The Great Gatsby

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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.