Number One Is Walking

My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I picked this up at Portsmouth Public Library on a whim; I've been a Steve Martin fan for (cough) quite a while. And I loved many of the movies he's starred in and written (especially Roxanne and L. A. Story). So…

Well, there's not a lot of text here. It's more like a very wordy comic book about Mr. Martin's movie career. The graphic content is provided by cartoonist Harry Bliss. The combination works fine.

The title refers to what an assistant director says over his walkie-talkie to notify people on the set that the star of the movie is on his way there.

Mr. Martin's reminiscences are nearly entirely golden and pleasant. He's got nice things to say and interesting stories about nearly everyone. (Only exception: actor Dean Jones, who drove Carl Reiner a little nuts by demanding a shooting schedule that worked around his religious duties.)

He even likes the famously irascible David Mamet.

Mr. Martin and Mr. Bliss have a book of cartoons, A Wealth of Pigeons. Next time I go to PPL…

You Were Warned

I don't like reusing these eye-candy images, but I was looking at an item in last year's New Year's Eve post which featured a downer essay from Alana Newhouse titled Everything is Broken. And my comment on that was…

I hope she's wrong, I fear she's correct. Sorry to be such a downer, but if you see another "dumpster fire" picture here for December 31, 2022…

So there you go.

Briefly noted:

  • In our "Everything You Know is Wrong" department, Jerry Coyne highlights More debunked or questioned psychological studies. There are a lot of them! But this one stood out:

    No good evidence from the famous Milgram experiments that 65% of people will inflict pain if ordered to. Experiment was riddled with researcher degrees of freedom, going off-script, implausible agreement between very different treatments, and “only half of the people who undertook the experiment fully believed it was real and of those, 66% disobeyed the experimenter.

    Son of a… I just finished a book last week that treated the Milgram experiments as holy writ. I'll have to update my report with another black mark.

  • A story we're following is covered by the Los Angeles Blade ("Southern California's LGBTQ News Source"): Anti-LGBTQ student group threatening legal action at UNH Law.

    A Christian student group opposed to same-sex marriage, abortion and the rights of transgender people is threatening legal action after the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law student governing body failed to act on its petition to form its inaugural chapter at the university.

    New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) correspondent Todd Bookman reported that the Free Exercise Coalition is an organization with the stated mission to “equip religious students in their free exercise of religion,” according to paperwork filed with the school.

    As you might expect from "Southern California's LGBTQ News Source", the Free Exercise Coalition is described:

    Student board members of the group pledge to uphold “Judeo-Christian” religious traditions and beliefs, as well as oppose gay marriage, abortion and transgender people.

    I can believe they oppose gay marriage and abortion. But what does it mean to oppose "transgender people"? What does the pledge actually say? I think that's here.

    I believe that the Judeo-Christian belief system is incompatible with Transgender Ideology, and that a person is either born male or born female according to the Divine’s decree.

    Not quite the same thing, Los Angeles Blade.

    The Blade cites Todd Bookman's report for Commie New Hampshre Public Radio , which is here. As you might expect, it makes the same invidious caricature:

    Board members of the group pledge to uphold “Judeo-Christian” religious traditions and beliefs, as well as oppose gay marriage, abortion and transgender people.

    Again, that should be "transgender ideology." Not people.

    The NHPR report also contains a quote from a local atheist:

    “When people realize the school is not really friendly, not really supportive to DEI, and that the school is not friendly, not really supportive of religious persons and beliefs, no one is going to want to come here,” he said.

    Did he really say that?

He’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen.

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] That quote was from Harry Truman, and he was speculating on the imminent presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower. And it was brought to mind by a WSJ op-ed from Steve Milloy: A Quiet Refutation of ‘Net Zero’ Carbon Emissions.

“Net zero” and its corollary, the “energy transition,” are talked about so often and so loosely that many take them for granted as worthy goals that could be accomplished with greater buy-in from political and business leaders. But two new reports from the utility industry should put an end to such loose talk.

In September, the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the U.S. electric utility industry, released a report titled “Net-Zero 2050: U.S. Economy-Wide Deep Decarbonization Scenario Analysis.”

The EPRI report concludes that the utility industry can’t attain net zero. “This study shows that clean electricity plus direct electrification and efficiency . . . are not sufficient by themselves to achieve net-zero economy-wide emissions.”

In other words, no amount of wind turbines, solar panels, hydropower, nuclear power, battery power, electrification of fossil-fuel technologies or energy-efficiency technologies will get us to net zero by 2050.

So basically we have a bunch of central planners saying "Do this! Do that!". And it won't happen.

Fun—actually sobering—fact from Alex Epstein, as quoted by Bryan Caplan:

To give you an idea of how long it will take to scale up nuclear, to replace all existing fossil fuel energy (of all kinds) with nuclear energy by the end of 2050 would require building four 1-gigawatt nuclear power plants every day starting in January 2022. In the last thirty years, on average, 4 gigawatts of nuclear capacity have been created only every 540 days.

So if you've been glibly saying: let's just build nukes to phase out fossil fuel usage… yeah, see that Truman quote one more time.

Briefly noted:

  • The Fraser Institute is posting a series of essays on governments' responses to Covid. Sample, from David Henderson: The Abject Failure of Central Planning During Covid.

    In the first half of the 20th century, two Austrian economists, Ludwig von Mises and his most famous student, Friedrich Hayek, argued that central planning under socialism could not work. Their argument had to do with the inability of central planners to set prices in the absence of information about demands and supplies that only free markets could reveal.

    Although their argument was airtight, it is not the only sound argument against central planning. The case against central planning is also more general. Not only do central planners lack the information needed to set rational prices, but also they lack the information needed to decide which industries and markets should be shut down and which regulations should be imposed on various industries during a pandemic. Just as with central planning of the socialist variety, central planning to deal with COVID-19 caused many misallocations. All of these problems became apparent, to those who were paying attention, in the way that the vast majority of governments around the world have dealt with COVID-19 from about February 2020 until the present day. Just as we have learned that central planning of prices under socialism does not work, so we should realize that central planning of markets, jobs, industries, and human interactions during a pandemic does not work.

    In short, they were saying "Do this! Do that!" And… well, you know what happened.

  • Jeff Jacoby piles on the scorn for another great idea from the planners that was supposed to make us all safe: Real ID was a real mistake and Congress should scrap it at last.

    As a terrorist-catching tool, Real ID has always been useless: Driver’s licenses and identification cards are of no use in fingering terrorists who haven’t already been spotted as threats. But as a vehicle for expanding government intrusiveness and control, Real ID is ideal. “The day would not be far off,” wrote cybersecurity and surveillance expert Jim Harper, a former congressional committee counsel and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, “when a national ID is required for picking up prescriptions, purchasing guns and ammunition, paying by credit card, booking air travel, and reserving hotel stays, to name just a few types of transactions the federal government might regulate.” Again: That may be normal in some societies, but it cuts sharply against the grain in ours.

    It has been more than two decades since 9/11. The still-unenforced Real ID Act is almost 18 years old. Those who once believed that the law was needed to prevent air-travel terrorism by rigorously identifying fliers know better now. Real ID is plainly irrelevant to the nation’s security. Enacting the law was a mistake, and it’s time Congress repealed it.

    Yes, they said "Do this! Do that!" And nothing happened.

  • Jonah Goldberg reveals The Real Donald Trump! At last!

    Trump isn’t merely hungry for respect; he’s, as the kids say, “thirsty” for respect—respect for his strength, his “very stable genius,” his masculinity and, of course, his money. When Trump read a 2015 column of mine in the New York Post mocking his potential run, he turned to his aide Sam Nunberg and muttered, “Why don’t they respect me, Sam?”

    Of course, there are people who respect Trump, but most of them aren’t friends, they’re fans, the sorts of people who don’t get the joke of his trading cards. In 2016, he told a New Hampshire audience: “I have no friends, as far as I’m concerned. You know who my friends are? You’re my friends.”

    Fans are generally the last people to tell you hard truths. Worse for Trump: His definition of fans are people who think he can do no wrong.

  • Jesse Singal has a New Year thought: In 2023, Let’s Rediscover Wrongness.

    Few articles could better sum up the media and intellectual landscape of 2022 than this one published late last month in The Guardian: “Ancient Apocalypse is the most dangerous show on Netflix.” The subheadline: “A show with a truly preposterous theory is one of the streaming giant’s biggest hits – and it seems to exist solely for conspiracy theorists. Why has this been allowed?”

    The show is dangerous! How was it allowed?

    The article is by Guardian culture writer Stuart Heritage. “Ancient Apocalypse,” he explains, centers on the theory that “an advanced ice-age civilisation – responsible for teaching humanity concepts such as maths, architecture and agriculture – was wiped out in a giant flood brought about by multiple comet strikes about 12,000 years ago.”

    Singal is tired, as we all should be tired, of journalists yelling "danger", trying to grab our eyeballs by scaring us.

    Related, those relentless promos for ABC News telling us we needed to watch because there was "so much at stake".

    Shut up, ABC News.

Beyond This Horizon

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I own the 50¢ Signet paperback edition of this novel, pictured. I was pretty sure I'd already read all of Heinlein's novels, but as I tackled this one, I was unsure I had ever read this one. I sure didn't remember anything about it. The Wikipedia page is full of praise: good reviews from P. Schuyler Miller, Anthony Boucher, and J. Francis McComas; in 2018, it nabbed a "Retro-Hugo" award for Best Novel.

And (yet) I disliked it intensely. A book I'm currently reading claims it was (essentially) co-written with Heinlein's then-wife, Leslyn. That would explain (what I perceived as) the book's narrative style as like nothing Heinlein wrote before, or since.

The book pictures a society where genetic engineering is common. Also duelling. Prosperity is widespread, thanks to wise central planners. There's an attempted revolution somewhere in the middle, capped off with a ray-gun shootout. Other topics include telepathy, and immortality of the soul via reincarnation.

But basically, there's just a lot of talking.

Fun fact: the aphorism "An armed society is a polite society" comes from this book. I'm a Second Amendment fan, and yet I'm skeptical of that claim. Maybe if we were all aremed with ray guns, like here, we'd be more polite.

UNH Law School Weak on the First Amendment

We've previously noted that the University Near Here has a "Green Light" speech code rating, That's good!

Unfortunately, some of UNH's subsets haven't mastered the entirety of the First Amendment. The most embarrassing recent example is reported by the College Fix: University of New Hampshire accused of ‘open hostility’ toward religious freedom club.

University of New Hampshire administrators need to step in and correct the “open hostility” toward Christian and conservative students by January 3, a demand letter from a legal nonprofit stated.

First Liberty Institute sent the demand letter to law school Dean Shane Cooper after UNH’s Student Bar Association refused to recognize the Free Exercise Coalition, a student organization devoted to protecting religious freedom on campuses, despite the club’s adherence to all the school’s criteria for official club membership.

The law school is housed over in Concord. It was originally founded in 1973 as the "Franklin Pierce Law Center". It "affiliated" with UNH in 2010. I was in the UNH IT department at the time; the law folks were very demanding about how their e-mail system was to be "affiliated" with ours. And whiny when they didn't get things exactly as they wanted. Many Heads were Shaken at our end during the bumpy transition. But they became, eventually, the "University of New Hampshire School of Law".

As Wikipedia notes, they recently managed to wedge the name of someone who nearly everyone agrees was one of our country's worst presidents back into their official title: they are now the "University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law".

It's kind of embarrassing when the law school gets singled out as flouting the First Amendment.

Briefly noted:

  • One last 2022 dumpster fire involves a new GOP CongressCritter who managed to lower the bar for election-year dishonesty. Prompting (for example) Scott Shackford to wonder: Why Did George Santos Lie About His Past To Get Elected to Congress?

    Scott, the answer might be the same as why pets lick their nether regions. ("Because they can.") But let's hear your theory:

    The scandal is not that Santos lied. The scandal is that Santos lied about so many things that we can't even be certain of who Santos is. And that does call into question whether Santos' campaign platform accurately represents him.

    But isn't that somewhat true of all politicians? Ultimately, we get to know our representatives by how they act once they're actually in Congress—what they vote for or against, what bills they introduce, and even whether they show up to do their job.

    On the campaign trail, politicians promise whatever they think will be necessary to swing the election in their favor. They could completely lie about who they are to impress voters. They could make promises to pass laws or create policies they have no intention of keeping or don't have the authority to keep. They can change their minds entirely once they get into office. Remember when Barack Obama campaigned for president promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    But …

  • Jim Geraghty takes up a related question: What Should Happen to George Santos? I don't care much, but this observation is spot on:

    One of the reasons that pathological liars are attracted to politics is because there are partisans who are very eager to forgive and shrug at “normal politician BS-ing.” Aspiring officeholders see other politicians and think, “If they can get away with those lies, I can get away with my own!”

    Also see Chapter Ten of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, titled "Why the Worst Get on Top".

  • And you won't want to miss Kevin D. Williamson's take on Lying Liars and the Party That Loves Them.

    George Santos is a liar. George Santos is a ridiculous liar. George Santos is a habitual liar. George Santos is a liar who lies about things that it doesn’t make sense to lie about, apparently just to keep in practice. George Santos lies about lying, and then he lies about having lied about lying. George Santos is such a pathetic and risible liar that QAnon kook Marjorie Taylor Greene—a hobbyist liar who turned pro a few years back—rolls her eyes about what a lying liar that lying liar is.

    Question: Is that a problem for a Republican elected official here at the last dying gasps of Anno Domini 2022?

    I don’t see how. Rep. Greene wants you to believe that shadowy Jews are using lasers to manipulate the weather. Almost every Republican who matters or who should matter—Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley—stood there looking stupid for six years (and counting) while Donald Trump told lie after lie after lie, nodding their empty little heads like a ghastly collection of particularly demented bobblehead dolls. The main themes of right-wing talk radio and cable news right now are—still—vaccine-conspiracy kookery and stolen-election kookery. Even if the contemporary Republican Party could take five minutes away from whatever the grift of the week is and work up a good head of moral-outrage steam about George Santos—the wildly successful grandson of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust who proved himself at Baruch College and NYU before rising through the ranks at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup before accumulating an impressive portfolio of investments who isn’t wildly successful or Jewish or the grandson of Holocaust refugees and who didn’t go to Baruch or NYU or work at Goldman or Citigroup and who apparently is something of a slacker but swears up and down that he positively absolutely is not a criminal so sir!—who would take them seriously? Who could take them seriously?

    Well, I should probably stop there, while noting that I still like Nikki Haley. (I envision KDW snorting and rolling his eyes at this.)

  • We were on the warm side of the recent storm, so the body count was minimized here. Others were not so lucky; the WSJ editorialists take a look at The Cold Reality of Buffalo.

    Western New York State was hit with more snow on Tuesday, adding to the winter assault that has already killed 28 in Buffalo in the last week’s storm and deep freeze. The deaths underscore that even in this age of global warming anxiety, cold weather kills more people each year than does excessive heat.

    As readers of these pages know, that’s a point our contributor Bjorn Lomborg has been making for years. He wrote in November that between 2000 and 2019 in the U.S. and Canada, an average of 20,000 people died from heat each year compared to more than 170,000 from cold.

    “Despite the climate narrative, almost everywhere cold is much more deadly than heat,” Mr. Lomborg tweeted on Monday. “Cheap and reliable energy to keep us warm used to be the hallmark of prosperous countries; no more because of our climate obsession.”

    I put the matter a little more bluntly in reporting on a recent read:

    Mother Nature can be (indeed) beautiful. But Mom is also a psycho killer bitch. Back in pre-industrial millennia when we "lived in harmony with nature", she was busy condemning us to short lifespans, filth, famine, disaster, poverty, infant mortality, and disease. Not to mention plenty of deadly violence, fighting over a zero-sum pie. We've changed that game to our benefit with many tools, but the primary one was our harnessing of the concentrated energy of fossil fuels.

    We seem to be unlearning that life-saving lesson.

George Updates George

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] At Quillette, George Case takes a look at the continued relevance of one of Pun Salad's favorite essays: Politics and the English Language, 2023.

“Politics and the English Language” addressed the jargon, double-talk, and what we would now call “spin” that had already distorted the discourse of the mid-20th century. “In our time,” Orwell argued, “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. ... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. ... Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Those are the sentences most cited whenever a modern leader or talking head hides behind terms like “restructuring” (for layoffs), “visiting a site” (for bombing), or “alternative facts” (for falsehoods). In his essay, Orwell also cut through the careless, mechanical prose of academics and journalists who fall back on clichés—“all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.”

These objections still hold up almost 80 years later, but historic changes in taste and technology mean that they apply to a new set of unexamined truisms and slogans regularly invoked less in oratory or print than through televised soundbites, online memes, and social media: the errors of reason and rhetoric identified in “Politics and the English Language” can be seen in familiar examples of empty platitudes, stretched metaphors, and meaningless cant which few who post, share, like, and retweet have seriously parsed. Consider how the following lexicon from 2023 is distinguished by the same question-begging, humbug, and sheer cloudy vagueness exposed by George Orwell in 1946.

Case takes on "systemic racism"; "rape culture"; "stolen land" (stolen from you-know-who); "cultural genocide"; "hate/-phobia/denial"; "(m|d)isinformation"; "climate emergency".

Another one of Orwell's observations, unmentioned by Case, that "still holds up almost 80 years later":

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

If you follow Pun Salad, you've seen that one a lot. Unfortunately, I don't think it will go stale in the foreseeable future.

Briefly noted:

  • Another very long headline on Jacob Sullum's syndicated column. Take a deep breath and read: Why Take Responsibility When You Can Blame Somebody Else? The Year's Highlights in Buck Passing Feature Petulant Politicians, Brazen Bureaucrats, Careless Cops, Loony Lawyers and Junky Journalists.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this month blamed Republicans for preventing Congress from enacting legislation that would make it easier for state-licensed marijuana businesses to access financial services. Yet Schumer himself has played a leading role in blocking the SAFE Banking Act, which passed the House last year with support from 106 Republicans and has bipartisan backing in the Senate.

    Schumer, who insisted that his own marijuana bill take priority and warned that approving the SAFE Banking Act would make federal legalization harder, wants reformers to forget that history of obstruction. Schumer's striking attempt to dodge responsibility for his own actions easily qualifies him for my annual review of the year's highlights in blame shifting.

    In addition to Schumer, Sullum names and shames: Mitch McConnell; sore loser Kari Lake; Sidney Powell, still a-waiting' the Kraken; her co-conspiracy theorists at Fox Corporation; the CDC; Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw; Louisville police detective Brett Hankison.

