URLs du Jour

2022-08-31

No, I don't understand what "NOBUCHAR" means on our Amazon Product du Jour. If someone enlightens me, I'll update. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • You say that as if it's a bad thing. Jennifer Huddleston takes a look at one bit of legislation Senator Amy is pushing: Klobuchar's Media Bill Won't Save the Press.

    Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) likes to paint herself as a 21st century trustbuster. However, her latest antitrust proposal, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), is pro-collusion and provides an antitrust exemption for politically well-connected news media companies.

    What this bill reveals is that the heart of the antitrust crusade by Klobuchar and other neo-Brandeisians is not actually about consumer protection or small businesses. They seek to use antitrust and the force of the government to protect the companies and industries they prefer.

    The JCPA pits digital platforms like Facebook and Google against "traditional" media services such as newspapers. To "help" these traditional media companies against the supposedly big, bad tech companies, the JCPA mandates that platforms pay news publishers to link to their articles, creates an artificial limit discouraging news platforms from expanding their newsrooms' reach to reap the law's benefits, and creates an eight-year safe harbor from existing antitrust laws including allowing news companies to collude with one another. In short, this proposal empowers the government to help out its favored, eligible news services while also attacking today's successful tech companies. The real losers, however, are the American people.

    The left-leaning folks at Techdirt aren't JCPA fans either. Disappointing to see Rand Paul on the cosponsor list.


  • A contrarian view on Salman Rushdie. A couple weeks back I glibly stated that the bravery exhibited by Liz Cheney could be measured in micro-Rushdies. I'm still tentatively holding to that judgment, but Lee Siegel has me wavering, with his question: Don’t You Have to Do Something Heroic to Be a Hero?.

    The proverbial visitor from another planet dropping into today’s America might think that, from the constant proliferating references to this person or that person being a “hero,” the country was not just populated by selfless, noble, courageous human beings, but that heroic figures were constantly bumping into other heroic figures at the supermarket, on the beach, or in the train station. It might have been yesterday that Byron wrote the opening lines of Don Juan, his great hymn to the antihero:

    I want a hero: an uncommon want,
    When every year and month sends forth a new one,
    Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
    The age discovers he is not the true one

    The recent re-anointment of Salman Rushdie as “heroic” and “courageous” after the heinous attack on him by an Islamic fanatic is a case in point. There has never been anything heroic or courageous about Rushdie. A super-privileged, non-practicing Muslim raised in a secular Muslim family who has lived his entire adult life in the West, he published a second-rate novel that insulted an already inflamed Muslim world, which responded with irrational fury and called for his murder. This was a despicable response to a work of culture, but the awfulness of the response, and the appalling violence of the attack, does not necessarily make heroic the act that provoked them.

    If Rushdie had published his novel in the Muslim world, it might have brought him closer to hero status, but even then, satirizing an entire religion is not the same thing as taking a stand defying a particular injustice or system of oppression. Nelson Mandela was a hero. Alexei Navalny is a hero. Rushdie would at least have been making a moral point by positioning himself in the center of the system he was satirizing. As it was, he published his novel in the safety and comfort of the United States, with the clear intention of making a provocative splash, and with no apparent intention, as in the case of a hero, of acting upon reality in order to change it.

    Among Seigel's observations: "Mike Pence wasn’t a hero for refusing to stop the congressional certification of the 2020 election, any more than I am a hero for refusing to rob a bank." Good point, that.


  • And not a funny one. David Harsanyi notes: Loan 'Forgiveness' Proves 'Inflation Reduction Act' Was A Joke.

    Let’s, for the sake of argument, momentarily take the Dems at their highly dubious word and accept that the “Inflation Reduction Act” was not only a “historic” Earth-saving “investment” but one that also saved taxpayers $300 billion by implementing a new tax hike on consumers and a six-fold expansion of the IRS. And let’s suspend our disbelief and ignore the fact that virtually every welfare-state program ends up existing in perpetuity, experiencing mission creep, and costing vastly more than initial projections.

    A new Penn Wharton Budget Model study finds that President Biden’s “student loan forgiveness” will cost taxpayers $605 billion—or approximately $300 billion more than the historic recently passed inflation-reducing law was allegedly cutting. That’s using “static” assumptions. The Penn study also finds that probable variations in behavior, due to an income-driven repayment program that caps monthly payments (as if the moral hazard of nationalizing loans wasn’t bad enough), is likely to drive the cost of the program over $1 trillion:

    It was only about a week between the signing of the "Inflation Reduction Act" and the "Forgiveness" announcement. Biden is betting that voters have shorter memories than that. He could be right.


  • Is the lab-leak theory dead? You might be forgiven for wondering that. But Thomas Fazi says nay: The lab-leak theory isn't dead.

    For more than a year after the onset of the pandemic, talking about the possibility that the virus might have been lab-engineered was taboo. Then, as the evidence continued to mount, it suddenly became acceptable to talk about it in “respectable” circles. Today, however, we appear to have gone full-circle: a determined effort is once again underway to dismiss the lab-leak theory for good — even though no new evidence has emerged to disprove it.

    Considering the endless ways in which the pandemic and our response to it have changed the lives of every human being on the planet, it’s astonishing to consider how little is actually known about the origins of the virus. Two and half years on, we are still very much in the dark as to when, how and even where SARS-CoV-2 first made its appearance.

    This isn’t because our efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery have proved fruitless, but rather because those efforts have been systematically thwarted by the world’s two most powerful governments: America and China. This is the mother of all Covid conspiracy theories — but it’s also true.

    I attach about an 80% credibility to lab-leak.

    Note that the relative lack of media attention to Covid origins vs. the coverage of January 6. Covid killed millions; January 6 killed (to be generous) maybe five?

    My working theory there: it's not in the interest of Democrats to look too closely at Covid.

    But speaking of January 6…


  • Dostoevsky needs updating. And who better to do it than Kevin D. Williamson? (Political) Crime and (Legal) Punishment.

    Republicans really want to talk about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Democrats want to talk about January 6. Every partisan has his favorite story.

    What if I told you, those are the same story?

    They are, in a sense.

    By the numbers, there isn’t much reason to care about January 6. The Capitol architect estimates that property damage was something around $3 million, and there were five deaths associated with that tornado of rage, filth, and stupidity. In term of loss of life, the fiasco at Travis Scott’s Astroworld show in Houston was twice as bad — ten dead — and, if you ask the lawyers, the dollar damages were a whole lot worse: They’re currently asking $3 billion in total, with 387 lawsuits from 2,800 alleged victims at last count. (The dollar figures are not strictly comparable: The $3 billion in damages sought in the Astroworld mess includes both property damage and bodily injury.) But I care a lot more about January 6 than I do Astroworld, because — this part matters! — it was an attempt to nullify a legitimate election and thereby effect the overthrow of the government of these United States. I care about that. There are lots of riots and lots of other crime. When those riots take on a particular political character, they are of much more urgent interest.

    There are a lot of Hunter Biden types in the world, and I don’t care about most of them. Coke and hookers and all that? I’m a libertarian — that stuff isn’t very good for you, but I’m not inclined to throw anybody into prison over it. Corrupt business practices? I’m not going to say those don’t matter, but I’m a lot less fussy about that than many Americans are — I’m not convinced insider trading should be a crime, for instance. There are a lot of people who have gone to jail for financial crimes who shouldn’t have, in my view: Michael Milken, Martha Stewart, Conrad Black. (I’d be more inclined to put Baron Black of Crossharbour in a dungeon over that Trump book, even if the Supreme Court legalized that kind of performance in Lawrence vs. Texas.) There are a lot of idiot sons on a lot of corporate payrolls. But there is reason to believe that Hunter Biden was accepting payments for political favors secured through his father, and some reason to believe that he was acting as a conduit for payments to his family that amounted to bribes. There is very good reason to believe that Hunter Biden should have been charged with other serious crimes — crimes for which people without his family connections have been charged in similar circumstances. To be clear: There have been no such charges filed, much less charges that have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. But the Hunter Biden situation is serious in a way that the shenanigans of your average moneyed and coddled and drug-addled mediocrity are not — because of their political character.

    For the nth time: An NRPlus subscription is highly recommended.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-30

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour… from the brilliant Mr. Bragg at Reason: Student Loan Forgiveness Explained. Pay attention to the background colors…

    Will ridicule work where rational argument has failed? Stay tuned.


  • A sobering note. It's from Blake Flayton at Bari Weiss's Common Sense: My Post-Graduation Plan? I’m Immigrating to Israel..

    I had always felt at home in America. It was my home and my parents’ home and my grandparents’, and it never seemed like it could be any way else. But three weeks from now, I am leaving the place where I was born and making a new life in Israel. The story of why is the story of a growing cohort of Gen Z Jews who see what the older generations cannot yet see: That the future doesn’t feel like it’s here as much as there.

    When people ask me what the origin point is—when I knew I would leave—it’s not one particular moment, but a collection. Among them:

    • The drunk girl at my alma mater, George Washington, caught on video in November 2019, saying, “We’re going to bomb Israel, you Jewish pieces of shit.”

    … and numerous other examples at the link.

    While others complain about "microagressions"… sheesh.

    I hope things work out for Mr. Flayton. I also hope things work out for an America that he couldn't comfortably accept as home.


  • "Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small." Megan McArdle covers another spat among the smart set: A fight among historians shows why truth-seeking and activism don’t mix.

    In a somewhat rambling essay published Aug. 17, James H. Sweet, president of the American Historical Association, argued that his profession is succumbing to “presentism,” the temptation to read all of history through a contemporary lens — in particular, through an emphasis on modern social justice issues. His assertion seems to be backed up by a quick perusal of the program for the AHA’s most recent conference, which is heavy on topics such as “Queering the Presidency” and “Decolonizing and Recentering Indigenous Specialists.”

    “The allure of political relevance, facilitated by social and other media, encourages a predictable sameness of the present in the past,” Sweet warned. The result, he said, is “ahistorical.”

    Historian Twitter exploded — there were rants and calls for resignation and, eventually, a groveling apology. Some of the critiques were substantive responses. But others rather proved Sweet’s point, rolling eyes at the old White guy who hasn’t gotten with the times.

    See the Quote Investigator for the provenance of this article's headline.


  • Distorting biology and history! A Twofer! Biologist Jerry Coyne has made the modern "woke" Scientific American into a punching bag for a while now, and he takes aim at the magazine's latest: Once again, Scientific American distorts biology, and now history, to buttress its ideology.

    For the umpteenth time we find Scientific American distorting empirical data for the sake of buttressing a “progressive” ideology. In this case the magazine has produced a short article as well as a video on “the sex binary” (there’s also an earlier article and video on sex, but on a different topic: sex-specific variations in health).

    Both the video and the article below are devoted to debunking the idea that sex is a binary trait in humans. And they both reach the same conclusions:

    1. People with true intersex conditions are often subject to unnecessary and harmful genital and reproductive surgery when they are too young to consent.
    2. People with true intersex conditions are so common that one cannot say that sex is binary in humans. Rather, biological sex is characterized as a “continuum.”

    I agree with the first point, which is an ethical one. Of course children with ambiguous genitalia or other deviations from the strict “male” and “female” dichotomy should not be subject to drastic surgical intervention until they’re old enough to consent, particularly when those conditions won’t cause irreparable damage before the age of consent. What rational person could object to that? And who could argue that intersex individuals, or any individuals who can’t immediately be placed in the sex binary, should be treated as inferior to other people?

    No, my problem is with #2: the claim that sex in humans is not a binary.  This would be true if we had more than two sexes, and the other sex (or sexes) was quite common. But this is not the case.  We do not have more than two sexes: the “intersex” individuals, apparently considered by Scientific American (but not science itself) as “members of other sexes” are not. They are usually sterile, and do not constitute a “sex” in any meaningful sense. Rather, they are deviations, due to genetic or developmental anomalies, from the normal binary, just as many aspects of the development of other traits (limbs, brains, etc.) can seriously deviate from the “normal” condition.

    The SciAm article is here: How Medicine's Fixation on the Sex Binary Harms Intersex People. I'm pretty sure a lot of people are wondering: are you sure that "fixation" belongs to "medicine"?


  • And it's not just SciAm. Jesse Singal's headline makes a point that shouldn't need to be made: It Is Bad To Alter Or Retract Published Research That Has No Factual Errors, Even If You Are Doing It “For Social Justice”.

    On August 18, the journal Nature Human Behavior published an editorial called “Science must respect the dignity and rights of all humans.” The editorial is draped in reasonableness — who could be against dignity and rights for all humans? — and contains some unobjectionable arguments, like how it’s important to “[d]efine categories [of humans] in as much detail as the study protocol allows,” which, okay. But its primary goal, if you read it carefully, is to expand the number of reasons scientific articles can be rejected for publication or, most troublingly, edited or retracted post-publication.

    Early on, the article contains the ominous sentence “Although academic freedom is fundamental, it is not unbounded.” Whenever someone feels the need to express opposition to a belief held by just about no one, it’s a sign of potentially choppy intellectual waters ahead. To be fair, I don’t know how seriously this policy will be taken or if researchers will really try to use it as a cudgel to force retractions. But boy, is it half-baked. It nicely demonstrates the extent to which the careless injection of political values (guised as reasonableness) into science can cause trouble.

    Singal points out some obvious problems: the article posts criteria for prospective publications, and they are "incredibly vague". And worse (as implied by the headline): "research that is perfectly valid and well-executed could run afoul of these guidelines."

    There's no reason to "trust the science" when progressive ideologues control what acceptable results are.

The Lincoln Highway

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I came late to the party here. I was stunned by Amor Towles' previous book, A Gentleman in Moscow. So I resolved to read this as soon as it became available at the Portsmouth Public Library.

Reader, the book was published in October of last year. The library owns ten copies (three large print). And only now was I able to snag a copy off the shelf.

Unsurprising. Because it's a wonderful book. (See the Amazon page for all the well-deserved praise.)

The book starts with teenaged Emmett being brought back home to Morgen, Nebraska after a 15-month stint at a work farm in Salina, Kansas. He was there for involuntary manslaughter: an unfortunate mostly-accident when a hot-tempered punch caused a bully to hit his head on a tent spike.

Emmett has been released early on compassionate grounds: his father, a failed farmer, has died. And he's left Emmett and his young brother Billy with a foreclosed-upon farm, their only remaining asset being a Studebaker gathering dust in the barn, and a tidy sum in cash hidden from the bankers. Emmett and Billy resolve to make a fresh start in California, following the titular highway, as their mother did years back when she abandoned them.

But things are complicated when two of Emmett's acquaintances from the work farm show up, having sneaked into the trunk bringing Emmett back to Nebraska. There's Wooley, a tender but error-prone soul who got dumped into the work farm by his well-to-do New York family. And Duchess, a smart, funny, charismatic kid, burdened by a desire for score-settling and an advanced notion of situational ethics. (Mainly expressed by his answers to the questions: "How do I work this situation to my advantage?" and "How am I going to get out of this situation?" That works out for him, until it doesn't.)

It takes about a hundred pages for any of them to get out of Nebraska. And a surprisingly small amount of time is spent on the Lincoln Highway. The foursome's escapade develops in completely unexpected ways. There's a large supporting cast of expertly-drawn characters. Their situations are full of humor and (alas) pathos.

Enough said. If you need my recommendation: just read it; you won't be sorry.

The Rise of the New Puritans

Fighting Back Against Progressives' War on Fun

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Portsmouth is somewhat of a bastion of progressivism in New Hampshire, and that's reflected in its library. The staff took the liberty of producing an "Anti-Racism Zine" last year, enthusiastically weighing in on the Robin DiAngelo/Ibram X. Kendi/Angela Y. Davis side of a contentious public issue.

Fortunately, however, they do a decent job of keeping their shelves ideologically neutral. And when I submitted a suggestion for the purchase of this Noah Rothman book, they agreed, and even put it on hold for me when it came in. Now, I'm under no illusion that casual browsers in months hence will pick up the book, read it out of curiosity, and, bingo, Portsmouth Bernie Sanders voters en masse turn into National Review conservatives. I'm just happy to have it there, in case.

The author is the Associate Editor of Commentary, and I've mentioned him favorably over the years (here, here, here, here) I thought his 2019 book, Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America, was flawed but basically OK. This one is very good.

Of course, Mencken's famous definition of Puritanism is deployed early on: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." Zing!

But, somewhat surprisingly, Rothman does not use "Puritan" as a simple epithet. (Something I didn't know: the term was originally conceived as an epithet.) That would have been pretty easy to do: simply pick and choose from the hundreds of tales of censorship, deplatformings, deinvitations, cancellations, firings; arrange them into themes, and voilà, you got a book. Instead, he looks back at the historical heyday of Puritanism, mostly in America, and if you (like me) were only paying fleeting attention during your history classes, you'll learn a lot.

Rothman shows how the "new" Puritans unconsciously echo the attitudes and actions of those bygone figures, and how that plays out in many areas, with tactics we've all noticed: theological-style indoctrination, denunciation and persecution of apostates, censorship of literature and art, humorlessness, and (above all) earnestness. (As P. J. O'Rourke observed: "Earnestness is stupidity sent to college". The Puritans, it should be noted, founded Harvard.)

Rothman laces his trenchant narrative with a dry wit: he notes that, in decline, the Massachusetts Puritans referred to the increase in civil litigation to resolve disputes as "creeping 'Rhode Islandism'". And comments: "Even today, the very concept is enough to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who doesn't live in Rhode Island."

And, it should be noted, Rothman goes out of his way to demonstrate that, in both historical and modern versions, Puritanism isn't an unalloyed bad. Historically, for example, they were famed for the "Puritan work ethic". Hey, I'm a fan. And in the current age, the new Puritans really did, for example, improve things in the workplace for women and minorities. (Not without going overboard in many cases, of course, but still.)

What about "fighting back", as promised in Rothman's subtitle? To a certain extent, the old Puritans carried the seeds of their own eventual irrelevance. (One of their last gasps, however: the witch trials.) Rothman recommends mockery; and clarifying "where culture ends and politics begins".

URLs du Jour

2022-08-29

[Pander Bears]

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour… is just one panel from today's Calvin and Hobbes rerun at GoComics, and I hope nobody sues me.

    For the record, I don't want to be pandered to, but a candidate committed to free-market capitalism, reducing government spending, entitlement reform, etc., would get my vote. Realism about the 2020 election would be nice, too.

    And, yeah, without candidates to vote for, I might stay home.


  • One of the first things to learn is what a "duvet" is. Maya Sulkin is a Barnard senior, and she has some advice. Dear College Freshman . . ..

    It’s time to make some Important Choices. By now, your new “.edu” inbox is overflowing with emails from administrators asking you about your preferred dining options—Are you vegan? Do you want your meals to-go? Are you sure you’re not a vegan?—and roommates—How do you feel about night owls? How clean do you expect your new BFF to be? Is it okay if this person smokes?—and all the clubs you might join: Badminton, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Glee, Ski Racing, ChicanX Caucus, Anime Society . . . you name it, they’ve got it.

    Then, there’s your dorm. You’ve probably spent hours, as I did, on Amazon and Dormify, shopping for the perfect dorm room essentials until even when you close your eyes, you’re seeing floral-printed duvets. Once you’re on campus, you’ll have to choose your spot in the library, your seat in the lecture hall, your on-campus gym.

    But before you devote untold hours to mapping out exactly how you think the next four years of your life will go, I want to offer you this thought from a college senior who learned it the hard way: None of these decisions really matter.

    They’re not important because they’re not real. They might feel like actual choices—I know they did to me when I started school. But I have come to understand them as fake ones—ones that distract us all from the fact that college has become a place where students no longer make real intellectual and moral choices, the choices that actually matter.

    I think Maya's advice might be slanted a bit toward the female-identifiers. Although young men might also be doing the floral-printed duvet shopping these days, I'm very out of touch.

    Maya's story is interesting and it's good to know there's at least one independent mind at Barnard this school year.


  • Martin Gurri continues to be right. And Victor Davis Hanson updates his thesis: How middle class now view their rulers with rightly earned disdain.

    Elites have always been ambiguous about the muscular classes who replace their tires, paint their homes, and cook their food. And the masses who tend to them likewise have been ambivalent about those who hire them: appreciative of the work and pay, but also either a bit envious of those with seemingly unlimited resources or turned off by perceived superciliousness arising from their status and affluence.

    Yet the divide has grown far wider in the 21st century. Globalization fueled the separation in a number of ways.

    One, outsourcing and offshoring eroded the Rust Belt interior, while enriching the two coasts. The former lost good-paying jobs, while the latter found new markets in investment, tech, insurance, law, media, academia, entertainment, sports, and the arts making them billions rather than mere millions.

    So, the problem was one of both geography and class. Half the country looked to Asia and Europe for profits and indeed cultural “diversity,” while the other half stuck with tradition, values, and custom — as they became poorer.

    The elite found in the truly poor — neglecting their old union-member, blue-collar Democratic base — an outlet for their guilt, noblesse oblige, condescension at a safe distance, call it what you will. The poor if kept distant were fetishized, while the middle class was demonized for lacking the taste of the professional classes and romance of the far distant underclass.

    Second, race became increasingly divorced from class — a phenomenon largely birthed by guilty, wealthy, white elites and privileged, diverse professionals. For the white bicoastal elite, it became a mark of their progressive bona fides to champion woke racialism that empowered the non-white of their own affluent class, while projecting their own discomfort with and fears of the nonwhite poor onto the middle class as supposed “racists,” despite the latter’s more frequently living among, marrying within, and associating with the “other.”

    VDH's rhetoric may seem a little overheated and his points overstated. I'm a bigger fan of "globalization" than he is, to say the least. But he's got his finger on something definite.

    His third reason that the middle disdains the elite has nothing to do with globalization: "The masses increasingly could not see any reason for elite status other than expertise in navigating the system for lucrative compensation."

    [Martin Gurri reference explained here.]


  • Unintentionally llustrating VDH's thesis. Our state's senior senator was rapturous enough about a news story that she just had to retweet:

    It seems the photographer caught the teacher over there on the left wondering whether she used enough deodorant this morning.

    From the AP story:

    With Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” blaring in the background, about 20 New Hampshire educators grabbed wooden sticks and began pounding their tables to the beat.

    Emily Daniels, who was leading a two-day workshop on burnout, encouraged the group including teachers, school counselors, occupational therapists and social workers to stand up inside a hotel conference room. Before long, the group was banging on walls and whatever else they could find. Laughter filled the air. A few started dancing.

    “Rhythm making offers the body a different kind of predictability that you can do every single day,” said Daniels, a former school counselor who created The Regulated Classroom which trains teachers on how to manage their own nervous system and, in turn, reduce stress in the classroom.

    "The Regulated Classroom" has a website, and reveals the per-person cost of the "two-day workshop" to be $999. I'm sure Ms. Daniels would love to bring her wooden sticks to a hotel meeting room near you. Or, barring that, you could shell out for (by which I mean, "spend taxpayer money on") the Regulated Classroom Toolkit, which includes

    (1) Capeable™ weighted scarf
    (1) Capeable™ magnetic focus fidget
    (1) Mad Mattr™
    (5) Mesh and marble fidget
    (3) Koosh balls
    (1) Massage roller ball
    (3) Squishy stress balls
    (2) Essential oils
    (5) Stretch noodles
    (3) Resistance spiky rings
    (2) Monkey foam 
    Calming tea

    It's only $329! Buy now!

    Who paid for the group "banging on walls and whatever else they could find"? It's a safe bet that you did, one way or the other. Coincidentally, I read a National Review magazine article (I assume very deep behind the NR paywall): Schools Are Wasting Covid Cash. It details how schools around the country are desperately looking to spend the "free" money Uncle Stupid doled out in pandemic relief. So-called ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds seem to be the primary channel of willy-nilly spending. I assume Senator Jeanne is tweeting this because she voted for the funding.

    Were I more diligent, I'd try to nail this down further.

    I'm very sympathetic about New Hampshire teachers. Pun Daughter is one, after all. But come on.


  • Speaking of sticks… We got your Kevin D. Williamson with another angle addressing what VDH was talking about: Biden’s Student-Loan Wipeout Sticks It to the Poor. He notes the parties have literally switched sides in the Great Class Struggle.

    Of course, many Democrats remain culturally disinclined to actually join such an atavistic institution as a country club, and many of them would be embarrassed to admit living in a gated community. Instead, they live behind invisible gates — gates made out of money: The ten wealthiest ZIP codes in the United States are solidly Democratic, the wealthiest communities in the United States tilt heavily Democratic in their political donations, Americans in households earning more than $220,000 a year are more likely to be represented by Democrats than by Republicans, and you have to work your way pretty far down the list of the wealthiest Americans before you round up more than a handful of Republicans: Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, Page, Brin, Ellison, Buffett, Balmer — don’t expect to meet any of these guys at the next meeting of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Any Republicans? You can score a “maybe” with Elon Musk and a “technically, temporarily” with Mike Bloomberg. You may find some Republicans down at the local Walmart, but Alice Walton is writing fat checks to Democrats from her Manhattan penthouse. Wall Street? Democrats. Silicon Valley? Democrats. Hollywood? You aren’t really asking, are you?

    But the Centurion-card set isn’t the really important Democratic demographic. They don’t have enough money. Sure, they have tons (literal tons, if you put it into $100 bills) of money on a per capita basis, but there aren’t very many of them. The real money, counterintuitively, is to be found not among the gazillionaires but among that class of Americans occupying the sweet spot between plentiful and comfortable.

    Hence, the Democrats’ effort to move Heaven and Earth — micturating vigorously and voluminously upon the Constitution from a great height along the way — to put ten grand into the pockets of millions of well-off Americans in the form of student-loan forgiveness. That Joe Biden’s autocratic unilateralism will be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court I am confident, but that won’t change the underlying political dynamic.

    There is no need to rehearse all the economics here in detail, but the move disproportionately benefits high-earning Americans at the expense of — everybody else. There isn’t any real economic case for it, and the political case for it is only the great infantile cry that sustains all such political escapades: “Baby want!

    Baby want, baby get.

    This is what happens when a cohort gets taught by people who need essential oils, monkey foam, and calming tea to do their freakin' jobs.

The Gray Man

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Gray Man]

This is a pretty expensive movie to have never been released in theaters. (IMDB backs me up on this.) I swear they shot up, blew up, and burned down a couple European cities some nice mansions, and a big old airplane. I hope they asked permission first.

It has a mediocre IMDB rating as I type, and that's because the plot is only the latest mutation in the boilerplate spy thriller genre: likeable, semi-ethical assassin (Ryan Gosling) becomes targeted by the CIA folks he ostensibly works for. He keeps prevailing despite being vastly outnumbered and outweaponed by his foes. He acquires some unlikely allies along the way, and loses some of them. His primary nemesis is another hitman (Chris Evans), charismatic but psychotic, too dirty for regular government employment, but available for freelance gigs like this.

Oh yeah: throw in a cute kid in danger.

