If It Weren't for Double Standards…

[Amazon Link]
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Let's imagine a scenario where a US President calls a foreign leader on the phone with the express purpose of urging that leader to take an action that will benefit his party in an upcoming election.

What's that? You remember something like that happening a few years ago? Leading to an impeachment trial?

You remember well, my friend. And so does Kevin D. Williamson: When Biden Does It ....

The six most boring words in my kind of journalism are, “Imagine if this were a Republican.” 

Highlighting pro-Democratic media bias is Sisyphean work—and so I will here duly insert: Harrumph, harrumph, etc.—but there is more at work in the media’s predictably gentle approach to the shenanigans of the Biden clan, which are, do note, not limited to the antics of the president’s son, Hunter. It is not only Hunter who has shady dealings with far-flung oligarchs and princelings. And Biden’s misdeeds are right there in the open.

Consider the president’s effort to persuade our good friends in Saudi Arabia to delay planned production cuts that might contribute to even higher gasoline prices. The president did not ask the Saudis to reverse the policy, but rather to postpone its execution by one month—meaning after the midterm elections.

The shape of the thing is Trumpian: The president has tried to persuade a foreign government to provide him with political assistance to help him through a difficult election. But the style of the thing was not Trumpian, and you don’t hear any outcry about this scandal because almost nobody who matters thinks it is a scandal. I am 100 percent confident that some of you will respond that this is in some very important way entirely different from Donald Trump’s “perfect” telephone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he tried to bully the Ukrainian president into launching an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. I am not persuaded that this is the case. And Trump was impeached over that matter. Biden will be criticized, if at all, in only the most charitable of terms.

A longish excerpt, but it seems to be behind the Dispatch paywall. Worth your shekels.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:59 AM EDT

Iron Sky

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Since I read Robert Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo recently, it put me in the mood for… Moon Nazis! And this 2012 movie is solidly in that genre.

It's set in the (then) near future of 2018, and the POTUS (a Sarah Palin type) has hit on a reelection gimmick: send an African-American on a mission to return to the Moon. Complete with ad banners on the lunar lander: "Black to the Moon!".

Sometimes the distance between satire and reality can be pretty thin.

But the return mission is cut short when one of the astronauts discovers a Nazi base hiding on the "dark side of the moon". (I hate that term.) And he's promptly shot in the head. The other guy, James Washington, the black guy, is taken prisoner. And he discovers a pretty functional colony, dedicated to developing and deploying the Götterdämmerung secret weapon so the Nazis can fulfill their dream of taking over the Earth. All they need is computing power—like that found in Washington's smartphone.

It's filled with a lot of satire, both heavy-handed and safe. (How brave do you have to be to make fun of Nazis?) The special effects and sets are decent for a small-budget movie. (They didn't spend much on the screenplay or the cast salary.) If you're in the mood for some dumb fun, this isn't bad.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:59 AM EDT

It's Not a Good Idea Though

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Emma Camp shows that she's more knowledgable about First Amendment interpretation than a sitting SCOTUS justice. And the identity of that justice may surprise you! (It surprised me.) Her provocative headline: Yes, You Can Yell 'Fire' in a Crowded Theater.

Though it is a popular misconception, it's perfectly legal to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. However, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito hasn't seemed to have gotten the message.

Despite sitting on the highest court in the land, directly deciding what is—and isn't—protected by the First Amendment, Alito delivered repeated on Tuesday a common constitutional myth. Whether the remark reveals a deep-seated misconception about First Amendment jurisprudence or was simply a momentary slip-up is unclear.

Ms. Camp points out that Alito was a lone dissenting vote in two First Amendment-relevant cases: Snyder v. Phelps in 2011, and United States v. Stevens in 2010. Both involved very odious speech that (nevertheless) the eight other justices held to be protected by the First.

Somehow, Sam got Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission right in 2010. So maybe with a little help from our Amazon Product du Jour, he could be as well informed on the First as a Reason assistant editor.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:59 AM EDT

Yeah, It Was a Lab Leak

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Jim "Indispensable" Geraghty notes the latest: The Wuhan Institute of Virology 'Faced an Acute Safety Emergency in November 2019'.

For a long time, there was a large and seemingly ever-growing pile of circumstantial evidence pointing to the possibility that a lab leak or accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic. But there wasn’t a smoking gun, something akin to a confession or a contemporaneous internal communication indicating there had indeed been some sort accident.

