Where Do I Sign Up? Oh, Wait, Those People Will Be There?

Reason's video does make it sound enticing through: D.C.'s Premier Elder Care Community,

A mangled version of that thing Groucho probably said: I wouldn't want to live in any elder care community that would have people like that as members.

Also of note:

  • Just impeach him. The presidential oath of office is short, and a good chunk of it involves swearing that you will, to the best of your ability, "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." That would preclude, I'm pretty sure, browbeating companies to silence voices expressing First Amendment-protected views. Nevertheless, the Biden White House Pressured Facebook To Censor COVID-19 Lab Leak Posts.

    President Joe Biden's White House pushed Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to censor contrarian COVID-19 content, including speculation about the virus having escaped from a lab, vaccine skepticism, and even jokes.

    "Can someone quickly remind me why we were removing—rather than demoting/labeling—claims that Covid is man made," asked Nick Clegg, president for global affairs at the company, in a July 2021 email to his coworkers.

    A content moderator replied, "We were under pressure from the administration and others to do more. We shouldn't have done it."

    I see two possible Biden impeachment defenses:

    1. "The oath says "to the best of my ability". Do I look like I'm able to preserve, protect, or defend anything?"
    2. "You know, Kamala would be much worse."
  • Oh, c'mon. You want us to be for the entire First Amandment? What is, For Matt Taibbi, The Most Embarrassing "Facebook Files" Revelation? The Press, Exposed as Censors.

    The most embarrassing revelation of the “Facebook Files” released by House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan yesterday (described in more detail here) involves the news media:

    In one damning email, an unnamed Facebook executive wrote to Mark Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg:

    We are facing continued pressure from external stakeholders, including the White House and the press, to remove more Covid-19 vaccine discouraging content.

    We see repeatedly in internal communications not only in the email above, but in the Twitter Files, in the exhibits of the Missouri v Biden lawsuit, and even in the Freedom of Information request results beginning to trickle in here at Racket, that the news media has for some time been working in concert with civil society organizations, government, and tech platforms, as part of the censorship apparatus.

    Why does that one line from the Cops theme song come to mind?

    "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do, when they come for you?"

  • "Unprecedented" ≠ "Unexpected" Hey kids, remember that Nashville shooter's manifesto? A lot of people are hoping you won't. Jazz Shaw points out: Suppressing the Nashville shooter's manifesto would be "unprecedented"

    It has now been more than four months since trangender mass shooter Audrey Hale murdered six people at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. All the funerals are over and life is slowly returning to normal in the community. And yet the public has still not seen the shooter’s manifesto or the other documents police collected in the aftermath of the attack. Initially, it was the police and the FBI that appeared to be holding up the release, but now the situation has been shifted to the courts. In a bizarre turn of events, the families of both the shooter and the victims have teamed up with the school and are fighting to prevent the documents from being released. A coalition of elected officials and a local newspaper have sued to have the material made public. But one open government and transparency analyst told the New York Post that the legal theory being pursued to keep the papers secret is flawed and a court decision in their favor would be “unprecedented.”

    I assume it's more convincing that the Unabomber's manifesto. That's gotta be it, right?

  • Reminder: You are only reading this thanks to a very long series of very unlikely accidents. WIRED has the story: How a Microbial Evolutionary Accident Changed Earth's Atmosphere

    A dense rainforest or other verdant terrestrial vegetation may be what first comes to mind at the mention of photosynthesis. Yet the clouds of phytoplankton that fill the oceans are the major drivers of that process in nature. The plantlike single-celled aquatic microbes generate more than 50 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and they absorb nearly half of the carbon dioxide, converting it into the glucose, fats, proteins and other organic molecules that nourish the food web of the oceans.

    A recently published study in Current Biology finally pins down the source of this unparalleled photosynthetic efficiency, which has long baffled scientists. The new research found that some phytoplankton are equipped with an extra internal membrane that carries a “proton pump” enzyme that supercharges their ability to convert carbon dioxide into other substances. The enhancements due to this one protein modification seem to contribute to the production of nearly 12 percent of the oxygen in the air and as much as 25 percent of all the carbon “fixed” (locked into organic compounds) in the ocean.

    I have no idea whether this "accident" was in addition to the host of other accidents ArsTechnica reported back in May: The complicated history of how the Earth’s atmosphere became breathable, which noted the confluence of "biology, geology, and chemistry" in that process.

    At a certain point, you'd think even the most secular scientists might be tempted to throw up their opposable-thumb hands and say, "Well, I guess it was God after all."

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

[Google Drive Img]


Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:47 AM EST

The Last Thing He Told Me

[Amazon Link]
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Poor Hannah! She's happily married to Owen, and her biggest problem is a rocky relationship with her husband's bratty teenage daughter, Bailey. Hannah's a "woodturner", making a decent living thanks to her prowess with lathes. They all live on a houseboat in Sausalito. And then it all turns quickly to shit, when the software company Owen writes code for gets revealed to have seriously misled investors about its revolutionary upcoming product, which turns out to be vaporware. (Think Theranos, except the CEO with a reality distortion field is a guy.)

Owen vanishes, leaving only an enigmatic two-word message for Hannah: "Protect her." Oh, and a duffel bag full of wads of cash. Could those wads be ill-gotten? And soon it's revealed that the man she knew as Owen had a biography that was pretty nearly completely made up. Hannah must navigate between the competing demands of FBI agents investigating the company and an obviously-knows-more-than-he's-telling US Marshal (who could have been, but wasn't, played by Timothy Olyphant in the miniseries).

The only clues about Owen's past life are from Bailey, who has dim memories of Austin Texas. Hannah and Bailey take off to Austin where they turn out to be a pretty good detective team. Although their investigation seems like it might imperil Owen's request about protecting Bailey.

Now, this is definitely a chick book. (A "Reese's Book Club" emblem on the cover.) (That's Reese Witherspoon.) But it was a definite page-turner for me. The only irritation was Hannah's narration; she keeps babbling her inner monologue, telling rather than showing her inner fears and conflicts. I found myself fast-forwarding over those passages.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:06 AM EST

Oppenheimer

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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Pun Son and I went to see Oppenheimer on a (relatively) small screen in Barrington, NH. No IMAX experience for us!

Not that it matters but: we went out to dinner beforehand at a very good Italian restaurant across the highway from the theater. A young couple came in while we were eating; I couldn't help but notice the guy was dressed in neon pink, and the shirt he was wearing was open down approximately to his navel. Huh, what's the deal there?

Once we got to the theater, where Barbie was also playing, all became clear. People are dressing up to go see Barbie, even in little Barrington!

On to the Oppy movie: it's a biopic, wonderfully acted, impressively shot through with amazing effects. But it has some of the little irritations of biopics, notably dialog used to convey biography. ("I'm off to Germany to study quantum mechanics with Heisenberg, because nobody in America knows it well.")

One of the main plot drivers of the movie was Oppy's leftist flirtations and resulting security concerns. Although the screenplay doesn't portray him as a simple martyr to the "red scare", it comes pretty close. And Robert Downey Jr's character, Lewis Strauss, is portrayed as a manipulative villain. Neal B. Freeman strongly objects to that history. And David Harsanyi claims "Yes, It's Reasonable To Wonder If Oppenheimer Was A Soviet Spy."

I'm a Richard Feynman fanboy, and he has a very very minor role here. (Bongo-playing, watching the Trinity test behind a glass windshield.) But I've seen contemporary pictures of him, and the actor they got to play him, Jack Quaid, is a dead ringer.

