URLs du Jour

2022-04-30

  • If you need it, you know who you are. Arthur C. Brooks has some pretty good advice: How to Stop Freaking Out. Fun fact: the shrinks call that "emotional flooding", replacing a perfectly good phrase with an anodyne one.

    Brooks proposes three tactics. Here's number one:

    1. Count to 30 (and imagine the consequences).

    “When angry, count ten, before you speak,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “If very angry, an hundred.” Research has shown that this strategy works well under certain circumstances; for example, people with low self-control responded more quickly and aggressively to an insult than those with higher self-control. Imposing a 30-second response delay on everyone reduced their aggression significantly, but only when there were negative consequences (having to perform a task) to being aggressive.

    Say you receive an insulting email from a client at work, and want to fire back an indignant response. Don’t write back yet. Instead, slowly count to 30; imagine your boss reading the exchange (which she might); then imagine seeing the person face-to-face after he reads your response. Your response will be better.

    Science says thirty seconds should be enough, but I'd think some people might need more.


  • "Live Free or Die", unless you're a "Large NH project". Here's the online version of a story I watched on WMUR yesterday: Bill would require American-made steel in large NH projects. Oh no…

    "Buy American" could soon be the law when it comes to steel used in large-scale construction projects in New Hampshire.

    The steel fabricated at Novel Iron Works in Greenland goes to construction projects across New Hampshire and New England.

    "We buy raw material from the mills, and we punch it, drill it and send it out to the worksites and erect it," said Hollie Noveletsky, owner and CEO of Novel Iron Works.

    But in the global market, Novel is competing against government-subsidized foreign steel.

    Oh, good golly Miss Molly.

    Thanks to Presidents Orange and Wheezy, we currently place a 25% tariff on "foreign steel" from all but four countries (Canada. Mexico, Australia, and Argentina). And our local companies still can't compete?

    The WMUR report went on to trot out more standard protectionist arguments. National security! Local economy!

    Nobody's read Bastiat at WMUR, I'm pretty sure. Lip service was given to the opposition. Specifically, 15 words:

    Opponents of the bill contend it will increase costs by blocking out cheaper foreign steel.

    Well, sure. Duh. But you know what else happens when you increase costs of building stuff? Less stuff gets built. Fewer builders get jobs. (More arguments against steel protectionism here if you need them.)

    But thanks to New Hampshire legislators, there will probably be nicer cars in the Novel Iron Works parking lot.


  • Well, never mind then. Jacob Sullum notes a study, specifically: A CDC Study Suggests Three-Fifths of Americans Have Been Infected by the Coronavirus.

    Nearly three-fifths of Americans had been infected by the COVID-19 virus at least once as of February, according to new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The results, which are based on seroprevalence research involving blood samples from all 50 states, indicate that infection prevalence varied widely across age groups: It was about 75 percent for children 11 and younger, 74 percent for 12-to-17-year-olds, 64 percent for 18-to-49-year-olds, 50 percent for 50-to-64-year-olds, and 33 percent for Americans 65 or older.

    I'm firmly in that last category. I don't think I've been infected, but if I was, it was symptom-free as near as I can tell.

    But if you're interested, Jacob has caveats. And math. And speculation about that math. I found this bit about the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) most interesting. (Becuase I'm old.)

    Although it has long been clear that COVID-19 fatality rates are strongly correlated with age, the magnitude of the differences remains astonishing. According to the CDC's "best estimate," the IFR for people 65 or older is 9 percent, 4,500 times the IFR for children and teenagers (0.002 percent). A Lancet analysis published this month found that "age-specific IFR estimates form a J shape, with the lowest IFR [0.002 percent] occurring at age 7 years." The estimated IFR "increas[es] exponentially" with age: from about 0.06 percent for a 30-year-old to 1 percent for a 60-year-old and 20 percent for a 90-year-old.

    Did I mention that today's my birthday? The Lancet paper pegs my IFR between 2.2069% and 5.0532%.

    Yesterday, it was between 1.9893% and 4.5519%.

    Thanks, science! That will cause me to … make no changes to my life whatsoever.


  • April 26, 2022. As Ben Lieberman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute notes, that was A Bad Day for Incandescent Light Bulbs.

    Consumers are better off with choices, and worse off when federal regulators step in and take them away. That’s the best way to view today’s Department of Energy (DOE) Final Rule that will likely spell the end of the road for incandescent light bulbs.

    DOE asserts that it is required by law to create a 45-lumens-per-watt (LPW) minimum efficiency level for all light bulbs, which incandescent bulbs cannot meet without prohibitively expensive modifications. But as CEI and 14 other free market organizations argued in our comments to the agency last January, the applicable statutory provisions do not compel the agency to do so. We also argued that the 45 LPW standard would violate the consumer protections in the law that forbid the agency from setting efficiency standards that have the effect of reducing available choices.

    "Never mind, we're in power, so…"

    Not for the first, or last, time, quoting the WSJ editorialists:

    Why do progressives think any idea they come up with has to be imposed by political coercion? You know the answer. Because they believe in their superior moral virtue, and they like to order other people around.


  • Slaying the sacred cow. Richelle Wagner diagnoses the social pathology: The Problem Isn't With Social Media; It's With Democracy.

    Jonathan Haidt, in his article “Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid,” is nostalgic for the past before social media allowed us plebs to freely communicate with each other on social media. Our propensity to form mobs of like-minded political communities, share news stories that outrage us, and, shockingly, affect the outcome of elections. How dare we? Who do we think we are? We are obviously too stupid to be allowed such power. After all, we even share dangerous information about vaccines, not that the information is inaccurate, but that it leads us to behave in ways the ruling elite don’t approve of. 

    According to Haidt, we need the government to regulate social media to…save democracy. What does that even mean? What is democracy, and why does it need saving, and why should we save it? Democracy is the principle that the population should be allowed to vote for things, sometimes referendums, but usually for lying politicians. In order to “save democracy” our beliefs need to be carefully controlled by manicured media so that we don’t make the wrong decision in the voting booth, aka voting for Donald Trump. 

    If we are actually talking about democracy, nothing needs to save it, as long as we continue to have the right to vote. Unfortunately, hardly anyone is suggesting we do away with democracy. So what does he really mean? Well, he means the old order needs to be saved, and the establishment elite needs to be protected from the whims of the unwashed masses. After all, people are stupid, too stupid to think about the long-term consequences of their political decisions, and far too foolish to discern fake news. We need to stick to the tried and true way of sitting quietly all facing the front while a teacher/professor/news anchor/etc tells us what the truth is. Unapproved facts may lie in large tomes collecting dust on bookshelves, but the masses can’t be permitted to put those heretical notions into easy-to-consume soundbites and share them with each other. That would be dangerous.

    The ruling elite has had this problem before. They used to deal with Tavern culture, where men got together and drank and debated politics. And during the day intellectuals got together in coffee shops to do the same. The invention of the printing press allowed anyone, regardless of credentials, to write a pamphlet and it could be printed and reprinted by any unregulated printing press. The pamphlet “Common Sense” was published anonymously and went viral, leading to the revolutionary war. The Monarchy needed saving from the press. 

    Ms. Wagner goes on to propose a "national divorce", breaking up the US into "two, or 50, or thousands of separate, self-governing communities." I see drawbacks, but (as always) see what you think.


Last Modified 2022-05-01 5:42 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-04-29

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • On the LFOD front. My Google News Alert for "Live Free or Die" brought to my attention a Laconia Daily Sun LTE from Leonard Witt: How did Live Free or Die state pass law that encourages turning in teachers? It begins:

    The New York Times and Washington Post recently ran stories about Russian students turning in teachers who say anything negative about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    Here, Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire education commissioner, encourages students to identify and report teachers who disagree with the GOP rules on how to talk about race. Rules that caused Gov. Chris Sununu’s own diversity council members to resign, citing the chilling effect the law would have on teachers’ freedom of speech.

    Uh huh. New Hampshire: as bad as Russia! Well, Leonard continues in that vein for a while. But he's pretty slippery with his question-begging framing. What does it mean to talk about "teachers' freedom of speech"?

    Teachers are employees. You know, like Bob, a hypothetical shelf-stocker at your local grocery store. Bob's a Bernie bro. Or maybe a Trump fan. It doesn't matter.

    Bob's perfectly free to express his political opinions on social media sites (as long as he doesn't get "moderated"). He can write LTEs to his local paper (and they're free to accept or reject them). He can start his own blog, and comment on others. He can put bumper stickers on his car, erect yard signs on his lawn, even lug a soapbox to the local park and give speeches to passers-by.

    But if he starts giving speeches in the grocery store aisles to the customers who just want to pick up some Purina Dog Chow, Bob will soon find himself out of that job. Either his bosses will notice, or someone will (in Leonard's language) "turn him in".

    We don't generally consider this an attack on free speech. We consider this to be shedding an employee who's not doing his job, and probably pissing off a significant fraction of customers.

    Yes, employees don't totally lose their free speech rights in the workplace, and (to a certain extent) the specific rules differ depending on what state you're in. (That link found via 7 seconds of Googling.) But it's a safe bet that if your yammering runs up against what your employer considers to be your job duties, you won't have much of a legal leg to stand on.

    Ah, (you say) but teachers in government schools are public employees! Don't different rules apply?

    Sure. To some extent. But consider Bernadette, a hypothetical math teacher, who spends her class time reading to her students the entirety of Francisco d’Anconia's "Money Speech" from Atlas Shrugged… well, as sympathetic as I might be, she'd be justly fired, just like Bob.

    (As above, let me share an article found with a quick Google search: Rights of Teachers, from the "First Amendment Encyclopedia" at Middle Tennessee State University.)

    Let's also consider the context. Unlike Bob at the grocery store, Bernadette's audience is required to be there thanks to compulsory attendance laws; they can't just walk away, Renee. And there's a huge power differential between Bernadette and her students; in the absence of oversight, she can make their lives miserable if they don't pay attention, fail to give the right answers on her demand, or get too snotty about her behavior.

    So Leonard's wrong to blindly invoke "teachers’ freedom of speech."

    Let's take a closer look at what Leonard's so upset about. Here's the relevant NH Department of Education web page: Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education. It has a link to the dreaded "turn in your teacher" web form: "Public Education Intake Questionnaire". What are the "GOP rules on how to talk about race" that might cause someone to fill out that form? Here are the guidelines:

    This web page is being offered in support of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights (Commission) for those who believe that they, or their child, was discriminated against because their child’s school was teaching and/or advocating that one identified group is:

    • Inherently superior or inferior to people of another identified group 
    • Inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously 
    • Should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment 
    • Should not treat members of other identified groups equally  

    I'm a huge fan of free speech, and I don't see a lot of room to complain here. If my kids were being taught that, I would (a) want to know about it; (b) want to complain about it effectively; and (c) want it stopped.


  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies… to this latest entry in a series by Greg Lukianoff and Nadine Strossen athe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Would censorship have stopped the rise of the Nazis? Some people claim the answer's yes, but…

    As I [Greg] explained in my review of Eric Berkowitz’s excellent book, “Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News,” Weimar Germany had laws banning hateful speech (particularly hateful speech directed at Jews), and top Nazis including Joseph Goebbels, Theodor Fritsch and Julius Streicher actually were sentenced to prison time for violating them. The efforts of the Weimar Republic to suppress the speech of the Nazis are so well known in academic circles that one professor has described the idea that speech restrictions would have stopped the Nazis as “the Weimar Fallacy.”

    A 1922 law passed in response to violent political agitators such as the Nazis permitted Weimar authorities to censor press criticism of the government and advocacy of violence. This was followed by a number of emergency decrees expanding the power to censor newspapers. The Weimar Republic not only shut down hundreds of Nazi newspapers — in a two-year period, they shut down 99 in Prussia alone — but they accelerated that crackdown on speech as the Nazis ascended to power. Hitler himself was banned from speaking in several German states from 1925 until 1927.

    More history at the link, and Nadine Strossen adds her insight too. Weimar Germany had problems that its censorship only made worse.


  • Progressives: finding yet another thing to mandate. Jeff Jacoby responds to the latest serious proposal: The Constitution protects your right to vote — and your right not to.

    E.J. Dionne Jr. and Miles Rapoport find it intolerable that so many Americans choose not to vote. In a new book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting,” they lay out a case for making voting mandatory and penalizing nonvoters. Like many on the left, Dionne, a Washington Post columnist, and Rapoport, the former president of Common Cause, equate high voter turnout with democratic health. They note with approval that in Australia, where voting was made compulsory in 1924, turnout is generally around 90 percent. “The Australian experience suggests that when citizens know they are required to vote, they take this obligation seriously,” the authors write. (For some reason, they don’t mention North Korea, where voting is also mandatory and turnout is even higher than in Australia).

    Regardless of what other countries may do, mandatory voting is a terrible idea. Forcing citizens to vote is like forcing a couple to marry: The outcome may be legally binding, but it lacks the moral legitimacy that only a choice freely made can confer.

    The fundamental flaw with any compulsory voting scheme is that it nullifies the right to vote. By definition, if you have a right to do something, you have a right not to do it. Anything the state can make you do — pay taxes, register for the draft, vaccinate your children, get your car inspected — isn’t a right but a duty. An admirable duty, perhaps; even a vital duty. But if it is something you have to do, it isn’t a right. It’s a legal obligation.

    Practically every day I see examples of the general rule the WSJ laid out in a recent editorial:

    Why do progressives think any idea they come up with has to be imposed by political coercion? You know the answer. Because they believe in their superior moral virtue, and they like to order other people around.


  • "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Scott Sumner proposes a corollary to that well-known adage: The power to subsidize is the power to destroy.

    Subsidies are essentially the same as taxes, when viewed from a certain angle. Not surprisingly, it’s also true that the power to subsidize is the power to destroy. Suppose you are a libertarian, and you oppose government subsidies to farmers. A new president is elected in 2024 and he announces that henceforth any farmer caught criticizing the president on social media will no longer receive government farm subsidies. How should you feel about that?

    Some people might think to themselves, “This new provision will make the bad farm subsidy program smaller, and hence it’s a good thing.” I would focus on the way the new policy inhibits free speech, and oppose the policy.

    In a recent post, David Henderson correctly pointed out that in trying to punish Disney for speech they didn’t approve of, Florida’s legislators were ending a very useful public policy. I agree. But I’d go even further. I would oppose this action even if I thought Disney’s special status was a bad policy. (And perhaps it’s not so special, given that Florida has 1844 such “special” districts.)  

    Hoping Florida comes to its senses soon. Also Disney.


  • A modest proposal. It's from George F. Will: Amend the Constitution to bar senators from the presidency.

    To conserve the reverence it needs and deserves, the Constitution should be amended rarely and reluctantly. There is, however, an amendment that would instantly improve the legislative and executive branches. It would read: “No senator or former senator shall be eligible to be president.”

    Seventeen presidents were previously senators. Seven of them – Harding, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Obama, Biden — became senators after 1913, when the 17th Amendment took the selection of senators away from state legislatures. The federal government’s growth, and the national media’s focus on Washington, has increased the prominence of senators eager for prominence, although it often is the prominence of a ship’s figurehead — decorative, not functional. As president-centric government has waxed, the Senate has waned, becoming increasingly a theater of performative behaviors by senators who are decreasingly interested in legislating, and are increasingly preoccupied with using social media for self-promotion.

    Although it's worthy of your consideration, I don't think GFW's proposed amendment would be high on my list. (My own crackpot proposal is described here.)

URLs du Jour

2022-04-28

[It's All Free!]

  • Yeah, that's a problem. Jacob Sullum on what an aging totalitarian thinks: Anthony Fauci Thinks Scientific Expertise Trumps the Rule of Law.

    Anthony Fauci was "surprised and disappointed" by last week's ruling against the mask mandate for travelers issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "This is a CDC issue," President Joe Biden's top medical adviser told CNN. "It should not have been a court issue."

    Fauci, who objects to federalism as well as judicial review, embodies the mild-mannered arrogance of technocrats who assume their scientific expertise trumps the rule of law. Because they believe they know what is best for us, they are dismayed by any attempt to limit their influence or restrain their power.

    Jacob notes (younger totalitarian) Jen Psaki's enthusiastic agreement: "Public health decisions shouldn't be made by the courts. They should be made by public health experts."

    The idea that "public health" is some sort of trump card that entitles government authorities to enforce edicts on the citizenry without worrying about legal niceties is dangerous and appalling.

    You know what other things "public health experts" have deemed to be threats?

    Of course: Guns.

    Climate Change.

    Racism.

    Sexism.

    And yes, even Capitalism itself.

    Statists in white coats are forever looking for excuses to chop away at liberty.


  • Not about Achilles. Bryan Caplan notes something darned odd: The Heel Heuristic.

    You discover that your favorite movie star is a full-blown heel. He cheated on his spouse, got caught, and ended up divorced. Now, he’s estranged from his kids.

    Question: How do you respond? Do you boycott his future movies? Stop watching his earlier movies? Treat him as an unperson?

    Or do you shrug in disappointment, muse “Well, it’s really none of my business” - and continue to enjoy the star’s work?

    Bryan notes that the "none of my business" course is the common and defensible choice. But:

    Now consider each the following other actions.

    1. Exposing yourself to acquaintances in your hotel room.

    2. Using the N-word during standup comedy.

    3. Affirming the biological reality of gender.

    4. Using a racial epithet on camera when you didn’t know you were being filmed.

    5. Posting a sexist tweet.

    Question: Are any of these actions remotely as bad as being a full-blown heel - a man who cheats on his wife, gets divorced, and stops seeing his kids?

    Honestly, I doubt almost anyone sincerely thinks so.

    And yet, Bryan points out, those latter violations have been used as excuses for cancellation. He advises people to adopt a general equanimity toward the behavior and opinions of others that don't affect you.

    I'll admit I haven't always followed Bryan's advice. I've self-cancelled a small number of celebrities due either to their Commie sympathies, or their display of contempt for people sharing my political sympathies: Jane Fonda, Bonnie Raitt, Steven King, Ken Jennings, Don Winslow.

    Well, I still watch Ken Jennings when he shows up on Jeopardy! or The Chase. But I stopped buying his books. Library only! Same for Winslow.

    (And I admit I'm sort of relieved when it's Mayim Bialik's turn to host Jeopardy!. I've heard she's kind of a loon, and I know she uses her neuroscience credentials to hawk bogus supplements. I like her anyway.)

    But, bottom line, it's equally clear that if I totally shut out heels and political idiots from my cultural consumption, I'd wind up … well, with a much more restricted diet. And just imagine the due diligence I'd have to apply in monitoring authors and actors for unacceptable behavior and ideas!

    Yeah, Bryan's probably right about this.


  • But speaking of heels… UnPopulist author Aviezer Tucker makes a strained metaphor: Putin’s Achilles Heel Is Buried Beneath the Boot of His Totalitarianism. He makes an interesting distinction (and I'm fond of making distinctions):

    Many commentators have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of becoming an autocrat who is using his invasion of Ukraine as cover for turning Russia into an authoritarian state. This analysis is wrong; worse, it’s misleading.

    In fact, Putin has been directing a gradual totalitarian restoration in Russia since his ascent to power more than two decades ago. We are now witnessing the denouement of this process. Understanding the totalitarian — not authoritarian — nature of Putin’s restoration is vitally important for understanding not just Russia’s present state, but also its future and the various ways in which Putin’s regime might be susceptible to collapse.

    It occurs to me that I probably have been guilty of mixing up the concepts of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Including stuff I just wrote a couple items back. I'll be honest and leave them alone, as examples of my sloppy thinking. But I'll try to be more careful in the future. And probably often fail.


  • How long before they start tearing down the Walt Disney statues? Jonah Goldberg writes on the recent battle in the culture war: DeSantis Beat Disney—Then the Mob Wanted More.

    Florida recently passed the Parental Rights in Education bill (tendentiously called the “Don’t Say Gay” law by detractors). The Walt Disney Company, under CEO Bob Chapek, tried to stay out of the controversy. But a pincer movement of internal and external political pressure forced the company to publicly oppose the bill.

    Worse, a video of a Disney meeting at which executives boasted of their “not at all secret” agenda to incorporate gay and transgender themes into Disney content was leaked at the worst possible moment. The very online right was already in a full-blown moral panic about pedophilia, basically holding that anyone who opposed the bill was either a “groomer” or “groomer friendly.” (Once a term for adults who manipulate underage children for sexual abuse, “groomer” suddenly meant dissenters from a moral crusade.)

    Well, you know what happened next.

    I'm not dumping by Disney+ subscription, sorry. Although I despair for the upcoming flood of Disney content into which "gay and transgender themes" have been shoehorned.

    I promise I won't freak out when I (eventually) watch Lightyear's same-sex smooch. I may, however, roll my eyes.

    And no tongues! No tongues, Disney!


  • And that need is desperate. David French hangs out a help-wanted sign: Stoics Needed.

    In moments of crisis or trouble, do you look to the people who are losing their minds? Or do you find yourself immediately gravitating to those who remain calm?

    I’m reminded of an amusing moment shortly after I returned from Iraq. I was back with my reserve unit, and a young soldier called one of our veteran officers and declared that he was dealing with a “crisis.”

    “A crisis?” The officer answered. “Are there body parts on the floor?”

    The soldier paused, obviously confused. “No sir.”

    “Well then, we’ve got a problem, not a crisis. Let’s deal with it.”

    The point was made. Don’t automatically escalate the stakes of any given problem. Pause. Take a breath. Decide the proportionate response.

    In my perfect world, schools would still teach about slavery and Jim Crow, etc. But they would dial that stuff back about 25%, and make room for teaching about stoicism. No indoctrination, just… put it out there as a possible lifestyle choice.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-27

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Did Elon Musk pay a 3.27% tax rate? Fortunately, Elizabeth Nolan Brown is here to answer: No, Elon Musk Didn’t Pay a 3.27 Percent Tax Rate.

    "Musk paid an effective tax rate of 3.27%" claims Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.). Politicians love to lament misinformation and disinformation on social media…but they seem to make an exception for themselves. The latest case in point comes from Democrats' rhetoric around taxes paid by Elon Musk.

    The Tesla and SpaceX CEO recently became progressive enemy of the week after striking a deal to buy Twitter and promising to institute—gasp—policies more friendly to free speech. Musk's move has spawned a whole host of weird freakouts and demands, including insistence that Musk owning Twitter means we must reform Section 230 (the federal law that helps shield digital platforms from some legal liabilities for user content) and that it will help Donald Trump win the presidency in 2024. Along with this hysteria has come all sorts of Musk criticism and attacks that are occasionally justified but largely divorced from reality.

    This includes some seriously skewed information about Musk's tax burden. On Monday, Jayapal tweeted: "Just a reminder that from 2014-2018, Elon Musk paid an effective tax rate of 3.27%. The average working family pays an average tax rate of 13%. It's time for a wealth tax in this country."

    Well, no. ENB cites reliable data (albeit illegally leaked from the IRS) that Musk actually paid at a 27% ratein that period. Why the discrepancy?

    Jayapal seems to have reached her "alternative facts" (to use a vintage Trump-administration term) by calculating Musk's tax rate based on a system she wishes we used rather than the calculation system we actually use.

    Ah. Well, of course, PolitiFact caught this too, right?

    No. As I type, PolitiFact has only exerted itself to check Jayapal once, for this Instagram post:

    Rated "Mostly True"! Because of quibbles about the cost of the hospital stay.

    Which is garbage, of course. Because, as much as Jayapal and PolitiFact would like you to believe otherwise, "free" is not synonymous with "paid for by somebody else".

    And, for that matter, the $17,094 value is misleading the other way. Because some or all of that cost, in nearly all cases, will also be "paid for by somebody else". I.e., "free" in the Jayapal lexicon.


  • But back to Elon… An entertaining article from James Freeman: Bezos and the New York Times Have a Question for Elon. Here's Bezos:

    Now, to be fair, Bezos continued with a "probably not" answer. But:

    This would be a legitimate question if raised by people in almost any organization other than the New York Times or the Washington Post. The premise of Mr. Musk’s purchase is to rescue Twitter from the managers and staff who allowed the social media company to become not an open communications platform but an ideological enforcer. And there is no better example of Twitter’s assault on free inquiry and open dialogue than its suppression of the New York Post’s 2020 reporting on Biden family business overseas, especially in China. The New York Times and the Washington Post adopted a similar approach, generally ignoring the disturbing evidence uncovered by the New York Post about the Bidens and China except when they were actively disparaging it.

    Jeff, of course, owns the Washington Post.


  • I bet you already know why, but… At the Daily Signal, Douglas Blair explains: Why the Left Wants Twitter Over Tolstoy in Our Schools.

    A powerful group of educators called the National Council of Teachers of English recently released a statement calling on schools to “decenter book reading and essay writing as the pinnacles of English language arts education.”  

    But why?

    To more thoroughly push its leftist ideology, of course.

    The statement goes on to support critical pedagogies, referring to Marxist ideas, a la critical race theory. It reads, 

    Educators value the use of teaching and learning practices that help to identify and disrupt the inequalities of contemporary life, including structural racism, sexism, consumerism, and economic injustice. Critical pedagogies help learners see themselves as empowered change agents, able to imagine and build a better, more just world.

    The National Council of Teachers of English have been up to such anti-literacy shenanigans for a long time. I was reminded of a 1979 article from Richard Mitchell, aka the Underground Grammarian (skip down to "Three Mile Island Syndrome").

    IF you were lucky enough to have been a reader of this journal in March of 1978, you may now remember where you heard it first. In that issue, we (more or less) accurately predicted not only the recent mishap at Three Mile Island but also the collision of a southbound Metroliner (a crack train, that) with a hastily abandoned repair vehicle of some sort. “We are,” we told you, “in the hands of people who say they know what they’re doing, but they don’t.” We called them “self-styled experts failing in the work they said they could do and excusing themselves because the work is difficult.” Those are precisely the people who smash us into tampers and bring us to the brink of “super-prompt critical power excursion,” as the old AEC once called “meltdown.” It sure is good to know, isn’t it, that there couldn’t possibly be any such ninnies scratching their heads and tapping the dials down in the bunkers and silos of the North American Air Defense Command.