Today ProPublica and Vanity Fair report on Toy Reid, a China specialist for the RAND Corporation and a political officer in East Asia for the U.S. State Department, who reviewed hundreds of dispatches archived on the website of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Reid worked as part of a team assembled by the minority oversight staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Jim (I call him Jim) has extensive quoting from the linked articles. Recommended additional reading: An Analysis of the Origins of COVID-19, prepared by the "Minority [i.e., Republican] Oversight Staff" of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions.

Despite its appearance in "mainstream" publications like Vanity Fair and ProPublica, this story doesn't appear to have made it into general circulation. Gee, you'd think the origin of a virus that killed tens of millions around the world might be of some newsworthiness.

But in Googling around, I noted this Science article: Conduct probe exonerates scientist accused of obscuring pandemic‘s origin.

Republican members of Congress have failed to persuade the U.S. National Academy of Medicine (NAM) to expel one of its members, conservation biologist Peter Daszak. In an email to its members, NAM concluded there “was no evidence” that Daszak had violated its code of conduct, as the representatives had alleged in a complaint to NAM.

The complaint suggests Daszak is somehow linked to the mysterious origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Daszak runs a research nonprofit, EcoHealth Alliance, that has collaborated with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). The Chinese institute has received intense scrutiny because the first cases of the pandemic surfaced where it is located. Although no direct evidence ties WIV to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, some believe the virus leaked from the lab or may even have been engineered by scientists there.

An anonymous NAM member is quoted calling the complaint "frivolous and political". The Science article links to the complaint from those nasty Republicanses. You make the call on how "frivolous" you find it.

But I found this final paragraph to be (almost certainly unintentionally) telling:

Another NAM member who also asked not to be named said the complaint reflected a desire by some Republicans to blame China for the pandemic. “I think it’s really bad for pandemic preparedness,” this member said. “We need international collaboration to confront pandemics effectively.”

My translation of the anonymous member's statement: "We can't do or say anything that might piss off China."

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:58 AM EDT


The Language of Fanaticism

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another "wish I had liked it better" book. I might have been seduced by the title, which (I thought) might promise a dispassionate look at how languate trickery is used to sway people into behaving irrationally. The author, Amanda Montell, has a linguistic degree (apparently undergraduate) from NYU, kind of a qualification. But…

Well, let's start with the good. The book is a very accessible look at specific examples of "cults", starting from the obvious (Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, the Church of Scientology) to the less obvious (multi-level marketing firms, e.g. Amway; fitness/self-improvement schemes, e.g. SoulCycle), QAnon. Montell writes personally, continually injecting her anecdotes, acquaintances, and reactions into the narrative. This is often compelling, occasionally off-putting.

Getting to the ostensible focus of the book: Montell notes a number of commonalities in "cultish" language. Most interesting are the "thought-terminating clichés", which have their own Wikipedia page: phrases used in a discussion to shut down dissent and short-circuit critical thought. ("Don't think about it too hard.") But there's also "us-versus-them" language, verbal abuse, and (often) the generation of an entire lexicon of words and phrases "private" to the cult.

You don't need to be a linguist to recognize this.

The book is seriously marred by Montell's leftist politics. Why are Americans seemingly so susceptible to cultish come-ons? Ah, page 27 informs us it's due to our lack of "universal healthcare." On page 81, Montell points out "the oratorical similarities between [Donald] Trump and Jim Jones." On page 88, we are informed that we are conditioned to "automatically trust the voices of middle-aged white men." "Capitalism" is used throughout with an obvious implied sneer.

There's a brief discussion of the "tyrannous atmosphere" of Amazon. Much is made of a Jeff Bezos quote: "I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified." Montell says this is from a "1999 shareholder letter".

It's easy enough to find on the web. The letter is addressed not just to shareholders, but "To our shareholders, customers, and employees". And the fear-inducing sentence in context?

We intend to build the world’s most customer-centric company. We hold as axiomatic that customers are perceptive and smart, and that brand image follows reality and not the other way around. Our customers tell us that they choose Amazon.com and tell their friends about us because of the selection, ease-of-use, low prices, and service that we deliver.

But there is no rest for the weary. I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers. Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation. And we consider them to be loyal to us – right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.
Is that still quite as "tyrannous" now?

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:58 AM EDT

Blog Status Upgraded to "Low Volume, Probably Infrequent"

Because I can't resist passing along stuff like this:

Mother May I

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This book made the WSJ's Best Mysteries of 2021 list, setting up a small reading project for me. Six down, three to go on that.