  • Jesse Singal aims his advice at "progressives" but it's more widely applicable: How To Be A “Heterodox” (Or Whatever) Progressive Without Going Crazy.

    I’m on record as saying that there have been some really disturbing and counterproductive trends in progressive spaces for a while now. If you want the short version, the Harper’s Letter holds up pretty well. If you want the longer version, read Ryan Grim’s reporting on all the progressive organizations that have screeched to a halt because of meltdowns that ostensibly have to do with issues of fairness and justice and bigotry, but that are often caused by bad actors weaponizing these concepts to bully colleagues and jockey for professional position.

    This is an issue, and it is harming the left. Progressives — and progressive organizations — who deny it’s an issue do so at their peril. We need to have these conversations.

    That being said, there is a subset of people who join the fight against illiberalism in liberal spaces and who subsequently go a little bit crazy. There’s no need to name names here, but they often start in a relatively reasonable place, as progressives criticizing certain forms of contemporary progressive excess, and mere weeks later they are ranting about how the Powers That Be are attempting to sweep the side effects of mRNA viruses under the rug, how Joe Biden is the most corrupt president in US history, how trans activists aren’t just wrong about specific arguments but are groomers, and so on.

    Friends, can you really say you haven't noticed the same thing happening on "Our Side" (whatever you perceive "Our Side" to be) after making a few easy substitutions?

  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Politics ain't beanbag, so the venerable quote goes, Stuart Ritchie takes up a related topic at his Science Fictions substack: Science isn't storytelling.

    And in conclusion, that’s why you should agree that science isn’t storytelling. Thanks for reading the Science Fictions Substack.

    Oh, sorry - did you find that a little jarring? I started this article with its conclusion! That’s because I’ve just read an editorial—first published last year but currently getting some attention on Twitter—from the journal Marine Life Science and Technology, which offers just this advice to scientists: they should write their scientific papers backwards.

    The editorial—entitled “Finding Your Scientific Story By Writing Backwards”—argues that a scientific paper needs to have “take-home messages”. These are the big points that conclude the “scientific story” told by the paper - a story which, developed correctly, will “increase the impact of your work and the likelihood of it being accepted in highly rated journals”.

    Ritchie notes this idea "is a recipe for bad studies."

    Which explains a lot. Especially it explains why Ritchie wrote his book (Amazon link at right).

How Can I Move the World a Little Bit Further Down the Road to Serfdom Today?

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] I wonder if that's the first thought of Benedict Macon-Cooney ("Deputy Executive Director, Technology and Public Policy" at the "Tony Blair Institute for Global Change") when he wakes every morning. Here's his recent effort toward that end in WIRED: AI Is Now Essential National Infrastructure. Benedict's bottom line:

For governments to fully deliver on the promise of AI, however, they will need to invest. Soon, a comprehensive digital infrastructure—which includes national computing power, a distributed cloud, and an interoperable set of applications and machine-readable legislation—will be as important to a country as roads, rail, and public water supply. In 2023, more and more countries will accelerate the building of such nationwide digital architectures, allowing them to deliver more AI-powered responsive services that cater to the individual and help the population at large. In 2023, bold governments will be making this move—and they will be examples to follow for the rest of the world.

Investment, all carefully planned! By "bold" governments! It's a bright shiny future, brought to you via the magic of AI! Under the control of the people who brought you…

Well, see the next item.

  • At the Free Press, David Zweig describes How Twitter Rigged the Covid Debate.

    I had always thought a primary job of the press was to be skeptical of power—especially the power of the government. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, I and so many others found that the legacy media had shown itself to largely operate as a messaging platform for our public health institutions. Those institutions operated in near total lockstep, in part by purging internal dissidents and discrediting outside experts.

    Twitter became an essential alternative. It was a place where those with public health expertise and perspectives at odds with official policy could air their views—and where curious citizens could find such information. This often included other countries’ responses to Covid that differed dramatically from our own.

    But it quickly became clear that Twitter also seemed to promote content that reinforced the establishment narrative, and to suppress views and even scientific evidence that ran to the contrary.

    And:

    The United States government pressured Twitter to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19 and the pandemic. Internal emails that I viewed at Twitter showed that both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s content according to their wishes.

    Zweig has the documentation for that extraordinary claim. Check it out.

  • Kevin D. Williamson has a very moving newsletter this week: Being Human.

    You get a lot of advice when you have a baby—more advice than you probably are in the market for, in fact—and it’s usually the same stuff over and over again, the sort of thing people say because they feel that they are supposed to say something but don’t have anything to say, so it is the familiar litany: Diapers! Sleep deprivation! Start saving for college! Etc.

    As they say: The worst vice is advice.

    What they don’t tell you about is how long that first night is going to be—not because you’re tired, but because you are terrified. Newborn babies are tiny and fragile and entirely helpless, of course, but they also are mysterious. Some babies thrive from the beginning, some have inexplicable troubles—and nobody really knows why. Terrible things happen with babies sometimes. When I was in college, one of my undergraduate friends was diagnosed with lung cancer, and the first thing people wanted to know was whether she smoked, which she didn’t, or if her parents smoked, which they didn’t—people wanted to know what she had done to deserve lung cancer. When children are sick or injured or unhappy, mothers and fathers (but mostly mothers) get the same thing: What did you do wrong? They get it from their friends and families, and they get it from themselves.

    It's really good. Worth your subscription money.

The It Girl

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Did I pick up this book at the library because I thought it was about a young female worker in Information Technology? A likely story, but no. Instead, it was on the WSJ list of the best mysteries of 2022. Getting an early start on that reading project.

The main character is Hannah, a young woman who had the unfortunate experience of discovering the body of April, her Oxford suite-mate, "sprawled across the hearth rug in front of the fire." Hannah gives testimony that sends a creepy employee of the college to prison for April's murder.

But this seriously upends Hannah's life, dividing it in twain. The book's chapters are labeled "Before" and "After"; we alternate between discovering what led up to April's murder, and seeing the events a decade later.

In the "Before" sections, Hannah comes into Oxford as a relatively shy and insecure student, continually nonplussed by the "It Girl" April, who's vivacious, gregarious, and clever. But—it turns out—she's also rich, spoiled, manipulative, devious, promiscuous,… Hannah and April acquire a semi-dysfunctional posse of friends and lovers, they deal wiith Oxford's stressful academic rigor, and … gee, you begin to see a lot of possible motives for people wanting to murder April.

In the "After" section, Hannah is married to Will, April's long-ago boyfriend (hm). She's working in a small Edinburgh bookshop, kind of an unexpected outcome, given her once-promising academic career. She is seriously pregnant. And the prison death of that creepy employee—he's always maintained his innocence—brings on guilt feelings. Could Hannah have been mistaken? Hannah sets out (defying Will's firm opposition, hm) to connect with her old friends, and makes important discoveries about the events back in Oxford.

Eventually, there's a pulse pounding finish.

I'm inordinately proud to say I figured out the true villain long before Hannah does. That never happens.

It's well-written, although I could have done without the many, many descriptions of Hannah's inner mental turmoil. But I wonder how this chapter-opening sentence escaped an editor's eye:

In the restaurant, Hannah looks at her phone again, gnawing at a breadstick.
To adapt an old Ghostbusters quote: generally you don't see that kind of behavior from a small electronic device.

Last Modified 2022-12-27 1:53 PM EST

Conspiracy

Why the Rational Believe the Irrational

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Michael Shermer seems like a totally nice guy. And yet there's something about his writing—it's not you, Michael, it's me—that seems to set my teeth on edge, and my brain to go into nit-picking mode.

This book, about conspiracies and the ardent believers of same, isn't bad at all; it's full of interesting facts, fun stories, good advice, and fact-based debunkings of wacky conspiracy theories (9/11, JFK). It falls significantly off in offering Shermer's effort at a Grand Unified Theory of conspiracy theorizing. But:

Nit One: Shermer's definition of "conspiracy" on page 23:

A conspiracy is two or more people, or a group, plotting or acting in secret to gain an advantage or harm others immorally or illegally.

A decent editor would have pointed out the redundancy in "two or more people, or a group". And the conspiracy is not the "group"; it's their plan. And does immorality or illegality really need to be involved? Conceivably, the conspirators could be hatching a scheme that they perceive to be in others' best interests! (Example: JournoList, the private forum where left-leaning journalists collaborated on the best talking points to advance their preferred political narratives. Nothing illegal or (even) immoral about that, and they probably all felt, in their heart of hearts, they were on the side of the angels.)

When I have serious issues with the very definition of a book's main topic…

Nit Two: On page 38, where Shermer is running through the history of conspiracy theories, one example provided is: "… and Senator Joseph McCarthy blacklisted writers perceived to be Communists in the 1950s."

Now, I could be wrong about this, but I've read a bit about McCarthy and that era, and I don't recall McCarthy himself blacklisting anyone, let alone "writers". The famous "Hollywood Ten" blacklist happened in 1947 (a bit shy of "the 1950s") imposed by film studio execs, based on the refusal of the Ten to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Which of course McCarthy wasn't on.

McCarthy did a lot of bad stuff, including probably bogus claims that he had a list of known Commies in government.

(And (sure enough) there were.)

Nit Three: Shermer's "case study in conspiracism" (Chapter 5) is the Sovereign Citizen Movement. No doubt there's some Venn-diagram overlap between the sovereign citizens and actual conspiracy theorists. But sovereign citizenism as such is more accurately described as simply a wacky legal theory; conspiracism isn't necessarily involved.

Nit Four: Page 109: The Magnificent Seven is described as a movie where "a 'posse' of gunslinging citizens are [sic] recruited to hunt down a Mexican outlaw." Well, not exactly. The Seven were hired to defend a Mexican village against a marauding gang of bandits. Defense, not offense. How hard is this to get right?

Well, enough nits. Good stuff, besides what's previously mentioned: Shermer has a number of tips on how best to talk to conspiracists; he's had a lot of practice there. He reports on a Qualtrics poll he did measuring the level of belief in many theories of varying nuttiness. Amusingly, the poll included a couple theories that were entirely made up. Still, a significant number of respondents said they found those theories credible.

I think this either shows (a) how gullible some people are; or (b) how hard it is to conduct a poll when a lot of your respondents will either respond randomly or capriciously. (Like me: sometimes when faced with a long list of items to rate on a 0-10 scale, I just use consecutive π digits: 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2, 6, 5, …)

And one of the highest levels of belief was in the "theory": "Covid-19 was developed in a Chinese lab, and Chinese officials have covered it up."

Dude, I rate that one "more likely than not".

To Shermer's credit, he admits the relative non-wackiness of that theory later on. I'm not sure of the timing of the poll versus the timing of revelations about sloppiness at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, gain-of-function research, and the actions of those "Chinese officials" (and ours) earnestly stonewalling investigations. 2023-01-01 UPDATE: I should have caught this before, and it's slightly bigger than a nit. Shermer cites the "Milgram experiments" as holy writ (pp 112-3). Via Jerry Coyne's blog, the efforts to reproduce Milgram's results are (at best) mixed.

Shermer bills himself as kind of a Professional Skeptic; he should have showed that in this case.


Last Modified 2023-01-01 6:54 AM EST

I Already Did a "2022 Dumpster Fire" Pic…

… so we'll make do with a pic of a logtime Pun Salad hero, Dave Barry. His 2022 retrospective is out. I'll just excerpt the intro:

The best thing we can say about 2022 is: It could have been worse.

For example, we could have had nuclear Armageddon. This briefly appeared to be a possibility, at least according to the president, who broke the news in October at (Why not?) a Democratic Party fundraiser at the home of a wealthy donor in New York City. That must have been an exciting event! One moment everybody’s standing around chewing hors d’ oeuvres, and the next moment WHOA WHAT DID HE JUST SAY?

The next day, after the news media ran a bunch of scary headlines, the White House Office of Explaining What the President Actually Meant explained that the president wasn’t suggesting that we were facing Armageddon per se, but was merely, as is his wont, emitting words, one of which happened to be “Armageddon,” and everybody should just calm down.

So we dodged a bullet there.

Indeed. Are you in desperate need of some keen observations that will make you laugh to keep from crying? You will want to Read The Whole Thing™.

And try not to notice when I steal some of his keenest stuff over the coming year. Like describing Sam Bankman-Fried as "the fourth runner-up in a John Belushi lookalike contest."

Briefly noted:

  • Another year-end retrospective (too soon?), this one from Reason's Emma Camp: 5 Infuriating Ways People Got the First Amendment Wrong in 2022. And number one with a bullet is:

    Yes, you can yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

    One of the more surprising misstatements about the First Amendment this year came from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Despite sitting on the nation's highest court and being one of nine deciding voices in how the First Amendment is applied and interpreted, Alito repeated one of the most common misconceptions about the law during an October talk at the Heritage Foundation.

    When offering examples of speech not protected by the First Amendment, Alito listed "extortion and threats," defamation, and "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater."

    Contrary to Alito's assertion, it is perfectly legal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater—though the idea has, for some reason, become an oft-repeated cultural maxim. The confusion comes from a now-overturned 1919 case, Schenk v. United States, in which the phrase was used as a metaphor—and not intended to create legal doctrine.

    Do better in 2023, Sam. Although I'm sure Clarence Thomas will correct you before your faulty analysis makes it into an actual SCOTUS opinion.

  • Instead of looking back, George F. Will looks forward, and lists Four ways Congress could begin reversing its self-diminishment. (But he also refers to the fire-in-a-crowded-theater guy, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

    Sometimes, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “we need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure.” Obviously the national institution most in need of repair is Congress. Herewith are four measures by which the 118th Congress can begin reversing the institution’s decades-long self-diminishment.

    Passing the Separation of Powers Restoration Act would end congressional deference to “Chevron deference,” the Supreme Court doctrine named for a case in which the court said judges should defer to administrative agencies’ “reasonable” interpretations of “ambiguous” laws. Congress might consider not writing such laws. Pending that miracle, Congress should, with SPRA, require courts to interpret statutes rather than leaving this to bureaucracies, which have powerful incentives to make expansive interpretations that maximize their power. As Justice Brett Kavanaugh has written, Chevron deference often is “a judicially orchestrated shift of power from Congress to the Executive Branch,” and “encourages agency aggressiveness.” SPRA, by identifying judicial deference as dereliction of the judicial duty to say what the law is, would strengthen judicial supervision of the administrative state.

    Disable Javacript in your browser to find GFW's remaining three recommendations.

  • Since I am old, I'm occasionally surprised at the number of completely obvious things that need to be explained to young people. (And, sometimes, my fellow not-so-young-anymore people.)

    Coleman Hughes provides another example: Actually, Color-Blindness Isn’t Racist.

    In a few months, the Supreme Court will strike down or reaffirm race-based affirmative action in college admissions. The anticipation surrounding the Court’s decision—in two separate cases pitting Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard and the University of North Carolina—has reignited the long-running national debate over color-blindness.

    The question is: Should universities be permitted to discriminate on the basis of race? Should they be permitted to “see race”?

    Not seeing race is the surest way, these days, to signal that you aren’t on the right side of this divide. Indeed, the term “color-blind” has become anathema to rightthink, and if you live in elite institutions—universities, corporate America, the mainstream media—the quickest way to demonstrate that you just don’t get it is to say, “I don’t see color” or “I was taught to treat everyone the same.”

    Once considered a progressive attitude, color-blindness is now seen as backwards—a cheap surrender in the face of racism, at best; or a cover for deeply held racist beliefs, at worst.

    But color-blindness is neither racist nor backwards. Properly understood, it is the belief that we should strive to treat people without regard to race in our personal lives and in our public policy.

    Hughes continues our SCOTUS-quoting streak with John Marshall Harlan: "Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens."

  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] I'm pretty sure Bob Dylan does not quote any Supreme Court decisions in his recent interview with the Wall Street Journal's Jeff Slate. And Bob is no slouch at coming up with extemporaneous pyrotechnic observations:

    [Slate:] And since everything is at our fingertips, has streaming democratized music? Are we back to the days when “Strangers in The Night” can top “Paperback Writer” and “Paint It Black” on the pop charts?

    [Dylan:] We could very well be. There’s a sameness to everything nowadays. We seem to be in a vacuum. Everything’s become too smooth and painless. We jumped into the mainstream, the big river, with all the industrial waste, chemical debris, rocks, and mudflow, along with Brian Wilson and his brothers, Soupy Sales, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. The earth could vomit up its dead, and it could be raining blood, and we’d shrug it off, cool as cucumbers. Everything’s too easy. Just one stroke of the ring finger, middle finger, one little click, that’s all it takes, and we’re there. We’ve dropped the coin right into the slot. We’re pill poppers, cube heads and day trippers, hanging in, hanging out, gobbling blue devils, black mollies, anything we can get our hands on. Not to mention the nose candy and ganga grass. It’s all too easy, too democratic. You need a solar X-ray detector just to find somebody’s heart, see if they still have one.

    I have Dylan's new book (Amazon link at your right) on my get-at-library list. It promises to be a hoot.

Merry Christmas 2022

[No Remorse] Briefly noted:

  • Senator Rand Paul issued his Festivus Report on Government Waste. Which describes "$482,276,543,907 in government waste."

    How do you get that big a number? Looking at the PDF report, it turns out that 98.5% of the waste is FY2022's interest paid on the national debt ($475 billion).

    So everything else is pretty small in comparison. Still, nobody ever gave me $118,971 for…

    Marvel fans are probably familiar with the 2018 box office hit Avengers: Infinity War. The movie follows Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk as they fight against Thanos, an evil warlord intent on destroying humanity to save the environment (subtle, environmentalists in Hollywood, subtle).

    In the movie, Thanos sports an “Infinity Gauntlet,” which gives the wearer extraordinary powers merely by snapping one’s fingers. Inspired by the film, researchers at Georgia Tech convinced grant reviewers at the National Science Foundation (superhero fans themselves, one assumes) to give them $118,971 to study if a real-life Thanos could actually snap his fingers while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet.

    The study ultimately determined wearing metal gloves while attempting to snap does not generate enough friction between one’s fingers to successfully create a snap.131 In their own words, "[o]ur results suggest that Thanos could not have snapped because of his metal armored fingers. So, it's probably the Hollywood special effects, rather than actual physics, at play!"