I had fun. The acting (in service of a ludicrous and predictable plot) is first-rate. As noted, the action is amazing and non-stop. Locations are scenic (until they're destroyed). And Ana de Armas is extremely easy on the eyes.

At the end, I noticed that they left plenty of room for a sequel. Then I looked at Amazon and found out (yes, I'm not up on these things) that it's based on a character from a 12-book (so far) series. Yeah, I guess they could do one or two more.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-28

  • Mr. Ramirez points out… American suckers.

    [American Suckers]

    I believe I've linked to the Quote Investigator checking out "Look Around the Poker Table; If You Can’t See the Sucker, You’re It" in the past. The way things are going, I'll probably link it in the future too.


  • If you've been wondering‥ whether there's a neoliberal poltergeist in Higher Ed, UNH alumnus Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness have checked it out, and: No, There Is Not a “Neoliberal” Poltergeist in Higher Ed. It's an excerpt from their (excellent) book Cracks in the Ivory Tower (on which I reported back in 2019).

    Higher education suffers from a multitude of flaws. University marketing departments habitually over-promise the benefits of their degree programs to unsuspecting high-school students. Mandatory “general education” classes extract sizable tuition fees from students while delivering little discernible benefit in knowledge or critical thinking skills. A student-debt crisis leaves college graduates in the financial hole for decades as they work to pay off degrees of arguably marginal value. An oversaturated job market plagues faculty ranks due to decades of self-serving professors pumping out graduate students with few job openings to employ them. The traditional classroom functions of the university exist in near-perpetual budgetary strain, even as administrative ranks explode and seemingly endless resources are redirected to on-campus amenities such as lazy rivers, rock climbing walls, and luxury dormitories.

    Rather than tackling the bad incentive structures that create these problems, much of academia has chosen to place the blame on a poltergeist called “neoliberalism.” A vast and growing academic literature—particularly in the humanities and Critical Theory journals—purports to have identified this ghostly troublemaker on campus. Like the havoc-wreaking spectres of horror films, the neoliberal poltergeist allegedly moved into the university system over the last 30 years and made a mess of things. Higher-education commentators now routinely call for full-blown exorcism rituals to drive “neoliberalism” out of the university system.

    But there’s a fundamental problem with this line of attack. Poltergeists aren’t real, and neither is the neoliberal takeover of higher education.

    Unfortunately, in my view.

    However: "Neoliberal Poltergeists" anagrams to "Teetering Abe Spoils Rolls". This is no accident.


  • Also needing a dose of neoliberalism… In his (free) G-File, Jonah Goldberg looks at journalistic malpractice and self-congratulation by turning around a famous quip: Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

    … let me explain why I don’t like the idea that journalists must “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” It’s become a mantra for journalists, particularly of the Columbia Journalism School set. As this piece over at Pulitzer.org put it, the sentiment “captures a time-honored purpose in journalism: Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.”

    But here’s the thing: There is nothing inherently wrong with being comfortable, and afflicting the comfortable—or anyone else—without good reason is almost the textbook definition of being a jerk. According to the dictionary, to afflict is to "to distress with mental or bodily pain; trouble greatly or grievously.”

    “Hey, look at that guy sleeping comfortably in that hammock, let’s poke him with sticks!” isn’t some high-minded ideal of courage, it’s assholery reified. 

    Taken literally, this credo is an open-ended warrant to be a jerk.

    [Which explains a lot about modern journalism right there — your blogger]

    But even figuratively, it’s got problems. Because buried within it is a very radical, very self-serving vision of what journalism is and who journalists are. If you start from the assumption that the “comfortable” are in the wrong for no other reason than that comfort qua comfort is prima facie evidence of complacency, unfairness, or wrongdoing, then you are starting your journalistic inquiry with a bias against the comfortable and putting the burden of proof upon them to justify their comfort. There’s another assumption in there: That it’s the journalist who has some special insight, some higher moral standing, to decide who deserves to be comfortable and who doesn’t.

    It's a good column, and Jonah makes the case that, ackshually, modern journalism does a lot of ideological "comforting" of people already "comfortable" with their political and ethical beliefs. "Here's a story that will reinforce your dogma. You're welcome."


  • I'd be happy with less. But as eronique de Rugy points out: As Washington Gives Us 'More,' Americans Want 'Better'.

    Congress' annual August recess is a good time to think about the big picture. Most Americans want government reformed for the better. We notice its many breakdowns, dysfunctions and failures to deliver on promises. Yet politicians of both parties usually only talk about more new programs, more spending and more regulations. Will either party listen, or will they continue down their destructive and unpopular path?

    In case some of them are listening, I have a few ideas.

    Paul Light, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, writes that while a small majority of Americans prefer that government shrink, what they want more is reform. He reports that public demand for "very major" government reform is up to 60% from 37% in 1997, when the Pew Research Center first asked this question. Meanwhile, those who believe the government is "basically sound and need(s) only some reform" is down to 28% from 58%. All of that while confidence in government to do the right thing hovers around a historic low.

    Vero's suggestions:

    1. "[E]end all forms of government-granted privileges, whether these are subsidies, guaranteed loans, tax credits or bailouts."
    2. Reform the tax code, particularly the fundamental unfairness of treating "individuals who make the same income differently."
    3. "[M]ove away from all age-based eligibility criteria, such as the ones used for Social Security and Medicare."

    Pretty huge ideas. It would probably be suicidal for an actual politician to embrace them.


  • For a comparatively minor reform proposal… check out Colin Grabow's article at Cato: New England Governors Seek Jones Act Relief as Spike in Winter Heating Bills Looms.

    Concerned by high and volatile global energy prices, New England’s six governors dispatched a letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm last month asking for assistance. At the top of their wish list: exploring the conditions under which the Jones Act might be suspended to allow the region expanded access to U.S. natural gas. It’s an eminently reasonable request that Congress and the White House should embrace.

    Although geographically part of the U.S. mainland, in terms of energy New England is almost an island. Lacking pipeline connections to refining centers outside the region, it also has insufficient pipeline capacity to transport natural gas—New England’s dominant fuel for electricity production—from other parts of the United States during wintertime spikes in demand. Instead, the region must turn to marine deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet its needs. That means imports. While U.S. natural gas is both plentiful and substantially less expensive than elsewhere, there are no ships to transport it to New England.

    More accurately, there are no ships to transport it that comply with the Jones Act.

    Boy, now we're sorry about blocking all those pipelines. Also, Northern Pass.


  • Seeing semi-fascists under the bed. Mary Chastain reports on recent droolings: Deplorable: Biden Says ‘Extreme MAGA Philosophy’ is ‘Like Semi-Facism’.

    Biden showed his true feelings for “extreme MAGA philosophy” at a Democratic donor event in Maryland:

    “What we’re seeing now is the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the – I’m going to say something, it’s like Semi-fascism.”

    And then he went on to advocate "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State".

URLs du Jour

2022-08-27

  • Congratulations, New Hampshire Libertarian Party. You lost my vote. Our fair state made the Daily Wire news: New Hampshire Libertarians Dragged For Calling John McCain’s Death A ‘Holiday’. It's about this tweet:

    The official Twitter account for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire took a beating on Friday for suggesting that people should celebrate the death of the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) as they would any other holiday.

    The account posted a photo from the late senator’s funeral — with his daughter Meghan McCain standing beside the casket in tears — and added just two words by way of a caption: “Happy Holidays.”

    I am a registered Republican, so I can vote in primaries. But I've been a pretty reliable Libertarian vote in November general elections. No longer. I may just stay home and let the inmates run the asylum.


  • Meanwhile… as Jonah Goldberg notes, The GOP Is Shrink-Wrapping Itself Around Trump. Excerpt:

    Trump and his fans are convinced that there’s nothing wrong with the party that can’t be fixed by doubling-down on the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose the House, Senate, and presidency in a single term. Recall that Trump’s explanation for huge midterm losses in 2018 was that Republican incumbents, dragged down by Trump’s unpopularity, failed to “embrace” him. That’s because Trump would rather be the undisputed leader of a small tent than just one voice in a big one.

    As McConnell has implicitly conceded, Trump has jeopardized the GOP’s chances of taking the Senate because he cares more about nominating Trump loyalists than candidates who can win general elections in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona or Ohio.

    So, to sum up: the Libertarians have implicitly purged me; the Republicans seem to be on track to do the same by turning into a cult of personality.

    Democrats? They seem sane and decent by comparison, except for all the economy-wrecking, liberty-destroying statism.

    So the stay-at-home-in-November policy is looking increasingly likely.


  • Mister, we could use a man like Frédéric Bastiat again. Brad Polumbo is pretty close, though: Biden's Student Loan Bailout Is a Textbook Example of 'Legal Plunder'.

    There’s an apocryphal quote often misattributed to Ben Franklin that goes something like this: “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." While we’re not quite nearing the collapse of our republic, we are actively witnessing the corrosive effect it has when the political power of redistributionism is abused.

    President Biden is “canceling” (transferring) student debt for millions of Americans and forcing the rest of us to pay for it. His plan “cancels” $10,000 for borrowers who earn less than $125,000 individually or $250,000 for their household. It also includes two other forgiveness plans that bring the total cost to taxpayers up to $500 billion, a whopping $3,500 per federal taxpayer.

    Ackshually, according to the green-eyeshade folks at Penn Wharton, that last number could need some adjustment:

    Summary: President Biden’s new student loan forgiveness plan includes three major components. We estimate that debt cancellation alone will cost up to $519 billion, with about 75% of the benefit accruing to households making $88,000 or less. Loan forbearance will cost another $16 billion. The new income-driven repayment (IDR) program would cost another $70 billion, increasing the total plan cost to $605 billion under strict “static” assumptions. However, depending on future IDR program details to be released and potential behavioral (i.e., “non-static”) changes, total plan costs could exceed $1 trillion.

    There's a map at the link copped from this 2018 Urban Institute study with the (somewhat surprising) finding that New Hampshire had the highest "share of college students with new student debt 2014-2016". No idea if that's changed. NH kids, what happened to LFOD?

    Anyway, Polumbo cites Monsieur B, so we must too:

    This is precisely what French economist Frédéric Bastiat once dubbed “legal plunder.” He famously noted that, “Government is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”

    To this end, Bastiat explained, “Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime."

    Oui. Bon point.


  • Unmothball Seabrook 2. Ronald Bailey notes a (relative) sanity outbreak: Japan Set to Reopen Nuclear Power Plants, Build New Ones. And not just in Japan.

    Rationality about nuclear power seems to be breaking out across the globe over the past month. First, Germany announced as a response to Russia's natural gas blackmail that it will keep open three perfectly good nuclear power plants that it was planning to shut down this year. Germany has already closed 14 other plants in an absurd overreaction to the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns caused by a giant tsunami hitting those coastal nuclear power plants.

    Even la-la land politicians have begun to realize that running California using electricity generated solely from unreliable wind and solar power is a fantasy. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has now proposed a plan to keep the Golden State's only remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon operating for at least another 10 years. That plant currently generates enough electricity to meet the needs of nearly 3 million households.

    Speaking of Fukushima, according to the Financial Times, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that the government plans to allow the restart of at least 10 more of the nuclear power plants it shuttered after the 2011 disaster. In addition, Kishida is pushing for research on and the construction of new safer nuclear plants as a way to protect Japanese consumers from erratic global fossil fuel markets and reduce his country's greenhouse gas emissions. Kishida foresees Japan becoming a major exporter of nuclear generation technology to power hungry developing countries around the world.

    Our state's nuke was originally designed to have two reactors, but the first one barely got finished in the 1980s, and the second one was canceled. There have been noises over the years about restarting construction on it, but nothing recent. I guess it will have to wait until people start freezing to death in the dark.


Last Modified 2022-08-27 10:13 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-26

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Our Amazon Product du Jour is subtitled "Unique, Hand-Illustrated Adult Coloring Pages Starring Your Quarantine Dreamboat". So if you're in the market for that…

  • But I'm not a fan. Marty Makary ("M.D., M.P.H.") takes a look at Dr. Fauci's Legacy and he is not kind.

    Anthony Fauci is ending his long and celebrated government career by being widely lauded for getting so much so very wrong on Covid-19.

    Now 81 years old, Dr. Fauci has spent 38 years as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. He has been rightly honored for his many contributions over the decades, most notably during the fight against AIDS, for which he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. But to Covid-19 he brought a monomaniacal focus on vanquishing a single virus, whatever the cost—neglecting the damage that can follow when public health loses sight of the public’s health. 

    As the lead medical authority to two administrations on Covid-19, Dr. Fauci was unwavering in his advocacy for draconian policies. What were the impact of those policies on millions of Americans? And what would the country look like now had our public health experts taken a different approach? As Dr. Fauci is preparing to leave his post, those are a few of the questions worth asking as we consider his various Covid-19 legacies.

    Also worth a snort is this tweet from Jay Bhattacharya. David French tries to make a point that I probably shouldn't have made a couple days ago, and Jay says nay:

    Uh, yeah, that's what I should have said.


  • So you're saying there's a chance. Bjørn Lomborg asserts, plausibly, that The Inflation Reduction Act Does Little to Reduce Climate Change.

    Top administration officials are fanning out across the U.S. in a victory lap for the new Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden calls “the most significant legislation in history to tackle the climate crisis.” America, we are told, is a global climate leader again. This narrative has serious problems.

    The foremost issue is that the act will have a trivial impact on climate change. The Biden administration claims the law will enable the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions in 2030 by around 40% below 2005 levels. This is less than the 50% reduction Mr. Biden promised only last year, but it still sounds impressive. One major wrinkle: Most of that cut has nothing to do with the Inflation Reduction Act.

    Unlike most other nations on the planet, the U.S. has substantially reduced its carbon emissions over the past 15 years. This is largely owing to the fracking revolution that replaced a lot of America’s coal with natural gas, which is cheaper and cleaner. Even without the new law, the U.S. was on track to cut emissions substantially by 2030, according to research by the Rhodium Group. Averaging their high and low emission predictions, the U.S. would drop emissions by almost 30% absent the new law. With the new law, emissions will decline instead by a little over 37%. The “most significant legislation in history” will actually cut emissions by less than eight percentage points.

    If you're making plans for New Year's Eve 2099, the legislation's "impact on global temperature will still be almost unnoticeable, at 0.028 degree Fahrenheit."

    (Also underdelivering: I'm sure you've noticed that the trivial amount of "deficit reduction" contained in the Act was totally wiped out by Biden's "debt forgiveness". Sorry if you were depending on that.)


  • Resembling the GOP's promise to repeal Obamacare… Michael Lucci reveals the reason Why the Democrats Kept Trump’s Tax Reform.

    President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law last week, adding to a long history of legislation that will achieve the opposite of what its name claims. Consider the quality of K-12 education after the No Child Left Behind Act, or the affordability of health care after the Affordable Care Act. Already, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the law will have zero impact on inflation. This will not surprise Americans, who, by a three-to-one margin, expect the law to increase inflation, not reduce it.

    Yet one surprise about the new tax law is not yet making headlines. In passing their own version of tax reform, the Democrats left the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) completely intact, despite five years of promises to repeal it. No less than President Biden himself made a campaign promise that “on day one, I will move to eliminate Trump’s tax cuts.”

    Deference to the TCJA reveals that it is, in fact, good policy with bipartisan appeal. The most obvious thing to fix about the TCJA is to make its key provisions permanent.

    Let's give the Democrats one cheer for bowing to reality. Although they will still continue to demagogue on the issue, so maybe make that a half-cheer.


  • Good advice. Jack Fowler suggests you Sue the Thought Police.

    Bias-reporting systems, by their existence, are institutional deep freezers that create those “chilling effects” on campus speech. They are the instigators of the cautionary thought Should I risk speaking up in the first place? Which is why the foes of BRS, including admirable organizations such as FIRE (newly reminted as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), charge that it prevents students and professors — from the non-woke to the surely conservatives to the leave-me-aloners — from voicing opinions, or even telling jokes, lest they get caught up in a crypto-Soviet dragnet (anonymous accusers, no due process) with an array of consequences: hostility, reprimands, suspensions, the boot, and finding themselves at the dangerous intersection of Here’s My Opinion and You’re Unhireable after Graduation.

    In a paper for the American Enterprise Institute calling for the elimination of BRS from colleges, Cherise Trump, a George Mason University graduate who is Speech First’s impressive executive director, railed against its expansiveness and the consequence of its unsubtle silencing: “The fear of being anonymously reported to authorities and subjected to process-is-punishment investigations, diversity and anti-bias trainings, and public stigmatization is a present and powerful force on campuses nationwide.”

    Students, faculty, and staff of the University Near Here can check out their "New [February 2021] Reporting Tool for Incidents of Bias, Discrimination and Harassment" here.


  • And use it wisely. Caitlin Flanagan at the Atlantic offers a good deal: America’s Fire Sale: Get Some Free Speech While You Can.

    Two years ago, a friend emailed me: Some writers were composing an open letter to appear in Harper’s; it would address the growing threats to freedom of expression in this country. Did I want to read and possibly sign it? I read it and said to myself, This is going to be a shitstorm of biblical proportions, and wrote to my friend, “In.”

    Of course I was in. I have shown up for free expression when it was a major cause of the left, and I show up for it now that it has become a cause of the right. Freedom doesn’t belong to a political party, and it’s not the tool of the powerful; it’s the tool of the powerless.

    The letter came out, and in the small, bitter, vengeful worlds of journalism and publishing—we’re a fun crowd—it was a festival of freedom of expression, a gathering of like-minded antagonists from the mighty to the dweeby. Someone named Richard Kim, who was then the enterprise director of HuffPost, tweeted (enterprisingly), “Okay, I did not sign THE LETTER when I was asked 9 days ago because I could see in 90 seconds that it was fatuous, self-important drivel.” (It was the I also got into Cornell of tweets: Of course I think it’s gross, but I want you to know I was asked.)

    Flanagan is funny, and also pissed about the unprincipled "free speech, but not for…" crowd.

    Of course, this appears at the Atlantic, which fired Kevin D. Williamson for well, speech they didn't like.


  • And finally… On the international LFOD watch:

    Chinese citizens in Beijing are creatively hitting out at President Xi Jinping and his Communist Party for the government's zero-COVID policy and strict control around the country.

    What Happened: Citizens from in and around Beijing shared on social media that a series of graffiti have been drawn by people in the city’s various PCR testing stations, which criticize the government for its handling of COVID-19.

    This came when the Chinese government was cracking down on people criticizing its COVID-19 policy. And to avoid being in legal trouble, the protestors chose to write only "one word only at each location, so it doesn't mean anything,” Jennifer Zeng, a Chinese-born human rights activist, and author, said in a social media post.

    However, combined, they read: "It's been 3 years, I feel numbed" and "Live Free or Die."

    Now that the Gadsden Flag is considered a sign of violent extremism, maybe liberty-lovers could come up with a similar scheme.

The Power of Creative Destruction

Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This book was one of the nominees for the 2022 Hayek Book Prize, so I thought I'd give it an Interlibrary Loan try. It came up I-95 from UMass Dartmouth, and… well, it's one of those "wish I'd liked it better" books.

It purports to be an economic policy guidebook about the future of capitalism. It adopts Schumpeter's terminology of "creative destruction", the displacement of old technologies and employment by innovation. That can (and does) lead to greater overall prosperity for the participants; it arguably is tough on the businesses and people who were making a decent living until those dang new-fangled ways of doing things caused all the upheaval.

The authors argue for a highly-regulated capitalism to deal with problems like climate change, inequality, and unforeseen catastrophes (like Covid). They highly recommend a strong safety net for innovation-displaced workers (dubbed "flexicurity" after the Danish policies they really like).

So, basically, an argument for Elizabeth Warren-style stakeholder capitalism. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't find much to disagree with here. I, on the other hand, am surprised about the Hayek Book Prize nomination. (Hayek does show up, but not until page 294 or so, where his insights into governance are discussed.)

Some random thoughts:

A back cover blurb from Joel Mokyr compliments the book's "accessible prose". Which is nice, and sort of accurate: there are no particularly advanced concepts here. (Unless you consider graphs to be advanced. Lots of those.) But accessible prose can also be pretty boring, and that's the case here. The authors make Hayek look like Lee Child in comparison. (I wonder if the original French version was livelier and the translator squeezed all that out?)

I was puzzled by notable absences. An early chapter discusses economic "takeoffs": the causes of phenomenal increases in general prosperity around the world. Missing entirely from that discussion: Deirdre McCloskey. Maybe the authors disagree with McCloskey's explanation of what she calls the "Great Enrichment". Fine, but let's have that discussion instead of ignoring her theories. Equally ignored is the less-capitalist economist Mariana Mazzucato, who's written well-known takes on entrepreneurship and innovation. Basically, it seems the authors are reluctant to deal with counter-narratives.

The concept of "path dependence" is central to a lot of the book's argument. Understandably; when people are wedded to an inferior technology it can slow or prevent better ones from being adopted. Unfortunately, their Exhibit A for path dependence (they deem it a "glaring example") is a hoary one: the QWERTY keyboard saddling us with inefficient typing when the Dvorak layout is obviously superior. I find a Reason article from 1996(!) by Stan J. Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis to offer a serious and plausible rebuttal to that myth: Typing Errors. (They also discuss why the myth is so seductive to free-market haters.)

The authors take as a given that "inequality" is bad. The (to my mind sensible) view is that it's OK if it drives overall prosperity. Poverty is the actual problem, and the superior way to deal with that is…?

The authors have a yen for statist interventions. As far as USA stuff goes: they like DARPA, and that's a pretty plausible example. But they ignore (say) the Export-Import Bank and other corrupt boondoggles wasting taxpayer money on the politically well-connected.

The authors are also full-fledged climate hysterics. More nuanced views of the Lomborg/Koonin stripes are, yup, ignored. But "climate change" is yet another excuse for them to recommend (yup) increased government spending on R&D, mandates, subsidies, regulations, etc.


Last Modified 2022-08-27 7:27 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-25

[Poop]

  • Pictorially, Mr. Ramirez is on target, as usual. But we have words, too. Oh, so many words. Here are a few from Charles C. W. Cooke: Biden’s Student-Debt Bonfire Is a Classist Message to the Uncredentialed: Screw ’Em.

    It seems so arbitrary. Why does Biden not want to do the same thing for loans on trucks owned by plumbers? Why not for mortgages — which, given how heavily it subsidizes them, the federal government clearly thinks are worthwhile? Why not for credit cards or auto payments or mom-and-pop credit lines? The answer, I’m afraid to say, is disgustingly classist: Because Joe Biden and his party believe that college students are better than everyone else. Because Joe Biden and his party believe that college students are of a finer cut. Because Joe Biden and his party prefer college students to you, and they think that those students ought to be rewarded for that by being handed enormous gobs of your money.

    That's just a slice out of the middle of prime-cut red meat. I hope you do whatever's necessary to Read The Whole Damn Thing, because it's classic.

    Other commentary, excerpt-free, you can get the gist from the headlines:

    Personal disclosure: I had a small student loan about fifty years ago; I paid it back about forty years ago, when I was (relatively) poor. My kids, thanks to their hard-working parents and their own wise choices, escaped from higher education debt-free.

    And now we're all on the hook for the imprudent choices of others, thanks to Wheezy Joe and his enablers like Maggie Hassan.


  • Let's not let Republicans go unbashed today. Jacob Sullum notes the unconstitutional antics of someone who will (probably) be asking for my vote in few months: Ron DeSantis Wants To Edit the First Amendment.

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading presidential contender, is skilled at appealing to Republicans who resent the censorious self-righteousness of woke progressives. But instead of defending free inquiry and open debate, DeSantis seems bent on fighting intolerance with intolerance.

    When he signed the Individual Freedom Act (IFA) last April, DeSantis bragged that it would "prevent discriminatory instruction in the workplace," striking a blow against "the far-left woke agenda." But as a federal judge explained last week, the law's restrictions on employee training blatantly violate the First Amendment.

    The IFA was enjoined by a U.S. District Judge who (whatever his other flaws) can read the First Amendment.


  • I'm not deranged. My mother had me tested. Jeff Maurer takes a bold stand: (Fill In the Blank) Derangement Syndrome is Bad.

    Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. I spent Trump’s presidency writing for a late night show in New York; TDS ripped through my community like AIDS went through the bathhouse scene in the ‘80s. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, obsessive, unfunny, self-serious, dragging themselves through the streets of Brooklyn at dawn looking for a Trump tweet to stoke their outrage. And I was arguably one of them (except for the “best minds” part).

    Wokeness Derangement Syndrome is starting to look just as real. More than a few critics of wokeness (or “left illiberalism”, if you want to be insufferable) have gone off the deep end. As with Trump, the concerns are real. But as with Trump, those concerns seem to make some people’s brains unable to process any other information. I think that for every new example of lefty overreach that enters Jordan Peterson’s brain, some cognitive function gets pushed out. I’m worried that one day Peterson will be driving his car, news of some stupid AOC tweet will come on the radio, and he’ll spontaneously forget how to drive.

    Maurer is mildly leftist, but still very funny and honest. Later on, he espouses the classic stationary banditry theory of the state:

    Let’s back all the way up: Why do we even have governments? To issue stamps and declare a national bird, sure. But what else? Their main function is to save us from chaos. When we were living in societies where the strong preyed on the weak, we sought out strongmen who would provide a security-for-fealty arrangement. And sure: The strongman would probably murder you and take your stuff, but that beats having bandits take your stuff and murder you. That’s what constituted choice back then: The ability to choose who would turn you into a corpse and rummage through your pockets.

    That's P. J. O'Rourke-level analysis right there.

    (No, my mother didn't have me tested, but I've always chuckled at the line.)


  • And in more-local news… the AntiPlanner looks at perhaps the only Boston institution doing worse than this year's Red Sox: the MBTA Crashes and Burns.

    The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is crashing and burning, sometimes literally. An Orange line train caught fire a few weeks ago. A Red Line train ran away out of control. The Orange line and parts of the Green line are in such bad shape that they have been shut down at least until September.

    The situation is so bad that various think tanks have proposed putting the agency in receivership, which would mean taking control from its highly politicized board of directors. At least one member of Congress from Massachusetts agrees, saying that the federal government should take control. But it’s not clear that federal oversight of DC’s Metro system did much to solve that system’s safety problems a few years ago.

    As I noted in the comments: Here in New Hampshire, we are on “track” (heh) to get 30 miles of commuter rail up from Lowell MA to Manchester. To be run by the MBTA. What could go wrong?


  • I want one. No, I don't need it for anything.

    In fact, it would be totally impractical.

    And, yes dear, it would probably be insanely expensive.

    But it would be so cool to have a Jetson ONE.

    So much better than MBTA-run commuter rail.


Last Modified 2022-08-25 10:14 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-24

  • A little obscure Eye Candy from Mr. Ramirez.

    [A Dodo, I think]

    Here's my best guess. And if you need a pointer to what the heck he's talking about, here you go.