Most of the book is narrated first-person by Bree Cabbat, an early-middle-aged mother of two older daughters and an infant son, Robert. She's married to a rich lawyer, Trey, who comes from a rich and powerful family. Things are pretty much OK for her, in other words. Until one morning she notices a witch outside the window of her house.

Well, it's not a witch. Turns out (later) that it's just an old unattractive lady. And later that day, the crone kidnaps little Robert, infant car seat and all, nearly right from under Bree's nose. Bree's understandably upset.

The purpose of Robert's abduction is to enmesh Bree in a twisty plot aimed at Trey's partner Spence. Bree goes along to save young Robert, but things don't turn out well at all. Bree teams up with the law firm's investigator, and her old friend, Marshall, to follow one tenuous lead after another in order to rescue Robert and discover the witch's evil motive.

The book grabbed me by the eyes; after scheduling a relatively leisurely 23 pages per day pace, I finished the last 160 pages in a single day.

The author's style is a tad overwritten and repetitive for me, but I can understand why people like that sort of thing. Didn't get in my way of liking the book.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:57 AM EDT


For personal reasons, I'm taking an indefinite suspension of normal ("Default") Pun Salad blogging.

I will still post as warranted in the other views: Books, Movies, and perhaps even Geekery.

Thanks for reading. Best wishes to all.

URLs du Jour


  • Baby, it's cold outside. Inside too, unfortunately. Ben Lieberman sounds the alarm: Biden Regulators Target Gas Furnaces.

    The Biden administration is not known for its light-handed regulatory touch, and so we should not be surprised that its efforts have included unhelpful initiatives targeting nearly every major household appliance. Perhaps worst of all for homeowners are the proposed regulations for new natural-gas furnaces.

    Specifically, the Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed stringent new energy-efficiency standards for these furnaces — so stringent that conventional non-condensing furnaces would effectively be outlawed in favor of condensing versions. The big difference between the two is that a condensing furnace has a second heat exchanger that takes some of the heat that otherwise would have gone out with the exhaust and utilizes it, making for a more efficient system. Sounds great — except that doing so can make it harder to vent the exhaust. Depending on a home’s configuration, the switch to a condensing furnace may entail thousands of dollars in additional installation costs on top of a purchase price that is hundreds of dollars higher than a comparable non-condensing model. Older and space-constrained homes would be the hardest hit, thus the proposed rule may disproportionately burden low-income homeowners.

    So far it's just a proposal, but it won't be talked about in those campaign ads that claim Democrats are doing stuff to "lower costs for Americans".

  • Who the hell is "we"? John Daniel Davidson has a modest proposal about political self-labelling: We Need To Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives.

    Why? Because the conservative project has largely failed, and it is time for a new approach. Conservatives have long defined their politics in terms of what they wish to conserve or preserve — individual rights, family values, religious freedom, and so on. Conservatives, we are told, want to preserve the rich traditions and civilizational achievements of the past, pass them on to the next generation, and defend them from the left. In America, conservatives and classical liberals alike rightly believe an ascendent [sic] left wants to dismantle our constitutional system and transform America into a woke dystopia. The task of conservatives, going back many decades now, has been to stop them.

    In an earlier era, this made sense. There was much to conserve. But any honest appraisal of our situation today renders such a definition absurd. After all, what have conservatives succeeded in conserving? In just my lifetime, they have lost much: marriage as it has been understood for thousands of years, the First Amendment, any semblance of control over our borders, a fundamental distinction between men and women, and, especially of late, the basic rule of law.

    Well, that's a downer. "We lost, so let's change our label?"

    Oh, but there's more. Davidson's also advocating changing tactics:

    The left will only stop when conservatives stop them, which means conservatives will have to discard outdated and irrelevant notions about “small government.” The government will have to become, in the hands of conservatives, an instrument of renewal in American life — and in some cases, a blunt instrument indeed.

    I think Davidson's specific proposals are odious, unworkable, or likely to be incredibly unpopular. And hence (fortunately, in my view) completely unlikely to be implemented. The "we" in his headline is an impossibly small faction of illiberal crackpots.

    But click over and see what you think.

  • More foolishness at the University Near Here. Damien Fisher tells us about the Durham doin's: UNH Celebrates 'Sextober,' Silences Pro-Life Students.