    Curiously enough, in the same piece we cited Adam Smith’s observation that when people of the same calling consort together, the result is always a conspiracy against the public. That, in the context of recent calamities, must bring at once to every mind dark suspicions about the National Council of Teachers of English. In every control room and laboratory in America, in the cockpits of aeroplanes and the swivel-chairs of agencies, wherever meters are read and decisions made and dials twiddled, this sinister confraternity has planted unwitting agents. Dr. Fu Manchu never had it so good.

    It wasn’t even hard. All they had to do was convince us that painstaking accuracy in small details was nyet humanistic and not worth fussing about in the teaching of reading and writing. They seized and promulgated, for instance, the bizarre notion that guessing at unknown words was more creative than learning the sounds of letters, thus providing us with whole bureaucracies full of nitwits whose writing, at best, is made out of more or less approximate words that might sort of mean something or other. After all, if your teacher applauds your creativity when you read “supper” for “dinner,” you’re little likely to grow up caring about the difference between parameter and perimeter.

    In the past 43 years, has the NCTE gotten better? Guess not.


  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines Disconfirmed. The Dispatch fact-checker, Alec Dent, asks and answers: Has a Wikipedia Founder Complained About the Site’s Liberal Bias?. From Facebook, a septuagenarian comments:

    Amusing:

    The post was marked as potential misinformation by Facebook’s fact-checking algorithm. It is, however, correct. Larry Sanger created Wikipedia with co-founder Jimmy Wales. Sanger left Wikipedia in 2002 and has been critical of the website since then, alleging issues with the management of the site, a “dysfunctional community” of contributors, and error-filled content. Sanger has discussed what he perceives as a bias in Wikipedia articles since 2010, when he told Slate:“I do think that there is a liberal bias on most topics where such a bias is possible, and I think that’s probably a reflection of the fact that, again, the people who work the most on Wikipedia tend to be really comfortable with the most radically egalitarian views. And those people tend to be either liberals or libertarians.”

    I link to Wikipedia all the time, but it's pretty clear there's a subset of activist contributors. I haven't noticed any particularly libertarian bias, but that could be me.


  • Dumb but amusing WIRED article. Eleanor Cummins ("freelance science journalist writing about death, disaster, and bowling balls") has a tall order for us homo sapiens homeboys: With the Clock Running Out, Humans Need to Rethink Time Itself. Sample:

    Conceptions of time have changed dramatically across human history, from cyclical to linear, religious to secular. But “scientific” time, based on a traditional Newtonian conception of time’s arrow moving forward at a regimented speed, is the timepiece of modernity, of capitalism, and of liberal democracy. While more recent physics research has challenged this premise, “clock time” is still used to structure our electoral cycles, prison sentences, immigration policies, and more, says political philosopher Elizabeth Cohen, author of The Political Value of Time. In this context, time is not an inert substance, but the very soil from which democracy springs.

    Many wealthy countries, however, are increasingly post-clock. Instead, people’s day-to-day lives operate on “network time,” says Robert Hassan, a professor of media and communication at the University of Melbourne and author of Empires of Speed. Since the 1960s, networked computing, which makes everything from social media to Zoom calls possible, has allowed for a kind of connectivity that collapses both space and time. The result is that democratic politics seems interminably slow relative to the pace of commerce and culture, and people’s dual identities as citizens and consumers feel more and more at odds.

    Well, anything specific? Let's see… Ah:

    While politics at the speed of TikTok must be discouraged, democratic reform can help us better account for deep time. For example, the voting age in the US should be lowered—to at least age 12—to give those who will be living with the fullest effects of climate change and other policy decisions a voice. Democracies should also employ age-weighted voting, which gives certain demographics more votes than others as a means of elevating their perspective. For example, everyone under 21 might get three votes, while those between 22 and 59 would get two votes, and those over 60 would only get one vote. Together, these interventions would help overcome our default devaluation of the future and put more power in the hands of those who will live through it.

    Because nothing says "democratic reform" more than giving a 12-year-old five times more political power than me.


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

URLs du Jour

2022-04-26

  • Free at last! Mr. Ramirez comments toonishly:

    [Free at Last]

    We'll see. Could be interesting.


  • There's plenty of room for improvement. Charles C. W. Cooke has ideas about that: How Elon Musk Can Improve Twitter.

    If Musk is to succeed in this endeavor, he ought to take three immediate steps to improve the platform. First, he should replace Twitter’s vague guidelines with a long list of more specific rules. I know, I know — that sounds paradoxical. Usually, I am of the view that the fewer the rules, the better the outcome for liberty. But, in this case, I suspect that the opposite is true. “Don’t Be Evil” might be a good policy for a society that agrees upon the nature of “evil,” but, in one that does not, it is next to useless. As a result, Musk ought to insist on a larger set of narrower limits — “You may not threaten to kill another user” — and to assiduously avoid any of the broader concepts that have been captured and corrupted by the DEI-types that are ruining the American workplace. Twitter should not promise to protect “dignity,” or to avoid “harm,” or to uphold “equality.” It should not vow to keep people “safe,” or to outlaw “hatred,” or to combat “misinformation.” Hell, given the absurd hierarchies of immutable characteristics that progressivism has imposed, it should not base any rules on race, gender, or religion, either. Instead, it should focus on the specifics. “You may not publish another user’s physical address” is a good rule. “You may not use Twitter in the commission of a crime, as determined by a court” is a good rule. If certain words are to be verboten, Musk should list them. Sure, a Terms & Conditions page with 500 items on it would be a touch unwieldy, but it would ultimately be less of a problem than having five intrinsically vague statements that accord carte blanche to the spoiled children of Oberlin.

    That's one step. The second: "fire pretty much everyone who has ever been involved in Twitter’s content moderation." ("But I was just following orders!")

    The third: "dramatically increase transparency." Twitter's failure on this part bothered me the most, even as a spectator. Twitter's moderation/suspension/banning policies seemed more like the Star Chamber at times. These rules need to be hashed out in the open.


  • That's entertainment! Liz Wolfe notes the screams of the wicked witches: Elon Musk Buys Twitter, Twitter's Biggest Egos Melt Down.

    Over the last week, SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk arranged $46.5 billion in financing to follow through on his unsolicited offer to Twitter's board to buy the social media site from them. This afternoon, the board accepted Musk's offer to buy the company for $54.20 a share.

    Long a Twitter power user/troll/loudmouth, Musk bought a 9.2 percent stake in the company last month, becoming the largest shareholder, before deciding he'd rather have the whole thing.

    Cue hysteria! Musk haters have taken to the site to declare that Donald Trump will now probably win the 2024 election, that Musk's bid is really about white power, that Section 230 must be reformed, and that, yes, Musk's new policies will be lethal. (Perhaps the death toll will be even larger than net neutrality's!)

    About that "Trump will now probably win the 2024 election" assertion: well, first, I hope not. But second: you really have to wonder about the folks who profess to "love democracy", but worry that voters are such idiots that Trump's (hypothetical) tweets will sway their votes.


  • DHS delenda est. J.D. Tuccille observes: The Department of Homeland Security Is Broken and Dangerous.

    Founded 20 years ago in the panic-stricken days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was originally tasked with guarding the borders and preventing similar future assaults from abroad. Since then, the agency's focus has shifted to enemies closer to home in the form of Americans the government has tagged as potential threats. That's unfortunate, because throughout its brief existence, DHS has demonstrated poor judgment, worse respect for individual liberties, and an impressive inability to implement necessary reforms of the sort that watchdogs now recommend.

    The shift from chasing external threats to looking for those found inside the country is no surprise to anybody familiar with DHS's political sensitivities. Just as Republicans fret over immigrants, Democrats worry about radicals under the bed. Donald Trump's loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election meant DHS announcements stopped talking about border walls in favor of warning about "domestic violent extremists" motivated by the "online proliferation of false or misleading narratives." But it's still the same plodding bureaucracy with lots of resources and only a modicum of decency.

    Makes you kind of nostalgic for the McCarthy era.


  • "We don't want your stinkin' feminist kind, 'round here," drawled the Harvard student. Caroline Downey reports the latest from Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Disinvites Feminist Philosopher over Transgender Views.

    A feminist philosopher was disinvited from speaking at Harvard University for penning academic literature that pushed back on some demands of the transgender movement.

    Dr. Devin Buckley had prepared a highly specialized talk on British romanticism “that had nothing to do with gender or feminism,” she told National Review, until coordinator Erin Saladin of the college’s English Department unearthed some of her scholarship on the Internet. She discovered that Buckley is a board member of Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a radical feminist organization that has been outspoken about maintaining sex segregation in women-exclusive spaces to protect vulnerable females. Because of this involvement, Saladin determined that Buckley was a guest for whom the department could not provide a platform.

    The WoLF site has the disinvitation letter (from an anonymous Harvard facule) and Devin Buckley's eloquent response. From the latter:

    […] I had no intention of bringing up gender or feminism at a talk on the relevance of Plotinian Neo-Platonism and Vedic Philosophy to transcendent ontologies of early nineteenth century British poets.

    I'm tempted to say: so much the worse for your audience.


  • We could all use it. Daniel B. Klein suggests we need A Better Understanding of Justice.

    “There is simply no such thing as ‘social’ justice,” writes Jordan Peterson. “Whatever those who rely on this cliched phrase are aiming at has nothing whatsoever to do with justice. Justice is meted out at the level of the suffering individual.” Indeed, if the term “social justice” rightly suggests a larger idea of justice beyond simply leaving others in peace, it offers an unhelpful explanation of what that larger idea might entail. Instead of seeking to divine the meaning of “social justice,” a better course would be to consider Adam Smith’s three-layered concept of justice.

    In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith distinguishes between commutative justice, or not messing with other people’s stuff; distributive justice, or making a becoming use of what is one’s own; and estimative justice, or estimating objects properly. When a claim not to have our possessions messed with is made against government, it is called liberty. Yet even classical liberals can sense that justice extends further. What, after all, justifies commutative justice or liberty but some larger principles?

    Klein makes some fine distinctions, all the better to avoid what he terms "sloppier thinking". I'm currently reading a pretty good (so far) book, Unequivocal Justice by Christopher Freiman. Putting adjectives in front of "justice" gives me qualms—maybe we should just use different words entirely, without trying to piggyback on whatever good feelings readers get from "justice".

URLs du Jour

2022-04-25

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It's about time. If doomsaying is your thing, David French has you covered: John Adams' Fear Has Come to Pass.

    Writing eleven years after the ratification of the Constitution, Adams wrote to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts to outline the responsibilities of the citizens of the new republic. The letter contains the famous declaration that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” But I’m more interested in the two preceding sentences:

    Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.

    Put in plain English, this means that when public virtue fails, our constitutional government does not possess the power to preserve itself. Thus, the American experiment depends upon both the government upholding its obligation to preserve liberty and the American people upholding theirs to exercise that liberty towards virtuous purposes. 

    Well, I see his point. He's obviously heartfelt and earnest here.

    But let me quote myself from a book post I made last year for Joel Kotkin's The Coming of Neo-Feudalism:

    Back when I was much younger, I was very impressed by works of American gloom and doom. One of my earliest memories of National Review was a late-1960s article drawing earnest attention to the similarities between America (of that time) and Weimar Germany. I still have Charlotte Twight's America's Emerging Fascist Economy (1975) on my bookshelf; also present is The Ominious Parallels by Leonard Peikoff (1982); Lost Rights by James Bovard (1995);… well, you get the idea. I also devoured a number of how-to-survive-economic-doomsday tomes, of which there were piles in the 70s.

    You'll note that we're still here. Bad as things can get, and have been, it's far from Nazi/Commie totalitarianism presiding over an economic system in rubble.

    Over a year later, and we're still here. Doomcrying will never go out of style.

    But to be fair to French: he could be right to despair. Doomcryers are occasionally correct.


  • Speaking of doomcryers‥ let me link to an Earth Day post from Ronald Bailey: After 53 Earth Days, Society Still Hasn't Collapsed.

    Cassandra in Greek mythology was the Trojan priestess who was cursed to utter true prophecies but never to be believed. Ideological environmentalism features a cohort of reverse Cassandras: They make false prophecies that are widely believed. Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 classic, The Population Bomb, prophesied, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich continues to predict imminent overpopulation doom.

    Another reverse Cassandra was Rachel Carson who warned in her 1962 Silent Spring of impending cancer epidemics sparked by humanity's heedless use of synthetic pesticides. In fact, even as pesticide use has risen, rates of cancer incidence and mortality have been falling for 30 years.

    On the occasion of the 53rd Earth Day, let's take a look at the prophecies of another reverse Cassandra, the Club of Rome's 1972 The Limits to Growth report by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William Behrens. The book and its dire forecasts were introduced to the world at a March 1972 conference at the Smithsonian Institution. Let's focus primarily on the report's nonrenewable resource depletion calculations. The 1973 oil crisis was widely taken as confirming the book's dire scenarios projecting imminent nonrenewable resource depletion.

    By the way, one of the cited authors, Dennis Meadows, was a longtime professor at the University Near Here, now emeritized. In the interest of equal time, here's a recent interview he gave to a sympathetic interviewer. I think Bailey's more on target here, but see what you think.


  • Should we ban despicable opinions? Jaff Jacoby looks at one of the most despicable ones: It's a mistake to ban Holocaust denial. Having a number of Holocaust victims in his family tree, you couldn't much blame him if he thought otherwise. But:

    As an American, I cherish the First Amendment and the principle of unfettered expression it embodies. To ban something as odious as Holocaust denial may seem a modest price to pay to maintain a minimal level of social hygiene. Who is harmed, after all, if scurrilous hatemongers are forced to keep their malicious ideas to themselves?

    The answer is that we are all harmed. It's dangerous to empower the state to punish ideas — even ideas that are cruel, obnoxious, and false. A government that can criminalize Holocaust denial this week can criminalize other opinions next week. "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other," wrote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1929, "it is the principle of free thought. Not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate."

    That is the first reason Holocaust denial shouldn't be added to the criminal code. But it's not the only one.

    Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt, recently confirmed by the Senate as the new US envoy for combating antisemitism, makes the point that such laws amount to intellectual surrender. In a 2016 debate at Oxford University, Lipstadt argued that "laws against Holocaust denial suggest that we do not have the facts, figures, and extensive documentation to prove precisely what happened." Never was there a genocide more meticulously recorded by its perpetrators while it was underway or more comprehensively described by scholars and survivors in the years since.

    Jacoby's bottom line: "You either believe in free expression for people you loathe or you don't believe in free expression at all."


  • And don't ask me for my pronouns. Leor Sapir has linguistic advice for his readers: Don’t Say “They”. He looks at some fundamental incoherence in the woke rhetoric:

    Start with the fact that what makes most transgender people transgender is precisely the fact that they conform to gender conventions—albeit those of the opposite sex. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists conformity to “stereotypes” as a relevant criterion for diagnosing childhood gender dysphoria. Federal courts have ruled that transgender boys really are boys, and thus deserve to use the boys’ restrooms at school because they look and behave like typical boys. If gender is an “identity” wholly independent of reproductive traits (of which there can be only two complementary sets), then there is no logical reason that there should be only two gender identities. Indeed, there would have to be as many gender identities as there are people, since each person’s way of expressing gender is unique and irreplaceable. As one federal judge conceded in a rare moment of candor, restrooms separated by male and female “gender identity” rely no less on stereotypes than does the conventional practice.

    This presents a problem for the notion of gender identity used by diversity trainers, academic bureaucrats, federal judges, mainstream progressive and LGBT advocacy groups, and Democratic Party leaders: that gender is a core, immutable, and socially valuable aspect of the human person. According to superstar academic and godmother of queer theory Judith Butler, gender is not an innate property but a system of social oppression that gains legibility through repetitious “performance.” “Gender identity” is a “regulatory fiction,” Butler writes. A girl who seeks hormones and surgeries to make her body conform to social expectations regarding the male sex is not being a brave nonconformist but “submitting to the norm of the knife.” She is perhaps even more conformist than her “cisgender” peers considering the pain she is willing to endure to “pass” within the traditional “gender binary.” Feminists and gay rights advocates have echoed this line of argument.

    But if you do ask for my pronouns, I say they are "it/it/its/itself". And I demand they be used, because we all need a laugh.


  • Amtrak delenda est. The Antiplanner looks at a minor money sink, and extracts the lesson du jour: It Takes Money to Lose Money.

    Just before the pandemic, Amtrak proudly announced that it lost only $29.5 million operating passenger trains in 2019 and expected to make an operating profit in 2020. Of course, that didn’t happen thanks to the pandemic, and what’s more, it was lying about losing only $29.5 million; its actual losses were closer to $1.4 billion, a mere 46 times more than it claimed.

    Now that Congress has flooded Amtrak with money in the infrastructure bill, however, the agency no longer even cares about whether its passenger trains come close to covering their costs. Like any good soviet agency, it recently released its five-year plan, and it projects it will lose more than a billion dollars a year for almost every year in the future.

    Needless to say, the billion-dollar-a-year loss is also a lie as it ignores the same factors as the claimed $29.5 million loss in 2019. First, it counts state subsidies to Amtrak as possenger revenues. Second, it pretends depreciation, the second-largest cost on its operating budget, doesn’t exist. Plus, the five-year plan reveals a third way Amtrak lied in 2019: it includes a line item called “ancillary expense,” which as near as I can tell includes costs that can’t be attributed to any specific train. This was $309 million in 2019, meaning actual losses that year were $1.7 billion.

    I've been invited to a wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota this August. Amtrak coach fares from Boston: $154, each way I assume. Flights are slightly more expensive; Google Maps says "from $223".

    But a flight takes slightly over three hours. Amtrak will make the trip in 34 hours and 13 minutes. (A four hour connection in Chicago.)

Bye Bye Baby

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This comes pretty close to "phoning it in" territory. It's not awful, just lazy and formulaic. I know, I know: what did I expect? It's the tenth book in the Ace Atkins-authored implementation of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. And I guess Mr. Atkins is OK with Parker's name appearing large and loud at the top of the book cover while is own is relegated small and discreet at the bottom.

As long as suckers like me keep buying the books, I guess he'll keep writing them. [Update: wrong! See below.]

The story this time: Spenser is hired to provide security for Boston's current CongressCritter, Carolina Garcia-Ramirez. She's up for re-election, she's running against the guy she defeated in the primary last time around. (Conveniently, he's labeled a "chauvinist pig" early on.) She has also received credible death threats. Being a black woman, there are often vile racist and sexist insults attached. Some loon threw a cup of urine on her down in D. C. There's a white supremacist group, the "Minutemen", that seem to be acting suspiciously. There are also mob ties.

Fortunately, longtime buddy Hawk is free to help out. And eventually, Spenser's somewhat newer buddy, Zebulon Sixkill, comes in from California to assist too. The bad guys don't have much of a chance.

I'd say Atkins is about 90% of the way toward a faithful mimic of Parker's prose style. Not bad. He's a little heavy on having Spenser drop literary allusions into his conversations. Spenser utters "We'd be fools not to" once. And Hawk says it too!

Like the previous entry in the Spenser series, the book has a "ripped from the headlines, but fictionalized" feel. The Congresswoman Carolina Garcia-Ramirez is an obvious takeoff on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; she's even referred to as "CGR" in places. Her opponents are cartoonish, exclusively racists and sexists, mostly violence-prone. There's no indication that Carolina's anything other than a saint, crusading for the little guys.

Nothing particularly unexpected happens. The thrilling climax is not that thrilling. There's a possible setup for the next book. But…

Atkins' website announced the book this way: "Ace’s last Spenser novel hits stores today." Hm. "Last" as opposed to "latest"? Am I reading too much into that?

Update: No, I was not reading too much into that: Ace is done.


Last Modified 2022-04-25 6:44 AM EDT

Everything Everywhere All At Once

[5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Everything Everywhere All At Once]

Wow, what a great movie. If Michelle Yeoh doesn't win the Best Actress Oscar next year, I'll never watch the Oscars again. Add a Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis. Best Supporting Actor, Ke Huy Quan or James Hong? Hm, I'm torn there.

Yes (sigh) I haven't watched the Oscars in years. But if the right people are nominated, I might.

Ms. Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang. Her dysfunctional family lives in a cluttered apartment above their failing Simi Valley laundromat. While Ms. Yeoh is justly famous for her martial arts skills, her character's marital arts skills are sorely put to the test here. Her husband (Mr. Quan) is considering divorce, her lesbian daughter is dissatisfied with her mothering skills, she's been long at odds with her aging and demanding father (Mr. Hong) and (worst of all) she's in tax trouble with the IRS, specifically agent Deirdre Beaubeirdra, played very unglamorously by Ms. Curtis.

As it develops, Evelyn is seriously confused between hobby expenses (not deductible) and business expenses. (Ah, I remember the days of filing Schedule C!)

But to make matters worse, there are numerous leaks from nearby multiverses. (There's a gimmick that allows those different-multiverse Evelyns to inhabit each other's bodies temporarily.) And she's called to save the various multiverses from destruction by an unexpected menace.

Fortunately, one of those multiverse Evelyns does have major martial arts skills.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-24

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Color me unsurprised. Eric Boehm pays attention to a famed statist so we don't have to: Fauci Says CDC Mandates 'Should Not Be a Court Issue'.

    Anthony Fauci is "surprised and disappointed" with this week's federal court ruling that overturned the mask mandate on planes, trains, and public transportation.

    That's not because the president's chief medical advisor disagrees with the substance of Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle's ruling. No: Fauci thinks the problem is that the courts have any power over public health edicts at all.

    "Those types of things really are the purview of the [Centers for Disease Control]. This is a public health issue," Fauci told CNN's Kasie Hunt on Thursday. "We are concerned about that—about courts getting involved in things that are unequivocally public health decisions. I mean, this is a CDC issue; it should not be a court issue."

    Considering how much of his life he has spent working within or alongside the federal government, Fauci's belief that the CDC ought to exist outside of the constitutional limitations applied to government actions is stunning. This is either a complete misunderstanding of the American system's basic functions or an expression of disdain toward the rule of law.

    Eric finds Fauci's wish for the CDC's power to be "stunning." I disagree. It's a relative bedrock of faith for the progressive religion that Your Federal Government is here to "solve problems". And if little things like the "Constitution" or the "rule of law" get in the way of your imagined "solution"? Well, so much the worse for those roadblocks.

    Fauci's attitude isn't "stunning". It's completely expected. Dr. Fauci moved immediately from his medical residency to the NIH back in 1968. He's been swimming in the Beltway Swamp ever since.

    I'd be surprised if a majority of Beltway Bureaucrats didn't have the same statist attitudes as does Fauci. The system selects for that sort of mentality.


  • Two names I'm surprised to see so close together. I'm pretty sure it's a first, and Hannah Frankman accomplishes it: What Chris Rock (and Bastiat) Can Teach You about Tax Withholding. It's an excellent essay, but skipping down to where she makes point promised in the headline:

    Tax withholding gives the lie to the popular claim that taxes are voluntary payments for government services rendered. If that were the case, the government wouldn’t have to concoct schemes for separating citizens from their money. People would be excited to write a check at the end of each year for the public services they were receiving – or even feel like they were getting a steal.

    But people don’t get excited about paying their taxes, and they’re not voluntary. They’re what Frederic Bastiat called “legal plunder” – the legally-sanctioned theft of property from an individual. As Bastiat explained:

    “Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. [...] Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim—when he defends himself—as a criminal. In short, there is a legal plunder.”

    Chris Rock echoed Bastiat in a classic bit about tax withholding: “You don’t even pay taxes. They take tax. You get the check, money gone. That ain’t a payment – that’s a jack.”

    It's been years since I got a W-2, and so have to cough up estimated taxes (to both Washington and Concord) four times a year. Probably has made me (even) more a libertarian.


  • Everything you know is wrong. Well, probably not everything. But if you had to rely on normal news sources, you might think the science has settled: PFAS ("per - and polyfluoroalkyl substances") are a deadly menace. At the American Council on Science and Health, Susan Goldhaber brings some pushback. Skipping down to the summary;

    It is very rare to have a chemical with so much human data that shows so little adverse effect. Multiple studies did not find an association between PFOA [perfluorooctanoic acid, a PFAS], and immune effects, developmental effects, or cancer. Yes, there are some positive studies, but a fair and accurate assessment involves examining the totality of the data and reaching a conclusion based on all studies.

    The reason why PFAS is targeted as “dangerous” is two-fold. The media thrives on scary headlines. But the government-science complex, government agencies, scientists, and academicians, have created an environment where EPA is giving out millions of dollars to fund PFAS research - there is absolutely no benefit to a scientist in pointing out that the human studies indicate that these chemicals are quite safe.

    In terms of the EPA’s proposal to classify all PFAS as “hazardous substances,” it is good that EPA has started with an ANPRM, the earliest step in the rulemaking process, giving the public extra time for comment and the court challenges, which are sure to follow. However, as a scientist, I believe it is not too late to present a more balanced review of the data, which is not nearly as scary as the headlines would lead us to believe.

    PFAS may not cause cancer, but Google confirms my memory that they have been a leading cause of scary headlines in my local paper.


  • One might say: a surprising amount of fun. Kevin D. Williamson reveals Why it’s so much fun watching Elon Musk slap Twitter in the face.

    Musk, who calls himself a “free-speech absolutist,” wants to make Twitter a more free and open platform. What has spooked many of his critics — especially those within the company — is not that he plans to make the platform a moderation-free digital Wild West in which Islamic State snuff movies are treated as though they were brownie recipes but rather that he proposes to make public some aspects of the company’s decision-making processes and some of its algorithms, creating real transparency in the operations of what is today a corporate black box.