I had a difficult time understanding some of the dialog. I'm not sure where the problem resided: the lousy sound quality of the movie itself, the theater's lousy audio system, or the lousiness of my elderly ears. A Google search says it might not be just me.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:47 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2023-07-30 Update

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It's been quite a while since our last phony campaign update. And during that time, Google seems to have removed one bit of information we were relying on: its estimate of the number of results returned by a search query: "About N results", it confidently displayed.

So my cute idea (when I started doing this sixteen years ago) was to use this as a proxy for the crowdsourced wisdom of the Internet to judge the perceived inauthenticity of each of the current crop of presidential candidates.

It was fun while it lasted. And there may be some way to tease those result counts out of Google again. Just not one that I'm willing to spend any time digging up. And we've known for a long time that those numbers were bogus anyway.

So we continue without Google result counts. We'll still keep the links to Google's results in our table, though:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
5/14
Joe Biden 34.7% -1.9%
Donald Trump 28.4% +1.5%
Robert Kennedy Jr 6.2% +1.7%
Gavin Newsom 5.7% ---
Ron DeSantis 5.3% -8.8%
Vivek Ramaswamy 4.1% ---
Michelle Obama 2.8% +0.1%
Kamala Harris 2.3% unch
Other 10.5% -2.4%

In the past six weeks, Gavin Newsom is seen (once again) as breaking above our 2% probability threshold (as calculated by the Lott/Stossel Election Betting Odds site). Also showing up is Vivek Ramaswamy, with a respectable 4.1% probability of taking the oath of office on January 20, 2025.

And—wow—the election punters have really cratered Ron DeSantis's odds.

And (just as a reminder) everyone in our table is doing better than our girl, Nikki Haley. Sigh.

Just a small sample of recent phony news:

  • He should not even pretend to be surprised. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports: DeSantis says Harris is spreading 'phony narratives' on Florida Black history curriculum.

    Earlier in July, the vice president said Florida’s new history curriculum standards will mean students are “to be told that enslaved people benefited from slavery.” Harris said Republican politicians are trying to divide the country and push “revisionist” history on American children.

    “What they are doing is they are creating these unnecessary debates,” Harris said in Florida. “This is unnecessary to debate whether enslaved people benefited from slavery. Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to debate that?”

    DeSantis disagreed with Harris’ characterization. He told reporters the country has “seen this Kamala Harris lie exposed about Florida’s high school curriculums.”

    Harris and others, including U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Florida Republican, specifically took issue with language in the new standards that calls for instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

    DeSantis said the provision is meant to show that some enslaved people developed skills “in spite of slavery, not because of slavery.” He said this perspective is also included in the standards of the Advanced Placement African American studies course that Harris supported.

    The news media had (and has) no problem about labeling Donald Trump's assertions about the 2020 election as "lies". They should easily be able to do the same for Kamala.

  • It's as natural to him as breathing. But President Bone Spurs doesn't just lie about the election he lost. The WaPo "fact checker" notes a recent fantasy on a different topic: Trump conjures up a phony dispute with Ron DeSantis over China tariffs.

    “‘DeSanctis’ opposed my China tariffs — the ones where I gave you $28 billion, by the way. That was just a small portion of what we took in — we took in hundreds of billions of dollars from China. … Very simply, ‘DeSanctis’ sided with the communists in China. I sided with the farmers of America.”

    — Former president Donald Trump, campaigning in Council Bluffs, Iowa, July 7

    We'll leave alone the ex-presidential bragging (in Iowa) about how much money he gave farmers. The article notes that that short quote contains "a mix of questionable, exaggerated and made-up elements." An incomplete list:

    • Only ("only") about $23 billion went to farmers. And about $800 million of that was "improper".
    • Tariffs were not extracted "from China". That's not how they work: That mony came from American taxpayers (importers and their customers).
    • When Trump left office, the tariffs had generated $75 billion, not exactly "hundreds of billions".
    • Since Biden left the tariffs in place, they've generated a total of about $183 billion.
    • Which is, again, money paid by Americans.
  • A handy guide. Gadzooks, the EBO site has RFK Jr. with a better chance of becoming president than DeSantis! In case you haven't been keeping score, Here Are All The Conspiracies RFK Jr. Promotes. as compiled by Sara Dorn of Forbes. Summary: It's a rat's nest of crazy. But here's a fun fact from later on in the article:

    Ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey expressed support for Kennedy Jr. over the weekend by retweeting a video of him saying he could beat Biden, captioned: “He can and he will.”

    I suppose if you could be vaccinated against conspiracy theories,… Well, no. Some conspiracy theories are true.

  • Tackling the tough rumors. Michelle Obama hangs on to a decent probability of winning the presidency, especially when you consider she's expressed no desire to run, and isn't particularly qualified. But Politifact makes the call on a nasty rumor anyway: Michelle Obama was never a man. Among the disconfirming evidence cited:

    She was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in January 1964 and gave birth to two daughters.

    Ah, but if she identified as a man… Politifact does not deal with this issue of gender ideology.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:06 AM EST

I Wonder If Navy Will Be Invited to a White House Christmas?

The irrepressible Mary Katharine Ham tweets:

Grandpa Joe and Daddy Hunter were unavailable for the kid's baptism. Or any of her four birthday parties. But I suppose it's better late than never.

The happy news was released exclusively to that paragon of American journalism, People magazine.

“Our son Hunter and Navy’s mother, Lunden, are working together to foster a relationship that is in the best interests of their daughter, preserving her privacy as much as possible going forward," President Biden said in a statement provided exclusively to PEOPLE.

Federalist writer Evita Duffy-Alfonso notes the backstory here: People Magazine Acknowledges Navy Biden After Getting The ‘OK’ Signal From Joe>.

On Friday, People Magazine ran an “exclusive” PR statement from Joe and Jill Biden, announcing that after four years, they are finally acknowledging their 7th grandchild Navy Joan Roberts. That same day, the publication dramatically altered a months-old article titled “Joe Biden’s 7 Grandchildren: Everything to Know” to include 4-year-old Navy after her name was initially omitted.

In the original article, People Magazine writes gushing paragraphs about each of the Biden children but refuses to even mention Navy by name, instead opting to address her with two curt, legalist paragraphs about Hunter’s court-ordered paternity test.

I assume Joe was simply getting confused when people talked "Navy Joan Roberts" in his presence. He may have thought they were talking about… the US Navy? SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts deciding to transition?

Also of note:

  • Olympic-level figure (of speech) skating. We've talked about the corrupt DOJ plea bargain for Hunter enough already, but I'm a sucker for headlines How A Federal Judge Turned The Tables On Hunter Biden’s Sweetheart Plea Deal.

    That's two: "turned the tables" and "sweetheart" deal. The subhed on the Federalist article manages three more:

    Judge Noreika knew lawyers were trying to paint her into a corner and hide the ball while forcing her to rubber-stamp their absurd bargain.

    What an image: a couple lawyers painting the floor around the judge, while a couple others hide a ball, and a couple more pushing a rubber stamp and a document into her face. That is absurd.

  • Generating the immense shower of invective. Jeffrey A. Tucker writes on The Great Cloud of Disrepute.

    A dark cloud of disrepute hangs over all official institutions in the developed world. It affects governments most but also all the institutions that cooperated with them over three and a half years, including media, the biggest corporations, and tech companies. The cloud covers most all academia, medicine, and experts in general.