  • Oh, that mother. Joel Kotkin writes at UnHerd: America has an Oedipus complex.

    As in Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus Rex, we are witnessing a generational drama in which inheritors kill their proverbial father to marry their mother, in this case Mother Earth. The psychology behind this pattern is above my pay grade, but many of the richest people on the planet, and their heirs, now seem anxious to disparage the economic system that created their fortunes. With few exceptions, the new rich, and particularly their children and ex-wives, embrace a racial, gender and environmental agenda that, while undermining merit and economic growth, still leaves them on top of the heap.

    The ideology of the mega-rich will shape our society for the next generation, in large part through philanthropy. The non-profit sector, the primary vehicle for inherited wealth to be laundered into political influence, has been growing rapidly; in the US, non-profits’ assets have grown nine-fold since 1980. In 2020, non-profits brought in $2.62 trillion in revenues, constituting over 5.6% of the US economy. Increasingly, much this money came from the new tech elite: among the most prolific donors were Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife, Mackenzie Scott; Bill Gates and his now-discarded wife, Melinda French Gates; Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; and Laureen Powell Jobs, the Left-leaning publisher of the Atlantic and the widow of Apple’s founder.

    Provocative! Because you know (wink wink) what Oedipus and Jocasta were up to in the palace bedroom after Oedipus got King Laius out of the way. Is Kotkin metaphorically implying that's what America wants to do to Mother Earth?

    And what's the counterpart of Laius? What Dad did America kill to get into the sack with Mom Gaia? The free enterprise system? Limited government?

    Kotkin's bottom line:

    Yet while the current oligarchs deserve opprobrium, the ultimate danger posed by the non-profit tsunami lies in their feckless embrace of a policy agenda that undermines the very essence of competitive capitalism. Like feudal lords, this new elite, emboldened by a common ideology, may continue to thrive in a world of frozen social relations, but only by destroying the very system that brought them their own good fortune. And, just as with Oedipus, it’s only a matter of time before that backfires in a disastrous fashion.


  • If you paid off your student loans, you're a sucker. Eric Boehm notes the latest giveaway from Joe Lunchpail to the well-off: Biden Reportedly Set To Forgive $10K Student Debt for Americans Earning Over Six Figures.

    Americans earning well over six-figure incomes would be eligible for a student debt forgiveness plan that President Joe Biden is reportedly set to unveil later this week.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, that means most of the benefits of the roughly $300 billion proposal would flow to wealthier American households, according to a new analysis of the proposal.

    Biden and top White House officials have been promising action on student debt for months, and CNN reported Monday that an announcement is likely coming on Wednesday. Reportedly, the White House will announce plans to forgive up to $10,000 in student debt for Americans earning up to $125,000 this year—though important specifics about the plan, like whether it would be a one-time event or an ongoing entitlement, remain unclear.

    I guess we'll find out later today. I'm theoretically interested in how the lame/tame news media will cover this upward wealth transfer, but I fear that if I watch, I'll either spike my blood pressure perilously, or throw stuff at the TV. Or both.


  • Just five? Cato's Neal McCluskey provides his Top Five Reasons Federal Student Debt Cancellation Is a Bad Idea. Skipping down past all the practical and ethical objections (with graphs), here's the clincher:

    5. Unconstitutional

    The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power of the purse. A president unilaterally cancelling up to $1.6 trillion would be a rank violation of that power. Of course, the federal student loan programs are themselves unconstitutional. The federal government only has the specific, enumerated powers given to it by the Constitution, and the authority to fund education, either directly or through loans, is nowhere among them. Cancellation would thus be a double violation of the Constitution.

    Some cancellation advocates argue that Congress gave the president the power to cancel all loans in the Higher Education Act. But not only is the constitutional ability for Congress to give away its power highly dubious, the Higher Education Act does not authorize blanket cancellation, only forgiveness under specific loan repayment programs.

    And the implication of that is…


  • Of course it's an impeachable offense. Charles C. W. Cooke, back in April, noted: President Biden Is Planning to Violate His Oath of Office Again. He is referring to a WaPo story that was actually headlined "White House officials weigh income limits for student loan forgiveness".

    That’s not the headline, of course. But it should be:

    The administration is considering various ways to forgive some student loan debt through executive action. In recent weeks, senior Biden aides have examined limiting the relief to people who earned less than either $125,000 or $150,000 as individual filers the previous year, the people said. That plan would set the threshold at around $250,000 or $300,000 for couples who file their taxes jointly, the people said. No final decisions have been made, and the people familiar with the matter stressed that planning was fluid and subject to change.

    There can be no “limits,” because the move is illegal. There can be no “decision,” because the move is illegal. There can be no “planning,” because the move is illegal. Last summer, Nancy Pelosi said:

    “The president can’t do it,” Pelosi said, at a press briefing. “That’s not even a discussion.”

    Pelosi said any student debt forgiveness would have to be carried out by Congress.

    Why did Pelosi say “the president can’t do it.” She said that because the president can’t do it. Why did Pelosi say “that’s not even a discussion”? She said that because everybody knows that the president can’t do it. Why did Pelosi say that this was a matter for Congress? She said that because this is a matter for Congress.

    Yes, to repeat a point made above, I fully expect the MSM coverage to avoid all these fuddy-duddy complaints about constitutionality. Instead we'll have multiple interviews with the "forgiven" who will now, finally, be able to afford to feed their children.


  • You never seem to see the word "riddance" without "good" in front of it. And David Harsanyi is not breaking that rule, as he bids an early farewell: Good Riddance, Saint Fauci.

    Perhaps no person in American history has done more to harm trust in public health than Anthony Fauci, who will step down as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in December. And it’s not merely his aggressive inaccuracy about the Covid pandemic or even his championing of authoritarian policies that created untold damage to American life. All of that is bad enough. But as Fauci transformed into a political operative, he regularly lied to the American people and led the political suppression of debate.

    In October of 2020, three scientists — Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford — released the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a document that rejected the “damaging physical and mental health impacts” of Faucian lockdowns for a more focused protection of high-risk populations. In December of 2021, the American Institute for Economic Research obtained emails between Fauci and Francis Collins, the former director of the National Institutes of Health. In them, we learned that duo had conspired to smear those dissenting scientists.

    Robby Soave interviewed Fauci last month, and did he express any regrets?

    When asked what he would do differently if he could go back in time to the beginning of the pandemic, White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci said that he would recommend "much, much more stringent restrictions" from the get-go.

    Of course, Fauci had no actual power. That power was wielded by various government functionaries, including Trump.


  • We're number 35! If you were wondering which colleges have the most managers per 1,000 students… well, the Chronicle of Higher Education has your answer: Which Colleges Have the Most Managers per 1,000 Students? (It's from 2018, so things may have shifted a bit.)

    Among the 691 4-year public institutions ranked, the University Near Here made an impressive showing: number 35, with 22.3 managers per 1000 students, earning salaries of $2,226 per student.

    In comparison, the University of Vermont managed to run their school with 6.3 managers per kilostudent, total salaries $1007 per student, in 412th place.

    UMaine-Orono: 2.3 managers/kilostudent, $311/student.

    The median figure for all 691 schools was 7.4 managers per kilostudent, with salaries of $744/student.

    For fun, check out the Staff Directory of one bit of UNH: Advancement. I count 12 Associate Directors; 8 Assistant Directors; 6 Managing Directors; 1 Manager Director; 2 Executive Directors; and 26 Directors with no leading modifiers.

    Only two Managers, though: an "Operations & Employee Experience Manager" and an "Alumni Board Relations Manager".

    How much Managing is actually necessary with the Alumni Board? Are the Relations that thorny?

URLs du Jour

2022-08-23

  • Yay! The Sample Ballots for next month's primary election are available. And here's mine:

    [Sample Rollinsford Primary Ballot 2022]

    As noted previously: a lot of choices for the three big offices.

    Since I have no illusions about my vote "mattering", I am not a tactical voter. I'm simply looking for candidates whose views most closely match my own. It wouldn't hurt to have senses of (1) humor and (2) humility; I realize the latter quality is rare in politicians.


  • Should I automatically blackball Karoline Leavitt? She's been pretty outspoken about the 2020 election being stolen from President Bone Spurs, and hence has been labelled an "election denier" in the august pages of the New Hampshire Union Leader

    But (hey) maybe not. Because Pun Salad fave David Harsanyi says: 'Election Denier' Is The Dumbest Rhetorical Device In Modern Politics.

    When the Washington Post warns us that “Election deniers march toward power in key 2024 battlegrounds” it isn’t talking about Stacey Abrams or Josh Shapiro, it is laying the groundwork for challenging the legitimacy of the next election.

    And voters should be able to question the legitimacy of elections if they believe laws have been unjust or cheating has occurred. Even if you contend, as I do, that most election fraud claims are overstated or partisan wish-casting, it is a function of “democracy” to bring your grievances to the political arena. But, it seems, the only ones tagged as “deniers”—and all the big outlets liberally use the term now—are Republicans. Which is just another reason half the country distrusts journalists– a vacuum in trust that doesn’t only propel skepticism, but gives space for more conspiracies to flourish.

    I agree that the WaPo (and other pundits cited in Harsanyi's article) should be bipartisanally consistent about flinging the "denier" epithet. And it shouldn't be applied to folks who aresimply pushing for improved polling securitty.

    But … yeah, Karoline's a denier.

    "The 2020 election was stolen and Joe Biden didn't legitimately win 81 million votes. That's preposterous," Leavitt said during the debate at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

    At this stage of the game, such claims are either delusional or outright lies told to win the votes of the deluded.


  • Red meat for the bubbas. Joe Lancaster looks at the D-side candidate running for the US Senate in Pennsylvania, who's violating the "Given your opponent, all you have to do is pretend to be sane" rule. John Fetterman Proposes Prosecuting Oil Executives for High Gas Prices.

    Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is locked in a heated Senate race against former television host Dr. Mehmet Oz. Despite being sidelined from the campaign trail by a stroke right before his May primary victory, Fetterman has kept his opponent on defense with a constant stream of memes portraying Oz as an out-of-touch, out-of-state elite.

    Now, Fetterman is trying a new tactic: weaponizing law enforcement against business leaders he doesn't like.

    In an op-ed posted in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Fetterman laid out a series of policy proposals. Like many politicians of recent years, both Democratic and Republican, Fetterman advocates a "Buy American" standard of "mandating that companies we buy from make their products right here at home."

    Fetterman also said, "It's time we crack down on the big, price gouging corporations that are making record profits while jacking up prices for all of us." He continued, "Chevron, Exxon, and Shell have seen their profits increase 200% since last year, but they're still charging us sky-high prices for gas," which he called "deeply unpatriotic." He also criticized the meatpacking industry, which the federal government heavily subsidizes.

    Fetterman also said: "We'll crack down on this by prosecuting the executives of these huge corporations."

    Lancaster makes the obvious point that prosecuting people is not in the senatorial job description. Obviously, Fetterman is trying to appeal to the folks who either don't know that, or don't care.


  • God helps those who help themselves. But, Jim Geraghty asks, Who's Not Helping the Candidates?. He looks at the finger-pointing going on about dismal GOP prospects in November. But here's an interesting point:

    What do GOP Senate candidates Mehmet Oz, Herschel Walker, Vance, Blake Masters,* and the not-so-Trumpy Joe O’Dea have in common?

    None of them have run for office before. Ever. Not even town council or school board.

    And (as he goes on to explain in that footnote:

    *I had originally listed likely New Hampshire GOP Senate nominee Don Bolduc as a first-time candidate, but in 2020, Bolduc ran for the GOP Senate nomination, finishing second with 58,749 votes. New Mexico GOP nominee Mark Ronchetti ran for Senate in 2020, and Connecticut GOP nominee Robert Stefanowski was the GOP nominee for governor in 2018. I was going off a list of candidates who had never won office before, and none of these candidates mention their unsuccessful bids on their campaign biographies.

    A lot of people want to start their political careers at, or near, the top. Inspired by Trump, no doubt.


  • Invidious boxes are the worst. William McGurn looks at the state of play for Racial Discrimination and Harvard’s Invidious Boxes. The big upcoming SCOTUS case is Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College (and also the University of North Carolina).

    Unfortunately, in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the court declared that colleges’ use of race to further diversity was constitutional. In her majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor implied this would be temporary. She couldn’t imagine affirmative action would still be necessary in 25 years. After retiring, she said that might have been an underestimate.

    The Harvard and North Carolina cases now give the court the opportunity to rid the country once and for all of an unfair practice that leaves only a heightened sense of resentment in its wake. Were the Roberts court simply to declare that race preferences violate both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, it would be a tremendous victory for a colorblind America.

    Even so, one of the more persuasive friend-of-the-court briefs argues that such a decision would still leave unfinished business. Filed by David Bernstein of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, it suggests that not only are racial preferences arbitrary, unfair and unconstitutional, so are the racial boxes the schools use to classify students.

    I gotta read Bernstein's book. Might be necessary to (gasp!) buy it.

Between Planets

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Pictured at your right is the edition I actually own, the Scribner paperback, containing the original illustrations by Clifford Geary. One used copy is on sale at Amazon for $21.75 as I type. The book cover price was $1.45 back in 1962.

I wish I had grabbed all those Geary-illustrated Heinlein juveniles when I had the chance. Sigh. This is how they were meant to be read.

Young Don Harvey is pretty happy at the New Mexico boarding school where he's been stashed by his parents. But he gets an urgent demand from them to skedaddle back home to Mars, and that's just the beginning of his troubles. The Earth-based "Federation" controlling the solar system has grown increasingly tyrannical, and things are about to boil over. And it turns out, in addition to simply wanting to see their boy again, Don's parents have set him up as a courier, transporting a very important MacGuffin. Which the authorities will stop at nothing, including murder, to intercept. ("Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad!") Don's simple trip to Mars becomes a dangerous odyssey, filled with colorful characters and perilous situations against the backdrop of interplanetary war.

This 1951 book is a little clunkier than later entries in Heinlein's juvenile oeuvre. I remember loving it when I read it about (gulp!) sixty years ago, this time slightly less. It's surprisingly violent for a kids' book. Adult goings-on aren't spelled out, but are strongly hinted at. Heinlein's unique combination of sorta-libertarianism and militarism are much in evidence.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-22

[Party of Jackasses]

  • As Mr. Ramirez demonstrates so often, a picture is worth a thousand words. Give or take. Or it can be. But we have words too! Specifically, from Park MacDougald, writing at UnHerd about an undeniable truth: Clowns have captured the GOP.

    Only a few short months ago, the Democratic Party looked to be doomed. Joe Biden’s approval rating was scraping historic lows in the mid-30s, Republicans were building a solid lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot, and story after story detailed how once-reliable Democratic constituencies — Hispanics, Asians, millennials — were abandoning the party in droves. As in the Seventies, the Democrats had become the party of inflation, urban lawlessness, foreign-policy weakness, and elite cultural radicalism, raising Republican hopes that the GOP could sweep Congress in 2022 on the way to presidential victory. Biden looked so dead in the water that The Atlantic began soliciting reader suggestions for Democrats who could replace him in 2024.

    Well, that was then. Today — after the Dobbs decision in late June, a better-than-expected inflation report in July, recent Democratic victories in Congress, and a Republican primary season that has seen Trump-backed candidates edging out their more conventional rivals — the terrain is looking a lot more favourable for the Democrats. While the GOP is still expected to take the House in November, the Senate has become a gigantic question mark. As RealClearPolitics election analyst Sean Trende put it in June, what we are looking at now is “a classic battle between an irresistible force and an immovable object”. The irresistible force is Biden’s unpopularity; the immovable object is the fact that GOP primary voters have reliably opted for weak, unproven, and at times cartoonishly bad Senate candidates to run against Democrats. Faced with one of the most favourable electoral environments in decades, Republicans are finding a way to blow it.

    Well, that's only 266 words, but there are more at the link. MacDougald concentrates on the Senate races that have been set up so far, and despairs: Herschel Walker in Georgia; Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania; Blake Masters in Arizona; J.D. Vance in Ohio. Polling is not good.

    We'll see what happens in the New Hampshire "normal" primary, three weeks from tomorrow. As a registered Republican, I have a dizzying array of choices for Governor (six candidates, including the incumbent Chris Sununu); US Senator (eleven candidates); and US CongressCritter (only ten candidates there).

    And then in November… let's see how crazy the Libertarians are.


  • Starry-eyed optimism about government agencies is no way to go through life, son. The "Inflation Reduction Act" (yes those are sneer quotes) dumped a bunch of taxpayer cash on the IRS in return for promises that, yes finally, this will allow it to go after those fat cat tax cheats.

    The WSJ editorialists are as dubious as I am (and as you should be) about that: This Is Your IRS at Work.

    The new Inflation Reduction Act has many damaging provisions, but for sheer government gall the $80 billion reward to the Internal Revenue Service stands out. The money will go to hire 87,000 new employees, doubling its current payroll. This is also doubling down on incompetence, as anyone can see in the official reports of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (Tigta).

    We’ve read those reports for the last several years so you don’t have to, and the experience is a government version of finding yourself in a blighted neighborhood for the first time. You can’t believe it’s that bad. The trouble goes beyond the oft-cited failures like answering only 10% of taxpayer calls, or a backlog of 17 million unprocessed tax returns. The audits reveal an agency that can’t do its basic job well but will terrorize taxpayers whether deserving or not.

    They list some of Tigta's greatest hits, none of which will inspire confidence that the IRS can magically transform itself into a shiny, competent, efficient agency that treats citizens with respect.

    "Just give us a lot more money, and we totally won't waste it. This time."

    Here's a sample (just one) from the editorial:

    This ineptitude extends to programs Democrats insist will now raise revenue—those targeting higher earners. In 2010 Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which was supposed to identify wealthy Americans using undisclosed foreign accounts. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation said this would raise some $9 billion in revenue by fiscal 2020. Yet an April Tigta audit noted that while the IRS has spent $574 million to implement the law, the agency has drummed up only $14 million in compliance revenue.

    You might remember the acronym for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act: FATCA. Yeah, let's get the IRS to go after them fatcats!


  • If you use "both-sidesism" as a pejorative, it quickly becomes an excuse. Kevin D. Williamson looks at The Left’s Opt-In Totalitarianism.

    Here’s a remarkable — stupid, awful, ghastly — document of our times: A group calling itself Physicians for Reproductive Health has published an open letter to the nation’s reporters and news editors, demanding that they pretend anti-abortion activists do not exist.

    The group writes:

    We are writing today with a big request: stop giving air-time to anti-abortion activists. . . . We know your reporting standards are to cover “both sides” of any debate. Allow us to be clear: Medicine and science are not up for debate. Health care is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. And the fact is, abortion is not in the realm of theory or belief. Abortion belongs in health care, social services, and public health reporting.

    With this in mind, we are asking for a commitment from the community of media outlets reporting on abortion to keep in mind the true danger that you present when interviewing anti-abortion extremists. You are giving the opportunity for dangerous lies to spread. You are, by way of asking them questions, legitimizing their answers. You are allowing hateful, dangerous harassers to build a base that encourages protesting at clinics, stalking and harming clinic staff and abortion providers, and online and in-person abuse of people who have abortions and those who support them in getting that care.

    This is mad and foolish in several ways.

    For one thing, medicine and science are, in fact, “up for debate,” and health care is, in fact, very often a “matter of opinion.” Hence the ubiquity of such expressions as, “In my medical opinion” and “get a second opinion.” Debate is essential to science. This point may seem an obvious and trivial one, but it apparently needs repeating.

    KDW also points out that there's (actually) little scientific/medical "debate" abortion. Everyone pretty much agrees on the facts: "A living individual organism of the species Homo sapiens is destroyed at an early stage of development."

    The attempt to squelch valid debate on ethics and politics gets KDW's scorn, as it does mine, and should get yours too.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Would have been a great Star Trek episode title: "The Arnaz Paradox". But it's an article at the Free Beacon.

    The first televised interracial kiss is canonically dated to the November 22, 1968, episode of Star Trek, the one where William Shatner’s Captain Kirk shares a passionate moment with Nichelle Nichols’s Lt. Uhura. The kiss was not the first instance in which a white and nonwhite actor swapped spit—Wikipedia snippily notes a number of prior instances on Star Trek in fact—but it attained its cultural status because it was the first kiss between a white man and a black woman (rather than some other, less-villainized pairing) and because it took place at the height of the civil rights movement, on an extremely progressive television show.

    Pop culture, in other words, reflects where people want to see race, and where they don’t. Take, by contrast, one of the earliest examples: the 1950s comedy classic I Love Lucy. The show features the white Lucille Ball playing opposite her husband (in the show and real life), Desi Arnaz, who fled to the United States from Cuba following the 1933 revolution. Today, Arnaz would check the "Hispanic-Cuban" box on his Census form. But in the 1950s, when less than 5 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage, millions of viewers nevertheless cheered his antics with the English-descended Ball.

    It's a review of Classified by David Bernstein, which I've mentioned here before, and haven't read yet. The reviewer doesn't mention the interesting connection: the original Star Trek started out as a production of Desilu Studios. (Long after Lucy 'splained to Desi that she was going to buy him out.)

URLs du Jour

2022-08-21

  • Translation of Eye Candy du Jour. According to Google Translate: "Journalists, after checking and cross referencing, you're really bastards."


  • Which goes well with this item: Matt Welch calls for more stringent fact-checks on the self-appointed fact-checkers: Fact-Checkers Provide Cover for White House's Claims About New IRS Hires.

    "IRS Will Target 'High-Income' Tax Evaders with New Funding, Contrary to Social Media Posts," went the headline Thursday at The Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org. The Poynter Institute's PolitiFact on Wednesday contributed "Rick Scott overstates potential hiring surge at the IRS," then followed up Thursday with "Video misleads about size of IRS, audits and armed agents." Agence France-Presse's Fact Check department Tuesday concluded that "Claims of 'IRS army' targeting US taxpayers are misleading," then came back Thursday with "US congressman misrepresents photos purported to show armed IRS recruits." Reuters on Wednesday offered up a twofer—"Fact Check-The IRS is not hiring thousands of armed agents, job ads show opening for specialized unit," and "Fact Check-Social media posts miss key context on Inflation Reduction Act's provision for thousands of new IRS agents"—then on Friday posted: "Republicans call it an 'army' but IRS hires will replace retirees, do IT, says Treasury."

    All of these (and the many other similar) mainstream media fact-checking exercises have as their starting point not the contested promises made by the victorious White House and other key promoters of the IRA but soundbites from the types of conservatives that mainstream journalists find annoying. Consumers seeking to double-check the president were mostly stuck with such explicitly conservative outlets as Breitbart News.

    This divide, and journalistic interest skewed more toward the excesses of rhetoric than the exercise of power, is reminiscent of the way professional fact-checking comported itself before, during, and immediately after Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act. Back then, even though the then-president was routinely lying in easily discoverable ways about his health insurance overhaul, fact-checkers were obsessed with backbencher opposition to the point where PolitiFact awarded its "Lie of the Year" to Sarah Palin, who at the time held no elected office.

    I was dismayed by yesterday's WSJ column from (usually fact-based) Laura Sanders: What $80 Billion More for the IRS Means for Your Taxes. Which, under the reassuring section heading "There won’t be 87,000 new IRS agents with guns", says:

    According to the Treasury Department’s plan, part of the new funding will go to hire 87,000 workers over 10 years. This figure includes all hires, such as customer service reps and tech workers as well as agents. It doesn’t take into account that due to the IRS’s aging workforce, more than 50,000 retirements and other departures are expected in coming years.

    Laura, I'm sure there were some crazies out there that claimed the 87,000 new IRS agents would be armed to the teeth. But there will be 87,000 new IRS positions. And the projected 50,000 IRS departures is irrelevant in this context; replacements for them will be hired as well.

    And the tax laws, like all laws, are always ultimately enforced at the point of a gun.


  • There are too few like him. Adam Wren of Politico interviews an ex-President. Unfortunately, ex-President of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels: A Nice-Guy Conservative Emerges From Political Self-Exile. He has many sensible things to say:

    Wren: Are you worried about the creeping threat of autocracy when you look at the sluggish nature of our institutions to confront big problems? To some, autocracy seems much more efficient.

    Daniels: Depends on what you want to be efficient at. Extinguishing individual liberty? Yeah, maybe it’s good at that. Not good at producing great opportunity and prosperity. It’s much more efficient for tyrants. This is really your question: Our system, some believe, is too rigged against autocracy, where it gets paralyzed. What bothers me more is the tribalism. I’ve been fretting about that in public and in commencement addresses for many years now. And it’s not gotten better. Once that sort of poison gets into the culture of a country, it’s not clear that there are words or deeds or individual leaders who can help people move out of it, move back toward a great sense of community and fellowship — national unity.

    Wren: You do not talk about Donald Trump. You haven’t mentioned his name publicly in more than a decade. You have said you don’t know him, so you don’t talk about him. But if politics is downstream of culture, what happened in the culture that led to his presidency and to this current moment we find ourselves in?

    Daniels: That’s such a central question. I will say this: I think the last presidency — I’m not going to personalize it — I’d say the last presidency contributed to this but didn’t cause it. I think that was a symptom — that shocking outcome of the 2016 presidential election. I was surprised at the outcome.

    But to me, it was a symptom. And I think it’s fairly simple: What Lenin would have called the “commanding heights of the economy,” your businesses and places like higher education institutions, have become too detached from the lives and values of a vast number of millions and millions of, I’ll say, average Americans … I’ve got friends of mine who were mortified at the 2016 outcome, people who are passionate members of the Democratic Party who ask me, “How could this happen?” I said, “It’s not complicated. If you look down your nose at someone long enough, one day they will punch you in it.” And I think that’s what happened. I sat there that night — I don’t watch much television — but these national network commentators are talking to each other incredulously. What happened here? Well, these under-educated types, you know, these are non-high school graduates … Disdain is not too strong a word. It was condescending.

    I do believe that when you started the question with culture being upstream of politics, you were exactly right. I think the nature of our public discourse has had an effect. Social media is a disaster in this respect, along with declining attention spans. I think that’s where it started.

    Daniels, unfortunately, was supportive of the CHIPS act. Purdue getting a "new $1.8 billion semiconductor plant" might have had something to do with that. I'm disappointed but not surprised.


  • Playing the odds. Without the mathematical understanding necessary to know what that means. "@newyorkteacher" Ed Knight reveals: Guessing C For Every Answer Is Now Enough To Pass The New York State Algebra Exam.

    My student, River, spent more time in the courtroom than the classroom last year. One Friday night in September, a drunk friend called and asked for a ride home from a party. River obliged. That’s a problem when you’re 14 years old. On his excellent adventure with his drunk friend, River drove over the landscaping of several local businesses and ended with his car in the woods caught in a web of maple sugaring lines. Things spiralled from there.

    All of which is to say that River didn’t learn algebra last year.