    This is likely to embarrass Twitter, whose employees exploit the arbitrary and opaque character of its operations to pursue private social and political vendettas, e.g. trying to suppress the New York Post’s coverage of Hunter Biden’s shenanigans (which you can now read about, years after the fact, in the New York Times and the Washington Post) before the 2020 election, when they would have embarrassed Joe Biden and possibly helped Donald Trump. I wrote the case against Trump — literally: My book, “The Case Against Trump,” was published in 2016 — but it is very difficult even for me to imagine a plausible rationale for denying Donald Trump a Twitter account while the Taliban has free access to the platform. Twitter’s only reliable free-speech principle is that it shuns anything that causes California progressives to run around shrieking with their dresses over their heads.

    What Musk proposes is not taking away Twitter’s ability to regulate content on its platform but rather to disinfect that process by dragging Twitter’s inner workings out of the shadows and into the sunshine.

    It's KDW's usual pyrotechnic prose, outside of the National Review paywall. Check it out. Maybe even tweet about it.


  • I usually avoid linking to the same author twice in a day, but rules are made to be broken. Kevin D. Williamson (yes, again) writes on our favorite madcap CongressCritter. Marjorie Taylor Greene: Vote Her Out, Don't Disqualify Her.

    Item 1: Marjorie Taylor Greene, the ghastly cretin who inexplicably has been foisted upon this besieged republic by the people of northwestern Georgia, is the sort of self-serving malicious dunce who should be kept as far away from political power as possible.

    Item 2: What occurred at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was part of an attempted coup d’état — the less important part; the important part was the effort the lawyers were in charge of — by means of which Donald Trump and his cronies intended to overthrow the government of the United States, nullifying the 2020 presidential election and illegitimately installing Trump in the White House after he lost to Joe Biden.

    Item 3: Items 1 and 2 do not work together quite the way some people would like for them to.

    This one might be behind the "NRPLUS" payway. Too bad.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-23

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Aren't "crusades" considered Islamophobic? Well, maybe not when a charter member of the Elect is leading. Michael Brendan Dougherty looks at a recent speech: Obama’s Crusade against Fake News.

    Former president Barack Obama went to Stanford yesterday to explain how “disinformation” is a threat to our democracy. Selected media outlets hinted that the subject of disinformation was likely to become a major theme of Obama’s post-presidency.

    Obama did Obama things. For instance, he noted that social media had enabled exciting movements, like his own election, but that it also had serious downsides and risks, like the election of Donald Trump.

    And he endorsed pleasant-sounding generalities. He’s for “whatever” changes to social media and tech companies will assist in an “inclusive democracy.” He’s against things that are against an inclusive democracy.

    MBD's summary: Obama's speech was "vague, self-serving, and contradictory." But there's probably a good reason for (at least) the vagueness…


  • Even lefties are shakin' their heads. Techdirt is a reliably "progressive" source, excoriating Republicans at every opportunity (and Republicans have given them many). But he's unafraid of pointing it out when the Emperor is less than fully dressed: Former President Obama Is Reasonably Concerned About Disinformation, But Still Doesn’t Have Much In The Way Of Solutions.

    On Thursday, former President Barack Obama gave a speech at Stanford University talking about “Challenges to Democracy in the Digital Information Realm.” It’s worth watching, even if I have some issues with it. My very short summary is that he’s much more willing than most of the pundit class to grapple with the nuances and tradeoffs (which is good, and honestly, slightly refreshing to hear!) but that doesn’t make the speech necessarily good. It still overly simplifies things, somewhat misdiagnoses the issues, and comes up with weak platitudes, rather than actual solutions.

    On the whole, it feels like he’s actually done the reading, but hasn’t fully grasped how all of these issues play together. So he can hit on some high points in a more reasonable way than most newbies to the tech policy space, but he fails to understand them at the deeper level necessary to recognize the actual tradeoffs and challenges with his ideas.

    Masnick's post is long and thoughtful. You might not agree with all of it. But this bit is telling:

    […] parts of [Obama's] speech also demonstrate the risks inherent in all of this as well — suggesting that perhaps there are some simple solutions that will magically fix things, when at this point it’s clear that’s just not true.

    That's something that should be posted above every pundit's and politician's computer screen: "WARNING: if you think you have a simple solution that will magically fix things, stop typing, and back away from the keyboard."


  • Speaking of simple solutions that will magically fix things… Nate Hochman looks at the worldview behind The Tyranny of ‘Public Health’.

    The Washington Post ran an op-ed yesterday, “Now’s not the time to dispense with covid-19 precautions,” by two public-health bureaucrats. Lucky Tran, described as “a scientist, public health communicator, and organizer with March for Science and the People’s CDC,” and Oni Blackstock, “a primary-care and HIV physician and founder and executive director of Health Justice,” lambaste “the court order this week lifting mask mandates in transportation settings” as “disastrous.” Masks, the authors argue, keep “essential spaces accessible to all, and they are far more effective when everyone wears one.”

    Aside from the dubious scientific basis for the claim (we now have evidence from more than two years of Covid policy to show that mask mandates have little to no effect on Covid infection rates), there’s one particularly telling paragraph in the piece that illustrates the broader defects in the public-health worldview:

    Pundits and even the CDC itself are emphasizing that it’s up to individuals to make their own choices about how to protect themselves depending on their risk tolerance. But this narrative goes against the foundation of public health. When a virus capable of serious illness is so widespread and not everyone has equal access to tools to protect themselves, the best way to keep everyone safe is through collective policies.

    If the past two and a half years are any indication, the authors are right to argue that the “narrative” of individual liberty “goes against the foundation of public health.” But not in the way that they think: In the Covid era, public-health experts consistently argued for the most extreme, destructive, and draconian restrictions precisely because they monomaniacally viewed the goal of public policy as reducing Covid infection rates at all costs. They recognized no other inputs — mental health, drug addiction, education outcomes, basic constitutional freedoms, and so on — in their evaluation of any given policy.

    I think I have some more on this in the pipeline for tomorrow, so stay tuned.


  • Pass the popcorn. Michael Graham looks at some fallout from a couple NH congresscritters scrambling to get re-elected: 'Shame On You!' Rep. Perez Takes to House Floor to Call Out Hassan, Pappas Over Border Policy.

    In an emotional speech from the floor of the New Hampshire House, Rep. Maria Perez accused members of the state’s federal delegation of treating voters of color like “tokens” while supporting Trump-era immigration policies.

    “I will say to the congressional delegation who’s been criticizing the previous administration about going to the border and speaking negatively about immigrants — What happened to you? You tokenized us to talk negatively about the previous administration, but now you’re utilizing immigrants to win some votes. Shame on you!” Perez said.

    Perez echoed complaints from the New Hampshire Democratic Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus which is critical of U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Chris Pappas’ right turn on immigration.

    The Hassan/Pappas sin against progressivism is in supporting the retention of "Title 42", which makes it more difficult (or impossible) for would-be immigrants to make asylum claims. I assume they both are betting this position will gain them more votes in the middle than they lose on the left. Either way, it will be forgotten after November 8.


  • We don't use the word "tawdry" enough. George F. Will provides an example of its correct usage: Biden has a tawdry new scheme to cripple charter schools.

    There is honor, of a sordid sort, in the Biden administration’s showing more gratitude to a major donor than concern for the needs of millions of children, disproportionately minorities. The administration prefers the donor, a government-employees union, over the children, even though this tawdry fidelity to a funder will exacerbate Democrats’ growing problems with Black and Hispanic voters. This is the significance of the number 97.9.

    From 1990 on, that is the lowest percentage of the American Federation of Teachers’ campaign contributions that went to Democrats. It explains the administration’s contemptible pettiness in persecuting charter schools with punitive regulations intended to be crippling.

    Charter schools are tuition-free public schools authorized to exercise wider discretion in educational practices than most public schools that are tightly enveloped in union rules. Although charters do not divert public funds from public education, teachers unions generally oppose them because charters expand parents’ choices, thereby infusing into public education something teachers unions dread: competition.

    Another thing teacher unions dread: repealing compulsory schooling laws.

    No, that's not a simple solution that will magically fix things. Just looking for marginal improvements here.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-22

  • Oh, heck. Let's just start off with a chuckle or six. Classic Novel Merch 2.

    [Classic Novel Merch 2]

    I assume Part 1 is around on John's site somewhere, if you haven't chuckled enough for the day.


  • I'll have my whopper with cheese, and also chutzpah. The NYPost editorialists present The week in whoppers. Going with my favorite:

    Making the obvious observation:

    We say: What a laugher. The man who won the 2013 “Lie of the Year” award from (left-leaning) fact-checker PolitiFact for assuring Americans they could keep their health plans under ObamaCare suddenly wants to combat “disinformation.” Anyone seriously think he’ll criticize those who spread “disinfo” like the Russian-Trump collusion hoax — or the claim that The Post’s 2020 exposé of e-mails on Hunter Biden’s laptop was itself “Russian disinformation”? Ha!

    Barry should … not be pontificating on "disinformation".


  • Free speech is welcome to come to New Hampshire. It's apparently in search of a new home, according to Jason Lee Steorts. Farewell to Free Speech, Say Florida Republicans.

    A few thoughts on the state’s soft-authoritarian temper-tantrum.

    1. I don’t assert that the revocation of Disney’s special district violates the First Amendment in a legally actionable way. Nor do I think revocation of a privilege constitutes censorship. But what’s at issue is more than “a culture of free expression,” i.e., an environment in which private actors do not retaliate against other private actors for their speech. (Criticism does not count as retaliation, by the way.) This was a use of state power to punish private speech.

    On target, Jason Lee. But from later in his post:

    Disney has not retaliated against employees who disagree with its stance.

    Gina Carano could not be reached for comment.


  • The lost last chapter of The Road to Serfdom? Scott Lincicome (in a subscriber-only article, sorry) writes it: The Eternal Pessimism of the Planner’s Mind. Example:

    Over at The Atlantic, Jerusalem Demsas provides several prominent examples of pandemic pessimism and hysteria gone awry:

    • Dire warnings of an “eviction tsunami” of 30 million to 40 million tenants prompted Presidents Trump and Biden, as well as several states, to impose legally and economically dubious moratoria on evictions. These same predictions then pushed numerous housing advocates to warn that the tsunami would emerge once the moratoria were finally lifted. Neither storm, of course, ever materialized. (Demsas kindly cites a recent report showing that “1.36 million eviction cases were prevented in 2021 because of policy interventions such as the eviction moratoriums, emergency rental assistance, and other fiscal support.” Only 30-plus million to go!)

    • The pandemic’s “she-cession,” in which vast numbers of women would drop out of the labor force or scale back their participation, also never happened. In fact, Harvard economist Caudia Goldin finds that “the labor-force participation rate for women ages 25 to 54 was the same in November 2018 as it was in November 2021”; and although this rate is still a smidge below where it was in early 2020, it’s down about the same amount for men too (even more, depending on how you slice it). Thus, Goldin concludes, “the largest differences in pandemic effects on employment are found between education groups rather than between genders within educational groups.”

    • In mid-2020, we also heard widespread tales of a forthcoming state and local budget crisis. (Never mind what my colleague Chris Edwards was saying at the time.) Instead, Demsas reports that “the Government Accountability Office released a report indicating that state revenues had rebounded in the second half of 2020. And although some variation exists in how well states are doing, they’re certainly not facing the crisis once predicted—many states are now even reporting massive surpluses.”

    • Many people also predicted a housing crash in 2020, and … well, we all know how that turned out.

    Yeah. I certainly sent an above-average amount of money to the state for the 2021 tax year. Those dividends are fun to receive until the state takes its cut.


  • More bad, but unsurprising, behavior from that school on the other side of the state. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education tells the sad tale: Dartmouth continues to violate College Republicans’ rights, imposing $3,600 in security fees following Andy Ngo event.

    After unilaterally canceling their in-person event featuring conservative journalist Andy Ngo, Dartmouth College has now informed the College Republicans campus chapter that it must pay $3,600 in security fees for the canceled event, or else it cannot request further funds from the college.

    This comes after a monthslong saga that saw Dartmouth act in bad faith every step of the way. Dartmouth canceled the Jan. 20 event hosted by the campus chapters of the College Republicans, Turning Point USA, and Network of Enlightened Women, forcing it online based on unspecified “concerning information” from the Hanover police. FIRE sent a letter to Dartmouth explaining that the college must choose the “least restrictive means” to limit free expression when advancing asserted safety interests, and requesting clarification about why the college canceled the event. That same day, FIRE also sent a letter to the Hanover police department asking what information it provided the college that could have led to the cancellation.

    I'm pretty sure Dartmouth admins just earned a place in the Academic Chutzpah awards for 2022.


  • Closing with some optimism… Jim Geraghty celebrates it: The Era of Masking Ends. (Except for Portsmouth Public Library.)

    Last weekend, I was in D.C.’s Southwest waterfront neighborhood and was about to enter the local Politics and Prose bookstore, when a sign on the door window stated that it required all customers to wear masks.

    The store said it reinstated the requirement of masks for customers because “the CDC has changed DC’s Covid-19 Community Level rating from Green/Low to Yellow/Medium reflecting an uptick in Covid-19 cases in Washington, DC.”

    There is indeed an uptick, but it looks particularly mild compared to the rest of this year. First, some perspective: The District of Columbia’s population is 718,000 or so, and that doesn’t count the visiting tourists and the roughly 480,000 people who commute in from the suburbs each weekday. That means, without tourists, about 1.2 million people are in the city each weekday; weekends bring fewer commuters but more visitors in for day trips, museums, the cherry blossoms, etc.

    The daily average of new cases in the District has increased from 60 per day in late March to 222 per day now. As of last week, an average of 69 people were hospitalized with Covid-19; for perspective, that figure peaked at 850 hospitalized Covid-19 patients back in early January. The city currently averages one Covid-19 death every five days.

    It's time—actually past time—to cut out the mask madness.

They Don't Represent Us

Reclaiming Our Democracy

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Lawrence Lessig came to my attention in 2002 when he argued (and to my mind, botched) the case Eldred v. Ashcroft before the Supreme Court, an attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act". (He lost the case, 7-2.) I knew, from occasional sightings since then, that this book would be out of my confort zone. Lessig is a Progressive Democrat, with all that implies. But he knows the law, and the Constitution, and in this book he sometimes surprised me with occasional libertarian instincts. He's a mixed bag.

But I was most intrigued by the title. I was like: "Dude, I know THEY don't represent US." Specifically, me. Even more specifically: in 2020, my CongressCritter, Democrat Chris Pappas squeaked to re-election with 51.3% of the vote. His main opponent, Republican Matt Mowers, got 46.2%. My vote went to Libertarian Zachary Dumont, who got 2.4%.

In my mind, there is no meaningful way in which Chris Pappas could be said to "represent" me. Or for any of the 48.7% of the voters who preferred someone else. As I type, he's a 100% rubber stamp for Biden, like (to be fair) nearly all his Democrat colleagues. He could be replaced by a suitably programmed robot.

But Lessig has a different view of "representation". Or it's maybe more accurate to say he has multiple views of "representation", but none of them match with mine. For example, he waxes predictably about "gerrymandering", but that wouldn't resolve my issue: Pappas only got 51.3% of the popular vote, but that translates into an entire vote in the House. No matter how the district lines are drawn, it's winner take all, baby. (My crackpot reform idea is here.)

Lessig advocates multimember Congressional districts with ranked-choice voting determining the winners. (More detail at the FairVote advocacy site.) Intriguing, but I suspect that would simply get me represented by N robotic representatives instead of one.

Lessig also supports an Article V Convention for "fixing" the Constitution; public financing of campaigns where every voter is provided an $N dollar voucher they could "donate" to a candidate (whereupon it would turn into actual taxpayer money); "civic juries", a bunch of citizens who would consider various public policy options, considering the testimony of "experts presenting various viewpoints". And other assorted gimmickry to fix things to his imagined liking.

He is a huge fan of the Sarbanes/Pelosi HR1 voting reform act (as it was proposed in 2019). He correctly notes that it was unable to gather a single GOP vote in the House, and was bottled up in the Senate. (The most recent iteration, the "For the People Act" also went nowhere.) He makes no effort to consider the valid Constitutional/Federalism/separation of powers objections.

Gimmicks aside, Lessig's unstated view of government is not the design of the Founders: to protect the inalienable rights of its citizens, and otherwise stay out of the way. Instead, government is essentially there to solve problems. Using "democracy", of course, to both define and solve the problems.

Not that he's examined that premise much. Jason Brennan's critique Against Democracy is dismissed in a single sentence. Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter isn't mentioned at all.

Lessig's prose style is earnest, and occasionally dreadful. What do you do when confronted with a sentence like (p. 56):

But we should neither exaggerate the insignificance of losing presidential public funding nor, and more important for our purposes here, imagine that the economy of influence for funding presidential campaigns is anything like the economy of influence for funding campaigns for Congress.

We shouldn't exaggerate insignificance of losing something. I'm still working on what that might mean.

The Plot

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This book made the WSJ's list of the best mysteries of 2021; that's been a semi-reliable source of recommendations in the past, so…

The protagonist is Jacob ("Jake") Finch Bonner, a writer whose first novel was published to moderate acclaim, whose second book garnered no acclaim whatsoever, and third and fourth books were rejected by all publishers. So he's in kind of a professional funk, and he's resorted to teaching at a fiction-writing workshop for aspiring writers with more cash than talent. Jake puts up a brave front, but he's full of self-pity and self-loathing. He's not writing, and nobody cares.

Into this sad existence drops an arrogant student, Evan Parker. Parker claims that he doesn't really need the program, or any tips from a dud like Jake. Because he's got the plot of his novel, and it is sure-fire. After some jousting, Parker tells Jake the plot, and … wow, Jake thinks, this jerk is right. It would be a can't-miss guaranteed hit!

A few years later, Jake's career has continued its downhill progress. When he gets the urge to look up whatever happened to that jerk with the great plot. Whoa, he's dead! And Jake makes a fateful decision…

It's pretty good. Starts off almost as a David Lodge-style satire of marginal academic life, then a tale of wild authorial success and hubris, then a combination of mystery and horror. I'm only giving it 4/5 stars on Goodreads because I saw the Big Twist at the end somewhere around the middle of the book. Long before Jake sees it, anyway. To his eternal regret.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-21

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Sad news from FIRE. That's the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and they report: Caltech silent on FIRE request to review event funding guidelines that contradict school’s free speech policy, violate state law.

    Last year, FIRE contacted the California Institute of Technology with concerns that new event funding guidelines issued by the university’s Graduate Student Council risk viewpoint discrimination and threaten student rights — maybe even break the law.

    The university’s response? Not much.

    Caltech has apparently decided to stonewall. We'll see how that works out for them.

    Here's a bit from the funding guidelines document emitted from the Graduate Student Council. It's very broad and very vague, basically a blank check to would-be censors:

    Speakers that discriminate or promote discrimination (in their own actions or words, not by affiliation) based on race, colour [sic], ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, caste, class, socio-economic status, disability, health condition are grounds for denial of funding.

    Well, first: colour? Is this some weird spelling that's meant to convey some wokist meaning beyond that expressed by "color"?

    But, spelling quibbles aside, note that the GSC also looks askance at speakers who discriminate based on "political or other opinion".

    Isn't that exactly what the GSC is trying to do itself?


  • Just nine? Elliot Axelman is a proud member of the lunatic fringe, but I like him anyway, and we are on the same page with respect to the Separation of School and State: 9 Reasons We Must Abolish Government Schools. Here's number five:

    Public schools are based on coercion. – and teach obedience and acquiescence to coercion as a part of their structure. The entire government is founded upon the idea that some people are superior to others (like royalty vs peasants or white people vs slaves). We should not allow our children to be educated by the elite class who believes that they are inherently allowed to use coercion and violence to maintain obedience. Taxation, regulations, gun control, and nearly all other laws imposed by politicians violate our natural rights. We should leave their system entirely.

    I'm a little more moderate, but (almost certainly) advocate an equally completely unrealistic position: repeal New Hampshire's compulsory attendance law; that's the beating heart of coercion right there.

    People point to the original New Hampshire Constitution language from 1784 that charges "legislators and magistrates" to "cherish … public schools". Among other Good Things.

    But the compulsory attendance law originated in 1903. So for 119 years, our state was perfectly OK with non-compulsory public schools. Have we really done any better in the past 119 years under compulsion?


  • Speaking of getting rid of bad ideas. FEE's Patrick Carroll has some good news on that front: Reagan’s Goal to End the Department of Education Is Finally Gaining Momentum.

    The debate over the federal role in education has been going on for decades. Some say the feds should have a relatively large role while others say it should be relatively small. But while most people believe there should be at least some federal oversight, some believe there should be none at all.

    Rep. Thomas Massie is one of those who believes there should be no federal involvement in education, and he is actively working to make that a reality. In February 2021, he introduced H.R. 899, a bill that perfectly encapsulates his views on this issue. It consists of one sentence:

    “This bill terminates the Department of Education on December 31, 2022.”

    Well, that would be an interesting freakout. Certainly a welcome change from arguing over whether the Department of Education budget should be $77 billion or $88 billion.


  • Just how "renewable" are unicorn farts, anyway? Among the things Matt Ridley, the self-described Rational Optimist, is optimistic about is fusion power. But he notes: The hair shirt eco-elite don’t want pain-free fusion power. After reviewing the state of play:

    So it’s worth casting our minds forward to how the world might look if small power stations start making huge quantities of energy from tiny quantities of water (the source of deuterium) and lithium (the source of tritium). We could heat our homes and power our cars with cheap electricity. We could synthesise fuel for planes and rockets. We could speed up productivity through automation. We could desalinate seawater. We could suck carbon dioxide out of the air, achieving net zero painlessly. We could rewild all wind and solar farms. Above all, we could tell the eco-killjoys who preach that our use of energy is not just a problem but a sin to get lost.

    And therein lies the problem, because they will fight us every step of the way, inventing ludicrous objections to fusion. Remember, for the eco-elite, hair-shirt asceticism is a feature not a bug. Giving ordinary people unlimited energy would horrify these high priests. What they love about climate change is the excuse it gives them to disapprove of people having fun. Imagine the scowl on Greta’s face when we tell her electricity is going to be abundant, cheap, reliable and low-carbon. It’s shooting their fox.

    Notice too how it would make a mockery of the urgent rush to net zero today. The BBC’s Jon Amos delivered a predictable sermon on this theme this week following the fusion announcement: “Fusion is not a solution to get us to 2050 net zero. This is a solution to power society in the second half of this century.”

    He’s got it backwards: if fusion does come after 2050, why spend trillions and force people into austerity in the rush to net zero by 2050 instead of say 2070? We are hurrying to shut down coal, gas and nuclear prematurely with no reliable replacement. Looking back that might prove to have been very foolish.

    Linguistic note: "shooting their fox" is (I think it's fair to say) an obscure Britishism. I think it means (more or less) "pulling the rug out from under one of their main talking points."


  • Will fairy tales fix the economy? Our man on the street, Kevin D. Williamson, has the answer to that burning question: Fairy Tales Won’t Fix the Economy.

    When your party controls the presidency and Congress but produces disappointing results, that ought to tell you something about your political assumptions.

    Joe Biden, like many (probably most) Democrats, often speaks about the economy in moralistic terms. Like most politicians, he is more likely to speak about it in moralistic terms when he and his party are out of power than when they are in power, for reasons that should be obvious enough. When the other guys are in charge, the indictment reads: “We know what policies will bring about economic growth, higher wages and employment, and more economic opportunity for those most in need of it, but those rat bastards won’t enact those policies, because they are bad people and don’t care about people like you.” This is silly to the point of stupidity, but it is the dominant theme of popular economic-policy discourse.

    To believe that it is true would require believing that politicians are too committed to some principle to act in their own self-interest, a claim that brings with it a very heavy burden of proof. In reality, the president and the party in power always want to see strong economic growth, low unemployment, and high wages — and, though we didn’t talk about it very much for a generation or so, no president wants to see high inflation on his watch. If there were some magical policy sweet spot that would provide all of the economic results we want in a predictable, consistent way, craven political self-interest — a force more powerful than gravity — alone would ensure that these policies were the No. 1 item on everybody’s list. There would never be a recession, or a financial crisis, or runaway inflation. President Biden is not an especially smart, honest, or decent human being, but he doesn’t want to see food and fuel prices going supersonic during his presidency. The fact is that nobody really knows how to deal with the inflation problem without inviting a whole raft of other economic problems. The economy is complex — it isn’t a LEGO set that will all come together the right way if we just follow the instructions.

    KDW makes a bold prediction: the [party out of power] will continue to blame the country's woes on the [party in power]. True yesterday, true today, true tomorrow, no matter who wins.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-20

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • An amusing counterpoint… to our Amazon Product du Jour from the Upheaval substack:

    Having worked for some time now in the foreign policy world that revolves around Washington DC, I can assure you that whatever your feelings about that tentacled city squatting itself on America’s mid-Atlantic coast, it’s probably worse than you think. I don’t care whether you are on the Right or the Left. The limitless narcissism and navel gazing, the gaslighting and dissimulation, the illiteracy and greed of the place is surpassed perhaps only by the weight of its decadent banality – by the same painfully shallow ideas (and people) circulating ceaselessly through an incestuous and wholly unaccountable apparatus insistent on regurgitating them over and over again in entitled cries for more money and power and attention.

    That's one for our "Tell Us What You Really Think" Department.


  • They're addicted to maskahol. John Tierney has a bone to pick with the Maskaholics.

    The pandemic has eased, but not the compulsion of many Americans to cover their faces. Fully vaccinated adults are still wearing masks on their solitary walks outdoors, and officials have been enforcing mask mandates on airline passengers and on some city-dwellers and students. (Though today’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, declaring the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public transportation unlawful, comes as welcome news.) Maskaholics in the press are calling for permanent masking on trains, planes, and buses. High school students in Seattle staged a protest demanding that a mask mandate be reinstated, and psychologists now deal with the anxieties of children who don’t want their classmates to see their faces. They’re suffering from “mask dependency,” as this psychological affliction is termed in Japan, where a long tradition of mask-wearing during flu season has left some individuals afraid at any time to expose their faces in public.

