been on the level. We abandoned our allies in south Vietnam and left them to certain slaughter.

    Our president and vice president both resigned in disgrace but over separate scandals. Our leaders failed the American people in profound ways, unthinkable to the previous generation. And that all happened in a period of time about the same as it has been for us since Barack Obama’s first term.

    You may have heard the famed Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." Well, we early boomers pretty much did.

    (And, by the say, "May you live in interesting times" is not an actual Chinese curse.)


  • Worthwhile New York Times initiative. Matt Taibbi has some fun with the NYT and its critics: World's Dullest Editorial Launches Panic. It's about the recent editorial and the reaction thereto, e.g.:

    One might think running botched WMD reports that got us into the Iraq war or getting a Pulitzer for lauding Stalin’s liquidation of five million kulaks might have constituted worse days — who knew? Pundits, academics, and politicians across the cultural mainstream seemed to agree with Watson, plunging into a days-long freakout over a meh editorial that shows little sign of abating.

    “Appalling,” barked J-school professor Jeff Jarvis. “By the time the Times finally realizes what side it’s on, it may be too late,” screeched Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch. “The board should retract and resign,” said journalist and former Planet Money of NPR fame founder Adam Davidson. “Toxic, brain-deadening bothsidesism,” railed Dan Froomkin of Press Watch, who went on to demand a retraction and a “mass resignation.” The aforementioned Watson agreed, saying “the NYT should retract this insanity, and replace the entire editorial board.” Not terribly relevant, but amusing still, was the reaction of actor George Takei, who said, “It’s like Bill Maher is now on the New York Times Editorial board.”

    I believe the argument goes something like this: "Cancel culture doesn't exist, and the people claiming it does should be fired."

    [Obscure headline reference explained here.]


  • Darn, I missed it. And I would guess you did too: the University Near Here's Drag Ball 2022, back on March 4. The theme this year was "Wild, Wild West". You'd think that an event practically demanding that attendees let their freak flags fly wouldn't want, let alone need a dress code. But no. Lest things get too wild:

    Drag Ball Dress Code
    Don't wear: Headdresses, tribal patterns, Indigenous person costumes, cultural face paint, weapon props

    Do wear: Cowboy hats, fringe, flannels

    The theme for this Drag Ball is strictly old west and cowboys. Cultural appropriation of any kind will NOT be tolerated.

    Just cowboys? What about cowgirls, you sexist bastards? I had my Annie Oakley outfit all cleaned and pressed!


  • On a related note, Slashdot unwinds a twitter thread: US College Education Is Nearer To Collapsing Than It Appears.

    Most of all, it's clearly a bad deal for many students, or we wouldn't have the student debt crisis. Cancelling student debt is good if it's tied to fixing the problem going forward, which means not offering it, or having the colleges be the guarantor, or ISAs, or something. But cancelling all student debt and then continuing to issue new debt to students that the university fails (i.e. by not putting them in a position to make enough money to easily pay it back) doesn't make sense. Tech jobs (I assume other jobs will follow) are increasingly willing to hire with no degree if an applicant can do well in an interview/on a test.

    It seems very clear that elite colleges discriminate against Asian-American students, and that the Supreme Court is going to find this. (One expert said no discrimination would result in around 65% Asian-American admits.) The fact that this has been so tolerated speaks volumes. Stopping standardized tests -- which are imperfect and correlated with socioeconomic status -- seems to be bad. Other items like the personal essay are surely more correlated and more hackable. I'm all for looking at test scores in context, but dropping entirely denies opportunity. (I wonder if this is correlated to the earthquake coming when colleges can no longer discriminate against Asian-American students.)

    Monocultures suck. It's hard to know how many of the stories about ridiculous stuff happening on campuses to believe, but even if a small fraction of them are true, these are clearly no longer places hyperfocused on learning. (A personal anecdote: I was invited a few years ago to speak at a college but I was asked to give a 'privilege disclaimer', essentially stating that if I didn't look like I did I wouldn't have been able to succeed... Although I understand the spirit and obviously I am privileged, I consulted with friends from different backgrounds and then declined: what kind of message does that send to listeners?) The list could go on for a long time, but the point is: What a time to start an alternative to college! The world really needs it.

    Ayup.


  • And finally...

    … married to a world where diversity is celebrated, unless it involves cultural appropriation.


Last Modified 2022-03-22 7:05 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-03-21

[Deep Thoughts]

  • Could be a long article. But Charles C. W. Cooke has a partial list of examples demonstrating The Extraordinary Vapidity of Kamala Harris.

    [NRPLUS] As if to put to rest forever all of those ticklish inquiries about Providence, the grave and trying moment in which we now find ourselves has brought with it a hero capable of rivaling any other. Her name is Vice President Kamala Harris, and she is to the nugatory platitude what Michelangelo was to the marble block: All challengers flee before her, all pretenders quit their thrones at the mere mention of her name. Listen carefully and one can hear the desperation as the most accomplished rattlebrains in America issue condign sighs of dismay. How talented is Harris? Talented enough to make the inanities uttered by her rival Pete Buttigieg sound substantive, concise, and apprehensible. Talented enough to make Dan Quayle seem like Pericles. Talented enough to make Marjorie Taylor Greene remind one of top-form Jane Austen. Never, in the field of human rhetoric, has an experiment in political growth been such a spectacular and unmitigated bust.

    To the uninitiated, Harris’s exquisite bromides may seem all to run together, like The Ring Cycle or Ulysses. And yet, as the Eskimo is able to distinguish between 400 types of snow, so the experienced Harris-watcher will learn to differentiate between the many innovative ways in which she is able to convey that she has no damned idea what she’s talking about. The key, counterintuitively, is to look not at what Harris says — that is fruitless — but at what her tone and vocabulary say about the vibe for which she’s aiming. When discussing energy, Harris has in mind a vague, albeit wholly unanchored, futurism. Thus we get sentences such as, “That’s why we’re here today — because we have the ability to see what can be, unburdened by what has been, and then to make the possible actually happen.” On foreign policy, Harris wishes to project a sobriety that is half-Churchill-in-the-House-of-Commons and half-Brutus-delivering-his-funeral-oration, but, because she has not done the reading and rarely knows where she is, she ends up sounding like a punch-drunk Napoleon at the opening of a suburban toy store. “I am here,” Harris said last week, an ersatz frown rippling awkwardly across her face, “standing here on the northern flank, on the eastern flank, talking about what we have in terms of the eastern flank and our NATO allies, and what is at stake at this very moment — what is at stake this very moment are some of the guiding principles . . .” On medicine, she, well, who knows, frankly? “This virus,” she has said. “It has no eyes.”

    Glad we cleared that up.

    [Our Eye Candy du Jour is from the Federalist's Kamala Harris Quotes as Motivational Posters shop. Apparently not at Amazon yet.]


  • Call yourself a libertarian? OK, but which kind? Stephanie Slade counts (at least) Two Libertarianisms.

    [That was the headline in Reason's April 2022 print edition. The online headline is "Must Libertarians Care About More Than the State?" and I'm not sure whether Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies to the latter.]

    Slade does a fine job of teasing out distinctions and tensions in libertarian philosophy. It's difficult to excerpt, so the opening paragraphs will have to do:

    It's rocky times for the conservative-libertarian partnership that characterized American right-of-center politics in the second half of the 20th century.

    Considerable attention has recently been paid to the rise of post-liberalism: the right-wing populists, nationalists, and Catholic integralists who fully embrace muscular government as a force for good as they define it. But there's little evidence as yet that most conservatives share such an affinity for big government. The simpler explanation is more banal: Often, when conservatives reject libertarianism, it's because of the cultural associations the word has for them.

    Conservatives, after all, are much more likely than other ideological demographics to believe in God and say faith is an important part of their lives; to feel unapologetically proud of American greatness; and generally to hold views regarding personal morality that might be described as socially conservative. Of course they would be reluctant to throw in with a group famed in large part for its licentiousness, hostility to religion, and paucity of patriotic zeal.

    But what if those associations are mistaken? If libertarianism properly understood has no cultural commitments, shouldn't that open up room to parley? Such a hope seems to have animated Murray Rothbard when he wrote in 1981 that "libertarianism is strictly a political philosophy, confined to what the use of violence should be in social life." As such, he added, it "is not equipped" to take one position or another on personal morality or virtue.

    As a longtime subscriber to both Reason and National Review, I manage to straddle philosophies pretty well. The overlap between them is huge. Even when I disagree with something I read in one or the other, it's seldom a "Geez, what an idiotic article" disagreement; it's a "I can see their point, but…" disagreement.

    The big conflicts are (1) abortion; (2) immigration; (3) foreign policy. I lean conservative on (1), undecided/wishy-washy on (2) and (3). If that matters.


  • Mistake not made here. Jeff Jacoby urges us to Make no mistake: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

    If Jewsplaining were an Olympic event, Paul O'Brien would be a contender for the gold.

    O'Brien, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, was the guest speaker at a March 9 luncheon hosted by the Woman's National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. His topic was Amnesty's recent report labeling — or rather, libeling — Israel as an "apartheid" state. In the course of defending the report, O'Brien told his audience that Israel "shouldn't exist as a Jewish state" and suggested that most American Jews share his view. When a questioner cited a recent poll showing that lopsided majorities of American Jews identify as pro-Israel and feel an emotional attachment to the Jewish state, O'Brien replied: "I actually don't believe that to be true." What his "gut" told him, he said, was that "Jewish people in this country" don't think Israel needs to be a Jewish state — that it's enough for it to be "a safe Jewish space" that Jews can "call home."

    It takes astonishing chutzpah — or remarkable tone-deafness — for a non-Jew born and raised in Ireland to declare that the Jews of America don't really want Israel to be what it has been for 74 years: the reborn nation-state of the Jewish people.

    Jacoby points out what should be obvious: only Israel is a target for the "apartheid state" slur, when plenty of countries are built around similar policies.

    In related news, NHJournal notes the recent goings-on in our state's legislature: NH Dems Return to 'Apartheid State' Attacks Against Israel on House Floor.

    A simple resolution expressing the New Hampshire House’s support for Israel unleashed complex emotions on the House floor last week, with supporters sharing tearful stories and opponents labeling the nation an “apartheid state.”

    For Democrats, who overwhelmingly voted against the pro-Israel resolution, the troubling issue of antisemitism within their ranks was raised yet again.

    Late Thursday night, the House took up a resolution statingour strong support for the Jewish people and our truest ally in the Middle East, the Nation of Israel; the recognition of the current and historical capitol [sic] of Israel being in Jerusalem; and the location of the embassy of the United States now finally in Jerusalem where it should have been and where it should remain.”

    Only 15 statehouse Democrats voted in favor.


  • Woodrow Wilson comes off poorly. But he's not the only one. Presidential historian Tevi Troy recounts A century of toying with Ukrainians. (I imagine this might get him on Jonah Goldberg's "Remnant" podcast again.)

    Another cynical Ukrainian-related ploy took place in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson spoke in high-minded idealistic terms about “self-determination” of the ethnic peoples of Europe, a policy popular with the millions of Eastern European immigrants who had migrated to America. Wilson’s self-determination policy did not, however, extend to Ukraine, because he agreed with the British and the French that maintaining Ukraine as part of a Russian empire would be a stumbling block for the Bolshevik revolution. Wilson’s ally in this misguided effort, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, dismissed the idea of Ukrainian independence by saying that he had only once seen a Ukrainian, “and I am not sure that I want to see any more.” This was an early example of the selective acknowledgment of national minorities’ right to self-rule.

    Wilson helped squelch an early opportunity for Ukrainian independence, with significant and tragic costs for the Ukrainian people. Soviet leader Josef Stalin initiated the Ukrainian famine, which killed over 3 million Ukrainians in the early 1930s. The famine coincided with the period in which newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt was contemplating U.S. recognition of the Soviet Union. The death of millions of Ukrainians under Soviet oppression complicated Roosevelt’s decision. To solve his problem, Roosevelt accepted the false reporting of the New York Times’s Walter Duranty, whose dispatches Roosevelt read and with whom Roosevelt even met in 1932 before becoming president. Duranty whitewashed the Ukrainian slaughter, enabling Roosevelt to proceed with his desired recognition in November 1933, even as Duranty accepted emoluments from Stalin that let him live in Moscow much better than the average Soviet citizen, let alone the starving Ukrainians.

    Other toy-players: Teddy Roosevelt, Nixon, Carter, George H.W. Bush, Obama, and Trump.

The Adam Project

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Adam Project]

Gee, I've been watching a lot of Ryan Reynolds movies lately. What can I say, I like the guy. This was free-to-me on Netflix, and it was a perfectly pleasant Saturday night movie. Better than average. Didn't fall asleep.

As the movie begins it's the year 2050, and middle-aged Adam is flying his "time jet" far above Earth; he's been shot, and the bad guys are on his tail. He manages a nifty escape, via time travel back to the year 2022. Where he meets his 12-year-old self. Young kid Adam is in pretty sad shape: he misses his dead father (Mark Ruffalo, it turns out), he's bullied unmercifully at school, he's growing distant from his frazzled mom, Jennifer Garner.

But middle-aged-Adam has travelled back in time for a good (if somewhat audacious) reason. We're gradually informed of that. And he winds up with young-kid-Adam as a teammate to … well, no spoilers.

It's rated PG-13 for "violence/action, language and suggestive references". So (young-kid-Adam shouldn't see this movie?) There's a lot of Reynolds-style wisecrackery and (see above) I'm a sucker for that. But also murder. And… unintentional suicide?

URLs du Jour

2022-03-20

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Welcome to the party, pal. Robby Soave notes the momentous news: The New York Times Admits That 'America Has a Free Speech Problem'

    The New York Times published a terrific editorial on Friday that takes note of "America's free speech problem" and points to both right-wing legislation and cancel culture—enforced by an uncompromising strain of progressivism—as culprits.

    "For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned," wrote The Times.

    Robby's praise is pretty fulsome. (The editorial isn't without its flaws, see below.) He goes on to note that it "caused some liberals' heads to explode", and includes "an incomplete sampling" of such Twitter-based explosions. And they're pretty funny.

    But you can't blame the NYT for trying. I'd guess they've figured out that once Americans' free speech rights are successfully eroded, it's only a matter of time before people use the same arguments to go after freedom of the press.


  • Patterico's head didn't explode, but… he has some pointed remarks, good and bad: What the New York Times Editorial on "Cancel Culture" Gets Right . . . and Wrong. Summary: it's a well-meaning attempt to defend liberty, but it's marred by sloppy language and failure to draw relevant distinctions. An excerpt from his praise:

    I’m happy to see editors of the New York Times acknowledge the existence of “cancel culture,” because it’s a glaring problem at their own newspaper. Remember: this is a newspaper that fired a good health reporter for doing nothing but mentioning the N-word in an innocent and non-racist context. Similarly, throughout the country, our culture has too often become hostile to, not just the expression of controversial views, but also the expression of even innocent views that might arguably intersect, however tangentially, with controversial topics.

    Yeah, that's a good point. Does this mean Donald McNeil, Jr. is getting his job back?

    Paterrico's criticism centers on that paragraph Robby quoted above, the one that refers to "the right [of citizens in a free country] to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned".

    Wrong. While Americans have a right to speak, they don’t have a right to say shameful things without having people point out how shameful those things are. I have made the point many times that shaming and shunning is itself a form of speech, and the propriety of shaming and shunning is a matter of line-drawing. For instance, few people in America deserve shaming and shunning as much as Tucker Carlson. Carlson spent months questioning the efficacy of vaccines with sinister half-truths. Now, he spews a steady stream of pro-Putin propaganda so reliably submissive to the Kremlin narrative that his shameful monologues are routinely featured on Russian state television. Carlson has a constitutional right to say most of the stupid and evil things he says, but he has no right to say them without harsh criticism — which is, after all, a form of free speech as well.

    The editorial makes this mistake throughout. The entire editorial is centered around a poll that asks questions about “retaliation or harsh criticism” — as if the two concepts are equivalent. Pollsters asked respondents if they held their tongues due to fear of “retaliation or harsh criticism.Had they engaged in it themselves? How much of a problem is it that people are scared to speak because they fear “retaliation or harsh criticism”?

    Patterico's entire essay is well worth your time.


  • Pun Salad is (still) walking on sunshine. But Kevin D. Williamson notes that our policy toward Ukraine has us Walking on Atomic Eggshells. (An interesting mental image.)

    [NRPLUS] The cliché of the day: We need to find an “off ramp” for Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, a face-saving way for the Russian caudillo to end his campaign of atrocities abroad and bring his troops home — at some considerable cost to Ukrainian sovereignty.

    Here is a question nobody is asking: What is the United States’s off ramp?

    The United States has the world’s most powerful military, with China a distant No. 2; Russian troops would not last six weeks in a battle with America forces. The United States has the world’s largest economy; Vladimir Putin lords over a country with an economy the size of Florida’s. Russia is a backward petro-emirate; the United States, in contrast, has the world’s most sophisticated and diversified economy — the home of Silicon Valley and Wall Street is also the world’s largest food exporter, and we produce more oil than Russia does on top of all that. In any sane world, it would be the United States that sets the terms and tempo of any conflict in which we are involved, the United States that decides to escalate or to de-escalate, the United States that makes the threats.

    But we do not live in a sane world. We live in a world in which such a figure as Vladimir Putin is permitted to control a considerable arsenal of nuclear weapons — and it is that arsenal alone that constrains our real strategic options vis-à-vis Moscow. Nuclear weapons are the reason the Biden administration turned tail on the matter of those Polish fighter jets and the reason the United States fears taking any action that might cause Putin to start treating us as a belligerent and attack NATO forces directly.

    KDW's provocative suggestion: keep up the economic pressure on Russia in order to put it on the road to nuclear disarmament.