    I mean it: zero algebra was learned. He wasn’t even present in my classroom for most of three marking periods. At the end of the year, he asked me how he was supposed to pass the state test.

    “No problem,” I said. “Just pick all Cs.”

    “What?”

    “Try it. I bet it will work.”

    It worked.

    Ed will, if necessary, bring you up to speed on the details of the "state test" and reveal River's (who has "the best mullet since Joe Dirt") destiny.


  • Fortunately, I realized just how incompetent I am this morning. Specifically, while repairing a loose bathroom light fixture. Also realized the incompetence of the guy we paid to install it a few years back.

    But here's Ron Bailey with the latest research which you should totally believe because it's a study: Incompetent People Don't Realize How Incompetent They Are, Says New Study.

    […] In the study, the researchers first asked 3,200 participants through online surveys how much they think they know (subjective knowledge) using a 7-point scale about each of seven scientific topics ranging from "vague understanding" to "thorough understanding." To prime participants, the researchers provide a complex explanation of how a crossbow is constructed and works (level 7 knowledge) compared to the case where a person can identify a crossbow and know that it shoots arrows (level 1 knowledge). Then each participant was randomly assigned to answer a question about their degree of acceptance of one of the seven different issues that enjoy substantial scientific consensus.

    The issues probed by the researchers were "the safety of GM foods, the validity of anthropogenic climate change, the benefits of vaccination outweighing its risks, the validity of evolution as an explanation of human origins, the validity of the Big Bang theory as an explanation for the origin of the universe, the lack of efficacy of homeopathic medicine, and the importance of nuclear power as an energy source." For each issue, participants were asked to indicate their level of opposition ranging from not at all (level 1) to extreme (level 7).

    To figure out how much participants might know about scientific findings in general, researchers also tested them on a 7-point objective-knowledge scale ranging from definitely false, not sure, to definitely true for 34 different purportedly factual claims about the world. The researchers divvied up the 34 statements into clusters relevant to the topics of evolution, the Big Bang, nuclear power, genetically modified foods, vaccination and homeopathy, and climate change. Among the statements participants were asked to answer true or false were assertions like the center of the earth is very hot; all radioactivity is man-made; ordinary tomatoes do not have genes, whereas genetically modified tomatoes do; the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs; and nitrogen makes up most of the earth's atmosphere.

    Amusingly, some out-there folks are claiming that the incoming images from the James Webb Space Telescope demonstrate The Big Bang didn't happen. Well, I don't know about that, but if it turns out to be kosher, you heard it here first, unless you heard it somewhere else already.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Free will is not a delusion. And you can use it to agree or disagree with this assertion from David Mamet: Race is a delusion.

    His topic is a book I've never heard of, Kingsblood Royal, a 1947 by Sinclair Lewis. (Yes, I've heard of him.) A successful middle-class businessman discovers that he's one-sixteenth black, which upends his life.

    Our lives, yours and mine, are full of sanctimony; in fact, a grand tool of self-diagnosis is recognition of the warm joy we take in sententiousness, and its big brother, righteousness. It is a lead-pipe cinch that these sugar-coat complicity.

    Have a blessed Sunday.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-20

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Okay, Alex Berenson isn't my cup of tea. But that doesn't make this OK, as described by Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld: Twitter Becomes a Tool of Government Censorship.

    Alex Berenson is back on Twitter after being banned for nearly a year over Covid-19 “misinformation.” Last week the former New York Times reporter settled his lawsuit against the social-media company, which admitted error and restored his account. “The First Amendment does not apply to private companies like Twitter,” Mr. Berenson wrote last week on Substack. But because the Biden administration brought pressure to bear on Twitter, he believes he has a case that his constitutional rights were violated. He’s right.

    In January 2021 we argued on these pages that tech companies should be treated as state actors under existing legal doctrines when they censor constitutionally protected speech in response to governmental threats and inducements. The Biden administration appears to have taken our warning calls as a how-to guide for effectuating political censorship through the private sector. And it’s worse than we feared.

    This should be, and I am not kidding, an impeachable offense.


  • A funny article with which I mostly disagree. Jeff Maurer is a former writer for some news/comedy show I don't watch, and never have watched. He brings written irreverence to energy policy: Green Energy Subsidies Are the Future!!! (Will They Work, Though?). Beware: colorful and vulgar language.

    The debate, in its most dumbed-down form (which is all this blog offers), is sometimes framed as a “push” versus a “pull”. That is: Do you push green technology by offering incentives like subsidies for things like lean energy, or do you pull people kicking and screaming into a green future by punishing pollution with things like a carbon tax?

    I’ve long thought that a pull would be more effective than a push. Most economists feel the same way (perhaps to a fault). This is basically because attaching a price to carbon creates an incentive to reduce emissions any way you can. On the other hand, “pushing” green technology is great for that technology but neglects everything else.

    The problem, as always, is politics. Carbon taxes are roughly as popular as pubic lice. Even in deep blue jurisdictions — places where “IN THIS HOUSE WE BELIEVE” signs dot every lawn and products from radial tires to band saws are billed as “organic” — carbon taxes can’t win popular support. This has caused policymakers to wonder what else might work, and the “what else” turns out to be basically locking the green tech industry in a cash-grab booth for the next several years and hoping for the best.

    I'm pretty much in the Lomborg/Koonin climate non-panic camp, but it's nice to read something out of my confort zone that's amusing and takes its own side critically. Maurer makes some claims about the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spurring an upsurge in renewable energy innovation, as measured by patents granted; I'd like to see if that can be debunked.


  • The first step is admitting your powerlessness in managing your addiction. Veronique de Rugy doesn't think the CDC's 11-step program is gonna work: CDC Admits Dysfunction But Misses Big Problems.

    CDC director Rochelle Walensky went all out in discussing her agency’s terrible handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting need to overhaul that bureaucracy. At least that’s what she thinks and what the media happily report. The problem is that, while there is a lot of truth in what Walensky said, she omitted the CDC’s most blatant failures and the role that she played in these disasters. These failures, to be specific, are the CDC’s excessive caution, its misguided use of studies to impose its excessive risk aversion on all Americans, and the influence it exercised to keep schools closed (and, when they opened, to keep the kids masked and scared).

    The CDC’s oversized risk aversion manifested itself in many ways, but the most obvious one was its eagerness to continue to recommend mask wearing late into the pandemic, which was especially harmful for children. The CDC loves mask wearing so much that it even issued a guidance suggesting that mask-wearing by travelers can help protect against “many diseases, including monkeypox.” This particular recommendation was laughed out of the room so fast that after a mere 18 hours the CDC removed the guidance. This little fact matters, since politicians with a taste for mandates remain eager to use CDC guidelines to justify their intrusive actions.

    I can not see Dr. Walensky on TV or in print without murmuring "Rochelle, Rochelle".


  • Using a gambling analogy… and expanding his analysis to include Dr. Fauci, John Tierney at the WSJ: Fauci and Walensky Double Down on Failed Covid Response.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention belatedly admitted failure this week. “For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Director Rochelle Walensky said. She vowed to establish an “action-oriented culture.”

    Lockdowns and mask mandates were the most radical experiment in the history of public health, but Dr. Walensky isn’t alone in thinking they failed because they didn’t go far enough. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, recently said there should have been “much, much more stringent restrictions” early in the pandemic. The World Health Organization is revising its official guidance to call for stricter lockdown measures in the next pandemic, and it is even seeking a new treaty that would compel nations to adopt them. The World Economic Forum hails the Covid lockdowns as the model for a “Great Reset” empowering technocrats to dictate policies world-wide.

    Yet these oppressive measures were taken against the longstanding advice of public-health experts, who warned that they would lead to catastrophe and were proved right. For all the talk from officials like Dr. Fauci about following “the science,” these leaders ignored decades of research—as well as fresh data from the pandemic—when they set strict Covid regulations. The burden of proof was on them to justify their dangerous experiment, yet they failed to conduct rigorous analyses, preferring to tout badly flawed studies while refusing to confront obvious evidence of the policies’ failure.

    Neither Vero nor John mention the word "Trump". Apparently all this dysfunction happened under nobody's presidential watch.


  • Ridin' that train… The Fox station in Denver reports: Colorado is the nation's cocaine use capital.

    The United States saw a 15% increase in drug overdose deaths, according to the most recent provisional figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, there were 107,622 overdose deaths, up from 93,655 in the previous year.

    Colorado State Patrol has seized records amounts of drugs this year and in 2021. At least one statistic points to higher-than-average drug use in the Centennial State. Colorado is the most cocaine-using state in the union, according to survey data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

    Well. The precise stat the TV station reports is the percentage of people 12-years-and-up who have used cocaine in the past year. And that's 2.24% for Colorado.

    The funny thing about that is the three significant digits of precision.

    The other funny thing is the reported statistic for the second-place state, New Hampshire. And that number is 2.23%.

    Yes, we're only behind Colorado by 0.01 percentage point.


Last Modified 2022-08-21 7:59 AM EDT

The Dependency Agenda

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

So back in June, Kevin D. Williamson wrote a National Review Corner post, "Infantilization", which began:

I know this is an old and familiar observation, but it is worth reminding ourselves: There is a theme that runs through a great deal of progressive thinking, from gun control to student-loan giveaways to speech codes and safe spaces and the universal basic income, and that theme is — infantilization. The Left wants a government that will treat you like a child, keep dangerous things out of your hands, put the other kids in time-out if they step out of line, and give you an allowance.

I don't often comment at NR post, but:

The corollary to infantilization is dependence. Progressives seem to see "progress" as making ever more swaths of people dependent on government. Think "Life of Julia" kicked up to 11.

Commenter "d3jo" replied to that:

Good point. I seem to recall a bald-headed writer putting out an entire tract on "The Dependency Agenda." It was pretty good, too.

Oops. I caught the gentle rebuke. My comment was like trying to teach physics to Feynman. So I bounced over to Amazon and bought the book for a cool $5.99.

Cheap, right? Well, the "book" is 43 small pages of largish print. Not much longer than a longish magazine article. Cost per word? I don't know, but pretty high, I bet.

But it's KDW, so I'd think it's still a bargain. He looks at the evolution of Federal Government handouts. (The government takes your money; gives some of it back to you in cash or "free" stuff; convinces you it has done you a favor.) Starting with FDR's Social Security, originally designed as a program to help out poor oldsters who had way outlived their life expectancy, now throwing cash at everyone who's made it to 67 or so.

But it took LBJ's "Great Society", specifically the "War on Poverty", to give us programs explicitly designed to make large swaths of American citizens dependent on transfer payments from the state. (Credibly alleged, but disputed, LBJ quote: "I'll have those [invidious term for members of a certain racial group] voting Democratic for 200 years.")

Not only the direct recipients of cash are made dependent; other (willing) dependents on state largesse are the armies of bureaucrats both in and out of government devoted to providing "services to the needy". Whose very careers would be endangered if those services actually worked to make people non-needy.

Jesus said we'd always have the poor with us. He probably saw this coming.

The book lacks footnotes, a shame. But I think KDW's usually quite meticulous in his reporting.

It would be nice if we could reverse things: let people keep more of their money, instead of getting "free" stuff that the government thinks they should have. Encourage private philanthropy, localism, and the like. Unfortunately, the nature of the titular agenda is to get its users hooked like addicts, and their "fix" is voting for continued dependence at the polls.


Last Modified 2022-08-20 9:57 AM EDT

Hi Five

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Through the vagaries of my book-picking process, I found myself reading this Joe Ide novel just a few days after I had read his attempt at a Philip Marlowe novel. (They were in different stacks.) <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> Ide does a much better job with his own characters than he did with Raymond Chandler's.

This is the fourth novel in Ide's "IQ" series, with unlicensed private investigator Isaiah Quintabe. Isaiah is a neighborhood hero, with his superpower being his detecting skills. Just like Batman, with the downside that Isaiah is nowhere near rich enough to afford a costume, cave-equipped mansion, batmobile, batplane,…

But what he could really use is a secret identity. IQ's life is an open book, leaving him open to coercion by the local weapons merchant Angus. Angus's daughter Christiana is the likely suspect in the murder of her boyfriend Tyler, and Angus demands that Isaiah exonerate her. If not, he'll mutilate the hands of Isaiah's sorta-girlfriend, Stella.

Complicating matters is that Christiana has a bunch of personalities, none of whom seem to be able, or willing, to clarify the circumstances of the murder. The reader finds out pretty quickly who the actual murderers are, as eventually does Isaiah. But who hired them? Finding out is perilous, pitting Isaiah against a gang of murderous white supremacists.

Coming along for the ride are the surviving members of Isaiah's retinue from previous books: Grace, his true love; Dodson, his ne'er-do-well sorta-partner; TK, his junkyard-owning mentor; and many more.

If you've read the description of the fifth entry in this series, you know this one doesn't end in total victory for IQ. So maybe don't read that, or this paragraph.

Palm Springs

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

I'm (apparently) a sucker for a good time-loop comedy movie starring a Saturday Night Live alumnus. This one isn't Groundhog Day, but what is? I still had a pretty good time. It went straight to Hulu last year. It's not the worst reason to subscribe to Hulu, either; they have other good stuff too.

Andy Samberg plays Nyles; as the movie opens, he's already been in the time loop for a long time, and is accustomed to the rules: he can't die, and breaking out is seemingly impossible. Instead of February in Punxsutawney, though, it's… well, you see the title. And it's a wedding! Nyles rescues Sarah (played by the saucer-eyed Cristin Milioti) from a disastrous reception speech, and they go off to canoodle, and … Nyles gets shot by an arrow aimed by a pissed-off Roy (J. K. Simmons!). For some reason, Nyles runs off to a glowing cave, Sarah follows against his advice, and she gets trapped in the loop as well. And in the next loop iteration, she's pissed off at Nyles too.

I had fun. That's all I ask. I'm pretty sure it wasn't as tightly plotted as Groundhog Day and not quite as funny.

It's slim pickings for comic actors these days, I guess. If you want to get depressed about that, Google is your friend.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-19

  • Eye Candy du Jour is this not very snarky at all tweet in response to my state's junior senator:

    Same reply left in response to my CongressCritter, who repeated the same boilerplate claim.


  • For the industrial policy hypers, every week is a week to hype industrial policy. But Veronique de Rugy is pretty tired of it: Another Week of Industrial Policy Hype.

    Another week, another reminder that heavy-handed government industrial policy is in fashion. Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence recently endorsed it as embodied in the newly passed "CHIPS+" legislation, an attempt to bolster America's semiconductor industry. The endorsement, like so many, rests not on evidence or economics, but on blind faith in Congress and the administration.

    Spence writes that "the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, and the (Inflation Reduction Act) amount to a stunning increase in long-term investment in America's growth potential, and in balancing out the various dimensions of its growth pattern, prominently for carbon dioxide emissions reduction and sustainability."

    In other words, these new expenditures — amounting to more than $1 trillion — spent by the same government that can't deliver the mail efficiently or run trains for a profit are supposed to generate the advertised abundance of goodies. We're to trust that these monies, disbursed by the same administration that botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan, will achieve only successful results.

    When government starts dropping billions from its helicopters, people will run around with buckets.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Kat Rosenfeld is a starry-eyed optimist. She predicts The progressive puritans will fail. Well, here's hopin'

    Fun has always carried a little bit of danger in its back pocket: there’s something radical, even anarchical, about having too much of it. “We were just having some fun” could be the thing you say to the neighbours who’ve knocked on the door at 3am to tell you to turn the music down; it could also be what you say as you stand around the prone, bleeding body of a guy who tried to cannonball off the roof after having too many drinks. It’s like our parents used to say, when we started getting rowdy: it’s all fun and games until it isn’t.

    In American culture, the role of the cautioning fun-averse parent has been typically played by the political Right. For many years, Republicans were the party of rules and regulations, of just saying no (to drugs, to sex, to a good time in general), of pearl-clutching church ladies waging a perpetual war against smut — a category comprising all sorts of titillating material but also the Teletubbies, who were obviously perverts. The Conservatives of pre-Y2K were out to outlaw everything from skateboarding to South Park to non-missionary-position sex. If you wanted to fight for your right to party, the Right was who you were fighting.

    That is not because fun is inherently a Left-wing phenomenon, but rather because it’s anti-ruling-class. The people in power make the rules; the fun-havers have fun by breaking them. “Fun — when your rulers would rather you not have it, and when the agents of social programming insist on stirring non-stop apprehension over the current crisis and the next one, the better to keep you submissive and in suspense — is elementally subversive,” wrote novelist Walter Kirn, as citizens of the US endeavoured to enjoy their first normal summer since 2020.

    That's just the first few paragraphs from her review of Noah Rothman's The Rise of the New Puritans, which I'm in the process of reading. It's quite good, and if you pester your local library to buy a copy, there's a good chance they'll do it! Worked for me anyhow.


  • Aw, Jim, you're a dreamer. Jim Geraghty wonders: What If the Law Treated All Politicians the Same?.

    For the past six years or so, many Democrats scoffed, “But her emails!” — implicitly arguing that whatever Hillary Clinton did regarding her emails, including classified information, back when she was Secretary of State, was unimportant in the context of the 2016 presidential election. And make no mistake, the FBI determined that emails on Clinton’s private server contained classified information. In his infamous July 5, 2016, statement, then-FBI director James Comey revealed that, “110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification.”

    To most Trump supporters, the classified information in Hillary’s emails was just one of the most vivid examples of her arrogance and sense that the rules and laws didn’t apply to her. To Hillary’s fanbase, it was a routine paperwork snafu with no real-world consequences that was hyped up by her political enemies.

    Fast forward a few years, and now almost everyone in the political-outrage-industrial complex has switched places. Now Donald Trump is accused of taking documents with classified or other sensitive information with him when he left the White House and storing them at Mar-a-Lago, defying a federal law which requires their return to the appropriate archives.

    Jim doesn't mention the late, slapped-on-the-wrist, Sandy Berger.


  • Doesn't look a day over 153! Romina Boccia celebrates a birthday: Social Security at Age 87.

    This past Sunday, Social Security – the single largest federal government program – turned 87 years old. The world has changed, but this massive federal program has not kept up with the times. Change is overdue.

    When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law on August 14, 1935, he referred to it as “a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family…against poverty‐​ridden old age.” From a modest income support program, targeted toward individuals who lived beyond the age of life expectancy, Social Security now redistributes more than $1 trillion annually from working Americans toward those in retirement, despite the much greater wealth owned by retirees. And the program’s annual spending is projected to double to nearly $2 trillion over the next decade.

    It will come as no surprise to anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to how government works, that even modestly conceived programs tend to bloat far beyond their intended purpose. And as one of the longest running federal programs, Social Security has had plenty of time to transform from an old‐age poverty program to a politically convenient entitlement.

    Boccia's suggestions, none of which will be taken until a few days before the "Trust Fund" runs out: (1) raise the retirement age; (2) focus payments on those with limited means; (3) various fixes to reduce drag on the economy, like using the "chained CPI" to adjust benefits for inflation.


  • And finally… Here's an excerpt from Part 4 of Russ Roberts' critique of utilitarianism.

    Suppose you have two tickets to the musical Hamilton and you invite me to come with you, your treat. Alas, I’ve already seen it and unknown to you, it’s my 25th wedding anniversary, so I turn you down and take my wife to dinner at an elegant restaurant. You find a different friend and have a great time. Who had more happiness from the evening, me or you?

    The right answer is I have no idea. No one does. Not me. Not you. And certainly not a philosopher king economist looking on from the outside. No amount of data on the frequency of our smiles during our two very different experiences can answer the question. It’s a meaningless question that falls outside the purview of science or social science.

    It's right to be wholly skeptical of those who claim to offer a path toward greater social happiness.


Last Modified 2022-08-20 4:40 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-18

Feeling much better today, thanks. I don't think it was Covid, but I don't know what it was. I'm scared to Google my symptoms.

  • Commentary from Mr.Ramirez on the "Inflation Reduction Act".

    [Lipstick on a Pig]

    I moaned last evening over a local TV news report on the "savings" Americans will experience from the IRA. It was basically a two-minute tongue bath for the legislation, specifically the medicine-related measures. A 5-second bit of naysaying was reserved for the end, with the talking head saying "Opponents claim…"

    Pigs don't need to do their own makeup when the MSM will enthusiastically do it for them.


  • In case you were under any illusion otherwise. Ayaan Hirsi Ali informs us There is no "Biden Doctrine".

    I keep thinking of the people falling from the sky. The images are seared into my mind: Our Afghan allies, the people we were callously leaving to their fates after 20 years, clinging to an American plane taking off from Kabul Airport, only to drop to their deaths moments later. Afterwards, Joe Biden had the gall to declare “with all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision, and the best decision for America”.

    A year on, how should we evaluate Biden’s declaration? Well, the Taliban has reinstalled a tyrannical theocratic government under which the precious freedoms gained by Afghan women over the past 20 years have been completely reversed. If the “best decision for America” involves trampling liberty and solidarity underfoot, then I don’t want to imagine what the worst decision would look like.

    She goes on to point out that although "we were told that the Taliban would no longer harbour terrorists", that was contradicted by the harboring of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul.


  • Another Ayaan Hirsi Ali mention. It's from Kevin D. Williamson in his "Tuesday" column: Against Fanaticism.

    Not long after I moved to New York City in 2008, I went to an event at the New York Public Library, a debate between Bernard-Henri Levi and Slavoj Žižek, the subject of which was “Violence and the Left in Dark Times.” As if to personify the dangers to intellectual life presented by the intersection of political radicalism and violence, seated together were Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had only recently relocated to the United States from the Netherlands, and the novelist Salman Rushdie, who had been living under a death sentence handed down in 1989 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran in response to his novel The Satanic Verses. I thought to myself: “That’s where the bomb will go off.”

    There was no bomb. Not then. Not yet.

    Hirsi Ali these days is a U.S. citizen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, the wife of British historian Niall Ferguson, and the mother of charming children. Salman Rushdie, for his part, is in a hospital recovering from knife wounds — stabbed in the liver, likely to lose an eye, arm nerves severed, on a ventilator, for a time unable to speak — inflicted by a California-born Tehran-terror fanboy. If it seems that Hirsi Ali has been luckier, don’t envy her: One of the events precipitating her move to the United States was her being forced to vacate a secret secured house in the Netherlands after neighbors complained that her presence put them at serious risk. She remains on a standing al-Qaeda hit list.

    Always nice to be reminded that bravery is rare, and to be prized when it occurs. (You can measure Liz Cheney's bravery, much ballyhooed in the news, in micro-Rushdies.)


  • Good questions… from James Freeman: Merrick Garland, the Washington Post and the Nuclear Story.

    If papers in former President Donald Trump’s home represented such a grave threat to national security, why did the Justice Department take so long to act on it? Among the implausible details of this disturbing story has been that after a Justice official and several FBI agents visited Mar-a-Lago in early June, Justice waited several days before merely requesting that a stronger lock be placed on the door of a storage room and then waited roughly two months before seeking a warrant. Now a new report makes the theory of a significant security threat even harder to credit.

    The Journal’s Sadie Gurman and Aruna Viswanatha report from Washington:

    Attorney General Merrick Garland deliberated for weeks over whether to approve the application for a warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, people familiar with the matter said, a sign of his cautious approach that will be tested over the coming months.

    The decision had been the subject of weeks of meetings between senior Justice Department and FBI officials, the people said. The warrant allowed agents last Monday to seize classified information and other presidential material from Mar-a-Lago.

    Weeks of meetings strongly suggest a gray area, not a clear and present danger. Mr. Garland’s long period of pondering is completely incompatible with a news report that has been widely circulated since last week. In a story published on Thursday and updated on Friday, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Perry Stein and Shane Harris reported for the Washington Post:

    Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.

    Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

    Their concern was so deep that they had to kick the issue around at meetings for much of the summer before trying to do anything about it?

    Trump may have broken their brains. I've been noticing that a lot.


  • Death comes for the Archbishop… And, as Steven Hayward relates, The “Fact Checkers” Come for Hillsdale. Based on this bit of legerdemain:

    [Hillsdale Fact-checked]

    Hayward comments:

    To be sure, there has been lots of wild and wooly conspiracy talk about [the World Economic Forum] and “The Great Reset,” but not from Hillsdale. Anyone not in the bag for the conventional wisdom would know that Hillsdale is offering a serious critique of the intellectual premises and consequences of the progressive view that “expert” administration can “re-imagine” our economy, our policing, etc. if we just give them more power and bow to their authority. All we need to “reset” the economy is just listen to these good people, and exert our good will.

    A Reason video explains the real reason for concern:

    Executive summary: what's out in the open is bad enough; how much worse could a secret conspiracy be? The real outrage is how few people are outraged.


  • And finally… An excerpt from Part 3 of Russ Roberts' debunking of Benthamite utilitarianism:

    Much of life is more like a dance floor than a dance competition. In a dance competition, it’s about being the best dancer, about attracting attention to yourself and winning prizes or respect for being better than those around you. In a dance competition it would be normal to strive to do as well as possible, to maximize your place in the rankings relative to the other dancers.

    But on a dance floor, there are rules of conduct where you must subdue your own self-interest if you are to be a member in good standing of the culture around you. It can’t be all about you. You must be careful not to bang into the other dancers. To do that, you must observe the moves and positions of the other dancers and find a way for your own self-expression and that of your partner, to mesh with the movements of others. You might choose to sublimate your own status in the name of making your partner shine in his or her gracefulness or expression.

    On the dance floor and in life, there is virtue in perceiving and then following the norms of the environment you are in, even when those norms are not consistent with your own goals or direct well-being. This may mean avoiding some environments and favoring others. Norms emerge and evolve to the extent that they allow for individuals to enjoy themselves and express themselves. But at any one moment, that enjoyment may be imperfect.

    I won't dance. Don't ask me.


Last Modified 2022-08-19 4:26 AM EDT

You have free will. Or not. The choice is yours.

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I'm a little under the weather today, might have Covid. So a little light on content. But:

I've been a fan of theoretical physicist (and successful science popularizer) Sabine Hossenfelder for a number of years. I've blogged about her blog here, here, here, here, and here. And I read her previous book, reported on here.

Her new book Existential Physics is out, and Portsmouth Public Library has it, so I'll get around to reading it at some point.

Sabine (I call her Sabine) believes free will is an illusion, and that's reflected in Existential Physics. From a recent review in the WSJ: (‘Existential Physics’ Review: Easy to Believe, Hard to Prove):

She is less persuasive when she encroaches on philosophical territory, brusquely brushing aside the possibility of free will because, “according to the currently established laws of nature, the future is determined by the past, except for occasional quantum events that we cannot influence.” Philosophers who think that this is not the end of the story are dismissed as falling into a “quagmire of evasion,” as William James put it. But the only defense of free will’s compatibility with science she addresses—and rightly rejects—is the feeble idea that “your will is free because it’s not predictable.” But there are many other arguments, far more plausible, that go unaddressed.