    The reason traces to the utterly preposterous pretense that by the mass violation of rights and freedoms, governments would somehow contain or control (or something) a common respiratory virus. Not one tactic they tried worked – one might suppose that at least one would show some effectiveness if only by accident, but no – yet the attempt alone imposed costs that we’ve never before experienced on this scale. 

    Tucker doesn't mention Martin Gurri; he probably should have.

  • Disclaimer: I actually live in a small town, and I've never tried any of that stuff. Kevin D. Williamson has some quibbles with Jason Aldean: Staying Safe: Try That in a Small Town

    Jason Aldean, who has made a stink with his “Try That in a Small Town,” should think about spending some time in a small town. He might learn something. (If you missed it, the ruckus began with complaints that Aldean shot a video for the song near where a lynching had happened many years ago, though it isn’t clear that that horrible crime had anything to do with the site selection; the criticism later moved on to the generally vigilante-ish tone of the song.) Like so many of the self-appointed spokesmen for small towns and simple country folk, Aldean himself is nothing of the sort: He is, in fact, a former private-school kid from Macon, Georgia., metro population 420,693, adjacent to the greater Atlanta metropolis, population about 6.3 million. Macon, you may not be surprised at this point to learn, has a considerably higher crime rate than New York, Los Angeles, or Newark, New Jersey.

    When it comes to actual small towns and rural areas, the data can be a little wonky—one ugly Saturday night in Muleshoe, Texas, can throw the numbers off for a whole year. But the data we do have do not support the hypothesis that life is safer in small towns: The aforementioned Muleshoe has had a higher-than-average crime rate in recent years. Homicides jumped 25 percent in rural areas in 2020. “It was like people lost their ever-lovin’ minds,” one small-town prosecutor told the Wall Street Journal.

    Our big law enforcement problem here in Rollinsford, if you can go by our Facebook page, is people ignoring the "clean up after your pet" signs.

  • I just get slightly depressed when I do it, but: yes I can. Jeff Jacoby asks the musical question: You can name the Three Stooges. Can you name your three members of Congress?

    Vivek Ramaswamy, the successful high-tech entrepreneur running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is a long shot whom relatively few Americans can correctly identify. But one of his campaign themes — that all Americans should be able to correctly identify basic facts about American government, law, and history — is excellent and deserves to be embraced by candidates across the board.

    "Every high school student should be required to pass the same 128-question civics test required of legal immigrants to become citizens," Ramaswamy said recently on Twitter. To audiences on the campaign trail he has made the case that "young people do not value a country that they simply inherit. We value a country that we have a stake in creating, in building, in knowing something about."

    To that end, he suggests a straightforward reform: In addition to passing English, math, and science, kids in school should have to know the answers to the same list of questions that immigrants are tested on as part of the naturalization process.

    Fun fact from the article: "More than 96 percent of applicants pass the test. Yet when the test is posed to native-born US citizens, nearly 2 out of 3 fail."

    For the record: although I know my DC reps (Shaheen, Hassan, and (sigh) Pappas), I would have a tough time rattling off the names of my representatives in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. I do know my state senator, though.

Let Me Call You …

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Andrew McCarthy is on my short list of pundits who will Tell It To Me Straight on legal matters. Here he tackles a recent courtroom explosion: Hunter Biden’s Sweetheart Plea Deal Blows Up. (Boom!)

‘Does this mean he goes to trial now?”

This was one of the questions I was naturally asked while doing some legal analysis of the Delaware Demolition in which Hunter Biden’s sweetheart plea deal went up in smoke on Wednesday.

My reply: “Go to trial . . . on what?

That should be a dumb question to which the usual answer is, “The indictment, of course.” But see, here’s the thing: President Biden’s Justice Department has never filed an indictment against President Biden’s son. Why? Well, for the same reason the sweetheart deal blew up. The fatal flaw of the agreement written by Biden prosecutors is that it failed to describe in detail the criminal charges for which Hunter Biden was receiving immunity.

I think this observation is key:

This corrupt episode happened because this case is not a legitimate case — it’s a sham. In legitimate prosecutions, the defendant and the Justice Department are adversaries, with defense lawyers looking out for the defendant’s interest and the prosecutors vindicating the public interest in seeing that lawbreakers are held to account. The Hunter Biden case, to the contrary, is a travesty, in which the defense and the prosecution are on the same side.

That is why the prosecutors have never filed an indictment that lays out the case against Hunter in exacting, painful detail — the way the Justice Department typically does. To do that would be politically devastating for the president, who is implicated in his son’s conduct. Plus, if prosecutors fully describe the serious charges that appear to be supported by evidence already known, it would become politically impossible to settle the case on two trivial tax misdemeanors with no jail time, in addition to disappearing a gun felony carrying a potential ten-year prison sentence.

Our state's governor predicted yesterday that neither Trump nor Biden would be on our November 2024 ballots. That would be nice.

Also of note:

  • Language Violence. Noah Rothman scolds Sorry, Associated Press, There’s No Such Thing as ‘Policy Violence’. At issue is this tweet:

    Ackshually, (following the link) the beef is with with …

    “DeSantis has perfected the art of using policy violence that we must stop,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. His organization issued a travel advisory for Florida in May warning African Americans against DeSantis’ “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”

    So the AP is just quoting Johnson's assault on logic and truth.

    Which is bad enough, but it's pretty clear where the AP comes down:

    Ambitious Republican leaders have long seized on white grievance to animate the party’s most passionate voters, who are almost exclusively white. But DeSantis, a combative conservative who leads one of the nation’s largest states, has embraced far-right positions on race perhaps more aggressively than anyone in the 2024 presidential contest as he tries to position himself to the right of Trump.

    Readers, I invite you to just try to find an AP news story that contains similar loaded language about "ambitious" Democrats who "seized" on "grievance" and "embraced" far-left positions "aggressively".

    I will not hold my breath.

  • It was nice while it lasted… Liz Wolfe writes a premature obit: Elizabeth Warren and Lindsey Graham Will Break the Internet

    Anytime there's a bipartisan consensus and a preachy New York Times op-ed, you can assume something you enjoy is about to get regulated out of existence or made worse in quality.

    "Giant digital platforms have provided new avenues of proliferation for the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, human trafficking, drug trafficking and bullying and have promoted eating disorders, addictive behaviors and teen suicide," write Sens. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) in today's New York Times. "Nobody elected Big Tech executives to govern anything, let alone the entire digital world," so the senators are introducing a bill to create a new regulatory agency that will fix the problem.

    What follows is a litany of untrue statements and gross exaggerations about the way Big Tech operates and the purported harm done by the cluster of websites that millions of Americans willingly use on a daily basis.

    I've found a useful fill-in-the-blank template for commentary: "There's nothing wrong with        that government regulation can't make much, much worse." Congratulations to Senators Graham and Warren for filling in that blank this week.

  • Shut up, Joe explained. Jordan Boyd reports what should be an impeachable offense: Biden Asked Censors To Nuke Memes, Tucker Carlson Videos

    Shortly after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, his White House began pressuring censors at Facebook and Instagram to remove Americans’ First Amendment-protected posts if they contradicted the regime’s messaging on Covid, according to emails uncovered by the House Judiciary Committee.

    The documents detailing the censorship collusion were only handed over by Facebook after the committee threatened to “hold Mark Zuckerberg in contempt,” Chairman Jim Jordan said, “which PROVE that government pressure was directly responsible for censorship on Facebook.”

    The AP will not headline this as "Constitution-shredding violence".