  • One from the Google LFOD News Alert. Charlie Musick triggered it with his article at Real Clear Markets: Live Free or Die, Revisited Ten Years Later

    Ten years ago, I published an article in realclearmarkets titled “Live Free or Die – Literally.” The data in the article clearly showed that people in countries with greater economic freedom lived longer lives, were wealthier and happier. Ten years later, it is time to see if the relationship between economic freedom and these positive outcomes persists and whether economic freedom is predictive for future prosperity.

    The Heritage Foundation calculates an economic freedom index annually for almost all countries around the world based on ten factors: business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption, and labor freedom. For this article, I used the 2019 data, which is not impacted by short-term swings in life expectancy or freedom index results due to COVID-19 policies or deaths.

    The Heritage Foundation breaks down the list into five subgroups ranging from free economies to repressed economies. I compared these subgroups in both years to average life expectancy from the World Health Organization, per capita gross domestic product at purchasing power parity, and the Gallup Happiness Index. Since some people claim that supporting economic freedom is supporting greed, this year, I added data from the CAF World Giving Index to the analysis to test their claim. The average data by each group are shown below.

    Here's Charlie's table:

    [Table]

    Any questions?

URLs du Jour

2022-03-19

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • I'm with Charlie. Charles C. W. Cooke says: No to Trump in 2024

    [NRPLUS] ‘Donald Trump hasn’t said for sure whether he will run in 2024,” reports NPR. “But he’s having a hell of a lot of fun teasing it.”

    Donald Trump? In 2024? Why on earth would conservatives choose that guy?

    I’m serious: Why? Why would we do that when we have a choice? The idea should be absurd, risible, farcical, outré. It should be a punchline, a mania, the preserve of the demented fringe. Politics matters. And because politics matters, it is a bad idea to allow politics to be held hostage by someone who, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t really care. Donald Trump is an extraordinarily selfish man, and he is only too happy to subordinate your interests to his own. Why let him? It is one thing to say, “Well, he may have been a fickle boor, but I liked some of what he did once he was in office”; it’s quite another to put yourself through four more years of the man when you don’t have to. Whatever justification there may have been for picking the “lesser of two evils” in the 2016 or 2020 general election — a justification that was a great deal stronger before Trump refused to accept, and then tried to overturn, the results of the latter — it cannot obtain in 2022.

    There are (as I type) 1179 comments on Charlie's short post, and I'm sure they're all interesting and insightful.


  • In my day, everything came down to physics. But that was my major. Veronique de Rugy makes a plug for something called "culture": Campus Free-Speech Problems Come Down to Culture. She has a data point (aka "an anecdote") about her daughter's experience as a student at the University of Virginia:

    The destruction of this culture is subtle. It happens over time through comments signaling that some positions are too objectionable to be stated. After a lecture by George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrok on the COVID-19 pandemic, my daughter mentioned to her suitemates that a vaccine was practically ready in January 2020, but that the regulatory ordeal was such that it took almost a year to get an emergency approval. She was mocked as someone who gets her information from Facebook. She knows now to abstain from COVID-19 conversations.

    Standing alone, each mockery is benign. But when repeated on a large scale for every topic from vaccine regulations to politics, sex or race — with some comments even treated as an equivalent to physical violence — many students will choose to stay silent.

    Vero notes a recent NYT op-ed from UVa senior Emma Camp: I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead. She writes at Reason, she was an intern at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The predictable and sad reaction from many NYT readers was horror that such heresy was allowed in their newspaper.


  • “Why, this is a bag of wasteful garbage!” "But it's really great wasteful garbage, Mrs. Presky!" Eric Boehm notes a totally forseeable outcome: We Can't Fund COVID Treatments for the Uninsured Because We Spent Trillions of COVID Aid on Wasteful Garbage

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, Congress has authorized $884 billion in aid for state and local governments, $62 billion for colleges and universities, and $869 billion in direct payments to Americans, including to individuals who earned as much as $90,000 annually and never lost their income due to the pandemic.

    And now, it turns out, there's no money left to actually help those suffering from COVID-19 who can't afford to pay for treatments.

    The White House announced this week that a program set up to give uninsured Americans access to COVID testing and treatments, including vaccines, will have to be shuttered next month unless Congress approves emergency funding. The Biden administration asked Congress to provide $22 billion in new funds for the program as part of the omnibus spending bill passed last week, Reuters reports, but the additional funding was not included in the package.

    Fun fact: of the (approximately) $5.7 trillion Covid dollars allowed by Congress, "only" $53 billion (< 1%) went for vaccines and other treatments. But a lot went toward fueling our current runaway inflation.

    [Youngsters may need this guide to appreciate the headline reference.]


  • Optimism from Jonah Goldberg? Well, maybe. His headline is: The Truth Has Its Moment. It's rambling, entertaining, and (eventually) insightful. See if the opening doesn't grab you:

    Years ago, the Goldberg family went through a brief Cincinnati-style chili phase. We don’t talk about it much, and we’ve gotten over it, but I feel like this is a safe space where I can share painful truths with you, my dearest readers. Anyway, in case you didn’t know, among the things that distinguish Cincinnati-style chili—other than disappointed local sports fans using it to soak up large amounts of beer—is that it is often served over spaghetti.

    Anyway, when my daughter was 4 or 5 years old, she was walking in the winter air with the Fair Jessica, who said something like, “Brrr. It’s chilly outside.”

    Lucy paused for a moment, and then kid-splained a key insight: “Mommy. You can say it’s ‘chilly outside,’ but you can’t say it’s ‘spaghetti outside.’”

    It’s funny because it’s true. Although since then, on very cold mornings, I have in fact said, “Man, it’s spaghetti outside.”

    I'm going to start saying that. Mrs. Salad might insist I go get tested for dementia, but I don't care.


  • Risky business. George F. Will notes that tobacco is Still troubling, even for a tobacco company. And is appropriately rough on corporate self-righteous ad-speak.

    The universe is expanding, but into what? An equally inscrutable mystery is: What is Altria, and why is it issuing gaseous pronouncements?

    An Altria subsidiary is Philip Morris, which sells lots of cigarettes. Reluctantly. Sort of (read on). It is the largest domestic manufacturer, selling almost half of the cigarettes Americans buy. Driving through Richmond on I-95, you pass Philip Morris’s manufacturing center, which has a tower emblazoned with familiar fonts used for cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Benson & Hedges.

    But Altria and its spin-off Philip Morris International have been running peculiar full-page — what? Ads? Not exactly. These word-mists in major newspapers say:

    “From tobacco company to tobacco harm reduction company … moving adult smokers away from cigarettes … towards less harmful choices.” Using “more inclusive” approaches and a “fierce commitment to science” as a “global community” transcending “provincial thinking,” Altria and PMI are making “smoke-free products that eliminate combustion,” products that “are not risk-free and deliver nicotine, which is addictive” but are preferable to continued smoking.

    Their rhetoric is, unfortunately, not eccentric: Today, many corporations slather their business calculations with a syrup of fashionable blather. By the time this geyser of corporate-gush concludes, no progressive trope has been unused: Ending “exclusionary policies” will ameliorate “climate change” and “institutionalized inequity.” PMI wants to achieve “a smoke-free future” by selling noncombustible tobacco products — e-cigarettes. PMI and Altria rightly resent those who insist that only zero-risk products are virtuous alternatives to the known high risks of cigarettes.

    "We make products that might kill you." Is that so hard to say?


Last Modified 2022-03-25 10:31 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-03-18

  • Fill in the blank: "Biden is in         denial" Kim Strassel has today's answer: Biden Is in Climate Denial.

    Republicans know it. The European left knows it. Joe Manchin knows it. Even some of the Beltway press knows it. Now let’s see how long it takes Joe Biden to recognize that the Ukraine war has reset energy politics and that his climate agenda risks dooming his party this fall.

    He certainly hasn’t sussed it out yet. The Joe Biden who showed up Monday at his first in-person fundraiser as president sounded like a man in a time warp. “Let me begin by saying: [Climate change] is the existential threat to humanity,” he opened, proceeding to recite an environmental agenda identical to the one he campaigned on. Ukraine got one mention, and only then as further reason why Americans (among other things) need to “weatherize homes and businesses.”

    Our Getty image du jour is of a recent march by "climate activists". Among their demands, you'll note, is to "Stop the MVP". That's the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a nearly-completed 304-mile natural gas conduit that's been held up by legal wrangling over a 3.5 mile segment that crosses Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

    I have no idea whether President Wheezy will continue his hostility toward domestic energy production. Part of me would enjoy watching him and his fellow Democrats continue their electoral kamikaze mission toward November. However, I have an aversion to becoming a bastard freezing to death in the dark.

    Yes, I'm old enough to remember that slogan on bumper stickers back in the 1970s.


  • But talking about a 1970s flashback: At Reason, Robby Soave finds a reason to cheer: The Senate Unanimously Voted To Make Daylight Savings Time Permanent, a Great Idea.

    In a rare example of Congress doing something that isn't totally useless or foolish, the Senate voted Tuesday to make Daylight Saving Time permanent. Impressively, the vote was unanimous.

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.), one of the bill's cosponsors, hailed its passage as a step in the right direction.

    "Just this past weekend, we all went through that biannual ritual of changing the clock back and forth, and the disruption that comes with it," he said in a statement. "And one has to ask themselves after a while, 'Why do we keep doing it? Why are we doing this?' "

    Sure, but leave it to the long-memoried party-pooping folks at the Washingtonian to remind us: The US Tried Permanent Daylight Saving Time in the '70s. People Hated It.

    If you're interested, Scott Lincicome, in an article from October 2021, said that Rubio had the right idea, but the wrong solution, which would be #EndDST. Jeff Jacoby is also in favor: Heed the science and abolish daylight savings time.

    My own (admittedly radical, and hopelessly unrealistic) solution here: the complete separation of time and state; we should all just use UTC. (Since I wrote that post back in 2013, Steve Hanke and Christopher Arena came out in favor as well.)


  • I'm more of a "despiser" than a "hater". But Dan McLaughlin has no compunction about using the H-word: President Woodrow Wilson: A Hater's Guide. And, yes, this kind of continues the previous item:

    [NRPLUS] If you were dragging getting out of bed to start this week, thank Woodrow Wilson. Daylight saving time is just one of a battery of ways that Wilson and his presidency changed America, most of them for the worse.

    I come now not to explain Wilson, but to hate him. A national consensus on hating Wilson is long overdue. It is the patriotic duty of every decent American. While conservatives have particular reasons to detest Wilson, and all his works, and all his empty promises, there is more than enough in his record for moderates, liberals, progressives, libertarians, and socialists to join us in this great and unifying cause.

    The phrase "human pile of flaming trash" is invoked. These days, the "racist" slur is applied with a very broad brush, but Wilson was the real deal. And that's only one reason why he should live in infamy.


  • Like Emily Litella, but much slower to say "never mind". Glenn Greenwald notes: The NYT Now Admits the Biden Laptop -- Falsely Called "Russian Disinformation" -- is Authentic

    One of the most successful disinformation campaigns in modern American electoral history occurred in the weeks prior to the 2020 presidential election. On October 14, 2020 — less than three weeks before Americans were set to vote — the nation's oldest newspaper, The New York Post, began publishing a series of reports about the business dealings of the Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in countries in which Biden, as Vice President, wielded considerable influence (including Ukraine and China) and would again if elected president.

    The backlash against this reporting was immediate and intense, leading to suppression of the story by U.S. corporate media outlets and censorship of the story by leading Silicon Valley monopolies. The disinformation campaign against this reporting was led by the CIA's all-but-official spokesperson Natasha Bertrand (then of Politico, now with CNN), whose article on October 19 appeared under this headline: “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.”

    Another thing to bring up when people gripe about America's cratering trust in the MSM and "Big Tech". It's a self-inflicted wound.

    [The Emily Litella reference too obscure? Educate yourself! Yes, another 1970s flashback.]


  • The most NPR headline ever? Well, it's definitely high on the list: NASA says it can't put the first person of color on the moon until at least 2025.

    As he announced the slower timeline, [NASA Administrator Bill] Nelson emphasized the project's main goals: to put U.S. astronauts back on the moon.

    "The human landing system is a crucial part of our work to get the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface, and we are getting geared up to go," he said.

    Yes, getting those checkboxes checked is a NASA Official Goal.

    I came across that article while checking the latest Artemis news: the Space Launch System (SLS) with Orion capsule atop rolled out to the launchpad last night. Launch is scheduled for "no earlier than May". The capsule will not be crewed by humans of any color or sex.

    Recommended reading: Get rid of NASA's bloated bureaucracy.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-17

[EVERY day]

  • Not yet available at Amazon. But there's a collection displayed at the Federalist: Kamala Harris Quotes As Motivational Posters. Example to your right, click through for more.

    Presumably because of her inspirational performance as czar of the Southern border crisis, President Joe Biden sent Vice President Kamala Harris to Poland to represent the United States as Europe and NATO grapple with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That trip resulted in moments like a really awkward outburst of cackling in response to a question about Ukrainian refugees, a reaction Harris has delivered before in response to serious questions about things like the deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the migrant crisis at our own border.

    Right now, Amazon leans toward "I'm speaking" merch in this category, from her debate with Mike Pence back in 2020.


  • Just three, and they're easy to remember: (1) Individual liberty; (2) America; (3) Civilization. Bari Weiss has a longish essay, well worth your time: Things Worth Fighting For. Sample:

    The other day on The View, I watched as a man with a Harvard law degree and a denizen of the most exclusive institutions in America, stumbled on the real problem facing the world: “The Constitution is trash,” he said.

    If you are looking for the definition of the privilege of living in America, of living in a country with the First Amendment, it is the ability to say something so foolish on daytime television.

    But what struck me was that he actually homed in on the right pressure point: The Constitution, the thing he was so blithely tearing down, is precisely the thing we need to recover. We need to recover, above all, the “Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

    We do this, as the Founders did, by resisting tyranny in all its forms.

    That means refusing to participate in moral panics. It means resisting mob mentality, since mob justice is no justice at all. It also means opposing any entity that uses its power to undermine democracy and strip us of individual liberty.

    Bari just gets better and better.


  • To be fair, it was pretty easy to break. Jazz Shaw has the good news: Tulsi Gabbard has broken the Daily Beast.

    The amount of hand-wringing that’s been going on in the press over Tulsi Gabbard lately has been either highly entertaining or seriously alarming, depending on your personal perspective. What everyone claims to be so upset about is the fact that Gabbard expressed alarm over revelations that biological research laboratories in Ukraine (“biolabs”) which have received funding from the United States Government contain dangerous pathogens and they might either be compromised in the fighting or even be taken over by the Russian invaders. Those statements were almost immediately declared to be “Russian disinformation” in the press and among her fellow Democrats. Her statements were somehow warped into claims that she said the United States was “running” some sort of biological weapons laboratories (“bioweapons labs”) in Ukraine. The White House and their defenders in the MSM have worked overtime to state that we are operating no such bioweapons labs in Ukraine, despite nobody – including Tulsi Gabbard – ever claiming that we did.

    Shaw claims that "everything that Tulsi Gabbard actually said was true." I haven't verified that independently, but it sounds legit.


  • Those first four words could lead off a lot of headlines. But Eric Boehm tags something relatively recent: Biden's Dishonest Attempt To Pin Inflation on Putin. Sample (after noting months of people predicting inflation):

    This history matters because the White House's latest attempt to explain away inflation rates that have hit their highest levels in 40 years is to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the war he has started in Ukraine, for the whole mess. After the Labor Department released new data last week showing that inflation had jumped to 7.9 percent over the past year, the White House responded with a statement claiming that "today's inflation report is a reminder that Americans' budgets are being stretched by price increases and families are starting to feel the impacts of Putin's price hike."

    The argument is that Russia's invasion of Ukraine—and the global response to it, which has included cutting off purchases of Russian oil and gas—are pushing prices higher throughout the economy. "Make no mistake, the current spike in gas prices is largely the fault of Vladimir Putin and has nothing to do with the American Rescue Plan," Biden said Friday.

    It's true that gas prices have spiked dramatically in the weeks since Russian troops invaded Ukraine. But Biden's attempt to pin a year of steadily rising prices on the events of the past few weeks makes little sense.

    For one thing, last week's report from the Labor Department showing that inflation had hit 7.9 percent looked at prices from February 2021 through February 2022. Putin's invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, so the White House is asking you to ignore 361 days of data in order to focus on what happened during the last four.

    I seem to wonder a lot lately: is the Biden Administration this stupid, or do they hope we're this stupid?


  • Kevin D. Williamson writes as few can: Russia, Alone

    “The woman’s pelvis had been crushed and her hip detached.”

    I don’t even know what that last part means. I suppose I can imagine a crushed pelvis easily enough. I can’t imagine what a detached hip looks like or feels like.

    The woman in question was famous for a minute. She was a Ukrainian mother who appeared in a famous news photograph. She is dead now. So is the child she was carrying. She was photographed being carried out of that Mariupol maternity hospital that was bombed by Russian troops in Ukraine, one of many examples of the savagery in which the Russians have been engaged. It is tempting to write “sub-human” savagery, but savagery is entirely human. Nobody talks about rattlesnakes or scorpions behaving in a savage fashion — nobody expects them to be anything other than what they are. But we expect more of H. sap. — God knows why.

    “Unidentified bloodied pregnant woman,” one headline called her. She must have had a name.

    Read KDW if you need to be reminded of what Ukrainians are up against.


  • If you're pursuing "justice" that makes everyone who opposes you "villains". Astral Codex Ten notes the proliferation of people demanding/advocating/blathering about "X Justice": Justice Creep

    Helping the poor becomes economic justice. If they’re minorities, then it’s racial justice, itself a subspecies of social justice. Saving the environment becomes environmental justice, except when it’s about climate change in which case it’s climate justice. Caring about young people is actually about fighting for intergenerational justice. The very laws of space and time are subject to spatial justice and temporal justice.

    I can’t find clear evidence on Google Trends that use of these terms is increasing - I just feel like I’ve been hearing them more and more often. Nor can I find a simple story behind why - it’s got to have something to do with Rawls, but I can’t trace any of these back to specific Rawlsian philosophers. Some of it seems to have something to do with Amartya Sen, who I don’t know enough about to have an opinion. But mostly it just seems to be the zeitgeist.