But what I really liked was a short LTE from Barry Milliken in yesterday's paper:

In his review of Sabine Hossenfelder’s “Existential Physics” (Bookshelf Aug. 11), Julian Baggini quotes the author’s argument that free will is impossible because “according to the currently established laws of nature, the future is determined by the past.” This merely shows how little we understand about nature.

All statements by conscious beings presuppose both the laws of logic and the free will of the speaker. Otherwise, the speaker is forced to admit that his words are mere noise compelled and predetermined since the big bang. Denying free will is a self-contradiction. Logic and free will are axiomatic to any meaningful statement. We may not understand the mysterious “mechanisms” of the origin of life and free will, but excuse me, there they are.

Certainly that's not a popular opinion among the free-will-denying. I find it pretty persuasive.

"How are you going to convince me free will is an illusion? Careful argument with facts and logic? If I don't have free will, how is that supposed to convince me?"


Last Modified 2022-08-19 4:26 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-16

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Ask Drew Carey if the price is right. Or maybe not. I rarely post book reviews here, but this one was intriguing: Adam Rowe looks at The Price of Time by Edward Chancellor.

    After the financial crisis of 2008, the dread of economic collapse gave way to yet another exuberant bull market. All sorts of asset classes—industrial commodities, house prices, stocks—soared to irrational extremes. “Never before in history had so many asset price bubbles inflated simultaneously,” Edward Chancellor writes in “The Price of Time,” a sweeping historical analysis of how our financial system once again became untethered from the world it is supposed to serve.

    At the heart of such derangement, Mr. Chancellor argues, is a single factor: artificially low interest rates. As he reminds us, interest rates are the most important signal in a market-based economy, “the universal price” affecting all others. Interest is best defined as the time value of money, which Mr. Chancellor artfully renders as “the price of time.” It is the price that informs every key financial decision—saving, spending, investing. Suppressing the rate of interest is a powerful way to boost an economy otherwise bound for recession, but it is a dangerous one. It is to finance what opiates are to medicine, a distortion of perception disguised as a cure.

    After 2008, Mr. Chancellor notes, “central bankers pushed interest rates to their lowest level in five millennia.” The move seemed like a success at first, averting deflation and mass unemployment. But behind this immediate result lurked structural problems that the bankers had left to fester. Low rates have compounded “our current woes,” Mr. Chancellor says. These include “the collapse of productivity growth, unaffordable housing, rising inequality, the loss of market competition” and—as we may all feel right now—“financial fragility.”

    That's… interesting. In general, government-imposed price controls generate all sorts of mischief and misery. But that's exactly what the Fed does when it fiddles with interest rates: controlling the price of money.

    So: why do we make such a big fuss about other kinds of price controls, but are relatively silent about the Fed?

    And what would happen if the Fed stopped doing that?

    Would we still need the Fed?

    I don't know the answers to those questions. I have to read this book, obviously. Only $12.99 on Kindle. Hmmm…


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] As I said, I rarely do this. But I might as well do it twice today. Steven McGuire looks at another new book, It’s Not Free Speech by Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth, respectively a literature prof at Penn State and a "professor of film" at Portland State.

    Executive summary: it's not good.

    Bérubé and Ruth “have long been involved with the AAUP” (the American Association of University Professors) and claim to be “deeply committed to academic freedom.” Now, they question their previous liberal principles and believe that academic freedom must be revised to enshrine critical race theory.

    As they explain, “We (here, we literally mean our two selves) are classic examples of the white left-liberal stunned by Trump’s election and by wave upon wave of police and vigilante killings of Black men and women into thinking much more critically.” Further, “the advent of Trumpism, and the increasingly open expressions of fascism and neo-Nazism in the United States, place unbearable pressure on liberal shibboleths about how the so-called marketplace of ideas actually works in reality.” In response to these events, they have immersed themselves in critical race theory and now believe that “a robust theory of academic freedom must be premised on an equality that goes beyond formal equality, one that is not devoted to a false universality but rather sees color, gender, differing ability, etc.” Their central argument is that academic freedom should be redefined to exclude white supremacists.

    One wishes that “left-liberals” like Bérubé and Ruth, who are so concerned about Trump’s election, would reflect “more critically” on the “unbearable pressure” their own reactions to it have placed on the rest of us to defend the principles and institutions of this country. Instead, Bérubé and Ruth recommend revising the definition of academic freedom and instituting academic freedom committees that could institutionally subject scholars and teachers to moral panics and political litmus tests. It is an extreme overreaction. As others have noted, it is also bizarre that they have written a whole book arguing that white supremacist professors should be fired while offering remarkably few examples of people who they think should be fired. Even in the case of Amy Wax, who is one of their primary targets, they admit that “while we see Wax’s beliefs as disqualifying, this view is not shared widely.”

    McGuire notes that the authors cast a very vague and fuzzy net when discussing the people they want to banish from academia. Basically: let's set up the witch-hunting tribunals first, and then start setting up the litmus tests for witches. ( "She turned me into a newt!")

    Probably won't be reading this one.


  • In addition to the Fed… J.D. Tuccille offers a plea for civil peace and harmony in our time, by uniting against a common enemy. Something Upon Which Americans Can Agree: The FBI and the IRS Suck.

    There's no doubt that both the FBI and IRS are having a tough moment with the public. Perceptions that the national police agency is at war with half of the population have eroded its standing, while Biden administration plans to super-size the tax-collection agency further sour public perceptions of that never-popular arm of government. It might all be very depressing if you work in the public sector, or you could say that Americans are finally gaining a more realistic assessment of deeply flawed federal enforcers.

    Over the past week, headlines have featured massive increases in funding for the IRS and a job ad seeking tax collectors "willing to use deadly force" as well as a high-profile raid by the FBI on the Mar-a-Lago home of former President Donald Trump unprecedented in the country's history. If any publicity is good publicity, this should have been a shining moment for government arm-twisters. But both agencies are viewed with suspicion by much of the public and suffer continuously sliding approval ratings.

    As bad as you think the IRS and FBI are, J.D.'s article might convince you that they're worse than you thought.

    Unfortunately, people tend to forget their former cynicism about those agencies if they're being controlled by the right people.


  • Because of course they did. In case you had any doubts about our CongressCritters' lack of independence, Michael Graham will dispel them: Kuster, Pappas Join Party-Line Vote to Pass $739B Spending Bill.

    President Joe Biden went 4-0 with New Hampshire’s federal delegation on the revised version of the Build Back Better bill when it passed the House on Friday in a party-line 220-207 vote. Despite political headwinds and campaign ads declaring they “stand up to their party,” both Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas voted for the $739 billion spending package that includes hundreds of billions in green energy subsidies, tax increases on oil and gas, and $80 billion to increase IRS audits and collections.

    The so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” — which advocates now acknowledge would have minimal impact on inflation — passed the U.S. Senate on a partisan 50-50 vote with the support of Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.

    Unfortunately, according to a recent poll, the most likely GOP candidates to go up against Pappas in November are an intelligence-insulting hack and a 2020 election truther. And the leading candidate to oppose Maggie Hassan is a guy who favored amending the Constitution to overturn the SCOTUS Citizens United decision and has called Governor Sununu a "Chinese Communist sympathizer” whose family business “supports terrorism".

    It's sad when the best argument for voting Republican is that they aren't Democrats.


  • Also sucking: utilitarianism. I'm gonna blog all four parts of Russ Roberts' critique. Here's an excerpt from part 2. where he offers an anecdote against avoiding charities that spend a lot of money on fundraising instead of … you know … their putative mission.

    Dan Pallotta has argued eloquently against this single-minded scalar failure of using overhead as a measure of effectiveness. In 2002 his organization’s 3-day bike-a-thons collected $118 million to fight breast cancer.

    They were able to do that by offering riders an incredible experience which helped motivate them to participate and excel at raising money. But that required resources and a skilled staff to create an unforgettable experience for the riders.

    The overhead underlying the $118 million was a seemingly unconscionable 40%. “Only” $71 million was available to fight breast cancer. Embarrassed by the magnitude of the 40%, charities fighting breast cancer decided to stop using Pallotta’s organization and instead put on the bike-a-thons themselves. The next year they collected $60 million less than the year before. Was that a better world?

    Nope. And just as a reminder, the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon is coming up next week.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-15

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • I'm fine with Whataboutism, correctly applied. And David French, far from a Trump fan, makes a telling suggestion: Apply the Hillary Clinton Rule to Donald Trump.

    On Friday a federal magistrate judge unsealed the warrant for Mar-a-Lago, former president Donald Trump’s Florida home, which was searched by FBI agents last week. According to the warrant, the FBI was looking for evidence of crimes related to obstruction of justice, removal of official records, and the mishandling of information relating to the national defense.

    I must confess, the search warrant gave me déjà vu.

    On July 5, 2016, FBI director James Comey issued one of the most consequential statements in federal law enforcement history. He explained precisely why the FBI did not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for mishandling “defense information,” some of which was classified at the highest levels of secrecy.

    That statement not only influenced the outcome of a presidential election, its legal, political, and cultural consequences hover over American life. Nobody who’s evaluating Donald Trump’s conduct should forget Comey’s statement, and its standards should govern us today.

    French argues that Trump might still face prosecution, even under the Comey/Clinton standard. But that's far from a slam dunk.


  • On the other hand… Jacob Sullum is another guy I basically trust to examine issues without partisan blinders. And he says: Donald Trump's Handling of Classified Material Looks Worse Than Hillary Clinton's.

    According to a search warrant inventory that was unsealed on Friday, the FBI found 11 sets of classified documents, ranging from "confidential" to "top secret," when it searched former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach last Monday. The top-secret documents included some that were labeled "SCI," or "sensitive compartmented information," an especially restricted category derived from intelligence sources.

    On the face of it, Trump's handling of these documents, which he took with him from the White House when he left office in January 2021, raises national security concerns at least as serious as those raised by Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state. Trump has long maintained that Clinton's mishandling of classified material when she ran the State Department was egregious enough to justify sending her to prison. But in his case, he says, the documents at Mar-a-Lago, despite their labeling, were not actually classified.

    How so? According to a statement that Trump representative John Solomon read on Fox News after the search warrant and inventory were unsealed, Trump had a "standing order" as president that automatically declassified material he moved from the Oval Office to his residence at the White House. That explanation raises additional questions about Trump's seemingly cavalier treatment of sensitive information, which I'll get to later. But first let's compare what Clinton did to what Trump did.

    As noted, Jacob's comparison looks not so good for Trump. Check it out and see what you think.

    Jacob's article relies heavily on MSM accounts, and (to bend over backward to be fairer to Trump) it wouldn't be the first time that MSM-cited evidence against Orange Man turned out to be (um) less accurate that originally presented.


  • An obit for a fool. Kevin D. Williamson pulls no punches about the recently deceased: Ricky Revolutionary, R.I.P..

    Ricky Shiffer thought he was Ricky Revolutionary. Now, he’s Ricky Rigor Mortis, who died as he lived on social media: pointlessly, fruitlessly, and stupidly.

    Shiffer is the nincompoop who, enraged by the spectacle of . . . a law-enforcement agency serving a lawful warrant . . . attacked the FBI office in Cincinnati — as everybody knows, the True and Hidden Occult Capital of the Satanic Deep State is somewhere in Cincinnati — Thursday with a rifle and a nail gun. If his posts on Donald Trump’s social-media service are any indicator, he planned the assault poorly, and doesn’t seem to have quite understood how bulletproof glass works. (The general idea is that it is bulletproof.) Afterward, he led the feds on a mad scamper through Ohio and then engaged in a desultory shootout with them, at which point his life came to an abrupt and appropriate end.

    Say this for Ricky Revolutionary: At least he had the courage of his idiotic convictions. You can’t say as much for the people who make a comfortable living manipulating misfits like him. Take Charlie Kirk, the young radio host and TPUSA entrepreneur who insists that the FBI’s warrant-service at Mar-a-Lago was nothing short of “a military operation against a political dissident.” Kirk’s followers take this message seriously: “There’s no time for politics, we are at war,” one representative response declared. p>This is standard Republican stuff right now: Florida governor Ron DeSantis insisted that the FBI was enabling the “weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents” — that capital-R “Regime” is telling — while Marco Rubio promised that those who use the government to “persecute political opponents” will, if he has his way, “face investigation and prosecution” by their political opponents, and he went on to describe the search as something we’d expect from “3rd world Marxist dictatorships.” Poor Marco Rubio — the senator from U.S. Sugar got out-boobed in 2016 and has vowed never to let it happen again.

    I watched part of the pre-NH primary debate from the National Review reception at the (then) Manchester Radisson and Marco got his hat handed to him by Chris Christie, who pointed out that Marco had nothing beyond prefab talking points—to which Marco responded by repeating his prefab talking point.


  • I'm on Team Walter here. Walter Block tackles an issue we mentioned yesterday: Why You Shouldn’t Need a Doctor’s Permission to Get Prescription Drugs.

    The present system for pharmaceutical drugs requires a doctor’s prescription as a precondition for their sale to members of the public.

    At first glance this seems like a reasonable plan. After all, most people simply lack the necessary information to determine whether they need or can benefit from drugs such as Penicillin, Vicodin, Albuterol, Lisinopril, Levothyroxine, Gabapentin, Metformin, Lipitor, Amlodipine, Tamsulosin, Finasteride, Digoxin, Metoprolol, Celecoxib to name but a tiny sample of those drugs covered by this rule. Moreover, even if people had that knowledge, which the average person most certainly does not, they would be totally lost as far as proper dosage is concerned.

    However, all is not well under present institutional arrangements. For here we are not talking about advice and counsel from a physician to a patient. That is all well and good. Rather, the problem is that the horse is placed before the cart: the client must seek the permission of a person who is for all intents and purposes an employee of his, not an employer.

    That should be the proper relationship between the two, and in the free society that is exactly what would occur. Instead, nowadays, the patient is not seeking, nor obtaining, information, knowledge, advice. Instead, he must appear on bended knee to beg for permission from his physician.

    I'm getting pretty radical on this issue. Instead of "prescriptions", they should be "medication suggestions", and unless there are very good reasons for an exception: they should be available OTC.


  • I'm also on Team Russ. Over the years, Russ Roberts has struck me as the Platonic Ideal of an economist: Thoughtful, open-eyed (but not cynical) about the limitations of his field's epistemology. He has a four-part series at his website: A Critique of Utilitarianism. (That link will take you to Part 1.)

    It's very good, of course. And I really liked this bit. It's an aside to his topic, but it's hilarious.

    Which movie directed by Rob Reiner is better, “This is Spinal Tap” which IMDB users rate at 7.9 or “When Harry Met Sally” which IMDB users rate at a mere 7.6 as of October 28, 2020? Obviously TISP is a better movie than WHMS, right? Of course not. Better is meaningless here. The higher rating for TISP means one thing and one thing only — the people who rated TISP on average gave it a higher rating than WHMS. That does not tell you what you might really want to know — if you can only watch one tonight, which one will you enjoy more? It certainly doesn’t mean that TISP is a better measure in any objective sense.

    And I bring this up mainly because This is Spinal Tap is the only movie at IMDB that is rated out of 11. For better or worse, 10 is still the maximum rating you can use. But the average is listed as 7.9 out of 11. I cannot decide if IMDB should have let users give Spinal Tap an eleven.

    If you don't know why I find that hilarious… well, I recommend you watch This is Spin̈al Tap.

Planet Funny

How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Some personal history, sorry: I've been a Jeopardy! fan (roughly) forever. When Ken Jennings made his historic run of wins in 2004, I became a Jennings fan. I read his on-again-off-again blog. (Currently off: last post from 2018.) I bought and read his books Brainiac and Maphead; the latter I even got him to sign when he appeared at the University of Southern Maine up in Gorham. ("To Paul! Who is Ken Jennings?" on the title page.)

And then he revealed himself to be kind of a jerk. (More here.) Well, darn, life's too short. I dumped Ken like a [insert cliché here]. He continued to be rich and famous, while I wallowed in obscurity and merely modest wealth.

And then he showed up on Jeopardy! again, hosting. And managed to be charming and witty, again.

Am I gonna stop watching Jeopardy!? No.

And… Sigh. OK, I won't buy your books any more, Ken. But I'll check this one out of the library, because that won't throw any extra shekels your way. (My current stance on boycotting flawed celebrities is described here, if you care.)

So: This book is a mixed bag. Ken has done his homework on comedy. First, like most of us, as a consumer of cartoons, sitcoms, movies, and print media like Mad magazine. But he's also performed due diligence in tracking down what deep thinkers had to say: Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Herbie Spencer,… Neil Postman's classic/prescient observations in Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985!) are cited. Ken notes the increasing meta-ization of comedy, jokesters joking about jokes. And he (usually) manages to sprinkle in humor, both in examples and his own observations. Thank goodness: a book about comedy that can make you laugh.

There's an entire chapter on the thorny concept of "irony". Did you know it's from the Greek eiron? Which refers to… never mind. I count at least 16 times I've used "Is that irony? I can never tell" on this blog. Although Ken taught me more about the concept, I'm pretty sure I'm as weak as ever about identifying it; Ken seems less than sure himself.

The book gets my eyes rolling when it comes to politics, as dreaded, but expected. Ken's worshipful of comedy that advances progressive/left causes. He's (rightly) scornful of "comedy" that relies on nasty racism or misogyny. But (page 256) we get stuff like:

There is abundant precedent for world leaders who, like Trump and Kim Jong-Un, took jokes about their government seriously. The Nazis made joking about the Reich a capital crime…

Yep, Argumentum Ad Hitlerum and Argumentum Ad Commieum within a few dozen words. As far as comedy that pricks left/liberal balloons, it's a big blind spot for this book. And, even though the book is from 2018, I would have expected more on cancel culture. Chris Rock said he stopped performing on college campuses back in 2014. Not worth a mention? Nope, another blind spot.

(I realize this post will almost certainly doom my chances of ever being on Jeopardy!.)

Death on the Nile

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

Mrs. Salad requested this free-to-us streamer (from Hulu). She was unimpressed because she thought it was padded. (Two hours, seven minutes, according to IMDB.) Agreed, and I didn't much care for other things too.

But Gal Gadot is very easy on the eyes. Extra half star for Ms. Gadot. But also: minus half a star for (spoiler) making her the first murder victim.

A brief prequel gives an origin story. Specifically, the origin of Hercule Poirot's impressive mustache: it's to cover up scarring he incurred from a German booby trap in WWI. But after that prequel, we're off to standard Christie-based mayhem: a raft of characters we are (somehow) supposed to keep track of, updating their relationships after secrets are revealed during the flick. Never fear, though: Poirot eventually works out the motive and method, but not before a few more bodies pile up.

There's a lot of scenery. Also scenery-chewing. Fantabulous fashions are worn. One of the reasons the movie is so long is that the camera lingers after each costume appears.

Recommendation: watch Dead Again instead.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-14

  • So I guess she won't be singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" anytime soon. The Washington Free Beacon covers a case of you-know-what envy: If I ‘Had a Penis’ I’d Be President.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) would probably have won the 2020 Democratic primary—and presumably the general election as well—if Democratic voters weren't a bunch of disgusting misogynists, the failed candidate told an NBC News correspondent following her third-place finish in the Iowa caucus.

    "Everyone comes up to me and says, ‘I would vote for you, if you had a penis,'" Warren vented to Ali Vitali, who recounts the previously unreported conversation in her forthcoming book, Electable: Why America Hasn't Put a Woman in the White House … Yet.

    Everyone comes up to her and says that?

    I'll take "Self-Serving Falsehoods" for $200, Alex Mayim.

    And (darn it) I really shouldn't do this, but… from the WFB article, to be sung to the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain":

    I could mine the finest minerals,
    Conferrin' with my generals,
    A closet bolshevik;
    The rubes would all respect me
    In four years they'd reelect me
    If I only had a dick.

    I'd be more than just a token
    Of misogyny unspoken,
    The carrot and the stick;
    I would dance and be merry
    I'd be scrappy, I'd be scary, 
    If I only had a dick.

    Fun facts: in the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary, Senator Warren came in a solid fourth place (9.2% of the vote), despite being from neighboring Massachusetts.

    The wiener-equipped Senator Sanders, also from a neighboring state, won the primary with 25.6%.

    But Senator Klobuchar, allegedly wangless, got more than twice as many votes as Liz (19.7%).

    Also pricking a hole in Liz's tallywhacker theory: having male membership didn't help Joe Biden beat her: he came in fifth.

    Okay, I'll stop now.


  • Let's blame… um… Walgreens! Elizabeth Nolan Brown shakes her head at legal antics: Walgreens 'Helped Fuel' Opioid Crisis in San Francisco, Says Judge.

    Is Walgreens an illicit drug dealer? That's essentially what a federal court has ruled, suggesting the pharmacy should have stopped "suspicious orders" for opioids from being filled. In failing to do so, the retailer "substantially contributed" to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco, Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled.

    Walgreens was "responsible for shipping nearly 1 out of every 5 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed nationwide during the height of the opioid crisis," reports The Washington Post. And "more than 100 million prescription opioid pills were dispensed by Walgreens in [San Francisco] between 2006 and 2020," notes the Los Angeles Times.

    Walgreens isn't accused of filling fake prescriptions; the opioid orders it filled were written by licensed doctors. But some of these doctors had "suspect prescribing patterns," noted Breyer. And other orders were written by doctors who would go on to have their licenses revoked or face criminal punishment. The judge agreed with the city and county of San Francisco, which brought the suit, that Walgreens pharmacists were negligent in not realizing something was afoot and therefore illegally contributed to a public nuisance. A trial will be held to determine damages owed.

    "The effects of the opioid epidemic on San Francisco have been catastrophic. The city has fought hard and continues to do so, but the opioid epidemic, which Walgreens helped fuel, continues to substantially interfere with public rights in San Francisco," Breyer wrote.

    This seems, frankly, insane. Walgreens fills prescriptions. It is not in the business of drug enforcement. If some of the prescriptions filled by Walgreens were written by dirty doctors or went to people who abused them, it is not on individual pharmacists to figure that out.

    The 80-year-old judge is Stephen Breyer's brother, and was appointed to his judgeship by Bill Clinton. And if ENB claims he's insane, it's probably true.


  • A safe prediction. Steven Greenhut looks at the inevitable: A more powerful IRS won't target only the wealthy.

    The Internal Revenue Service's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.—a hulking New Deal-era monstrosity that's ironically located on Constitution Avenue—has U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' oft-repeated words carved on the exterior facade: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

    Yet there's nothing particularly civilized about the IRS—the nation's heavy-handed, incompetent and scandal-plagued tax-collection agency. The building's columns and detailing echo the French Renaissance style, but behind the façade the IRS' inspiration is more aligned with Robespierre given the terror its agents inflict on American citizens.

    […]

    Expecting a $739-billion spending bill to reduce inflation is like expecting a tanker of gasoline to douse a fire, but that's the least of our problems. The measure proposes to provide an additional $80 billion to the IRS—boosting its budget six times and doubling the number of federal revenue officers.

    Greenhut's final zinger:

    Perhaps the IRS ought to use some of its new funding to replace the Holmes quotation with this one from another iconic high-court justice, John Marshall: "The power to tax is the power to destroy."


  • In so many ways… Michael F. Cannon points out that Government Is the Scourge of Diabetics, Not Their Savior.

    Congressional Republicans have defeated a proposal by congressional Democrats to mandate that private insurance companies cap out‐of‐pocket spending on insulin by their enrollees at $35 per month. Republicans were right to do so. Government is already driving insulin prices sky‐high. Further intervention would make matters worse.

    Diabetics need insulin to live. Insulin prices should be falling over time, yet they have more than doubled over the last 10 years. Many diabetics struggle with those rising prices, sometimes with deadly consequences. A humane health system would make insulin increasingly accessible to diabetics.

    Cannon fires out five, count 'em, five, ways Your Federal Government makes things worse for diabetics. Here's number two:

    Second, government increases the cost of insulin by requiring diabetics to get prescriptions before purchasing many insulin products. It makes little sense to require diabetics, who are highly knowledgeable repeat consumers of insulin, to obtain prescriptions each time they purchase it. Canada allows diabetics to purchase any insulin product without a prescription. If the FDA or Congress were to remove those requirements, both the price of insulin and the ancillary costs of obtaining it would fall.

    I've always wondered what the point was of requiring prescriptions for medicines that are unlikely to be abused. Like, sigh, my blood pressure meds. I probably wouldn't need blood pressure meds if not for articles like Cannon's!

URLs du Jour

2022-08-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • He is large, he contains multitudes. Joe Lancaster has today's unenviable task of comparing what was said then to what's being said now: Trump pleads the 5th after saying only guilty people do that.

    New York Attorney General Letitia James has investigated former President Donald Trump and his real-estate business for over a year. The probe, conducted in conjunction with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, began as a civil investigation before James announced last May that it had become criminal.

    Today, Trump was forced to sit for a deposition at James' Manhattan office. In a statement, he indicated that he had "declined to answer the questions," invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to be forced to incriminate oneself.

    The invocation marked a notable break from Trump's previous thoughts on taking the Fifth, most notably during the 2016 campaign: During a presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, he called it "disgraceful" that members of her staff had refused to testify before congressional committees investigating Clinton's use of a private email server. Days later, he told a rally crowd, "The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

    OK, that's pretty funny.


  • And for some local phoniness… we need look no further than my own CongressCritter, trying to get re-elected: Meet the Blue-Collar Guy in the New Pappas TV Ad.

    For decades, working-class White voters were the base of the Democratic Party. So it was no surprise that U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, facing a tough re-election environment in a district rated a “toss-up” by political pros, made working-class men the stars of his first 2022 TV ad.

    Take the rugged guy rolling up the door at the auto repair shop in the first few seconds of the ad. He looks out at the city, ready for another day of honest labor and hard work in the shop.

    Now, take another look at him. That is actually Alan Raff, a white-collar attorney who works in a Concord law office and is chairman of the Manchester Democrats. He formerly worked in the offices of the New Hampshire Senate as a Democratic staffer.

    I think Pappas has cemented his lead among lawyers who pretend to be mechanics.


  • Is it time for Scientific American to change its name? Maybe Condescending Cosmopolitan would be a better fit. Jerry Coyne takes a look at their latest laugher: Scientific American finds the search for extraterrestrial intelligence racist and colonialist. (The article on which Jerry's commenting is here: Cultural Bias Distorts the Search for Alien Life.)

    In this piece, Scientific American author Camilio Garzón (it’s an article, not an op-ed) interviews Rebecca Charbonneau, identified as “a historian in residence at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, as well as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.”

    Charbonneau’s thesis:

    . . . .increasingly, SETI scientists are grappling with the disquieting notion that, much like their intellectual forebears, their search may somehow be undermined by biases they only dimly perceive—biases that could, for instance, be related to the misunderstanding and mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups that occurred during the development of modern astronomy and many other scientific fields.