    It’s a difficult addiction to overcome, according to the Japanese therapists who specialize in treating it—but a simple remedy might help some maskaholics. It’s a graph that should be required viewing for everyone still wearing a mask and every public official or journalist who still insists that mask mandates “control the spread.”

    And here it is:

    [graph]

    "Do you know a maskaholic? Call 1-800-GOT-FEAR for free help."


  • Doing the bidding of teacher unions. Michael Graham notes that Joe doesn't like school choice: On Eve of NH Visit, Sununu Calls Out Biden's Anti-Charter-School Regs.

    The day before President Joe Biden’s scheduled visit to Portsmouth, Gov. Chris Sununu joined a group of GOP governors calling out the president’s proposed restrictions on public charter schools.

    “It is a certainty that the expansion of such burdensome regulations will make it more difficult—if not impossible—for independent and smaller charter schools to access federal funds,” they wrote.

    At issue are Biden administration rules requiring charter schools to undergo a “community impact analysis” to qualify for federal funding. Only charter schools in areas where there is “unmet demand” would be eligible.

    It sounds very similar to the "Certificate of Need" requirements that are used by incumbents to quash competing health care facilities. And with similar results.


  • Biden did something good? Well slap my ass and call me Sally. Jazz Shaw notes: Biden to save financially distressed nuclear plants.

    It’s a rare day when I get the chance to cheer for something the Biden administration does, but I will do so today without reservation. One of the best things to come out of last year’s infrastructure bill was a plan to ensure the viability of American nuclear power plants that have run into economic trouble over the past decade or more. Yesterday, the White House announced the availability of $6 billion in relief for plants that have announced early closure dates driven by economic concerns. A second round of funding will then be made available for plants that have not yet announced an early closure date but anticipate doing so in the near future. Of course, there is still more to be done to improve our nuclear energy position, but this is a very good start. (Associated Press)

    Of course, this is another example of government using taxpayer money to bail out private firms with financial problems largely caused … (deep breath) … by government.


  • Someone at National Review is quick with a Shakespeare pun. It's the headline for Kevin D. Williamson's Tuesday column: Labor’s Love Lost. Heh!

    “Democrats are the party of working people.” So states Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) in a “guest essay” — it isn’t an essay at all; it is ordinary campaign literature — in the New York Times. Senator Warren could have used some editing. The first thing her New York Times editors should have asked:

    Is that true?

    Let’s think about that phrase, “working people.” You would think that “working people” would mean “people who work,” but that is not what Senator Warren wants it to mean. Hedge-fund managers are working people — it is fashionable to sneer at people working in finance, but if you think that it isn’t work, try doing it. You think they’re giving all that money away? Doctors are working people. Lawyers are working people. College professors and novelists and movie producers are all working people, too. Even some journalists are working people, though not very many of them.

    So, if “working people” does not mean “people who work,” what might it mean?

    KDW looks at the "worker" demographic, and concludes it might have been more accurate if Liz had said: “The Democrats are the party of relatively high-income college graduates, especially the ones living in relatively high-income communities, which is why we are leading with student-loan forgiveness rather than something that blue-collar factory workers care about.”

URLs du Jour

2022-04-19

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • No, it doesn't have anything to do with Covid. Well, not directly. Corbin K. Barthold discusses one of our current favorite topics, how Elon makes the Elect freak out: Musk Makes the Mask Slip. But first, he urges us not to view Musk as a messiah:

    Though he has just offered to buy Twitter for around $40 billion, it’s far from clear that Elon Musk knows how to run a social media platform. Speaking about his bid at an event last week, Musk mused that people should be “able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.” But a social media product that came to be dominated by anti-Semitism, porn, coordinated abuse, virulent racial animus, and bot-generated foreign propaganda—all forms of speech “within the bounds of the law”—would soon have little value. During the same interview, Musk announced that his “top priority” is to eliminate spam—perfectly lawful communication. Musk does not seem to have thought this through yet.

    Twitter is not necessarily a well-run business. Mark Zuckerberg once described it as a clown car driven into a goldmine. It has drawn scrutiny from activist investors before—a fact that likely played a role in Jack Dorsey’s recent departure—and is thus in a poor position to reject Musk’s offer on grounds that the company’s stock is undervalued. Still, from a business perspective, Musk has not explained how he would finance his purchase (he’s incredibly rich but not liquid), and he has yanked investors’ chains before (a few years back, he was about to take Tesla private, until he wasn’t).

    If Musk is trolling the humorless progressives who dominate our institutional and cultural heights, though, he has already achieved a coup. That Musk might buy Twitter has caused a meltdown among Twitter elites. “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany,” wrote one blue check. “[This] could result in World War 3 and the destruction of our planet,” exclaimed another. Robert Reich has equated Musk to Vladimir Putin.

    That first paragraph is important. Content moderation is both (1) insanely difficult and (2) absolutely necessary unless you want your social media site to turn into a dysfunctional sewer.

    Why I remember (old man reminiscence warning) when I was a member of the BYTE Information Exchange (BIX). Soon after I joined, the BIX administrators adopted a policy imposing a "be nice to your fellow users" rule.

    I remember thinking at the time: "So you can lie all you want about people outside BIX, but you can't tell the truth about BIX users."


  • OK, this is a Covid item. The NYPost editorialists have it right: COVID case counts are total nonsense — hospitalizations, deaths are what matter.

    Congratulations to our public health masterminds for finally catching up with the reality that raw COVID case numbers are worse than useless as a metric. 

    A new survey of adults in New York City suggests that our testing regime may have missed more than 1.3 million cases between January and March of this year. The numbers also suggest that an astonishing 27% of the city’s adults may have been infected during that time. 

    This massive statistical whiff also means that the official positivity rate — the number by which entire sectors of our economy lived and died for two years, the number that shut schools and sent paroxysms of terror through the media — was near-meaningless as a measurement.

    It's easy to generalize outside New York City. The Portsmouth (NH) Public Library still (as I type) requires masks for people over 6 years old. Their reasoning is opaque. They state their policy is "based on a number of public health factors", but they don't say what those factors are.

    Occam's Razor tells us to look for the simplest explanation, which is: Portsmouth is a very "progressive" city, and (as the WSJ editorialists say) progressives believe in their superior moral virtue, and they like to order other people around.


  • Speaking of Covid… Michael Graham Is There Still a COVID 'Crisis' in NH? Dems, Media Make Confusing Case.

    Every morning, WMUR viewers get the new number: How many new cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire?

    On Friday, the story was that positive tests “have risen above 2,000 for the first time since late February.”

    “New Hampshire is now averaging 237 new cases per day, the most since March 1,” WMUR added.

    And as long as viewers keep in mind the word “cases” actually means “a positive COVID-19 test” and not an illness, the reporting is accurate.

    But, many public health experts say, it is also largely irrelevant. Positive tests for asymptomatic people aren’t a problem. The significant number is the one that is also more rarely reported: Hospitalizations.

    To their credit, the New York Times's Covid summary page is pretty good, although they emphasize case-counts over hospitalizations and deaths.


  • And it's a good case. Bari Weiss hosts Katherine Boyle at her substack, and Boyle makes The Case for American Seriousness. I really like her list of "unserious" things. Excerpt:

    It is unserious to pour six trillion dollars into failed nation-building—more than three times what has gone into American venture-backed technology companies in the same two decades—only to let a nation collapse in a jumbled weekend withdrawal. The U.S. military is still the most trusted institution in America, but has experienced a precipitous decline in trust with only 45 percent of Americans claiming to have “a great deal of confidence in the military,” down 25 points in three years. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have allowed this trust to decay, going so far as to claim “Mission Accomplished” 18 years too early—or to pretend there was never really a war happening at all.

    It is unserious to prioritize the old over the young, to shut down public schools for two years in the name of safety, sacrificing the needs of children for the neuroses of adults. Twenty years of educational gains and investment in schooling were “wiped out” by Covid policies, according to the United Nations. This is the real, lasting effect of long Covid.

    It is unserious to have the business district of our most innovative city lay empty, swallowed by an open-air drug market that thrives in the name of “compassion.” San Francisco has the country’s worst office reoccupancy rate and slowest job recovery, but it hasn’t lost its accommodating spirit: Fly into San Francisco airport and you’ll notice the dirty needle deposit box right across from the baby changing table in the women’s bathroom. (Though perhaps there’s some logic to this in a city where there are more dogs than children.)

    There's more, much more. I'm a little iffy on her recommendations:

    Building is a political philosophy. It is neither red nor blue, progressive nor conservative. It is averse to the political short-termism and zero-sum thinking that permeates our aging institutions that won’t protect us in this era. There is no fixed pie when it comes to building. Building is an action, a choice, a decision to create and move. It is shovels in the dirt with a motley crew of doers who get the job done because no one else will. Building is the only certainty. The only thing we can control. When the projects we believed were Teflon strong are fraying like the history they toppled, the only thing to do is to make something new again.

    Build housing for the middle class. Build schools for the kids who want to learn math. Build next-generation defense capabilities with young people who grew up coding. Build PCR tests so that a nasal swab stops the nation from closing businesses at the mere sight of Covid case increases. Build trade schools. Encourage men and women to work with their hands again. Cut the red tape that stops us from building infrastructure fast. Build factories in America. Build resiliency in the supply chain. Build work cultures that support mothers and fathers so they can have more children.

    That's a mixed bag, and I'm pretty sure that many of those ideas can't be accomplished via a top-down command-and-control mentality. I think we need to (in Deirdre McCloskey's formulation) reinstitute a new respect for liberalism and bourgeois values. I don't know if that's possible, let alone likely.


  • Donors to the Lincoln Project, here's where your money is going. The Washington Free Beacon reports: Lincoln Project Shells Out $100K in Mystery Legal Settlement With Cofounder.

    The Lincoln Project shelled out another six-figure payment to a founding member of the super PAC who accused the organization of ignoring allegations of sexual misconduct within its ranks.

    The scandal-plagued PAC paid $100,000 to Jennifer Horn in the first quarter of 2022, according to campaign finance records. The Lincoln Project has paid Horn a total of $475,000 in mystery legal payments since she resigned from the group amid allegations that cofounder John Weaver made unwanted sexual advances to more than 20 young men. Horn accused leaders of the Lincoln Project of ignoring allegations against Weaver.

    The Lincoln Project is still chugging away at its "anti-Trumpism" task, although it seems that involves mindless pro-Biden propaganda; one of the first things I noticed was a post claiming We Have To Have Joe Biden’s Back.

    Why? Isn't it possible to despise both Trump and Biden?

URLs du Jour

2022-04-18

  • It only hurts if you think about it. J.D. Tuccille provides a reminder: Tax Day Is Here, Because Government Bungling Won’t Pay for Itself.

    Well, actually, that's two reminders.

    In recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conceded that, perhaps, the agency really sucks at performing its assigned tasks and should reevaluate how it does things; a federal jury told off the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for entrapping a handful of dummies into a high-profile political kidnapping plot; and several of the federal government's own economists placed the blame for soaring prices on runaway government spending. That's some impressive governance, for a certain value of "impressive," and it certainly doesn't come cheap. In fact, on this Tax Day, some of us might be forgiven for wishing we could skip not just the tab, but also the services for which it's supposed to pay.

    It's no joke that government doesn't come cheap. In revisiting its federal spending and revenue forecasts for 2021, the Congressional Budget Office conceded in January that its "projection of $3.43 trillion for federal revenues in 2021 was too low—by $614 billion" and its "projection of $7.07 trillion for federal outlays in 2021 was too high—by $250 billion." Not that taking in more money than anticipated and spending a bit less means the feds balanced their books. No, not even close. In the end, the feds spent "only" $2.78 trillion more than they collected. And they do that every year, so it adds up.

    Also the Red Sox lost badly today. Sigh.


  • To repeat: abolish the FDA. OK, their bungling bureaucracy might have helped kill thousands of Americans during the pandemic, but they at least keep our food safe, right?

    Well, Baylen Linnekin offers some disillusionment: New Investigation Finds FDA's Food Safety Division Is 'Broken'.

    Last week, Politico published the results of an in-depth, months-long investigation into the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulation of our nation's food supply. The findings? The agency "is failing to meet American consumers' expectations on food safety and nutrition."

    The Politico investigation, which focuses chiefly on food safety, nutrition, and structural issues within FDA, includes interviews with dozens of current and former senior FDA officials, industry representatives, members of Congress, and trade groups—all of them familiar with the inner workings of the FDA. Those who spoke with Politico for the investigation characterized the agency's regulation of the food supply invariably as "ridiculous," "impossible," "broken," "byzantine" and "a joke." The piece notes even many agency supporters are now "questioning whether the agency is making the best use of its roughly $1 billion food budget," pointing out that even though around two-thirds of that budget goes to pay for food safety inspections, "the number of food safety inspections performed each year has been going down despite increased resources." Such complaints about the FDA—that the agency consistently does less with more—have been at the heart of my own criticisms of the agency over the years.

    Unfortunately, statists will have a ready comeback: "This goes to show they need more money and power to do their job."


  • Uff da! Lee Edwards describes a Scandinavian myth that doesn't involve Thor, Yggdrasil, etc.: The Myth of Scandinavian Socialism.

    When the U.N. released its latest index of “happiest countries,” it probably came as no surprise to Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that all of the Scandinavian countries finished in the top ten. They often cite them as models for their far-left policy prescriptions.

    Sanders doesn’t point to China, Cuba, or Venezuela when pushing his vision for America, but to Denmark. Surveying its spacious safety net and liberal benefits such as free education and universal health care, the socialist senator says enthusiastically, “We can learn a lot from Denmark.”

    Ocasio-Cortez agrees. As the unofficial head of the House’s Progressive Caucus, explains: “My policies most closely resemble what we see . . . in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.”

    Sanders, AOC, and their socialist cohorts laud the Nordic model (comprising Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland) for its supposed management of the market, draconian taxes on the rich, and cradle-to-grave welfare system. Polls show that a large number of Americans, especially those under 30, would welcome the Nordic way.

    But there is a problem: Scandinavian “socialism” does not exist, except in the Marxian imagination of radical progressives. It is a chimera wrapped in an illusion inside a dream.

    Edwards' thesis might be familiar to many: the Scandinavian countries are pretty free-market. They have massive welfare programs, but those are financed with massive taxes.


  • But that would risk those pushing-granny-off-a-cliff ads again. The wonderful Jane Galt (aka Megan McArdle—I knew her when) has advice: Republicans are on track to regain power. They should decide what to do with it..

    All signs portend a historic Democratic wipeout in the midterms, and if things don’t change, a Republican presidency in 2024. Many analysts fret that Democrats are sleepwalking into disaster. They’re not wrong to worry, but at this point I’m more worried that Republicans are sleepwalking into success.

    Let’s say the GOP manages to hit the trifecta: control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. What, exactly, is it planning to do with all that power?

    Currently, the entire Republican agenda seems to consist of complaining about moderation policies at Twitter and Facebook and trying to curb perceived radicalism on race and gender in the nation’s schools. In fairness, the best case for this narrow focus is that it gets results at the ballot box.

    I'm pretty sure that success at the ballot box is all they want at this point.


  • Kafka traps: much more literate than Catch-22's. Julian Adorney writes on White Fragility: Unpacking the Kafka Traps of Robin DiAngelo's NYT Bestseller. Specifically, under DiAngelo's rules, white people have no way to refute or otherwise defend themselves an incoming charge of "racisim".

    If you're accused of racism, under DiAngelo's approach, even asking a third party to weigh in is considered unacceptable. DiAngelo says that sometimes, if someone calls her a racist, she's tempted to ask another person of color for their perspective. But she dismisses this urge as "inappropriate" and something that "upholds racism."

    Even weirder, for DiAngelo, denial of the accusation of racism is proof of your racism. In a telling passage, DiAngelo talks about, "white people who think they are not racist, or are less racist, or are in the 'choir' or already 'get it'." Those people, she asserts, "cause the most daily damage to people of color."

    That is: if you deny that you are racist, you are part of the group that (according to DiAngelo) does more actual damage to people of color than the KKK.

    This is a logical fallacy known as a Kafka trap. A Kafka trap is when someone is accused of something, and if they defend themselves then it's considered proof of their guilt.

    I'm glad Adorney read her book so I don't have to.

My Book Picker (and Lister)

2022 Version

librarything

Introduction/Rationale

This blogpost describes the most recent version of my "book picking" system. It assumes a Linux operating system, and uses Perl. Some "extra" Perl modules are used, not in the core Perl distribution: Const::Fast, version, and HTML::Template. (My current distribution, Fedora, makes installing these modules pretty easy. Your mileage… etc.) Files are available at GitHub.

I've used this system for a number of years, and have tweaked it significantly over that period.

But one thing hasn't changed at all: it's another example of the mental aberration that causes me to write Perl scripts to solve life's little everyday irritants. In this case two little irritants:

  1. I noticed that I had a lot of books on my shelves, acquired long past, that I never got around to reading. Either because (a) they were dauntingly long and dense (I'm thinking about Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace); or because (b) they just fell through the cracks. Both poor excuses, but there you are.

  2. I sometimes want to methodically read (or reread) a series of books in a particular order.

In other words, I needed a way to bring diligence and organization to my previous chaotic and sloppy reading habits.

I think of what I came up with as the "To-Be-Read" (hereafter TBR) database. That's a slightly lofty title, but anyway:

High-Level View

All the TBR books are in zero or more stacks, each stack containing zero or more titles. Each stack contains a list of books in maintained in the order I want to read them. (This goes back to the issue mentioned above: sometimes a series really "should" be read in publishing order, for example C.J. Box's novels featuring protagonist Joe Pickett.)

So picking a book to read involves (a) choosing an "eligible" stack; and (b) "popping" the top book from the chosen stack. Very computer science-y.

The interesting part is the "choosing an eligible stack" step. There are a number of possible ways to do it. But first, more details on "eligibility".

  • "Obviously" you can't pick a book off an empty stack. So a stack with no books in it is ineligible. (Why are there empty stacks? Because I might want to add one or more books to them someday. Like if Steve Hamilton ever writes another book.)
  • The stacks also contain books I don't have yet. I want to read them someday. But I'm waiting. Maybe a book has been announced but not released yet. (Example below.) Or I'm waiting for the price to come down, either via the Barnes & Noble remainder table or the Amazon used market. I'm RetiredOnAFixedIncome, after all. So: If the top book on a stack is unowned, there's no point in picking it. Hence, that stack is ineligible.
  • One final tweak: I found that I didn't want to read a book "too soon" after just reading a previous book in the stack. So each stack has an "age": the time that's elapsed since I previously picked a book from that stack. And a "minimum age", the amount of time that must elapse after a pick before that stack becomes eligible again.

Executive summary: an eligible stack is one that:

  • is non-empty;
  • the top book is owned;
  • the stack is older than its specified minimum age.
OK, so how do we choose among eligible stacks? Possibilities:
  1. Pick the "oldest" stack; the one for which it's been the longest time since a book from it was previously picked.
  2. Pick the highest stack, the one with the most titles therein. (Because it needs the most work, I guess.)
  3. Just pick a stack at random.
  4. Pick a random stack weighted by stack height. That is, any stack can be picked, but one with eight titles in it is twice as likely to be picked as one with four titles. (This was the algorithm used in the previous version.)
  5. Pick a random stack, weighted by age. That is, a stack that's 90 days old is twice as likely to be picked as a 45-day old one.
  6. But what I'm doing is a combination of the last two: the stack-weighting function is the stack height times the stack age. So (for example) a 120-day-old stack with 5 titles is twice as likely to be picked as a 50-day-old stack with 6 titles. Because 120 * 5 = 600 and 50 * 6 = 300. This is totally arbitrary, but it seems to work for me so far.

Now, on to the gory details.

The data file ~/var/bookstacks.pl

Previous versions of the system used CSV files to store all this data. I've switched over to a single file (~/var/bookstacks.pl), containing executable Perl code that is used to initialize an array of hashes named @STACKS. At a high level, it looks like:

@STACKS = (
     {
         hash elements for stack 0
     },
     {
         hash elements for stack 1
     },
     …
     {
         hash elements for stack N-1
     },
);

(It Is No Coincidence that this resembles output from the standard Perl Data::Dumper module. See below.)

Each @STACKS array element is a hash. Here's the (actual, as I type) entry for my Michael Connelly stack:

    …
    {
      'name' => 'Michael Connelly',
      'minage' => 30,
      'lastpicked' => '2021-08-21',
      'books' => [
		   {
		     'title' => 'The Dark Hours',
		     'author' => 'Michael Connelly',
		     'ASIN' => 'B08WLRG1L2',
		     'owned' => 1
		   },
		   {
		     'title' => 'Desert Star',
		     'author' => 'Michael Connelly',
		     'ASIN' => 'B09QKSLPN9',
		     'owned' => 0
		   }
		 ]
    },
    …

In words: this @STACKS element contains the stack's name ("Michael Connelly"); the stack's minimum age before becoming eligible (30 days); the date the stack was previously picked (August 21, 2021); and the books currently in the stack. (There are two, The Dark Hours, which I own on Kindle, and Dark Star, not out until November 2022, hence unowned.)

(Yes, that's a subarray of hashes inside the outer array of hashes. Why are you looking at me like that?)

(And no, I haven't memorized the rules about when/whether to use […], {…}, or (…). After decades of Perl coding, I still crack open the Perl Data Structures Cookbook or peruse my existing code where I see if I've done something similar that worked in the past.)

A complete file (my actual version as of April 2022) is here. No comments from the peanut gallery about my lack of literary taste, please.

I named it with a .pl extension because some editors will use that as a hint to do Perl syntax highlighting. It can be read into a script with Perl's do command. For example…

booklister

The booklister script (here) is the simplest script in the system. It reads the data file described above and displays its contents in a (slightly) more verbose and readable form. It also prints, for each eligible stack, its weight and pick-probability.

Sample booklister output is here.

booklister_html

The booklister_html script (here) is slightly more complicated. It uses an HTML::Template template to generate an HTML page of the book stacks. It uses text formatting to display stack eligibility/ineligibility, and whether a book is owned or not. Finally, it generates a nice pie chart to display each eligible stack's pick-probabilities, using Google Charts code. It saves the generated page in /tmp/booklist.html; example here.

bookpicker

The bookpicker script (here) simply ("simply") sucks in the bookstacks data, filters out the eligible stacks, then picks one of the eligible stacks at (weighted) random. It "pops" the book at the top of the stack (actually uses a Perl shift, because…). And finally, it writes the modified stack data back out to ~/var/bookstacks.pl, saving the previous version with a .old appended to its name.

(Perl's Data::Dumper module is used for that last part. Some tweaks are used to get it usable for initialization and to get the hash keys to print in a non-random order.)

If you'd like a little more detail on the picking process, you can add the -v (verbose) flag. Speaking of that, a small digression on…

Picking a random stack according to a weighting function

It's not hard. Just imagine throwing a dart at that pie chart mentioned above. Your probability of hitting any one segment is proportional to its area. So…

I'd pseudocode the algorithm like this:

Given: N eligible stacks (indexed 0..N-1), with Wi being the calculated weight of the ith list (assumed integer) …

Let T be the total weight, W0 + W1 + ⋯ + WN-1

Pick a random number r between 0 and T-1.

p = 0
while (r >= Wp)
     r -= Wp
     p++

… and on loop exit p will index the list picked.

To anticipate CS pedants: I know this is O(N) and using a binary search instead could make it O(log N). In practice, it's plenty fast enough. And other steps in the process are O(N) anyway.

Editing the stacks, an apology

But what if you want to add a new stack? Or add books to a stack? Or delete something? Or (just generally) change something?

I don't have any handy scripts for that. It's a hard problem. I, personally, just edit ~/var/bookstacks using My Favorite Editor (that would be vim).

I have some ideas for a user-friendlier script. Maybe someday. Now that I've said it, maybe someday soon.

Whew!

I feel better getting this off my chest..


Last Modified 2022-04-18 10:05 AM EDT

Dark Sky

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I started reading C. J. Box back in 2010. And now I'm almost caught up! And this is yet another page-turner. (Oops, sorry. Kindle version. Make that "yet another screen-swiper".)

Box's continuing hero, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, finds himself in real trouble. Again. He's tasked by the (unlikeable and dishonest) governor to lead an elk hunt, escorting an arrogant, entitled tech billionaire and his retinue up into the mountains. The hope is that the tech guy will enjoy himself so much that he locate a massive server farm in Wyoming. The governor threatens Joe's job if he doesn't pull that off.

Little does Joe realize he's walking into a trap set by a demented rancher and his sons; they plan to exact murderous revenge on the Zuckerberg-like baron, and leave no witnesses. So what starts as an interesting hunting expedition soon turns into a deadly game of hide-and-seek in the Wyoming wildnerness. Who will survive?

(Well, Joe will. Barely. C. J. is not gonna kill off Joe.)

There's also a Nate Romanowski subplot. A sociopathic rival falconer has encroached on Nate's territory, looking to enrich himself by selling birds illegally to Saudi sheiks. That plot is not concluded, but a development late in the book guarantees that it will continue in the next volume. Which I already have in my Kindle library.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-17

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • California dreamin'. The WSJ looks at a recent bit of social engineering: California’s French Four-Day Workweek.

    The popular book “The 4-Hour Workweek” provides tips on how to make more money by working less. Now California Democrats are taking a page from the book by proposing to mandate a four-day week, which would require businesses to pay employees the same wages for less work. As labor economics goes, this is up there with paying people not to work and expecting more people to work.

    A bill moving through the Legislature would shorten California’s normal workweek to 32 hours from 40 for companies with more than 500 employees. Workers who put in more than 32 hours in a week would have to be paid time-and-a-half. And get this: Employers would be prohibited from reducing workers’ current pay rate, so they would be paid the same for working 20% less.