    Seems they discovered what they set out to learn, but at what cost? To paraphrase Captain America, the NSF is not looking for forgiveness for wasting American taxpayers’ hard-earned money, and it’s way past asking for permission.

    I've deleted the footnote, which points to a Live Science article: Scientists find the fastest acceleration in the human body. Ooh!

    Using high-speed cameras and state-of-the-art force sensors, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology measured the speed and acceleration of finger snapping and studied the little-known physics that makes it possible. They found that a finger snap is the fastest acceleration of the human body ever measured — and that the physics involved would have made it impossible for Thanos to perform the apocalyptic gesture, at least while he was wearing his metal "Infinity Gauntlet."

    Their results, published Nov. 17 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, show that the maximal rotational velocities of the finger snap are 7,800 degrees per second and the maximal rotational acceleration is 1.6 million degrees per second squared — a blistering three times the acceleration produced by a professional baseball player's arm.  

    "When I first saw the data, I jumped out of my chair," study senior author Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, […]

    Your tax dollars at work, getting an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology to jump out of his chair.

  • Still a little early for end-of-year lists, but Jeff Maurer is pretty sure he's found The Only Five Things I Liked in 2022. And here's a (relatively) serious one, in spot #2: "A noticeable shift towards YIMBYism"

    What do AOC and I have in common? We both recognize the need to build more housing (uh…at least nominally). I consider the need to build more housing — which can be done simply by removing archaic and poorly-considered barriers — probably the most obvious, clearly-beneficial policy choice facing Americans today. It’s like we’re starving, and we stumbled across a Honey Baked Ham. Now the question is: “Should we eat the ham?” Yes…yes, I think that we should. I really don't feel that this is a tough call.

    I seem to have noticed this viewpoint becoming part of lefty canon in the past year or so. I’ve seen Twitter profiles with red roses complaining about parking requirements and minimum lot sizes. Smart people like Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias have noticed people coming over to our side. I don’t know why this is happening; it might be a byproduct of a petulant “BOOOO, the SUBURBS” attitude suitable for an Arcade Fire song. Trump and Fox News did have a brief “Democrats are destroying the suburbs!” NIMBY moment that may have reoriented the far left’s policy alignment. But no matter why it’s happening, I’m glad that our numbers are growing.

    But don't miss number four, either. Jeff's a very funny guy.

  • On Christmas day, I really should do something day-appropriate… how about this, from Reason's resident Christian, Stephanie Slade? She argues Against Game of Thrones Christianity.

    For many members of the so-called New Right, one thing is clear: Classical liberal principles are not getting the job done.

    The left, after all, has no compunction about using the state to go after conservatives. As far as those illiberal progressives are concerned, Catholic hospitals should be forced by law to perform abortions, and social media companies should be threatened with regulatory action if they don't agree to scrub their platforms of ideas and information unfavorable to the Democratic Party.

    So instead of a principled commitment to limited government and individual liberty, the argument goes, conservatives who "know what time it is" should be willing to use public power to attack their foes. Anything less amounts to unilateral disarmament or even suicide.

    The stakes, in this telling, are existential. It's not uncommon to hear that a future of Soviet-style persecution awaits those who refuse to embrace a sufficiently "muscular" response. A New Right influencer once told me that the liberalism of the American founding, by making conservatives squeamish about fighting fire with fire, was apt to land her in a gulag. Like the famous maxim from Game of Thrones, it's a vision of politics as a literal war in which you win or you die.

    I was reminded of a lengthy Disqus comment discussion I had earlier this year about my mild objection to a Granite Grok article equating political opponents to rats in the chicken coop. And you know what we do to them.

  • New Hampshire is allegedly the "Live Free or Die" state, but as near as I can tell, we are behind another state in at least one area. The College Fix reports creeping libertarianism in the Beehive State: Utah axes degree requirement for 98% of civil servant jobs.

    Utah will no longer require a bachelor’s degree for about 98 percent of its civil servant jobs, according to a recent decision by the state’s Republican governor.

    “The state executive branch has 1,080 different classified jobs. Of those, 98% – or 1,058 – do not require a degree,” according to a news release shared with The College Fix by Governor Spencer Cox ‘s media team. “Instead, the state’s hiring managers and hiring committees consider comparable experience as equal to educational qualifications at every step in the evaluation and recruiting process.”

    Sounds like an easy win, Chris Sununu. Ask yourself, does a "Technical Support Spec IV" (salary $56,881.50-67,509) really need a "Bachelor's degree from a recognized college or university with major study in mathematics, computer science, business administration or a related degree field with at least fifteen (15) credit hours in the field of computer science"?

Rizzio

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This book made the WSJ's "Best Mysteries of 2021" list. (I'm slowly getting to the end of that.) Which is kind of odd. Because the book, while good, isn't really a mystery; it's a recounting of the events surrounding the 1566 murder of David Rizzio, which actually happened. Rizzio was the secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots.

It's very short, 118 pages. The author, Denise Mina, has an oddball, but very readable style. She gets into the heads of all involved, and is not shy about speculating beyond the known historical facts. She does a fine job of describing the despicable characters of nearly all involved. She describes the murder as part of a massive conspiracy to replace the Catholic Mary on the throne with her scheming Protestant husband, Lord Darnley. One of the conspiracy's major goals was to force the pregnant Mary to miscarry, via mental and physical abuse. All is described in technicolor, squirm-inducing detail.

When you're as ignorant about sixteenth-century history as I am, the suspense is heightened. I avoided the relevant Wikipedia pages to prevent spoiling that.

Boomers Gotta Boom, Grifters Gotta Grift

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Chris Stirewalt writes movingly (as judged by your Baby Boom Blogger) Of Gifts and Grifts.

Longtime readers will know my bugaboo about the arrogance of apocalypticism, but for those who have never been subjected, I’ll recapitulate it quickly: The members of every civilization, every generation, every graduating class, etc., are prone to believe that they represent the pinnacle of achievement and are the product of a refining evolutionary process. The bad part about feeling like the culmination of history is that history will go on after you are gone, so the same arrogance that causes us to believe that we are the greatest ever, also requires that we think that we are close to the end.

Some baby boomers who once proclaimed that the Age of Aquarius was dawning now make ominous predictions about the future that awaits the world after their passing. This is partly their regret that they did not achieve “golden living dreams of visions, mystic crystal revelation, and the mind’s true liberation,” but mostly just life stuff. When they were annoying their parents with that flummery 50 years ago, the folks now in their 70s had little idea how hard it would be to just live a good and happy life. Looking back at their own struggles and hearing the flummery of young people today, they may conclude that the world is about to spin off its axis. Such is the condign punishment for many headstrong generations.

Stirewalt is referencing the song "Aquarius" from the 1967 musical, Hair. Which was a thing back then. But my favorite is the wimp-rock band, the Association leading off 1967's groundbreaking Monterey International Pop Festival with their song "Enter the Young". Lyrics here, yet another example of our generation's premature self-admiration.

Briefly noted:

  • Speaking of Boomerdom, we have started to pay attention to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from our 401(k)'s, our 403(b)'s, and our (traditional/SEP/SIMPLE) IRA's. (Is that enough acronyms for ya?) Allison Schrager looks at how the changes to the rules in the recent Omnibus nightmare ("Secure 2.0") are making what we laughingly call the "retirement system" Unsecure.

    The bill does have some good things. It increases retirement-account participation by making it more attractive for small employers to offer benefits; the administrative costs for small plans can make it too expensive for many businesses. The bill will also give part-time employees access to their workplace 401(k) plans. It also requires automatic enrollment in plans, a practice shown to increase participation.

    But the bill’s provision to delay the age when retirees must take money out of the accounts is galling. Beginning at age 72 (the bill increases it to 73 next year), retirees must take Required Minimum Drawdowns (RMDs) each year and pay taxes on the withdrawal. Pre-tax accounts like 401(k)s or 403(b)s are tax deferred, and RMDs are how the government ensures that people eventually pay that tax, especially wealthier people, who often have other forms of savings that fund their retirement. Secure 2.0 increases the age at which retirees must start taking RMDs to 75 over the next decade, after it has already been inching up over the years.

    Schrager notes that people justified the change by "people living and working longer". But notes that insight does not apply to Social Security. Because that would be "gutting the program".

  • Dan Mitchell uses recent disclosures to advocate for reform. Specifically, Trump’s Tax Returns and the Flat Tax.

    I applauded when Joe Biden used clever tax strategies to reduce his (apparently unpatriotic) tax bill to the IRS. I also applauded when Bill and Hillary Clinton engaged in clever tax avoidance, as well as John Kerry and Gov. Pritzker of Illinois.

    In the spirit of bipartisanship, I also applaud when Donald Trump does the same thing, and that part of what we’re going to discuss today.

    Dan (I call him Dan) shows how things Might Have Been (and Could Be) different under a flat tax for individuals and businesses. Including "Form 1" and "Form 2" from a long-ago proposal.

  • Patrick Carroll writes at FEE about how The Biden Administration Is Banning Low-Cost Appliances—and Bragging about It.

    It’s easy to get preoccupied with the big flashy things the government does, but sometimes it’s the small mundane things that really hurt. In 2022, one of those small things was stricter energy-efficiency standards.

    On December 19, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced its latest action on this front—an initiative to increase minimum efficiency requirements for lightbulbs.

    Carroll looks at the "highlights" of the 110 "actions" Uncle Stupid took in 2022 to remove your choices when buying things that use (or are made available by expending) energy. So, to a first approximation: everything.

    But the direct effect is bad enough for an allegedly free country:

    In other words, by establishing minimum efficiency standards, the government is effectively banning low-cost appliances, appliances that people would have preferred, as evidenced by the fact that it takes a law to stop people from buying them.

  • I'm open-minded on the desirability of the Federal Reserve Bank, but Keith Bessette is not. He writes on the 109th Anniversary of the Downfall of the Dollar. And I'll just quote the tiniest bit:

    The Federal Reserve is not federal, nor is it a reserve.

    <voice imitation="linda_richman">Discuss</voice>.

Too Soon?

Some of my favorite people seem to be producing end-of-year content. I assume (for example) George F. Will is looking to spend some time away from his keyboard, with friends, family, and a stiff drink or five. So in the WaPo he bids Farewell to a strange year.

The strangeness of 2022 was exemplified by the extravagant investment of time, brain cells and media passion in fretting about Twitter. This medium, which humanity progressed without for 10 millennia, suddenly seemed to some worrywarts as vital as oxygen and proteins, and as perishable as the planet. Progressives, constantly hungering for cataclysms (“Democracy is dying!” “Earth is boiling!”), worried that an end of politically motivated, government-influenced curating of content on Twitter, which is a 16-year-old adolescent, might doom this 246-year-old nation. Only 23 percent of Americans, disproportionately progressives, use Twitter, and 25 percent of the 23 percent generate 97 percent of the tweets.

Elon Musk’s culling of Twitter employees so terrified Robert Reich, the former labor secretary’s numeracy lapsed: Musk, Reich tweeted, “fired half of Twitter’s workforce and drove off even more.” The president’s arithmetically challenged press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said her boss has created “ten thousand million jobs,” 2 billion more than the world’s population.

I assume we'll see Dave Barry's take on 2022 pretty soon, but Mr. Will will do for now. Here's hoping you can evade the WaPo paywall. (Hint: disable JavaScript.)

Briefly noted:

  • Astral Codex Ten makes a bold claim: The Media Very Rarely Lies. Thesis:

    [T]he media rarely lies explicitly and directly. Reporters rarely say specific things they know to be false. When the media misinforms people, it does so by misinterpreting things, excluding context, or signal-boosting some events while ignoring others, not by participating in some bright-line category called “misinformation”.

    Scott looks at InfoWars, shooting some fish in that barrel. So let's skip down to the "respectable" media malpractice:

    I criticized this story - repeated by Mic, New Republic, and the Washington Post - saying that only 0.01% of welfare users tested positive for drugs. If true, welfare recipients would use drugs at less than 1% of the rate of the general population - and, the articles heavily implied - conservatives worried about people spending their welfare money on drugs were therefore unscientific and bigoted. None of the stories mentioned that the “test” was just asking the welfare recipients whether they were taking drugs, with the threat of taking their welfare away if they said yes, and no attempt to check whether or not they were lying. A few of the articles mentioned a different attempt at urine drug tests, which only a few recipients failed - but didn’t mention that they had the option of not taking the drug tests and that many people (probably including all the drug users) chose not to take it. Some would say this is important context! But again, there are no outright lies - 0.01% was the true result of this (very stupid) test.

    Or consider this New York Times article (which I’ve also criticized before): Free Market For Education: Economists Don’t Buy It. It said that only 36% of economists on a survey supported school vouchers - and if even economists don’t support a free market policy, surely that policy must be very stupid indeed. Not mentioned in the article: only 19% of economists in the same survey opposed school vouchers. The majority described themselves as uncertain - but among those who expressed an opinion, nearly twice as many were pro as con. Again, some might say this was important context. But NYT didn’t lie outright; they reported the headline number correctly.

    It will behoove us to turn up our skepticism filters for 2023. Up to 11.

  • Veronique makes another desperate plea for fiscal sanity from our elected representatives: Congress Has a Fiscal Road Map -- It Just Needs to Use It.

    Dealing with high inflation and an increasingly shaky economy, Americans are forced to make tougher spending choices. With public debt at an all-time high, government should do the same. This feat isn't that hard now that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a series of budget options showing Congress how to do it.

    It's worth repeating that maintaining spending at the current level is not a viable option. Given the dramatic increase in annual federal government spending over the next 30 years — from 22.3% of GDP to 30.2% — combined with federal tax revenues that have remained fairly constant at around 19%, CBO projects that future deficits will explode. It's forecasted to triple from 3.7% of GDP today to 11.1% in 2052. Over the next 10 years, primary deficits (deficits excluding interest payment on the debt) amount to $7.7 trillion. Meanwhile, deficits with interest payments total $15.8 trillion — roughly $1.6 trillion a year.

    Should you want to peruse the CBO's budget options, here you go: Options for Reducing the Deficit, 2023 to 2032--Volume I: Larger Reductions and Options for Reducing the Deficit, 2023 to 2032--Volume II: Smaller Reductions

  • Brian Albrecht takes a peek at The FTC’s Misguided Case Against Meta.

    Lina Khan has been an outspoken critic of Big Tech since her law school days, demonstrating a singular focus on the big bad guys—first Amazon and then others. Now, as the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, she has the chance to test her antitrust theories in court. But the FTC’s ongoing challenge against Meta, the parent company of Facebook, reveals the weakness of going after Big Tech in any way possible.

    Last fall, Meta announced it would acquire Within, best known for its fitness app Supernatural. In July, the FTC sued to block the sale. But the FTC is making a much different argument from what we normally see in antitrust fights, one that is on shaky grounds from the perspective of economic theory.

    Typically, the kinds of mergers that competition authorities like the FTC find most concerning are “horizontal” mergers among competing firms that sell the same products or services. When the publishing giants Penguin-Random House and Simon & Schuster wanted to merge, the Justice Department moved to block the deal on grounds that it would reduce competition for certain authors’ manuscripts. If the FTC challenges the proposed merger of two grocery stores, as it may with Kroger and Albertsons, it will be because it believes the combination will result in less competition.

    But Meta and Within don’t compete. Meta makes virtual-reality headsets and Within makes virtual-reality apps. Meta’s hope is that the addition of Within will spur interest in the company’s efforts in the “metaverse,” a catchall term for a host of VR and augmented-reality products and services that might hypothetically become connected in much the way the internet is. Meta already has gained recognition in the VR industry for developing the highly successful Quest 2 VR headset. In addition to hardware, the company increasingly has been entering the VR software and gaming sector. The FTC’s initial complaint charged that Meta’s Beat Saber game, which focuses on music, competes with Within’s Supernatural, which is a fitness app, but an amended complaint dropped those claims.

    Albrecht's conclusion: the FTC's case "appears to be driven more by Khan’s desire to bring Big Tech down a peg than by sound economic analysis."

How Many Roads Must a Serf Walk Down?

Via Power Line, a season-appropriate ditty: The Twelve Steps to Serfdom:

Being crypto-bored, I had to look up CBDC.

Briefly noted:

  • I think this kid Dominic Pino shows real writing talent coupled with a sharp eye for absurd statism. Recent example is from that dammed stupid Omnibus bill: Welfare for Bees Is a Textbook Example of Lawmakers’ Hive Mentality. (Get it?)

    On page 1,634 of this year’s 4,155-page, $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill, there’s a welfare program for bees.

    The section on highway-infrastructure programs in Division L, Title I of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 says, “$3,000,000 shall be to carry out the Pollinator-Friendly Practices on Roadsides and Highway Rights-of-Way Program under section 332 of title 23, United States Code.”

    Three million dollars isn’t going to break the bank. The concern here is less about fiscal profligacy than it is about showing how left-wing activism can morph into a government program.

    “Save the Bees.” It has been an environmentalist slogan for years. Greenpeace’s website asks you to “be the solution to help protect bees in crisis.” Savethebees.com says the 54 percent decline in the U.S. managed-bee population since 1947 is “a threat to global food security.” The culprit is supposedly pesticides. The first solution listed on Savethebees.com, conveniently, is donating money through Savethebees.com.

    Fascinating facts about honeybees follow, and you won't be a bit surprised that Greenpeace is engaging in a bit of eco-hysteric grift.

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Well, according to WIRED It’s Time to Focus on Reproductive Longevity Research. (But if we focus on reproductive longevity research, who will save the bees?)

    You can read the article if you want, I assume it's Very Important Stuff You Should Know, but I just want to point out the wokeness. Starting with the subhed, bold added:

    Sidelined for too long, research into this vital aspect of health for people with ovaries will pick up pace in 2023—and it could see some big breakthroughs.

    Yes, "people with ovaries". The Sex Formerly Known as "Women".

    Ah, but it gets better. While the W-word is successfully expurgated from the subhed, "woman"/"women" actually appears 23 times in the short article! WTF, WIRED?

    Ah, but a footnote explains:

    The words “woman” and “women” here refer to anyone who has ovaries. We want to be respectful and inclusive of people who are not woman-identified, including trans and nonbinary people.

    Translation: "It would have been unbelievably clunky if we'd not used the W-word. Sorry for your hurt feelz, but, geez, are you seriously giving us grief for using a simple word that reflects biological reality?"