    University of New Hampshire students are getting a crash course in all things sex this month, from vulva appreciation seminars, instructions on how to come out with an LGBTQI+ identity, sexual device giveaways, to classes on yoga to increase pleasure.

    But it suppresses information about nearby pregnancy crisis centers where women can turn for help if needed.

    While intense Sextober festivities, put on by the state school’s Health & Wellness Center, focus on teaching college students how to enjoy having sex, it does not include any basic information on how to handle the natural result.

    From that link:

    October is all about SEX. That's why we call it Sextober!

    Sextober is brought to you by Health & Wellness in collaboration with various UNH departments and programs.

    All events are free and open to all identities. Plus, keep an eye out for our Sex & Pleasure Kits, which we'll be giving out all month!

    "Open to all identities." That is a sentence that makes sense to some folks in 2022.

  • If it weren't for double standards, they'd have no standards at all. Kat Rosenfield assays The Resistance Media's double standards.

    It’s hard to say exactly when unbridled, gossipy speculation about the health of our political candidates became an accepted part of the American media landscape. It might have been November 2015, when Vanity Fair published an article entitled “Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In!“. Or perhaps it was a month later, when Buzzfeed lampooned the doctor’s letter that declared Trump physically fit for office, juxtaposing its content with unflattering photographs that suggested he was anything but. (“Trump has lost 15 pounds over the past 12 months and his cardiovascular status is excellent,” was quoted directly above a repulsive photo of the future president cramming what looks like a massive piece of chicken satay into his mouth.)

    Certainly, this norm was well-established by the following year. In October 2016, the Washington Post published an article mocking Donald Trump’s weight and asking a panel of “experts” to guess how fat he was. “Even more important than Donald Trump’s weight is how unhealthy he looks,” said cardiologist Dean Ornish. “Unhealthy complexion, puffy, pasty skin, sweating a lot.”

    This type of coverage certainly violates the spirit if not the letter of medical ethics, which discourages doctors from performing armchair diagnoses of people they don’t treat. But the Left’s defence was that it was part of a vital truth-telling exercise. The press should have an adversarial relationship with those who seek the privilege of governing us! They should ask tough, even invasive, questions about a candidate’s fitness for office! The health of our aspiring leaders is a matter of public concern, after all, especially when it comes to retaining the necessary faculties to do the job. But especially, and more importantly, when the aspiring leader is that guy. And so, the resistance media was born, and went on to thrive during Trump’s presidency.

    Ms. Rosenfield goes on to contrast the disparate treatment the media afford to (specifically) John Fetterman.

Last Modified 2023-04-24 5:40 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Another one of those days where blogging is pushed aside by more important issues. So: no excerpts (trust me), minimal commenting by your blogger.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:57 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
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As the Product du Jour says. Ran out of time to provide my usual commentary today. But here are five links I've thought worthwhile to share over the past few days:

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:56 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
  • Good question. Philip Klein wonders: Can People Just Stop Talking about ‘the Jews’?.

    This is the season in which most of the major Jewish holidays are clustered together (today and tomorrow are also a holiday, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, during which we celebrate the Torah upon the conclusion of the annual cycle of reading it). This year, the holidays have coincided with some colorful discourse on Jews — about what we control, whom we are ungrateful toward, how we spread sexual depravity to Christians, and how annoying it is that you just can’t talk about Jews anymore without somebody raising a fuss.

    To elaborate a bit further, the most recent round of Jewish discourse in popular culture seems to have begun when Kanye West, in an interview with Tucker Carlson, surmised that Jared Kushner made a peace deal between Israel and Arab states for financial benefits, saying, “I just think that’s what they’re about is making money.” West said a lot in that interview, so it was easy enough to chalk it up to some beef he had with the Kushner family, and perhaps it would have been forgotten amid all the other nutty stuff West says. But just to leave no doubt that he did in fact have a problem not only with Kushner but with the Jews, he later tweeted that he was going to go “death con 3 on Jewish people.” In the tweet, he pushed the Black Hebrew Israelite narrative that claims that they are the true Jews, and then complained, “You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”

    Good advice: if you have something really insightful to say about the Jews, write it on a piece of paper, wrap that paper around a brick, and throw it in the nearest river.

  • What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. That's Ecclesiastes 1:9, and Peter Suderman shows how it applies today: Biden's New Industrial Policy Will Fail, Just Like Industrial Policy Always Fails.