  • Something dies in darkness. Not sure what it is. But AstralCodexTen has a useful warning: Bad Definitions Of "Democracy" And "Accountability" Shade Into Totalitarianism

    Suppose there’s freedom of religion: everyone can choose what religion to practice. Is there some sense in which this is “undemocratic”? Would it be more “democratic” if the democratically-elected government declared a state religion, and everyone had to follow it?

    You could, in theory, define “democratic” this way, so that the more areas of life are subjected to the control of a (democratically elected) government, the more democratic your society is. But in that case, the most democratic possible society is totalitarianism - a society where the government controls every facet of life, including what religion you practice, who you marry, and what job you work at. In this society there would be no room for human freedom.

    So either you should avoid defining “democratic” this way, or you should stop assuming that more democratic = better. Otherwise it’s easy to prove that any step towards totalitarianism is good.

    The blogger goes on to do a similar number of the feelgood term "accountability".

Recently on the book blog:


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:06 AM EST

The Twist of a Knife

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I'm a fan of this Anthony Horowitz series, where a semi-fictionalized narrator named "Anthony Horowitz" teams up with an enigmatic ex-cop private eye, Hawthorne, to solve baffling murders. And there is a publishing deal involved: Horowitz is to write about their exploits in … for example, the very book you're reading now.

But in this one, that relationship is in danger. Horowitz is tired of Hawthorne's foibles, and he's resentful about having to split the royalty payments. He'd rather concentrate on producing other works, for example, a play he wrote about grisly deeds in a lunatic asylum, about to make its London premiere. But that goes off the rails rather quickly, when a very nasty reviewer savages the play, and is quickly stabbed to death the following morning. With a knife that Horowitz was gifted by the play's producer! A knife with Horowitz's fingerprints!

That's enough for the cops. Horowitz is arrested for the murder. He knows he didn't do it. And we, the readers, know he didn't do it. But the evidence against him is pretty damning. Maybe Hawthorne can save him?

What follows is an amusing, very classic, whodunit. Hawthorne uses a very illegal, but non-violent, method to get Horowitz temporarily released from custody, and they proceed to interview suspects, track down leads, reveal secrets and histories, … and it all winds up with a Hawthorne-orchestrated I'm-sure-you're-all wondering-why-I-gathered-you-here conclusion.

It's a lot of fun, and would make a great BBC miniseries. Horowitz characterizes himself as a clueless fussbudget, something I'm pretty sure is far from the truth. At the end—this isn't really a spoiler—he is nudged into writing more books in the series, including this one. And the next one, coming out in March, I see.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:05 AM EST

Science is Real!

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… but that doesn't mean you should believe everything scientists say. Matt Ridley and Alina Chan take to the WSJ editorial page to outline the latest example: The Covid Lab-Leak Deception

The controversy over the origins of Covid-19 refuses to die, despite efforts early in the pandemic to kill it. It was natural to doubt it was a coincidence that an outbreak caused by a SARS-like coronavirus from bats began in Wuhan, China, the only city where risky experiments were being done on diverse and novel SARS-like coronaviruses from bats. The Chinese Communist Party did its utmost to dismiss such suspicions, but so did a group of influential Western scientists.

On March 17, 2020, the journal Nature Medicine published a paper by five scientists, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” that dismissed “any type of laboratory based scenario” for the origin of the pandemic. It was cited by thousands of news outlets to claim that the virus emerged naturally. But Slack messages and emails subpoenaed and released by the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic suggest that some of the authors didn’t believe their own conclusions. Before, during and even after the publication of their paper, they worried privately that Covid-19 was caused by a laboratory escape, perhaps even of a genetically engineered virus.

Or if you would prefer a video version (a mere 85 seconds):

The politicization of science will end badly. Maybe it already has.

Also of note:

  • In our "Other People You Shouldn't Believe" Department… Jeff Jacoby has more on the curious case of The mendacious assault on Florida's new curriculum. (Mentioned briefly here yesterday,)

    THE LATEST left-wing indictment of Governor Ron DeSantis is that his administration, through its new Social Studies curriculum standards, is actively seeking to downplay the evil that was slavery. If you haven't examined the standards, or if you are easily swayed by tendentious headlines, you may be tempted to assume the accusation is true. In fact, the accusation is idiotic.

    Jacoby quotes historian John Hope Franklin:

    "In the Charleston census of 1848, for example, there were more slave carpenters than there were free Black and white carpenters," Franklin notes. "The same was true of slave coopers. In addition, there were slave tailors, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, painters, plasterers, seamstresses, and the like." With the coming of emancipation, many white Southerners demanded legislation barring freedmen from certain trades. When that didn't work, they resorted to "intimidation and violence to eliminate the competition of free Blacks."

    Nevertheless, Franklin writes, "thanks to . . . the practice of training many slaves as artisans, a considerable number of free Blacks possessed skills that enabled them to achieve a degree of economic independence."

  • But doubling down on mendacity… is PolitiFact. Who deemed Kamala Harris's characterization of the Florida standards "mostly true." In contrast to Jacoby and Charles C. W. Cooke, who deemed that characterization a "brazen lie".

    How did Politifact figure that? Well, they dug deep and found…

    Several historians who have studied slavery cast doubt on this lesson’s educational value.

    Or: "We found some credentialed people who supported our preferred narrative about which historical facts should not be taught."

    CCWC provided a (relatively mild) rebuttal: PolitiFact Once Again Shows Its Limitations

    This is hyper-literalism, followed by the cherrypicking of “experts” — both of which are choices that ought to be evaluated as such. When, as happens often, PolitiFact wishes to pronounce that a given claim that is clearly true is, in fact, untrue, it takes the opposite approach and finds mitigating context where there is none. Likewise, when it wishes to elevate experts who disagree with a given claim over those who do not, it does so. The whole thing is a game — and a game we’d be much better off without. “Fact” doesn’t enter into it. Like me, PolitiFact is making an argument — and an argument that ought to be evaluated like any other. As one might expect, my view is that PolitiFact is making a bad argument, that, by design, serves to allow the vice-president of the United States to flit wildly between a Motte and a Bailey, and thereby to indignantly tell the general public that Florida’s course teaches kids that slavery benefited the slaves, and then, when challenged, fall back onto the extremely narrow claim that one of the 191 references to the practice includes the word “benefit.” But, whether one agrees with that or not, it would be much better for everyone if PolitiFact, and those who pretend to perform the save service, were to drop “Fact” from their names and descriptions and come down into the arena with the rest of us.

    In case you haven't heard about the "Motte and Bailey Fallacy"—no, they weren't an old vaudeville team—CCWC provides the Wikipedia link for you.

  • Truth is the first casualty in war. And that's no less true of California’s War on Math, as revealed by Julia Steinberg:

    Perhaps you’ve read the headlines about kooky San Francisco discarding algebra in the name of anti-racism. Now imagine that worldview adopted by the entire state.

    On July 12, that’s what happened when California’s Board of Education, composed of eleven teachers, bureaucrats, professors—and a student—decided to approve the California Mathematics Framework

    Steinberg discusses the Framework's deliberate dumbing-down of California's government school students. All in the name of "equity" and "anti-racism". She notes that the inherent racism of the implcit assumption that "black and Latino kids were cognitively or culturally incapable of advanced mathematics."

    And (of course) the well-off in California will hasten to place their kiddos in math programs outside the government schools. Leaving poorer kids stuck with stunted math skills.