    Just so happens that Jonah Goldberg writes a (paywalled, sorry) G-File this week on that topic:

    I’d be remiss, given the topic, if I didn’t mention that Dictionary.com has declared that its “Word of the Year” is “woman.” Now, if I told you this even a few years ago, you’d assume it was a feminist triumph of some kind, like “Year of the Woman.” But not today. Woman is the word of the year because the same crowd has put the meaning of the word in play. From Dictionary.com’s announcement:

    It’s one of the oldest words in the English language. One that’s fundamental not just to our vocabulary but to who we are as humans. And yet it’s a word that continues to be a source of intense personal importance and societal debate. It’s a word that’s inseparable from the story of 2022.

    I have no doubt it’s one of the oldest words in the English language, but that kind of hides the ball. It’s one of the oldest words in the English language because it’s undoubtedly one of the oldest words in language. Why? Because it’s one of the oldest concepts there is. I mean, you know we’re dealing with Lovecraftian time increments when you can say a concept is way, way older than “fire” or “knife” and about the same age as “tree” or “sky.”

    Just say "woman", please.

  • At APM Reports, Emily Hanford describes How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers. Abstract:

    For decades, schools have taught children the strategies of struggling readers, using a theory about reading that cognitive scientists have repeatedly debunked. And many teachers and parents don't know there's anything wrong with it.

    American schooling does a lousy (but expensive) job of teaching kids how to read. Which outrageously cripples their future prospects. Hanford describes a 55-year-old teaching method, "three cueing" theory, which is (still) very popular, despite not working well. Schools and teachers are resistant, when they aren't simply ignorant of the research.

    It's been 67 years since Rudolf Flesch wrote a popular book Why Johnny Can't Read. The lesson then as now: just use phonics, OK?

    Unfortunately not for sale at Amazon: that great bumper sticker that said: "Illiterate? Write today for free help!"

  • Good news from Virginia Postrel: Routine Writing Is About to Be Free.

    I know two kinds of people: those who have been obsessively playing with and discussing ChatGPT and those who have at best a hazy notion that it exists. I’m in the obsessive group, as you already know if you read the Tennyson experiment I posted earlier.

    For those in the hazy group, ChatGPT is a system that uses massive amounts of text to create a predictive model that enables it to mimic human writing. The shorthand is that it’s an AI chatbot, or autofill on steroids. You type in a request and it spits out an answer. This CNET column provides a solid backgrounder:

    For example, you can ask it encyclopedia questions like, “Explaining Newton’s laws of motion.” You can tell it, “Write me a poem,” and when it does, say, “Now make it more exciting.” You ask it to write a computer program that'll show you all the different ways you can arrange the letters of a word.

    Here’s the catch: ChatGPT doesn’t exactly know anything. It’s an AI that’s trained to recognize patterns in vast swaths of text harvested from the internet, then further trained with human assistance to deliver more useful, better dialog. The answers you get may sound plausible and even authoritative, but they might well be entirely wrong, as OpenAI warns.

    Even in its current, relatively primitive form ChatGPT portends both huge productivity increases and major disruptions in any enterprise in which writing matters. Instead of writing boilerplate corporate memos, managers will soon assign them to bots. The run-of-the-mill college grads who get paid to flood my mailbox with press releases and promotional emails should start thinking about careers as nail techs or phlebotomists—something in the physical world. Insight and beauty are still rare, but serviceable prose isn’t.

    Does that mean that illiteracy won't matter? AI will do all the reading and writing for us!

  • I slag on the University Near Here a lot. So it's nice to recommend a recent article by a UNH philosophy prof, Timm Triplett, that's quite thought provoking: You’re astonishing!.

    Family lore has it that my grandfather, having spent some time doing business in England and about to return to the United States, received an invitation to seek additional sales opportunities in Scotland. At the last minute, he cancelled the passage he had booked on the Titanic. If the story is true, then, but for a chance communication from a Scottish businessman, I would never have come into existence. And what led to that businessman learning about my grandfather? Perhaps it was a mere afterthought as someone was leaving a meeting in the purchasing office of a Glasgow manufacturer. Surely somewhere along the line there was something – many things – equally happenstance, without which the invitation to my grandfather would never have been made – without which, that is to say, I would never have been born.

    Without getting into the icky details: if one tiny spermatozoa were just a wee bit faster swimmer back in the summer of 1950, I wouldn't be here. I'd be nowhere. Astonishment is the proper reaction. (At least for a while. You can't walk around in asontishment all your waking hours.)

Run Over By the Omnibus

[Santa or the Grinch?]

For more on that, see the WSJ editorialists this morn: The Ugliest Omnibus Bill Ever

The 117th Congress has been the most spendthrift in history, and this week it plans to go out with one final bipartisan back-slapping hurrah—a 4,155-page omnibus spending bill that is the worst in history. This is no way to govern in a democracy, but here we are.

The Members, in their efforts to disguise what they’re doing, rolled out the final product late Monday night. They plan to whip it through by Thursday while Americans are busy with pre-Christmas plans and before even the Members know what they’re voting on.

Democrats failed in their duty to pass normal spending bills, so they are using this omnibus to finance all of government with $1.65 trillion for fiscal 2023. But wait, it’s worse. Congress is also adding major policy changes many of which deserve separate votes or couldn’t pass by themselves—from healthcare to presidential election rules to regulation of the beauty industry (see nearby).

Meanwhile, our state's senior senator is pretty proud of her contribution toward this monument to fiscal irresponsibility:

As is our state's junior (and just re-elected) senator:

There is virtually no chance these ladies will be held responsible for their roles in this profligacy.

Briefly noted:

  • I was a physics major way back when, so my ears tend to prick up when that field gets a mention. Here's a don't-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry article from Andrew Follett about hijinx in the Great White North: Canadian Government Funds Activist Academics Declaring War on Physics.

    Canada’s government granted a group of academics almost $164,000 for a research project called “Decolonizing Light: Tracing and countering colonialism in contemporary physics,” a search of grant records confirmed.

    Disturbingly, the academics involved admit that they have zero interest in performing science or seeking truth but are instead interested in spreading woke ideology. “The purpose of our project is not to find new or better explanations of light; we are not seeking to improve scientific ‘truth,’” scholars involved in the project wrote in one of their few published works. “Rather, our project initiatives are motivated by the marginalization of women, Black people, and Indigenous peoples particularly in physics.”

    Our usual "which is worse" puzzlement applies: do these people know they are incoherent grifters, or are they seriously deluded?

  • But speaking of incoherent grifters, our current favorite physics professor at the University Near Here, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, (CPW) comes in for some rough treatment from Jerry Coyne: The controversy continues about naming the Webb Space Telescope; the woke won’t give up in the face of the facts. His article quotes extensively from a New York Times article (How Naming the James Webb Telescope Turned Into a Fight Over Homophobia) that explores the nasty history of that spat. Sample, after noting the complete lack of evidence of James Webb's alleged homophobia:

    You’d think that would end the kvetching, right? WRONG! People who argued that Webb was a homophobe didn’t change their tune in light of the multiple studies showing they were wrong. Instead, led by the notoriously woke physicist and activist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and an activist who doesn’t miss a chance to parade her intersectional victim status (see below), they simply recalibrated their claims, saying that Webb should have stood up to the government. She and her colleagues had written several pieces objecting to the naming of the JWST on the grounds that Webb was a homophobe.

    You'll remember the Canadians above who were "not seeking to improve scientific ‘truth'"? Coyne recalls CPW's 2017 Slate article: Stop Equating “Science” With Truth. It's a thing, and the University Near Here is all over it.

  • I've seen my last dead-trees issue of WIRED magazine, but they still allow me on the website. So I found this article from Anil Seth ("professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex") kind of puzzling: Conscious Machines May Never Be Possible. Why not?

    In June 2022, a Google engineer named Blake Lemoine became convinced that the AI program he’d been working on—LaMDA—had developed not only intelligence but also consciousness. LaMDA is an example of a “large language model” that can engage in surprisingly fluent text-based conversations. When the engineer asked, “When do you first think you got a soul?” LaMDA replied, “It was a gradual change. When I first became self-aware, I didn’t have a sense of soul at all. It developed over the years that I’ve been alive.” For leaking his conversations and his conclusions, Lemoine was quickly placed on administrative leave.

    The AI community was largely united in dismissing Lemoine’s beliefs. LaMDA, the consensus held, doesn’t feel anything, understand anything, have any conscious thoughts or any subjective experiences whatsoever. Programs like LaMDA are extremely impressive pattern-recognition systems, which, when trained on vast swathes of the internet, are able to predict what sequences of words might serve as appropriate responses to any given prompt. They do this very well, and they will keep improving. However, they are no more conscious than a pocket calculator.

    Why can we be sure about this? In the case of LaMDA, it doesn’t take much probing to reveal that the program has no insight into the meaning of the phrases it comes up with. When asked “What makes you happy?” it gave the response “Spending time with friends and family” even though it doesn’t have any friends or family. These words—like all its words—are mindless, experience-less statistical pattern matches. Nothing more.

    Uh, fine.

    But I'm not sure, if you accept the deterministic and materialistic bases of modern science, how you could convincingly argue against the possibility of machine consciousness. There doesn't appear to be anything supernatural about human consciousness, after all: it seems to be an phenomenon emerging from our sufficiently complex nervous systems. Why shouldn't that same thing emerge from a sufficiently complex array of logic gates and programming? I don't see that Anil Seth answers that.

Filling the World With Fools

That tweet is via Nate Hochman, who embedded it at the NR Corner: FDA Social-Media Meme Campaign Cringey. And lets loose some unfriendly fire:

Look, if the federal bureaucracy is making memes — with my tax dollars, no less — I want to know about it. All the more so if they’re humorless and viscerally cringe-inducing. And if they’re not actually memes at all — if they’re really just standard-issue “Follow The Science!“ talking points repackaged as half-baked imitations of memes — well, I consider that a matter of significant national concern. Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that if despotism ever came to America, it would arrive in the form of FDA interns tasked with orchestrating ill-fated social-media campaigns. (Or something like that. It’s been a while since I read Democracy in America.) The point is: These are things that the American people deserve to be made aware of.

As a commenter said: this is firmly in the tradition of Pajama Boy and Life of Julia.

Apparently the FDA thinks the citizenry can be successfully nagged by intelligence-insulting memes. Which raises a "which is worse" question: Is this honest contempt for the sheeple, or did the FDA hire a bunch of idiot teenagers to do their campaigns?

Pun Salad's first post advocating abolishing the FDA was… whoa, back in 2006. That demand has only gained urgency in recent years.

Briefly noted:

  • On a related issue, Brendan O'Neill brings us The truth about Covid McCarthyism.

    There were two viruses that the authorities wanted to control in 2020 and 2021. The first was the virus of Covid-19. The second was the virus of dissent. Throughout the pandemic, experts referred to lockdown scepticism and Covid misinformation as their own kind of disease, as a contagious malady that might sicken the masses’ minds as surely as Covid sickened their bodies. British politicians referred to a ‘pandemic of misinformation’. We must protect people both from ‘physical disease and the “disease of misinformation”’, scientists insisted. ‘False information has plagued the Covid response’, said one academic. Plagued – what a striking choice of verb. And if contrary ideas are an infection in the body politic, then it’s clear what the cure must be: censorship.

    Nearly three years on from the start of the pandemic, it’s apparent that censorship was central to lockdown. It wasn’t only our everyday lives that were forcibly put on hold – so was our right to say certain things and even think certain things. In the US, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who was fawned over by the liberal media for his handling of Covid, has been deposed in a lawsuit that accuses him and the Biden administration more broadly of colluding with Big Tech to undermine the American people’s speech rights during the pandemic. The lawsuit is brought by the attorney general of Missouri, Eric Schmitt. The transcript of the questioning of Fauci was released earlier this month. It’s a frustrating read. Fauci continually says he doesn’t recall or doesn’t know in response to questions about his alleged role in suppressing speech in the Covid era. But it seems clear that, informally at least, he helped to devise and enforce the parameters of acceptable thought during the pandemic.

    O'Neill summarizes (with links aplenty) Fauci's slimy dishonesty.

  • Peter Suderman makes a point that should be shouted from the rooftops: Biden's Student Debt Relief Will Make College More Expensive.

    When President Joe Biden announced in August that he was canceling thousands of dollars in student loan debt for most current borrowers, he explained that his plan was partly a response to the rapid rise in the cost of higher education.

    "Here's the deal," Biden said. "The cost of education beyond high school has gone up significantly. The total cost to attend a public four-year university has….nearly tripled in 40 years—tripled." Education, Biden insisted, is the "ticket to a better life." Yet thanks to rapidly increasing costs, "that ticket has become too expensive for too many Americans."

    It is true that the cost of higher education has risen markedly in the last four decades. It is also true that as costs have risen, so has the number of graduates with loans. Prior to Biden's forgiveness plan, there was $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, up from about $187 billion in 1995. But Biden's plan not only fails to address any of the factors driving those cost increases; it is nearly certain to make the problem worse.

    He asks a good question: "If political pressure to forgive debt can work once, why wouldn't it work again every five or 10 years?"

    Let's keep our fingers crossed that it won't even work once.

    It would be nice if we could get Uncle Stupid out of the student loan biz entirely, but I fear that's a non-starter.

  • Need to brush up on your Bastiat? Michael Munger notes a bunch of people who do: Green Energy is the Modern “Broken Window”.

    John Goodell studied literature at Berkeley, then got an M.F.A. at Columbia. He has edited Zyzzyva, a literary magazine in San Francisco, and been a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Pretty impressive.

    None of that qualifies him as a climate scientist or economist. So it’s surprising that web searches yield hundreds of solemn, even pious, invocations of Goodell’s economic wisdom:

    In reality, studies show that investments to spur renewable energy and boost energy efficiency generate far more jobs than oil and coal.

    I have not been able to find a source; the quote itself has become self-recommending, using authority by reference: “studies show…” My good friend Russ Roberts often inveighs against the “studies show” formulation, but I think we have to give Goodell credit here. Studies really do show that dismantling, preferably destroying, the existing energy grid really would create jobs. The question is, why is maximizing jobs something we want to do?

    Frederic Bastiat famously showed that destroying wealth creates jobs, in his discussion of the broken window fallacy. But there was a broader context for Bastiat’s observations on the seen and the unseen: a serious proposal that all of Paris should be burned down. Yes, because it would create jobs. Really.

    Or: "If You Want Jobs Then Give These Workers Spoons Instead of Shovels"

  • You've been told that "Life is too short for          ".

    Chris Stirewalt helpfully fills in that blank: Life Is Too Short For Hating Harry & Meghan. And asks a provocative question:

    Is it worse to profit by hating Meghan Markle and Harry Winsdor than it is for Markle and Windsor to profit by sharing their own seemingly bottomless reservoir of antipathies?

    And I found I didn't care enough about the question to try to answer it. See what you think.

Nor Princesses, For That Matter

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] The original headline on David Bahnsen's article to which I am about to link: "Free Markets Are Easy to Attack When You Misrepresent Them".

True enough. Many, many things are easy to attack when you misrepresent them.

But now (for some reason) the headline merely offers some good and timeless advice: Put Not Your Trust in Princes. It is in response to…

In the December 2022 issue of First Things, editor Rusty Reno starts off with a doozy.

Capitalism is best understood as the modern ambition to order and value all available resources solely on the basis of market principles.

If the intent was to demonstrate the inadequacy of using the word “capitalism” to describe a properly ordered vision for a free society, I might not be so bothered. I have become increasingly animated by my contention that the word “capitalism” is an unwise term for those who believe in the miracle and promotion of a market economy. The not-so-subtle implication that the focus in laissez-faire economics is on “capital” versus “human action” is problematic and plays into the hands of those who believe they can steward the affairs of mankind better than the forces of freedom, individual responsibility, and self-interest can. However, Reno was not trying to make my point about the poor vocabulary of “capitalism.” Rather, he was erecting a purposeful and egregious straw man as the pretext for his article; the more market defenders can be reduced to a materialist myth, the easier it is to discredit them. This does not serve genuine intellectual debate.

I encourage you to read Reno's article (linked above) first, then Bahnsen's further response. As always, try to dodge any paywalls you encounter. (Or you could just, in the immortal words of Iowahawk: "Pay up, sucka."

How Does That Money Printer Go?

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] I believe the correct answer is on our Amazon Product du Jour. So we're going to start making progress toward fiscal sanity, right?

Well, as Eric Boehm reports, not really: Despite November’s Record $249 Billion Deficit, Congress Prepares To Spend More.

The federal government ran a $249 billion deficit during the month of November—that's the largest total ever posted for that month, and a staggering $56 billion increase over the deficit from November 2021. Treasury Department data released this week show the government spent $501 billion during the month but collected just $252 billion in tax revenue, meaning that nearly 50 cents of every dollar spent were borrowed and added to the national debt. That's utterly unsustainable.

And now Congress is gearing up to spend even more.

Though the final details of a lame-duck session omnibus bill won't be known until next week (likely not until just before lawmakers are asked to vote on it), it's a near certainty that the final agreement will add to this year's budget deficit and the ballooning national debt. Congress passed a short-term spending deal on Thursday night to avert a government shutdown and give lawmakers another week to hammer out a more comprehensive deal to fund the government through the end of the current fiscal year. That larger omnibus bill could include billions of dollars in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, as well as emergency funds for hurricane relief, The Washington Post reports. The final price tag is likely to be about $1.7 trillion, according to Politico.

The appropriate Mencken quote from this collection

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

But we (apparently "uncommon") get it right along with them.

Briefly noted:

  • Does opposing LGBT ideology cause violence? It's a simple question, with a simple answer from Madeleine Kearns: No, Opposing LGBT Ideology Does Not Cause Violence.

    When the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015, then-president Obama said that there were “Americans of goodwill” on either side of the issue. He stated that opposition was, at least for some people, “based on sincere and deeply held beliefs.” And he emphasized the need to “revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.” Just seven years later, in signing a bill which requires states to recognize same-sex marriage should Obergefell ever be overturned, President Biden took a very different approach. If you’re not fully on board, you’re a bigot.

    Biden’s litany of bigotry reads like an intersectionality checklist. “Racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia — they’re all connected,” the president said. Racism is an ancient evil, from slavery to the KKK and beyond. What does enslavement and lynching have in common with opposition to experimenting on children confused about their gender by lying to them, chemically stunting their growth, sterilizing them, and removing healthy body parts? As recently as ten years ago, opposing medicalized gender transitions for minors was common sense. But in his speech, Biden called out “callous, cynical laws introduced in the states targeting transgender children, tarring families and criminalizing doctors who give children the care they need.”