    This is mostly a semantic shift - instead of saying “we should help the poor”, you can say “we should pursue economic justice”. But different framings have slightly different implications and connotations, and it’s worth examining what connotations all this justice talk has.

    With respect to the headline: the article notes (1) "there are 311,000 Google hits for 'climate villains'"; (2) “'getting justice' for a murder involves punishing a suspect a lot more often than it involves resurrecting the victim."

URLs du Jour

2022-03-16

  • Sorry, Maggie, I'm still not going to vote for you. Despite your belated overtures:

    And what is Mitt's deal anyway?

    Jacob Sullum has more to say on that matter: The TSA’s Mask Mandate Is Just As Logical As All Its Other Arbitrary Impositions. (I doubt you're missing the thrust of the headline, but just in case: the mandate is not logical at all.)

    The federal rule that requires air travelers to wear face masks, which the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) first imposed more than a year ago, was scheduled to expire this Friday. But the TSA extended the requirement for at least another month, for reasons that are even harder to understand than the original rationale for the mask mandate.

    That is saying a lot, because the scientific justification for the TSA's rule has always been weak, given that the conditions on airplanes are not conducive to COVID-19 transmission. The ventilation systems on commercial aircraft, which mix outdoor air with air recycled through HEPA filters and limit airflow between rows, help explain why there were few outbreaks associated with commercial flights even before vaccines were available.

    As Jacob reminds us, the TSA is really into pointless security theater, and this is just the latest.


  • Worst title for a When Harry Met Sally sequel ever. C. Bradley Thompson tells us about how a bad idea was made even worse: When Bolshevik Schooling Came to America. But instead of quoting C. Brad, I'm going to snip a couple of things he quotes. First, the unfairly-maligned Herbie Spencer in Social Statics:

    For what is meant by saying that a government ought to educate the people? why should they be educated? what is the education for? Clearly to fit the people for social life—to make them good citizens. And who is to say what are good citizens? The government: there is no other judge. And who is to say how these good citizens may be made? The government: there is no other judge. Hence the proposition is convertible into this—a government ought to mould children into good citizens, using its own discretion in settling what a good citizen; is, and how the child may be moulded into one. It must first form for itself a definite conception of a pattern citizen; and having done this, must elaborate such system of discipline as seems best calculated to produce citizens after that pattern. This system of discipline it is bound to enforce to the uttermost. For if it does otherwise, it allows men to become different from what in its judgment they should become, and therefore fails in that duty it is charged to fulfil.

    And a guy with a slightly better rep, John Stuart Mill in On Liberty:

    A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.

    That said, CBT goes into more detail on the baleful influence of many other "progressives", including the dreadful John Dewey, who on returning from the Stalinist Soviet Union in the late 1920s, proclaimed their education system “is enough to convert one to the idea that only in a society based upon the cooperative principle can the ideals of educational reformers be adequately carried into operation.”


  • Another entry for the "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" Department. This time from Glenn Greenwald: Romney's "Treason" Smear of Tulsi Gabbard is False and Noxious, But Now Typifies U.S. Discourse.

    The crime of "treason” is one of the gravest an American citizen can commit, if not the gravest. It is one of the few crimes other than murder for which execution is still a permissible punishment under both U.S. federal law and the laws of several states. The framers of the U.S. Constitution were so concerned about the temptation to abuse this term — by depicting political dissent as a criminalized betrayal of one's country — that they chose to define and limit how this crime could be applied by inserting this limiting paragraph into the Constitution itself; reflecting the gravity and temptation to abuse accusations of "treason,” it is the only crime they chose to define in the U.S. Constitution. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution states:

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

    Treason was the only crime to be explicitly defined and limited by the Founders because they sought “to guard against the historic use of treason prosecutions by repressive governments to silence otherwise legitimate political opposition.” In other words, the grave danger anticipated by the Founders was that "treason” would radically expand to include any criticisms of or opposition to official U.S. Government policy, activities they sought in the Bill of Rights to enshrine as an inviolable right of U.S. citizenship, not turn it into a capital crime.

    Fun fact: in the entire history of the US, only 12 Americans have been successfully convicted of treason. (But shouldn't there be an exception to the First Amendment for falsely shouting "Treason" in a crowded theater?)

URLs du Jour

2022-03-15

  • Word to the wise.

    If only they'd had Twitter in 44BC.

  • One more for the "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" Department. Kevin D. Williamson has a number of candidates, but number one is… 'Treason,' Again

    Antonin Scalia used to joke that he needed a rubber stamp reading: “Stupid But Constitutional.” Many commentators at the moment seem to need something similar reading: “Stupid, Gross, Objectionable, Immoral, and Contemptible, But Not Actually Treason.” Unfortunately, even Mitt Romney has fallen into the bad habit of calling that which he detests “treasonous” — he is right to detest it, but wrong to call it treason.

    I have covered some of this ground before. Whatever political disagreement you are calling “treason” — or “murder” or “genocide” — probably isn’t that.

    It's a word that got bandied about in our legislature a few days ago, but nobody accused them of being legal eagles.


  • But should the DOJ investigate Tulsi Gabbard for 'False Russian Propaganda'? I know you were wondering about that yourself, and Robby Soave has the answer for you: No, DOJ Shouldn't Investigate Tulsi Gabbard for 'False Russian Propaganda'

    The hosts of The View opened their show today with extended criticism of former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Fox News host Tucker Carlson for allegedly spreading "false Russian propaganda" relating to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. They also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the pair.

    "They used to arrest people for doing stuff like this," lamented Whoopi Goldberg.

    Perhaps Goldberg was referring to U.S. government efforts to root out Russian spies who fed information to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is a crime to share state secrets with hostile foreign governments. But that's not what Gabbard and Carlson are doing; it's not even close.

    I think people who falsely accuse others of treason should be locked up! But only because I want to see Whoopi Goldberg and Mitt Romney in the same jail cell, and have their conversation videoed for posterity.


  • It's a feedback loop, I think. Jayanta Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff of the Brownstone Institute get mostly right, though: Vaccine Fanaticism Fuels Vaccine Skepticism.

    The development of COVID-19 vaccines is said to be one of the few successes during a pandemic that saw major failures in public health strategy and treatments. While the vaccines can’t prevent transmission, they have likely reduced mortality. Before the pandemic, there was almost universal trust in vaccines, and vaccine skeptics were a small but vocal minority.

    With a life-saving vaccine during a major pandemic, one would expect more vaccine enthusiasm, but instead, it collapsed. What happened?

    Ironically, the problem is vaccine fanaticism, which has caused vaccine skepticism, with problematic consequences extending beyond COVID-19 to trust in other vaccines. Vaccine fanaticism comes in many forms.

    In their drive to increase uptake, the vaccine fanatics denied basic scientific facts, such as immunity provided by COVID recovery. This, despite numerous careful studies that showed that COVID-recovery provides better protection versus both infection and severe disease than the vaccine. Nevertheless, vaccine fanatics insisted that natural immunity shouldn’t “count” in the vaccine mandate schemes. By denying science, the vaccine fanatics created further public skepticism about the vaccines.

    One of the authors, Dr. Martin Kulldorff (of Harvard Medical School), was yanked from a CDC vaccine safety advisory committee after he publicly disagreed with one of the recommendations. Four days later, the CDC reversed that recommendation, but the lesson is clear: dissent from the Official Version is prohibited, even if it means you were correct, four days early.


  • Who's sorry now? A feelgood story from Kyle Smith: Woke Oscar Favorite Forced to Apologize for Unwoke Remark about Williams Sisters

    The runup to the Oscars is always filled with intrigue, as nominees try to cast themselves as victims or underdogs. For directing the woke Netflix Western The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion is the obvious choice to win Best Director this year (she would be only the second woman ever to take home the honor, plus the movie is about self-hating homophobia and so can hardly fail to win Best Picture) and got a major boost when her work was dissed by veteran cowboy actor Sam Elliott, who said her film was “a piece of sh**” and indicated he wasn’t fond of the movie’s “allusions to homosexuality.” Elliott looked like a bully (if not a homophobe), so things were looking brilliant for Campion.

    But at the Critics Choice Awards last night, Campion made an ill-advised swipe at tennis’s Williams Sisters, who were present because the film about their family, King Richard starring Will Smith, was nominated for several awards (and won Best Actor for its star). Accepting Best Director honors from the critics’ group (don’t blame me; I voted for Kenneth Branagh), Campion rather arrogantly said, “You know, Serena and Venus, you are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys like I have to.”

    That sound you heard was probably me trying unsuccessfully to muffle my laughter.

    Those award divisions by sex are interesting. Oscar has "Best Actor" and "Best Actress", but (as Ms. Campion noted) not "Best Director" and "Best Directress". That's pretty inconsistent, but who knows what the Correct remedy is? Get rid of the Actor/Actress split? (Can't the ladies compete with the gentlemen on equal terms?) Or go with separate Director/Directress awards?

    And in the spirit of the times, shouldn't there be "Best" awards set aside for people of various colors/ethnicities/etc.?

    "And the award for 'Best Acting Performance by a Gay Asian Woman' goes to…"

Turning Red

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Turning Red]

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. I love Pixar. And it's the usual stunning riot of visual imagery.

Set in Toronto, it's the story of young Meilin, a Canadian-Asian girl on the threshold of adolescence. She has one of those Tiger Moms that presses her to academic excellence and family duty. As a result, she's a totally admirable, straight-arrow, young lady. Alas, she's soon stricken with an unusual issue: she turns into a giant red panda when undergoing emotional stress. (And she's at an age where such stress happens a lot.)

Complicating things is the upcoming concert by the boy band "4*Town" that has the hearts of Meilin and her three besties a-throbbing. But unfortunately, the tickets are $200 a pop; that's in Canadian money I guess, but still pretty steep for kids. Gee, could they somehow turn that panda-transmogrification thing into a money-making opportunity? (Spoiler: yup.)

And (by the way), the panda thing (it's too nifty, really, to call it a "curse") is also a family trait. As Meilin soon discovers.

Well, I guess something along those lines happened, but I must admit I kind of dozed off toward the end. There's only so much 13-year-old girl perkiness and Asian family friction I can take at my age. Woke up to see that there was a happy ending, though!

Songs are also meh. Lin-Manuel Miranda was apparently uninvolved.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-14

  • Well, of course it's not. John Hinderaker at Power Line assures us: It Isn’t Just Slow Joe. Based on this tweet from the Hill:

    Um.

    This is a new contribution to economic theory that we could dub Pelosinomics: if only we increase government spending enough, we can eliminate the national debt!

    Recommended reading: Chapter 10 of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, entitled "Why the Worst Get on Top".


  • It's not just Critical Race Theory. Martin Gurri writes on The Identity Cult at City Journal. Without a single mention of CRT.

    Linking to a Sesame Street celebration of “Latinx culture,” Antonio García Martínez, sharpest wit on Twitter, wrote last fall: “One of the great mysteries is how every elite institution, from universities to corporations to media to even Sesame Street, all spontaneously coalesced on the same narrow set of values all of a sudden.”

    The set of values in question belongs to the cult of identity—a ramshackle creed that maintains, for example, that the term “Latinx” signifies an actual human group. Once the province of pretentious professors and their captive students, the cult has leaked out of the cannabis-scented halls of academia to infect an astonishing number of people in power. García Martínez is right. In the scope and rapidity of institutional embrace, nothing like it has transpired since the conversion of Constantine.

    The National Archives in Washington, D.C., today places warning labels on the Constitution, because reading it may induce unpleasant sensations in some identity groups. Universities like Princeton now publish “antiracist toolkits” to instruct the faithful on how to “move beyond diversity” and into identity heaven. Nike, which makes sneakers, demands of its customers: “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem with America. Don’t turn your back on racism.” The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, two time-honored sports franchises, for their identity sins have had their names stripped away. I could extend the list unto boredom—it would range from prestigious media institutions like the New York Times to local bodies like the San Francisco school board.

    Gurri's essay is good all the way through, and makes the point through omission: CRT isn't the only problem poisoning American institutions, and it may not (as such) be even the major problem.


  • For that matter, Donald Trump is no Thomas Dewey. In the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby takes a senator to history class. Sorry, Tom Cotton: Trump is no Reagan. Yes, Senator Cotton claimed to have detected a "deeper continuity in the beliefs of our 40th and 45th presidents." Jeff says nay:

    The Gipper was a man of grace, civility, and dignity — the opposite of Trump, who has always confused bluster with strength and bragging with confidence. Reagan was widely read, deeply informed, and persuasive in sharing his views. (Anyone who doubts it should read the published collection of his writings, which shows a mind constantly at work.) It was during the Reagan ascendancy that the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced, with a touch of surprise: “Of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” Trump, by contrast, neither reads nor thinks, and the party he dominates is not associated with either thoughtfulness or innovation. In 2020, the Trumpified GOP didn’t even bother to produce a platform. Instead, it boiled its views down to a single principle: “The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump . . . and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”

    What is salient in politics changes from era to era, of course. Many policies that exemplified Reaganism in the 1980s would have no application to the Trump era, and vice versa. But changing circumstances cannot paper over the profound differences between the two men.

    Take foreign policy. Reagan was the president who implemented a strategy to win the Cold War and deployed all his rhetorical power to weaken the moral standing of the Soviet Union. Trump was the president who repeatedly gushed over the world’s dictators, including Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin. It is fatuous to pretend that there is no choice to be made between the legacy of the Republican who saw America’s enemies headed for “the ash-heap of history” and the Republican who praises the “genius” and “savvy” of Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.

    Unfortunately, today's GOP seems uninterested in winning one for the Gipper.


  • Worst Sound of Music song parody ever. Kevin D. Williamson wonders: how do you solve A Problem Like Putin?

    Vladimir Putin is one man. How has it come to pass that a single man, the corrupt and banal ruler of a decadent and backward country, should be able to convulse the entire world, more or less on his own?

    There are analogous situations in private life. A screaming baby may be the least powerful person in a room, but he can dominate the room with his screams. A heckler can momentarily interrupt a performance and command the attention of a thousand people in a theater. Criminals often are weak men, but they can impose their will on others simply by being ready to violate laws and social rules.

    All voluntary constraints on power create advantages for those who do not accept such constraints — that is one of fascism’s genuine political insights and the reason fascists and fascist organizations reject constraints on power in principle. This is true both of the sort of fascist who calls himself a fascist and of the sort of fascist who calls himself a socialist (Lenin, Castro, etc.) and of the sort of fascist who spurns ideological language for vague promises of national greatness.

    I have observed in the past that either socialism is the unluckiest ideology in the history of politics — inexplicably being taken up by Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Mao, Honecker, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, etc. — or there is something wrong with socialism. Which, of course, there is.

    KDW goes on to quote chapter and verse from (hey, what a coincidence) the same source I recommended above: "Why the Worst Get On Top".


  • Another dumb idea that never seems to go away. It was never a good idea, and Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center notes recent data that should make that even more clear: Remote work makes commuter rail even less viable

    A commuter rail line from New Hampshire to Boston would need increasing taxpayer subsidies to serve a shrinking number of riders, recent data on transit ridership and commuting patterns suggest. 

    Health concerns are not the only reason commuter rail ridership remains a fraction of its pre-pandemic levels. Work and commuting patterns have changed, leaving public transit systems — especially commuter rail — with massive, long-term revenue shortfalls and shrinking pools of potential riders.

    The New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s proposed “Capitol Corridor” commuter rail project would extend the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Boston-Lowell line to Manchester (and possibly to Concord). It would undertake this expansion, at a cost well north of a quarter of a billion dollars, just as remote work begins to reshape commuting patterns.

    Speaking of reshaped commuting patterns: a recent Antiplanner blog post relating to my old home town: 60 Desks for Every 100 Workers.

    Mutual of Omaha is building a new headquarters in downtown Omaha, which at first appears to be a revival of downtown fortunes. But the company has 4,000 employees in the Omaha area, and the new headquarters will have room for no more than 2,500 of them, as the rest are expected to work from home on any given day.

    Also see Philip Greenspun's plea for the neglected orphams of "reshaped commuting patterns": What happens to all of the Aeron and Steelcase chairs?

    I beg you, think of the children office furniture!

Unrequited Infatuations

Odyssey of a Rock and Roll Consigliere (A Cautionary Tale)

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I've been reading memoirs/biographies of various much admired musical talents for a few years now. E.g., Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Linda Rondstadt, Donald Fagen, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Glen Campbell. Seems like a lot, but I average under one per year. I used to think that I'd get some insight into the wellsprings of musical genius, but I pretty much gave up on that. Common themes: hard work, innate talent, drugs, sex (often the cheating kind), dishonest management, etc.

This memoir by Stevie Van Zandt (aka, Miami Steve, Little Steven) memoir is very good. I'm pleasantly surprised. It's full of musical insights, inside scoops, great stories. Over a long career, Stevie has rubbed shoulders with just about everyone. (Back cover blurbs from Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.)

But that's not all. As you (probably) know, Stevie (unexpectedly) became an actor, with a major supporting role in The Sopranos, and a starring role on the Netflix series Lillyhammer.

I was drawn to the because Stevie was an integral part of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He was also involved in the genesis of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, producing their first three albums, writing and performing as well. (He claims to have been the person who first dubbed John Lyon as "Southside". Thanks from a grateful nation.)

One of the fun parts of reading this book: getting my Amazon Echo to fill in the musical blanks. "Alexa, play 'I Don't Want To Go Home' by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul." Or "Alexa, play 'Jesus is the Rock That Keeps Me Rolling' by Darlene Love."

I was aware that Stevie's politics were left-wing. That's not to say that some of his activism wasn't worthy: he played a part in organizing musical opposition to South African apartheid. Other than that, it's been a mixed bag. Down in Nicaragua, Stevie was a big Danny Ortega and Rosario Murillo fan. And today, thanks to them, Nicaragua is ranked the least-free country in Central America. His political proposals (pp. 365-370) are pretty hopeless, mostly hot garbage. Example: "Elimination of 'Black Communities'". Black-on-black crime, racism, poverty will all disappear by moving everyone into "middle-class neighborhoods".