    Now anyone with a smattering of sense can see how this would play out. The WSJ describes the likely effects. But the real issue they save for the end:

    Why do progressives think any idea they come up with has to be imposed by political coercion? You know the answer. Because they believe in their superior moral virtue, and they like to order other people around.

    Yeah.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is the referenced book The 4-Hour Workweek. The top comment (as I type) from a verified purchaser:

    Conclusion: this book is for naive, weak, dummies who hate their jobs and will take any terrible advice to give them hope. Ultimately this book is like his own online business which sold a product of little value he wasn’t an expert in. Which is what this book is.

    But it sounds as if a number of those naive weak dummies are now in California politics.


  • What if we gave a primary and nobody came? Our quadrennial New Hampshire Presidential Primary may be in dire straits. NH Journal has the story: Dems Abandon FITN, Throw Open Early Primary Slots to All Comers. And they put the big reason up front:

    New Hampshire’s First in the Nation primary has not picked a Democratic nominee since John Kerry in 2004 — or a winning Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — and now it appears the national party has had enough.

    On Wednesday the Democratic National Committee threw out its presidential primary calendar, threw Iowa and New Hampshire under the bus, and threw open the doors for every state to apply to be one of the early states in the nomination process.

    The primary brings in a lot of cash and attention from the rest of the nation, and I suppose that's why a lot of locals like it. Especially the cash part. But (cribbing the points I made back in 2020): we do a lousy job of picking the eventual president.

    • In the 2020, Joe Biden did not win. In fact, he came in fifth. Behind Bernie, Mayor Pete, Amy Klobuchar, and Fauxcahontas.
    • The last time the Democrat winner of a contested New Hampshire Primary went on to win the general election was 1976 (Jimmy Carter). (NH Journal omits the needed qualifier "contested".)
    • Republican primary voters can congratulate themselves on a slightly better record. In the last seriously-contested GOP-side primary in 2016, Trump soundly beat the field, and (as you know) went on to win. (Whether that was a wise choice for GOP voters… well, longtime readers know my opinion there. Probably also short-time readers.)
    • But before that, to find an NH GOP primary winner who went on to become President, you have to go back to 1988 when George H. W. Bush beat Bob Dole.

    But as many point out, we have an actual law that says the NH primary must be scheduled "7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election." So we'll see what happens.


  • As the WSJ said above… progressives like to order other people around. J.D. Tuccille pleas with them to knock it off, specifically: Drop the Useless Mask Mandates and Leave Us Alone.

    Across the country, government officials seem eager to revive mask mandates and, perhaps, other artifacts of pandemic policy, if only as reminders of the high-tide mark of their emergency authority.

    "If we do start seeing an uptick, particularly of hospitalizations, we may need to revert back to being more careful and having more utilizations of masks indoors," Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, taunted a COVID-weary nation on ABC News earlier this week.

    Sure enough, within days the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended the mask mandate for federally regulated travel; Philadelphia's city government did the same for indoor spaces. (Many colleges and universities followed suit.) Philadelphia officials offer no specifics about acceptable masks, but do say that restaurant patrons only have to wear them "while not seated and eating or drinking." For its part, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which enforces the CDC mandate, allows that "masks can be either manufactured or homemade and should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures." It's hard to see what good masks are supposed to do if they're crumpled up in pockets while people talk and laugh or, for that matter, if they're worn but made of common fabric.

    According to the CDC, my own county (Strafford, NH) has ticked up to a medium "community level" recently (based on their essentially arbitrary criteria). I'm not seeing any changes in masking requirements, though. (My canary in the coal mine here is UNH, which rescinded its indoor masking requirements a month ago.)


  • I call a personal foul on Max Boot for unwarranted use of the first-person plural. And David Harsanyi backs me up, using Boot as an example of a general phenomenon: Elon Musks Twitter Takeover Bid Terrifies the Pro-Censorship Blue Checks. Here's the violation:

    And here's David:

    First of all, who is “we”? There is no grand “we” in a pluralistic open society engaged in debate. He wants content moderation. And maybe the inability, or refusal, to comprehend this obvious fact is the root philosophical problem with all those who say they are “frightened” by unmoderated political speech. If “democracy” meant small-l liberalism, then Boot would be defending free expression, as a neutral value, not just a principle upheld by law. But these days, “democracy” often amounts to little more than majoritarian bullying. And “content moderation” is little more than an effort to control political discourse.

    For those like Boot, democracy’s future is always hanging in the balance; it depends on shutting down dissent, or holding on to unilateral one-party rule, or ensuring an ideological monopoly over major cultural institutions. For democracy to survive, Democrats must federalize elections, Democrats are the only ones allowed to gerrymander, and elected Republicans must be stopped from implementing curricula in schools. For democracy to survive, we must squash any deviation from the dominant view.

    Similarly, this graphic has been making the local rounds:

    [pests]

    Comparing your political adversaries to subhuman pests is a traditional tactic used by both anti-Semites and Communists.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-16

[How am I driving?]

  • And they let the screen door hit them in the ass on their way out. Jonah Goldberg's recent G-File introduced me to a new word, "popularism". Apparently, the word only applies to Democrats looking to avoid upcoming electoral disasters; Jonah includes Ezra Klein's description:

    All this comes down to a simple prescription: Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff. “Traditional diversity and inclusion is super important, but polling is one of the only tools we have to step outside of ourselves and see what the median voter actually thinks,” Shor said. This theory is often short-handed as “popularism.” It doesn’t sound as if it would be particularly controversial.

    But, among progressives, it is.

    So that's what came to mind when I read this NHJournal article: Hispanic Leaders Resign From NH Dem Latino Caucus Over Hassan, Pappas Immigration Stance. Because Hassan and Pappas, with their fingers in the air, now support retaining "Title 42", the policy that discourages incoming border crossings from Mexico.

    Sen. Maggie Hassan may have thought a photoshoot in front of Trump’s border wall was smart politics. But for members of the New Hampshire Democratic Latino Caucus, it was the last straw.

    “That was the last kick in the butt for the immigrant community, and all of us as Latinos,” said Eva Castillo.

    Castillo is executive director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and, until recently, a high-profile member of the New Hampshire Democratic Latino Caucus. But on Tuesday she and several of her fellow leaders in the Latino community sent the caucus a joint letter of resignation from the caucus to state party chair Ray Buckley over the behavior of Hassan and fellow Democrat incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas.

    I think that Hassan's and Pappas's newfound respect for "border security" is a signal that they've adopted the "popularism" strategy, at least in part. The NH Journal article goes on to note the freakout from other Democrats, like State Rep Sherry Frost:

    Don't worry, Sherry baby. In the hypothetical future where this "works" and Hassan and Pappas manage to get re-elected, I have little doubt they'll return to the fold, mindlessly rubber-stamping anything their party leaders want.


  • Abolish the FDA. Jacob Sullum notes: The FDA's Rejection of a Major Vaping Brand Shows It Is Arbitrarily Applying a Nebulous Legal Standard.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued "marketing denial orders" (MDOs) for the myblu vaping device and several of its tobacco-flavored proprietary pods. The decision, which the FDA announced last Friday, affects one of the leading e-cigarette brands and does not bode well for smokers who have switched to vaping or might be interested in doing so. The FDA concluded that allowing the sale of the myblu products would not be "appropriate for the protection of the public health," which illustrates how nebulous that standard is and how arbitrarily the FDA applies it.

    The FDA seems determined to ban nearly every vaping product currently available in the United States. As of September 9, 2020, the deadline for seeking "premarket" approval, it had received some 6 million applications—one for every permutation of devices and e-liquids that manufacturers sought to introduce or keep on the market. Although the FDA was supposed to act on those applications by last September, it missed that court-ordered deadline. The agency now claims to have "completed the review of and made determinations on more than 99 percent" of the products whose manufacturers sought approval.

    I'm with Katherine Mangu-Ward on this.


  • I suppose I should keep blogging about this. Or I could get Jim Geraghty to do it for me: Elon Musk Offers to Buy Twitter.

    There is something indisputably delightful about the way that Musk freaks out elite progressives, and the way that his full-throated endorsement of free speech absolutely terrifies them. They have grown used to having the power to shut down voices that offend or bother them.

    (Some of us on the right have a clearer, more full-spectrum view of Musk. There’s a lot to like about his fearless, innovative, Tony Stark-in-real-life style, particularly his view on the First Amendment and his opposition to cancel culture; he asked recently, “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” But Musk is also way too friendly with the Chinese government, his businesses are built in part on government contracts and subsidies, and he can be erratic in his decision-making at times. He’s a really intriguing, bold, and imaginative guy, but he’s not Tech Jesus.)

    Geraghty goes on to lecture Robert Reich about the meaning of "free speech". I'm in agreement with his bottom line: "A Musk-run Twitter would be different — and, at least in this [free speech] erea, almost certainly better."


  • I was going to add "5. Resign", but Kamala… Jon Miltimore has some worthwhile suggestions that won't be taken: 4 Bipartisan Steps Biden Can Take to Tame Surging Prices Amid Historic Inflation. He's (mostly) in agreement with Democrat Larry Summers:

    Miltimore replaces Summers' Strategic Petroleum Reserve item with:

    2. Repeal the Jones Act

    The Jones Act is one of those obscure laws most Americans couldn’t name, let alone explain, if their life depended on it. A section of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act is a federal law that regulates US maritime commerce. Among other things, the Act requires all ships that move freight between US ports to be built in the US and crewed by Americans.

    Most Americans were not aware of the country’s port problems until the pandemic, but these problems were not new; they were decades in the making, and they stem in large part from the Jones Act.

    We've been griping about the Jones Act for about four and a half years, back when it was preventing timely disaster aid to Puerto Rico.


  • Paul Ryan also let the screen door hit him in the ass on his way out. Chris Pope recalls the tragic tale of Paul Ryan's Ill-Fated Plan to Reduce Social Spending.

    For most of the past half-century, federal expenditures have been kept around 20 percent of GDP. The cost of existing commitments, however, is projected to grow that number to 30 percent of GDP by 2050—largely because of increased expenditures on health care and Social Security.

    In 2008, Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, estimated that income-tax rates would need to double to fund existing spending commitments. He proposed a “Roadmap for America’s Future” to avert the problem. This propelled him to the forefront of the GOP; he would become Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and later Speaker of the House. But only three years into his speakership, Ryan retired from Congress, seemingly yesterday’s man at just 48, and his program has vanished into the mists.

    In the years since, few have proposed alternative paths to Ryan’s, even though staying on the current course is not an option. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the absence of sweeping reforms would cause GDP per capita to decline from 2050 onward and noted that “beyond 2058, projected deficits . . . become so large and unsustainable that CBO’s model cannot calculate their effects.”

    Ryan's plan was characterized as throwing granny off a clif. An ad PolitiFact rated "mostly true."


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

Progressivism

The Strange History of a Radical Idea

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

While reading this book, I mused quite a bit about history, and what it is that historians do. On this particular topic, you wouldn't think the facts are much in doubt. Progressivism's origins are relatively recent, not lost in the rubble of ancient societies. Everyone was paying plenty of attention at the time, and wrote down what they thought and observed. The facts wouldn't seem to have been much in doubt. And yet…

It turns out (and I should have realized) that historians are interpreters of history. They need to filter out important and pertinent from the trivial and irrelevant. And (since they are human) they are prone to the same failings as the rest of us: biases, hubris, laziness, …

I'm not a historian, not even close, and this book seems to be aimed at historians. But I trudged through it anyway. It's a very scholarly tome, one contribution to one side of a contentious (but slow-motion) debate, and (important disclaimer) I may have missed some things, and badly misinterpreted others.

Watson briefly discusses the origins of progressivism, making the interesting point that it incorporated two main new ideas. The first (typified by Woodrow Wilson in the late 19th century) was advocacy that American politics should break away from the stale old "Newtonian" framework described by the Declaration and the Constitution set up by the Founders, instead moving to a "Darwinian" approach of the "fittest" state surviving due to constant adaptation to dynamic social conditions. Darwinism being the new cool paradigm of the day.

Even though the "Darwinian" label was slapped on progressivism by Wilson and others, they seemed to ignore that actual evolution proceeded by sheer dumb luck; the progressive vision of preferred political/social development was very much an "intelligent design" deal, under the centralized command and control of wise bureaucrats guided by a president with powers unforeseen by the Founders.

The other thread was (somewhat surprisingly, given all the Darwinism) from many of the Protestant religious leaders of the day. Watson'a prime example here is Richard T. Ely, trained as an economist, but also the founder of the "Christian Social Union" which advocated "the application of Christian principles to the social problems of the world." Very much into "immanentizing the eschaton", if you know what I mean.

But (bottom line) these disparate visions both advocated diligent state-directed social engineering, full of the hubris that implies. "We know what the future should look like, so toss us the keys, we're driving."

Despite the subtitle, book proceeds to not discuss very much the actual history of progressivism from its intellectual origins. (For example, Robert M. La Follette does not even rate an index entry.) Instead, Watson proceeds to review what other historians said about the Progressive Era. His main point here seems to be that those historians swept the underlying anti-Founder tenets of progressivism under the rug. (To a large extent, they agreed with that.) And there's little discussion of the general illiberalism of the early Progressives. You'll have to read Thomas C. Leonard's Illiberal Reformers for that sordid story.

Watson finishes up with a look at the "revisionist" Claremont/McKenna scholars who corrected this tilted view somewhat. (I think Watson himself is in this group.)

Again, Goodreads encourages me to rate the book subjectively, and except for the early stuff I found it (overall) less than interesting.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-15

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • But I don't erroneous data. Chris Edwards at Cato tells us about the latest: Piketty’s Erroneous Data.

    Many people are interested in the distribution of income and wealth and how it may have changed over time. But there is no single and undisputed source for such data. Rather, economists construct historical time series using partial information and many assumptions.

    French economist Thomas Piketty and colleagues have for years been publishing data showing extreme changes in top 1 percent income and wealth shares in the United States over the decades. Many news outlets report the information unquestioned, despite evidence that Piketty is sloppy with data and makes bad assumptions that throw his calculations off.

    The other day in the Wall Street Journal, Phillip Magness and Vincent Geloso described errors in the top 1 percent income data of Piketty and his colleagues. The Cato Institute published a collection of essays critiquing Piketty’s theories and data in 2017. Alan Reynolds has been finding flaws in Piketty’s data since 2007.

    One of Piketty's assertions is that once "past a certain threshold", the wealth of the superrich grows "at extremely high rates", allowing them to outpace The Rest Of Us. But there's good reason to doubt that. For example:

    In the Cato Journal, Robert Arnott and coauthors examined the Forbes lists and found that of the 400 individuals on the 1982 list, just 69 individuals or their descendants remained on the 2014 list. They found that the wealth of those 69 people had grown far more slowly than if they had simply invested passively in stocks and bonds in 1982 and let their holdings grow. They conclude that “dynastic wealth accumulation is simply a myth.”

    Similarly, the Tax Foundation’s William McBride looked at changes in wealth for the 400 individuals on the 1987 Forbes U.S. list through to the 2014 list. He calculated the growth in wealth for the 73 people who stayed on the list, and he estimated the growth for those who dropped off by assuming that the drop‐​offs had barely missed the wealth threshold for the 2014 list. With that assumption, he found that the average annual real wealth growth rate over 26 years for the people on the 1987 list was at most a meager 2.4 percent. By contrast, the average annual real return on U.S. stocks over the decades has been about 7 percent.

    I realize that a lot of people think wealth inequality per se is bad; I disagree. Poverty is (of course) bad; but poor people aren't poor because rich people are rich.


  • Speaking of billionaire-smearing… Anyone can do it, and they don't have to make sense. Robby Soave notes a particularly poor attempt: Robert Reich Smears Elon Musk's Vision for Twitter as 'Dangerous Nonsense'.

    [Reich] attracted attention on social media on Tuesday for writing a particularly awful column titled "Elon Musk's Vision for the Internet is Dangerous Nonsense." It ran in The Guardian.

    Reich begins by condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism: how he hides the truth from the people of Russia by outlawing dissent, jailing protesters, and prioritizing government propaganda over independent media. Reich then turns his attention to former President Donald Trump, writing that the decisions by social media companies to ban the president "were necessary to protect American democracy."

    But wait a minute: Why does silencing a political viewpoint protect democracy? How is that any different than Putin saying his silencing of dissenters is necessary to protect Russia? Reich doesn't seem to realize that he is condemning one kind of tyranny while lionizing another, which leads him into a very, very odd attack on Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who recently became the largest shareholder of Twitter after buying a 9 percent stake in the company.

    We last saw Robert Reich using his free speech rights to bash toothless West Virginians.


  • Most likely explanation: the truth hurts. Emma Camp takes to the pages of Persuasion to explain Why My NYT Article Inspired So Much Fury. (If you'd like to check out that article, here you go: I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead. It's good!)

    Being deliberately misunderstood—having your words read in the least charitable possible way by an audience completely unwilling to consider your argument before attacking your character—is maddening. Resistance is, of course, futile. Attempting to defend yourself on the internet is, as the aphorism goes, like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty. And the pig likes it.

    So I didn’t defend myself. I gritted my teeth and did nothing. I watched as the internet crafted its fantasy of me—scheming yet weak, friendless yet socially powerful, rendered completely inept by Asperger’s yet an expert manipulator. I was incredibly hateable—the cloying white girl only able to publish in the Times because of an imaginary family connection. I was somehow both the mean-girl bully and the awkward freak who deserves what’s coming to her.

    The vicious rage in reaction to the article is telling. It shows, with biting efficacy, what happens when you don’t self-censor. If there was no real problem of illiberalism on college campuses, or our broader culture for that matter, then thousands of people wouldn’t have clamored to decry a college student as everything from a whiny child to a white nationalist. If there was no real problem, then my article wouldn’t have registered as that much of a threat.

    Ms. Camp will be working at Reason in a few months. She already has a few articles there.


  • I'm listening. At Quillette, Robert Zubrin explains How We Can Get Clean Energy—Fuel and Human Progress. It's the first of a three-article series.

    There are only two ways that modern industrial society can be powered: fossil fuels and nuclear power. The mastery of wind, water, animal, and solar power (via biomass), moved humanity from the Stone Age to the Enlightenment. It enabled global commerce under sail, the creation of metals, ceramics, glass, paper, and numerous other artificial materials (and all the devices and instruments that they enable,) and provided the mechanical energy to liberate the large majority of people—particularly in the West—from enslavement to lives of manual labor. But by the 19th century, these sources of energy were no longer sufficient to sustain the further growth of the very society that they had created.

    That society, however, had the tools to give birth to a new one. Equipped with access to global knowledge, printed books, and literate populations wielding that science along with steel tools, drills, and other mechanisms, it was able to invent the technologies required to unleash the power of fossil fuels. Thus liberated from the limitations of pre-industrial energy sources, humanity was able to grow exponentially further in numbers, power, and knowledge—in sum creative capacity—to the point where it was able to discover and invoke the laws of chemistry and electricity. These, in turn, not only allowed the creation of new materials ranging from gasoline, plastics, fiberglass, aluminum, and silicon to uranium, but of scientific instruments unveiling deeper laws of nature, and, with them, new and still vaster powers hidden within the last of these.

    Fun fact for folks pining for a "carbon tax":

    All sales taxes are regressive, but because they target basic goods, and do so on the basis of mass, rather than cost, carbon taxes are ultra-regressive. A $50 discount store dress incorporates the same amount of carbon in its production as a $500 high fashion dress. A conventional sales tax would hit the expensive dress 10 times as hard. A carbon tax would increase the cost of both by the same amount. So really, carbon taxes are just a scam for transferring the tax burden from the rich to the poor.

    And the folks griping about "inequality" don't seem to mind that much.


  • Among the many things Biden can't do… Veronique de Rugy focuses on one of them: Biden Can't Shield Us from "Billionaire Tax" Fallout.

    There are many problems with this tax. For instance, it is unclear that taxing wealth as opposed to income wouldn't face constitutional problems, as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia pointed out to the president. In addition, as we have learned from other wealth taxes, it will be administratively prohibitive. This is why most of the European countries that previously had wealth taxes eventually abandoned them.

    In addition, it would likely raise very little revenue. This is precisely because capital is mobile and would soon fly to other, less-restrictive countries to escape the tax. Alternatively, the owners of the assets in question could be forced to sell — often to foreigners — also leaving less to tax.

    More importantly for the purpose of this article, it would reduce U.S. saving and capital formation, which would have consequences for everyone else who isn't a billionaire. The wealth of billionaires isn't held the way most believe it to be — stored as if in gold or cash under their beds. A lot is invested back into their own companies, meaning wealth taxes ultimately hurt their employees.

    Let's not forget that Biden rejected Sanders/Warren-style wealth tax proposals during the campaign. But he's probably forgotten about that.


Last Modified 2022-04-18 9:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-04-14

[Wrong Direction]

  • As our Eye Candy du Jour illustrates… Bryan Caplan provides us with The Ironclad Argument Against Racism. Spoiler:

    Racism is wrong because collective guilt is wrong.

    This doesn't make any sense to those who like collective guilt, and use it as a weapon to achieve other goals.

    In the past, most whites were racist. Even today, many are. Without collective guilt, however, you have no basis for punishing whites in general. You couldn’t tell a white college applicant, “We’re going to discriminate against you, because white people in the past discriminated against blacks.” Or even, “We’re going to discriminate against you, because modern whites continue to discriminate against blacks.” Instead, you would have to tailor any punishment for specific misdeeds - ever mindful of the danger that if you stray into collective guilt, the punisher himself deserves punishment.

    So while the ironclad argument against racism unequivocally condemns racism, it also bars the way to a no-holds-barred, by-any-means-necessary War Against Racism. Which, on reflection, is a feature, not a bug. If your road to a just society requires constant injustice, you’re headed in the wrong direction.


  • Every college should have an actual monument to destructive assumptions. But since that's not an option, we'll have to stick with the one noticed by George F. Will: $1.6 trillion in student debt is a monument to destructive assumptions.

    Anyone who has taken a swig from the flask of recent history knew President Biden was going to decree another extension of the pause on federal student loan payments. While celebrating the economy’s health — 3.6 percent unemployment, 2 percent unemployment for college graduates — he has announced a sixth extension, through Aug. 31, to give borrowers relief from current economic conditions.

    The Constitution, which modern presidents treat as a tissue of suggestions to be complied with when doing so is not inconvenient, says: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (if the committee has 20 members or so, it has about half of the Americans who care about responsible budgeting) is not amused. It says this will bring to more than $115 billion the effective disbursement, granted by executive largesse, of funds that otherwise would have flowed into the treasury in payments of principal and interest. Now four more months, at about $5 billion per month in non-accrued interest, will fuel consumption in the overheated economy.

    GFW guesses that Biden "probably assumes that the gratitude of up to 41 million beneficiaries will exceed the resentment of borrowers who scrimped to pay their debts." I hope he's wrong about that.


  • The libertarian menace continues to work its insidious way… Kerry McDonald is amused, and so am I: CNN Slams Libertarian Children’s Books—Causing Sales to Surge.

    Last week, CNN published an opinion piece arguing that the “right-wing children’s entertainment complex is upon us.” Prominently featured as a case in point were the Tuttle Twins children’s books, created by Connor Boyack to offset the progressive propaganda that many children now confront in classrooms across the country.

    The books, which have sold more than 3.5 million copies, weave in libertarian themes related to individual freedom, limited government, free markets, and entrepreneurship, and frequently highlight the work of great thinkers such as Frederic Bastiat, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and FEE founder, Leonard Read.

    I'm ashamed to admit I was ignorant of the Tuttle Twins literature. And (sigh) it's probably too late for me to buy them for my kids, since they are in their thirties.

    The author of the CNN piece, Nicole Hemmer ("Associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project") seems nonplussed about the general phenomenon of kids' books written from a conservative/libertarian perspective. What could they possibly be bothered about? Well…


  • Here you go, Nicole. John Stossel will educate you about Kids' Books in the Woke Era.

    Bookstores now sell only certain kinds of children’s books.

    “Go into Barnes & Noble,” says Bethany Mandel in my new video, “and you will be met with a wall of biographies. Probably 27 different books about former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Great. A ton about Kamala Harris. Great.”

    But where are the biographies on conservatives? There weren’t any.

    She found lots on people like Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and Rachel Carson, but not one on conservatives like Margaret Thatcher or Amy Coney Barrett.

    If you're in the market, Stossel has other suggestions.


  • Interesting take… from John Kline at Heterodox Academy. Sinister Sounds: How the Phonetics of “Scare Words” Amplifies Their Meaning.

    More and more, linguists and phonologists are finding a nonarbitrary relationship between the sound of words and the feelings they arouse in people. Specific sound profiles of words, they assert, can affect their meaning for people at a deep psychological level. Using fake words, for instance, neuroimaging studies have found words like “kiki” to be emotionally arousing whereas words like “bouba” are calming. As researchers have concluded, specific sound profiles “implicitly influence language-users in their final emotional judgment about the meaning of words.”

    This research applies especially well to words like “racist” and “hate,” words that have become increasingly expanded and applied to new arenas, failing, as a result, to communicate much, if any, meaning to the listener. . There are phonetic features in these words that help explain why they have morphed into “scare terms” or “devil words,” which, as the Oregon Association of Scholars (OAS) describe in a recent report, are frequently deployed by professors and students simply to quash opposing views. The OAS calls the practice “the New Censorship.”

    I think by Kline's standards, "statist" should be a pretty good slur to sling at the idolaters of big government.

    It also explains why they prefer "public schools" to tbe (more accurate) "government schools": public is one of those "soothing" words.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It seems somewhat longer than 10 years, but… Jonathan Haidt takes to the Atlantic (the magazine, not the ocean) to explain Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid. Spoiler: it's the fault of Zuckerberg (et. al.).

    Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

    In their early incarnations, platforms such as Myspace and Facebook were relatively harmless. They allowed users to create pages on which to post photos, family updates, and links to the mostly static pages of their friends and favorite bands. In this way, early social media can be seen as just another step in the long progression of technological improvements—from the Postal Service through the telephone to email and texting—that helped people achieve the eternal goal of maintaining their social ties.

    But gradually, social-media users became more comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with strangers and corporations. As I wrote in a 2019 Atlantic article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell, they became more adept at putting on performances and managing their personal brand—activities that might impress others but that do not deepen friendships in the way that a private phone conversation will.

    I'm skeptical, but (then again) I mainly use Facebook to keep up with friends and family. See what you think.


  • It's the Free State Menace, I tellz ya! There has been much ink spilled and bytes flung recently about the little (population 801) town of Croydon NH, over there on the other side of the state. Typical: an op-ed in my local paper: Free State seeks to dismantle NH government.

    At this year's school district meeting, roughly 60-100 people attended. Of those, less than 40 of the 450 voters in a town of 800 were present. [Ian] Underwood as Select Board chair presented an amendment to the school district budget reducing it from $1.7 million to $800,000. The vote passed 20-14. It took less than 5% of the town's registered voters to redefine the school district.

    The horror! And there's been little effort to present the arguments made for budget-cutting; it's just presented as an obvious effort to "dismantle."

    Fortunately the Foundation for Economic Education provides that: Small New England Town Cuts School Board Budget—in Half.

    One of the main topics of discussion was the proposed $1.7 million budget for the Croydon School Board. This would cover the 24 students in the Croydon Village School, a K-4 one room schoolhouse, and about 53 older students who are tuitioned out to public and private schools in the area. The $1.7 million budget represented an increase of about 30 percent over the last three years, and would have come with an estimated property tax increase of nearly 19 percent.

    More at the link.


  • Ghost stories about guns. Kevin D. Williamson devotes much of his weekly column to The Ghost in the Machine Gun.

    Finding a really nice classic Mustang is not always easy and is never cheap, and, for years, a handful of very committed car enthusiasts have been making an end-run around the classic-car market and the restoration industry both by more or less building entirely new cars from the parts catalogue. This is something that is a lot easier to do with very popular classics such as the Mustang than it would be with (alas!) the 1966 Volvo P1800 I very stupidly bought as a broke college student. In reality, building a new Mustang from the catalogue entails a lot more than ordering the parts and putting them together — there is a reason most cars are built in factories rather than in artisans’ workshops. But you can do it, if you really want to.

    You can build a gun from scratch, too, if you have the inclination and the skills. Contrary to what a great many people seem to think, there isn’t any law against it. There never has been, at least at the federal level. There are many kits you can buy to build old-style black-powder muskets and Kentucky rifles — a relatively easy project whose main challenges are related to woodworking rather than mechanics. But you can build sophisticated modern firearms, too. If you are a skilled machinist and have the right equipment, you can build one entirely from scratch. If that is too much for you, then you can build one from commercially available parts that simply need to be assembled — but you will have to pass a federal background check when purchasing the “receiver,” which is what the ATF considers a firearm when it is complete or almost complete.

    Since I'm pretty ignorant about gun culture, KDW's is a welcome take. The effort to scarify the public about "ghost guns" is just the latest tactic by the folks who want to use it as a lever to get what they've always wanted: ‘Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47’


  • We're number … er … sixteen!? The Tax Foundation has come out with the latest comparison. Tax Burden by State: 2022 State and Local Taxes.

    • New Yorkers faced the highest burden, with 15.9 percent of net product in the state going to state and local taxes. Connecticut (15.4 percent) and Hawaii (14.9 percent) followed close behind.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska (4.6 percent), Wyoming (7.5 percent), and Tennessee (7.6 percent) had the lowest burdens.

    New Hampshire has the 16th-lowest burden (9.6%). I expected better, but maybe I shouldn't have. (I just did my taxes and sent an unusually large amount to Concord. That's what happens when a good chunk of your income comes from dividends.)

    We do (however) look good in comparison with other New England States. Maine is #41, with a 12.4% burden. Massachusetts is #37 (11.5%), Vermont #47 (13.6%), Connecticut #49 (15.4%), and Rhode Island #36 (11.4%).


  • Just when you thought it was safe to be a physics major. Jerry Coyne bemoans the latest woke incursion: Science “studies” helping bring down science.

    Those of us who want our science free of ideology can only stand by helplessly as we watch physics, chemistry, and biology crumble from within as the termites of Wokeism nibble away. I once thought that scientists, whom I presumed would be less concerned than humanities professors with ideological pollution (after all, we do have some objective facts to argue about), would be largely immune to Wokeism.

    I was wrong, of course. It turns out that scientists are human beings after all, and with that goes the desire for the approbation of one’s peers and of society.  And you don’t get that if you’re deemed a racist. You can even be criticized from holding yourself away from the fray, preferring to do science than engage in social engineering. (Remember, Kendi-an doctrine says that if you’re not an actively working anti-racist, you’re a racist.)

    Jerry's Exhibit A is a substack post by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss: Physics Education: The hordes are at the gates.. Which in turn references a recent paper in Physical Review Physics Education Research titled Observing whiteness in introductory physics: A case study. Abstract:

    Within whiteness, the organization of social life is in terms of a center and margins that are based on dominance, control, and a transcendent figure that is consistently and structurally ascribed value over and above other figures. In this paper, we synthesize literature from Critical Whiteness Studies and Critical Race Theory to articulate analytic markers for whiteness, and use the markers to identify and analyze whiteness as it shows up in an introductory physics classroom interaction. We name mechanisms that facilitate the reproduction of whiteness in this local context, including a particular representation of energy, physics values, whiteboards, gendered social norms, and the structure of schooling. In naming whiteness and offering a set of analytic markers, our aim is to provide instructors and researchers with a tool for identifying whiteness in their own contexts. Alongside our discussion, which imagines new possibilities for physics teaching and learning, we hope our work contributes to Critical Whiteness Studies’ goal of dismantling whiteness.

    There's a PDF of the article at the link, but the reviews are in. Coyne: "I cannot emphasize enough how bad the paper is." Krauss: "When I read the abstract, I was pretty sure it must be a spoof paper[…]". But no, it's the real deal. Check it out if you need a good laugh. Or a good cry.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-12

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Living free and not dying. The WSJ editorialists bring one of those state-comparison studies that we love so dearly to our attention: States of Covid Performance.

    More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to draw some conclusions about government policy and results. The most comprehensive comparative study we’ve seen to date was published last week as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and it deserves wide attention.

    The authors are University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan and Stephen Moore and Phil Kerpen of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. They compare Covid outcomes in the 50 states and District of Columbia based on three variables: the economy, education and mortality. It’s a revealing study that belies much of the conventional medical and media wisdom during the pandemic, especially in its first year when severe lockdowns were described as the best, and the only moral, policy.

    And guess what, Granite Staters? Out of the 50 states (plus D.C.) New Hampshire was seventh-best overall. (Behind Utah, Nebraska, the Peoples' Republic of Vermont, Montana, South Dakota, and Florida.) Not too shabby.

    Note that the overall score depends on somewhat arbitrary mathematical weighting of disparate variables ("the economy, education, and mortality"). So it's easy to quibble.


  • And, more important, does Betteridge's Law of Headlines apply? Peter Spiliakos asks one of those headline questions: Can Ron DeSantis Avoid the Scott Walker Fate? Or (Spilakos adds) the Rick Perry fate? Both were (arguably) successful governors whose presidential candidacies fizzled. And Mitt Romney… well, we know how that turned out. Bottom paragraph:

    The challenge that DeSantis faces — which Perry and Walker also faced but failed at — is to articulate how his statewide record applies to federal politics. Unlike Perry and Walker, whose entire elected careers were in state politics, DeSantis has some experience in Washington. But the most important thing for him to keep in mind is that state and federal politics work differently. One can master both, but doing so involves putting in the work.

    I usually vote Libertarian, but they seem to have gotten even crazier than usual lately. So my vote is up for grabs, Republicans! All you have to do to get my vote is to articulate a vision of individual liberty, fiscal sanity, getting immigration under control, … How hard could that be?


  • AI: Threat or Menace? Alex Tabarrok has a provocative question: When Can/Should We Pull the Plug? At my age, I'm sensitive to what that question usually refers to, but (no) it's about those computers that just keep getting smarter. Alex links to a blog post by "Not Relevant", [RETRACTED] It's time for EA leadership to pull the short-timelines fire alarm..

    So, the post has been retracted, but it's still interesting. (I think "EA" stands for "Effective Altruism".)

    For those who haven't grappled with what actual advanced AI would mean, especially if many different organizations can achieve it:

    • No one knows how to build an AI system that accomplishes goals, that also isn't going to prevent you from turning it off. It's an unsolved research problem. Researchers have been trying for decades, but none of them think they've succeeded yet.
    • Unfortunately, for most conceivable goals you could give an AI system, the best way to achieve that goal (taken literally, which is the only thing computers know how to do) is to make sure it can't be turned off. Otherwise, it might be turned off, and then (its version of) the goal is much less likely to happen.

    I don't know what to make of it, honestly. Remember, it's been retracted, but that doesn't necessarily make it wrong. Or even less wrong.


  • Even worse in reruns. Oh, yeah: there was big gun news yesterday, covered (surprisingly) pretty well by our local TV news station. At least they gave some time to dissenting voices. I wish they had given David Harsanyi some time, but here he is at NR with the announcement: Biden’s Tired Gun Act Is Back.

    Crime is rising, so it’s time for Democrats to take aim at law-abiding gun owners. In a press conference today, President Joe Biden promised swift action, announcing a series of unilateral moves that will have virtually no effect on rising criminality. Among them is regulating so-called “ghost guns,” which Biden claims “are the weapons of choice for many criminals.” And by “many,” he means “incredibly few.” Biden also promised to fight for “universal” background checks and “assault-weapons” bans, two other policies that would do almost nothing to lower the crime rate and everything to do with making life more difficult for peaceful gun owners.

    “By the way — it’s going to sound bizarre — I support the Second Amendment,” the president noted. Indeed, it does. Biden went on to argue that people on “the terrorist list,” despite any due process, should lose their right to buy a gun (no), once again claimed that Americans couldn’t buy a cannon during Founding era (they could), and made a dumb joke about deer in Kevlar for what has to be thousandth time. Biden, again, maintained that gun manufacturers “have more immunity than any other American industry” (they do not). Biden then announced that he would nominate another anti-gun zealot, Steve Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney in Ohio, to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Less hyperbolic and prone to fabulism than failed nominee David Chipman, Dettelbach, who Biden claimed was a “noncontroversial candidate,” holds virtually indistinguishable policy positions on the Second Amendment from the last nominee. There is no reason why he should be confirmed, either.

    About the "deer in Kevlar" bit, KDW points out that hunting rifles are generally more powerful than those scary "ghost" (Boo!) AR-style rifles, and are able to get through Kevlar.


  • But at least the new gun rules are clear, right? Uh, no. J.D. Tuccille says ATF’s New ‘Ghost Gun’ Rules Are as Clear as Mud.

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) finalized "ghost gun" rule surprised Cody Wilson, the head of Ghost Gunner. His company manufactures CNC mills that turn unfinished firearm receivers into products that can be included in completed firearms that have no serial numbers and are, hence, called "ghosts." He'd anticipated a more-or-less explicit ban on so-called "80 percent receivers" which would leave his Ghost Gunner 3 that can turn a raw block of metal into an AR-15 receiver as the simplest remaining solution. Instead, by his reading, the new rules consumed a lot of pages to go after the most basic end of the DIY market.

    Well, maybe. Other industry experts aren't sure what the rules mean. That uncertainty poses huge challenges for manufacturers, vendors, and anybody trying to establish what is and isn't legal.

    One thing that is clear: criminals don't obey "rules". Even if (maybe especially if) they're promulgated by the ATF.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-11

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Or very tasty. The WSJ editorialists check out progressive dietary suggestions and find them wanting: Eat the Rich? They’re Not Even Filling.

    Forbes is out with its annual billionaires list, so it’s time for a reminder that even if progressive politicians ate the rich, it would barely take the edge off their hunger. President Biden’s recent budget plan includes a disguised wealth tax on centimillionaires, and he’s always whispering into the microphone that folks need to pay their “fair share.”

    Well, the U.S. has 735 billionaires, according to Forbes. Their combined assets come to $4.7 trillion. That’s based on stock values as of March 11. It also factors in “a variety of assets, including private companies, real estate, art and more.” One caveat is that Forbes doesn’t “pretend to know each billionaire’s private balance sheet,” so we can’t say how many stingray tanks and volcano lairs are missing.

    What could the U.S. buy for $4.7 trillion? To start, it’s barely enough to cover the Build Back Better agenda that Mr. Biden pitched last year. The BBB bill tried to game Congress’s budget rules by phasing out programs early to lower the price. But if everything were made permanent, as Democrats intended, the cost would be $4.6 trillion over 10 years, according to an estimate by the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is by the late great P. J. O'Rourke who didn't actually believe you should eat the rich. But searching for "eat the rich" at Amazon brings up a lot of products from people who are more serious about it.


  • Also the last refuge of a scoundrel. And probably several more refuges along the way. Kevin D. Williamson notes that Samuel Johnson's famous adage needs to be updated. Patriotism is now The First Refuge of a Scoundrel. The lead example is Pakistan's ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan, but KDW applies the lesson widely.

    There are many competing definitions of patriotism, but the simple one will do here: Patriotism is the willingness to put the interests of one’s country above one’s own interests. It is adherence to the motto of the Union League: Amor Patriae Ducit — the love of my country leads me. Pakistan is suffering a kind of slow-motion nervous breakdown as the world leaves it behind: Pakistan’s estranged twin sister, India, though far from being a rich country, now has a GDP per capita nearly twice that of Pakistan, and it has become if not a great power then at least a respected player in world affairs. Pakistan is today slightly poorer than Haiti, but what Imran Khan cares about is holding on to power — country is thought of second, if at all. He claims to be motivated by love of his country and argues that his political difficulties are the result of foreign plotting — but, as anybody with eyes can see, that is the opposite of patriotism: It is using one’s country as a human shield and its people as hostages for one’s own self-interest.

    Patriot is one of those words that has a warm glow around it, a glow that is partly tribal and partly moral. Dr. Johnson famously observed that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” and he was correct for a couple of centuries, until patriotism became the scoundrels’ refuge of first resort. The worst people in this country call themselves patriots when they are at their most criminal and most unpatriotic, hiding behind red-white-and-blue camouflage. The most dramatic recent examples of this were the so-called patriots who attempted to overthrow the government of the United States after Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, but they are not alone.

    It used to be that questioning someone's patriotism was a heinous sin. That was before everyone started doing it.


  • Other than that, though, it's fine. Hans Bader notes some downsides about a recent vote-buying policy change: Biden's suspension of student loan payments will raise inflation & rob the poor to enrich the privileged.

    Joe Biden has provided billions of dollars in handouts to high-income people. The most recent example is his administration’s decision last week to suspend student loan repayments yet again, through August 31. It did that even though people with big student loans tend to be people with high incomes, like lawyers and doctors. Most people can afford to make payments on their student loans, because the unemployment rate is only 2 percent for college graduates, and less than 5 percent for recent graduates.

    Matt Yglesias is quoted, because he's been mugged by reality:

    Between canceled interest and the erosion of principal due to inflation, the prolonged pause has already saved student debtors a bunch of money. But the benefits are awfully lopsided. As Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget shows, medical doctors have received $48,500 in relief versus $29,500 for people with law degrees, $4,500 for people with bachelor’s degrees, and a measly $2,000 for those who didn’t finish their degree and are objectively most in need of help.

    As noted above, I'm not an "eat the rich" guy. On the other hand, the Rest Of Us bailing out their finances should be assigned a zero priority.


  • It needs to be said. Paul Graham writes on the problem with secular religions: Heresy.

    There are an ever-increasing number of opinions you can be fired for. Those doing the firing don't use the word "heresy" to describe them, but structurally they're equivalent. Structurally there are two distinctive things about heresy: (1) that it takes priority over the question of truth or falsity, and (2) that it outweighs everything else the speaker has done.

    For example, when someone calls a statement "x-ist," they're also implicitly saying that this is the end of the discussion. They do not, having said this, go on to consider whether the statement is true or not. Using such labels is the conversational equivalent of signalling an exception. That's one of the reasons they're used: to end a discussion.

    That's just an excerpt, but Graham's essay rates a solid 10 on the ReadTheWholeThing metric.

    Which reminds me: over on the "Books" side of the blog is my report on John McWhorter's Woke Racism. It's another exploration of ideology-as-religion, and heartily recommended.


  • Going overboard. I think David Horowitz's essay, reproduced at Power Line, goes too far: Progressivism As Criminal Enterprise.

    In a previous article, I explained that “progressivism is a criminal mentality.” By progressivism, I mean every political philosophy that regards itself as “revolutionary,” or “transformative,” that describes itself as socialist, communist, fascist or jihadist – or that believes “the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.” The belief that history is marching towards justice is a cult ideology refuted by the mass genocides of the modern era, which were carried out by Marxists and Nazis. The belief that the world is marching towards justice, that progressives are “on the right side of history” is a delusion that will justify any atrocity and already has.

    That is why today’s progressives are advancing the same genocidal agendas that the West defeated in World War II and the Cold War. Led by the 98-member “Progressive Caucus” in Congress, and its racist leaders – Jamila Prayapal, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, AOC and Ayanna Presley – progressives are in full-throated support of the 75-year genocidal campaign conducted by the terrorist dictatorships in Gaza and the West Bank. The stated goal of Hamas and the Palestine Authority is the destruction of the Jewish state and the expulsion of its Jews. Even Hitler hid his plans for the Final Solution. But Hamas, the PLO and the Iranian mullahs trumpet their goal of ethnically cleansing a conquered Israel and rendering it Judenrein – Jew free. Nor is the hatred of these neo-Nazis confined to the Jews. “Death to America” is the preferred chant of their Iranian missile providers as well.

    I agree that progressivism has evil results. But it, quite simply, ain't against the law (and shouldn't be).

URLs du Jour

2022-04-10

[Running Out of Everything]

  • And that would be bad. Veronique de Rugy looks at the latest iteration of a stupid idea: Price Controls Would Make a Dire Economic Situation Worse

    History has a way of repeating itself. Or maybe it's that people cling to defunct beliefs, stubbornly refusing to learn from experience. Such stubbornness is on display when pundits, legislators, and President Joe Biden blame inflation on corporate "greed." The fix, they claim, is price controls. But such controls would only bring further economic calamity.

    To explain hikes in the prices of meat, poultry, and energy, many politicians and pundits say we must look no further than cold-hearted corporate CEOs padding their bottom lines at the expense of ordinary Americans. Companies today are allegedly so greedy that they use the pandemic as an excuse to charge extortionate prices. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that "giant corporations who say, wow, a lot of talk about high prices and inflation. This is a chance to get in there and not only pass along costs, but to inflate prices beyond that and just engage in a little straightforward price gouging."

    I'm old enough to remember the last time price controls were implemented. Didn't take much time before the Newsweek cover story over there on your right to show up. (Yes, kids, that was back when Newsweek was something occasionally worth reading.)


  • All we need is practical nucleosynthesis and we'll be fine! But until then, big government can't get out of its own way. The WSJ editorialists muse on the latest instantiation of that truth: Critical Mineral Contradictions.

    The contradictions of White House energy policy keep piling up. In the latest example, President Biden on Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to subsidize the mining of certain minerals in the U.S. that his own Administration is using regulation to block. Weird, right?

    As Mr. Biden notes, government climate policies are driving up demand for critical minerals. An electric car includes huge amounts of graphite (66.3 kg), copper (53.2), nickel (39.9), manganese (24.5), cobalt (13.3) and lithium (8.9). Conventional cars require far less—22.3 kg of copper and 11.2 of manganese. Solar and wind also require more of such minerals than do fossil-fuel plants.

    Foreign sources are often controlled by hostile governments. And the "green lobby" (with willing cooperation from non-subsidizing bits of the Administration) is doing a pretty good job of stimying domestic mining.


  • Unaffected by climate change? Cato's Neal McCluskey wonders if we've got Student Loan Permafrost?

    When President Trump instituted a freeze on federal student loan repayments in mid‐​March 2020, which was codified in the CARES Act soon after, it made sense. COVID-19 had just descended on the country, and we were all trying to get our heads around how dangerous it might be and how to cope with it. Lockdowns, at least short‐​term, seemed to make sense, and even in their absence the pandemic was expected to put a major hit on the economy.

    Fast‐forward to today: Widespread lockdowns are long over. We’re into the second‐booster phase of vaccinations. The economy is humming along to the tune of 3.6 percent unemployment overall, and just 2 percent for Americans with at least four‐year degrees. Yet President Biden just extended the repayment freeze, the seventh such extension. The apparent justification? Inflation is high, and borrowers are not ready to put money into the repayment can they’ve seen repeatedly kicked down the road.

    At this point, there is no logical economic reason to extend the pause, and there probably hasn’t been one since the CARES Act freeze ended on September 30, 2020. By then the economy had already rebounded, while today’s inflation rationale makes no sense since more money in the economy generally makes inflation worse. And why should borrowers say they are prepared to repay when there is always a good chance another pause is coming, especially if they say they are not ready?

    This may buy the votes of a few deadbeats looking to avoid paying back their loans. I'm sure that Biden fervently hopes everyone else getting stuck with the tab isn't paying attention.


  • I'm pretty sure hope is a four letter word. But Jonah Goldberg builds a column around the opposing viewpoint. Hope’s Not a Four Letter Word.

    My AEI colleague Yuval Levin likes to say that optimism is the wrong way to think about the future. He once told me on an episode of The Remnant (and on another occasion when he was throwing stale sandwich crusts through the little sliding window of my cell door), that optimism deprives us of agency. Optimism is just a guess we make from the sidelines about how the future will work out. It implies that the unfolding of events is outside of our control. He prefers the word “hopeful” on the grounds that it suggests a goal we can work toward. I’m not entirely convinced that, as a semantic matter, hope implies more skin in the game than optimism—“hope is not a plan” and all that. But I think his intended point is the right one. If we respond to events as if our responses matter, it’s more likely that we can actually shape events, too.  

    I’ve written a lot about how I don’t like slippery slope arguments or teleological arguments. There is no “right side of history”—at least not the way people normally use that term—i.e., that a specific future is inevitable and therefore you might as well give up fighting for the one you want. This formulation, as Robert Conquest once said, has a “Marxist twang” to it. 

    Similarly, while I have modified my blanket opposition to slippery slope arguments, I think the core weakness of such arguments is that they, too, ignore human agency. Statements like, “If we recognize a right to own a gun, we won’t be able to stop people from having bazookas” or, “If we allow gay people to get married there will be no way to stop people from marrying horses” ignore the fact societies can draw lines, make distinctions, and, like Jean Luc Picard, proclaim “This far, and no further!” (Though I think in this instance it should have been “no farther.”)

    "Hope is not a plan." True enough. But neither is despair.

I Will Fear No Evil

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I found myself imagining a conversation between Robert Heinlein and his publisher:

"Hi, Bob! What do you have in the pipeline? It's been four years since we saw The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which won the Best Novel Hugo."

"I have something even better! Set in the near future of an anarchistic and violent America. The main character is Johann Sebastian Bach Smith…"

"Bob, it seems you name a lot of your characters 'Smith'. Valentine Michael Smith, Woodrow Wilson Smith…"

"Yeah, maybe. Well, Johann is a billionaire, very old and sick, kept miserably alive. He gets a bright idea: to escape the prison of his malfunctioning body, he'll have his brain transplanted into a healthy host."

"Is that something like the 'Spock's Brain' episode on Star Trek last week? Wild. 'Brain and brain! What is brain?'"

[Pregnant pause] "No, it's not like that at all. Anyway, by sheer coincidence, Smith's loyal secretary, Eunice, is killed by a mugger, and her body is used as a host for Johann's brain. And it works. Unexpectedly, even though Eunice is dead, and her brain has been excised to make room for Johann's, there's still something left of her personality, and Johann can converse with it."

"Uh huh."

"There are legal issues. Does Johann's vast fortune follow his brain, or his body? But mostly there are sexual issues. And Buddhism. And…"

"Wait, Bob, tell me more about the sex stuff."

"OK. Since Johann's brain is in the young, beautiful body of Eunice, he/she immediately wants to get laid. There's a lot of internal conversation between Johann and Eunice about how best to go about that. Go after girls or boys? Ah, why discriminate? Both."

"Bob, it seems kind of thin. Can you keep this going for your contractually obligated 500 pages?"

"Sure! I'll just make sure everybody talks a lot about whatever comes to mind. Mostly sex."

"And the ending?"

"I'm not sure yet, but I'll wrap it up in the last five pages or so."

Ahem. I see from the Wikipedia page that Heinlein had lengthy life-threatening health issues after finishing the first draft. More info (and more detail on plot/theme) here.

I reread my $1.25 paperback copy, purchased back in 1971. I read it then, when I probably should have been concentrating more on electromagnetism. (Physics 2a at Caltech was not easy.) I hadn't been tempted to check it out in the intervening years, but it's part of my "Reread Heinlein" project, so…

I found it kind of a slog. Although there are flashes of brilliance: Heinlein adopts the John dos Passos trick of interweaving snippets of news stories. (Actual ones, for dos Passos, imaginary for Heinlein.) That's amusing, but maybe I was just glad to escape the endless Heinleininan character chitchat.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-09

  • Surprise! I've started reading the substack of physicist Lawrence M. Krauss. He seems to be comfortably on the moderate left, but also seems to be able to deal fairly with those of a different bent, and that shows up in his interview of Matt Ridley, whose latest book, Viral, is described as " a masterpiece of science writing and detective work, exploring the origins of Covid-19." Something that rang a bell with me:

    There are numerous surprises. One of the most remarkable was the realization that much of the important detective work uncovering the possible origin of the pandemic came from self-trained internet sleuths who were able to uncover masters theses, as well as online registries that had either not been referenced in the professional literature, or incorrectly referenced.