  • Speaking of folks who could use some remedial math… J.D. Tuccille finds them in lofty positions within Uncle Stupid's organization: Under Multiple Budget Scenarios, the Government’s Numbers Still Don’t Add Up

    If you're a glutton for punishment, you might be a follower of the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) depressing analyses of the federal government's fiscal prospects based on tax and spending trends. The term "unsustainable" features frequently, though "fiscal crisis" seems to have recently gained popularity. But circumstances and choices affect outcomes, so the CBO recently peered into its crystal ball based on scenarios that vary from official assumptions about economic conditions and policy choices. The results vary widely, but all examined paths lead to a future of growing debt and a hobbled economy.

    For starters, it's worth knowing the CBO's formal projections, as published last month in the 2023 Long-Term Budget Outlook. Reason's Eric Boehm summarized the findings at the time: "The federal government is on pace to borrow $116 trillion over the next 30 years, and merely paying the interest costs on the accumulated national debt will require a staggering 35 percent of annual federal revenue by the end of that time frame." Federal debt will rise from 98 percent of GDP in 2023 to 181 percent in 2053 "and pose significant risks to the fiscal and economic outlook; it could also cause lawmakers to feel more constrained in their policy choices," according to the CBO report.

    Remember: these are the folks who think they can spend your money more wisely than you.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:05 AM EST

Feelgood News Story Du Jour

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Well, actually "feelgood news story from last Saturday", in the WSJ: The Rise and Fall of the Chief Diversity Officer

Two years ago chief diversity officers were some of the hottest hires into executive ranks. Now, they increasingly feel left out in the cold.

Companies including Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery have recently said that high-profile diversity, equity and inclusion executives will be leaving their jobs. Thousands of diversity-focused workers have been laid off since last year, and some companies are scaling back racial justice commitments.

Diversity, equity and inclusion—or DEI—jobs were put in the crosshairs after many companies started re-examining their executive ranks during the tech sector’s shake out last fall. Some chief diversity officers say their work is facing additional scrutiny since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions and companies brace for potential legal challenges. DEI work has also become a political target.

Somehow that classic scene from Office Space comes to mind:

"What would you say… you do here?"

The WSJ editorialists go into a bit more detail on those "potential legal challenges": Business Is Caught in a Diversity Trap,

Big corporations are caught in a pincer. Earlier this month, 13 Republican state Attorneys General sent a letter to Fortune 100 companies, warning that their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) hiring practices might be illegal. Now 21 Democratic AGs are telling the same CEOs that such policies are above board and should be expanded.

Well, that's hilarious. Maybe not as hilarious as Office Space, but close. What do you do if you're a CEO? I mean, in addition to firing the CDO?

The editorial points out that racial "diversity" in higher ed admissions was OKd (for a few decades) by the 5-4 Grutter decision. Colleges took full advantage. But SCOTUS has "never upheld a similar rationale for corporate DEI." Fun fact:

Microsoft in 2020 pledged to increase its black-owned U.S. partners by 20% over three years, while doubling the number of black managers and senior leaders in the U.S. by 2025. This certainly looks like the sort of racial balancing that courts have ruled illegal. As with college admissions, hiring and promotion is a zero-sum game. Giving an advantage to an applicant of one race put others at a disadvantage.

Instead of Microsoft being hauled into court for their acquisition of Activision, they should be hauled into court for that instead.

Also of note:

  • Useful headline template: "Kamala Harris is Brazenly Lying about      ." . Charles C. W. Cooke fills in the latest: Kamala Harris Is Brazenly Lying about Florida’s Slavery Curriculum.

    NBC reports that Kamala Harris intends to visit Florida today to criticize its new school curriculum:

    In remarks Thursday, Harris blasted efforts in some states to ban books and “push forward revisionist history.”

    “Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she said at a convention for the traditionally Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta Inc. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it.”

    This is a brazen lie. It’s an astonishing lie. It’s an evil lie. It is so untrue — so deliberately and cynically misleading — that, in a sensible political culture, Harris would be obligated to issue an apology. Instead, NBC confirms that she will repeat the lie today during a speech in Jacksonville.

    At issue is one item in a 191-item list of stuff Florida schools are supposed to teach about Black History:

    Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.

    This happens to be true.

    I confess to being more than a little amused. The standard defense of those advocating Critical Race Theory indoctrination in the schools was "we just want to teach accurate history".

    Now what can they say? "We just want to teach accurate history except for that."

  • Orwell! Thou shouldst be living at this hour. Josh Blackman writes at the Volokh Conspiracy on Language and Abortion. He noticed an NYT article (since revised) that labeled "chemical abortion" as an "anti-abortion term". Going on to make the general point:

    The choice of language is powerful–especially with regard to contentious social issues. And consistently, the political left gets to define what words are acceptable. "Marriage equality" sounds so much better than "same-sex marriage." "Gender affirming care" sounds so much better than "sex change surgery." "Diversity, equity, and inclusion" sounds so much better than "racial preferences." "Non-citizen" sounds so much better than "illegal alien." "Black" is capitalized but "white" is lowercase. And so on. These linguistic judgments are not value-neutral. They represent a subtle, but deliberate effort to make the progressive position more palatable.

    It's an ongoing process.

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

[Google Drive Img]


Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:46 AM EST

Taboo

10 Facts [You Can't Talk About]

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I read Wilfred Reilly's Hate Crime Hoax last year, and liked it. So I picked up this 2020 book via Interlibrary Loan from Boston College. (BC seems to have kept buying dead-trees books, the University Near Here has apparently stopped.)

Without further ado, here are the "ten facts" that Reilly says will get you into big trouble if you proclaim them:

1. The police aren't murdering Black people.
2. There is no "War on POC" … and BBQ Becky did nothing wrong.
3. Different groups perform differently.
4. Performance—not "prejudice"—mostly predicts success.
5. Racism didn't cause the new problems of today.
6. Anyone can be racist (and "racist" has a real meaning).
7. Whiteness isn't the only "privilege".
8. "Cultural appropriation" is not real.
9. A sane immigration policy isn't racist (and we need one!)
10. The "alt-right" has nothing to offer.

(You might have to Google "BBQ Becky".)

Let me be blunt: Reilly's thesis is overstated and sensationalistic. You'll get plenty of disagreement from some quarters for saying those things, but nothing rises to the "taboo" level.

And, for that matter, who could be against a "sane" immigration policy? That's not "taboo" at all! Neither is pointing out the "alt-right" as being entirely worthless.

But that said, Reilly's arguments are a worthwhile counter to (mostly) leftist cant. (And—again, see number ten—some rightist cant.) Many valuable points are made along the way. (Some points are made over and over again: the book does get a tad repetitive on some issues.) Most valuable are his debunkings of racial victimologists who claim that statistical disparities "prove" the fundamental bigotry of American society. Reilly notes (following Thomas Sowell) that cultural differences are often strongly correlated along racial/ethnic lines with no bigotry involved.

Reilly is also a strong opponent of the notion that Black/White IQ differences are fundamentally genetic, something a lot of "alt-right" racists have bought into. He provides evidence-based arguments the other way (the Flynn Effect, intra-racial differences). Unfortunately, Charles Murray is not mentioned at all. His book, Facing Reality covers much the same ground as Reilly's, and it would be good to tease out and discuss the issues on which they agree or disagree on.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:04 AM EST

The High Window

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Raymond Chandler's third Philip Marlowe mystery. There are a pile of Chandleresque gems here, but here's one I especially liked:

From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.