Sure, that'll work.

Apparently Stevie and Southside Johnny drifted apart over the years; there's not much about him in the latter part of the book. I'd really like to read his memoir.


Last Modified 2022-03-15 5:47 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-03-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Magic 8-Ball Says: "Outlook not so good." And I would guess Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies to James Hamblin's guest essay in the NYT: Can Public Health Be Saved? What he sees as the problem:

    In the attempt to have a cohesive message, there appear to be delays and failures to say anything at all. Whatever the intent, the effect has left Americans feeling uncertain of whom to trust, at best. At worst, lied to. The issues go beyond messaging, to failures to update basic definitions or policies that could easily — instantly — be carried out.

    For example, the definition of “fully vaccinated” has not yet been changed to include booster shots, even months after the C.D.C. recommended them for everyone. It can be argued there’s a political benefit to not doing so: If the definition were updated, the administration would no longer be able to tout the success of 65 percent of people being fully vaccinated. Suddenly that number would drop to around 44 percent. (The C.D.C. says people who have gotten their booster are considered “up to date.”)

    Other decisions have been similarly vexing. During the Omicron surge, the administration maintained a travel ban against South Africa for weeks despite the fact that the virus was already in the United States. And for months there was persistent hesitation to acknowledge the usefulness of N95 masks and rapid tests, coinciding with a national shortage of both.

    In isolation, any of these decisions might be dismissed as an earnest oversight. The agency is small, understaffed and underfunded. But taken together, there is a pattern of alignment between health information and political expediency. This approach may placate people in the short term, but it makes the crisis of trust only worse with time.

    Hamblin's recommendations include moving the CDC and the FDA out from under the political department of Heath and Human services, and giving the CDC a lot more money, via a "mandatory funding stream". (They're only getting a mere $7.1 billion now!) My eyes are rolling.

    I'd suggest the rot is inevitable when an agency sees its role as paternalistic nudger of the great unwashed; this causes it to (a) pretend to certainty that it doesn't actually have, (b) be unwilling to admit to past missteps, and (c) expand its nannyism beyond boundaries.

    I'll remind you of the Reason headline I posted just yesterday: Why Can't the CDC Tell the Truth About Smoking and Vaping by Teenagers?

    Until headlines like that go away, there's little hope of "saving public health".


  • Cato vs. O'Toole, Round Three. Randal O'Toole explains How the War on Sprawl Caused High Housing Prices

    High housing prices have reached crisis proportions in much of the country. You can blame the war on sprawl for that.

    Since the 1960s, planners have convinced many state and regional governments to limit the physical spread of urban areas. They called this "growth-management planning," and the most common growth-management tool was an urban growth boundary. Outside such boundaries, development was practically forbidden.

    About 99 percent of Oregon, for example, is outside of an urban growth boundary. In most of those places, families cannot build houses on their own land unless they own at least 80 acres, actually farm it, and have thereby earned $40,000–$80,000 per year (depending on soil productivity) in two of the last three years.

    Randal has a hidden slam at his previous employer, the Cato Institute:

    Many planners—and many libertarians—blame single-family zoning for high housing prices. By creating an oligopoly in housing, they say, such zoning drove up prices. But an oligopoly doesn't work unless it controls the entire supply. And for that, you need a separate set of regulations to stop new homes from appearing on the urban fringe.

    I have no dog in this fight. But I have a house in this fight, so my self-interest is in keeping its sale value high. But, that said, I'm not a fan of either zoning or the "war on sprawl".


  • Are you now, or have you ever been, a card-carrying neoliberal? Samuel Gregg visits a topic of continuing interest, how labels get invented and misused. In this case: Conjuring Up the Neoliberal Bogeyman

    Who’s a neoliberal? Apparently that is an important question these days, given that two major American philanthropic foundations — the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network — regard “neoliberalism” as a menace to civilization: So much so that Hewlett and its partners recently gave a $40 million gift to Harvard and MIT so that they can “help rethink and replace neoliberalism and its assumptions about the relationship between the economy and society.”

    “For more than forty years,” according to the press release announcing the grant, “neoliberalism has dominated economic and political debates, both in the U.S. and globally, with its free-market fundamentalism and growth-at-all-costs approach to economic and social policy.”

    That language reflects the extent to which the Left has upped the rhetorical ante in recent years. Left-leaning thinkers have blamed neoliberalism for things ranging from the aftermath of the second Iraq War to some of the worst forms of social dysfunction in America today as well as its high incarceration rate. Neoliberals, they insist, are all about making the world safe for multinational corporations to do whatever they want whenever they want wherever they want.

    I kind of wish "neoliberalism" was as dominant as the scaremongers imagine it to be. Alas…

    But Gregg's article is a decent history and good summary of the state of the debate: dishonest, overblown, and likely to make things much worse.


  • They do use that word a lot. Philip Greenspun notes: Democrats are willing to fight anyone except a foreign invader? (Bold in original)

    Democrats frequently promise to “fight” when seeking election. Here’s the party’s thought leader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “‘We can and must fight‘: AOC urges Americans to ‘get to work’ to defeat Donald Trump following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death” (Independent 2020). Nancy’s Pelosi’s 2010 statement on President Obama’s Economic Speech says Democrats are “fighting” for the middle class. The most excellent of current Democrats, as evidenced by his/her/zir/their elevation to the Presidency: “I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first,” said Biden. (NYT, December 2020) Biden’s inaugural address: “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” Biden in April 2021: “the climate crisis is not our fight alone. It’s a global fight.” The godlike Obama in 2018: “You can make it better. Better’s always worth fighting for.” Obama in 2009: “I will fight for you. … I got my start fighting for working families in the shadows of a shuttered steel plant.” Hillary Clinton’s concession speech: “I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. … please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

    A Quinnipiac University poll, however, found that there was one thing Democrats did not want to fight against: a military invasion.

    As the world witnesses what is happening to Ukraine, Americans were asked what they would do if they were in the same position as Ukrainians are now: stay and fight or leave the country? A majority (55 percent) say they would stay and fight, while 38 percent say they would leave the country. Republicans say 68 – 25 percent and independents say 57 – 36 percent they would stay and fight, while Democrats say 52 – 40 percent they would leave the country.

    It is (of course) unsurprising that a generation brought up on Zinn-based indoctrination and various manifestations of Critical Race Theory believe that America isn't worth defending. And the only people worth "fighting" are … neoliberals?

URLs du Jour

2022-03-12

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Unreported elsewhere, as near as I can tell. According to the CDC, all New Hampshire counties are rated at a "Low" COVID-19 Community Level. The best. The CDC's only recommendations for "Low" counties:

    Specifically, no masking.

    I went to the UNH Library yesterday with no mask, for the first time in what seems like forever. The Portsmouth Public Library, however (as I type):

    Anyone over the age of 6 will be required to wear a face mask to enter the library, and at all times while in the building.

    There is no good reason for this requirement. As I've said before, I suspect the PPL directors get a sick little kick from making arbitrary and unfounded demands of their patrons.


  • Hold on there, CDC. I'm not done with you yet. Jacob Sullum asks: Why Can't the CDC Tell the Truth About Smoking and Vaping by Teenagers?

    The pandemic has given Americans ample reason to be skeptical of pronouncements by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC). A press release the CDC issued today reminds us that the agency's habit of misleading the public began long before anyone had heard of COVID-19.

    According to the latest results from the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), the CDC says, "about 2.55 million U.S. middle and high school students reported current (past 30-day) use of a tobacco product in 2021." If you have not been paying attention to the CDC's inveterate dishonesty on this subject, it may surprise you to learn that most of those 2.55 million students did not use products that contained tobacco.

    I've never (using the CDC's language) "used a tobacco product". I don't recommend you do either.

    But someone should ask Rochelle, Rochelle Walensky if it's a good idea for the CDC to squander its credibility like this, when someday that credibility might be important.

    Um, again.


  • I see resignation and a tell-all book in Tony's near future. Jim Geraghty notices that, by credible sources Secretary of State Blinken Gets Overruled a Lot. And usually I do excerpts, but here's Jim's whole post:

    If this Politico report is correct, and President Biden rejected the advice of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to assist in the transfer of Polish jets to Ukraine, it fits a pattern.

    On Sunday, Blinken said Poland had a “green light” to send its MiG-29s, and added, “We’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.”

    Politico reports: “Five U.S. officials said there was general agreement within the administration that Washington should work with Warsaw to support Ukraine. But staffers from the Pentagon and intelligence community opposed the three-way plan.” (If the Pentagon and intelligence community opposed the plan, that leaves the State Department and National Security Council to support it.)

    Early on, Blinken pledged that the administration “will stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.” Then Biden watered down the penalties against human-rights abusers.

    Blinken wanted to immediately lift the Trump-era cap on refugee admissions, but Biden overruled him. Blinken pushed for a slower withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Biden chose to go in the other direction.

    You have to wonder how satisfied Antony Blinken is, serving as secretary of state to a president who rarely seems to accept his advice.

    Well, what did you expect? Or: what should you have expected? Check out Peter Wehner in the Atlantic from last August: Biden’s Long Trail of Betrayals. In which Robert Gates (SecDef under Dubya and Obama) is quoted: Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

    Now they tell us. I wonder if Putin read that article?


  • I, personally, am walking on sunshine, whoa-oh. But George F. Will sees us ambling a little differently: How America became a nation of the woke and the wary, walking on eggshells

    Today’s festival of offended sensitivities was prefigured in 1991 at a Penn State University branch, when a female English instructor demanded that a reproduction of Goya’s “Naked Maja” (the original is in Madrid’s Prado), which had been hanging there for years, be removed from her classroom. Her alternative demand was — think about this — that a male nude be placed beside it. To balance the affront?

    A campus executive ordered the picture removed because it could contribute to a “chilly” classroom climate, thus violating sexual harassment law. This harbinger of the era of “microaggressions” occurred while Congress was enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1991, adding to existing law a provision for compensatory and punitive damages — not for lost wages because of harassment, but for emotional distress.

    Law shapes as well as reflects culture, and Gail L. Heriot of the University of San Diego School of Law argues in her essay “The Roots of Wokeness” that those new Title VII damage remedies propelled the nation’s downward spiral into identity politics, speech regulation and an epidemic of irritability. After the change, Heriot reports, there was “a dramatic increase in the number of harassment charges filed” and in the monetary stakes. In the final quarter of 1991, the number of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) harassment charges increased 71 percent over the same period in 1990.

    GFW's observation goes well with his 2014 column that got him banned from (horrors!) the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His sin? Observing that when colleges and universities "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate." (Pun Salad commentary at the time here.)

    [You don't really need me to explain the classical reference in the headline, do you?]


  • A University System Near Here college makes the (bad) news. When your college makes news at Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), it's almost never good. But Here we go again: Newspaper theft rears its ugly head at Keene State as college refuses to intervene

    FIRE is no stranger to newspaper theft and lack of institutional intervention, and it’s happened yet again, this time at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

    As The Equinox reported, copies of the Nov. 18 issue of the student newspaper were stolen from newsstands within 20 minutes of being displayed after the newspaper published an article about the lack of masking at a fraternity’s formal event. Even after Equinox staff caught sorority sisters on video stealing bundles of papers, the college refused to intervene.

    FIRE explains, patiently, this sort of "mob censorship" is still theft even when the newspapers are free. And the KSC administration doesn't want to get involved, which is deplorable.


  • We'll forgive Granite Geek the clickbaity headline. Because his answer actually surprised me. Who requires those big gas-price signs at every station? The answer may surprise you!

    First discovery: It’s not the feds.

    There is no federal law of any kind on this topic, I was surprised to find.

    Second discovery: It’s not the state of New Hampshire.

    New Hampshire, like most states, regulates certain types of gasoline signs to let the public know the price before we start pumping and to ensure that we’re falling for a bait-and-switch.

    Protecting consumers is so important, in fact, that regulators have different requirements on the order of updating gas station signs depending on whether the price is rising or falling, says Cheryl Ayer, director of the Division of Weights and Measures, the folks who regulate this stuff.

    “You don’t want to ever advertise something when the price is actually higher,” she said.

    Despite such specificity, the state law doesn’t actually require those big, in-your-face roadside signs, although they are an option. If they wish, gas stations can legally skip the cost and bother of putting them up and keeping them updated.

    But they never wish that.

    I should not have been surprised. True free market fans will not be: it's the good old Invisble Hand.

    What other products blare their prices to passers-by? Cigarettes, I've noticed in some places.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-11

  • Multiply our Eye Candy du Jour by… about 1.5 trillion. The WSJ editorialists describe this year's carnage: Government Gives Itself a Big Raise.

    The House on Wednesday passed a $1.5 trillion, 2,727-page bill to fund the government this year, and at least the Members don’t have to worry about inflation. They’ve got the government covered.

    Perhaps the best that can be said about the spending bill is it could have been worse. Republicans and Democrats agreed to $730 billion in discretionary spending (6.7% increase over last year) and $782 billion for defense (5.6% increase). The bill also includes $13.6 billion in humanitarian and military assistance for Ukraine.

    The Internal Revenue "Service" is being rewarded for its ongoing incompetence with a 5.6% increase. Nobody will check to see if that bump improved anything.


  • It ain't just Democrats. The above editorial notes that the Defense Department also got a 5.6% bump, at the insistence of the GOP. Veronique de Rugy is dubious: More Defense Spending Does Not Equal More Safety

    Providing military defense is a valid function of the federal government. However, that doesn't give license to Congress to simply pile on more spending, even when there are dangers out there. Nor does it mean that more spending will result in a completely safe world for us Americans. That's in part because that world doesn't exist. There's only so much safety money can buy.

    While I certainly don't pretend to know what the optimal budget for our military is, we are already spending a large amount on national security and on the Pentagon. In fiscal year 2023, the United States is expected to spend more than $770 billion on national defense, with $729 billion of this amount being for the Department of Defense's military operations. This enormous sum is more than the next 10 countries spend combined. Russia, for instance, spends close to $62 billion. France and Germany spend almost $53 billion each. Assuming China's numbers are accurate, it spends $252 billion.

    And the current Commander in Chief doesn't seem to want that expensive military sector to actually do anything that might irk Putin. If we can't employ it to counter naked aggression, what is it actually good for?


  • "Unintelligible" is a too-polite way to say it. How about "Fundamentally Dishonest"? Alan Reynolds at Cato writes on The Unintelligible Psaki-Biden Theory of Oil Prices.

    Just as Congress was poised to ban imports of Russian oil, President Biden got the jump on them with an executive order. Despite the delay, it was the right thing to do as a national expression of moral outrage over Russian military atrocities.

    The White House repeatedly explained its two‐​week inaction by suggesting that U.S. gasoline prices depend on how much oil we buy from this one minor source of imports.

    In late February Reuters reported, “As the White House developed the sanctions package… [officials] were concerned about the possible impacts of a loss of Russian oil supply at a time of rising U.S. gasoline prices … I want to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump. This is critical to me,” Biden said.”

    Reynolds supports the ban as the "right thing to do" (as do I); he just thinks the rhetoric emitted from the White House about it was bonkers.


  • Government: unable to get out of its own way. Adam Thierer and Christopher M. Kaiser discourse (at Discourse, naturally) on The Contradictions and Confusion of Getting Americans To Buy Electric Cars.

    With one hand the government giveth; with the other it taketh away. That’s the way electric vehicle policy works in much of America today. States shower electric vehicle makers with subsidies to boost the technology or persuade them to build factories there. States also entice drivers to go electric with tax credits, rebates and other handouts. At the same time, many states limit the ability of manufacturers to sell vehicles directly to consumers in an effort to protect local car dealerships.

    The conflicting policies come at the public’s expense. Not only is there no  economic rationale for them, but the argument that electric vehicles help the environment is unpersuasive. Instead of putting their thumbs down on both sides of the scale, politicians would do better to let innovation arise from market competition. Alas, they seem to be driving in the wrong direction.

    We'll drop a flag for "Unnecessary Metaphorizing" in that last sentence.

    Does anyone out there have a handy calculator to tell me if buying an EV for my next vehicle would save me money?


  • Kamala Harris is an airhead. There, I said it. David Harsanyi drops the latest bit of evidence: Let Them Drive Teslas.

    “Well, you all imagined it,” Vice President Kamala Harris commented during a so-called clean-transit event, where she appeared with her fellow tautologist, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “That’s why we’re here today—because we have the ability to see what can be, unburdened by what has been, and then to make the possible actually happen.”

    When Harris and Buttigieg get together, it’s Platitudicon. As it was this week, when, as the reality of imminent historic gas price spikes was hitting Americans, the duo spent the day promoting electric cars, the Green New Deal, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s soon-to-be-tightened emissions standards.

    More mush from the Kackler:

URLs du Jour

2022-03-10

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Both sides now. David Henderson considers Joel Kotkin's Criticism of Libertarians and the Cato Institute. I looked at that criticism here, and noted that "pushback" was likely. So it was. Henderson considers Kotkin's specific criticism of Cato for its anti-zoning stance, seeing it as an unholy alliance with "monopoly capital and social engineers (also known as city planners)."

    […] Normally, when one criticizes zoning for restricting the supply of housing, one would be seen as being against “monopoly capital.” But Kotkin sees the Cato Institute’s opposition to zoning as being part of an alliance with monopoly capitalists. He’s pretty vague about how that works.

    If you read the link [in Kotkin's excerpted article], you learn that developers are taking advantage of the new California law that allows more building on land zoned for single-family housing and that they are making lots of money doing so. What he seems not to confront is what this means for housing prices: they will fall or at least not rise as much as they would have. Increases in supply, all else equal, bring prices down. I would have thought that that would be a great way to help normal people.

    Kotkin is right that more building on a given amount of land leads to denser housing. What he doesn’t successfully do is explain why this is bad.

    I instinctively lean against zoning, so I'm slightly more sympathetic to Henderson's argument. But see what you think.