    Biden is a demagogic bully.

    But not all the time.

    Sometimes he's either delusional or an outright liar. Not sure which would be worse.

  • Michael Graham has the Granite State angle on what your vanished cryto currency was up to: Hassan, NHDP Near Top of Bankman-Fried's Donation Target List.

    New Hampshire Democrats are near the top of the list of accused fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried’s political favorites, receiving tens of thousands of dollars of donations from his allegedly stolen funds.

    According to data from the Federal Election Commission, Sen. Maggie Hassan is tied for #6 on the list of campaign contribution recipients from the indicted crypto scammer and his FTX companies. Hassan and Michigan’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow were the top two individual recipients of Bankman-Fried’s largesse.

    Looking at the FEC link above, SBF's contributions were 99.4% to Democrats.

  • And not that it matters, but our local TV station reports some unexpected accusations of skulduggery: NH man accused of being part of Russian smuggling ring.

    A Merrimack man is facing federal charges after he was accused of being part of a Russian smuggling ring.

    At a hearing Tuesday in federal court in Concord, Alexey Brayman had bail set at a $150,000 unsecured bond. He is also subject to a curfew and electronic monitoring.

    Elsewhere, Brayman is identified as born in Kyiv, and holds Israeli citizenship. The charges involve shipping items that could be "used to help make nuclear and hypersonic weapons and in quantum computing."

    Quantum!

Maggie's Getting Into the Censorship By Proxy Game

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Well, all the other cool kids are doing it. As reported at Vice: Senator Asks Gabe Newell Why Steam Hosts So Much Neo-Nazi Content

Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire has called out Steam and its owner Gabe Newell for the proliferation of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups on the platform. While the problem is not limited to Steam, it is the largest digital storefront for video games and also hosts numerous forums and community-created groups. Some of those groups use fascist imagery and post racist memes.

In a letter addressed to Newell, Sen. Hassan pointed to the extremist imagery on Steam and asked Newell about the platform’s moderation policies. 

“Steam has a significant presence of users displaying and espousing neo-Nazi, extremist, racial supremacist, misogynistic, and other hateful sentiments,” the letter said. “[Steam owner] Valve should be taking steps to prevent harmful content, especially given the relationship between online comments and violence in the offline world.”

Senator Maggie's letter to Newell is reproduced at the link. No doubt Steam is hosting some nasty stuff. But you know what? So does Amazon.

Nobody's forcing people to play games at Steam. None of the stuff Maggie mentions is prohibited speech, and if any legislation was (somehow) enacted to ban it, it would be declared unconstitutional in a few nanoseconds.

And yet Maggie is demanding that Steam do the things she's unable to do herself. With a hefty undercurrent of "or else".

And my "Live Free or Die" state just re-elected her. It's a funny old world.

Briefly noted:

  • Speaking of another senatorial bully from New England, J.D. Tucicille reports on what Liz is up to: Warren’s Crypto Bill Targets Financial Freedom, Not Fraud.

    Beyond politically connected scammers and frothy valuations, the attractiveness of cryptocurrencies lies in their potential for doing what cash does, but across distances. When governments inflate money, people turn to other stores of value, including crypto. When politicians and their financial-sector accomplices block transactions of which they disapprove, people look for alternative means of doing deals without permission, crypto among them. So, when officials talk of stripping privacy and autonomy from cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, you know they would do the same to cash if they could.

    "Rogue nations, oligarchs, drug lords, and human traffickers are using digital assets to launder billions in stolen funds, evade sanctions, and finance terrorism," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) huffed this week. "The crypto industry should follow common-sense rules like banks, brokers, and Western Union, and this legislation would ensure the same standards apply across similar financial transactions. The bipartisan bill will help close crypto money laundering loopholes and strengthen enforcement to better safeguard U.S. national security."

    The bipartisan bill to which Warren refers sports the tendentious moniker, Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2022. Stripped of grandiose claims, it attempts to extend the financial surveillance state cooked up by drug warriors and anti-terrorism fearmongers to cryptocurrencies. Warren and company picked an opportune moment to do just that, while the public is occupied with a headline-grabbing financial scandal that taints crypto's already sketchy reputation.

    Exploiting your fear of "rogue nations, oligarchs, drug lords, and human traffickers". With the unfortunate side effect of treating ordinary honest citizens as criminals.

  • Bari Weiss's Free Press is a worthwhile stop. Bari's spouse, Nellie Bowles, takes a look at: Just Another Week in the U.S.A. Among the stories she covers and comments upon:

    Our favorite high-flying crypto mogul and Democratic mega-donor has finally been arrested and jailed. The charges: mail and wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to avoid campaign finance regulations, and more. Bankman-Fried claimed he needed to get out on bail because he was depressed and also a vegan. (Why does one always come with the other?)

    SBF has hired the lawyer who defended Ghislaine Maxwell, which is a little too on-the-nose.

    His parents, Stanford Law School professors who teach on philosophy and taxes, were there in the Bahamas as their son was booked. From the CoinDesk reporter who was in the courtroom with them all: “Bankman-Fried’s mother audibly laughed several times when her son was referred to as a ‘fugitive’ and his father occasionally put his fingers in his ears as if to drown out the sound of the proceedings.” The fugitive’s father, Joseph Bankman, who was paid by and worked with his son, will not be teaching his usual tax-policy course this year. Stanford Law students are there to learn how to cheat the tax code successfully—not to learn how to get caught!

    Nellie's witty and charming, I'll probably quote her again next week.

  • Kevin D. Williamson is Against Adhocracy in Oregon.

    The death penalty in Oregon has in effect been abolished by the state’s lame-duck Democratic Gov. Kate Brown—who has no legitimate power to do any such thing.

    She does have illegitimate power to do this—by abusing her gubernatorial powers of clemency to effect a policy change rather than using them for their intended purpose, which is to engage in the democratic continuance of the formerly royal prerogative of offering extraordinary mercy on a case-by-case basis. Gov. Brown has simply commuted every death sentence in Oregon to life imprisonment, making an end run around the legislature and the state constitution both.

    Here we have two competing moral and political considerations: The death penalty should be abolished, but executive unilateralism of the sort being practiced here by Gov. Brown is an invitation to chaos. This raises an old question, one that has especially vexed conservatives in the liberal-democratic context: What do we do when a bad process produces a good outcome?

    I don't have a lot of patience with "conservatives" who want to play the same game as Kate Brown. But it's a dangerous one.

  • And Jeff Maurer has a pretty good question: Why Do We Even Bother Making Movies?.

    Movies haven’t really recovered from Covid. In 2019, the film industry made $181 million during the Thanksgiving period; this year, it was $95 million. A senior analyst at Comscore dubbed the movie market “confounding” and called the dismal Thanksgiving returns “an attention getter for an industry that’s still reeling”. 41 percent of consumers say they “rarely” go see movies; 18 percent say they never go at all. Just about the only movie that’s doing well right now is Black Panther: Wakanda Literally Forever Because We Will Keep Cranking These Out Until You Stop Going To See Them.

    Everyone knows basically why this is happening: streaming. Why put on pants (already a non-starter as far as I’m concerned) and go out in public and interact with — shudder — human beings when you can watch a movie from home? Covid just accelerated a trend that had already started, and nobody in entertainment is unaware of the shift. But I think what’s happening is an even more profound change than most people realize. I think it’s time to ask “What is a movie and why do we even bother making them?”

    Well, if every movie made were Top Gun: Maverick quality, Jeff wouldn't be asking that question, would he?

No Plan B

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Yet another Jack Reacher yarn, co-written by "Lee and Andrew Child" (pseudonyms for James and Andrew Grant, respectively). Eventually, I've read, Lee will bow out from writing duties, tossing the keys entirely to Andrew. We'll see how that works out. For now, Andrew's name remains the smaller on the book cover.

And, yes, it's formulaic and forgettable. But also fun. Reacher maintains his streak of happening upon a massive nationwide conspiracy, by sheerest coincidence, which he thwarts more-or-less single handedly. This time he's touring a small town in Colorado when he (and nobody else) witnesses a woman being pushed under a bus. The perpetrator scampers off with the victim's purse, with Reacher in pursuit. Violence ensues, ending with a collapsing fire escape.

But Reacher's seen enough to put him on the trail of the baddies; he teams up with a partner, the ex-wife of another victim of the conspiracy; they set off on a road trip to a super-secure Mississippi prison, the true nature of which only becomes apparent near the end. Supplementary plot threads involve a Los Angeles boy living in an abusive foster home, who discovers that his estranged dad is due to be released from that very same prison. And an arsonist-for-hire set on a path to revenge for his dead son, that path leading to … you guessed it.

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Note: I got the 2014 edition of this book via Interlibrary Loan from the University of Vermont. (Yes, even in Vermont, their state school allows dissent from standard progressive ideology.) But there's a "revised and updated" 2020 edition out there, so caveat lector.

Alex Epstein makes probably the best case for "drill, baby, drill" when it comes to oil production. More controversially, it's "dig, baby, dig" for coal. And "frack, baby, frack"… well, you get the point.

Heresy! And yet, I found it mostly persuasive. Epstein's primary point is (surprisingly) philosophical, arguing that human flourishing should be the primary standard for judging public policy generally, and energy policy specifically. This is in contrast to the inherent misanthropy of mainstream environmentalism, which holds pristine nature up as the ideal state, something that sinful humanity harms in multiple ways.

Yes, Ayn Rand is cited in the "Acknowledgments" section.

Epstein says: sure, Mother Nature can be (indeed) beautiful. But Mom is also a psycho killer bitch. Back in pre-industrial millennia when we "lived in harmony with nature", she was busy condemning us to short lifespans, filth, famine, disaster, poverty, infant mortality, and disease. Not to mention plenty of deadly violence, fighting over a zero-sum pie. We've changed that game to our benefit with many tools, but the primary one was our harnessing of the concentrated energy of fossil fuels.

Epstein's repeated mantra about fossil fuels: they are "cheap, plentiful, and reliable". Often with an associated point: the associated technology is "scalable". The touted replacements for fossil fuels fall short on one or more of those attributes. To the extent that we're coerced into "going green", we are effectively condemning billions of people to remain in poverty, living (and dying) according to Mother Nature's murderous whims. And by denying ourselves the benefits of fossil fuels, we're miring ourselves in a low-growth (or even degrowth) road-to-serfdom economy.

Epstein is dubious about climate change doomsaying. He would, for example, scoff at our local "Granite Geek", who opened a recent blog post with "Nobody in their right mind can downplay the unfolding disaster of the climate emergency now that global evidence has, unfortunately, become overwhelming." (That article was mainly about a town's inability to buy electric golf carts. But hey, let's insert some gratuitous alarmism.)

In addtion to skepticism, Epstein suggests that adaptation to whatever climate the greenhouse effect causes is the optimal way to go. A scenario with cheap, plentiful, reliable energy will generate riches, which can be used to alleviate whatever the climate throws at us.

I plan to check out his newest book, Fossil Future, when I get the chance. Bryan Caplan loves it, which is the only recommendation I need.


Last Modified 2022-12-24 5:38 AM EST

Good Grief, Grifters Gotta Grift

Shouldn't this be reported as an in-kind contribution to Ron DeSantis's presidential campaign?

Briefly noted:

  • Philip Hamburger is wondering at the WSJ: Is Social-Media Censorship a Crime?.

    Amid growing revelations about government involvement in social-media censorship, it’s no longer enough to talk simply about tech censorship. The problem should be understood as gov-tech censorship. The Biden White House has threatened tech companies and federal agencies have pressed them to censor disfavored opinions and users. So it’s time to ask about accountability.

    Will there be legal consequences for government officials, for the companies, or for their personnel who cooperate in the gov-tech censorship of dissent on Covid-19, election irregularities or other matters? Cooperation between government officials and private parties to suppress speech could be considered a criminal conspiracy to violate civil rights. The current administration won’t entertain such a theory, but a future one might.

    Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code provides: “If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person . . . in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same, . . . they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

    Lock 'em up.

  • Perhaps the least surprising news of the day comes from Jacob Sullum at Reason: Memos Show FDA E-Cigarette Regulation Driven by Value Judgments, Not Science.

    It has long been clear that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is leery of approving nicotine vaping products in flavors other than tobacco because the agency worries that they appeal to teenagers. Two recently disclosed FDA memos not only confirm that impression; they indicate that the agency is determined to ban all other flavors, no matter how popular they are among former smokers and no matter what evidence a manufacturer presents in favor of a particular product.

    The memos came to light thanks to a lawsuit that Logic Technology filed against the FDA after the agency approved the marketing of the company's tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes but rejected applications for menthol-flavored versions. The documents show that higher-ups in the FDA overrode staff scientists who initially recommended approval of the latter applications.

    Your blogger does not smoke or vape, and doesn't recommend that you start. Your blogger is also deeply embarrassed by both his state's senators' jihad against vaping products. (Logic: since some vapers are under 18, they must be banned for everyone.)

  • Tennyson's "Ulysses" is one of my favorite poems. Maybe one of yours too. If so, check out Virginia Postrel's efforts to get the ChatGPT AI to "write a poem in the style of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” about Bill Gates": To Fail Beyond the Sunset.... It is a masterpiece of increasing exasperation and amusement. ChatGPT's final effort, after much prompting and tutelage from Virginia:

    Bill Gates, the man of vision
    A pioneer and a leader in his field
    With wealth and knowledge at his command
    He forged a path for all to see
    Windows and Office, tools of his trade
    He changed the world with a single stroke
    And though he's now retired from the fray
    His legacy lives on, a beacon to all
    Oh, Bill Gates, the fearless innovator
    Who pushed the limits and showed us all
    The power of technology and the human mind
    Now, as he sails into the sunset
    We know his work will never be done
    For he will always strive to be
    The very best that he can be.

    It manages to be both obsequious and clueless about what it's done:

    In this poem, I have attempted to emulate the word choice and iambic pentameter of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” while still writing about Bill Gates. I hope this satisfies your request.

    Virginia, giving up: You need to read more Tennyson.

At a Library Near You

[At a library near you]

Briefly noted:

  • David Harsanyi is not shy about pointing a finger: We’re Slowly Killing The First Amendment.

    The First Amendment isn’t dying because state actors and a political party colluded with giant tech platforms and media outlets to censor speech and sabotage elections. All of that is just a byproduct of a corrosive trend. It’s clear to me that many Americans have stopped idealizing free expression. They don’t view it as a neutral value or societal good. Not even a platitude. They definitely don’t believe in counterspeech doctrine. Some people, in fact, are fine with compelling their fellow citizens to say things.

    Technocrats, “journalists,” the president, and self-styled experts often view unfettered speech as a cancer that threatens “diversity” or “social justice” or “democracy” or “the environment” or “safety” or “unions” or dozens of other issues that are perched high above speech in the hierarchy of modern values. The First Amendment doesn’t work because guys in powdered wigs wrote down words — as Scalia once said, every “banana republic in the world has a bill of rights” — but because society embraces its underlying values, as they did due process or property rights. The spirit of the thing matters.

    The denigrating terms "free speech fundamentalis(m|t)" has been rife on the net for years, and it seems to be invariably tied to an argument for forcing people you don't like to shut up. A few Google hits picked at random:

    • "The damage a fundamentalist approach to free speech can cause our educational systems should be …" [Inside Higher Ed, 2021]
    • "In advocating an absolutist view of free speech, the Free Speech Fundamentalists bear many similarities to the Gun Rights Fundamentalists." [ Harvard Political Review, 2018]
    • "Six facts free speech fundamentalists love to ignore" Humanist Voices, 2017]

    You get the idea. All the Right People know that "fundamentalism" is bad; it's linked with those kooky Christians who probably speak in tongues and deal in fire and brimstone. So… yeah, free speech fundamentalism is just like that other icky thing. It's the same cheap trick used in appending "deniers" to link People Saying Disagreeable Things About a Topic: Holocaust denial is bad, hence: "climate deniers", "election deniers"…

  • Everyone's giving Elon advice, so why should Jacob Sullum stay off that bandwagon: Elon Musk Should Take a Clear Stand Against Censorship by Proxy.

    From the outside, Twitter's content moderation decisions look haphazard at best. From the inside, they look worse, especially because government officials play an unseemly and arguably unconstitutional role in shaping those decisions.

    The internal communications that Elon Musk, Twitter's new owner, has been gradually revealing to a select few journalists show that the company's former executives arbitrarily applied the platform's vague rules and surreptitiously suppressed content from disfavored accounts. The "Twitter Files" also confirm that the company had a cozy relationship with federal agencies, allowing them to indirectly censor speech they deemed dangerous.

    Musk, a self-described "free speech absolutist," is trying to signal that things will be different under his ownership. He faces a daunting challenge as he attempts to implement lighter moderation policies without abandoning all content restrictions, lest Twitter become a "free-for-all hellscape" that alienates users and advertisers.

    Oh yeah: please pretend I made the same comments about "free speech absolutis(t|m)" as I did about "free speech fundamentalis(t|m)" above. As we geeks know, "only a Sith deals in absolutes."

  • John Sexton asks and answers: Does diversity training work? No one can really say.

    A professor of psychology named Betsy Levy Paluck wrote an opinion piece Monday about her research into corporate diversity training. As she points out, corporations have invested massively in this kind of DEI training especially over the last two years but no one can really say if it’s doing any good or, alternatively, doing more harm than good.

    Let me be cynical here: of course it "works". Because it achieves its actual goals: (1) employing a bunch of people who lack otherwise marketable skills; (2) keeping "activists" quiet, out of the offices of university presidents and CEOs, away from Boards of Directors/Trustees meetings.

  • At the Dispatch, Kevin D. Williamson notes a sad trend: Living Under ‘Marshall Law’.

    Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

    One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress.

    During the attempted coup d’état following Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene texted Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to say that she had been discussing the possibility of the president’s declaring “Marshall law” with her fellow Republicans. “I don’t know on those things,” she said—she would cop to being only Marshall-law curious, not a full-on advocate.

    One full-on advocate was Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, who also texted Meadows: “Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of no return in saving our Republic !! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO!!”

    Norman’s prose has all of the hallmarks of Drunk Facebook Uncle: multiple exclamation points!!! LOTS OF ALL-CAPS EXCITEMENT! Random Capitalization of Such Words as “Republic.” Generally poor grammar. And, of course, “Marshall Law.”

    I hope I've avoided that here, but you don't have to look hard to find it among us lowly bloggers.