    One comes away from the discussion with the realization that we still do not know for certain the origin of Covid-19, in spite of claims to the contrary. Recent, highly publicized scientific articles suggesting the Wuhan Seafood Market as the origin still have to deal with the fact that no direct evidence of the virus has yet to be uncovered from any of the animals at the market. At the same time, there is clear evidence that the Wuhan Virology Institute was working on Covid viruses, including viruses from bats that had caused Covid-like symptoms coming from a cave located far away in China.

    These "self-trained internet sleuths" run up against a lot of disdain, but…


  • The times they are a-changin'. The Krauss/Ridley article above made me recall Jeffrey A. Singer's article in the recent print Reason, now out of paywall purgatory: Against Scientific Gatekeeping. It's a good discussion of how heterodox scientific views have been suppressed for centuries, concentrating on the Covid Controversies. Discussing the lab-leak hypothesis:

    Perhaps the most egregious example of digital media doing the dirty work for the priesthood is the suppression of talk about the potentially embarrassing source of the COVID-19 virus. Efforts to suggest the source was a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" by pundits and suppressed by social media gatekeepers. After The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2021 that intelligence sources believed a lab leak is a plausible explanation that deserves further investigation, Facebook lifted its ban on posts that mentioned the theory. Twitter, on the other hand, refused to commit to what it would censor on the subject. By summer 2021, a consensus emerged among scientists in the academy and the media that the lab leak theory was at least plausible and should be explored.

    Politicized science quickly becomes… just politics, no science.


  • Gosh, it's almost as if politicians are unprincipled phonies! James Freeman's Best of the Web column makes a point about hypocrisy about deductability of state and local taxes.

    […] consider the latest Democratic attempts to raise taxes across the economy—but provide a tax cut for wealthy people who live in blue states with high tax rates. NJ.com’s Jonathan Salant reports:

    President Joe Biden’s top economic adviser said Wednesday that restoring the federal deduction for state and local taxes could be part of the final tax bill even though the White House left the provision out of its 2022-23 budget proposal.

    Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said the president’s proposal contained his priorities, and would support other provisions like the state and local tax deduction if Congress insisted on including them.

    In fact, federal tax filers can already deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes. Last year in the House Democrats voted to lift the cap to $80,000, the benefits of which would overwhelmingly flow to the richest residents of states governed by Democrats. How many low- or middle-income workers do you know who have state tax bills reaching $80,000? Yet Democrats are even considering removing the limit entirely for at least some filers.

    In effect, the SALT deduction forces people in lower-tax states to subsidize those in higher-tax states. Not very equitable!


  • 11. Move the company to New Hampshire. Writing in the WSJ free-speech fan Bradley A. Smith lists 10 Things for Elon Musk to Do at Twitter.

    I wouldn’t dream of telling Elon Musk, who recently became Twitter’s top shareholder, how to turn a profit. But I do know something about free speech. If Mr. Musk is serious about making the social-media behemoth a force for free speech, here are 10 things he can do:

    1. Leave more content up. Twitter has rules about posts, and the bulk of enforcement is done through artificial intelligence. The algorithms err on the side of taking down material that might violate Twitter rules. Instead, they should err on the side of leaving questionable material up until there has been human review.

    The other nine are good ideas as well.

Woke Racism

How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This book is a little masterpiece of argument. I followed John McWhorter's substack before he decamped for the New York Times; the book encapsulates many of the articles written there. (Apparently the proposed title for the book was The Elect; I guess the publisher and he decided to punch that up a little.)

McWhorter's aims are conveniently summarized up front:

  1. To argue that this new ideology ["Electism"] is actually a religion in all but name, and that this explains why something so destructive and incoherent is so attractive to so many people.
  2. To explain why so many black people are attracted to a religion that treats us as simpletons.
  3. To show that this religion is actively harmful to black people despite being intended as unprecedentedly "anti-racist."
  4. To show that a pragmatic, effective, liberal, and even Democratic-friendly agenda for rescuing black America need not be foundied on the tenets of this new religion.
  5. To suggest ways to lessen the grip of this new religion on our public culture.

Specifically, what McWhorter recommends on that fourth point: (1) end the war on drugs; (2) teach kids to read via phonics; (3) get past the idea that everybody must go to college. These seem simple, but they would do far more to mend racial disparities than the thick-headed nebulous demands from folk like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi.

And for that last point, McWhorter recommends: "Be Spartacus". Refuse to meekly go along with the Elect religion. This requires actual bravery, especially if your professional career is on the line. But McWhorter provides a number of examples of people who have pulled it off.

I'm not one to judge whether McWhorter's arguments here would "work" to deprogram a devotee of Electism, someone steeped in the waters of Critical Race Theory. I'd like to think so, but in my case he was pushing on an open door. (Does it show?)

I should hasten to point out that McWhorter's argument isn't new; the underlying ailment is as old as humanity itself, its recent manifestations caused by its clashes with modernity and liberty. A broader take, considering issues other than race, was provided by Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions (1987) and The Vision of the Anointed (1995). McWhorter's right (however) that the tight focus on race seems to be relatively new.

I also wonder if McWhorter's view of Electism as "religion" is less fitting than Sowell's less loaded term of "vision"? Anyway, if you like McWhorter, I recommend Sowell too.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-08

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Attaching high credibility. Specifically, when Bryan Caplan is Explaining the LGBT Explosion, I'm inclined to listen more carefully to him than anyone pushing an agenda.

    Wikipedia's article on "Acquired Homosexuality" begins:

    Acquired homosexuality is the discredited idea that homosexuality can be spread, either through sexual "seduction" or "recruitment" by homosexuals or through exposure to media depictions.

    Au contraire! As I explain in my book on human genetics, twin and adoption researchers have long credited some version of this “discredited” idea. While almost all studies find that genetics matters, virtually none asserts that the heritability of sexual orientation is even close to 100%. Ergo, homosexuality must, to some extent, be “acquired.” While that hardly implies that any specific mechanism - such "recruitment" or "media depictions" - works, the idea that homosexuality can be spread is the unheralded scientific consensus.

    This is a minefield issue, and Bryan is pretty brave to step into it. He considers the issue honestly without blinkers, as is his wont.


  • "Gun control" laws don't control guns. They control people. Specifically, law-abiding people. Jacob Sullum asks the relevant question: Does California's Latest Mass Shooting Show the Country's Strictest Gun Laws Are Not Strict Enough? (Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies.)

    A mass shooting that killed six people and injured 12 in Sacramento last weekend predictably provoked immediate agitation for stricter gun control, including policies that seem utterly irrelevant to the facts of the case. That's a familiar pattern in the gun policy debate, which consists largely of reiterating previous proposals in response to mass shootings, regardless of whether those ideas have anything to do with the most recent example.

    The Sacramento Bee described the weekend's apparently gang-related violence, which began around 2 a.m. Sunday in a downtown area where nightclubs had just closed, as "the worst mass shooting in city history." The Los Angeles Times says "the shooting was California's single deadliest in 2022," although "there have been worse in the last year." While these incidents supposedly underline the need for gun control, they simultaneously cast doubt on that argument, since California already has the strictest gun laws in the country.

    Our local TV news station covered the Sacramento shooting with a "story" that seemed to spend most of its time talking about "gun violence", and presenting various folks (including President Wheezy) demanding various "common sense" measures, none of which (as Sullum goes on to point out) would deal with the actual problem: people wanting to kill other people.


  • Stop making up "rights". There are only a few of them, and we had them figured out in 1776. Charles C. W. Cooke is not taking any prisoners: To Protect Its Reputation, the Court Must Overturn Roe in Full

    During the lengthy oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the always loquacious Justice Breyer suggested that Roe v. Wade could be considered legitimate on the grounds that, back in 1973, “the country, for better or for worse, decided to resolve their differences by this Court laying down a constitutional principle, in this case, women’s choice.” If the Supreme Court is to avoid damaging its reputation with its impending decision in Dobbs, it must assiduously reject Breyer’s line.

    Every part of Breyer’s claim is wrong. In no manner did the “country” ask the Court to “resolve” its differences on abortion; the Court did that on its own. In no sense were any of those “differences” actually “resolved” by the Court; as evidence, witness the last 50 years of American politics. And there was no real “constitutional principle” at stake, because Roe was invented from whole cloth.

    Shortly after the decision was handed down, the pro-choice legal scholar John Hart Ely explained in no uncertain terms that Roe was “bad constitutional law” on the grounds that it was “not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” He was correct. Roe was not the result of an unfortunate misinterpretation. It was not the product of a thorny argument over the practical application of the Constitution’s plain text. It was not the sour fruit of a scrivener’s error. It was a contrivance, a fiction, a lie. As Ely noted in the same essay, Roe’s finding was “not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure.” Instead, a majority of the justices wanted it, so they just . . . made it up. Since then, the Court has been faced with a choice: either keep making it up, or at long last admit error.

    There are (as I type) 254 comments on Charlie's article. I didn't even try to look at them.


  • Hicks in sticks nix glitch fix. But also in the august opinion pages of the WSJ. Brian Blase notes: To ‘Fix’ the ObamaCare ‘Family Glitch,’ Biden Politicizes the IRS

    President Obama visited the White House Tuesday to support his successor’s attempts to expand ObamaCare. The big news is that the Biden White House has succeeded in convincing the Internal Revenue Service to propose a rule that would illegally extend insurance subsidies to people who are ineligible for them.

    Mr. Obama’s presence at the White House was ironic given that the IRS’s proposed policy reverses its decision from a decade ago, when he was president. At that time, the IRS believed it had to follow the law as written. The reversal shows that the enforcement of the tax code has become deeply politicized. Through this rule, if finalized, the IRS will expand ObamaCare subsidies by billions of dollars a year beyond what Congress authorized.

    Of course, Democrats have a history of politicizing the IRS.


  • But does the Chinese Room think it thinks? Alex Tabarrok reports on the latest revelation from Google: The Chinese Room Thinks. The "Chinese Room" is a philosophical thought experiment proposed by John Searle: imagine someone who doesn't know Chinese sitting in a room with an "input" and an "output" slot. He has a large book (or "algorithm") that contains a lot of rules about which Chinese symbol should be converted to which English words. When a paper with Chinese text is slipped into the input, our man consults his book mechanically, writes down the English, and shoves it out the output slot.

    The "room" appears to do Chinese-to-English translation. But does it "understand Chinese"?

    Here's what the Googlers have gotten their "box" to do:

    [Plam]

    Here's Alex's comment:

    It seems obvious that the computer is reasoning. It certainly isn’t simply remembering. It is reasoning and at a pretty high level! To say that the computer doesn’t “understand” seems little better than a statement of religious faith or speciesism. Silicon can never have a soul! Biology transcends physics! Wetware is miraculous!

    As Richard Feynman used to say: INT-eresting!


Last Modified 2022-05-04 6:09 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-04-07

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  • Glitches get stitches. James Freeman reports on a recent White House appearance by the guy who urged us not to underestimate Joe Biden's ability to … um … foul things up: Biden and the ObamaCare ‘Glitch’

    One can easily guess why Mr. Obama wasn’t a frequent Trump guest but why has it taken until now for Mr. Obama to visit his former vice president? It’s difficult to say for sure but Tuesday’s event was billed as a celebration of 12 years of the Affordable Care Act, which Mr. Obama signed in March 2010. Yet Team Biden decided to mark the event by promoting its new plan to fix a “glitch” in ObamaCare.

    No, “glitch” was not a term that Mr. Biden simply blurted out after unwisely agreeing once again to deliver public remarks. Even in prepared documents, the White House refers to its plan to fix the “family glitch” in the Affordable Care Act. Allegedly the law does not subsidize family insurance plans enough.

    It was not, of course, a "glitch". As the WSJ editorialists point out elsewhere, that's the way the Obamacare law was written. It was a conscious decision, not a blunder or a typo. Biden's proposal to "fix the glitch" is an attempt to make more people government-dependent by executive fiat.


  • It's Opening Day! And the Red Sox game down in the Bronx has already been postponed, sigh. But Matt Welch has an article about a (serious?) proposal to nationalize the national pastime: Major League Baseball: Don't Nationalize it, Privatize it!

    The New York Times Wednesday probably won the MLB preseason hate-clicks derby by publishing a Matthew Walther op-ed under the headline, "Baseball Is Dying. The Government Should Take It Over." It's at least semi-satirical, so not worth getting exercised over (beyond the basic responses of "No it isn't," and "No it shouldn't"), but both the essay and the spectacle of an ambivalent Opening Day are timely reminders that much of what plagues the sport is not solvable by government, it emanates from government.

    It's weird that baseball would still require rescuing, given that Congress as recently as 2018 passed the Save America's Pastime Act (see how semi-satire works?). That law, which probably never could have been passed as a standalone bill, was actually crammed into a must-pass omnibus spending whatever, and as such is a fine example of what happens when you mix government with baseball.

    Sold both by gullible congresscritters and arms-twisted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) owners as the last, best hope for maintaining small-town professional ball, the act in fact was something closer to the opposite: a way for bottomless-pocketed Major League Baseball (MLB)—which pays for, and dictates terms to, the captive feeder leagues—to use the threat of franchise-contraction for a federal exemption from labor laws, so that minor leaguers could continue being paid as low as $1,100 a month for their seasonal work.

    Matt makes a thoughtful argument for ending government subsidies for MLB.


  • Nevertheless, she persisted. Specifically, persisted in lying. Liz Wolfe takes a different Liz to task: Elizabeth Warren's Wealth Tax Would Hurt More Than Just the 'Tippy Top'

    When running for president in 2020, Elizabeth Warren championed trustbusting and Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and regulation of big banks. But her plan's pièce de résistance was a proposed "2-cent" tax on "ultra-millionaires." She chirped that it would fall only on the "tippy-top," that tiniest fraction of 1-percenters who have accumulated the most wealth in America. Taxing the wealth of the tippy-top isn't just a Warren concept, though. Just last week, President Joe Biden announced the newest rendition of his budget, which calls for a wealth tax on households worth more than $100 million.

    "A family with a net worth of more than $50 million"—or the richest 75,000 households—would "pay a 2% (or 2 cents) tax on every dollar of their net worth above $50 million and a 6% (or 6 cents) tax for every dollar above $1 billion," Warren said. The $3.75 trillion in revenue she hopes to bring in with this tax over the next 10 years would be key to how she plans to pay for other items on her big-government wish list, like canceling student debt and free universal pre-K and Medicare for All.

    The good folks at the Reason Roundtable podcast this week made the valid point that Biden's proposal wouldn't raise a lot of money in relation to the overall budget.

    But it would establish the massive infrastructure necessary to do the obvious next step: lower the "wealth" threshold to capture ever more cash from the not-quite-so-rich.


  • Big news: I disagree with Kevin D. Williamson! I think he must have had a bad day, because his complaint is tough to take seriously:

    Airlines are, of course, run by the dumbest people in all of capitalism — about this there is no serious debate — but the new announcements from American Airlines are in a special category: “This flight,” the nice lady says in that sickly sweet recorded Pepto Bismol voice, “is on its way to one of our many destinations.”

    Now, that's pretty funny. Apparently that boilerplate announcement been around for at least a few months:

    But "run by the dumbest people in all of capitalism"? Kevin, my friend, that's a competition that would have a lot of candidates for first place.

    And I'd simply point to U.S. Air Carrier Safety Data. Flying in America is arguably safer than sitting on your couch at home. (Tornadoes! Floods! Wildfires! Meteorites!) Certainly over the past few years far more people have been killed driving to and from airports.

    I don't think the "dumbest people in all of capitalism" could run businesses with that record.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-06

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  • Are you feeling motivated yet? I thought our Amazon Product du Jour would do the trick. Meanwhile, Joe's trying to do some de-motivating, as reported by Frederick M. Hess and Hayley Sanon at the Dispatch: President Biden’s Bizarre Attack on Charter Schools

    In mid-March, the Biden administration declared war on charter schools. In an announcement that blindsided leading charter school advocates, the Department of Education proposed a raft of new regulations on the $440 million federal Charter School Program (CSP)—all designed to bring the boisterous, popular charter school sector to heel. 

    The new rules would require charter schools seeking CSP funds to prove that they’d be “racially and socio-economically diverse,” show that they wouldn’t step on the toes of local district schools, and agree to file a ream of documents anytime they deal with a for-profit contractor, which the U.S. Department of Education will define at whim. 

    It's not surprising, since the Biden Administration is in the pocket of charter-hating teacher unions.


  • It's time to call it a day. Kevin D. Williamson wonders: Is the Party Over? And he's talking about the party I'm actually registered as.

    As the political philosopher Neil Sedaka observed, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

    Something you will no doubt have observed in your own life and in the lives of others is that the discord in a relationship — or the bitterness of its ending — is directly proportional to the intensity and closeness of the relationship itself: A romance consisting of three dates in six weeks might end without either party’s even quite noticing, but the dissolution of a 30-year marriage with children is always agonizing and potentially explosive; it is much more wrenching to leave a job you find personal meaning in than a job that is just a paycheck; with rare exceptions, you will never get as angry at your cousins as you do at your brother. Etc.

    The thing conservatives need to keep in mind: The Republican Party is not your ex. Neither is the conservative movement. As it happens, I wrote this newsletter — except for the sentence you are reading — before Charlie Sykes’s latest — “A Governor Breaks Up with Trump” — landed in my in-box; the headline could not be more apt.

    That governor is mine own, Chris Sununu. Who's now falling back on the "It was just a joke!" defense.

    I liked the joke better than the defense.


  • Goodness, Scientific American is awful these days. Case in point is the article from Adam Mann: New Revelations Raise Pressure on NASA to Rename the James Webb Space Telescope. You'd think with the JWST settling into its orbit doing science, this would be over.

    But not when you can publish a thinly-veiled advocacy piece as "news":

    Sadness. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger. These are some of the reactions from LGBTQ+ astronomers over the latest revelations regarding NASA’s decision not to rename the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), given that the agency long had evidence suggesting its Apollo-era administrator James Webb was involved in the persecution of gay and lesbian federal employees during the 1950s and 1960s.

    The new information came to light late last month when nearly 400 pages of e-mails were posted online by the journal Nature, which obtained the exchanges under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Since early last year, four researchers have been leading the charge for NASA to alter the name of the $10-billion flagship mission, launched in December 2021, which will provide unparalleled views of the universe. The e-mails make clear that, behind the scenes, NASA was well aware of Webb’s problematic legacy even as the agency’s leadership declined to take his name off the project.

    Now, the "latest revelations" don't actually reveal anything new about James Webb's "problematic legacy". Instead, they look at NASA's internal discussion about the controversy, and it's really tough for a disinterested observer to find anything damning.

    But you can always depend on our favorite physics prof at the University Near Here to get a word in…

    Regardless of how NASA proceeds going forward, the harm done to its relationship with the LGBTQ+ community will take time and effort to repair. “I’ve lost faith, and I think a lot of people have,” says Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire and another leader of the push for renaming JWST. But change remains possible, she says: “As scientists, we often realize we were in error, and we set a new course.”

    Needless to say, Professor Prescod-Weinstein has never, to my knowledge, realized she was in error, and set a new course. That's entirely the job for people who disagree with her.

    At Hot Air, Jazz Shaw also covers the dreadful SciAm article: Activists are still trying to change the name of the new space telescope. Injecting some common sense:

    There was definitely an anti-gay bias in the government in the fifties and sixties, just as there was in much of the private sector. But in 2022, you apparently only had to be in some position of authority during that time period to be labeled as an oppressor of gay and lesbian workers or some sort of demon. If they really want to bring the hammer down on someone who seems to have been directly involved, why not go after Truman? God only knows how many things are still named after him. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be feeding them any ideas.

The Protégé

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A free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. And yet another kick-ass lady assassin as the main character.

Why do they keep making these movies? And why do I keep watching them?

Well, I guess those questions answer each other. Still, you'd think the broader viewing public might be getting a little overdosed on them.

Maggie Q plays Anna, the Protégé of Moody (Samuel L. Jackson); he rescued her from a Vietnamese gang thirty years prior, and she's grown up to participate in his business of killing people for money. She's ruthlessly efficient, as an early scene shows. But she also is a tad sentimental about Moody, and when he's apparently taken off the board by a hit squad, she vows revenge.

Moody was investigating… um, something. The details were a little fuzzy. But Anna's investigations soon enough put her in the crosshairs too, and eventually put her at odds with "Rembrandt" (Michael Keaton). They develop an (um) interesting relationship.

I have a question that is, unfortunately, also a spoiler, so mouse-highlight if you're interested: Why does Rembrandt continue to pursue Anna even after his employer is dead?

The MPAA R rating is due to "strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity." They ain't kidding about the violence; it's pervasive and (I have to admit) pretty imaginative.

Razorblade Tears

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Razorblade Tears made the NYT Best Mystery Novels of 2021 list; it's also a 2022 "Best Novel" nominee at the Edgars. So I went to check it out at the Portsmouth Public Library website, and… oh, oh: the "subjects" classification: "Murder -- Fiction | Fathers and sons -- Fiction | Ex-convicts -- Fiction | Gay men -- Fiction". Is this a case where its inclusion on those lists is guided by demands for "diversity"?

Well, I needn't have worried. It's pretty good. Yes, there are occasional lectures about LGBTQ2SIA+/BIPOC acceptance and associated bad examples of bigotry. If you need them, they're there. But they don't get in the way of an exellent yarn.

The main characters are Ike and Buddy Lee, the ex-cons referred to in the Subjects mentioned above. Ike, a black man, has been out of prison for 15 years, in on a manslaughter charge from his gang days; since then, he's built up a successful landscaping business. Buddy Lee is a low-functioning alcoholic, living in a seedy trailer park, in an even-seedier trailer. They are united by dreadful circumstance: each has a gay son, those sons were married, and those sons were also brutally murdered on a local city street. The police aren't making any progress in solving the crime. Despite their different backgrounds, the fathers team up to start investigating on their own. They have an advantage the police don't have: they're totally willing to use violence to get people to talk.

And there's a lot of violence. Ike and Buddy Lee soon find themselves up against a murderous biker gang. They absorb a lot of damage (any of which would have sent me crawling off to the nearest emergency room), but they inflict a lot more.

It's a tad predictable; I saw a lot of the plot twists coming, and I'm usually pretty bad at that. But it's a definite page-turner.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-05

  • Shut up and sing. At Cato, Paul Matzko is Playing Three Lies and a Truth with Bette Midler on the Fairness Doctrine. Based off this recent tweet from the songstress:

    Bad news, Bette. Matzko has written a book about the Fairness Doctrine.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, the Fairness Doctrine was responsible for one of the most successful episodes of government censorship in US history. The Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations each weaponized the rules to punish their political opponents, especially those in conservative radio broadcasting. However, the image Midler shared is particularly notable in both the ways that it is incorrect and what that says about growing public openness to government regulation of media.

    I have promised a truth and three lies, so let’s start with the truth, that the Fairness Doctrine was established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It was an attempt by the Commission to solve a problem of its own creation. It wanted to remove the chilling effect created by prior regulations, encourage broadcasters to air content about “controversial issues of public importance,” and to do so without unbalanced editorializing of the personal views of the broadcaster.

    Click over for details, but the lies are rife: (1) the doctrine wasn't codified until 1959, and not enforced until 1963 (when JFK leaned on the FCC); (2) the doctrine was on its way out under Jimmy Carter (although Reagan helped its demise); (3) the doctrine was not about maintaining "truth".

    And I'd add: (4) we don't need it back. In fact, we should just get rid of the FCC.


  • A bad idea returns, and will be worse this time around. As I keep reminding people, I was in the room (the Granite State Room, actually) when then-Veep Joe Biden announced the infamous new "Title IX" regulations aimed at protecting the fairer sex at American universities. That was (almost exactly) 11 years ago.

    I was way too kind back then. The effect of those "Dear Colleague" rules was primarily to erode due process for men accused of sex-related misbehavior. The rules were heavily revised by Trump Administration and then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

    But now, as reported by the FederalistBiden To Demand Colleges Erase Women's Sports And Free Speech.

    The rule changes will have seismic implications, setting off not just state versus federal showdowns over state laws barring biological males from competing in women’s sports, but also how college campuses handle sexual harassment charges and due process.

    While these changes have been anticipated since Biden took office, last week the Washington Post reported the first look at a draft copy of the proposed language, which includes this key sentence:

    Discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sex-related characteristics (including intersex traits), pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

    The Post also reported that Biden’s DOE plans to rewrite rules established by President Donald Trump’s DOE, under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that required schools to recognize the presumption of innocence for those accused of sexual harassment or assault.

    It's safe to assume it will be deemed "harassment" if someone expresses the repeated opinion that guys should not be on the women's swim team.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. The Power Line proprietors offer a guest spot to David Horowitz, whose task du jour is Understanding the Progressive Mind. He's not a fan.

    Everyone in Washington understands the basic causes of inflation. If you print more money than you have real assets like gold to back it up, you devalue your currency and make everything cost more. If you declare war on fossil fuels, shut down pipelines, close vast oil fields like ANWR, and don’t approve drilling licenses generally, you cause the price of everything to go up, because virtually everything requires energy to produce. If you spend vast amounts of government money inducing individuals not to work, employers will raise wages to entice them to work, and that, too, will cause prices to go up. It’s not rocket science.

    Despite understanding these consequences, the Biden administration has instituted all these inflationary measures, and avoided taking responsibility for them and the suffering they cause. They did this to advance their progressive agenda, which is really a reactionary socialist agenda that has not changed its fundamental premises since 1848, when Marx published what is and has always been the progressive agenda. The Biden reactionaries denied their responsibility for the costly and dangerous inflation their policies have created in the way they normally cover up their assaults on the public – with two obvious lies. First by claiming that the inflation was “transitory,” and then by blaming it on Vladimir Putin – calling it “Putin’s price hike.” The brazen character of these lies and the fact that Biden has kept repeating them in the face of devastating refutations reflects the fact that the Democrats know full well what they are doing, which is stoking the fires of a volatile inflation which is causing profound hardship to the very constituencies they pretend to care about – people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

    I'm currently reading Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson; I think Horowitz is failing to make some relevant distinctions.