  • Worst European import ever. C. Bradley Thompson continues his argument for separation of schools and state: Why Government Schooling Came to America. Original sin:

    America’s experiment with universal compulsory education (i.e., government schooling), which began in earnest in the years immediately before the Civil War and picked up steam in the postbellum period, was created with different purposes in mind than just teaching children the Three R’s and a body of historical, moral, and literary knowledge to help them live productive, self-governing lives.

    The early proponents of government schooling in nineteenth-century America imagined new and different goals for educating children. The advocates for forced schooling took the highly authoritarian, nineteenth-century Prussian model as their beau idéal.

    The leading proponent of government schooling in Prussia and the man from whom the Americans learned the most was the philosopher Johann Fichte (1762-1814), who, in his Addresses to the German Nation (1807), called for “a total change of the existing system of education” in order to preserve “the existence of the German nation.” The goal of this new education system was to “mould the Germans into a corporate body, which shall be stimulated and animated in all its individual members by the same interest.” This new national system of education, Fichte argued, must apply “to every German without exception” and every child must be taken from parents and “separated altogether from the community.” Fichte recommended that the German schools “must fashion [the student], and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will,” so that the pupil might go “forth at the proper time as a fixed and unchangeable machine.” Children should therefore be taught “a love of order” and the “system of government must be arranged in such a way that the individual must . . . work and act, for the sake of the community.”

    Related for us Granite Staters:: [Democratic State] Rep. [Marjorie] Porter Is Upset at What's Happening to Public Schools. It's an entertaining red-yarn-thumbtacked-to-bulletin-board explanation of how [Ll]ibertarians are diligently… well, see our Amazon Product du Jour above. She's aghast when people (accurately) call public schools "government schools".

    Rep. Porter claims that "New Hampshire has one of the best public-school systems in the country." And only a few paragraphs above, she was waxing indignant about how popular the state's school choice program is, exceeding even its backers' expectations. She never answers the seeming contradiction there: if the "free" schools are so hot, why are so many people betting their kids' futures otherwise? Some sort of hypnotic false consciousness induced by emanations from the Kochtopus, I suppose.


  • I volunteer to pull the switch, if they decide to go that way. Jeff Jacoby says it's well beyond time to enforce the law: Execute Tsarnaev.

    In a 6-3 decision last week, the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Reversing a First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had voided the sentence, the justices concluded that Tsarnaev had been fairly tried by an impartial jury and that the punishment imposed by the trial court was appropriate.

    Now that the highest court in the land has disposed of the last legal objections in the case, there is no reason to delay Tsarnaev’s punishment any further. For his role in committing one of the worst horrors in Boston’s history, the federal government is duty-bound to put Tsarnaev to death. It should proceed to do so, and bring this awful chapter to a close.

    At every step of the way, to its great credit, the federal government has been unflagging in its resolve to make Tsarnaev pay the ultimate price for his crimes.

    I'm with Jeff: Just do it.


  • No surprise: no matter the problem, Elizabeth Warren's solution is always "higher taxes". Ronald Bailey writes on this specific instance, though: Elizabeth Warren Says the Solution to High Gas Prices Is Higher Taxes on Oil Companies

    "Putin's war is causing gas prices to rise, but this is no excuse for large oil companies to pad their bottom line with war-fueled profits," tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) along with an MSNBC video of her explaining her stance. "Senate Democrats are watching closely—and already working on a windfall profits tax." Warren also said that she gets "supply and demand—that prices go up" but that "profit margins should not go up, that's just oil companies gouging."

    What she calls "gouging" is actually demand adjusting to supply. She also forgets that higher profit margins strongly incentivize entrepreneurs to supply more of a good to the market thus eventually driving down prices through competition.

    Leaving aside the fact that the senator has evidently never met a corporate tax she didn't want to hike, history shows that imposing a windfall profits tax on oil is particularly shortsighted. As part his administration's response to the Iran oil shock that tripled the price of petroleum in 1979, President Jimmy Carter championed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax of 1980.

    RB notes that the 1980 tax failed to meet revenue expectations, and it also managed to reduce domestic oil supply. How about let's not do that again.


  • I've never set foot in a Whole Foods. Sarah Isgur's Sweep column is always pretty good. But I especially liked this bit of (dated) data-excavation:

    In fact, Wasserman’s data got even more interesting when he excluded counties that have both: Biden won 95 percent of counties with only a Whole Foods and just 18 percent of counties with only a Cracker Barrel.

    My county (Strafford, New Hampshire) has neither.

    Further fun facts: Rockingham County has both: a Cracker Barrel in Londonderry, a Whole Foods in Portsmouth. Hillsborough County has two Whole Foods, one in Nashua, one in Bedford. No Cracker Barrels.

Time and Chance

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I don't remember why I put this book on my get-at-library list. (I really should keep notes.) And (as it happens) my current mode of library-interaction (as it were) is to check a book's availability online (or get it through Interlibrary Loan), and my physical presence onsite (as it were) is a quick in-and-out. Browsing (as I might have done pre-Covid) is discouraged.

The above paragraph apes the style of the author of Time and Chance, David Z. Albert. Lots of random parenthetical asides that don't add much information, lots of random italics. The book reads as if it were a transcript of chatty oral presentations of a particularly animated and eccentric sort. And it can get pretty impenetrable at times, by which I mean nearly always. Here's a sample paragraph from page 62:

I’ve been talking about the postulate about statistics up to now as if it more or less amounted to a stipulation that what you ought to suppose, for purposes of predicting a system's future behavior, if you are given only the information that the system initially satisfies X, is that the system is as likely to be in any one of the microconditions compatible with X at the initial time in question as it is to be in any other one of the microconditions compatible with X at the initial time in question. That’s more or less what the postulate amounts to (I think) in the imaginations of most physicists. And that (to be sure) has a supremely innocent ring to it. It sounds very much—when you first hear it—as it is instructing you to do nothing more than attend very carefully to what you mean, to what you are saying, when you say that all you know of the system at the time in question is X. It sounds very much as if it is doing nothing more than reminding you that what you are saying when you say something like that is that X is the case at the time in question, and (moreover) that you have no more reason for believing that the system is in any particular one of` the microconditions compatible with X at the time in question than you have for believing that it is in any other particular one of the microconditions compatible with X at the time in question, that (insofar as you know, at the time in question) nothing favors any particular one of those microconditions over any particular other one of them, that (in other words) the probability of any particular one of those microconditions obtaining at the time in question, given the information you have, is equal to the probability of any particular other one of them obtaining at the time in question.
Five sentences, and that last one is a doozy. And to make matters worse, the very next paragraph begins: "This is all wrong, however." Darn!

I was very much in "I looked at every page" mode for large swaths of the book. I would flunk badly if quizzed on its details. It's a slim book, I tried to tackle a mere ten pages/day, but…

Anyway: Albert has his Ph.D. in theoretical physics but moved over to the philosophy department at Columbia. The book deals with time's arrow, or: exactly how do we distinguish the past from the future?

The problem being that many (but not all) of the physical laws of the universe are invariant under time-reversal. For example, if you had a movie of the planets revolving around the sun, then played that movie backward, the planets would still seem to be obeying, blissfully, the same Newtonian laws of motion. Similarly for gas molecules in a box: they bounce off each other, and the walls of the box, elastically, and they would appear to do the same thing in a time-reversed movie. You couldn't really tell whether you were watching the movie backwards or forwards.

Fine, but that's completely at odds with our everyday experience. We can nearly always tell when a movie's running backward: when we dominoes spontaneously rising into a complex pattern instead of falling, gases collapsing into a corner of a box instead of expanding to fill the available volume, stars sucking up light, instead of emitting it, etc. "That ain't right."

So the book immediately gets into matters of thermodynamics, entropy, and statistical mechanics. But Albert notes that the underpinnings of those fields and concepts are epistemologically shaky, and attempts to firm them up. And he may do so, but don't ask me.

In the latter parts of the book, he brings in quantum mechanics, which may help things. He discusses several interpretations, and holds up one for special attention: the Ghirardi–Rimini–Weber (GRW) theory. I think that's pretty obscure, but not obscure enough to lack a Wikipedia entry.

So: my bad. If I ever had the physics chops to follow Albert's argument, they're gone now. And in the future, I'll try to have a solid Plan B in place when getting a library book.


Last Modified 2022-03-11 12:42 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-03-09

  • And once we have that sorted out, who fact-checks the fact-checks of the fact-check fact-checkers? Martin Gurri wonders: Who Fact-Checks the Fact-Checkers?

    There can be little doubt that the lords of Silicon Valley, proprietors of the digital platforms, felt the need to appease the politicians in Washington and accommodate their own young, progressive workforces. The move to fact-checking begged many awkward questions about our post-truth moment but was flattering to the elites, who expected, as pedigreed “experts,” that the task of fact-checking would fall to them. In this they were correct.

    Remarkably, Facebook, Twitter and Google have subcontracted fact-checking to the news media—more accurately, to a handful of traditional media players clustered around the Poynter Institute, including Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. There could be no pretense of impartiality in the choice: Since 2016, the media has served as the attack dogs of the elite class. It commoditized opposition to Trump into a business proposition, as old-fashioned journalism, with its veneer of objectivity, gave way to a post-journalism that preached polarization to anxious liberals.

    The public has hardly applauded this transformation: According to a recent survey by public relations firm Edelman, roughly six-in-ten Americans believe they are being lied to by journalists. But fact-checking was never an attempt to regain the public’s trust. It was an exchange of protection for status, with a lot of money thrown into the bargain. To the question, “Who decides?” the semi-dead news media, with the blessing of the tech lords, returned a zombie growl: “We do.”

    Gurri has an interesting take on what a "fact" is, and its relationship to "truth". Buckle up, some bumpy philosophy ahead.


  • I think the "Build Back Better" legislation should have been called the "Spend a Shitload of Money We Don't Have" bill. In our second exercise in infinite regress today, David Harsanyi urges: Don’t Say ‘Don’t Say Gay’. He provides a number of MSM sources saying that, though. (Sample from ABC: "Florida lawmakers pass ‘Don’t Say Gay’")

    To its credit, CNN ran the most accurate headline: “Florida House approves bill prohibiting schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in K–3 classrooms.”

    “Don’t Say Gay” is the moniker partisan Democrats have given the Florida bill. It is intentionally misleading. The legislation, which never mentions the word “gay” anywhere, does, as CNN notes, prohibit public-school teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” That’s a lot different from what “Don’t Say Gay” implies.

    If Republicans had decided to call the Democrats’ recent abortion bill — on demand, until crowning, paid for by taxpayers — the “Let’s Kill Babies” bill (though pretty accurate, actually), no major news agency would have allowed those words to creep into their reporting, much less used it in a headline. If liberals want to engage in hyperbole, that’s their business, but how can we trust outlets that shamelessly regurgitate their propaganda? (That’s rhetorical.)

    As Instapundit is fond of saying: "Just think of the media as Democratic Party operatives with bylines, and it all makes sense."


  • A bubble that seems impervious to popping. Kevin D. Williamson writes on The Cable-News Bubble. Something I noticed myself:

    Over the weekend, Saturday Night Live opened its show with a parody of Laura Ingraham (played by Kate McKinnon) and Tucker Carlson (Alex Moffat), who were shown hosting a gala fundraiser for poor, suffering Russian oligarchs. The point was a serious one, but I did find myself wondering how something like that would really land with the general population. The media care intensely about the media, which is why Fox News figures figure so prominently in SNL sketches and why right-wing talk radio spends about 75 percent of its oxygen denouncing the so-called mainstream media. Jon Stewart cares a great deal about Tucker Carlson. But I doubt that very much of SNL’s audience knows Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham well enough even to know whether the impressions of them were any good. (Yes for McKinnon’s Ingraham, no for Moffat’s Carlson; Moffat would be closer to the mark if he simply remained in his “Guy Who Just Bought a Boat” character.) I suppose it is enough for SNL’s purposes that its audience is made up mostly of people who know that Tucker Carlson exists and that they are expected to hate him, that Fox News is a thing and that they are expected to hate it.

    (I wonder how many people who watched Watchmen realized that the pundit-show parody in the opening scene was supposed to be The McLaughlin Group, once an inescapable cultural presence for a certain kind of American and another favorite SNL target; I wonder how many people watching Aladdin get the William F. Buckley Jr. impersonation or know that there was such a thing as Firing Line. Damned few, I’d bet.)

    KDW makes important points, as always. I'm simply content with pointing out that SNL's non-political stuff has gotten funnier of late, while its political stuff (usually still around Trump, nowadays occasionally about DeSantis) has gotten (even) less funny.


  • They're pretty smart at Princeton, but not smart enough. Edward Yingling & Stuart Taylor Jr., writing at Minding the Campus describe How Princeton Eviscerated Its Free Speech Rule and Covered It Up.

    In July 2020, a Princeton University professor, Joshua Katz, wrote an article containing provocative language that generated controversy on campus. While voicing strong disagreement with that language, Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber clearly and publicly stated a few days later that it was protected by Princeton’s university-wide rule on free speech. But since then, through other Princeton officials, the university has for over a year viciously attacked Professor Katz as a racist on its website and elsewhere for the exact same language. These attacks have clearly violated the Princeton free speech rule, as well as other Princeton rules.

    When eight Princeton professors, acting as whistleblowers, filed a formal complaint about these attacks last October, high-ranking Princeton officials responded with a ruling that can only be described as a crude attempt to cover up the university’s violations; in the process, they eviscerated the free speech rule. The officials absurdly found that the widely disseminated presentation smearing Katz was not an “official University document” despite overwhelming public evidence that it is. They also issued a false interpretation of the free speech rule, stating dishonestly that it did not apply to Professor Katz’s language. Furthermore, under their deliberate misinterpretation, the free speech rule will no longer protect the vast majority of other statements by students and faculty that are clearly protected by its language and intent.

    The authors go on to make their case with plenty of detailed evidence. Katz's article is here at Quillette; we wrote about it here.


  • Flattened by light rail. The AntiPlanner (an pseudonymous Randal O'Toole) looks at Transit Safety: A Matter of Design

    Light rail is safe to ride, but it is one of the most dangerous forms of travel in the United States. That’s because most of the people who are killed by light-rail trains aren’t riding them; they are people struck by the trains. According to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) data, 657 fatalities have been associated with light rail since 2002, but only 20 of them were passengers on board the trains.

    Counting all fatalities, light rail was associated with 15.9 deaths for every billion passenger-miles that it carried. This is much higher than most other transit modes: buses were 4.9; heavy rail was 5.6; commuter rail was 7.6; and streetcars were 11.6. The only mode more dangerous than light rail was what the FTA calls hybrid rail, which is really light rail but powered by Diesels instead of electricity. It was associated with 20.6 deaths per billion passenger-miles.

    Where are all the "if it saves just one life" people on this? Shouldn't they be pushing to get rid of light rail? Or at least wrapping all the cars in three layers of pillows?


Last Modified 2022-03-15 5:46 AM EDT

The Courier

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

[Consumer note: the Amazon link above goes to a "playback region 2" DVD. Apparently, there's no US-playable disc currently available.]

A pretty good Cold War spy thriller, based on true events. It's the dark days of the conflict, early 1960s. MI6 and the CIA are trying to get reliable information out of the USSR, and they seize upon the offer of Oleg Penkovsky, a GRU higher-up dismayed by the bellicose rhetoric and provocative actions of hard-liners like Khrushchev. But making contact with Penkovsky could be dicey, they need someone who's not an obvious spy. So they hit on Greville Wynne, a British businessman with no obvious MI6 attachments.

Greville is incredulous and reluctant, but after some soul-searching, accepts this new role, acting as (see the title) a courier for the information Penkovsky wants to smuggle out to the West. But it's a dangerous game, and the wrong people are getting suspicious, moles on our side are reporting back to the USSR about the intel Penkovsky is providing. So things don't go smoothly.

Greville is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who surprisingly did not get an Oscar nomination for his work here. (Why don't they just auto-nominate him for every year in which he's in a picture.)

I kept looking for any Cold War revisionism here. Only one bit, where the deployment of US missiles in Turkey is mentioned as a counter to the discovery of Russian missiles in Cuba. Other than that, though, it's pretty blunt about (accurately) portraying the USSR commies as brutal thugs.

World of Trouble

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Executive summary: being on a doomed planet kind of sucks.

This is the concluding title in Ben H. Winters' "Last Policeman" trilogy. At the end of the second book, the narrator, ex-cop Henry Palace was headed off to an enclave in western Massachusetts to await the end of the world. Which is to be brought about by the imminent collision of the rogue asteroid "Maia".

Instead of just sitting around and waiting, Henry decides to track down his missing sister, Nico, who has been swept up by a group of conspiracy theorists; they believe there's a plan to detonate a nuke in just the right place and time to divert Maia from its path. But where are they? (And could they have a handle on actual truth?) Henry and sidekick Cortez return to Concord, NH to interview Abigail, the ex-girlfriend of another cult member. That visit sends them off to the fictional town of Rotary, Ohio. Where they find an apparent victim of violence … and nobody else. But there's a mysterious concrete cap over what appears to be an underground enclave…

What's going on? Henry follows the evidence, which takes him on a nightmarish tour: encounters with armed gangs, rednecks, various lunatics, and an isolated Amish family. He absorbs a lot of physical abuse, all set against the countdown to humanity's demise.

Winters' writing style is … well, I'm not sure what adjective to use. Ornate? Picturesque? Flowery? It's not garish enough to be off-putting, though.


Last Modified 2022-03-09 10:10 AM EDT

The Great Gatsby

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Another book plucked from the New York Times shortlist of fiction whence they asked their readers to pick "the best book of the past 125 years". And (since I hadn't read it), I put it on the TBR list. This leaves a mere ten to go before I can claim to be Basically Literate.

I've seen both the 1974 and 2013 movie versions, so I kind of knew what was coming. I was slightly surprised at how much richer the book was. But I kept seeing Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in my head as I was reading, not Leonardo DiCaprio. and Carey Mulligan.