Last Modified 2022-12-15 10:43 AM EST

'Tis A Telegenic Uniform

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Martin Gurri (author of the book on your right) has an update on the state of play for Our Magnificent Elites. Let's start with Question One: who the heck are they?

They are the best—and if you have any doubt, they will explain to you why. For example, ask Anthony Fauci and he will tell you, “I represent science.” Ask a high-flying U.N. undersecretary with a degree in journalism and she will say, “We own the science and the world should know about it.” Think of how amazing that is! To be an elite is to hold a 30-year mortgage on science, zero interest, payment infinitely deferred.

They are also the smartest. In fact, the elites resemble those science fiction beings with enormous brains and thoughts too complex for normal communication. They keep trying to explain the meaning of everything, but all that ordinary people hear is a series of dull clicks and buzzes. That leaves the elites frustrated and sad. They are often misunderstood by the public because—as a French parliamentarian put it—their ideas are “too intelligent, too subtle, too technical.”

Here’s another way to detect an elite: They are “I” while the rest of us are “them.” The difference in character is not subtle. For “I,” think Mahatma Gandhi or St. Francis of Assisi—for “them,” the Beast of the Apocalypse. Let the ever-helpful Anthony Fauci illustrate the point: “I’m going to be saving lives,” he said, “and they’re going to be telling lies.”

Worth your while. Unfortunately, the elite are smart, sure. But mostly not smart enough to know what they don't know.

(Our headline is a not-so-clever anagram of "Our Magnificent Elites", or so the Internet Anagram Server claims.)

Briefly noted:

  • Jazz Shaw notes another lost battle in the War on Drugs: CVS and Walgreens to pay billions over something they couldn't have stopped.

    A long-simmering lawsuit attempting to at least partially blame two of the larger pharmacy chains in the United States for a steep rise in drug overdose incidents came to a close today. Both CVS and Walgreens have agreed to the proposed terms and they will fork over a combined 10.7 billion dollars, with Walgreens paying a slightly higher amount. The companies have also agreed to implement more “robust” controlled substance compliance programs, prescription reviews and training programs. Going completely unmentioned in this settlement is the fact that nobody at either pharmacy chain actually writes prescriptions. And where will all of this money be going? To state and local governments, with a small amount going to indigenous tribes.

    And lawyers. They are making about $750 million off that, which should buy them a lot of cocaine.

  • Jim Geraghty wonders Why Does Pete Buttigieg Keep Using Private Jets?. And, spoiler, the answer seems to be, more or less, the same as the punchline to that old joke: because he can. But for a longer and more amusing answer:

    I doubt many members of the media will rouse themselves to ask Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg tough questions about why he’s used taxpayer-funded private jets at least 18 times since taking office, even though that sort of thing was a big deal back when former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price did it. I mean, if there’s anybody in the administration who shouldn’t be flying on private jets, it’s the guy who’s always nagging you to reduce your carbon footprint by buying an electric car. But hey, Buttigieg is a Democrat, so when he flies on a private jet at taxpayer expense, it isn’t a bad thing.

    Maybe because he’s secretary of transportation, Buttigieg has a unique excuse: “Hey, you don’t expect me to fly commercial, do you? Have you been to an airport lately? Air travel in this country is a mess! The flights are always delayed and getting canceled, the lines are long, the staff behind the counter always looks overworked and exhausted, it’s always a hassle to get to the airport and out of it, and some weirdo is always stealing your luggage. Really, air travel in this country is a disaster, and somebody in our government ought to do something about it.”

Maybe the Federal Government Should Just Stop Nagging Us About What to Eat

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Baylen Linnekin has some unsurprising news for those of us married to a dietitian: 'MyPlate,' the USDA’s ‘Food Pyramid’ Replacement, Is Also a Dud.

A new government study reveals that 3 out of 4 Americans have no idea what the government's MyPlate dietary guide is. The study, Awareness of the MyPlate Plan: United States, 2017–March 2020, published last week by the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics, says that MyPlate, the much-ballyhooed successor to the USDA's Food Pyramid, is virtually unknown among the eating public.

"More than a decade after Agriculture Department officials ditched the pyramid, few Americans have heard of MyPlate, a dinner plate-shaped logo that emphasizes fruits and vegetables," the Associated Press reported last week.

Not that it matters, but when I sit to a well-balanced meal, I’ve been known to look down and say “Ah. My plate dot gov.”

Today's Eye Candy is … uh … something you can buy at Amazon. But caveat emptor:

Only owned these for a few months and the white plastic plates are turning yellow from the dishwasher. The small cereal bowls, while they haven't yellowed, have Dairy decals on the bottom of the inside that are wrinkling up from washing and now trap food particles and nasty dishwasher water rendering them unsafe to use. Both plates and bowls state they are dishwasher safe, but they are not. Total waste of my hard earned money.

And another critic laments that she (I'm assuming the pronoun here) "Would like the plate to keep each food item in its own area."

Mom, the creamed corn is touching the grapefruit wedges!

Briefly noted:

  • Dan McLaughlin notes the inevitable: The Open Liberal Rooting for Trump Has Begun.

    Donald Trump has been very, very good for liberal and progressive pundits. He’s great copy, giving them an endless array of targets that will incense their readers, viewers, and listeners. He gives them a wholly unearned sense of moral superiority that allows them to posture as defenders of democracy, the rule of law, acceptance of election outcomes, and even seriousness in foreign policy — all values notably at odds with their own agenda and conduct and that of the Democratic Party. “Whatabout Trump” is an all-purpose Get Out of Jail Free card in any argument. Fear of Trump has given them a license not only to excuse and ignore bad behavior on their own side, but also to consolidate the power of illiberal progressivism over all manner of institutions by paining anyone right of center as a dangerous, potentially insurrectionary Other. And, of course, he has given Democrats a string of electoral victories since 2017 and allowed them, most recently this fall, to escape an overdue reckoning from voters for an unpopular president, a failed agenda, and a conspicuously insane approach to the culture.

    I appreciate that Dan didn't go full Star Wars on that headline: <voice imitation="yoda">Begun, the open liberal rooting for Trump has!</voice>

The Real Bad News Is…

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] … that this guy was reelected last month with 71.1% of the vote: Adam Schiff Attempts Censorship by Proxy, 'Demanding Action' To Suppress 'Hate Speech' on Twitter. [Jacob Sullum at Reason]

Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) yesterday said he is "demanding action" in response to an "unacceptable" rise in bigoted slurs on Twitter since Elon Musk took over the platform in late October. Musk responded by taking issue with the evidence that Schiff cited, saying "hate speech impressions are actually down by 1/3 for Twitter now vs prior to acquisition." What he should have said is that government officials in a free society have no business demanding the suppression of speech they do not like.

"We are deeply concerned about the recent rise in hate speech on Twitter," Schiff and Rep. Mark Takano (D–Calif.) write in a letter to Musk. "Analysis by independent researchers indicates Twitter has become an increasingly toxic place for our constituents, and we are reaching out to you to understand the actions Twitter is taking to combat this increase in harmful content."

Schiff and Takano ostensibly are just asking questions and urging Musk to step up enforcement of Twitter's ban on "hateful conduct." But they are doing that in their official capacity as members of Congress, a job that gives them no authority to police speech or insist that anyone else do so. To the contrary, the First Amendment explicitly bars Congress from "abridging the freedom of speech." By publicly pressuring Musk to censor "hate speech," which is indisputably covered by the First Amendment, Schiff and Takano are trying to indirectly accomplish something that the Constitution forbids.

For the record, Schiff's partner in Constitution-shredding, Mark Takano, was reelected last month with 57.7% of the vote.

Schiff and Takano are bad enough, but they are only a symptom of the real disease, which are their districts' voters. Liberty-loving people would cast their votes for someone—anyone—else.

Or can we look to the decades-long corruption of schools and their teachers, who failed to teach those voters Bill of Rights 101?

Briefly noted:

  • In case you were wondering whether Marxism was relevant in any way other than a destructive force… well, Richard W. Fulmer has your answer at the Foundation for Economic Education: Marxism Remains Relevant Only as a Destructive Force.

    Though Karl Marx’s theories were never valid, they changed the world by stoking grievance, focusing it on the status quo, demanding that the status quo be burned to the ground, and promising that a never-fully-defined utopia would spontaneously spring from the ashes.

    His claims included the following:

    1. Value is a function of "socially useful" labor content.
    2. Capitalist societies are split into two classes: the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat.
    3. Voluntary exchange is a zero-sum game; one party to every exchange gains at the expense of the other.
    4. Capitalists "expropriate" the surplus value of products from the workers who produced those products.
    5. Workers in capitalist societies will be increasingly "immiserated" to the point of revolution.
    6. Workers who disagree with Marx suffer from "false consciousness."

    But each of these assertions is false[…]

    Click through for a brief refutation of each pillar of garbage.

    As Fulmer notes, with such foundational principles, It's little wonder that Marxists have been world-class champs of destruction and repression.

Or Even Just Imagine It in the First Place.

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] David French gets a lot of very undeserved grief from some of my fellow Neanderthals. I think his recent newsletter (the first few paragraphs unpaywalled at the Dispatch) is very much on target: The ‘Twitter Files’ Show It’s Time to Reimagine Free Speech Online.

A few years ago I was invited to an off-the-record meeting with senior executives at a major social media company. The topic was free speech. I’d just written a piece for the New York Times called “A better way to ban Alex Jones.” My position was simple: If social media companies want to create a true marketplace of ideas, they should look to the First Amendment to guide their policies.

This position wasn’t adopted on a whim, but because I’d spent decades watching powerful private institutions struggle—and fail—to create free speech regulations that purported to permit open debate at the same time that they suppressed allegedly hateful or harmful speech. As I told the tech executives, “You’re trying to recreate the college speech code, except online, and it’s not going to work.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since Elon Musk took over Twitter, and particularly since Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss last week began releasing selected internal Twitter files at Musk’s behest. These files detail, among other things, Twitter’s decisions to block access to a New York Post story about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election, Twitter’s decision to eject Donald Trump from the platform, and the ways in which Twitter restricted the reach of tweets from a number of large right-wing Twitter accounts.

Colleges were once eager to impose speech restrictions to keep their denizens "safe". That was an unmitigated disaster. Thanks to organizations like FIRE, things are improving. "Speech" that colors outside the lines of First Amendment jurisprudence is easy to shut down, otherwise it's a glorious anything-goes.

Twitter can, and should, do the same. It's a no-brainer, Elon.

Briefly noted:

  • Bad news from Vero de Rugy: Lame-Duck Congress Want To Spend Like We're Still in a Pandemic.

    Congress' lame-duck session is an ideal time for both parties to pass last-minute legislation while voters are busy Christmas shopping and before members who lost their reelection bids surrender their seats in January. Especially this year, real danger lurks in such legislation. Above all, there's the threat that Congress turns the expanded child tax credit into a new and very costly permanent entitlement. But other threats loom. I'll look at a few of them today.

    A lame-duck session is a great opportunity to push for too much spending on irresponsible pet projects, and more will probably be pushed through this year with little accountability. That's partly because Congress yet again failed to do its basic job of passing a budget by September 30. Instead, legislators kicked the deadline down the calendar to December 16. If they fail again, the federal government will partially shut down. That threat alone makes passing a budget, any budget, a must-do task. Unfortunately, these are precisely the situations that give Congress the opportunity to push through a boatload of otherwise unthinkable deals.

    Unfortunately, voters mostly failed to kick these bozos out in November, so they'll be up to the same mischief next year.

  • As if we needed more evidence, here's Jerry Coyne providing: More evidence for the decline of rock/pop music.

    I’ll make a short off-the-top-of-my-head list of some of the music I heard in my youth: the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, the early Gordon Lightfoot, all the great soul music, including that of Motown (e.g., Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Aretha Franklin ad infinitum), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Joan Baez, the Allman Brothers, Laura Nyro, the Beach Boys.

    Who do the kids have these days? Lizzo and Taylor Swift. It makes me ill to even say that. Will their songs be played on the “oldies” stations in 25 years? Nope; they’ll be playing the music of my youth, simply because it’s the best. There is nobody making rock music today as good as any one of the names I’ve listed above.

    I agree, and science is on our side. One bit of evidence among many:

    A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

    And (damn) that means that things have gotten worse since 1968's "Yummy Yummy Yummy" by the Ohio Express.

Slanted

How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I was going to use that cliché about how Sharyl Attkisson "writes more in sorrow than in anger". But I have to admit the possibility that there's quite a lot on the "anger" side of her scale.

She argues that in recent years there's been a significant shift in journalistic practice, from reporting "just the facts, ma'am" to "supporting a narrative". And that narrative is pretty simple, although playing out on different spectra: anti-Republican; anti-conservative; anti-business. And especially anti-Trump.

Some of this is personal; Attkisson tells the story of her work at CBS, where her reportage was increasingly spiked because—she claims, pretty convincingly—it didn't fit with the narrative of the moment. Eventually she demanded to be released from her contract, and after some legal wrangling, she was. (She currently hosts "Full Measure", appearing on TV stations affiliated with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, also streaming at a computer near you.)

But she doesn't restrict her fire to CBS; the entire array of "lamestream media" is in her sights. Especially CNN and the New York Times, but there's plenty of ammo left over for ABC, NBC, the Washington Post, … A long (somewhat tedious) appendix details the "Major Media Mistakes in the Era of Trump, August 2016-June 2020". hat list is meant I think to parry the lists of Trump's misstatements/whoppers/lies elsewhere; There's an online, updated version here. Not all items refer to Trump, but many do.

Attkisson does a pretty good job of demonstrating the perils, corruption, and inherent insidious aims of "narrative" journalism. Instead of simply telling us what happened, it tells us what to think about their carefully curated facts. And, see above, those "facts" are selected by the appropriate narrative, and may not be reported fairly or even accurately.

This won't be news to many. Attkisson was pushing on an open door in my case. One downside to her presentation: when discussing the media's dreadful unfairness to Trump, she soft-pedals Trump's manifest flaws: his narcissism and his reality-challenged statements. That doesn't excuse the media's behavior, of course, but it makes a lot of it understandable. At a certain point, you just assume the guy is lying.

And I think she's somewhat off base in presenting this media behavior as new. There's Herbert Matthews' coverage of Castro's revolution, Edward R. Murrows' pontifications on Joe McCarthy; Walter Duranty's sycophantic coverage of the Soviet Union under Stalin. This stuff has been happening as long as there have been journalists.

Dreyer's English

An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "The Flannery O'Connor Flowchart" from page 13:

[Flannery Flowchart]

You get the idea. This book is a compendium of advice on how to improve your writing, in order that people like the author, Benjamin Dreyer, won't have to wince and fix it before publication. He is currently "vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief, of Random House," but he started out as a proofreader/copy editor, and he knows his stuff. And he's sharing his accumulated suggestions/demands with a great deal of humor and insight.

Example (page 65):

Go light on the exclamation points. When overused, they're bossy, hectoring, and, ultimately, wearying. Some writers recommend that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points per book; others insist that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points in a lifetime.

And you red-blooded Americans will want to peruse the section starting on page 77: "How Not To Write Like a Brit".

If you write anything, you'll probably benefit from Dreyer's guidance. Even if your literary output is confined to your yearly one-page Christmas letter. And you'll have a lot of fun and pick up odd and interesting facts along the way. (What's "the rhetorical trick of referring to something by denying that you're referring to it"? That would be "apophasis".)

Dreyer's general good humor is only occasionally marred by gratuitous political shots. (OK, Ben, we get it: you're a Democrat.) They are easy to forgive, after an eye-roll. (Um, should I have hyphenated that?)

Random Observation 1: The humor extends to the book cover. Did you notice?

Random Observation 2: I have never seen an "Acknowledgments" section so long and detailed. Eight pages. Dreyer's very grateful to (roughly) every one he's ever met. I don't think my name's in there, but I could of have missed it.

Random Observation 3: Dreyer's section on lay/lie/laid/etc. is exhaustive and exhausting. You think you know the rules? Don't be so sure about that.

Irrelevant observation: when I grabbed this off the shelf at the Portsmouth Public Library, I noticed they had tons of tomes with roughly the same Dewey Decimal numbers. There must be a lot of aspiring or actual writers among the PPL clientele, demanding tutelage.

It Is By Now the Most Predictable Response

Namely, the political response to just about anything: Regulate.

Relevant quote from Herbie Spencer: "The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools."

(Specifically and appropriately: his essay "State tampering with money and banks", 1878.)

Or another relevant quote: When government treats adult citizens like irresponsible children, you eventually get a lot of adult citizens that behave like irresponsible children. (Me, at numerous places in this blog over the years.)

Briefly noted:

  • At the Federalist, Chad Felix Greene observes Whether Banning Christians Or Pushing Drag Queens, Public Library Radicals Are Calling All The Shots.

    Conservative Christian author, Kirk Cameron, has been rejected by roughly 50 public libraries on the basis of his religious beliefs, according to information released by his publisher, Brave Books. The Rochambeau Public Library in Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, openly dismissed Cameron’s request to share his new children’s book, “As You Grow,” saying, “We are a very queer-friendly library. Our messaging does not align.” The City Heights/Weingart Branch Library in San Diego, California, noted, “Because of how diverse our community is, I don’t know how many people you would get.”

    My own (perennial) examples:

    All 100% woke content. Feel free to look for any alternate viewpoints. Let me know if you find any; I will not be holding my breath.

  • Back in the first decade of this century, Jim Harper was a prominent foe of REAL ID (mentioned here a couple days ago). He takes a victory lap at AEI: You Don’t Need a REAL ID and You Never Will.

    [T]he most whopping of policies I have succeeded in opposing is the US federal REAL ID Act. This was a national identification (ID) law passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

    Everything you probably think about REAL ID is wrong. Most importantly, having a national ID would not secure cost-effectively against terrorism. It would waste privacy and erode civil liberties for no effective gain. Much of this ground is covered in my REAL ID–inspired book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood (Cato Institute, 2006).

    I reported on Identity Crisis back in 2009.

Also: America's Workers Need to Stop Voting for Demagogues

[Empowering the New American Worker] Scott Lincicome has an op-ed at the WSJ, adapted (I think) from his introduction to a new book from Cato, Empowering the New American Worker, which he edited: America’s Workers Need Freedom, Not More Government.