    Yep, Scientific American is rapidly descending to the status of a risible, woke, and useless publication. I used to read it avidly when I was a kid, but back then it was full of science. Now, like Teen Vogue, it’s a disguised way to propagandize its readers.

    That article's free to read, looks like. Victor Weisskopf's 1968 article How Light Interacts with Matter remains hidden behind the paywall.


  • Something I've wondered about a lot. Astral Codex Ten checks out the evidence for and against an old saw: Will Nonbelievers Really Believe Anything?

    There’s a popular saying among religious apologists:

    Once people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they will believe in nothing; rather, the problem is that they will believe anything.

    Big talk, although I notice that this is practically always attributed to one of GK Chesterton or CS Lewis, neither of whom actually said it. If you’re making strong claims about how everybody except you is gullible, you should at least bother to double-check the source of your quote.

    Still, it’s worth examining as a hypothesis. Are the irreligious really more likely to fall prey to woo and conspiracy theories?

    ACT finds a complex relationship at work.

    I'd word the issue slightly differently. Even non-religious folk adopt the epistemic habits of the religious: "belief" instead of "knowledge". This can get downright silly, back in 2013, I was gobsmacked when the University Near Here trotted out a new (expensive) logo. Reaction was mixed, but they found a sucker young person who came to the light: "I Believe in the New Logo!" she (I'm pretty sure it was a "she") preached to the unwashed.

    Reader, they had an "I Believe in UNH" category at Giphy. And there were chants at University functions, much like religious revivals:

    Well, you gotta believe in something. If not God, there will be all sorts of hucksters offering you alternatives.

Find You First

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Corollary to the famous Chekhov's Gun rule: If you put a Winnebago on the top floor of a Manhattan brownstone in Chapter Six, it won't just be sitting there in Chapter Sixty-Seven.

Slight spoiler there, sorry.

This book made the WSJ reviewer's list of Best Mysteries of 2021, and it's not bad, especially if you're looking for a mindless vacation read. I was unaware of the author, Linwood Barclay, until now; shows what I know. According to the book cover, he's a "New York Times Bestselling Author", and he has over two dozen books to his credit. I thought his prose went a little heavy on the clichés and unlikely plot twists and devices. (Like the Winnebago ex Machina.) But more power to him.

It opens with the cold-blooded murder of a phone scammer by an efficient pair of hired killers. Then jumps to a doctor's office where a tech billionaire, Miles Cookson, is getting some bad news about a debilitating genetic disease that will kill him in the not too distant future. As it turns out, he donated sperm decades ago, and is now worried that he's provided a death sentence for a bunch of unknown offspring!

But it turns out they're already being killed by those thugs. Hm. Who's behind that? And can Miles (along with a foul-mouthed waitress he picks up along the way) figure things out before it's too late? Or at least before the body count rises much higher?

Lots of fun, surprising twists.


Last Modified 2022-08-13 10:42 AM EDT

Team Trump Thinks Their Prospective Donors are Idiots.

I was going to treat this article from Erick-Woods Erickson in my usual "du jour" fashion, but it really hit home for me: GOP Consultants: Stop Blaming Others For the Problems You Created. Why? Because when recently checking my Spam folder to make sure nothing got put in there accidentally, I noticed a pitch from "Team Trump".

This is no accident. I taught Gmail months ago that mail from any Trump organization should go into Spam. But… holy cow. To what kind of person are they aiming these?

Well, you see the title of this article.

I thought I'd share it with readers. (Yes, my actual e-mail address is in there. I figure if Team Trump knows it, it's not exactly secret.) Here's page one of four (click to go a PDF):

[Page 1]

Observations:

  • There's nothing that says "we can't even guess at your name" like the "Friend" salutation.
  • I'm supposed to be impressed that I am to be an "Official" member?
  • Are there any non-Ultra MAGA teams? Or is it Ultra or nothing?
  • Nice to know that I'm the BEST of the BEST, though. Even though you don't know my name.
  • If you really, truly, won't succeed without me, then… guess what? You won't succeed.

But let's press on to Page Two:

[Page 2]

  • Oooh! A gold crown. And stars!
  • And this mere invitation, aka "unsolicited spam", is the greatest honor I could ever receive? I have to say I'm kind of disappointed by that. (I got some pretty nice Fathers Day cards, and I felt they were pretty great, honor-wise. Was I wrong?)
  • And you might have noticed that I blew through that one-hour deadline already.
  • And (gosh) Trump is gonna look for my name?
  • What kind of moron do you take me for?
  • Let me guess: first class.

There's a lot of whitespace on page three:

[Page 3]

  • Ah, looks like legal boilerplate. Boring…
  • Whoa, wait! An Official 2022 Trump Gold Card?! You gotta be shittin' me!
  • And it's personalized?!
  • And activated?! W00t!?

I wonder what an Official Trump Gold Card could look like? Ah, here it is on page four!

[Page 4]

I strongly suspect that a Trump Gold Card and $7.99 will get me a three-topping pizza at Domino's.

I'd like to think that transparently phony pitches like this are likely to turn off more people than they attract. I could be wrong. I hope not.

I'm not alone in bemoaning the dreadfulness of Trump/GOP marketing mail. Here's Erickson, from that article I mentioned way up at the top:

The New York Times ran a big story last week on how GOP online donations are down 12% even as GOP enthusiasm seems to be surging.

The consultant class of the GOP is pushing the mythology that Google and Apple are flagging their emails because tech companies hate Republicans. I’ve spent a week on the phone with many Republican consultants, including those tied to campaigns whose emails make it to my inbox. They all tell me the same thing — the problem is not Google or Apple, but the GOP consultant class.

I think they are right. Concurrently, I would not be surprised if woke Google employees are trying to disrupt, but the consultants are giving them room to do so by poor email list management. Allow me to show you some screenshots of my junk mail folder. To be clear, I did not sign up for and do no wish to receive any of these emails. I did not consent to be on the email list of any of these campaigns. And yet…

Erickson provides just the intelligence-insulting previews of all the different GOP campaign spam he recently received . It would be sad if the GOP blew the midterm elections simply because their e-mail offended just enough people.


Last Modified 2022-08-13 4:22 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-11

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • I'm on Team Charlie. As in Charles C. W. Cooke, who says he is Bored to Death by Trump.

    I am inordinately bored of Donald Trump.

    I’m bored of the man himself. I’m bored of his opponents. I’m bored of his supporters. I’m bored of the manner in which every last question that animates our politics is eventually plotted onto a graph that has his face at its center. You name anything Trump-related, I’m bored of it.

    It’s utterly inescapable. Before long, every political topic, every prominent politician, every historical trend becomes about Donald Trump in some way, shape, or form. Every piece of journalism does, too. I haven’t yet published this piece, and I’m already bored by the responses that it will engender. That’s how bad it’s gotten: I’m pre-bored — by the emails, by the analyses, by the snark, by the desire to make every last thing in American life about Trump. Nothing is safe. Bring up something almost as old as the nation itself — the Fifth Amendment, say — and within a few minutes, people will be debating whether it is functionally pro-Trump or anti-Trump. They’ll ask if it’s Trump-adjacent, or Trump-resistant, or anti-anti-Trump, and then, without missing a beat, they’ll move on to the next topic. That Genghis Khan guy. Know who he reminds me of?

    It's NRPLUS, so you probably can't RTWT without subscribing, so you should.

    But yeah. So much Trump all the time, all of it utterly predictable, from the man himself, from his sycophants, from his obsessed enemies.


  • First Amendment: Unclear on the concept. Christian Britschgi has amazing news from the Live Free or Die state: Zoning Officials Tell New Hampshire Church It Can't Use Living Room To Host Prayer Meetings. What?!

    In a zoning Catch-22, a small Christian congregation in Bedford, New Hampshire, is being told by local officials that because it got permission to add a meeting hall to a house it uses for church services, it has to stop using that house to host church services.

    The church is now suing Bedford, arguing that municipal authorities are restricting its gatherings solely because of their religious nature.

    "A determination that religious use is different and [that] you can't have people gather in a living room if its purpose is religious is clear overreach," says Michael Tierney, an attorney representing Bedford's New Hope Christian Fellowship. "It's unconscionable."

    For zoning advocates, it's always about someone wanting to put up an oil refinery next to your house. This should remind you that it's also about stopping those loud prayers bothering motorists driving by on 101. (According to their web page, joining their services via Zoom and Facebook is still allowed.)


  • We need a firing spree instead, amirite? I'm sure some will call David Harsanyi hyperbolic here, but I think he's (at best) parabolic. IRS Hiring Spree Is The Biggest Expansion Of The Police State In American History.

    The Democrats’ new reconciliation bill isn’t just going to be the largest-ever expansion of a government agency, it’s going to be the largest expansion of the domestic police state in American history. Only a statist could believe that a federal government, which already collects $4.1 trillion every year—or $12,300 for every citizen—needs 80 new battalions of new IRS cops.

    The average American has less reason to be concerned about cops with guns—though the IRS is looking for special agents who can “Carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force, if necessary”— than they do bureaucrats armed with pens who are authorized to sift through their lives. If you pay your taxes you have nothing to worry, Democrats claim. But most law-abiding citizen know they have something to fear from a state agency that doesn’t concern itself with your due process, has no regard for your privacy, and is empowered to target anyone it wants without any genuine oversight.

    Visual aids were easy to find on Twitter (uncensored!) and elsewhere:


  • But I'm sure they won't let politics guide‥ oh, wait. Victoria Marshall has a fun fact about existing IRS agents and their likely new co-workers: 87,000 IRS Agents Join Union That Gives PAC Funds to Democrats.

    Democrats just doubled the size of a major Democratic war chest.

    Yes, remember those 87,000 new IRS agents that will be added to the federal payroll thanks to the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act (a misnomer if there ever was one)? The vast majority of those agents will likely join and pay dues to the IRS’ public sector union, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

    Per Americans for Tax Reform, the union gave 100% of its Political Action Committee (PAC) funding to Democrats for the 2022 cycle, including $30,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $30,000 to the DNC Services Corporation, a group dedicated to “coordinating party organizational activities.”

    It also gave 98.79% of its federal candidate spending for the 2021-2022 cycle to Democrats, most notably House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The NTEU specifically prioritized donating to key Democratic battleground races, such as donating $5,000 to Raphael Warnock’s Georgia Senate race and $10,000 to Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

    Yes, that's a local angle for Granite Staters. Senator Maggie (of course) voted for the IRS Inflation Act.


  • I'm barely a RINO any more. The good folks at Granite Grok use "RINO" as an insult, roughly meaning "not sufficiently Trump-obsequious", but I am a registered Republican who looks askance at most of the names on my primary ballots, so the literal meaning of "RINO" kind of fits me. And Veronique de Rugy is not making me any less willing to change that attitude, given The Dwindling Difference Between Our Two Parties on Spending. Her example is the "New Parents Act" from Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney:

    The proposal has many parts, but two illustrate my point best:

    First, it would create a federal paid-leave program that would allow new parents to advance themselves up to three months of parental-leave benefits today by drawing funds from their Social Security retirement benefits. This scheme is based on misconceptions that are hard to explain away. Romney and Rubio ignore the reality that the private sector, not the federal government, is the best provider of paid leave.

    […]

    Second is an extended child tax credit that goes to most families, even rich ones. The cost would be extreme. According to the plan, "Parents would receive a credit of up to $3,500 per child, and $4,500 per child for children under the age of 6." Imagine an enormous credit, fully refundable, with no work or marriage requirements. A family with four kids, for instance, wouldn't start paying taxes until they make over $118,000. Over time, the expanded CTC amounts to $69,000 per child. If you're concerned that this boondoggle might disincentivize work and marriage, you would be correct, as shown by the work of American Enterprise Institute economist Scott Winship.

    I was never that motivated to vote for Mitt or Marco in the past, and that motivation just dropped below zero.


Last Modified 2022-08-12 7:42 AM EDT

Demolition Angel

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Well, first, my hardcover copy is a first edition, one that consistently misspells "hobbyist" as "hobbiest". (Which consistently made me think "Of all the hobbies in the world, bomb-making is the hobbiest.") Amazon's "Search inside the book" feature says it's been fixed in current editions. Wonder if my copy is worth anything?

Anyway.

Robert Crais's usual heroes, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike do not appear in this book. (But the semi-pervy LAPD criminalist John Chen shows up, so we know it's set in the same universe.) The hero here is LAPD detective Carol Starkey, and she's kind of a mess. Understandably, after having been temporarily killed back when she was on the bomb squad. She sustained a considerable amount of physical and psychological damage, and these days she subsists on cigarettes, Bombay Sapphire, and Tagamet. She has no life other than her job.

She's no longer on the bomb beat, but she's called in when Charlie Riggio, who is, gets killed by a devilishly-constructed pipe bomb left by a mini-mall dumpster. Investigation reveals that Riggio made no blunders; instead, the bomb was set off via remote control. So it was specifically aimed at killing a bomb squad cop.

Worse, the bomb was designed similarly to those left by a notorious bomber-for-hire, "Mr. Red". This brings the Feds into Starkey's investigation, specifically Jack Pell of the ATF. This causes understandable friction, especially when Pell starts acting more than a little unconventionally.

It's a real page turner, and it's buttressed by the impressive amount of research Crais must have done to get the details right: not only police procedure, but bomb squad procedure, bomb design, and the squirrelly nature of criminals that like to make things blow up. (For some reason they seem to be missing fingers.)


Last Modified 2022-08-11 10:15 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-10

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It's a scam perpetuated by sociopathic liars. But other than that, though, it's fine. As described by Eric Boehm: The Inflation Reduction Act Will Reduce Budget Deficits. Barely. Warning: math involving big numbers ahead.

    Start by comparing the bill's promised deficit-reduction efforts with how other recent efforts by Congress and the Biden administration have inflated the budget deficit.

    When looking at the impact of legislation on the federal deficit, projections always take into account the next 10 years of federal spending and expected revenue—in other words, that $300 billion reduction created by the bill is the expected total amount over the next decade. That sounds like a lot of money—and it is!—but it looks a lot smaller when you stack it up against other bills Congress has passed in recent years. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the 10-year deficit has increased by about $2.4 trillion since President Joe Biden took office, thanks to items like the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure package, and this year's budget omnibus bill.

    So, rather than looking at the Inflation Reduction Act as a $300 billion reduction of future budget deficits, it's probably more accurate to describe it as a plan to actually pay for about $300 billion of the estimated $2.4 trillion that Congress has agreed to borrow in the past 18 months.

    In short, we'd still need seven more bills like the Inflation Reduction Act just to cover the rest of Biden's spending binge—and that's before we start trying to pay for the rest of the $6 trillion in borrowing that Congress did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The real effect (and, I assume, the actual motive) is to suck money and decision-making power out of private hands, and place it in the hands of politicians. And (for the second day in a row) we quote the late P. J. O'Rourke, who called it back in 1991:

    [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]


  • And then there's just the plain old waste. The sorta-pseudonymous "Antiplanner" keeps track of the choo-choos: Amtrak Carried 84% of Pre-Pandemic [Passenger-Miles]. Almost back to normal!

    […] this is Amtrak’s best performance since the pandemic began. Of course, Amtrak is losing a lot more money than it was losing before. Amtrak’s fiscal year begins on October 1, and in fiscal year 2022 to date, it has lost $1.66 billion, almost double the $842 million it lost in the same period in 2019. In June 2022 alone, Amtrak lost $193.1 million, more than twice the $86.1 million it lost in June 2019.

    […]

    Why is Amtrak losing so much more than in previous months when its ridership is up? The answer seems to be that its expenses have increased by much more than its ridership. Although Amtrak operated 10 percent fewer train miles in June 2022 than in June 2019, it spent 32 percent more doing so, which means that its cost per train-mile grew by 46 percent. Whether due to increased labor costs or simply that Congress is giving Amtrak too much money, Amtrak costs are clearly out of control.

    With President Wheezy in charge, who could have seen that coming?


  • And you should not pretend to believe them. Kevin D. Williamson's "Tuesday" newsletter takes a bold stand: Big Lies Matter.

    (That's the current headline; the <title> on the page is: "Lying Is Free, Until It Isn't. Then It Gets Expensive". Also true.)

    One of the most damaging legacies of the Trump era is that much of the Republican Party — and a tragically large share of the conservative movement that sustains it — has come to believe, mistakenly, that bullsh** is the path to power.

    The thing is, it isn’t. It is easy to play make-believe with willing marks in an age of hermetically sealed social-media echo-chamber discourse, but actually lying successfully to people who aren’t already inclined to play along is pretty hard — and expensive, both in economic and reputational terms.

    The actual political record of the Trump coalition should show the weakness of the bullsh** strategy. Donald Trump and his personality-cult politics managed to win one election, defeating a singularly toxic, corrupt, exhausted, used-up Hillary Rodham Clinton, a previously failed candidate so inept and feckless that she seemed to have forgotten the most elementary basics of politics, like how to go out and ask for votes. What followed that Pyrrhic victory was a rout of historic proportions: The inept Trump team failed to get any major legislation through Congress on the president’s hallmark issues during the time when Republicans controlled both houses, and then Republicans proceeded to lose control of the House and the Senate before handing the presidency over to the Democrats — a reverse trifecta not seen since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. Trump himself became one of only ten elected presidents to seek a second term and lose — underperforming his immediate predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, along with such figures as Richard Nixon (reelected in a 49-state landslide in 1972) and Woodrow Wilson. The Republican Party is in disarray, positioned to forfeit: a Senate race in Pennsylvania to a hobbled stroke victim after nominating Mehmet Oz, a television quack and Turkish citizen who did not live in the state before seeking the office; the Pennsylvania governor’s race, after letting Democrat money help kook-fringe conspiracy nuts nominate a kook-fringe conspiracy nut as the GOP candidate; a Georgia Senate seat after nominating crackpot celebrity Herschel Walker, who seems to have more children than Rehoboam. In Arizona, Republicans have nominated conspiracy kooks for governor, the Senate, secretary of state, and attorney general. The scene in Michigan is much the same.

    I own and have read KDW's book Big White Ghetto, so I'm pretty sure some National Review policy demanded that "bullshit" be asteriskized. (There should be a word for that, but I don't know what it is. I'm sure it's not "asteriskized".)


  • Unless your only memory of it is the show with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. David Harsanyi says: We Have No Reason To Trust The FBI.

    The day before Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election of 2016, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed that the FBI—along with “Russian intelligence”—had “rigged the election.” Election denialism is perfectly acceptable behavior on the left. Krugman blamed the “rigged election” on “people within the F.B.I.” who, he asserted, “clearly felt that under Mr. Comey they had a free hand to indulge their political preferences,” by which he meant the investigation into Clinton’s email server. One can imagine the tenor of Krugman’s rhetoric if the investigation had been launched by the administration of Mitt Romney or George W. Bush or signed off on by AG Robert Bork.

    Is it still the case that investigating a candidate for wrongdoing is “rigging” an election? Yesterday, Merrick Garland’s DOJ raided the home of a former president, and likely future presidential candidate, in a case regarding “potential mishandling of classified documents,” according to The Washington Post. Is that really it? We have long been told that “mishandling of classified documents” isn’t a serious crime.

    I don't want to play the Stalin card, so I'll go with Beria: "Show me the man and I'll show you the crime." I assume that's on a poster placed somewhere in Christopher Wray's office.


  • A University Near Here spokesperson said something non-embarrassing! That's nice to say for once. And he did it in NHJournal: 'Babies On Board' in New Hampshire.

    New Hampshire is one of the best states in America for having a baby, ranking high in the latest WalletHub analysis for overall baby-friendliness.

    The news must be getting around, as New Hampshire is currently experiencing a baby boom according to the University of New Hampshire’s Kenneth Johnson, Senior Demographer at the Carsey School, and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow.

    “New Hampshire had an increase in births of 7 percent in 2021 compared to 2020,” Johnson said. “This is one of the largest percent increases in the U.S. for the year. Births rose from 11,791 in 2020 to 12,615 in 2021.”

    The news is mixed, however:

    “All of New Hampshire’s population increase over the past several years is due to the fact that more people move into the state than leave it,” Johnson said.
    So come on in, Free Staters.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-09

[Lois Lerner, Anyone?]

  • As P. J. O'Rourke said… "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." Keeping that in mind, let's take a look at John Hinderaker's question: What’s Behind the Democrats’ IRS Expansion?. It would be easy to dismiss this bit as paranoia, but…

    I think the liberals who run the IRS would sic their agents on every conservative nonprofit in the country. They would audit such organizations, looking for evidence that they somehow had violated the extremely vague regulations governing political activity. Such audits would require even squeaky-clean organizations like my own to hire lawyers to defend them. Government lawyers work for free–that is, courtesy of the taxpayers–while private lawyers have to be paid. Thus, a concerted attack by the IRS could largely disable conservative nonprofits, whose revenue would be dissipated by paying for lawyers, and whose energies would be dissipated in dealing with IRS attacks.

    Oh, right: that happened before.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] I assume the FBI was looking for Gadsden flags at Mar-A-Lago. J.D. Tuccille notes the deep-thinking in process at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW: FBI: American Revolution Images Might Reveal You As a ‘Violent Extremist’.

    When the FBI puts out a bulletin on symbols "used by Anti-Government or Anti-Authority Violent Extremists," and it looks like a catalog of T-shirts half the country might want to wear, it's a strong indication that the feds are way off-base. It gets even sillier when part of the bulletin resembles a brochure for a Revolutionary War museum. Then again, George Washington and the Continental Army were, arguably, "Anti-Government or Anti-Authority Violent Extremists," which is a reminder that governments aren't necessarily the good guys.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation Domestic Terrorism Symbols Guide hit the news August 2 when it was shared by sources, including Mississippi attorney Steven Stamboulieh, who posted the bulletin on Twitter. He told me he got it from the FBI and that he followed up with a query for more information.

    You can still buy a Gadsden flag at Amazon (link at right), but your neighbors might report you to Christopher Wray, so…


  • It does everything! Except reduce inflation! If the IRS doesn't get you, the "Inflation Reduction Act" also provides (as Stephen Moore and Tomas J. Philipson point out): Fewer Cures, Costlier Energy.

    The so-called Inflation Reduction Act will be one of the greatest misallocations of federal resources in American history. The bill has many moving parts, but here’s a simple way to sum up its macroeconomic impact: It would transfer about a quarter of a trillion dollars from America’s pharmaceutical industry, which saves and extends lives, to the climate-change industrial complex, which makes energy more expensive.

    The former industry has produced the majority of the world’s 40 most recent wonder drugs. Covid-19 vaccines and treatments alone probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives and restored trillions in economic activity. The industry has provided life-saving and pain-reducing treatments, contributing to reductions in death rates from cancer and heart disease by half over the past 50 years. The pharmaceutical industry spends roughly $100 billion a year in research and development—on the race for the next generation of cures and treatments for Lou Gehrig’s disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and other diseases.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine!"


  • Senator Maggie is a phony. Senator Lindsay Graham is not my favorite politician, but he called out my state's junior senator's 'Phony, Cynical' Ploy on Oil Tax Hike, as reported at NHJournal:

    On Saturday, Graham proposed stripping the bill of tax and fee increases on oil imports and production. As he put it in his amendment, “To strike a tax increase that would result in higher consumer prices for gasoline, heating oil, and other energy sources for Americans earning less than $400,000 per year.”

    All 50 Democratic senators voted against his amendment, including Hassan, which killed it. Minutes later, Hassan took to the floor to offer essentially the same amendment, but under a different rule that requires 60 votes. Every Republican voted for it, as did Hassan and a handful of Democrats — all of whom knew there wouldn’t be 60 votes.

    A short amusing video, which I hope would be the basis for a election ad blitz by the GOP:


  • The "Live Free or Die" state is … number 35?! That sad news is contained on the Free Speech Index exhaustively compiled (appropriately enough) by the Institute for Free Speech. Description:

    A first-of-its-kind analysis of laws restricting speech about government in all 50 states. This Index is the most comprehensive examination of state laws governing and regulating political engagement ever published.

    The Free Speech Index rates each state on how well it supports the free speech and association rights of individuals and groups interested in speaking about candidates, issues of public policy, and their government.

    What are we doing wrong? Lots, obviously. For example, under the "Laws on Political Committees" section: any (vaguely defined) political activity by a group turns it into a "political committee": information on any contributor giving over $25 to the group must be reported, including the contributor's employer.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-08

[Make Mill Great Again]

  • I want one of those hats. [As pictured. Hope the WSJ doesn't sue.]

    Tunku Varadarajan interviews Nadine Strossen, who thinks the US should Make Freedom of Speech Liberal Again. Specifically:

    Old-fashioned liberalism doesn’t get much respect these days, and Nadine Strossen illustrates the point by pulling out a hat. “I have to show you this gift that somebody gave me, which is such a hoot,” she says, producing a red baseball cap that bears the slogan MAKE J.S. MILL GREAT AGAIN. “Which looks like a MAGA cap,” she adds, as if to help me narrate the scene.

    As she dons it, I observe that if she walked around town in her bright-blue home state, angry onlookers would think it was a MAGA hat. “And,” she continues, “I can’t tell you how many educated friends of mine have said, ‘Who is J.S. Mill?’ So we really do have to make him great again.”

    Ms. Strossen, 71, has made a career as a legal and scholarly defender of classical liberal ideals, most notably as president of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 through 2008. She brings up John Stuart Mill (1806-73), the British philosopher and parliamentarian, by way of citing his view, as she puts it, “that everything should be subject to re-examination,” including “our most cherished ideas.” For her, that means “I continue to re-examine my longstanding belief about the mutually reinforcing relationship between free speech and equality, and I continue to be completely convinced that these are two mutually reinforcing values.”

    Just a note for you Amazonian entrepreneurs: if you produce that cap in a size 8 for my melon head, you might have a customer. Can it make any 71-year-old look as good as Ms. Strossen?


  • Hey, wait a minute, I'm a well-off American! So why am I so enraged by this Peter Suderman article? Biden's Giveaways Largely Benefit Well-Off Americans.

    During his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden repeatedly insisted that his primary goal as president would be to help the struggling American middle class. "Ordinary middle-class Americans built America," he declared during a June 2019 Democratic primary debate. Under President Donald Trump's policies, he said, "too many people who are in the middle class and who are poor have the bottom fall out."

    In defining the "middle class" and the "poor," a good place to start is the median household income. In 2020, the year before Biden became president, the U.S. median was about $67,000, down from about $69,000 the previous year. The poor presumably make less than that, and people in the "middle" class, particularly those who feel the economic bottom falling out beneath them, presumably don't make much more.

    As president, Biden's attention has often been elsewhere. Under Biden, Democrats consistently have focused their energies on policies designed to benefit households with stable employment and six-figure annual incomes—not the super rich, but the affluent upper-middle class.