It's set in the 1920s, mostly Long Island, going back and forth to NYC. The narrator, Nick Carraway, has a job dealing bonds. ("I'm a bond man," he admits early on. It's as if F. Scott wanted to give him the dullest occupation ever.) But he's set up in a cozy Long Island bungalow amidst a whole lot of much richer folks. This includes his old acquaintance Tom Buchanan, a racist and violent brute openly cheating on his wife, Daisy. And it eventually includes his mysterious neighbor Jay Gatsby, who throws wretchedly excessive parties attended by people he doesn't know. Via his association with the Buchanans, Nick acquires a girlfriend, Jordan Baker, a golfer who may have cheated in a recent tournament.

But as it turns out, Gatsby and Daisy have met before… Well, you probably know all that. Nobody seems to like anybody else that much; even Gatsby doesn't like Daisy that much, he just worships the idea of them being together.

For a very short book, there's a lot of stuff going on: sex (and sexism), violence, infidelity, class divisions, striving, betrayal, alcoholism, bad driving, anti-semitism (some say), gore, the essential emptiness of celebrity…. And the faded billboard eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg watching all the goings on. Yes, you probably knew all that too.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-08

  • Pun Salad is an illusion-free zone. I think. At Cato, Chris Edwards examines our Fiscal Illusion.

    Senator Rick Scott of Florida has proposed an 11‐point economic and social plan called Rescue America. Kudos to Scott for detailing where he stands, which contrasts with the Senate GOP leader who won’t tell us his priorities until after the next election.

    However, one of Scott’s proposals is raising eyebrows: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.” It appears that the senator is proposing to raise taxes.

    Scott explained further in an op‐ed last week: “[T]he federal government has figured out how to disconnect many Americans from fiscal reality.” The politicians “give away money borrowed from your grandkids, get re‐elected, and never pay a penalty for their irresponsibility … Part of the deception is achieved by disconnecting so many Americans from taxation.”

    The senator is describing a political strategy called “fiscal illusion.” Ideally, lawmakers would carefully evaluate, and discuss with the public, the full costs of proposed spending programs. In practice, however, lawmakers use techniques to hide costs, which lead the public to demand too much government because the “price” appears artificially low.

    I get, as a strategic move, why the "Senate GOP leader" (aka Cocaine Mitch) doesn't want to give anyone additional reasons to vote against Republicans by proposing anything specific.

    Maybe he should consider giving people reasons to vote for Republicans. Like Rick Scott is doing. Just sayin'.


  • Government is here to help you, poor person. Pay no attention to my boot on your neck. Bryan Caplan provides his usual clear-headed thinking at his new blog, on poverty relief. Helping the Poor: The Great Distraction.

    “How can we help the poor?” It’s one of the most perennially popular questions in politics, economics, philanthropy, religion, and beyond. Economists top answer has long been, “Economic growth.” Non-economists’ top answer has long been, “Redistribution.” But I say almost every perspective misses a critical insight. Namely: Governments around the world impose numerous policies that actively hurt the poor. The whole debate about “helping the poor” creates the illusion that the sole reason for their suffering is mere neglect, even though outright abuse is rampant.

    Immigration restrictions are the most glaring form of abuse of the poor. Think about it: A large majority of the world’s poorest people could easily multiply their income fivefold or tenfold merely by migrating to the First World and taking a low-skilled job. They don’t need our help with transportation; the cost is modest. They don’t need our help to find a job; they can handle that themselves. They don’t need a place to stay; family, friends, and employers have that covered. The bane of these would-be migrants’ existence is simply that the First World treats them like criminals. They don’t need us to help them; they need us to stop hurting them.

    Also considered by Bryan: housing policy, occupational licensing, victimless crimes, education policy.


  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines seems not to apply… to Paul D. Thacker's article at UnHerd: Is the media still stifling the lab-leak theory?

    Last autumn, American intelligence agencies reported to the White House that they remain divided on whether the pandemic started naturally or was the result of a lab accident. “All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident,” the report concluded. At least among foreign policy experts, the lab-leak theory is no longer dismissed out of hand.

    But this virus has now killed over 6,000,000 people across the planet, and if lab research caused it, imagine what it would do to the entire field of virology. Money would be withdrawn and careers shuttered; it would be devastating. Small wonder, perhaps, that at the beginning of the pandemic anyone discussing a possible lab accident was swiftly dismissed by the science community as a “conspiracy theorist”. Donald Trump’s own opinion was particularly helpful on this matter.

    Two essays in particular had a particularly powerful effect on the narrative. Placed in The Lancet and Emerging Microbes & Infections, both of them debunked the lab-leak theory. Their publication initially shut down any debate about the pandemic origin; but both reports were subsequently exposed as being rather compromised. The essay in The Lancet had been orchestrated behind the scenes by Peter Daszak, who runs a nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance, that directly funds research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak’s obvious conflicts of interest forced The Lancet to shut down their own investigation of the pandemic’s origin. At Emerging Microbes & Infections, the essay authors were caught passing the draft for approval to a scientist who Daszak funds at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

    I'm attaching somewhere around 80% credibility to the lab-leak scenario. Thacker's article doesn't provide a lot of hope that we'll get honest coverage from (say) the New York Times science section.


  • And it's too late, baby, now it's too late. Maybe you could set this Eddie Scarry story in the Federalist to a Carole King tune: It's Far Too Late For 'The Experts' To Admit That Science Is 'Gray'.

    Everything Democrats and the “experts” got wrong and lied about for the past two years with Covid is not their fault. It’s yours!

    That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from the shockingly candid remarks made last week by Rochelle Walensky, the head of President Biden’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I have frequently said, you know, ‘we’re going to lead with the science, science is going to be the foundation of everything we do.’ That is entirely true,” she said. “I think the public heard that as, ‘science is foolproof, science is black and white, science is immediate and we get the answer and then we, you know, make the decision based on the answer.’ And the truth is science is gray and science is not always immediate.”

    In other words, the certitude with which Walensky, Anthony Fauci, and their adoring media spoke should not have been interpreted by “the public” as actual confidence. How silly that we might have thought otherwise.

    It shouldn't have been hard to admit uncertainty and unknowns. But that would have involved treating the American people as rational adults, something that elites have spent their careers avoiding.


  • President Choo Choo says "All Aboard". Dominic Pino is getting increasing Pun Salad respect. Here's his recent analysis: Amtrak Expansion Threatens Supply Chains.

    In the bipartisan infrastructure law, Amtrak received $66 billion in funding, its largest influx of federal cash since Congress created it in 1971. Amtrak’s statutory purpose was also changed from achieving “a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money” to “meet[ing] the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States.”

    In other words, we’re not even going to pretend there’s financial sense in running passenger-rail routes across most of the country anymore. It would be bad enough if this change in purpose were only another example of the federal government’s irresponsible spending. But it’s worse than that: It could do real harm to the country’s freight-rail network at a time when supply chains are already facing unprecedented struggles.

    Outside the Northeast Corridor (Amtrak’s most-ridden line by far, which runs from Washington, D.C., to Boston) and a few other spots around the country, Amtrak does not own the tracks it uses; freight railroads own them. And freight rail is a profitable, vital part of the American transportation network, while what Amtrak has in mind for passenger service is neither profitable nor vital.

    Pino looks in detail at the proposal to restart Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, defunct since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Summary: Service would be slower and more expensive than the existing bus service; Amtrak optimistically predicts it would attract 26 passengers/trip. Fares would cover only about 11% of costs, the rest (plus capital costs) coming from you and me.

    And it would interfere with the existing freight service on the same track. That are, you know, actually providing a useful service.

If any members of Russian elites are reading this…

… you might want to check out some suggestions from Kevin D. Williamson at National Review: Russian Elites Must Step Up.

What to do about Alex Ovechkin, the Vladimir Putin crony who is a star player for the Washington Capitals? Or, as Jay Nordlinger asks: What about the great conductor Valery Gergiev, another Putin ally, or the pianist Denis Matsuev, who not only acts as a PR agent of the Putin regime but who also has specifically endorsed violence against Ukraine? What about soon-to-be-former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch pressured into putting his team up for sale?

“Our fight is not with ordinary Russians,” the platitude insists. Perhaps. But these are not ordinary Russians.

Is an oligarch entitled to a private life? Is a celebrity?

Private life has been very much in decline in our time: A few people who want it cannot get it, and many more people who might have it do not want it, preferring instead to live their lives in public via social media — would-be celebrities who act as their own paparazzi. As it turns out, there was never any need for Big Brother to create a vast surveillance state — a few hundred million Little Brothers and Little Sisters have done that on their own, and we all live in the glass house they made, from disgruntled airline customers who flip out a little bit on camera to Russian oligarchs whose private jets can be tracked around the world by hobbyists doing the work that spy agencies used to do.

That's an "NRPlus" article, Russian Elitist, so you might have to figure out how to shell out for that. I'm pretty sure that will only be a minor problem for you.

May you have some major problems very soon.


Last Modified 2022-03-08 3:14 AM EDT

Indigo Slam

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Using Amazon's "Look Inside" function, I verified my suspicion: as usual, Robert Crais's title doesn't have much to do with the goings on in the book. There's one occurrence of "indigo" referring to colored ink ordered for illegal purposes; no slamming of it is involved. Although there's a considerable amount of other slamming: doors, bullets into doors, moths into lamps, bodies onto the pavement outside Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland.

It's the seventh book down on my "Reread Crais" project, 15 left to go. (There's a new one coming out in November 2022, so I'll have to fit that in somewhere too.)

A prequel sets things up: a Seattle father and his three children, are being evacuated from their home by US Marshals. But it's a much closer shave than they'd like: a marshal is gunned down by bad guys while bravely to buying time for the escape.

Three years later, the kids are knocking at the door of Elvis Cole, the World's Greatest Detective. Their dad has been MIA from their home for eleven days, without notice. But they're not telling him everything. Understandably, they don't tell him about the violence in Seattle. But as it turns out, dad has his own reasons for disappearing from everyone. Not only the criminals who want to kill him, but also the Feds that are trying (ostensibly) to keep him alive. Elvis eventually susses this all out, but not before getting threatened, beat up, threatened some more…

Elvis's taciturn partner (and violent force of nature), Joe Pike, is along for the ride, having Elvis's back as always. Also playing a major role is Lucy from Louisiana, who's looking to land a job in Los Angeles so she and her son Ben can be close to Elvis. And there's a complication involved there, too. If I recall correctly, that gets played out in the next book…

URLs du Jour

2022-03-06

  • I need to think harder about voting for LPNH candidates. Matt Welch points out that they've gone a little nuts.

    I can understand not wanting to (for example) send American military forces to aid Ukraine. I can't understand being apologetic for obvious, naked, and dangerous Russian aggression.

    Notice that's the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire. I hope that whoever controls their Twitter account doesn't reflect the LPNH's official view. But if so (sigh) I'll probably have to stop auto-voting for their candidates, breaking with my strategy of many past elections. I told myself I was sending a pro-liberty message. That just got a lot harder to justify.

    Or maybe I should follow the advice of the late Granite Stater, P. J. O'Rourke: Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards.


  • In case you haven't been paying attention. Patterico invites us to Meet the Real Vladimir Putin. His thesis:

    I thought it might be helpful to write a newsletter that lays out a couple of ways in which Vladimir Putin has shown he does not care about human life or destruction of civilian infrastructure. Some of this I have written about before, like his false flag operations in 1999 and his murders of critics. Some of it I have not written about barely or not at all, like his cyberattacks. If you’re unfamiliar with any of it, you’re likely to come away from the newsletter with a better understanding of the man who has launched this unprovoked war, and you’ll be less surprised when he inevitably commits his next atrocity. The section about cyberattacks will include a discussion of ways that our government and tech companies contribute to the problem.

    It's a scary picture. And I admit I have no clue about how to thread the needle between the deadly dangers of appeasement and provocation.


  • Down with specious arguments! That's a motto all Americans can get behind, right? Jonah Goldberg's G-File tackles one such: Empire for Thee, But Not for Me.

    “Among the magical words that hypnotize men’s minds and keep them from asking intelligent questions, the Monroe Doctrine has a sovereign charm in American politics.”

    Charles F. Dole, a Unitarian minister, wrote that in The Atlantic in 1905.

    It’s nice to see that some things never change.

    I keep hearing that all Vladimir Putin wants is a Monroe Doctrine like the one we’ve got. Here’s Bill Maher:

    In this country, we've had since 1823, the Monroe Doctrine which says—and this is 200 years old, when we said, look, anybody within a 1,000 goddamn miles of us that's ours—the Caribbean, all of Latin America, that's the Monroe Doctrine. Do not f**k with us anywhere near us. But [for] Putin, Ukraine is the ancestral home of Russia. Kyiv, that's where the Russian state started. Kyiv and Rus is the first era of Russian history. I'm not saying he is a good guy or that he should invade it.

    Here’s proud “CIA whistleblower” and Johns Hopkins professor Melvin Goodman’s essay, “The United States of Hypocrisy: Revisiting the Monroe Doctrine,” subtitled,In refusing to acknowledge Russia’s concerns about US and Western intervention on its borders, the Biden administration is engaging in hypocrisy.” 

    Here’s Bernie Sanders arguing that we need to acknowledge that Russia is an imperial power and we should expect it to have a Monroe Doctrine just like us.

    … and many other examples. Jonah goes into the history of the Monroe Doctrine. And notes the illogic behind the implicit argument: (1) the Monroe Doctrine was Evil American Imperialism; but (2) hey, Putin is just implementing his own Monroe Doctrine, so fine.

    I don’t think the Monroe Doctrine has anything to do with the current situation. Heck, I think most of the people invoking it don’t even understand what the Monroe Doctrine was or wasn’t. But if you think it’s proof of American evil but also a justification for Russian evil, I think your real problem is with America, not imperialism or evil.

    A message there for the LPNH.


  • A message for wannabe social engineers. Ronald Bailey says it true: When It Comes to Climate Change, Wealth Equals Adaptation. It's his take from the recent scaremongering from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Sample:

    Probably the most costly concern stemming from climate change is coastal inundation as sea level rises due to melting glaciers and thermal expansion. A 2018 study calculated that, if no efforts were made to adapt to rising seas, damages from coastal flooding would reach $14 trillion annually by 2100. Of course, people will not blithely let higher tides sweep over them and their property; they will adapt.

    Estimates of how much it will cost to fend off rising seas vary considerably depending on projections of just how high the oceans will rise; how many people live near the coasts; and how much they build along the shorelines. A 2021 analysis in Climatic Change looking at best-case to worst-case temperature increases estimated that the total costs of building and maintaining seawalls, dikes, and other coastal protections ranged from 0.03 to 0.18 percent of global GDP. A 2019 World Bank analysis of best- and worst-case sea level increases calculated that the cumulative costs for coastal defense would range, in inflation-adjusted dollars between $2.9 and $18.2 trillion by 2100. Assuming a relatively modest 2 percent annual economic growth rate, annual global GDP will rise from $94 trillion now to $440 trillion by the end of this century which suggests that much richer and more technically adept generations will be able to adapt to rising seas.

    Adaptation to climate change undertaken by a wealthier world is a forbidden concept for many. It's difficult to avoid speculating that what they really want is hard-socialist control of the economy, and merely using "climate change" as a handy excuse.


  • Palate cleanser. I read two Elizabeth Little mysteries last year: Pretty as a Picture and Dear Daughter. I liked them quite a bit. So I naturally wandered over to her website to see if she had anything else. And came across her nonfiction page, which… well, to say it's "refreshingly honest" would be an understatement:

    In the digital age, fewer and fewer books are accorded the dignity of being allowed to go out of print, and as a result it’s much easier than I would like to track down my early attempts at nonfiction. I care very much about both these books, but more for what they represent to me personally than what they offer to readers. Am I proud that I finished them? Yep. Is there good stuff in here? Sure. Did a lot of talented, hard-working people put a great deal of time and energy into their production? Absolutely.

    Do I think you should buy them? Probably not.

    Feel free to purchase a copy from your bookseller of choice if you must, of course, but I won’t provide purchase links or cover copy here. Instead I’ve written briefly about how each book came to be and what I wish I had done differently. I'm not sure my agent would approve of me turning this page into a confessional … but joke’s on her, she’ll definitely never expect me to actually update my website.

    I'm enough of a fan so I'll take her advice, and not seek them out.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-05

  • Well good. At some point yesterday, the University Near Here rescinded its indoor mask mandate. (After yesterday's snarky item about them Not Following The Science. Did someone at UNH read it? We'll never know.)

    The Portsmouth Public Library still (ahem, as I type) requires masks for those over 6 years old.

    Hey, I'm (barely) under six in Jovian years! Could I tell the librarians I identify as a Jovian? Worth a try.


  • Now I'll have that image in my head all day. George F. Will, in one of his rare optimistic columns, says: Donald Trump looks increasingly like a stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve. People are noticing Trump's mediocre success in endorsing candidates who have kissed his ass. (My words, not GFW's.)

    Trump is an open book who has been reading himself to the nation for 40 years. In that time, he has changed just one important word in his torrent of talk: He has replaced “Japan” with “China” in assigning blame for our nation’s supposed anemia. He is an entertainer whose repertoire is stale.

    A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.

    From Capitol Hill to city halls, Democrats have presided over surges of debt, inflation, crime, pandemic authoritarianism and educational intolerance. Public schools, a point of friction between citizens and government, are hostages of Democratic-aligned teachers unions that have positioned K-12 education in an increasingly adversarial relationship with parents. The most lethal threat to Democrats, however, is the message Americans are hearing from the party’s media-magnified progressive minority: You should be ashamed of your country.

    Trump’s message is similar. He says this country is saturated with corruption, from the top, where dimwits represent the evidently dimwitted voters who elected them, down to municipalities that conduct rigged elections. Progressives say the nation’s past is squalid and not really past; Trump says the nation’s present is a disgrace.