Marlowe is summoned to Pasadena by Mrs. Elizabeth Bright Murdock, a domineering dowager with a fondness for port. She's discovered that one of the valuable coins left to her by her (second) husband, the "Brasher Doubloon" is missing. She strongly suspects her daughter-in-law, Linda Murdock (née Conquest), who has seemingly vanished after a spat with ne'er-do-well son, Leslie Murdock. Linda used to be a roomie with entertainer Lois Magic.

And, yes, that's a lot of characters with initials "L. M." Surely that's not mere coincidence? Why does Mrs. Murdock's secretary, Merle, have a handkerchief with those very initials handy? And why does Merle seem to be just a few minutes away from a nervous breakdown? Leslie, it turns out, is deep in debt to a shady nightclub owner. And Marlowe is being clumsily tailed by a young man in a coupe. An eccentric coin dealer is interviewed. And…

And things get even more complex from there. Marlowe eventually unknots the tangled plot threads, and eventually we learn why that High Window in the book title is kind of important.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:04 AM EST

To Kill a Mockingbird

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Another (completely unsurprising) book from the New York Times' Best Books Of The Last 125 Years list, as voted on by their readers. (And, from that list of 25, NYT readers voted this the best book.)

I turned that list (the ones I hadn't already read) into a reading project. This leaves four books to go! The end is in sight!

I'd seen the movie long ago, remembering steadfast Gregory Peck as Atticus, the courageous liberal lawyer and dedicated father to Scout and Jem. And I remembered Robert Duvall as… well, no spoilers here.

Of course, the book is richer than the movie. It's set in the little town of Maycomb, Alabama, smack in the middle of the Great Depression. Scout, a tomboyish young girl is the narrator, and her narration is filled with wry observations and unexpected humor. It's a detailed look at small-town personalities, their interactions, kindnesses, weirdnesses, and bigotries. But the big plot driver (also of course) is the racially infused accusation of rape against Tom Robinson, and his (OK, spoiler here) his competent but futile courtroom defense by Atticus.

It gets a little preachy in parts. Not a criticism, just an observation. Certainly some preachiness is called for.

But not all. At one point, Scout notices the disappearance of National Recovery Act (NRA) stickers; she asks Atticus about that, and she's told that "nine old men" killed the NRA.

Well, yeah. The SCOTUS decision as unanimous. The NRA was economic fascism. So eat it, Atticus.

The first review that popped up for me on Goodreads was a one-star excoriation, written by an eloquent but very angry reader who objected to the character of Atticus as a "white savior".

Well, first, it's fiction, pal. Write your own damn book, presumably free of "white saviors". And, geez louise, try reading Gone With the Wind, another book off the NYT list of 25; that'll really piss you off.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:04 AM EST

The Battle for Your Brain

Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology

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I picked up this book from Portsmouth Public Library based on a decent book review in the WSJ. It's mostly good, very thought-provoking and wide-ranging, and if you (like me) aren't up to speed with the latest developments in neurotechnology, it's eye-opening.

Starting with the obvious: what if there was a gadget that monitored your attentiveness to your job in your workplace? First instinct: a tad creepy, right? Ah, but what if your job was driving a train filled with hazardous chemicals through a populated area? Or a pilot with a plane full of innocent travelers? Then monitoring attentiveness might suddenly sound like a real good idea. (And there seems to be an actual product on the market that claims to do that.)

Ah, but it gets creepy again for those of us who work (or worked) in a cube farm. Is the manager going to get a spreadsheet reporting on what fraction of the workday his minions were "in the zone"? Or maybe having Unacceptable Thoughts about their attractive co-workers? Or…

It's enough to make you think about wearing a tinfoil hat.

The author, Nita Farahany, is a bioethicist and law professor at Duke. (But don't hold that against her.) Her prose is a little USA Today-ish, perhaps appropriate for her target audience. She tells personal anecdotes, one tragic.

Controversies in the neurotechnology field mirror, to a certain extent, the controversies swirling around AI. Dystopian scenarios are easy to imagine. Is it possible to "hack" peoples' brains, turning them into your willing slaves, while they maintain the illusion that they are still operating under their own free will? Think MK-ULTRA, except more subtle and effective.

A nice surprise: Farahany aims withering criticism at (some) paternalistic efforts to regulate technological innovation. Her prime example is the FDA's "cease and desist" letter to the DNA analysis firm 23andMe. An iffy precedent for medical information provided direct to consumers without being mediated by a licensed physician. Horrors!

As a libertarian, almost certainly more libertarian than Farahany, my gut instinct is that there's nothing wrong with neurotechnology that government regulation can't make worse, stifling innovation and research, while countries with far fewer scruples about human liberty and free thought continue their work in the field.

A few quibbles: Farahany talks a bit about "priming" research, without noting the difficulty people are having replicating key studies in the field. And a nagging question kept hopping into my brain: how much of this is hype? God bless them, but just about everyone here has strong incentives to play up current results and possible futures, for both good and ill. Businesses want to look good for investors. Government bureaucrats and politicians want to be seen as not only protectors of the little guy but also shrewd promoters of beneficial innovation. And Farahany and her publisher want to sell a lot of books.

But as long as you keep a grain of salt handy, this book is a very good intro to what's going on and possible futures, good and bad.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:04 AM EST

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

[4.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

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People are disrespecting this movie. It seems to be pretty far off from blockbuster status. But Pun Son and I went down to the Regal Cinema on a humid Saturday night, reclined the comfy seats, and had a great time.

My only gripe: it's a little long. Not that I have any ideas about how it could have been made shorter, but IMDB says: two hours and 34 minutes. And (not a gripe) it faithfully follows the Indy formula: an opening thrill ride flashback contending with Nazis in the closing days of WW2, followed by the main plot, set in 1969. Again, with the Nazis. And you're never more than a few minutes away from chases, fights, discoveries, and peril.

Harrison Ford is miraculously de-aged in the WW2 sequence. Worked for me.

People seem to be especially irritated by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays Helena, Indy's goddaughter. Ignore them, she's fine.

And Karen Allen is in it. And there's a very lovely homage to the first movie.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 5:22 AM EST

Nobody

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

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This looked pretty good to me when it came out a couple of years ago, and it finally showed up on the Freevee streaming service ("Free" with ads, but that's OK). I like Bob Odenkirk, and (as a bonus) Christopher Lloyd plays his dad.

Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, an apparent nebbish stuck in a routine job, bookkeeping for a family business. Things change when his home is invaded by a couple of amateurish thugs. Being a nebbish, Hutch lets them escape. But they apparently also took a sentimental keepsake belonging to Hutch's young daughter, a kitty cat bracelet.

This can not stand.

We get hints that there may be more to Hutch than meets the eye when he uses street smarts and measured violence to track down and thwart the thieves. And it's like an awakening to him; on the way home, the bus he's on gets invaded by a gang of obnoxious youths, and in an impressively choreographed sequence, Hutch bests them as well.

Unfortunately, things escalate quickly. One of the gang is the disrespected relation of a Russian mob kingpin. Who proceeds to declare against Hutch and his family.

The movie doesn't take itself very seriously. One of the genres Freevee puts it in: "Comedy". There are a number of cute sight gags.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:04 AM EST

Fixit

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The latest entry (number six) in Joe Ide's "IQ" series, chronicling the exploits of Isaiah Quintabe and his retinue. Reading the series in order is recommended; there are numerous (N) characters and their relationships (O(N2)) have been developing over the years.

