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.