    I appreciate Suderman's diplomatic phrasing of "Biden's attention has often been elsewhere," implying that the concept of "Biden's attention" refers to an actually-existing thing.


  • The more you tighten your grip, Senator Manchin, the more prosperity will slip through your fingers. David Harsanyi is pretty tired of a perennial bit of political rhetoric: It's Not a Loophole Just Because Democrats Don't Like It.

    While peddling the ludicrously named Inflation Reduction Act on CNN this past week, Sen. Joe Manchin claimed that Democrats were merely trying to “close the loopholes and collect the taxes that are owed to the Treasury and the United States people.”

    In Washington, a “loophole” is a euphemism for a perfectly legal policy that Democrats have decided they want to regulate or tax. The word “loophole” suggests that some ambiguous wording or omissions in the text of a bill have allowed people to exploit the law. Few of the Democrats’ “loopholes” meet this definition. Indeed, in most cases, the “loopholes” they’re talking about were deliberately written to exist in their present form.

    Take the “carried-interest loophole,” which intentionally functions in tax code as a means of incentivizing investment, risk, and “sweat equity”—ownership stakes generated through work rather than just capital investment.

    Manchin, D-W.Va., might be looking for ways to raise “revenue” so he can tell constituents his bill won’t add to the deficit. And those who subscribe to zero-sum populist economics might want to punish private equity and redistribute wealth (though the American Investment Council says more than 74% of private equity investment went to small businesses in 2021).

    The latest news stories indicate that the "carried interest loophole" remains in the passed version of the so-called "Inflation Reduction Act". The WSJ editorialists are cynical: "This is the old Washington political game of threatening an industry with policy harm, extorting it for campaign cash, then failing to impose the harm. The threat lingers into the next campaign season, the industry keeps paying protection money and the cycle repeats."

    [Yes, that's a slightly altered classic quote in the headline. I miss Carrie Fisher!]


  • Of course there is. David French maintains There Is a Secular Case for Life. Although it's convenient for baby-killers to maintain that opposition to abortion is based solely on woo-woo superstition. And he quotes the atheist Nat Hentoff:

    Once the sperm and the egg meet, and they find a sort of nesting place in the uterus, you now have a developing human being. It’s not a kangaroo. It’s not a giraffe. It’s a human being. And that development in the womb until the person comes out is a continuing process. Therefore, if you kill it at any stage–first three weeks, first three months—you’re killing a developing human being.

    Yes. I left a comment pointing to Kevin D. Williamson's article from last December making the same point slightly more tersely: "What we believe is that you don’t kill children who haven’t been born for the same reason you don’t kill children who have been born."


  • Something to show anyone who understands graphs. Speaking of Kevin D. Williamson, he brings up some bad news to go with that rosy jobs report from last week: Inflation Causing Real Wage Decline.

    […] Americans’ real incomes (“real” is econo-speak for “adjusted for inflation”) have been declining significantly for some time.

    Here's the embedded graph he references from the St. Louis Fed:

    I'd say it's declining "alarmingly" instead of "significantly", but that's me.


Last Modified 2022-08-08 3:55 PM EDT

The Goodbye Coast

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I really wanted to like this book. I've read Joe Ide's first three "IQ" novels (Count 'em: one, two, three) and enjoyed them very much. I've noticed that Ide's style has, in the past, been very Chandleresque.

And I devoured Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe books back when I was a young 'un. Movies based (no matter how loosely) on the books? I'm there. (Yes, even The Long Goodbye with Eliott Gould!). And I've gobbled up Marlowe's (estate-authorized) ventures penned by other authors: Robert B. Parker, Benjamin Black, and Lawrence Osborne.

Despite my high hopes, this effort didn't make it for me. Problem One: Its third-person narration is (sorry) heretical; Marlowe is a first-person kind of guy. While there are flashes of Chandleresque prose ("The room was like a Goodwill store in Dubai.") they weren't enough to win me over. (I was OK with moving young Marlowe into present-day LA, though.)

We get an origin story, of sorts: Marlowe initially wants to be a cop, like his dad. But both parents observe that he's got problems with authority that will doom that career choice, and it only takes a few weeks for Marlowe to realize that too. So he accepts the tutelage of a slovenly, Panda Express-loving private eye, and a few years later…

A snappily-dressed Marlowe (with a Patek Philippe watch!) calls on Kendra, a washed-up, ultra-bitchy actress who's lost track of seventeen-year-old daughter Cody. This is only weeks after Kendra's husband, Terry, was shot in the face on the Malibu beach outside their home, an unsolved crime. Marlowe takes the case, because he likes money, but soon becomes embroiled in a complex web of family dysfunction and sociopathy, Russian and Albanian mobsters, movie-biz corruption, and the like.

Marlowe also takes the case of Ren Stewart, whose ex-husband has absconded with her son Jeremy. These two cases get intermixed unpredictably.

Marlowe is assisted by his dad, Emmet, a cop turned to serious alcoholism after losing his wife, Addie, to cancer. Both Marlowe and Emmet have an unfortunate habit of letting the bad guys get the drop on them.

There's a weird scene (page 61) where Marlowe is roped into watching a bit an old movie, which just happens to be To Have and Have Not, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?") Weird, because Bogie and Bacall were also in The Big Sleep, where Bogie played a character named … Philip Marlowe!

And then it gets weirder (page 270): Marlowe seems to be aware of Bogart being in The Big Sleep. Phil, did you notice anything about that movie? Like you being the main character in it?

I got seriously sidetracked wondering about the nature of Marlowe's fictional universe, and how it overlaps ours.


Last Modified 2022-08-08 9:42 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-07

  • Your Eye Candy du Jour… is from Reason video. Grammarly: Government Edition:

    I want it.


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards takes a look at the "Inflation Reduction Act". (And didn't that get named by Grammarly: Government Edition?)

    Inflation stems from too much money chasing too few goods. U.S. consumer inflation is running at 9 percent as too much government‐​spawned money creation is coinciding with restrictions on the supply side of the economy.

    The “Inflation Reduction Act” in front of the Senate is supposed to address inflation by reducing budget deficits with a combination of tax hikes and green subsidies. But despite its name, the Senate bill would not reduce inflation because it would damage the supply side and hardly affect deficits.

    The budget modelers at Penn‐​Wharton estimate that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $86 billion in 2031, at most. That would be just 4 percent of the projected deficit that year and just 0.2 percent of U.S. GDP. So the bill’s impact on inflation through reducing deficits and demand would be close to zero.

    I can only imagine what variants of the "Cornhusker Kickback" were offered to Senators Manchin and Sinema to garner their support.


  • More from Mr. Edwards. Chris looks askance at the IRS Funding Hypocrisy contained in the bill.

    The Senate’s Inflation Reduction Act includes an $80 billion increase in the Internal Revenue Service budget over a decade, which would roughly double the agency’s budget by 2031.

    It’s nearly impossible for taxpayers to contact the IRS for timely answers to filing questions, but the Senate bill devotes just $3.2 billion of the new spending to “taxpayer services.” The lion’s share—$46 billion—goes toward jacking up IRS enforcement. The thrust of the bill is against the people, not for the people to understand the code and voluntarily comply.

    Senators supporting the bill talk about “tax cheats” and “closing tax loopholes.” But this is a huge hypocrisy. The Senate bill itself creates new loopholes and tax breaks, and complicated breaks drive noncompliance with the tax system. The Senate bill would expand a slew of special‐interest credits and other breaks within a $370 billion orgy of green subsidies and corporate welfare.

    He also provides this handy flow chart:

    [Tax Break Flow Chart]

    If you ain't disgusted, you ain't payin' attention, son.


  • Surprise: letting violent people avoid jail causes crime to increase. Hans Bader wrote a letter to the WSJ rebutting George Soros's op-ed titled ". It was heavily cut down, but he provides the whole darn thing at Liberty Unyielding. Sample:

    In homicide crimes, “the offending rates for blacks were more than 7 times higher than the rates for whites” between 1976 and 2005, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Due to this higher black crime rate, it is only natural that blacks will be incarcerated at a higher rate than whites.

    Soros writes that “We need to acknowledge that black people in the U.S. are five times as likely to be sent to jail as white people. That is an injustice that undermines our democracy.”

    But reducing black incarceration rates to the white rate would require releasing vast numbers of dangerous black criminals, most of whom preyed on other black people. That would harm innocent black people most. That’s because crime victims are overwhelmingly of the same race as their attacker. As the Bureau of Justice Statistics has explained, crimes are committed mostly between members of the same race, and that is true for “all types of violent crime except robbery.”

    Not-so-fun Facts:

    • New Orleans apparently has nailed down the title for highest murder rate among US cities for the first half of 2022; second-place Baltimore is way behind.
    • But! NOLA's July homicide count was down 55% compared to July 2021. Only 17 corpses! How did that happen?
      [NOPD Supt. Shaun Ferguson] gives credit to the criminal justice system for doing a better job of keeping suspects in jail once they’re arrested.

    Who knew?


  • But here's your Sunday Ray of Sunshine: Jim Treacher is one of the few substacks to which I subscribe. His response to this NYT tweet is pretty good.

    “GOP Governors Cause Havoc by Busing Migrants to East Coast.” Weird, huh? I thought the NYT wanted those poor downtrodden victims here. Now they’re blaming Republicans for helping these migrants make a life in their new home?

    So much for “sanctuary cities.”

    Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Just not, y’know, here.

    Indeed.


Last Modified 2022-08-08 4:25 AM EDT

Lightyear

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

I was somewhat surprised to like this movie quite a bit. The IMDB raters despised it. The reviews I read were brutal. (To be fair, the numbers at Rotten Tomatoes are kinder.) Conservative Tim Allen was rudely shoved aside, replaced by pinko Chris Evans.

I might have been less sympathetic if I'd shelled out movie-theater cash. But it showed up as a free-to-me Disney+ streamer last Tuesday, so…

The setup is that Toy Story's Andy saw this movie back in 1991, which prompted his demand for his Buzz Lightyear action figure, setting off the events of that movie. OK, fine. Buzz is in charge of a colonization mission, responsible for the lives of 1200 or so civilians. He is an I'll-do-it-myself kind of guy, not a team player at all, so when disaster occurs as the ship crashes trying to escape from an aggressively hostile planet, Buzz blames himself.

His efforts to repair the ship and resume his mission involve a considerable amount of relativistic time dilation, as he endeavors to discover just the right mix of fuel elements that will power up the ship again. Along the way, he acquires a robotic cat, and a misfit bunch of helpers. All building up to his inevitable conflict with Zurg. (Big revision from Toy Story 2: Zurg is not Buzz's dad, but…)

OK, so there was some lesbianism involved. Buzz is cool with it, so I was too, although my eyes may have rolled a bit. The "teamwork with a diverse cast" is also heavy-handed, but equally easy to ignore. Bottom line: I had fun.

And, to tell the truth, I couldn't tell the difference between Tim Allen's Buzz voice and Chris Evans'.


Last Modified 2022-08-07 8:16 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-08-06

  • As Einstein did not say: "Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results". That didn't occur to me in time to compose my Snarky Tweet du Jour, in response to New Hampshire's senior senator, so I went with this instead:

    I mean, seriously. You've been driving down the wrong road for years, every indication is that you're totally lost, and your only response is "let's keep going."


  • Giving Chanda Prescod-Weinstein some competition. The Newsroom page of the University Near Here has a "UNH in the News" box that (as near as I can tell) mindlessly throws up headlines of stories that some searchbot has found mentioning the school.

    That occasionally gives some (um) interesting results. Like this recent headline from (I am not making this up) the World Socialist Web Site, run by the remaining fourteen Trotskyites on Earth: Top Trump officials at Department of Defense erased text messages following January 6 coup.

    On Tuesday, CNN reported that top officials at the Department of Defense (DoD) and the US Army “wiped” text messages on their government issued phones following requests from Congressional committees and oversight groups to preserve records following Donald Trump’s failed coup on January 6, 2021.

    So (arguably) they tried the strategy that worked for Hillary back in 2016. What's the UNH connection? Ah, here 'tis:

    Seth Abramson, author of the Proof Substack blog, a lawyer, criminal investigator, Newsweek columnist and professor of journalism at the University of New Hampshire, tweeted on August 2 that the deletion of “critical evidence… continues to look like—at DHS, the Secret Service, and DoD—the biggest cover-up in American History.”

    I have no idea how one measures bigness when looking at cover-ups, but I'm willing to claim that Professor Abramson provides the greatest example of hyperbole in the history of the entire world.

    The bottom line from the WSWS casts a plague on everyone's house:

    That the heads of these agencies were involved in Trump’s conspiracy underscores the advanced breakdown of American democracy, which has not lessened with the election of President Joe Biden and Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

    The opposite is the case. The Democrats are overseeing a massive coverup and allowing Trump, the fascistic Republican Party and their allies in the military, police and intelligence apparatus, allied with far-right paramilitary groups, to advance their conspiracy to overthrow the Constitution and impose a brutal dictatorship.

    Boy, they shoulda gone ahead with that "brutal dictatorship" thing when they had a better chance. Wonder why they didn't?


  • Me neither. Freddie de Boer thinks he's been mischaracterized: It's Funny, I Don't Feel Fragile.

    I’m supposed to feel fragile. I’m supposed to be beset with fears of feeling replaced and angered over a relative loss of social standing, at least as determined by my race and gender. After all, #MasculinitySoFragile, or so social media says, and America’s bestselling race expert Robin DiAngelo wrote a whole book about how white people are fragile. The racial upheaval of recent years and my relative loss of white privilege as people of color ascend are supposed to confuse and scare me. I’m supposed to feel that my grasp on manliness is slipping away as women make continued advances in the workplace, in political office, and in our education system. Masculinity is in crisis! Books say so. TV shows say so. Movies say so. Music says so. Documentaries say so. And white people are supposedly terrified of living in an increasingly-brown United States. (Whiteness’s value, to put it in actuarial terms, is depreciating.) So you’d expect me to feel the fragility I’m so often told I should feel.

    But I don’t feel fragile. I mostly bumble along with my usual clueless cheeriness. Honestly, it never would even really occur to me to think in those terms, as an avatar of white maleness. When people talk about white male fragility explicitly and force me to think about it, the concept seems quite foreign to my lived experience. I know - that’s just what someone who’s fragile would say! Well, I can only tell you the truth, which is that I don’t feel as if my place in the world is threatened. I don’t feel like my privileges, in the more tangible and individual sense or the airier ideological sense, are in danger of slipping away. And both the constant insistence that I should feel fragile and the overstated consequences of those feelings reflect a 21st-century political environment in which vibes rule, to the detriment of change.

    The remainder of the post is for paid subscribers, but just those paragraphs might get you to throw him some well-deserved shekels.


  • Best wishes. Nellie Bowles, as-I-type Bari Weiss's very pregnant wife, writes the weekly TGIF column for Common Sense. A lot of different topics, but this caught my eye:

    → Funny how that famous terrorist was just hanging out in Afghanistan: 9/11 key plotter and Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri was finally killed, 20 years after the Twin Towers came down. The big “surprise” here is that he was found in Afghanistan, where it seems the old gang is getting back together. It’s so crazy because I read a Taliban leader’s lovely essay in The New York TimesWhat We, the Taliban, Want—and there he told me they only want peace and harmony, so it was great for us to help them flourish again. The author promised us in the essay: “I am confident that, liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work.” Now it’s all women banned from schools and old 9/11 terrorists back having house parties. We at TGIF can’t believe the Taliban lied.

    That NYT op-ed was attributed to Sirajuddin Haqqani, on the FBI's Most Wanted list. If you know where he is there could be a cool $10 million in it for you.


  • Just a reminder in these troubled times. Michael D. Farren cries out from the wilderness: Industrial Policy Stifles Progress.

    The once-beleaguered CHIPS Act has finally passed and will soon receive President Joe Biden's enthusiastic signature. The big ticket item in that legislation is $52 billion worth of subsidies for computer chip manufacturers, but once the bill's passage looked inevitable, it was stuffed full of additional spending. The CHIPS and Science Act's cost has now ballooned to $280 billion. And emboldened Democrats have already moved on to another spending spree with the Inflation Reduction Act, a slimmed-down version of Biden's "build back better" initiative.

    Both bills reflect a cross-party shift toward embracing industrial policy—the idea that the government should jump into the economy with both feet and have fun getting wet. Facetiousness aside, the neoliberal era from the late 1970s through the 1990s—when economic thinking carried more political sway and resulted in massive deregulation of airlines, railroads, and interstate trucking and the privatization of the internet—is far behind us.

    As Adam Smith observed, there's a lot of ruin in a nation. But there's only a finite amount.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-05

[Guardians of the Fallacy]

  • To accompany our Eye Candy du Jour… Harvard Econ Prof Mankiw quotes the Congressional Budget Office on The Inflation Impact of the Inflation Reduction Act.

    In calendar year 2022, enacting the bill would have a negligible effect on inflation, in CBO’s assessment. In calendar year 2023, inflation would probably be between 0.1 percentage point lower and 0.1 percentage point higher under the bill than it would be under current law.

    Some of those words might be too long for our CongressCritters to understand; I hope they'll contact someone who can help with that.


  • I'm sure than Republicans have their sock-puppet economists too, but… David Harsanyi names and shames: These 'Economists Say' Whatever Democrats Want Them To Say.

    “Top economists say Democrats’ health care and climate package will put ‘downward pressure on inflation,’” CNN informs us. And really, who are you, a mere mortal, to question the decrees of top economists?

    This kind of appeal to authority was popularized during the Obama years, when the then-president would say nonsensical things like, “Every economist from the left and the right has said, because of the Recovery Act, what we’ve started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost.” (Irritated italics mine.)

    Hundreds of economists, three of them Nobel laureates — James Buchanan, Edward Prescott, and Vernon Smith — disagreed with Obama’s assessment of the stimulus. They were largely ignored by the media, just as economists who now maintain that the “Inflation Reduction Act” will do nothing for inflation or, more likely, worsen the problem will be today.

    I clicked through to the CNN report which provided a link to the letter sent by those "top economists". I looked for signers from the University Near Here, and… whew, there's nobody.

    Why not?

    1. Democrats couldn't find anyone at UNH to sign on to this ludicrous letter.
    2. Or maybe they didn't ask.
    3. Because UNH has nobody who could be called a "top economist" with a straight face.

    Feel free to come up with your own explanations.

    By the way, Harsanyi's "nonsensical" second link is to a transcript of Obama's 2010 Groundhog Day visit to Nashua, New Hampshire. Even at the time, people (including this blogger) were posting images of Democrat's promises for their "recovery act":

    [Projections]

    And comparing them with reality:

    [vs. Actual]

    Hey, I could be wrong! Maybe this time, Democrats will be right about their policy predictions!

    Or maybe I'll just play the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" at high volume for the 12,527th time.


  • "Is that a good sign?" "It does the job!" Kevin D. Williamson is getting a tad irritated at Signs of the Times.

    Ilive in one of those neighborhoods where every third house has a political sign of some kind in the yard: Lots of “Beto for Texas” signs advertising the sacrificial victim feckless Democrats are going to offer up to the maw of the Texas GOP machine this time around, scads and oodles of those prim, imbecilic “In This House” signs, that kind of thing. One of my neighbors kept up a big banner reading “Stop Killing Black People” for more than a year, but has now taken it down, so I guess that killing black people doesn’t matter three blocks over anymore, or maybe they got bored and wanted a change of scenery. They have added some nice planters.

    I hate them all, of course — all the signs, I mean, not the neighbors.

    Partly I hate them because they are such effective advertisements for the ignorance of the general electorate. One neighbor has a very large sign in her yard that demands we “say ‘no’ to demagogues” and blames our political troubles on “donors and special-interest lobbyists” — i.e., the sign criticizes demagoguery and then engages in the classic, textbook technique of American demagoguery, insisting that covert moneyed interests rather than genuine good-faith disagreements about values and priorities are behind our differences. You see that with demagogues targeting the National Rifle Association all the time: claims that So-and-So voted in favor of the Second Amendment because he got money from the NRA. The NRA is, in fact, a trivial player in the world of political money (946th in donations, 268th in lobbying outlays, 275th in outside spending), and the power it has it has because it represents a position that millions of Americans strongly endorse — not the tiny-but-loudmouthed share of Americans on Twitter, but Americans who vote. I am sure my neighbor’s heart is in the right place, but she is the kind of mark who makes demagoguery so effective and profitable.

    KDW's bottom line: "the truth about those signs advertising diversity and toleration and open-mindedness is that all of them really say the same thing: 'No Trespassing.'"

    [Headline reference: An underappreciated gag from the underappreciated Airplane II: The Sequel. I miss John Vernon.]


  • Why don't they invade the Capitol Building like respectable people? Thomas Sowell turned 92 a few weeks back, his output isn't what it used to be. But he tees one up for Creators Syndicate, his first column since June 2021: The Point of No Return.

    This is an election year. But the issues this year are not about Democrats and Republicans. The big issue is whether this nation has degenerated to a point of no return — a point where we risk destroying ourselves, before our enemies can destroy us.

    If there is one moment that symbolized our degeneration, it was when an enraged mob gathered in front of the Supreme Court and a leader of the United States Senate shouted threats against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying "You won't know what hit you!"

    There have always been irresponsible demagogues. But there was once a time when anyone who shouted threats to a Supreme Court Justice would see the end of his own political career, and could not show his face in decent society again.

    You either believe in laws or you believe in mob rule. It doesn't matter whether you agree with the law or agree with the mob on some particular issue. If threats of violence against judges — and publishing where a judge's children go to school — is the way to settle issues, then there is not much point in having elections or laws.

    Best wishes and much respect to Mr. Sowell.


  • I'm sure someone will point out this National Review headline is racist. Because who do you circle the wagons against? Native Americans, that's who! But nevertheless it's an accurate metaphor for George Leef's observation: The Higher-Ed Establishment Circles the Wagons for 'Affirmative Action'.

    One of the biggest cases the Supreme Court will hear this fall is the challenge to the legality of racial preferences by colleges and universities brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). As expected, the higher-education establishment is fighting tooth and nail to preserve its ability to use racial quotas to get student bodies that have the right racial mixture. (They don’t care about other student characteristics like religion, philosophy, musical preferences, etc.)

    Commenting here on the spate of amicus briefs just submitted on the companion cases (one involving Harvard, the other UNC), Cornell law professor William Jacobson observes, “The statistics are shocking. As SFFA noted in its Harvard petition, ‘an Asian American in the fourth-lowest decile has virtually no chance of being admitted to Harvard (0.9%); but an African American in that decile has a higher chance of admission (12.8%) than an Asian American in the top decile (12.7%).’”

    Federal law forbids racial discrimination by institutions receiving federal funds (including student aid money), but the schools say they don’t discriminate against Asians. They accept them — just not too many. They have come up with justifications for their obviously unfair admission policies. They Court has heard them before and (foolishly) deferred to the supposed expertise of the educators.

    It's not just the higher-ed folks circling the wagons; it's also (as the WSJ recently reported):

    Dozens of major companies have asked the Supreme Court to affirm the use of racial preferences in college admissions, arguing that more diversity on campuses contributes both to commercial innovation and business success.

    “Empirical studies confirm that diverse groups make better decisions thanks to increased creativity, sharing of ideas, and accuracy. And diverse groups can better understand and serve the increasingly diverse population that uses their products and services,” more than 60 companies said in one friend-of-the court brief on Monday, citing a range of research. “These benefits are not simply intangible; they translate into businesses’ bottom lines.”

    I'm open to the argument that true diversity can lead to better decisions. I'm just disgusted when race and other pigeonholes are used as proxies for "diversity".


  • I have a mild interest in this race. The New Hampshire Journal sponsored a debate for the Republicans looking to replace my current CongressCritter, Chris Pappas. Michael Graham evaluates: Solid Field Shines in NH-01 Debate, But Left Race Unshaken.

    There is just one important takeaway from the New Hampshire Journal NH-01 debate on Thursday night: Matt Mowers won.

    By not losing.

    Can I vote for Matt Mowers? Given that it's been two years since he insulted my intelligence with this stupid mailer?:

    [Pap is ON FIRE]

    Well, the Libertarian Party nominee is likely to be even more nuts that usual. And Mowers, if he wins, might occasionally vote better than Pappas. So…


  • A nice tribute. And it's from the WSJ's Jason Gay, on Vin Scully’s Perfect Baseball Melody. And I especially liked this bit:

    When I met him in 2016, I asked him if he felt lucky to have arrived in baseball when he did. He shook the question off like a veteran fastballer.

    “Oh, no, not lucky,” he said. “Lucky is too cheap a word. I really feel blessed. I truly believe God has given me these gifts. He gave it to me at a young age, and he’s allowed me to keep it all these years? That’s a gift. I say this because I believe it: I should spend a lot more time on my knees than I do.”

    And that is a take-home lesson for us all.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-04

[Political Chicanery]

  • If you can't spot the patsy at the poker table… well, you know how that observation ends. But if you need further assistance, here are the WSJ editorialists: Schumer-Manchin’s Winners and Losers.

    West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin last fall sharply and rightly criticized a bonus tax credit for union-made electric vehicles in the Build Back Better bill. “We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” he said. Yet that’s exactly what his tax and climate deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer does.

    The 725-page bill is riddled with green goodies that favor unions and projects located in specific regions. Most tax credits for renewable energy projects are five times more generous if contractors pay “prevailing wages”—that is, union-scale wages—and employ workers participating in apprenticeship programs. These are usually run by unions.

    The new base tax credit for solar and wind production would be $5.2 per megawatt hour (MWh), which is less than the existing $26 MWh subsidy. However, investors in projects that meet the bill’s labor specification would be able to claim $26 MWh and $28.6 MWh if 100% of their steel is made in the U.S. Didn’t President Biden antagonize steel-exporting Canada enough by canceling the Keystone XL pipeline?

    Tune in later this decade to find out how it all worked out. Poorly, I'd bet.


  • It's Thursday, so… it's a good day to link to Kevin D. Williamson's "Tuesday" column. At Some Point, You’ve Paid Enough Taxes. (You need to be NRPlus to RTWT, but as KDW says: "I think you’ll find it worth the modest expense.")

    Senator Joe Manchin, in his wisdom, has decided to join the Biden administration and his fellow Democrats in Congress to — wait! what?raise the gasoline tax.

    In an underhanded way, of course.

    You will recall that in the early summer, as gasoline prices were skyrocketing, President Joe Biden, the fearful little man in the White House, called for a three-month suspension of the federal sales tax on gasoline. A little somethin’-somethin’ to help out all them pickup-driving Joe Sixpack types out there in the great expansive hydrocarbon-powered boonies — you know, voters. It was a dumb idea on its own, and it was a dumb idea because it was offered as a substitute for the smart idea, i.e., getting Uncle Stupid’s big fat foot off the neck of the U.S. energy industry so that prosperity may emerge organically. It was a quintessentially political proposal, one that would create the impression of doing something and offer a synthetic sense of urgency — the sort of action that is to real policy as stevia is to sugar.