    There can be no mistaking the intention of the Merchant Marine Act, the 1920 law more commonly referred to as the Jones Act. Passed in the aftermath of World War I, when demand for shipping services had increased dramatically, its purpose was laid out in the text of the statute itself, which declared the law "necessary for the national defense and for the proper growth of its foreign and domestic commerce." The intention was to make sure that in times of war or another national emergency, America had a high-quality merchant marine fleet "ultimately to be owned and operated privately by citizens of the United States." 

    When it was passed, the law provided subsidies for the construction of a domestic shipping industry, while imposing various employment rules and other shipping regulations. It has been amended in the century since, but it continues to prohibit foreign-flagged ships from traveling between U.S. ports, and many of its wage and labor regulations are still in effect, making it beloved, almost obsessively, by unions. 

    Fun fact: Pun Salad's first post on the Jones Act was over five years ago, and somehow this abomination still exists. I'm beginning to think this blog doesn't have the clout I imagined.

  • What's that you say? Ars Technica chalks up a free market win: Cheaper hearing aids hit stores today, available over the counter for first time.

    Today, Americans can buy cheaper hearing aids for mild-to-moderate hearing loss from a range of common retailers, including Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, without a prescription—finally making the critical health devices more affordable and accessible to the estimated 28.8 million adults who could benefit from them.

    The US Food and Drug Administration estimates the change could lower the average cost of obtaining a hearing aid by as much as $3,000. As of today, Walgreens is selling an over-the-counter model similar to hearing aids that range from $2,000 to $8,000 per pair at specialty retailers for just $799 per pair on its shelves, the White House said Monday. Likewise, Walmart said that, as of today, it is selling over-the-counter hearing aids ranging from $199 to $999 per pair, which are comparable to prescription hearing aids priced at $4,400 to $5,500 per pair.

    This should go in our "government 'solves' a problem that it created in the first place' file.

  • Sour on the state of the world? Bjørn Lomborg should cheer you up: Good News, the World Is Getting Better.

    It’s easy to believe that life on Earth is getting ever worse. The media constantly highlight one catastrophe after another and make terrifying predictions. With a torrent of doom and gloom about climate change and the environment, it’s understandable why many people — especially the young — genuinely believe the world is about to end. The fact is that while problems remain, the world is, in fact, getting better. We just rarely hear it.

    We are incessantly told about disasters, whether the latest heat wave, flood, wildfire or storm. Yet, the data overwhelmingly show that over the last century, people have become much safer from all these weather events.

    Indeed, in the 1920s, half a million people were killed by weather disasters, whereas in the last decade, the death toll averaged 18,000. This year, just like 2020 and 2021, is tracking below that. Why? Because when people get richer, they get more resilient.

    Something to keep in mind when someone decrying economic growth starts yammering in your ear. (Man, I hate it when that happens.)

  • I'm good with weak. Arnold Kling makes The Weak Case for Democracy.

    Government’s primary job is to try to ensure that all disputes are resolved peacefully. Disputes about property rights, for example, should be resolved without the use of force or threats to use force. I think that democracy is the form of government most likely to do this job.

    The worst states are those like China or Iran, where issues that would be resolved peacefully elsewhere are settled by violent repression on the part of the government. In states that are less repressive but are autocratic, civil war is an ever-present threat, particularly when a leader dies.

    In theory, any form of government can resolve disputes among citizens peacefully. But before the United States was founded, the death of a leader always created the potential for a violent dispute over succession. The best thing that I can say about democracy is that it provides for peaceful succession of leaders. That is what I am calling the weak case for democracy.

    But click through to read his debunking of the "strong case" for democracy: " that it gives expression to the popular will." Boooo.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:56 AM EDT

Rocket Ship Galileo

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This was Robert Heinlein's first juvenile novel, published in 1947. In its alternate post-WW2 timeline, the United Nations (and, in theory, only the United Nations) holds nuclear weapons "for peacekeeping purposes". Rocket travel is commonplace, but apparently only suborbital. As the book opens, three young boys (Art, Morrie, and Ross) are testing their own rocket in a remote field. It blows up, but never mind that: on their way home, they discover a bloodied unconscious man and it turns out it's Art's uncle, famous Manhattan Project physicist Dr. Donald Cargraves!

He recovers quickly, only to enlist the lads in an audacious scheme: to use his mad nuclear skillz in a rocket that will take them to the Moon! After some parental haggling, it's on: off to the desert to build, test, and launch Cargraves' unique design. They are working "on a shoestring" budget, buying an older freight rocket at scrap prices, using Cargraves' connections to get fissionable material, and after a few months of welding, they're off. There have been some intrusions and sabotage along the way, but they make it.