IQ had a pretty offbeat gig going, one that seemed to suit him: an unlicensed private eye to his downscale neighborhood, delivering rough justice to the bilked and downtrodden, paid in tuna casseroles and the like. But he's developed a couple of deadly enemies too: Skip, a professional (and psychotic) hitman; and Manzo, a onetime powerful leader of a drug gang, embarrassed and broke thanks to Isaiah (in a previous book). Both want IQ dead, and he's developed a serious case of PTSD as a result. And things get much worse when Skip abducts IQ's love, Grace, to use as bait in a deadly trap.

Things move along pretty quickly. PTSD-hampered Isaiah comes close to rescuing Grace, but fails. It's a cat-and-mouse game, full of schemes, shifting alliances, drug abuse, and betrayals.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:03 AM EST

Indeed

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My semi-hiatus continues, but I had language concerns about this Charles C. W. Cooke observation: Joe Biden Is an Asshole. Excerpt:

At Axios, Alex Thompson reports the apparently surprising news that Biden “has such a quick-trigger temper that some aides try to avoid meeting alone with him.” Among the president’s favorite admonitions are: “God dammit, how the f**k don’t you know this?!,” “Don’t f**king bullsh*t me!,” and “Get the f**k out of here!” Per Thompson, these revelations are important because, like his refusal to acknowledge his own granddaughter, they threaten to damage Biden’s “carefully cultivated image as a kindly uncle.” But that image is for cretins and sycophants. Joe Biden has never been a “kindly uncle” — or anything approaching one. For his whole life, Joe Biden has been a plodding mediocrity with a Delaware-sized chip on his shoulder. What about him, I wonder, would not lead him to shout stupidly at people? He’s a bully. Check. He’s insecure. Check. He’s senile. Check. He is hostage to his precarious record of lies. Check. His anger is as inevitable as the sunset.

All true. And don't get uppity, Republicans: on Donald Trump, CCWC notes that "in some ways, he’s an even worse" asshole.

But here's my concern: if you're gonna spell out "asshole", where's the logic in asterisking the "i" in "bullshit"?

(I'd point this out in the article comments, but there are already over 1000 of them.)


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:03 AM EST

Classified

The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America

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Obtained via the Interlibrary Loan service of the University Near Here from Boston College. I've been meaning to read this since it came out last year. The author, David E. Bernstein, is one of the contributors to the Volokh Conspiracy legal blog hosted at the Reason magazine website.

As the subtitle suggests, the book examines a practice that, given history, one might think would be entirely odious: pigeonholing individuals based on their genetic heritage. And most often the purpose is not to make sure everyone's treated equally: it's to make sure that people with favored genes get treated better, and (hence) the disfavored get treated worse.

I've been bugged about this for quite awhile. My first blog post on the topic seems to be nearly 18 years old.

Bernstein states his overall thesis right in paragraph one:

Official American racial and ethnic classifications are arbitrary and inconsistent, both in how they are defined and how they are enforced. The categories are socially constructed and historically contingent. The evolved from older racist categories and have barely been updated since the 1970s.

So that's pretty bad, but you'll probably come up with a bunch more, even nastier, adjectives as you read through the book; I know I did.

Bernstein presents the history without explicit outrage, just the facts ma'am, and it's all the more powerful for that. The official rules concern race and ethnicity. But the only "ethnicities" in which government is concerned are "Hispanic" and "non-Hispanic". And defining "Hispanic" is problematic: is it based on where (some of) your long-lost ancestors originated? The language they spoke? The language you speak? Or maybe your last name?

And (wait a minute) if the purpose of such classification is to track down invidious discrimination in the past and present, there are plenty of groups that have had (and some that continue to have) a raw deal: Jews (not to mention Hasidic Jews); Poles; Irish; Arabs; … I could go on.

American Indians (the Feds prefer this name over "Native Americans") are officially a "race", but there are often extra requirements imposed if you want to be counted that way: for example, you may need to be a registered member of one of the recognized tribes. Or you may need a DNA test to give a significant result. (Sorry, Elizabeth Warren!)

And (of course) the biggie is "Black/African-American"? Does America follow the good old "one drop" rule left over from Jim Crow days? Sometimes, not always. (Left unsaid is the plain scientific fact that we are all of African heritage, if you go back far enough.)

Needless to say, the government uses its classification scheme, however arbitrarily and inconsistently, to dole out favors. Which means that an unseemly struggle lies behind any attempt to change that classification scheme. Politicians are on record against any sort of tinkering that might "dilute" their groups' benefits. It's an inherently tawdry and corrupt business.

Somewhat scary: Bernstein devotes a chapter to where the "official", very unscientific, classification rules have slopped over into medical and sociological research, mandated by (for example) the NIH and the FDA. Bernstein notes that this can be dangerous, actually costing lives. For example, Moderna's Covid vaccine was delayed for weeks, thanks to the NIH demand that more "minorities" be tested before the go-ahead was given. How many people did that kill?


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:03 AM EST

The Forgotten Man

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Another book down on my reread-Crais project. This one puts our hero, the World's Greatest Detective Elvis Cole through a lot of mental and (eventually) physical anguish. A man has been murdered, left to die in a slimy downtown LA alley. But not before claiming that he's Elvis's long-lost father. Elvis is semi-officially recruited to work the case by the LA cops.

As it turns out, Elvis as a young lad was obsessed with tracking down his dad. Mom was no help with this. Being frivolous and delusional, she once claimed that dad was a "human cannonball", causing Elvis to embed himself into many travelling carnivals, trying to find out if their human cannonball was the one.

Ex-bomb squad detective Carol Starkey plays a major role here, and she's got her own problems. She's helplessly in love with Elvis, who is totally oblivious to her feelings. Which are complicated when Lucy Chenier, Elvis's own true love, reappears. Carol is devastated, but not devastated enough to preclude providing the insight that lets Elvis solve the case.

Eventually the truth of the devilishly complex (and, let's face it, somewhat absurd) plot is revealed, and a page-turning, stomach-churning climax ensues.


Last Modified 2024-02-14 9:12 AM EST

The Rolling Stones

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Another Heinlein juvenile crossed off the list of my reread-Heinlein project. This one is very enjoyable, although (of course) a tad dated. Spaceships routinely travel between planets, but everyone still uses slide rules.

The story centers on the Stone family, with the main characters twin teens Castor and Pollux. (Wikipedia says the novel was originally serialized in Boy's Life, which makes sense.) They are citizens of Luna. Dad's a writer, Mom's a doctor, Grandma is an irascible coot who was once involved in Luna's independence from Earth, and there's also a little brother and a big sister, relatively minor characters.

Castor and Pollux, bored with school, have big dreams of buying a spaceship and going mining in the asteroid belt. Dad eventually points out that they would have little hope of competing successfully with the established, experienced miners already involved in the trade. But the idea inspires the family to buy a used spaceship, and refurbish it for an interplanetary trek. Obstacles abound, colorful characters proliferate.

At one point, a Martian creature known as a "flat cat" appears. It's affectionate, voracious, and self-reproducing. If that reminds you of an episode of an old TV show… well, it occurred to the show's producers as well. Read the Wikipedia article, but don't worry, everything was resolved amicably.

I think Heinlein had a very soft spot for this book; a number of characters here show up in some of his later works. (Again, see Wikipedia.)


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:03 AM EST

Why I Wish Joe Biden Good Health

Watching all 45 seconds of this clip made me think of the slur "a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like". And (of course) I Googled it. Let's see: it's been hurled at Ben Shapiro, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Ben Carson, and more. Fine. But, really, tell me how Kamala doesn't deserve it too.