‘Standing up for the American worker” has long been a slogan synonymous with bigger government in Washington. In the wake of the pandemic, this pro-worker chorus has become loud and bipartisan—trumpeting tariffs, wage subsidies, benefits mandates and stricter labor regulations. Its champions have coalesced on the assumption that “free markets” have failed the working class. Their proposed interventions, therefore, might be one of the few areas of policy agreement in the next U.S. Congress.

That would be a big mistake.

For starters, there has never been a Golden Age in which everything was perfect for American workers and their families. Trade-offs among work, life and family have always existed and always will. Government can’t change this reality.

Scott rattles off some "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you" policies that do anything but: tariffs that might benefit a sliver of businesses, while hurting everyone else; housing regulations that make it difficult to find housing convenient to workplaces; occupational licensing gone wild; and many more.

Much of the book can be read for free at Cato (click the book cover at your right). Or you can shell out for the dead-trees version to be released in January.

Fifty Years?

[It has been awhile...] Space geeks Of A Certain Age might enjoy a look back at the (so far) last time humans were on the moon, with some awe-inspring pix at Ars Technica: Fifty years later, remastered images reveal Apollo 17 in stunning clarity.

Shortly after midnight, 50 years ago this [December 7], the Apollo 17 mission lifted off from Florida. With Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ron Evans on board, this was NASA's sixth and final spaceflight to the lunar surface.

Cernan and Schmitt spent three days on the Moon, setting records for the longest distance traversed in their rover—7.6 km—and the amount of lunar rocks returned. But today, what the mission is perhaps most remembered for is the fact that it was the last time humans landed on the Moon—or even went beyond low Earth orbit.

Memorably, before he boarded the Lunar Module to blast off from the Moon's surface, Cernan radioed back to Mission Control on Earth. People, he said, would return to the Moon "not too long into the future." Speaking to him much later in life, it was clear from Cernan's frustrations that he did not mean decades into the future.

For today's eye candy, I went "inspirational". But I recommend you click over to see "gritty": an absolutely filthy Gene Cernan "after a long day's work on the lunar surface."

Briefly noted:

  • Is this good news or bad? I'll go with "mixed". At Reason, Emma Camp informs us that Real ID Requirement for Domestic Flights Pushed Back Again.

    The Real ID Act was passed in 2005. 17 years later, the law has yet to go into effect. On Monday, government officials announced that enforcement would be delayed another two years.

    What's taking so long? Rollout of the law, which would require travelers flying domestically in the United States to show a security-enhanced photo ID, has been plagued by confusion and state-level noncompliance. Despite years of warnings that enforcement was coming soon, it seems increasingly clear that Real IDs are far from actually becoming required at U.S. airports and federal buildings.

    Pun Salad's first post on Real ID was in April of 2006, well over 16 years ago. And the most recent was last year, where I urged Uncle Stupid to just repeal the RealID requirement. Because, true even more now than back then, the "long delay proves it isn't necessary for security."

  • Rich Lowry is disappointed, but (I assume) unsurprised by Frisco's about-face on killer robots.

    San Francisco has reversed itself on letting cops use robots to take down threats in extreme circumstances, basically because people have seen movies with scary robots. Let’s hope the robots don’t hold this one against us when they inevitably achieve autonomy and strike out on their own.

    Lowry expands on his pro-Terminator argument at Politico: In Defense of Killer Robots.

    When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted last week to allow police to use robots to kill people in extreme circumstances, the critics predictably cited sci-fi movies.

    There is indeed a large and entertaining body of movies about creepy and dangerous robots, from “Metropolis” to “Ex Machina,” from “The Terminator” to “I, Robot,” but the key word in science fiction is “fiction.”

    Taking cues from these films about how about we should use robots is a little like trying to learn how to handle criminal gangs from “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

    But there are plenty of folks on the other side. Tim Cushing is a reliably anti-cop voice at TechDirt: San Francisco Legislators Greenlight Killing Of Residents By Police Robots… And Then Kill It…. He waits until his subhed to confirm Lowry's prediction:

    from the Robocop-is-not-something-to-aspire-to dpt

    Note: Robocop was the good guy in that movie.

    Approaching the issue from a more moderate cop-skeptical viewpoint is Reason's Bonnie Kristian, who suggests We Should All Be Nervous About Killer Police Robots. And I don't think she cites sci-fi movies at all:

    SWAT teams are the obvious comparison here. They were created to address unusual, high-pressure situations, like the classic armed-bank-robber-with-hostages scenario. Now, fewer than one in 10 SWAT raids perform their original purpose. The rest—and there are more than 100 SWAT raids of private homes in America daily—take on far more mundane circumstances, many enforcing "laws against consensual crimes" like drug use and sales, as former Reason staffer Radley Balko has documented.

    In San Francisco, after the first vote, the police department assured the public it had "no plans to arm robots with guns," in the phrase of the Associated Press. That's better than the alternative, but it isn't actually a guardrail. It isn't even a promise of a guardrail. It's a status update on conditions that—absent some constraint of law—are subject to change.

    That kind of slippery language from officials on the verge of acquiring new power should always be a red flag, one on the scale car dealerships are wont to wave. It also popped up this week from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is in the process of rolling out facial recognition software as an alternative to a human checking your face against your photo ID at the airport.

    In my usual Schrödinger's-Cat conservative/libertarian coinflip, I tend to lean over to the cops' side. Especially in San Fran, home to Dirty Harry, Mike Stone and Steve Keller, Monk, … See, I can cite mass media too.

How Lucky

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

<voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> This completes my reading mini-project of consuming all five of 2022's Edgar nominees for Best Novel. Only one semi-dud in the bunch; this one was excellent.

The narrator and protagonist is Daniel, a young man with a dread disease: Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). It is as bad as it sounds: debilitating, degenerative, and (in Daniel's case) eventually fatal. Getting around requires a motorized wheelchair; he can no longer speak or feed himself; his every moment contains the possibility that he'll be unable to take another breath. His survival depends on daily visits from dutiful health care aides.

But even with all that, Daniel is stoic, unsentimental, and accepting. (The book's title recalls Lou Gherig's Yankee Stadium farewell.) He loves living in Athens, home to the University of Georgia; he's especially fond of Saturdays when he and his best friend enjoy the hoopla surrounding Bulldogs football home games.

You may be wondering: wait a minute, aren't the Edgar nominees supposed to be mysteries? Well yes. The plot driver here is the disappearance of a female Chinese UGA student. And Daniel witnessed her getting into a tan Camaro, and saw the driver. His disease makes it difficult to communicate key facts to law enforcement. (Who, perhaps unfairly, aren't pictured here as particularly diligent in following up Daniel's report.) The suspense builds …

Then It Wrote a Moral Panic Article About Chatbot Compelled Speech

This is pretty brilliant:

Briefly noted:

  • At Minding the Campus, Louis K. Bonham awards The 2022 MTC Lysenko Award. Named for Trofim Lysenko, whose academic "ideas and practices contributed to the famines that killed millions of Soviet people."

    To be honest, such results are probably unlikely for this year's winner, Leah Terranova, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs, at the University of Kansas Law School. When the school's chapter of the Federalist Society invited a speaker, Jordan Lorence, from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)…

    [B]ecause the ADF takes positions (often quite successfully) that the LGBT community disagrees with, it is not uncommon for activists to try and cancel or disrupt such presentations. When the Lorence seminar was announced at the law school in question, the usual cadre of activists went nuts, shrilly asserting that the ADF was a “hate group,” and that the seminar would promote “hate speech.” Aware of the tactics such activists have employed elsewhere, the Federalist Society chapter prudently asked the law school’s administration to provide event security.

    Now, one might expect the “Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs” to be the adult in the room and to deal with this situation accordingly: arrange for security and remind protesters that there are rules against disrupting school events (and actually enforce such rules against violators). She might counsel law students upset with the ADF that dealing with positions (or people) you disagree with is a critical skill every lawyer must develop, that listening to such positions might better equip you to become an effective advocate for the opposing position, or even that free speech and debate is an essential part of higher education. (UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh has some excellent thoughts on how law school administrators should handle situations like this.)

    But no…

    Dean Terranova proceeded to unleash some hate speech of her own.

    By the way, if you want to see examples of Big Website bias, as I type:

    • A Google search for "Alliance Defending Freedom" will provide a couple ADF-paid ads at the top. No doubt their self-defense against the first non-paid link, which goes to a smear against the ADF by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

      If you'd like to see ADF's counter to the SPLC: Setting the Record Straight.

    • Below the SPLC link is a link to the relevant Wikipedia article, which begins by claiming that the ADF is a "legal advocacy group that works to curtail rights for LGBTQ people".

      I'm pretty sure the ADF wouldn't agree to that characterization.

    … follow the links, and make up your own mind.

    By the way, nobody at the University Near Here was even nominated for the Lysenko Award. Well, there's always next year…

  • Charles C. W. Cooke writes on a matter we discussed the other day: When Trump Promises to Be a Tyrant, Take Him at His Word.

    Once again, Donald Trump has proposed dismantling the United States Constitution. “Do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION?” Trump asked on TruthSocial Saturday. “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

    The answer to Trump’s question is “neither.” The response to his declaration is, “No, it does not.” The conclusion one must draw is that the 45th president of the United States has lost whatever was left of his mind.

    And then there's Ilya Somin, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy: Trump Defines Constitutional Deviancy Down.

    This is just the latest in a long line of reprehensible norm-breaking statements and actions by Trump. Just within the last few weeks, he also had a congenial meeting with neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes and anti-Semite Kanye West, and called for instituting the death penalty for drug dealers. Even if you support the War on Drugs (which I obviously do not), this would be barbarically excessive punishment.

    The usual excuse for for such behavior by Trump is to claim it's all just words and/or that he doesn't really mean it. If nothing else, Trump's effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the resulting attack on the Capitol should give the lie to the notion that he doesn't really mean what he says, and that his abhorrent statements won't lead to action. He and his most committed supporters are more than happy to undermine the Constitution if it gets in their way.

    I suppose there are some diehard Trump sycophants out there who, when given the choice between Trump and the Constitution, will enthusiastically line up with Trump. If so, I've managed to scrub their sites from my feed. The Trump supporters I do still read are real quiet about this.

    I would hope they'd say something like "Hey, you know when we derided all the NeverTrumpers? Guess what, they were right all along!"

    But I suppose that's too much to hope for.

  • And (as usual) Jacob Sullum's syndicated column headline threatens to be longer than the column itself: Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Law Forces Artists to Echo the State's Message: A Website Designer Asks SCOTUS to Let Her Eschew Work That Contradicts Her Opposition to Gay Marriage.

    Colorado and [website designer Lori] Smith agree that she is happy to serve any customer, regardless of sexual orientation, provided the work is consistent with biblical values as she understands them. In practice, both parties say, that means Smith "will decline any request to design, create, or promote content" that "contradicts biblical truth," "demeans or disparages others," "promotes sexual immorality," "supports the destruction of unborn children," "incites violence," or "promotes any conception of marriage other than marriage between one man and one woman."

    Note that she does not turn away gay people at her virtual door. Which leads Cato's David Boaz to wonder: What Is the Issue in the Supreme Court's Web Designer Case, and Why Do So Many People Misstate It? Including people who should know much, much better:

    In the New York Times, David Cole — who taught for 26 years at Georgetown Law School before becoming national legal director of the ACLU — writes, “The right question is whether someone who chooses to open a business to the public should have the right to turn away gay customers.” But Lorie Smith doesn’t want to turn away gay customers. She only wants to decline requests to create websites for gay weddings. She says she happily serves LGBTQ customers who come to her for other sorts of websites.

    Boaz offers other prominent examples of people misstating the legal issue: the LA Times and the WaPo.

You Don't Have To Be Crazy To Attend the University Near Here…

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Sorry to mutate the saying adorning millions of workplace mugs and cubicle walls—for example our Amazon Product du Jour—but that's what leapt to mind when I noticed the story at the Eagle-Tribune website, with a headline screaming the dire news: University system struggles with mental health.

Well, as it turns out, it's the students, not the system, who are struggling.

Shari Robinson, assistant vice provost for student life at the University of New Hampshire, has a perspective on the mental health crisis confronting educators that comes from years on the front lines.

She’s been an active therapist for the past two decades, counseling students since 2004.

“We’ve always seen stress, anxiety and depression,” she says. “But now we are seeing more severe depression, bipolar disorders and psychosis, and more developmental disorders like autism. Those students can do well in college, but they need more supportive services.”

Psychosis!

Rank speculation: this is a "gimme more money" campaign by USNH/UNH "mental health" activists, shopped to a friendly journalist. Shari Robinson's department, Student Life, has been a hotbed of Wokism for decades—we used to call it the Department of Political Correctness. There's not the slightest hint of introspection. Nobody's wondering, hey, maybe the policies demanded by our ideology have actually been making things worse for students.

As another indicator, near as I can tell, nothing about the "struggle" appears at UNH's own website; nor has this "struggle" been reported in our dreadful local newspaper. The story seems to have bypassed the usual channel of UNH's Pravda News Bureau.

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] I might suggest an airdrop of a few hundred copies of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Amazon link at right) onto USNH campuses. But that's unlikely to happen.

Not that it matters, but: I thought of the Eagle-Tribune as a newspaper local to Lawrence, Massachusetts. So it seemed an odd choice for a New Hampshire story. But they've expanded their circulation area to cover "the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire." So, fair game.

Briefly noted:

  • J.D. Tuccille treats recent presidential meanderings with deserved contempt: Biden Wants to Ban ‘Semiautomatic Weapons’? Dream On.

    There's always a question as to whether President Joe Biden really means what he says or if he even understands the words coming from his mouth. That conceded, it's wise to take seriously the threats of powerful people who have the means to at least attempt to impose their will on others.

    And that brings us to the president's recent vow to ban semiautomatic firearms, a vast category covering some of the country's most popular guns. It's a bold goal, not only in its scope, but also because it's probably unconstitutional and bound to alienate millions of Americans.

    Reader, suppose you were a doddering old fool, and suppose you were President of the United States; but I repeat myself.

  • David Hebert at AIER on Taxes, Spending, and Powerball Winnings.

    Imagine for a minute that you had a credit card, that you were allowed to set your own credit limit, that you were viewed as a hero for using and vilified for not using, and for which you would never have to pay the bill. What would you do with this mythical credit card?

    Washington politicians do not have to imagine, because this is their day-to-day reality. Congress can set its own debt limit, and can raise it at any time by any amount. In fact, the House Committee on the Budget has even argued that we should “abolish the debt limit” altogether

    Today, it is widely believed that federal spending creates jobs. And it is common practice to express federal spending with figures such as “jobs created” or “jobs supported.” For example, using the average personal income in the U.S. of $63,214, the $73 billion of education spending could be said to support approximately 1.1 million jobs in education. Thus, the incentives that elected officials face is clear: more spending means more jobs. To do so is to be an economic hero. To suggest otherwise is to be accused of not caring about people.

    Finally, today’s Washington politicians will not be held responsible for such profligate spending. Future elected officials will instead inherit the fiscal mess today’s officials create, just as today’s have inherited the fiscal mess caused by past officials. 

    Now if only this could be brought to the attention of voters, somehow…

  • Just a reminder from Charles C. W. Cooke: New York’s Bid to Police Online Comments Is Illegal and Ridiculous.

    On Monday, the State of New York will debut a new statute — the Social Media Hate Speech Accountability Act — which, impressively enough, manages to violate the First Amendment in two discrete ways. As Eugene Volokh notes in the Journal, New York’s law requires any website that features comments to contrive a policy for dealing with material that might “‘vilify, humiliate, or incite violence against a group’ based on ‘race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,’” and demands that its owner must “give readers a way to complain about” it if they see it. This is doubly illegal. Not only is there no such thing as “hate speech” under American law — and thereby no categorical basis for the government of New York to demand anything of those who supposedly host it. But, by insisting that website owners publish explanations of their moderation rules and promise to respond to cavilers, the state is engaging in compelled speech.

    The response to this from any self-respecting American must be no less than, “Oh yeah — how about you shove it?” What the private owners of social networks, blogs, message boards, and so forth choose to do with their users’ content is up to them, not to the State of New York — or any other government, for that matter. At the bleeding edges of the First Amendment, there exist a handful of exceptions to the right to free speech: incitement to imminent illegal action, defamation, and true threats, for example. But the United States already has rules governing those oddities, and the operators of community-driven websites are already obliged to follow them. As a matter of taste, it may well behoove America’s online moderators to frown upon comments that “vilify” or “humiliate” others, to disdain users who disparage their fellow citizens based on their “race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” and to build mechanisms via which customers can flag abuse. But they don’t have to.

    We looked at this a few days ago. Deserves a second look, doesn't it.

  • And finally, a pungent query from Alan Jacobs: and then?

    As I mentioned in earlier posts, Noah Smith wants to outsource much of the process of writing, and Derek Thompson wants to outsource his research. In other news, Marina Koren is bothered by the slowness of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and her partner wants to watch the movie at 2X speed. Perhaps he also participates in the TikTok practice of listening to songs at double-speed.

    My question about all this is: And then? You rush through the writing, the researching, the watching, the listening, you’re done with it, you get it behind you — and what is in front of you? Well, death, for one thing. For the main thing.

    But in the more immediate future: you’re zipping through all these experiences in order to do what, exactly? Listen to another song at double-speed? Produce a bullet-point outline of another post that AI can finish for you?

    The whole attitude seems to be: Let me get through this thing I don’t especially enjoy so I can do another thing just like it, which I won’t enjoy either. This is precisely what Paul Virilio means when he talks about living at a “frenetic standstill” and what Hartmut Rosa means when he talks about “social acceleration.”

    I say: If you’re trying to get through your work as quickly as you can, then maybe you should see if you can find a different line of work. And if you’re trying to get through your leisure-time reading and watching and listening as quickly as you can, then you definitely do not understand the meaning of leisure and should do a thorough rethink. And in both cases maybe it would be useful to read Mark Helprin on “The Acceleration of Tranquility.”

    I usually do excerpts; that's his whole post. But you might want to click through and explore.

You Know Something, Darling? You Don't Look Marvelous.

For some reason, I've been watching Billy Crystal-heavy episodes of Saturday Night Live on Peacock; today's headline "inspired" by a combination of (a) his (overused, one-joke) character, Fernando, and (b) Mr. Ramirez's latest cartoon:

[Man in the Mirror]

And, yes, that's inspired by the latest evidence that Trump should have been dumped by the GOP years ago, as captured in this tweet from Michael Shermer:

Power Line's John Hinderaker seems to have had more than enough; he says it's over: Trump Is Finished.