    But there was a kind of reflexive economic truth to it: Policies that make gasoline more expensive make gasoline more expensive. And while Democrats do intend to make hydrocarbon energy not only more expensive but prohibitively expensive at some point in time, at that moment the rising price of fuel was politically inconvenient. Climate action can’t wait — except when it can.

    Our state's fearful little woman in the US Senate, Maggie Hassan, is running re-election ads touting her (apparently moribund) effort to suspend the gas tax, also trying to "create the impression of doing a little somethin'-somethin'".


  • Because politicians are experts at … running airlines? Well, at least they're pretty good at demanding solutions to the problems they caused. Veronique de Rugy observes that More Congressional Meddling Won't Put More Planes in the Sky.

    Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., recently asked the Department of Transportation to fine airlines for delays and cancellations and prevent airline consolidation. The widespread delays and cancellations are indeed annoying, but the senators' demands won't help any more than Congress' last airline blunder did.

    Remember the last airline bailouts? During the pandemic, politicians were fooled into handing out billions so that, among other things, airlines could keep their workers and be travel-ready when more passengers started flying again. Airlines got the money, passengers eventually returned, and somehow the airlines still weren't staffed and prepared.

    The bailouts didn't cause the mess we are in, but they didn't prevent it. Recall just how much the airlines received. Throughout the pandemic, the 10 major passenger airlines pocketed direct payments of more than $54 billion (in rounds of $25 billion, $15 billion and $14 billion), plus another $25 billion in subsidized loans from the Treasury Department and a suspension of the 7.5% excise tax on domestic air travel. Also receiving handouts were airports and airport contractors.

    I'd disagree slightly with Vero about the bailouts not causing "the mess we're in." The incentives implied by "we'll give you a bunch of money without worrying much about its effectiveness" are huge and obvious.


  • And why should they? Jacob Sullum notes the overwhelming majority of "assault rifle" owners are law-abiding. But Democrats Don't Care.

    A week before the House of Representatives approved a ban on "assault weapons," a federal judge in Denver explained why such laws are unlikely to pass constitutional muster. House Democrats either were not paying attention or did not care because they view the Second Amendment as an outmoded provision that imposes no meaningful limits on gun control.

    Unfortunately for them, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held otherwise, ruling that the government may not prohibit law-abiding Americans from keeping handguns at home or carrying them in public for self-defense. The Court also has said the Second Amendment covers bearable arms "in common use" for "lawful purposes," which presents a problem for Democrats who want to ban many of the most popular rifles sold in the United States.

    NH's own CongressCritters not only voted for this blatantly unconstitutional legislation (violating their oath of office), they were cosponsors.


  • Another bad sequel to "How the Leopard Got His Spots" Andrey Mir describes How the Media Polarized Us.

    Public trust in the media has hit an all-time low. Common explanations for this crisis of credibility include bias, polarization, and fake news, but these causes are themselves effects of the tectonic, and generally overlooked, shift in the media’s business model. Throughout the twentieth century, journalism relied for its funding predominantly on advertising. In the early 2010s, as ad money fled the industry, publications sought to earn revenue through subscriptions instead of advertising. In the process, they became dependent on digital audiences—especially their most vocal representatives. The shift from advertising to digital subscriptions invalidated old standards of journalism and led to the emergence of post-journalism.

    Everything we once knew about journalism depended on the model of the ad-funded news media. Advertising accounted for most of the news industry’s revenue during the twentieth century.

    This business model provided a selective advantage to certain kinds of media. Since the revenue from copy sales was not sufficient to maintain news production, news outlets needed to attract advertising. As a result, media that relied mostly on the reader’s penny, such as the formerly influential working-class press, eventually lost out in the marketplace. The mass media that oriented themselves around the “buying audience”—the affluent middle class—received money from growing advertising and thrived.

    Blame Facebook, Twitter, "big tech" all you want. But the quick de-evolution of newspapers and TV channels into prior-belief enhancers were a major factor into getting us where we are today.

Don't Cry For Us, Argentina.

My Google News Alert rang for an invocation of my state's motto in an unexpected source: the Buenos Aires Times. Yes it's from that country way down in South America. The headline:

A forlorn fight to stop America’s gun factories
And the subheadline:
Just over eight million handguns and rifles for domestic sale were produced in the state from 2015-2020 or about 17 percent of the national total, according to the most recent government figures.

And, yes, they're talking about my state, New Hampshire. It's nice to be noticed, I guess.

The date on the article is January 8 of this year, so it's hardly "news". And the article turns out to be a reprint found at a number of sites, like Raw Story, Newsbreak, Barron's, MYsinchew (Malaysia), IndoPremier (Indonesia), Macau Business (China), and even Breitbart (!) Mostly, the article is credited to Joshua Melvin of Agence France-Presse (AFP). (But I can't find it at the AFP website.) That's a lot of potential readership about our tiny state!

Unfortunately, the article is one of those undisguised advocacy pieces.

Clai Lasher-Sommers alternates between tears and fury over the flow of guns from the factories in her home state of New Hampshire, a top producer in the United States of America's multi-billion dollar firearms industry.

Speaking just miles from the house where an abusive stepfather shot her with a hunting rifle when she was 13, the survivor-turned-activist said she thinks about moving – just to get away from the gun makers.

"I don't want to be anywhere near them, and the damage that they perpetuate every day," she said. "I want them to close, but that's not going to happen."

I can't help but think that "abusive" adjective is a tad superfluous; shooting one's stepdaughter in the back… well, I got the point about abuse right there.

Well maybe I shouldn't be so flip. Maybe I'd feel differently if I had been shot in the back with a hunting rifle when I was 13.

Ms. Lasher-Sommers is taking her sweet time making her mind up about moving, though; via Rolling Stone, she was shot over 50 years ago. She claims "they never sent anyone in to talk to me about it" when she was in the hospital. Legal repercussions? This WMUR article from 2015 says the stepdad, Crosley Fletcher, was charged with "aggravated assault", but doesn't provide any more detail.

Ah well. Asking these kind of questions is rude, I guess.

The US state that produced and shipped out the most firearms since 2015, New Hampshire has funnelled millions of weapons into the already-flooded domestic market of a nation beset by a gun death epidemic.

What can I say, except "Thanks for your business" and "You're welcome."

And… ah, there it is:

The state with a motto of "Live free or die" has long been home to gun makers, as have other manufacturing hubs on America's eastern seaboard.

Indeed. Left out of the Argentinian story: the US is a pretty violent country, with an intentional homicide rate of 6.3 per 100K population. But that's not too much more than Argentina's: 5.3 per 100K. Is that enough of a difference to permit this hectoring? I mean, I don't want to get all biblical, but… take it, Jesus: Matthew 7:1-5.

And (as I've pointed out before) the Merchant of Death state of New Hampshire has a rate well under that: 0.9 per 100K (2020), the lowest in the country. (And that's not a statistical fluke: we had the lowest rate in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.)

In comparison, Buenos Aires itself had a murder rate of 4.6 per 100K in 2020. About 5 times New Hampshire's. (But to be fair: much lower than Chicago's.)

Maybe Argentina shouldn't be lecturing New Hampshire? Just a thought.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-03

  • Ackshyually… I've been seeing a Forbes article tweeted a lot.

    Some folks are cheering, some are moaning, but… wait a minute, does winning a huge lottery pile really put you in a 66% (1-433.7/1280) tax bracket? Show your work!

    But (sigh) that's a screenshot, not a link back to Forbes, so [Google, Google, Google], ah, here it is.

    Someone in Illinois bought the winning ticket, and if he or she does like most winners, they will take the lump sum, not the annuity. The $1.28 billion prize, which is the second-largest jackpot in Mega Millions lottery history, can be claimed in a lump sum or over time. The 1.28 billion is only if you take it over time, but if you want it all now, you get $747.2 million.

    Ah. So the real hit is taking the lump-sum payment instead of the (thirty-year) annuity. Those numbers aren't strictly comparable, but that comes to a difference of nearly $500 million, about a 40% writeoff.

    That's when the IRS comes for its 37% marginal rate (a mere $276,464,000) and (in the Forbes example) the Illinois taxers come for a further 4.95% (a minuscule $37 million).

    But the more important lesson here is not how much your government claws back from your windfall; it's that According to the New York Daily News, 70 percent of lottery winners end up broke within seven years. Even worse, several winners have died horribly or witnessed those close to them suffer.

    Do you like those odds, Bunkie?


  • A feelgood TechDirt headline! And it's from Mike Masnick (who I think of as the relatively sensible writer at that site): Without The Votes To Pass, Antitrust Bill Gets Delayed.

    For the last few months we’ve been writing a lot about AICOA, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, being pushed for by Senator Amy Klobuchar. It’s an antitrust bill, but not an antitrust bill designed to fix the whole host of problems we have today with industrial consolidation and anticompetitive practices. No, it’s just a bill to target a few specific practices of a narrow slice of the tech industry. And, it only has bipartisan support (barely) for one reason, and one reason only: because Republicans believe that the vaguely worded law will be a tool they can use to batter companies for content moderation decisions they disagree with. This isn’t some conspiracy theory. This is literally what the Republicans themselves are saying. Out loud. Over and over again.

    Klobuchar has had multiple chances to clarify the language in her bill to prevent this abuse. But she chose not to. The only changes she included were to make sure the bill really only targeted tech, by explicitly carving telcos and financial companies out of the bill.

    For the last few months, cringe-inducingly called “hot antitrust summer” by supporters of this bill, we were told the bill needed to get a vote this summer. Chuck Schumer apparently promised a vote this summer. And, even John Oliver was coaxed into an unfortunately confused piece about the law encouraging his fans to urge Schumer to bring the law to a vote.

    It was an odious, awful bill, and only odious, awful Republicans supported it. With all the other dreadful legislation coming down the pike, it's nice to see at least one stopped.


  • Well, in the dictionary… Pierre Lemieux takes on an idiotic slogan: People Before Profits or the Converse?.

    To many people, no current slogan appears more self-obvious than “people before profits.” For the Nth time, I saw it repeated, a few days ago, in a bien pensant attack on social media’s freedom: “How Social Media Platforms Put Profits Before People,” Financial Times, July 28, 2022). I suggest that there are few incantations as simplistic or non-sensical as that one.

    Profits go to people, not to animals or gods. So the slogan can only mean “some people before some people,” and it has to be explained why the redistribution or discrimination envisioned or intuited is better than some other among an infinity of possible ones. A priori, it makes no more sense to say “people before profits” than “profits before people.”

    In contradistinction, classical liberalism and libertarianism aim for no discrimination among individuals. If the idea should be reduced to a slogan, it would be something like “no set of people before any other set of people” or, more properly, “no individual before any other individual,” because a set can contain only one element. The statement must of course be taken as calling for the formal equality (equality of rights, equal liberty) of all individuals because material equality would require constant redistributive meddling and, thus, the violation of the formal equality of those sent to the wrong side of the wicket. This idea can be found in the writings of all modern (classical) liberals, notably perhaps F.A. Hayek and Robert Nozick.

    It should (but doesn't) go without saying that profits only happen after a company pays attention to what customers (i.e., people) want and pay their employees (also people) to provide it.


  • I'd say "Abolished" instead of "Reformed", but whatever. Joe Bishop-Henchman argues against an offensive feature of that nasty bit of legislation misnamed the "Inflation Reduction Act": The IRS Needs to Be Reformed, Not Showered with More Cash.

    Contrary to claims that the agency is half-starved or hollowed out, its budget has stood between $12.5 billion and $14.5 billion a year in current dollars for the past decade. It is true that the IRS is woefully inefficient. Examples of that abound: Dozens of tractor-trailers sat outside the IRS main processing facility in Ogden, Utah, for months last year, containing tens of millions of unprocessed tax returns. Today the IRS is seven months behind on opening mail, only answers 11 percent of the calls it gets, and takes 350 days to respond to taxpayers reporting urgent identify theft.

    However, these shortcomings are due to misallocation of resources, not insufficient money. The IRS has an enforcement-only mindset, viewing all taxpayers as cheats who deserve the full power of the agency used against them. To IRS personnel, there is no such thing as an honest mistake or taxpayers doing their best to navigate a confusing and often ambiguous tax code.

    What else explains why the IRS refuses to adopt tax-return barcode technology already used by state tax agencies, which would cut millions of hours of error-prone keyboard entry by IRS employees? Why else would the IRS ignore the Treasury inspector general’s suggestion that it buy machines to catch paper checks in the mail, spending a million dollars to save $56 million in interest?

    Speaking of misnaming, that last word of "Internal Revenue Service" refers the agency's service to the government. To taxpayers, not so much.


  • What could go wrong? Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center seems to think this is a problem: New Hampshire's chosen commuter rail partner has a dismal safety record.

    If you planned to start a new enterprise and hire someone to run it, you’d probably avoid applicants who racked up disastrous safety records and massive financial deficits on their way to being investigated and placed under remedial safety orders by the feds.

    The New Hampshire Department of Transportation, though, has tapped an operator with all of those problems to run its planned Manchester-Boston commuter rail line.

    Despite steep declines in commuter rail ridership, the rise of remote work and the promise of driverless cars, the state is still moving forward with plans to build a commuter rail line to Boston. (The state in 2020 approved $5.4 million in federal funds to plan the line.) Those plans name the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) as the operator of the service.

    Sure, the MBTA has decades of experience running commuter rail. But then, the U.S. Postal Service has decades of experience delivering mail, too. 

    Cline lists (only) about a dozen safety-impacting incidents the MBTA has experienced over the past year.

    In other news, the MBTA is shutting down the Orange Line for a month. They're replacing it with bus service.

    Hey, here's an idea: just do the bus thing in the first place!

REAMDE

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Another book down on the reread-Neal-Stephenson project. And this was a real doorstop; the dead-trees version of REAMDE runs 1055 pages, according to Amazon. My previous report from when I read the just-published book back in 2011 is here.

But Goodreads expects more than just links back to my blog, so: this time around, I marvelled at Stephenson's choreography, setting up his characters and their situations just right before plopping them into suspense-filled action sequences that continue for many dozens of pages, yet never seem tiresome.

I'm sure Mrs. Salad got kind of tired of me commenting out loud that this book would make a fantastic miniseries for one of those streaming services, hopefully one I to which I have a subscription.

This time around, I Kindle-highlighted some Stephenson prose I particularly enjoyed. One, describing an unfortunate motorcycle accident:

The corn, which was eight feet tall at that time of the year, had brought him to a reasonably gentle stop, and so he had sustained surprisingly few injuries. The long, tough fibrous stalks had split and splintered as he tore through them, but his leathers had deflected most of it. Unfortunately, he had not been wearing a helmet, and one splinter had gone straight up his left nostril into his brain.

Two, the hard-boiled reality of dealing with life-threatening stress:

Pants pissing was completely unproductive and suggested a total breakdown of elemental control. Pants shitting, on the other hand, voided the bowels and thereby made blood available to the brain and the large muscle groups that otherwise would have gone to the lower-priority activity of digestion. Sokolov could have forgiven Peter for shitting his pants, but if he had pissed his pants, then it really would have been necessary to get rid of him. In any case, Peter had done neither of these things yet.

And finally, advice on picking a good lair for your black-hat hacking activity:

Until the high-velocity rounds began to pass down into their apartment from above, Marlon had never troubled himself to think about the possible drawbacks of having neighbors who shared his attitude about what constituted suitable real estate.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-02

  • Any fact-checkers out there? Greg Price provides our Tweet du Jour:

    Reminiscent of Biden's "We reduced — my budget reduced the — the deficit by $350 billion".

    I'm pretty sure it was only a few months ago that high gas prices were blamed on "greed" (did people get less greedy?) and "Putin" (did Putin withdraw from Ukraine?)


  • Meanwhile, another taxpayer ripoff continues. Emma Camp reviews the ongoing story: Student Loan Repayment Pause Is Costing Taxpayers Billions.

    The Federal Student Loan Program is often criticized as a source of revenue for the federal government. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that the present situation can't be further from the truth.

    When the Federal Direct Student Loan Program began in 1994, the Department of Education estimated that it would generate $114 billion in revenue for the federal government. Almost 30 years later, the program is estimated to cost the government $197 billion, a staggering difference of over $300 billion. The Federal Student Loan Program has failed, and the cost of its failures will be shouldered by the American public.

    Note that first link is from August 2016—just six years ago!—when both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton expressed outrage on their respective campaign trails that Uncle Stupid was making money off student loans. Well, I guess that problem got fixed.


  • I thought George Soros was smart. I was disabused of that notion when I read his recent op-ed in the WSJ: Why I Support Reform Prosecutors. Or at least I read up to the bit I bolded:

    Americans desperately need a more thoughtful discussion about our response to crime. People have had enough of the demagoguery and divisive partisan attacks that dominate the debate and obscure the issues.

    Like most of us, I’m concerned about crime. One of government’s most important roles is to ensure public safety. I have been involved in efforts to reform the criminal-justice system for the more than 30 years I have been a philanthropist.

    Yet our system is rife with injustices that make us all less safe. The idea that we need to choose between justice and safety is false. They reinforce each other: If people trust the justice system, it will work. And if the system works, public safety will improve.

    I've rarely seen a more egregious example of the Tinkerbell Fallacy. "All you have to do is wish real hard for my scheme to work, and it will!"

    And also note the corollary: "If my scheme doesn't work, it's your fault, peons, for not believing in it! Not mine!"


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Longest article ever? Rafael A. Mangual, braver than I, kept reading Soros's op-ed, and offers a more detailed rebuttal: What George Soros Gets Wrong on Criminal Justice.

    Soros highlights the statistic that “black people in the U.S. are five times as likely to be sent to jail as white people.” This is, he says without explanation, “an injustice that undermines our democracy.” Such a contention is meant to persuade the reader that these incarcerations are mostly (if not overwhelmingly) illegitimate—the product of racial animus more than anything else. What else could it be? Well, how about disparate rates of criminal offending? A Bureau of Justice Statistics study of homicides between 1980 and 2008 found that blacks commit homicide offenses at a rate “almost eight times higher than the rate for whites.”

    Presenting a disparity without any mention of what its causes might be is not a responsible way of arguing that “injustice” is afoot. That’s a serious charge, and, as we’ve seen over the last few years, many who believe it will push (often successfully) for serious policy changes couched in breezy phrases like “reimagining public safety.”

    When relevant factors are taken into account, the disparities that Soros point to as obvious evidence of injustice shrink substantially, undercutting his claim. As a 2014 report on incarceration from the National Academies of Sciences shows: “Racial bias and discrimination are not the primary causes of disparities in sentencing decisions or rates of imprisonment. . . . Overall, when statistical controls are used to take account of offense characteristics, prior criminal records, and personal characteristics, black defendants are on average sentenced somewhat but not substantially more severely than whites.”

    Mangual (Amazon link to his new book on the right) points out a factoid that Soros ("and his ilk") ignore: "In 2020—a year in which homicides rose nearly 30 percent across the U.S.—the share of white homicide victims actually declined by 2.4 percentage points relative to 2019, while the share of black and Hispanic victims increased by 2.2 percentage points."

    I'd welcome any concrete indication that Soros ("and his ilk") had more sympathy for crime victims than perps.


  • Credit where it's due. I'm not sure if I've every uttered the slightest compliment to Nancy Pelosi in the 6365 days of Pun Salad's existence. But there's a first time for everything, and I'm in full agreement with Jim Geraghty: Pelosi Stands Up to the Bully in Beijing.

    As of this writing, it appears House speaker Nancy Pelosi will travel to Taiwan, based on statements from unnamed U.S. and Taiwanese officials. But it is not confirmed.

    Conservatives rarely applaud Pelosi, but her willingness to visit Taiwan — and to tell the Chinese government in Beijing to go pound sand if it doesn’t like her making the trip — is one of those rare times when they do. As the editors of NR put it:

    Much as we disagree with the speaker on most issues, on this question she has been stalwart. Pelosi, by making this trip against the background of Chinese threats, would do a service to her country, Taiwan, and all nations with an interest in resisting a totalitarian party-state’s military aggression. She must go to Taiwan.

    With some of the more hyperactive Chinese state-media propagandists talking up the possibility of the Chinese military shooting down her flight and the Chinese military promising live-fire exercises near the coast, Pelosi is demonstrating courage and accepting a certain amount of risk to life and limb by making the trip. The chances of the Chinese military deliberately or accidentally shooting down her flight are not high . . . but they are not zero, either.

    So I hope that works out.

URLs du Jour

2022-08-01

Happy August, all. If you want me, I'll be sitting over there right next to the air conditioner.

  • Chuck you, Joe. The WSJ editorialists opine on The Schumer-Manchin Tax Increase on Everyone.

    Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants a Senate vote on his partisan tax deal with Joe Manchin as early as this week, and no wonder he wants to rush it through. The more Americans learn what’s in this tax-and-spend behemoth, the more they’ll dislike it.

    Start with the authors’ central claim that the bill will reduce the deficit and thus inflation. The Penn Wharton Budget Model, which Sen. Manchin has been known to watch, examined the details of Schumer-Manchin and found that it doesn’t contain any net deficit reduction until 2027.

    The $327 billion in new taxes could slow inflation if the economy falls into recession, and that may be the quiet expectation. The tax increases on business will discourage investment while the Federal Reserve is also raising business costs with higher interest rates. But tax policy should be working in the opposite direction to encourage investment when the Fed is tightening and the economy is close to recession.

    Of course, Democrats can't simultaneously say (a) "the economy is doing great" and (b) "we have to raise taxes to stop this rampant inflation."

    Not that anyone would notice if they did say that.


  • Looking for Mr. Goodunion. Kevin D. Williamson takes a look at The Democrats’ Unserious Climate-Change Deal.

    The corporate-welfare “climate-change bill” that Joe Manchin and his Democratic colleagues in Congress wish to inflict upon the republic is a bad piece of legislation for any number of reasons. The obvious one is the economic reason — the combination of higher taxes and a rush of hundreds of billions of dollars in new federal spending lands on the wrong side of both parts of our don’t-call-it-a-recession stagflation, in which we are seeing declining economic output, declining real wages, and inflation above 9 percent overall — and above 40 percent in energy prices. More uncertainty is the last thing American businesses need.

    Our progressive friends will tell us that a few hundred billion dollars is a reasonable price for a credible climate-change bill — but is it that?

    […]

    The Manchin bill is, à la mode, a cowardly piece of legislation, in that it is all carrot, no stick. Its environmental program is mainly one of subsidies for politically connected business interests engaged in the so-called green-energy trade and handouts to upper-middle-class urban progressives who enjoy getting a $7,500 tax benefit when they buy a new Mercedes.

    The usual suspects have lined up at the trough. See, for example, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey: "I believe this proposal passes the climate test: including emissions reductions, good-paying union jobs, and investments in justice for disadvantaged communities."

    Yes, nothing say "Inflation Reduction" like paying inflated union wages.


  • Here's hopin'. Jacob Sullum thinks the recent 'Assault Weapon' Ban Approved by House May Cost Democrats This Fall.

    The House of Representatives today approved H.R 1808, which would ban the production and sale of "assault weapons," including semi-automatic rifles with features such as pistol grips, folding or adjustable stocks, barrel shrouds, and threaded barrels. It also would ban a long list of specific models by name.

    The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 217 to 213, has no chance in the evenly divided Senate, where support from at least 10 Republicans would be required to overcome a filibuster. House approval of H.R. 1808 is therefore a symbolic act aimed at energizing Democrats and encouraging them to vote in this fall's elections. But several House Democrats, whose objections nearly derailed today's vote, worried that it would hurt their party's candidates more than it would help them. In the end, five Democrats joined all but two Republicans in voting against the bill.

    You probably needn't ask, but: not only did NH Congresscritters Pappas and Kuster vote for HR 1808, they were cosponsors. (As were 210 of their colleagues.)

    Jared Golden of Maine (however) was one of the only five Democrats voting Nay.


  • Politics and the English Language (Updating Orwell). Jonathan Turley notes the latest dictum from the Church of Woke: It’s not enough to be pro-choice now — you must be anti-pro-life.

    With the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, it is no longer enough to be pro-choice. Indeed, the term “pro-choice” has been declared harmful by the now ironically named “Pro-Choice Caucus.” Today, it seems you must be anti-pro-life to be truly pro-choice — and, across the country, pro-life viewpoints are being declared virtual hate speech.

    We have seen this pattern before.

    With the rise of the racial justice movement on campuses across the country in 2020, a mantra emerged that it was no longer enough to not be a racist, you must be anti-racist. As National Public Radio’s media critic explained, “you’ve got to be continually working towards equality for all races, striving to undo racism in your mind, your personal environment and the wider world.”

    Similarly, after the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it seems, you must be anti-pro-life and stop others from voicing their views.

    On Sunday, almost half of the University of Michigan’s incoming medical school class walked out of a “White Coat Ceremony” to protest keynote speaker Dr. Kristin Collier. Collier was not planning to discuss abortion, but — because she holds pro-life views — students launched an unsuccessful campaign to block her from speaking.

    Turley sums up the argument: "We support a diversity of viewpoints so long as we don’t have to hear any opposing views."

The Puzzler

One Man's Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I've become a mild fan of author Alan Jacobs, very much enjoying his books How to Think, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, and Breaking Bread with the Dead. I'm a reader of his blog at 'ajay.org'.

So when I noticed this book's availability at Portsmouth Public Library, I put it on my "get it" list. And I eagerly listened to Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast with the author.

And then I started reading the book…

Reader, it turns out "A. J. Jacobs" and "Alan Jacobs" are two different people. The "A" initial here stands for Arnold, not Alan.

Duh. This might be the most embarrassing story I'll ever tell about myself.

But never mind that: this is an excellent book by a very good author.

In my retirement, I've been diligently solving the Wall Street Journal Monday-Saturday crosswords. The local Sunday paper reprinted the Sunday NYTimes and LATimes crosswords, and I did those until I let my subscription lapse. I started doing Wordle months ago, and back in June, my wonderful daughter gave me a New York Times Games subscription for Fathers Day. So, yes, I like doing puzzles.

The book provides a number of posers. There's even a book website containing additional material. (There was a $10,000 contest, but that's over.)

The book explores all kinds of puzzles, with lots of humor, great stories, and numerous solve-it-yourself examples. (Fortunately, no library patron has yet scribbled in it.) In addition to crosswords, there are chapters devoted to Rubik's Cube (and associated gadgets); anagrams; rebuses; jigsaws; mazes and labyrinths (they're different!); math and logic; ciphers and codes; visuals; sudoku and the like; chess; riddles; japanese boxes; "controversial" puzzles; cryptics (I stay away from these myself); scavenger/puzzle hunts; and (finally) "infinite" puzzles, those that would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to solve.

But nothing about acrostics. Like Isaac Asimov, I like those a lot. But I can imagine there's not much to say about them besides "Here's how they work."