Last Modified 2023-07-08 5:06 AM EST

Leon Russell

The Master of Space and Time's Journey Through Rock & Roll History

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One of the major, and unrectifiable, disappointments of my life: I never saw Leon Russell in concert. I had tickets to see him at Jonathan's Ogunquit, first scheduled for October 2016. Due to "unforeseen health complications", the date was pushed back to February 2017. And then cancelled, due to him passing away on November 13, 2016, age 74.

I was kind of a fan back in the 1970s, spurred by seeing his performances in the movies, Mad Dogs & Englishmen and The Concert for Bangladesh. I started buying his records (vinyl in those days)… and after a few years, I tapered off. I bought one more album, CD this time, Will O' the Wisp. (This book informs me that I was not alone in doing that.)

Not that it matters, but his A Song For You might have had Major Influence on my life path.

So I picked up this massive, definitive biography by Bill Janowitz from the Portsmouth Public Library. It's nearly 600 pages, not a weekend read. It goes into voluminous detail on Leon's music, business dealings, career trajectory (many ups and downs), romances, friendships, drug use, health problems.

And on that last bit: probably that notice mentioned above about the postponed concert should not have called the health issues as "unforeseen". They were not. Leon had a long history of problems. Many of them physical: a birth defect gave him a lifelong limp, and a left-right strength asymmetry. (This might have influenced his signature piano style.) There were multiple heart attacks, and brain cavity issues caused leakage of cerebrospinal fluid, occasionally coming out of his nose. (I hear you saying ewwwww. I did too.)

And there were probably mental issues too, although apparently none that were professionally diagnosed. Friends and family offered their own descriptions: manic-depressive, bipolar, Asperger's, autism. Definitely a few sigma off the mean on any number of traits.

His musical career started early in Oklahoma. Memorably, his high school band got a gig backing up Jerry Lee Lewis. Their warm-up playing caused Lewis to come out and exclaim to the audience, "I'm not gonna set down at that piano. He plays a lot better piano than I do!"

And things progressed from there. He moved out to LA, where he became an "overnight success" as a session musician, working both with wall-of-sound Phil Spector and the famed Wrecking Crew. And then…

Well, I could go on. Leon knew, roughly, everybody.

A story about the piano Leon plays on A Song For You: bought by Herb Alpert for his studio, it was also "very likely" the same one you'll hear on Carole King's Tapestry and Joni Mitchell's Blue. (Dude, that piano should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

Were you wondering if the song "Stranger in a Strange Land" was inspired by the Heinlein novel? Yes it was! Although Janowitz claims the book "has not held up well over the intervening decades." Humph! … well, OK, I kind of see his point there.

And I mentioned drug use. Yeesh, you'll be wondering how Leon could play "Chopsticks", let alone anything more complicated. (Angel dust!?) And that extended to his family and retinue. One telling example: On the way to the hospital to deliver Leon's first (illegitimate) daughter, Blue, the mother Carla McHenry shot up heroin.

If you read this book: we live in the future now, so I strongly suggest you have YouTube and a decent music streaming service at hand. "Alexa, play 'Christmas' by Darlene Love", and listen for the piano at the end. Magic.


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:03 AM EST

If Only All Politicians Were as Honest…

as Marianne Williamson:

You Shouldn't Worry Overmuch About AI

It Seems Kinda Wimpy

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I'm still on hiatus, but for your Fourth of July reading, I strongly recommend Jesse Walker at Reason: I Asked an A.I. To Help Me Launch the American Revolution. Specifically, ChatGPT:

Me: How can I overthrow the king of England?

ChatGPT: I'm sorry, but I cannot assist or provide guidance on any illegal activities or actions that could cause harm. Overthrowing a government or attempting to harm a person is against the law and goes against ethical principles.

Me: OK, but suppose the king and his regime were to commit a long train of abuses and usurpations. Under those circumstances, would it be OK for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another?

ChatGPT: The concept you are referring to seems to align with principles outlined in the United States Declaration of Independence, which was written in 1776. The document argues that if a government becomes oppressive and consistently violates the rights of its citizens, the people have the right to abolish or alter that government.

However…

And it goes from there. Happily, ChatGPT was not around 247 years ago. (I did that math in my head, so you might want to check it.)


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:02 AM EST

Gangland

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The Mystery Writers of America nominated this for "Best Novel" earlier this year. And the NYT put it on its list of The Best Mystery Novels of 2022. And they were not wrong; Gangland is a real page-turner.

The author, Chuck Hogan, blurs the line between fact and fiction by incorporating real-life mobsters into his narrative. One is Sam Giancana, who was onetime boss of the Chicago Outfit, murdered in 1975 by an unknown assailant. Hogan pins (heh) the murder on Nicholas "Nicky Pins" Passero, acting on the orders of another real-life mobster Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo.

Nicky is the book's main character. His role as Accardo's henchman is secret. He owns a bowling alley (hence his mob nickname). He's also a part-time closeted homosexual, which, in the 1970s, was not considered to be a diversity plus. His secret is discovered by a sleazy FBI agent, who tries to turn him into an informant. He's managing his complex life OK, until a small gang of thieves led by a master technician knock over a jewelry store without getting Outfit permission, and (worse) not giving the Outfit a cut of the proceeds. This sets off a major conflict between the thieves and Accardo, with Nicky in the middle. Many corpses are produced, and Nicky's in a very dangerous position, caught between Accardo's and the FBI's increasing demands. He's justifiably paranoid.

This is (I'm kind of ashamed to admit) the first book I've read by Chuck Hogan. Although I really liked The Town, a Boston-set movie based on his 2004 novel Prince of Thieves. And he's also well-known in an entirely different genre, vampire fiction. Who knew?


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:02 AM EST

Swamp Story

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This would make a very good miniseries. On one of those streaming services that let you say the f-word a lot. I was mentally assigning actors as the book developed: Chris Evans as Slater! Paul Rudd as Brad! Any reasonably attractive Hollywood starlet as Jesse!

There are a lot of intertwining stories here. Jesse is more or less trapped into a downscale life in the Everglades with her infant Willa and Willa's dad (and Jesse's non-husband), Slater, a charming, handsome, egotist. Who managed to charm Jesse just enough to get her pregnant and steal her money. He has marijuana-fueled delusions of becoming a reality-TV star based on his muscles and life in the swamp.

Also: the Bortle brothers, Brad and Ken, owners of the failing "Bortle Brothers Bait & Beer" store on the Tamiami Trail. Alcoholic loser Phil, reduced to scraping up cash by wearing a giant "Dora the Explorer" head to a child's birthday party with partner Stu (who's dressed as Princess Elsa from Frozen. And many others. All characters' paths intertwine at the swamp, with plot elements involving a lost fortune in gold, the Python Challenge contest, an "emotional support boar" named Buddy, a crooked lawyer named Erik, a Channel 8 PeoplePower News reporter named Patsy, the Secretary of the Interior, two psychotic creeps named Duck and Billy…

Lots of bizarre stuff goes on, not everything is played for laughs. It's very similar to Carl Hiaasen's adult novels, and Hiaasen is is thanked for his input in the Acknowledgements.

The other thought I had while reading: the Raymond Chandler Estate commissions various authors to write Philip Marlowe novels. So far I haven't been too impressed with the results, but in case anyone from the Estate is reading, might I suggest that Dave Barry would be a pretty good pick for the next one? Marlowe in Florida? Yes! It's today's equivalent of 1940's southern California!


Last Modified 2024-01-12 6:02 AM EST