    Unfortunately, there's an unholy alliance that wants us to pay attention to Trump, consisting of: (1) Trump, (2) Trump fans, and (3) Democrats.


  • A good question. At Reason, Scott Shackford asks: Why Are You Boycotting American Vodka To Punish Russia? He leads off with the Granite State angle:

    New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has decided to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine by ordering the removal of Russian-branded liquor from state-run liquor stores. Governors of Ohio, Utah, and Pennsylvania have also ordered Russian liquors off the shelves. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott asked Texas restaurants and shops to stop selling Russian goods.

    It's a weirdly authoritarian response, especially against the retro-socialist background of having state-run liquor stores in the first place. It also isn't going to accomplish what these governors think, unless their only goal is to look like they're doing something, because the economic harms will fall on people completely outside Russia's borders.

    Shackford notes that only a minuscule amount of vodka sold in the US actually comes from Russia. An authoritative source (Pun Son) tells me that Stoli® Vodka (in particular) has been pulled. But it's made in Latvia! So I'm confused.


  • The USPS's "core problem" is its continued existence. Chris Edwards looks at dreadful recent legislation (but I repeat myself…): Postal Service Reform Act Fails to Fix Core Problems

    The bill [passed in the House] bails out the U.S. Postal Service’s retirement health plan and entrenches six-day delivery. That is not “reform,” as it does not fix any core problems of the troubled government corporation.

    The main problem facing the USPS is that first-class mail volume has fallen 49 percent since 2001 because of the rise of email, online bill-paying, and other electronic services. The USPS has a monopoly over first-class mail, so the decline has contributed to more than a decade of financial losses at the government-owned corporation.

    Private companies facing falling demand cut costs and improve efficiencies, but Congress limits the ability of the USPS to do likewise. The House bill relieves the USPS of more than $50 billion in worker retirement health costs at taxpayer expense, but it doesn’t trim the excessive pay and benefits of its unionized workforce.

    The House bill requires the USPS to deliver mail to every address in the nation six days a week, but that is wasteful and unneeded because there are fewer letters, advertising brochures, and periodicals in your mailbox these days, and of the ones that still do come, few are time-sensitive. Congress has also prevented the USPS from closing nearly any of its 31,000 locations, even though thousands of them serve only a handful of customers per day.

    European governments have embraced real postal reforms in response to declining letter volumes. A USPS inspector general study found that seven out of eight foreign systems it examined had cut, or were planning to cut, delivery frequency. Sweden recently cut letter delivery to every second day. Some countries, including Sweden and Germany, have closed nearly all of their standalone post offices and moved retail services into grocery and convenience stores.

    It's a sad story when "democratic socialist" countries in Europe are more willing to bow to economic realities than the US.


  • I'll try to keep an open mind. Joel Kotkin is a decent author; I thought his recent book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism was a mixed bag. I checked out his recent essay in Spiked Online: The limits of libertarianism. Maybe this will give you the gist of Kotkin's argument:

    Nowhere is the disconnect between libertarianism and its traditional base of small-property owners more obvious than in housing. In their zeal, sometimes justified, to end the worst zoning abuses, the libertarians have allied themselves with two forces, monopoly capital and social engineers (also known as city planners), whose goal is not to expand the blessings of ownership, but to squelch it for all but a few. Their end game is to leave most people stuck in small apartments.

    Libertarians have served as fellow travellers and allies to the hyperactive, oligarch-funded YIMBY (‘Yes in My Backyard’) movement. In essence, as former Cato fellow Randal O’Toole notes, the libertarian right has ‘betrayed’ the very middle class that most supports conservative causes. O’Toole, who had been Cato’s land-use expert since 2007, was forced out in favour of an alliance, as he puts it, working hand-in-hand with left-wing groups seeking ‘to force Californians to live in ways in which they didn’t want to live’.

    I didn't know that about Randal O'Toole, but that explains why he's now blogging on his own.

    I'm not buying into Kotkin's argument totally, but I expect it will get some pushback from libertarians.


  • Inconsistent standards. The headline tells the whole story at the Federalist: Twitter Banned Trump For Decrying Violence, Lets Putin Keep His Account. But I usually excerpt, so here you go:

    Invading another nation, bombing hospitals, and killing civilians is not enough to get you kicked off of Twitter, but calling for peace and order will get you banned.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Twitter account, which has 1.5 million followers, remained active as of Friday, as Putin’s forces continue their invasion of Ukraine and attacks on the Ukrainian people. Ukrainian authorities have reported more than 2,000 civilian deaths, with attacks on residential areas and maternity hospitals. Meanwhile, Putin used his Twitter account to spread propaganda about the conflict, calling the invasion a “special military operation to protect Donbass.”

    The article goes on to note that Twitter accounts for Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and Iranian "supreme leader" Ali Khamenei also remain up and running. But if a US politican, (Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)) declares “women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women"… the hammer comes out.


Last Modified 2022-03-06 5:23 AM EDT

Wrecked

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The author, Joe Ide, was recently picked by the Raymond Chandler estate to write a Philip Marlowe novel. I haven't been impressed with those "authorized" efforts in the past. (Whether by Lawrence Osborne, John Banville, or even the late, sainted, Robert B. Parker.)

But while e-reading this book, I highlighted this bit:

She greeted him at the door with a bottle of Crown Royal, glittery purple eye shadow, and a negligee that looked like a lace tablecloth thrown over a buffalo.

Oh, hell yes. That's perfect. Joe Ide could be a great choice to write a Marlowe novel. And I bought his effort, The Goodbye Coast, near-immediately after reading that.

But this book: it's number three in Ide's series centering around IQ, aka Isaiah Quintabe, a young man of mixed racial heritage, Sherlockian skills of observation and deduction, and (unfortunately) near-negligible skills in romance. Which governs the path he follows in taking on the case of Grace, the mysterious young woman he encounted back in book number one. Grace was abandoned by her mother, Sarah, years back, without explanation or clue. But Grace saw her recently, sitting in a parked car. Can IQ track her down?

Well, sure. Of course. But Sarah's on the run, thanks to her efforts to blackmail the rich head of a secretive security corporation, one that makes Blackwater look like Pepperidge Farm. It involves very nasty deeds in an Iraq prison during the war. So IQ has to deal with them too, and they have access to state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, and no scruples about murder and torture to find Sarah themselves.

There's less detective work going on here, it's more of a deadly cat-and-mouse game, where the mice are Sarah, Grace IQ, and their allies. A page-turner of course.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-04

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • As previously predicted here two days ago, the latest CDC calculation of my county's "Community Level" has changed from "High" (bad) to "Medium" (less bad). The difference being that at "Medium" level there's no recommendation for us peons to "Wear a mask indoors in public". Yay!

    Even better news, New Hampshire now has no counties in the "High" classification. And three counties are at the "Low" Community Level: Belknap, Hillsborough, and Rockingham.

    But (sigh) as I type, some institutions are not Following The Science. UNH (also in Strafford County) still demands:

    Masks are required in all indoor campus spaces except when eating, in private offices or in personal residence hall rooms. The requirement applies to everyone, vaccinated and unvaccinated. This includes classrooms, hallways, elevators, restrooms, break rooms, entries and exits to buildings, laboratories, meeting rooms, shared offices and work areas as well as on all Wildcat Transit buses.

    [UPDATE: Note the "as I type" caveat above; UNH rescinded its indoor masking requirement later on March 4.]

    And despite being in "Low" Rockingham County, the Portsmouth Public Library continues to mandate:

    Anyone over the age of 6 will be required to wear a face mask to enter the library, and at all times while in the building.

    This is even after the City of Portsmouth rescinded its mandate back on February 15. No explanation is offered, inviting me to speculate that the PPL directors get a sick little kick from making arbitrary and unfounded demands of their patrons.

    I wonder if I can claim to identify as being under the age of six.


  • "Creepy" is too mild a word. But we'll excuse it, coming as it does from Jacob Sullum: Vivek Murthy's Demand for Data on COVID 'Misinformation' Is Part of a Creepy Crusade to Suppress Dissent.

    Last July, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory that called for a "whole-of-society" effort to combat the "urgent threat to public health" posed by "health misinformation." Today Murthy asked tech companies to do their part by turning over data on "COVID-19 misinformation," including its sources and its propagation through search engines, social media platforms, instant messaging services, and e-commerce sites, by May 2.

    While Murthy himself has no power to compel disclosure of that information, the companies have strong incentives to cooperate, since the Biden administration can make life difficult for them by filing lawsuits, writing regulations, and supporting new legislation. President Joe Biden has endorsed the campaign to suppress "misinformation," going so far as to accuse social media platforms of "killing people" by allowing the spread of anti-vaccine messages. Murthy's advisory, which defines misinformation to include statements that he deems "misleading" even when they are arguably or verifiably true, says the battle against it might include "appropriate legal and regulatory measures."

    "Misinformation" is defined (roughly) as anything deviating from the Official Government Line (at the time). Even if the "misinformation" turned out later to be more accurate than what the CDC/NIH/FDA were saying.

    As I've tiresomely said in the past, one of my mottos here is "used to be disgusted, try to be amused".

    But We Are Not Amused by this. It's an attempted end run around the First Amendment, the state enlisting private companies to do the dirty work of censorship that the state is prohibited from doing itself.

    And given the redoubled push to bring "gun violence" under the CDC's aegis, how quickly can we expect Second Amendment advocates to be investigated for "misinformation"?


  • I wasn't waiting for your permission, Dominic, but thanks anyway. Prohibition has been over for nearly 90 years, but the prohibitionist mentality never went away. Dominic Pino looks at the latest manifestation, and suggests that you Buy a Truck If You Want One.

    It’s not uncommon to hear gun-rights advocates emphasize that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. To further illustrate the point, they’ll sometimes add other examples, such as saying that spoons don’t make people fat and cars don’t drive drunk.

    The weakness of reductio ad absurdum arguments is that sometimes the opponent just accepts the absurd argument, too. That seems to be happening with cars. Cars themselves are becoming a boogeyman for some on the left.

    Killer Truck, Dude” is the headline of a recent piece by Slate’s Dan Kois, which makes an argument that’s gaining popularity among some progressives: Large vehicles are senselessly dangerous, and purchasing one constitutes a grave moral failure. Kois writes that when you buy a pickup truck or large SUV, “you’ve announced, very clearly, that you don’t care if you accidentally kill a stranger. . . . I’m not saying you’re a murderer if you own a gigantic truck. I’m saying you’re a manslaughterer” (italics in original).

    Pino looks at the data, doesn't find much to support Kois's blustering accusations. (But at least I know that Slate hasn't returned to its more sensible early days. Don't have to bother checking.)

    I suppose Kois's next move will be to brand motorcycle riders as suicidal. I'm pretty sure the statistics there are even more dire.


  • Lawdy, Walt must be a-spinnin' in his cryogenic coffin. Megan McArdle notes inconsistent messaging coming from Big Mouse: The corporate world collides with this old-fashioned thing called ‘patriotism’

    Disney, bless it, recently made two decisions that perfectly encapsulate the current confrontation between liberal internationalism and a revanchist power that seems determined to upend it.

    Last month, the Los Angeles Times noted that Disneyland Park’s revived Main Street Electrical Parade will be shorn of the patriotic Americana finale that capped off the pageant for decades, instead featuring a float with Disney characters from recent movies. “The new float will give the Main Street Electrical Parade an infusion of fresh film- and park-inspired intellectual property,” wrote game critic Todd Martens, “and strike Disneyland of one of its last remaining symbols of arguably stale patriotism.”

    Six days later, as Ukraine was having its patriotism refreshed by Russian tanks and missiles, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would be “pausing” the release of its films in Russia, including, a spokesperson somberly noted, “the upcoming ‘Turning Red’ from Pixar.”

    I just watched West Side Story on Disney+ last night. It passed the new Disney guidelines, since it reveals America as irredeemably racist and violent.


  • Warning: Radical content ahead. I've mentioned one of my few radical (and politically hopeless) positions: repeal school compulsory attendance laws. But even more radical (and possibly more intellectually consistent) is C. Bradley Thompson, whose substack was brought to my attention by Instapundit. Here, he writes on The New Abolitionism: A Manifesto for a Movement. Sounds cranky!

    In the first essay in this series on educational freedom (“How the Redneck Intellectual Discovered Educational Freedom—and How You Can, Too”), I recounted the intellectual journey by which I went from being an education “reformist” to being a “separationist”—a proponent of the principle of “Separation of School and State.” I argued that if you support the principle of “Separation of Church and State,” which virtually everyone does, then you must, logically, by definition, support “Separation of School and State.” The argument for the former is identical to the argument for the latter.

    If “Separation of School and State” is true in theory (which it is), then the obvious question is: how do we get there from here? In other words, what must be done to achieve this moral-political ideal in practice? More specifically, what are we to do with the current education system?

    The answer is clear: if you are a “separationist” then you must be an “abolitionist,” that is, you must favor abolishing America’s dominant education system in one way or another. The one follows the other as night follows day. Simply put, “separationism” means “abolitionism.” Again, the logic is irrefutable. You can’t be a proponent of the one and not the other. Separation of School and State is the end and abolition is the means.

    C. Bradley Thompson is both certain and strident, things I try to avoid. I'm finding it very difficult (however) to disagree with anything he's saying. Maybe if I looked harder. I've subscribed to his RSS feed.


Last Modified 2022-03-05 9:08 AM EDT

West Side Story

[3 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

My pick for Thursday night viewing was this Steven Spielberg musical tragedy, recently moved to free-to-me status on the Disney+ streaming service. It has been nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

I almost always do plot descriptions, no matter how unnecessary, so here you go: it's set in a dying Manhattan neighborhood in the 1950s, due to be demolished to make room for Lincoln Center and other urban renewal projects. But the turf is still considered worth fighting for by the youngsters, split into a white gang (Jets) and a Puerto Rican gang (Sharks). Into this toxic mix are thrown (1) Tony, a Jet recently let out of the slammer, trying to go straight; and (2) Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl. When they espy each other at a local dance, it's love at first sight. Maria dumps her date to canoodle with Tony under the bleachers. But…

Yes, to belabor the obvious, it's based on Romeo and Juliet.

The musical/dance numbers are impressively staged and filmed. Steven Spielberg looks to be a decent director, and I hope we'll hear more from him in the future.

The actress playing Maria, Rachel Zegler, is very pretty. According to the IMDB, she was hired straight out of high school, and this is her first movie role. Impressive.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-03

  • What do you mean 'we', white woman? Sorry, couldn't resist updating the old joke. But Katherine Mangu-Ward asks a worthwhile question in the latest print Reason: Why Can't We Build Anything?

    "We're going to fix them all," President Joe Biden vowed, awkwardly showing up to give a speech promoting his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill just hours after Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in January. "We're sending the money."

    It is true that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $40 billion in funding to improve the nation's 43,000 bridges, though that's a relatively small amount compared to the $156 billion it includes for mass transit and rail (on top of the $70 billion that went to mass transit in pandemic relief), plus the hundreds of billions in additional spending on broadband, green energy, and other stuff that only looks like infrastructure if you squint.

    But it's not true that Washington is actually "sending the money." Because of Congress' longstanding inability to perform one of its most basic functions—pass a budget—significant swathes of transportation spending are stalled at 2020 levels. In November, the infrastructure bill did indeed authorize over a trillion in spending. But before all of that money can actually head out the door, there needs to be an appropriations bill in place as well.

    KMW goes on to describe additional problems: the shifting of payment responsibilities from actual infrastructure users to general taxpayers; misdirection of existing funds by politicians responding to special-interest demands; waste and corruption encouraged by rent-seeking lobbyists; a mess of expensive regulations; NIMBYism.

    And her bottom line: "infrastructure" is seen as one of the primary functions of government; if it can't do that right, how much hope can you hold out for its competence in tackling even more complex problems.


  • It's like an episode of the Twilight Zone when it's revealed that we are the monsters. At Law & Liberty, Mark Judge reviews a book about the bad old days of East Germany's Stasi and its willing informers and collaborators. And makes a more general point about The Allure of Totalitarianism.

    Looking back on the Stasi, there are obvious echoes in trends that we see in the “woke” West today. Twitter busybodies patrol the web searching for ideological infractions to punish, shaming and shunning the perpetrators. Book publishers, filmmakers, cartoonists, and even pop musicians are now preemptively spiking projects for not being sufficiently woke. Public figures can be destroyed when old missives or tweets are resurfaced by opposition researchers. In a way, those opposition researchers are our modern Stasi officers; they will meticulously pour through decades’ worth of material, even examining high school yearbooks in their search for evidence that might ensnare an enemy of the state.

    We see similar trends in the COVID pandemic. It’s difficult to imagine anything in the last several decades that has more effectively turned the Western world into a reflection of the postwar East Berlin. The virus has neighbors, family, and friends arguing, spying, and sometimes reporting each other to the medical and political authorities for violations.

    Much of this, certainly, is a display of political and academic jockeying for status. Everyone wants to look acceptably cool to the panjandrums of modern liberal culture. Yet there is a deeper picture here, and [the reviewed book] offers new and penetrating insight into the nature of totalitarian coercion. Though many social critics think we are in new territory with wokeness and cancel culture, Alison Lewis indicates that we are actually seeing something very ancient, with deep origins in human psychology.

    It's as if the woke looked back at the worst bits of the McCarthy era and said Hey, we could do that too!


  • Also overrated: Howard Zinn. But that's not important right now. At Discourse, Michael J. Ard takes a bold stand: QAnon Is Overrated, and So Are Most Conspiracy Theories.

    After last year’s Capitol riot, commentators focused on the role allegedly played in the attack by the strange QAnon conspiracy. Dozens of those arrested for disorderly and violent behavior at the Capitol said they were QAnon believers.

    Last year, the Brookings Institution declared that its “violent nature and [the] susceptibility of individuals to the conspiracy theory has made QAnon a significant threat to democracy.” In 2019 an FBI field office bulletin referred to QAnon as one of several conspiracy theories constituting a domestic terrorism threat. Political scientists Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum, in their 2019 study “A Lot of People Are Saying,” insisted that QAnon represents a “new conspiracism” in which bare assertions now replace theory and facts. The internet supercharges such assertions into even more outlandish and dangerous beliefs, they argued.