    But I'm in broad agreement that leftists do a very good job of aggressively claiming good labels for their beliefs. As here. Who except knuckle-dragging troglodytes could possibly be against "progress"?


  • Spot the musical reference. I don't know who wrote the genius headline for Ed Gresser's WSJ column about the US tariff system, but I like it a lot: I’ll Tax Your Feet.

    If you get irate over income or property taxes, don’t look down at your feet. You’ll feel worse if you do, because the costs that go into many Americans’ shoes contain the country’s most unfair taxes.

    The American tariff system rarely draws attention. The Trump-era tariffs on metals and Chinese goods were unusual. They were hotly debated, drew foreign retaliation, and raised prices on many consumer goods and industrial inputs.

    Those who investigate the permanent tariff system find a few predictable things: Tariffs are an inefficient form of tax that enable price increases without increasing supply or affecting demand, and they are a relatively small revenue source for the U.S. at about $85 billion in 2021. But they also find something both startling and grating: Tariffs are easily the most regressive of all U.S. taxes, forcing the poor to pay more than anyone else.

    Fun fact: "A lawyer in dress leathers unwittingly pays an 8.5% tariff and a college student in elite running shoes pays 20%, but a maid in a cheap pair of sneakers imported for $3 or less pays an extraordinary 48%."

    For you youngsters, the headline is from the 1966 Beatles song "Taxman" by George Harrison, a gripe about the high marginal tax rates in the UK of the day. Lyric:

    Let me tell you how it will be,
    There's one for you, nineteen for me,
    Cause I'm the Taxman,
    Yeah, I'm the Taxman.
    Should five per cent appear too small,
    Be thankful I don't take it all,
    Cause I'm the Taxman,
    Yeah, I'm the Taxman.
    If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
    If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat,
    If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat,
    If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.
    Taxman.
    Cause I'm the Taxman,
    Yeah, I'm the Taxman.
    Don't ask me what I want it for
    (Taxman Mister Wilson)
    If you don't want to pay some more
    (Taxman Mister Heath),
    Cause I'm the Taxman,
    Yeah, I'm the Taxman.
    Now my advice for those who die,
    Declare the pennies on your eyes,
    Cause I'm the Taxman,
    Yeah, I'm the Taxman.
    And you're working for no-one but me,
    Taxman.

    I think it's the most libertarian song the Beatles made.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-04

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  • Our Amazon Product du Jour is (probably) conspiracist junk. But for a more level-headed criticism, here's David R. Henderson's essay: The Fed Is a Failed Central Planner

    Almost all the mainstream discussion of monetary policy in the United States today and for a number of decades is and has been about what kind of monetary policy the Federal Reserve should carry out. Should the Fed target interest rates and, if so, how? For example, should it follow the Taylor Rule, named after Stanford economist and Hoover senior fellow John Taylor? Should the Fed target nominal gross domestic product, as Mercatus Center economist Scott Sumner advocates? Should the Fed give up on inflation and make sure that unemployment doesn’t spike? Should the Fed give up on unemployment and make sure the inflation rate stays low or, given today’s data, decreases to a low rate?

    All these questions are worth asking. But notice that these questions are about how the Fed should engage in central planning of the money supply. Few Americans, and even a lower percent of economists, think it’s a good idea for the federal government to centrally plan the number of cars that should be produced in the United States. Economists don’t typically call for the federal government to decide how much steel should be produced. Why, then, do the vast majority of economists think that the Fed should centrally plan the money supply? It must be because monetary policy before the Federal Reserve existed led to much worse results than after the Fed started operating in 1914.

    Yet it turns out that we got better results on inflation and roughly equivalent results on business cycles prior to 1914. Moreover, our monetary institutions prior to the Fed had serious deficiencies due to damaging regulation. Without those regulations, monetary policy prior to the Fed would have been even better.

    Henderson's fun fact: From 1790-1913 (i.e., pre-Fed) total inflation was approximately 8%. Not 8% per year. Total.

    Since the Fed's been in control, 1914-2022, the consumer price index has risen by 2737%.


  • "What do I have to do to get these screaming lunatics out of my office?" I've often speculated that's the thought flitting through the mind of a university administrator at times. Aron Ravin says that's not the way to go: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Universities Shouldn’t Yield to Revolutionary Minority of Students.

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. These three words are now the holy trinity of woke activists seeking to impose their ideology on institutions across the country. It’s worst at — though by no means exclusive to — universities. Ever since DEI-inspired protests at the University of Missouri caused that school’s president to resign in 2015 despite an absence of any wrongdoing, raging students, working hand-in-hand with activist administrators and sympathetic faculty members, have only grown more ambitious. Just this past November, at Coastal Carolina University, Steven Earnest was, at the behest of the school’s DEI committee, temporarily removed from teaching duties for uttering the following heresy (***Content Warning***): “I’m just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily.”

    Based on such stories, it’s easy to assume that university administrators have lost their minds. The now-commonplace and well-funded DEI departments on campuses, which are consistent sources of identity-based propaganda, certainly give that impression. But in reality, the vast majority of statements and initiatives from such departments are half-baked, designed to quell the shrieks of a frothing, vocal minority — the one that’s actually in charge.

    My go-to example on this is the "open letter" issued last year by "UNH Lecturers United" which demanded that UNH administrators get behind their efforts to "actively oppose any political position structured around inequality." (That letter is apparently no longer available on their website but my reproduction and its fisking is here.)


  • I've always wondered about the seven dwarfs.

    Well, not always. Never, in fact. But I bet the live-action remake of Snow White is going to have a new and interesting take on their racial/sexual diversity. I say that after reading Christopher F. Rufo's report in City Journal on Disney’s Ideological Capture.

    In the wake of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation, which prevents public schools from promoting gender ideology in kindergarten through third grade but which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Disney executives organized an all-hands meeting, called the “Reimagine Tomorrow Conversation Series,” and pledged to mobilize the entire corporation in service of the “LGBTQIA+ community.” Executives recruited the company’s most intersectional employees, including a “black, queer, and trans person,” a “bi-romantic asexual,” and “the mother [of] one transgender child and one pansexual child,” and announced ambitious new initiatives—seeking to change everything from gender pronouns at the company’s theme parks to the sexual orientation of background characters in the company’s films.

    In a featured presentation at the meeting, executive producer Latoya Raveneau laid out Disney’s ideology in blunt terms. She said her team was implementing a “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” and regularly “adding queerness” to children’s programming. Another speaker, production coordinator Allen Martsch, said his team has created a “tracker” to ensure that they are creating enough “canonical trans characters, canonical asexual characters, [and] canonical bisexual characters.” Corporate president Karey Burke said she supported having “many, many, many LGBTQIA characters in our stories” and reaffirmed the company’s pledge to make at least 50 percent of its on-screen characters sexual and racial minorities.

    Look for a lot more same-sex smoochers in your Disney future.


  • Just so you know the rules. Glenn Greenwald lets us know them: Your Top Priority is The Emotional Comfort of the Most Powerful Elites, Which You Fulfill by Never Criticizing Them. It's a case study:

    It is almost impossible to envision a single individual in whom power, privilege and elite prerogative reside more abundantly than Taylor Lorenz. Using the metrics of elite liberal culture, the word “privilege” was practically invented for her: a rich straight white woman from a wealthy family raised in Greenwich, Connecticut and educated in actual Swiss boarding schools who now writes about people's lives, often casually destroying those lives, on the front pages of the most powerful East Coast newspapers on the planet. And yet, in the eyes of her fellow media and political elites, there is virtually no person more victimized, more deserving of your sympathy and attention, more vulnerable, marginalized and abused than she.

    That is because — like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren and Labour MPs and columnists from The Independent and The Guardian and The New York Times who pioneered these paths of elite victimhood before her — Taylor Lorenz must sometimes hear criticisms of her work and her views. Virtually alone among journalists — who are famously universally beloved and never subjected to any form of real abuse: as Julian Assange will be happy to tell you if you can visit him in his high-security prison cell in the UK, or as these Sri Lankan journalists will explain from their hospital beds after being physically brutalized by the police for covering an anti-government protest on Thursday — Lorenz hears criticisms of her work, sometimes in the form of very angry and even profane or threatening tweets from anonymous people online. This not only means that she deserves your sympathy and concern but, more importantly, that you should heap scorn and recrimination on those who criticize her work because they are responsible for the trauma she endures. Most of all, you must never criticize her publicly for fear of what you might unleash against her.

    In other words, Lorenz — like all employees of large media corporations or powerful establishment politicians in Washington and London — is and always should be completely free to continue to publish articles or social media posts that destroy the reputations of powerless people, often with outright lies. But you must never criticize her because she suffers from PTSD and other trauma as a result of the mean tweets that are unleashed by her critics. If you believe that is some sort of straw man exaggeration of what political and media elites are trying to do — create a shield of immunity around them while they retain the right to target, attack, insult, malign and destroy anyone they want — then it means you did not see the Emmy-worthy performances of Lorenz and various NBC News personalities on Friday afternoon during their five-minute segment on Chuck Todd's Meet the Press Daily designed to fortify this warped, inverted standard of morality and power.

    Greenwald is pissed, man. I don't blame him.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-03

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Money Printer Go Brrrr. Veronique de Rugy considers Inflation: The Result of Sticker Shock on Government Spending. It's a good Econ-101 explainer:

    Many people still blame today's inflation on snags in globe-spanning supply chains. The chief proposed solution is to dismantle decades of globalization and bring production home. Some are also pushing for measures to offset inflation, including robust child subsidies and tax rebates for gas and food.

    These proposals are rooted in a misunderstanding of the true cause of inflation: namely, government-induced demand. More spending, therefore, will only fuel the inflation fires.

    Over the course of the pandemic, the Treasury issued roughly $6 trillion, $2.7 trillion of which was monetized by the Federal Reserve. Americans were sent $5.1 trillion through various programs, including individual checks and unemployment bonuses. Overall federal debt has since risen by about $6 trillion.

    This response assumes the 2020 recession was sparked by a demand shock leading to a fall in aggregate demand, rather than the strangling of aggregate supply caused by the pandemic and lockdowns. Under these circumstances, sending people and companies money was never likely to impact output. Instead, it greatly inflated demand for the durable goods still being produced.

    I assume the next few years are gonna be painful. I hope I'm wrong.


  • An overdose of euphemisms for "spending a shitload of money we don't have." Chris Edwards analyzes the Words in Biden’s Budget.

    The Biden administration on Monday released its budget for 2023. Federal budgets are a combination of spending data for hundreds of agencies and a discussion of proposed policies.

    The 158‐​page budget summary document starts with the president’s message and runs through discussions of each major department. I looked at the document’s language to see what it suggests about the administration and its priorities.

    Here are word counts from the budget summary in brackets ( ), along with my comments.

    “Invest” (398), “Spend” (11). Invest sounds less wasteful than spend.

    “Support” (430), “Subsidy” (0). Never admit to subsidizing.

    “Strengthen” (139), “Build” (137), “Bolster” (43), “Robust” (27). More spending and subsidizing.

    […]

    Many more at the link. Most sobering: three occurrences of "freedom", zero of "liberty".

    But—I looked—one mention of "civil liberties". Promising that none of the $33 million bump for the FBI's "domestic terrorism investigations" will go toward infringing them.

    But how else are you gonna find out about those domestic terrorists at school board meetings?


  • Longest article ever? Jim Geraghty looks at Corporate America's Hypocrisy.

    There’s something heartening about the way corporate America has rushed to cut ties with its operations in Russia. But the quick, sweeping moves offer a strange contrast to the way corporate America has rarely if ever uttered a critical word about the government of China despite its ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs, its human-rights abuses, its oppression of Hong Kong, its threats toward Taiwan, etc.

    In fact, corporate America might be getting tough on the Russian government in hopes that people forget how much it has groveled to Beijing and obeyed the wishes of the equally autocratic, equally aggressive and abusive Chinese government.

    Example: Starbucks suspended its Russia operations last month. But has "opened more than 5,400 stores in China since 1999".

    Don't get me started on Disney.


  • You'd think this would be a no-brainer. Lawrence M. Krauss thinks we should be Focusing on Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    In a move that bodes poorly for science, President Biden replaced his science adviser, renowned scientist Eric Lander, who resigned Feb. 7, with two individuals whose recent focus has been on a peripheral scientific distraction. One of the advisers isn’t a scientist. She is a sociologist whose work has focused on studying racism in science and medicine. The other is an established scientist and administrator whose focus recently has been to steer the National Institutes of Health based on arguments about systemic racism.

    One may wonder how significant the presidential science adviser is in any case. The answer depends of course on which president and which administration one is discussing. A colleague of mine, who happened to have been a former Presidential Science Advisor, once told me a lot depends upon how soon a science adviser is appointed and where in the bureaucratic infrastructure of the executive branch they sit, both literally and metaphorically. It also depends on what issues the science adviser and the president choose to focus on.

    Lander quit (according to Wikipedia) due to accusations that he "bullied and demeaned his subordinates."

    Fun fact involving my alma mater:

    Many advancement programs and scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students at higher education institutions in this country and others are restricted by race or gender. Consider for example, Caltech’s “Future of Physics” Program, a two-day conference that brought undergraduates to campus to learn about cutting edge science and about applying to graduate school. It was only open to women*. The asterisk was in the application materials and referred to the following: “*We use a fluid definition of “woman” that is inclusive of trans and genderqueer women, femmes, and gender non-confirming/non-binary students.” It would have been simpler say that the program was not open to males or those defining as males. This conference was then followed by a “Futures Initiative,” this time open to only people of color, accompanied by the a detailed specific list of what a “student of color” was. Asians, for example, did not make the cut. Programs like this are now the norm, rather than the exception.

    Gee, there's only one problem with that sort of thing: it's manifestly illegal.


  • And then there's the idol who is easily confused. A charming story from Astral Codex Ten: Idol Words.

    The woman was wearing sunglasses, a visor, a little too much lipstick, and a camera around her neck. “Excuse me,” she asked. “Is this the temple with the three omniscient idols? Where one always tells the truth, one always lies, and one answers randomly?”

    The center idol’s eyes glowed red, and it spoke with a voice from everywhere and nowhere, a voice like the whoosh of falling waters or the flash of falling stars.

    No!” the great voice boomed.

    “Oh,” said the woman. “Because my Uber driver said - ". She cut herself off. “Well, do you know how to get there?”

    It is here!” said the otherworldly voice. “You stand in it now!

    “Didn’t you just say this wasn’t it?”

    No!” said the idol. “I said nothing of the sort!

    As you leave, please visit the gift shop around the back.

URLs du Jour

2022-04-02

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Warning: belated item. A sobering announcement from Drew Cline: Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy becomes Woodrow Wilson Center for State Planning

    CONCORD — The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy today announces its transformation into the Woodrow Wilson Center for State Planning.

    After a quarter century offering market-based policy solutions that promoted opportunity, prosperity and liberty for all Granite Staters, the Bartlett Center board concluded that the people don’t really want to be left alone, they just want to rule others with an iron fist forever.

    “Turns out the little guy doesn’t really want freedom,” said Drew Cline, the center’s president. “He wants to crush his enemies, drive heretics into the sea, and plunder the rich. So, like everyone else, we’ve decided to exploit those primitive instincts to obtain power and wealth for ourselves and our friends.”

    Calm down. It was from yesterday. Repeat: yesterday. Look at the calendar.

    (Then click over and be further amused.)


  • Pun Salad fact check: true, very true. Kevin D. Williamson makes a claim that should not be that controversial: We Have Enough Taxes.

    Some people think taxes are too high. Some people think taxes are too low. But I wonder whether most of us could agree that we have enough individual taxes — and maybe too many taxes — irrespective of the question of tax rates.

    President Joe Biden, who is and always has been a political coward, is talking about a new “billionaires’ tax” that he pretends he wants to see enacted. The tax would be economically destructive, would produce little revenue, and is almost certainly unconstitutional in that it would tax imaginary income, treating investment gains as actual income: Imagine being taxed on the notional increase in the value of your house over the past few years irrespective of whether you have sold your house and made the money, and you’ll get the general idea. President Biden is intellectually lazy and very well may be somewhere in the general vicinity of positively stupid, but he has enough self-preserving animal cleverness to know that this is unlikely to ever be anything more than a talking point. Senator Joe Manchin has already put his name on its death warrant.

    Which is, of course, the point.

    I note that Biden's just-released budget for FY2023 says that (Historical Tables, Table 1.2) Uncle Stupid took in revenue of 18.1% of GDP in FY2021 and is estimated to grab 18.3% of GDP in FY2022.

    And that's higher than it's been since 2001.

    Your Federal Government is not starved for cash. It's currently taking in a historically large cut of the pie.


  • Another very true item. Abigail Hall Blanco and Christopher Coyne write: Government Propaganda Threatens Democratic Self-Governance. (Illustrated with the "Vintage British WWI propaganda poster" at your right.)

    Propaganda and war go together like guns and ammunition. Throughout history, governments have employed propaganda to rally people around war efforts. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, propaganda is again at the forefront of discussion. In a recent statement, Emily Horne, spokesperson for the National Security Council, emphasized that “The United States firmly believes that the best way to … [to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms] is to hold accountable the propaganda media and disinformation proxies that disseminate Putin’s lies.” The Russian government’s propaganda campaign is taking place through both traditional media and social media.

    With events unfolding in real time and with a multitude of media outlets and platforms, information is disseminated rapidly. It is hard to know what is accurate and what is not. Given this, appreciating the realities and dangers of propaganda is of utmost importance. But it isn’t just propaganda by the Russian government that we should discuss, although that is certainly relevant and concerning. American citizens should also be aware of the propaganda put forth by their own government.

    It's not realistic to expect governments to stop emitting propaganda. The authors' advice is to turn your skepticism filter up to nine or so when listening to government pronouncements that just happen to support its own narratives.


  • And you may ask yourself: "Do we need to become more like Putin to Contain Him?" Well, Matt Welch has the answer to that stupid question: No, We Don't Need To Become More Like Putin To Contain Him.

    Anne Applebaum, an author whose Central European perspective and longtime aversion to Russian revanchism I share, has an almost comically pessimistic piece in The Atlantic positing that, "Unless democracies defend themselves, the forces of autocracy will destroy them."

    The essay serves as a useful reminder that civilizational apocalypticism is hardly limited to the right-populist Flight 93 Election set and that the centrist/interventionist fun-house-mirror image has not learned the post-9/11 lesson that wise policy does not automatically tumble forth from mashing the Do Something button.

    I will probably steal Matt's adage there: "Wise policy does not automatically tumble forth from mashing the Do Something button." And probably add: "In fact, that's not the way to bet."

    The current situation is perilous sure. But compared to the mid-20th century? Get a grip, Anne.


  • Time has come today. An old post from Tim Urban has come to my attention: Putting Time In Perspective

    Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second. And if human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.

    To try to grasp some perspective, I mapped out the history of time as a series of growing timelines—each timeline contains all the previous timelines (colors will help you see which timelines are which). All timeline lengths are exactly accurate to the amount of time they’re expressing.

    Educational and PG-13 funny. (It's from 2013 so you have to make some mental adjustments for that.)

URLs du Jour

2022-04-01

[More money, more money]

  • You may ask yourself, "Why did a federal judge say Trump probably committed felonies when he tried to overturn Biden's election?" Fortunately, Jacob Sullum provides: Here Is Why a Federal Judge Says Trump Probably Committed Felonies When He Tried to Overturn Biden's Election

    A federal judge in California yesterday ruled that Donald Trump and one of his legal advisers, former Chapman University law professor John Eastman, probably committed federal felonies when they conspired to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election by pressuring then–Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay congressional ratification of Joe Biden's victory. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter concluded it was "more likely than not" that the scheme violated 18 USC 1512, which prohibits obstruction of "any official proceeding," and 18 USC 371, which criminalizes conspiracies to "defraud the United States."

    Carter made that determination while adjudicating a dispute over emails sought by the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who accepted his stolen-election fantasy and were angry at Pence for refusing to go along with Eastman's plan. While the practical impact of Carter's conclusion is limited to just one disputed document, his analysis amounts to an indictment of conduct that was not just dishonest and reckless but arguably criminal.

    Criminal prosecution of political enemies of the current regime is kind of a banana-republic thing to do. Despite all those 2016 chants of "Lock her up" at Trump rallies, it's an action the Trump Administration declined to take.

    I'm of two minds. Trump's scheme, abetted by Eastman, was pretty egregious. Nothing much came of it, though.


  • Come and see the violence inherent in the system. And it's in a place you might not have expected, according to Randal O'Toole: Free Transit Is Just More Oppression

    “The fight for free transit is about connecting people to opportunity,” proclaims Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. More realistically, the fight for free transit is about keeping poor people oppressed.

    At one time, blacks in the South were expected to ride in the back of transit buses and to yield their seats to whites on demand. Whites at the time probably thought themselves generous that they allowed blacks to ride the buses at all. Today, well-off people such as Wu think they are generous in wishing to use other people’s money to give blacks and other poor people free transit rides.

    Wu may not know it, but only 4 percent of workers in 2019 lived in a household that didn’t have a car, and most of them didn’t take transit to work. Only 5 percent of workers who earned under $25,000 a year (and an even smaller share of workers who earned between $25,000 and $35,000) did take transit to work. That number has almost certainly shrunk since the pandemic.

    O'Toole points out the transit is "free" only in the usual sense: taxpayers pay. Worse: "More than 75 percent of the taxes used to subsidize transit are regressive, so the people who will be paying are disproportionately low in income, 95 percent of whom don’t ride transit. That’s just one more form of oppression."


  • Partisans gotta partisan. Andrew McCarthy is justifiably upset at The Smearing of Clarence Thomas.

    Democrats should not get away with their shameless political gambit to force Justice Clarence Thomas’s recusal from Supreme Court cases based on the political activism of his wife, Ginni Thomas.

    Supreme Court justices are not even subject to disqualification over their own activities that bear directly on cases. This never upsets Democrats when the justices have been appointed by Democratic presidents. Consequently, Justice Elena Kagan did not recuse herself from the Obamacare case, providing the critical vote to uphold it despite having served as President Obama’s solicitor general when the administration was formulating the legal strategy to defend the Affordable Care Act. (See Ed Whelan’s analysis, here.)

    Justice Stephen Breyer has been aptly described as the primary architect of the federal sentencing guidelines. He steered them through Congress in 1984 as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chief counsel before serving, as a federal appeals court judge, on the Sentencing Commission that created the guidelines. Yet, after being appointed to the high court by President Clinton, Breyer declined to recuse himself when the Supreme Court weighed the constitutionality of the guidelines. Indeed, he wrote a 5–4 majority opinion in 2005 that sustained the guidelines scheme, though declaring it advisory rather than mandatory.

    I won't hold my breath waiting for partisan hypocrisy to disappear, but it's good to have someone like McCarthy call it out.


  • Ex-Im delenda est. George F. Will describes a noble effort from Senator Pat: Toomey rightly wants to rein in mission gallop at ‘Boeing’s Bank’

    The Export-Import Bank’s armor of audacity, although of rhinoceros-skin thickness, will not protect it from Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, ranking Republican on the Banking Committee. He knows that what the bank’s board of directors will consider on April 14 is not mission creep but mission gallop.

    The Ex-Im Bank was created in 1934 in the New Deal’s attempt to banish the Depression by enlarging government’s allocation of the nation’s resources by making guaranteed loans to exporters. The Depression ended 83 years ago, not because of the New Deal’s fidgets, which almost certainly prolonged it, but because war preparations did what the New Deal failed to do: put Americans back to work. (The 1939 unemployment rate of 17.2 percent was higher than 1931’s 15.9 percent.)

    Ex-Im has been reauthorized 17 times, despite evidence that it is unnecessary: Between 2015 and 2019, when its board was three members short of a quorum, it was unable to approve guarantees of loans larger than $10 million. From 2014 to 2018, the portion of U.S. exports the bank subsidized fell from not much (less than 2 percent) to minuscule (0.3 percent) — yet U.S. exports increased.

    Ex-Im is known as “Boeing’s Bank.” From 2007 through 2017, Boeing received 34 percent of the bank’s assistance. During those 10 years, all small-business loan guarantees amounted to 22 percent of the bank’s assistance.

    The "mission gallop" is (I assume) all about Ex-Im's effort to preserve itself; the more cronies it can dispense favors, the more lobbyists in the future to argue for its continuance.


  • Pilot error. Cato's Nicholas Anthony provides the chuckle du jour: Only Six People Used the Postal Banking Pilot Program. Despite (for example) candidates saying it was a necessary vital service:

    Lately it has seemed like the bad news has just been piling up. From the bank account freezes in Canada to sweeping legislation on cryptocurrency here in the United States and then the war in Ukraine, 2022 has been off to a rocky start. However, one spot of good news came when the final version of the omnibus spending bill that President Biden signed into law revealed that the funding planned for another postal banking pilot program had been removed.

    Originally, $6,000,000 was allocated for a new postal banking pilot program despite last year’s test of the program only reaching 6 people. The spending was spelled out in an appropriations bill that called for a new pilot program that would feature surcharge‐free ATMs, wire transfers, check cashing, and bill payment services at five rural and five non‐rural United States Postal Service (USPS) locations. In other words, it would have doubled the footprint of last year’s failed attempt to introduce postal banking.

    This attempted expansion was all despite the fact that it had already been revealed that people are not interested in banking with the post office. In November of last year, employees at the postal banking pilot location in the Bronx, New York said they had not seen any customers since the September 13th start of the program.

    There are a variety of reasons that people are "unbanked". If you ask them what those reasons are, though, (see the article) it turns out that postal banking mostly wouldn't address them.