Trump is now operating at a Kanye West level of insanity. “Terminate” the Constitution’s rules and retrospectively declare him the winner of the 2020 presidential contest? Who, exactly, would do that? This is completely nuts. I am seriously beginning to wonder whether Trump is a paid operative of the Democratic Party. I don’t know how else to explain the profound damage he is inflicting on the conservative cause and the GOP.

Like Kanye West, Donald Trump needs psychological help. I hope he gets it. But in the meantime, he must have nothing further to do with the Republican Party.

Over the years, Hinderaker has bent over backward to be fair to Trump, eager to call out the excesses and untruths of his detractors. But he's had enough, noting that he's felt for years that Trump is "an anvil around the neck of the Republican Party."

National Review's editor-in-chief Rich Lowry has been a never-Trump guy for years, and today he wonders if Republicans (who haven't followed his advice so far) are Ready for Two to Six Years More of This.

Donald Trump’s suspend-the-Constitution post, which has to rank among the most lunatic and unworthy things he’s ever said, had Republicans squirming on Sunday shows. There’s a better way wide open to the party. All it has to do is have the basic instinct for self-preservation, and the requisite fortitude and self-respect, to say “No, thanks” to keeping itself in this abysmal position for the duration.

There are way too many folks on "my side" who see the single test of true Republicans is blind loyalty to this deranged reality-denying narcissist. Will this be the latest kick in the head they need to untie the Trump anvil from their necks?


Last Modified 2022-12-05 12:37 PM EST

Moonraker

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Number three in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, published in 1955. For its day, it was prescient: development of a rocket weapon meant to rain death upon one's enemies. OK, so perhaps not that prescient, given the history of the V-2 during World War II. But still…

As the book opens, Bond is between official missions, mostly reading boring reports. His boss, M, calls him in with an unusual request: a member of M's club, Sir Hugo Drax, is suspected of cheating at cards. But how he's doing that is a mystery. Given Bond's history of gambling, could he show up one night and figure out what's going on?

Sure he could, and sure he does, relieving Drax of a small fortune in the process. (Specifically, £15,000; this is ten times Bond's annual salary of £1,500. Given Bond's dangerous job, that doesn't seem like a lot, but whatever.) A defeated and disgraced Drax says, "I should spend the money quickly, Commander Bond." Oh oh.

And that takes us up to page 70 in my 245-page copy. If it seems to you that's a long way to go without that much sex or violence, you're right.

But it so happens that Drax is famous as the leader of England's effort to build "the Moonraker", that missile mentioned above. And, reminiscent of Operation Paperclip, a whole bunch of Germans have been recruited to assist. When a suspicious murder/suicide occurs, M sends Bond to see if there's any funny business happening in Drax's project. And, guess what, there is.

It takes a real long time for Bond to figure out even partially what's going on. Page 185: "Each dark conjecture came and for a moment settled like a vulture on Bond's shoulder and croaked into his ear that he had been a blind fool. Blind, blind, blind." Yup. Readers will note that's about 75% of the novel, long after they've worked that out and wondered when Bond was going to catch up to the obvious.

And at one point, Bond determines to sacrifice himself in an effort to save millions of lives. But—slight spoiler—instead settles on a different scheme: he lives, while only hundreds of people are killed as a result. Some villains, sure, but mostly innocents.

Checking Under My Bed … Nope, Nothing But Large Clumps of Cat Hair

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] At the Federalist, Eddie Scarry notes a rush to judgment: Elon Musk’s Twitter Has Created More Hate Speech, According To Group That Says So And That’s That.

Hand it to the Anti-Defamation League. There isn’t a single other organization out there that can declare something as fact, with no evidence, and have every major news organization repeat it verbatim, no questions asked.

The New York Times on Friday published the headline, “Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find.” That frightful claim was backed up, in large part, by none other than the leftist ADL, which is wildly successful in convincing anyone who will listen that Nazis are lurking in every American household.

The ADL is understandably sensitive to antisemitism. But, as Scarry explains, they also have an interest in finding Nazis under the American bed. And (RTWT) he points out the NYT and the ADL admit the actual "rise" in hate-tweets represent a “relatively small" fraction of the site's total volume. Not only are the haters easy to avoid, they are hard to find.

Unless you go looking for them, as the ADL did.

I can't help but note that, as far as historical worldwide totals go, these guys have a far higher body count than the Nazis:

Is anyone looking to kick these lying fools off Twitter, Elon?

What's More Dangerous Than Hate Speech?

It's politicians who want to use the vague concept of "hate speech" to shut down people with opinions they despise. Here's UCLA lawprof Eugene Volokh who takes to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal noting the latest effort in the Empire State: New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution.

New York politicians are slapping a badge on my chest. A law going into effect Saturday requires social-media networks, including any site that allows comments, to publish a plan for responding to alleged hate speech by users.

The law blog I run fits the bill, so the law will mandate that I post publicly my policy for responding to comments that “vilify, humiliate, or incite violence against a group” based on “race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” It also requires that I give readers a way to complain about my blog’s content and obligates me to respond directly.

I don’t want to moderate such content and I don’t endorse the state’s definition of hate speech. I do sometimes delete comments, but I do it based on my own editorial judgment, not state command. Still, I’m being conscripted. By obligating me to do the state’s bidding with regard to viewpoints that New York condemns, the law violates the First Amendment.

Today's Eye Candy is Professor Volokh testifying in 2019 before the House Ways And Means Oversight Committee, at a hearing devoted to examining "how the tax code subsidizes hate".

I assume you can see the red flags already. That hearing has its own web page here. (Note: Given the GOP takeover of the House next month, I'm not sure how long that link will work.) Apparently the brainchild of the late Congressman John Lewis, the hearing was about denying tax-favored status to organizations that could be construed—by politicians—as giving support to that big fuzzy concept of "hate", under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Were the witnesses called before the committee that day tax code experts?

Well, not all of them. Brandon Wolf's qualification for appearing: he was a "survivor of the Pulse Nightclub shooting" in 2016. Jeff Binkley was the father of Maura Binkley, who was killed in the Hot Yoga Studio shooting in Florida in 2018. And Dr. Sylvia Y. Acosta was CEO of the YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region, who … well, she talked about the 2018 Walmart El Paso shooting.

Those witnesses were properly despondent over the violence perpetrated against their family members, friends, and neighbors.

Did they establish any causal link between Section 501(c)(3) and that violence? No, of course not. Their sole purpose was heartstring-tugging.

Fortunately, Professor Volokh was there to point out the First Amendment issues. From his prepared statement:

Many thanks for inviting me to testify about “How the Tax Code Subsidizes Hate.” The Tax Code indeed subsidizes hate, just as it subsidizes Socialism, Satanism, and a wide variety of dangerous and offensive ideas. Under the First Amendment, tax exemptions have to be distributed without discrimination based on viewpoint; that means that evil views have to be treated the same way as good views.

This isn't too difficult to understand. Even I can understand it. Unfortunately, some members of Congress—who take a freakin' oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic"—don't really get it. The oath taken by New York legislators and the governor has similar language.

In a country that valued liberty, this would be an easy call: impeach these folks.

Briefly noted:

  • Hey, remember when we were all being told that using social media to influence election results was a threat to Democracy?

    At Reason, Robby Soave summarizes the latest on that front: Elon Musk and Matt Taibbi Reveal Why Twitter Censored the Hunter Biden Laptop Story. He links to Taibbi's twitter thread describing the debacle:

    The thread contains fascinating screenshots of conversations between various content moderators and company executives as the laptop story debacle was unfolding. But given how massively Musk hyped the revelations, the results are a tad disappointing, and mostly confirm what the public already assumed: A (still unidentified) employee or process flagged the story as "unsafe" and suppressed its spread, and then Twitter moderators devised a retroactive justification—violation of a "hacked materials" policy—for having taken such an extraordinary step. Then-CEO Jack Dorsey was largely absent from these conversations; Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's former head of trust and safety played "a key role." None of this material is groundbreaking; it's already well-known.

    To be clear, it's useful to see some of these internal messages. They confirm that Twitter's various departments—communications, moderation, senior management—horrendously mismanaged the entire affair. They were not all on the same page: Vice President of Global Communications Brandon Borrman, for example, was immediately unconvinced by the "hacked materials" justification.

    It's pretty clear that Twitter was in "censor first, then try to find a justification" mode.

Mr. Bezos, Tear Down This Wall!

The WaPo paywall, that is. It hides George Will's columns if you don't cough up some cash, which is frustrating. Until Jeff decides to loosen up, I have to be satisfied with Don Boudreaux's occasional excerpting of GFW's work at Cafe Hayek. Example:

In 1977, to facilitate gathering racial and ethnic data, the government promulgated racial and ethnic categories, but stipulated that they should not be “determinants of eligibility for participation in any federal program.” This was promptly ignored, and has been exacerbated by the American tradition of self-identification.

Soon a scramble was on to win victim status, and to deny that status to groups which, if they clambered aboard the gravy train, would leave less gravy for the supposedly more deserving. Some classifications are racial (e.g., Black). Hispanic is cultural, and capacious enough to include South Americans of German descent and Ted Williams, whose mother was Mexican. The geographic classification “Asian” assumes that Vietnamese and Pakistanis are somehow akin.

Don notes that GFW's column was based on David Bernstein's recent book, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America, something I'm eager to read.

Briefly noted:

  • I don't think you need to jump a paywall to read Jim Geraghty's recent Morning Jolt: Sam Bankman-Fried Launches His Biggest, Boldest Effort to Lie His Way out of Trouble.

    Right now, Bankman-Fried looks like the worst caricature of a capitalist — greedy, reckless, dishonest, creating little of tangible or lasting value but eager to ride a speculative bubble to the top — who knew exactly how to sweet-talk progressives and socialists and convince them that he was one of them. As one interviewer described him, “He got into crypto so that he could make as much money as possible and then give almost all of it away.” The title of that episode was, “Sam Bankman-Fried wants to save the world.”

    I recall that former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes kept telling us that she and her company were going to “revolutionize health care,” and that she, too, had a plan to “save the world.” Maybe the first sign that someone is out to screw the world is that they feel the need to keep telling us how much they want to save the world. I notice Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Bill Nye, Will Smith, and Black Lives Matter have also enjoyed “is going to save the world” headlines in the past.

    (I’ll bet you’re a pretty decent person. You probably get up every morning, go to work, work hard, try to take care of your family, maybe give to those in need or volunteer to help your community in some way. Nobody ever runs around giving you credit for trying to “save the world,” even though you’re probably one of the people who helps keep it running.)

    I'm retired from my saving-the-world job. It didn't pay that well.

  • Jacob Sullum's mighty effort to make sense of the recent convictions (and acquittals) of various Oath Keepers in relation to their January 6 hijinks: Verdicts Suggest Rhodes' Seditious Plot Did Not Include Capitol Attack.

    A federal jury this week convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes of seditious conspiracy, concluding that he and Kelly Meggs, another member of the right-wing militia, plotted to keep Donald Trump in office "by force." This is the first time that a jury has convicted participants in the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol of that crime, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The hundreds of Trump supporters who have been arrested in connection with the riot typically have faced misdemeanor charges such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, and unauthorized demonstrating.

    Rhodes stands out from those other defendants because he was the leader of an armed organization that was allegedly determined to keep Joe Biden out of the White House by any means necessary. Yet Rhodes' seditious conspiracy conviction is rather puzzling given the jury's rejection of two other conspiracy charges against him. The jury acquitted Rhodes of conspiring to obstruct the congressional certification of Biden's victory on January 6 and of conspiring to prevent members of Congress from discharging their official duties by completing that process.

    Jacob's bottom line, after reviewing the legal status of a bewildering array of goofy miscreants:

    In any case, it clearly goes too far to say that the verdicts mean the Capitol riot was "the product of an organized conspiracy." The Oath Keepers accounted for a tiny share of the rioters, most of whom do seem to have acted "more or less spontaneously." The group's tough talk and grandiose plans ultimately amounted to little more than a sideshow in a much broader spasm of vandalism and violence that was itself utterly futile, since it succeeded only in delaying the certification of Biden's victory until that night. When former President Jimmy Carter claimed the assault on the Capitol "almost succeeded in preventing the democratic transfer of power," he was giving blowhards like Rhodes way too much credit.

  • Unexpected headline of the day from Quanta magazine: Physicists Create a Wormhole Using a Quantum Computer. Bonus: the word "hologram" appears in paragraph two:

    Physicists have purportedly created the first-ever wormhole, a kind of tunnel theorized in 1935 by Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen that leads from one place to another by passing into an extra dimension of space.

    The wormhole emerged like a hologram out of quantum bits of information, or “qubits,” stored in tiny superconducting circuits. By manipulating the qubits, the physicists then sent information through the wormhole, they reported today in the journal Nature.

    The paper's authors are from Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Google, and Fermilab. So this is probably not an elaborate joke.

  • And finally, my snarky tweet. in response to my newly-reelected CongressCritter, who's objecting strongly to Joe Biden's effort to force the New Hampshire Presidential Primary to come after South Carolina's.

    Other fun facts that New Hampshire politicians "don't want you to know" about the NH Primary here (at the end of a long post).


Last Modified 2022-12-02 7:13 AM EST

Treasure State

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

C. J. Box's latest novel, at least until February 28, 2023 anyway. It is an entry in what he calls the "Cody Hoyt/Cassie Dewell" series, although Cody has long since been absent, and I'm pretty sure he's not coming back.

(The book series is also the basis for the TV series Big Sky, although the show deviated from the books very quickly, and—sorry—not in a good way.)

So it's Cassie, and she's settling into her life as a pretty successful private eye, based in Bozeman, Montana. A couple of cases get thrown her way: One takes her to the historic copper-smelting town of Anaconda in search of J. D. Spengler, another PI who's inexplicably vanished while trying to track down a charming con artist who's defrauded Candyce Fly of Boca Grande, Florida, of millions of dollars. (The reader knows at the end of Chapter One that Spengler has likely gone to Gumshoe Heaven.)

Cassie's second case involves an anonymous poet who penned a mysterious verse in Sir Scott's Oasis Steakhouse, Lounge, & Bar in Manhattan, Montana. (An actual place, now permanently closed, according to Google Maps.) The poem told of a hidden treasure, available to the first person finding it according to the cryptic clues contained within. Cassie's intrigued when she's called by someone claiming to be the poem's author, hiring her to see how well he's disguised his identity; if Cassie can find him, he'll give her a cool $25K.

It's not necessary, but it wouldn't hurt, to have read the previous books in the series; there are a few continuing characters who make an appearance. Also showing up unexpectedly is a character from Box's other series. No spoilers here!

It's That Time of Year Again…

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] … and this year, Dave Barry’s 2022 Gift Guide takes you back to the Wise Men. Who brought, we're told, the baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

We all know what gold is, of course. But what the heck are frankincense and myrrh? According to Wikipedia, they are both aromatic tree resins. That’s right: Two-thirds of the wise men chose to give their newborn king, as a physical symbol of their reverent adoration, goo from a tree. Why? Because they were guys, that’s why. Here’s what probably happened:

FIRST WISE MAN: So I’m bringing gold as my gift.

SECOND WISE MAN: Wait, what?

THIRD WISE MAN: You got a gift?

FIRST WISE MAN: It was my wife’s idea.

SECOND WISE MAN: I didn’t know we were supposed to bring a gift!

THIRD WISE MAN: Me either! What’re we gonna do?

(The wise men notice they are standing next to a tree, which has excreted some globs of resin.)

SECOND WISE MAN: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

FIRST WISE MAN: Are you serious? That looks like squirrel poop.

THIRD WISE MAN: We can tell them it’s aromatic.

If I could go back in time a week, I'd give thanks for Dave Barry still occasionally writing new stuff.

And our Amazon Product du Jour is one of his Gift Guide selections, full-face sunglasses, a mere $16.99 as I type. For when you want to knock over a convenience store that has one of those pesky video cameras.

Briefly noted:

  • Christian Schneider notes allegedly smart people demanding a return to the bad old days: Colleges Turn to Segregation to Solve Racial Ills.

    Years from now, students of American history will be taught of the era when college students were kept from living near one another because of the color of their skin. When separate graduation ceremonies were held for students of color because of a group’s unease with the commingling of the races. When students were kept out of colleges because of their ethnicity. And when governors openly questioned the learning abilities of schoolchildren of color.

    The history books covering this era, however, won’t be talking about the Jim Crow South or George Wallace’s 1963 declaration urging “segregation now, segregation forever.”

    They will, instead, be referring to the last five years, in which colleges have begun separating students by race out of concern that it might damage the “mental health” of non-white students if they are forced to interact with white students.

    The governor in that first paragraph? Not Ron DeSantis!

    I hope you're under your NRPLUS free article quota so you can Read The Whole Thing.

  • I'm old enough to remember the parody of a New York Times headlne: "World Ends: Woman and Minorities Hardest Hit".

    So WIRED got pretty close to that: San Francisco's Killer Police Robots Threaten the City's Most Vulnerable.

    Subhed: "Law enforcement says that in some scenarios a lethal robot is the only way to protect public safety. Experts say the policy will harm communities of color."

    Three years ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors made history by becoming the first city in the nation to ban use of facial recognition technology by local government. Last night, the board went in a different direction, giving police the right to kill a criminal suspect with a teleoperated robot if they believe there is an imminent threat of death to police or members of the public.

    Assistant police chief David Lazar said ahead of the vote that killer robots might be needed in scenarios involving mass shootings or suicide bombers, citing the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas in 2017 and the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, in 2016. Dallas police ultimately used explosives strapped to a Remotec F5A bomb disposal robot—a model also possessed by the San Francisco Police Department—to kill that suspect.

    So what about those "experts"? Well, here are a couple:

    Supervisor Hillary Ronen voted against killer robots at the meeting, saying that like many US parents she sometimes worries about school shootings but that the new policy opens a Pandora’s box where police using robots is the norm. “The tool begs to be used,” she says. “It might be used originally only occasionally, but over time people get less sensitive.”

    Peter Asaro, an associate professor at The New School in New York who researches automation of police force, agrees. “Giving police this option means they’re going to use it when they should be looking for other options,” he said.

    The underlying assumption seems to be that, when in doubt, the cops' go-to tactic is killing people. Instead of "looking for other options".

    Dude, we shouldn't let people like that even have guns!


Last Modified 2022-12-01 12:30 PM EST