    Does QAnon, and the many conspiracies like it, represent a unique threat to American democracy? Or, more likely, are conspiracies representative of a long tradition of American paranoid thinking that we have managed to live with?

    Ard finds that QAnon is unusual in demanding even less "facts and logic" than preceding conspiracy theorizers, and it's not particularly violent. He follows with a (to me) amusing descriptions of past lunacies: Russiagate, Trutherism, the JFK assassination, Apollo fakery,…

    As Mark Twain probably didn't say: History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.


  • Should people on secret government lists be able to buy guns? President Biden says no, most recently in Tuesday's State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, a common view. David Harsanyi offers a counterpoint: Yes, Mr. President, People on Secret Government Lists Should Be Able to Buy Guns

    In his State of the Union address yesterday, President Joe Biden wondered why American citizens who are placed on secret government lists by bureaucrats aren’t being denied their constitutional rights:

    I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence. Pass universal background checks. Why should anyone on the terrorist list be able to purchase a weapon? Why? Why?

    Well, I suppose we can start with the Second and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The terror watch list (last estimated to have almost 2 million names on it) and no-fly list (tens of thousands) are tools used by law enforcement to monitor potential threats, not to adjudicate guilt or innocence. The last time Senate Democrats tried to pass a bill weaponizing this monitoring tool, they proposed banning not only those currently on lists from owning guns, but anyone whose name was on a list in the “preceding five years.”

    It's a perennial favorite "do something" position of Democrats. A little scary that they're so eager to strip large numbers of people of their civil rights without due process.

URLs du Jour

2022-03-02

  • Biden's lips moved, so… Eric Boehm does the SOTU analysis at Reason, and summarizes: Biden Tries To Twist His Domestic Agenda Into a Form Joe Manchin Will Support. I wish him bad luck with that. But I found this bit to be… OK, let's say amusing:

    As [Biden] made clear a few moments later, promising that "by the end of this year, the deficit will be down to less than half what it was before I took office," and following up by claiming that he would be "the only president ever to cut the deficit by more than one trillion dollars in a single year."

    That's a clever little game. Thanks to pandemic spending, the federal budget deficit ballooned to over $3 trillion during 2020 and rang in at $2.8 trillion last year. As the pandemic passes and all that emergency spending comes off the books, the deficit is projected to fall to about $1.1 trillion this year before leveling off and then rising again:

    [follow the bouncing ball]

    That decline is not the result of anything Biden is proposing to do—and it doesn't mean that the underlying problems with the federal budget have been addressed.

    Biden is setting the lowest possible goal for deficit reduction, setting himself up to take credit for achieving it, and hoping that's enough to convince moderate Democrats to vote for more spending.

    Bottom line: I'm glad I watched Free Guy instead.


  • Doing the math. I've been trying to deal with the shame of living in one of the New Hampshire counties (Strafford) which the CDC classifies in its latest algorithm as having a "High COVID-19 Community Level". I.e., the worst. As I type. They offer a widget, if you're interested:

    But I think I have good news. The CDC's algorithm is expressed in a table at the above link. I translated it into a bare-bones Perl script, probably readable even if you don't know Perl:

    #!/usr/bin/perl
    
    print "Please enter...\n";
    print '    New COVID-19 Cases Per 100,000 people in the past 7 days: ';
    chomp( $nccr = <> );
    print '    New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total): ';
    chomp( $ncar = <> );
    print
        '    Percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (7-day average): ';
    chomp( $psib = <> );
    
    if ( $nccr < 200 ) {
        if ( $ncar >= 20 || $psib >= 15 ) {
            $cl = 'High';
        }
        elsif ( $ncar >= 10 || $psib >= 10 ) {
            $cl = 'Medium';
        }
        else {
            $cl = 'Low';
        }
    }
    else {
        $cl = ( $ncar >= 10 || $psib >= 10 ) ? 'High' : 'Medium';
    }
    print "Your community level is $cl\n";
    	

    The input data numbers for the CDC algorithm are available via the CDC COVID Data Tracker.

    First the bad news for us Straffordites: as of Monday (2022-02-28), our case rate (NCCR) is 581.78. Whoa, way high.

    But here's the good news: there have been only 11 new admissions of Covid patients in the week February 21-27, giving us a rate (NCAR) of 8.42. And the bed percentage figure (PSIB) is a mere 3.26%.

    I think that means that (unless something very bad happens Covid-wise) we should be upgraded to a "Medium" Community Level the next time CDC figures that out.

    As I've said before: the new CDC standards are just as arbitrary as their previous standards. But those are the standards via which we are currently being nagged. So the bottom-line good news is that we can expect a decrease in nagging. I hope.


  • I think you should calm down. Our local news, WMUR, featured an alarming climate change story, based on the recent release of a report from the "UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change". I can't find the story on their website, but let's go with a typical example, as mainstream as it gets, the Associated Press: UN climate report: 'Atlas of human suffering' worse, bigger

    Deadly with extreme weather now, climate change is about to get so much worse. It is likely going to make the world sicker, hungrier, poorer, gloomier and way more dangerous in the next 18 years with an “unavoidable” increase in risks, a new United Nations science report says.

    And after that watch out.

    The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said Monday if human-caused global warming isn’t limited to just another couple tenths of a degree, an Earth now struck regularly by deadly heat, fires, floods and drought in future decades will degrade in 127 ways with some being “potentially irreversible.”

    It's doomsday, I tells ya.

    A useful antidote from hysteria comes at the site Watts Up With That, featuring Roger Pielke Jr.'s take on the report from "Working Group II" (WG2). He refers to "Representative Concentration Pathways" (RCPs), various scenarios based on different assumptions about likely future emissions.

    Whereas [Working Group I] received a mixed review in my areas of expertise (specifically: poor on scenarios, solid on extremes), my initial reaction to the WG2 report is that it is an exceedingly poor assessment.

    The first observation is that the report is more heavily weighted to implausible scenarios than any previous IPCC assessment report.

    In particular, RCP8.5 represents ~57% of scenario mentions

    Remarkably, RCP8.5 is characterized in the report as a "business as usual" future, and RCP4.5 is a "low emissions future".

    In actual reality, RCP4.5 is currently thought of as an upper bound trajectory under current or stated policies & RCP8.5 is implausible.

    On a related note, Biden's speech last night contained two references to "climate change".

    And no mention at all of "nuclear".

    It's a cliché, I know, but: I'll start believing it's a crisis when the people in charge start acting like it's a crisis.


  • He's definitely several sigma off the mean, but… Does that make him nuts? Theodore Dalrymple wonders What’s Behind Putin’s Eyes?

    When I watched Vladimir Putin, with what the Russians so graphically call his “tin eyes,” justify his invasion of Ukraine, I thought, as did many others, that he looked a little deranged. Denazification, indeed! Had he failed to appreciate that Ukraine, not noted throughout its history for its philo-Semitism, had elected a Jewish president, and that by a large majority, thereby suggesting a major cultural shift in the country?

    It then occurred to me that Putin looked rather puffy in the face, and I wondered whether he could be taking steroids. These drugs are noted for their numerous side effects, not the least being psychological changes such as paranoia and elevation and depression of mood. Then there was the question, of course, as to why Putin would be taking them. Cancer, perhaps—a lymphoma? This brought to mind Evelyn Waugh’s somewhat uncharitable remark when Randolph Churchill underwent surgery for cancer: that it was characteristic of modern medicine to have removed the only part of him that was not malignant.

    "Somewhat" uncharitable?

    In any case, Dalrymple points out the hazard of putting Putin into the "nuts" pigeonhole:

    This is for two reasons: first, the diagnosis may be wrong—the apparently mad may in fact be sane—and second, madness can have its own rationality. Indeed, the mad of strong character can often take others along with them: they can persuade others that their paranoid view of the world is correct. This is especially so when they possess levers of power over people of lesser character than themselves.

    I guess I'd add that a diagnosis of mental illness would almost certainly not be of any use in guiding our future actions.


  • What's a little unconstitutionality between friends? Charles C. W. Cooke looks at the Constitution and finds that Congress Has No Power to Pass National Laws Regulating Abortion. Based on the recent defeat of the "Women’s Health Protection Act", a "radical piece of pro-abortion legislation that 'codifies Roe v. Wade'".

    The federal government enjoys only the limited powers that are delegated to it by the federal Constitution, and setting abortion policy is obviously not among them. Abortion is not “Commerce,” as that term was originally understood by the public — and nor is it a tax, duty, impose, excise, debt, or credit; a rule of naturalization or bankruptcy; a standard or weight of measure; a punishment against counterfeiting; a post office or postal road — or the use of them; a type of patent; a lower court; an example of piracy or felony committed on the high seas; a matter of war, or a letter of marque and reprisal, or an army or navy; or a calling forth of, or disciplining of, the militia. Abortion is not spending; it’s not naturalization policy; it’s not the addition of a new state or territory; it’s not the time, place, or manner of a federal election. Nor, in either direction, does abortion come within the purview of any of the 27 amendments that have been added to the Constitution since 1787. It is, in short, precisely the sort of question that is reserved to the people and to the states, and any Supreme Court decision that has concluded to the contrary is wrong — yes, including the 2003 law that prohibited the abomination that is partial-birth abortion, and which should have been struck down by the Court for lack of an enumerated power to justify it.

    Every Senate Democrat voted for it, except Joe Manchin.


  • And just a quick note: Bryan Caplan has a new blog: Bet On It.

    Why is this blog called “Bet On It”? Most directly, because over the last two decades, I’ve strongly committed to making public bets on a wide range of topics. I am convinced that such bets are one of the best ways to (a) turn vague verbiage into precise statements, and (b) discover the extent of genuine disagreement about such precise statements. I am also convinced that (c) examining bettors’ long-run track records is one of the best ways to assess thinkers’ credibility. Since my current track record is 23 for 23, it is easy to dismiss the latter view as self-serving. But I did start defending the epistemic value of bets long before I had a track record to brag about.

    I've subscribed to the RSS feed. See if it's up your alley.


Last Modified 2022-03-15 5:45 AM EDT

Free Guy

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Well, I certainly wasn't going to watch Biden's State of the Union speech. Due to the strong possibility I might throw things and damage the TV.

Brief summary: enjoyable, great CGI, marred by slow spots, too long (just under two hours). Mrs. Salad didn't enjoy it, falling asleep for about the middle half.

Guy lives in a world where violence is the norm: in his job as a bank teller, he's routinely interrupted by gun-wielding thieves. Outside, explosions, gunfire, and wanton destruction are the norm, thanks to heavily-armed warriors, maniacal drivers, and battles between futuristic vehicles on land and in the air. Guy and the rest of the town's citizens take it all in stride.

As it turns out they are "NPCs": non-playing characters in "Free City", a video game; all the carnage is caused by real-world people playing. And (as it turns out) Guy's programming has bequeathed him with sentience and free will. He becomes embroiled in a real-world dispute between the megalomaniacal owner of the company that produced "Free City" and a couple of its developers. The game becomes a battleground for that fight, bewildering everyone.

Most of the reason the movie works is Ryan Reynolds, bringing his usual charm and wit. Jodie Comer is also pretty good as one of the developers, flitting between reality and Free City in her quest for justice.

March Madness Begins, I Guess

[Newspaper Fail]

On page one of my local paper (named Seacoast Sunday on (duh) Sundays), the headline was:

Complaints vs. schools multiply

Well, that's understandable, isn't it?

Ah, but the article's online version (subscribers only) gets a little closer to what the article's author, Megan Fernandes, sees as the real problem:

Seacoast teachers, leaders face complaints and threats. Here's why and who is behind it.

Ooh, not just complaints, but also threats! And there are people behind those threats! Never fear, Megan will tell all!

And if you look at the (I assume) original headline, the one in the HTML <title> tag, it is:

Mask mandates, race issues cause of threats against Seacoast teachers

Ah, now the complaints are gone; there are only threats.

As it turns out, the "threats" about mask mandates don't seem to be directed at teachers, but school board members. This strategy is described at the site "Bonds for the Win": activists can file financial claims against officials who are "not performing their duties" via "surety bonds". In other words, a new way to subject educrats to legal harassment. Fun, but it smells legally dubious, and likely to backfire on the litigants if their efforts are deemed frivolous.

But the more interesting "threat" involves petition-signing by some local teachers (beware, some very slanted language ahead):

Thirty-five teachers in New Hampshire were recently targeted by requests for investigations, including several in the Oyster River, Exeter and Winnacunnet districts. The complaint about teachers was sent to local districts and the state Department of Education by the New Hampshire chapter of No Left Turn in Education, a group that has made national headlines for seeking to ban books from schools, such as Howard Zinn’s "A People’s History of the United States" and Margaret Atwood’s "The Handmaid’s Tale."

The claims cite New Hampshire's new law, signed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu last year as part of the state budget, which will limits [sic] how teachers can talk about issues surrounding race. The new law is being challenged in court by critics who argue it has had a chilling effect on teachers who fear they will face disciplinary action for fostering open discussion of important topics.

The teachers who were the subject of the complaint were flagged by the No Left Turn group for signing the "Zinn Pledge." The pledge is not new, but it has gained nationwide traction since restrictions on teaching certain race-related curriculum surrounding structural racism and Critical Race Theory, were imposed on educators across multiple states. The pledge’s website does not promote the teaching of CRT, it instead provides learning materials based on the approach to history highlighted in Zinn's book “A People’s History of the United States,” which according to the website, “emphasizes the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history.”

The pledge the teachers signed states: “We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events.”

Well, yeah, it states that. Among other things. Link below.

The national "No Left Turns in Education" site is here; I don't see any demands that books be banned from schools, but I could be missing something.

I agree with NH Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut (quoted in the article): signing "The Zinn Pledge" is in no way against any existing law. (And even if such a law did exist, it would vanish in a puff of unconstitutional smoke the minute it hit the judicial system.)

But is it true that the Zinn Education Project "does not promote the teaching of CRT"? Read this article from their website and get back to me on that.

It's pretty obvious that late Howard Zinn and his current acolytes are the brave heroes of the newspaper's story. Zinn's book A People’s History of the United States is called out twice, uncritically. Is it a required part of any local school curricula? Interesting question to ask the teachers that signed that pledge, but the newspaper article seems uninterested in that issue.

I don't think Zinn's book should be "banned"; leave it on school library shelves. But on the other hand, it has no place in school curricula without a considerable amount of counterbalance.

Michael Huemer, in a piece I've quoted before, gets to the heart of the problem:

It’s a simple point. Suppose you learned that there was a school staffed mainly by right-leaning teachers and administrators. And at this school, an oddly large number of lessons touch upon, or perhaps center on, bad things that have been done by Jews throughout history. None of the lessons are factually false – all the incidents related are things that genuinely happened and all were actually done by Jewish people. For example, murders that Jews committed, times when Jews started wars, times when Jews robbed or exploited people. (I assume that you know that it’s possible to fill up quite a lot of lessons with bad things done by members of whatever ethnic group you pick.) The lessons for some reason omit or downplay good things done by Jews, and omit bad things done by other (non-Jewish) people. What would you think about this school?

I hope you agree with me that this is a story of a blatantly racist and shitty school. It would be fair to describe the school as promoting hatred toward Jewish people, even if none of the lessons explicitly stated that one should hate Jews. I hope you also agree that no parent or voter should tolerate a public school that operated like this.

Now, what if the school’s right-wing defenders explained that there was actually nothing the slightest bit racist or otherwise objectionable about the school, because it was only teaching facts of history? All these things happened. You don’t want to lie or cover up the history, do you?

I hope you agree with me that this would be a pathetic defense.

So if you agree about that, now you understand how non-woke people (the vast majority of people) would see the parallel argument about the actual schools in present-day America when a large number of lessons involve bad things about America and/or white people.

A People's History of the United States is the hard-left equivalent to Huemer's thought experiment. But does it even meet the bottom-line test of the Zinn Pledge? Does it "refuse to lie"? Well… see Wilfred McClay's review of Mary Grabar's Debunking Howard Zinn; also see Grabar's essay at the Alexander Hamilton Institute, Why I Wrote Debunking Howard Zinn. From the latter:

Not only does Zinn put a far-left spin on events in American history, but he uses illegitimate sources (ideological New Left historians, a socialist novelist, a Holocaust-denying historian), plagiarizes, misrepresents authors’ words, leaves out critical information, and presents outright lies.

No, she's not a fan.

(She also claims that Zinn was once a Communist. The history on that is a mixed bag. FBI informants claimed he was. Zinn himself said he wasn't. There seems to be little doubt that he participated in a number of Communist front groups.)

Also of interest is this Sam Wineburg article from American Educator magazine, published by the not-particularly-conservative American Federation of Teachers. He's not without praise for Zinn. (He "lived an admirable life.") But:

A history of unalloyed certainties is dangerous because it invites a slide into intellectual fascism. History as truth, issued from the left or from the right, abhors shades of gray. It seeks to stamp out democratic insight that people of good will can see the same thing and come to different conclusions. It imputes the basest of motives to those who view the world from a different perch. It detests equivocation and extinguishes perhaps, maybe, might, and the most execrable of them all, on the other hand. For the truth has no hands.

Such a history atrophies our tolerance for complexity. It makes us allergic to exceptions to the rule. Worst of all, it depletes the moral courage we need to revise our beliefs in the face of new evidence. It ensures, ultimately, that tomorrow we will think exactly as we thought yesterday–and the day before, and the day before that.

Is that what we want for our students?

I'd say not. Were I a local conservative activist, I'd limit my immediate demands to finding out just what's being taught in schools. Is it Zinn? Or even Zinnian? If so, are there alternative takes presented? If it's Zinn-only, there's an excellent case for demanding changes.

But if that happens, it's a safe bet that my local paper won't report it fairly.


Last Modified 2022-03-01 5:43 PM EDT