Only to run into (spoiler ahead) Moon Nazis. Apparently they figured out the same thing Cargraves did, only slightly quicker. (I guess Wernher von Braun stuck with the Nazis in this alternate future.) And their nefarious plans involve raining down nuclear destruction on Earth. As soon as they get rid of these pesky intruding Americans.

Well, it's all pretty ludicrous. The Nazi stuff is cartoonish. But in a fun way. Cargraves is the classic Heinlein Sage, many pages devoted to his semi-cantankerous dispensing of knowledge, philosophy, and opinion to the kids.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:56 AM EDT

Hate Crime Hoax

How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Back in 2014, George F. Will observed that when colleges "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate." A lot of people got mad about that observation, including the guy in charge at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who yanked his column from their pages forevermore.

But this book, by Wilfred Reilly, illustrates Will's point from another angle: when you're the victim of a "hate crime", you get sympathy, publicity, and (who knows) you might even get cash via the GoFundMe route.

And sometimes that's deserved. Reilly goes out of his way to point out that a lot of "hate crimes" aren't hoaxes. But—geez—a significant fraction of them are.

And some have unknown status, but smell bad. I remember the Stoke Hall Stairwell Swastikas which caused a furor back in 2017 at the University Near Here. This was widely publicized as a racially-tinged incident. Wouldn't "antisemitic" have been a more plausible speculation? But never mind that: if you check the first link above, you'll notice the swastikas were all drawn backwards. You'd think Nazi students bent on defacing a stairwell wall would have a better grasp of their symbols.

Reilly fills the book with anecdote after anecdote of fake hate crimes. University stories make up a lot, as George Will might have predicted. And generally follow a pattern: the initial claims are taken uncritically as true by administration, faculty, and students; in response, programs are instituted, meetings are held, speeches are given; news media play it up as another example of America's fundamental bigotry; further investigation (usually by the cops) raises doubts; eventually the truth comes out; nobody learns anything.

Not that all hoaxes are promulgated with a leftist slant. (The book's subtitle is misleading about that.) Reilly devotes a chapter to detailing whites making false claims about blacks, alt-righters making false claims against lefties, and the like. When you're of a certain mindset, never mind your race, sex, or religion, the appeal of fake victimhood can be seductive.

Reilly is an academic, at Kentucky State U. But this is not an academic book; Reilly writes more like an acerbic in-your-face blogger. (I sympathize.) And he can be genuinely funny, when not being outraged. When telling the story of the teenage Israeli hacker who made thousands of fake threats against Jewish institutions: "This kid seems to have been one lab accident away from becoming a super-villain."

This book was published back in February 2019. Jussie Smollett's "hate crime" was in January of that year, meaning it was too late to be included. But it's fascinating to see how closely the story of Jussie's hoax followed the arcs of previous hoaxes. (Too bad that he didn't read this book first, he might have avoided some obvious blunders.)

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:56 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
  • Looking for a good label? John Hood has a suggestion: America Needs Freedom Conservatives. It's a wide-ranging discussion of how conservatism deals with the incompatible values of liberty and virtue; that's a discussion that's been going on for decades, but Hood puts some fresh paint on it. It's difficult to excerpt, but here's a slice:

    In my own work, I’ve argued that describing American conservatism as fusionism imported the wrong metaphor from science. To make a long story short, there are three kinds of chemical bonds: ionic, metallic, and covalent. In the first, one or more electrons leave one orbit to enter another, producing positively and negatively charged ions. Both chemistry and your mother have something important to say about the resulting bond, however. Opposites do attract. But such a bond tends to be brittle under stress (the same ceramic cup you can’t tear apart with your bare hands will shatter if dropped on a hard floor). In metallic bonds, by contrast, electrons leave their orbits altogether to form a negatively charged “cloud” flowing around multiple nuclei. Metals can be strong and supple, yes, but only communists, fascists, and other cranks think human psyches can be so easily dissembled and reassembled into an undifferentiated mass.

    The best analogy for healthy and sustainable political relationships is covalent bonding, in which atoms arrange themselves in often-complicated patterns so they can share the electrons required to complete their orbits. Alas, this concept also yields no useful label. Covalently Bonded Conservatives? CoBoCon sounds like the name of a nerd convention, or perhaps a shadowy defense contractor out to get Jason Bourne.

    As someone who subscribes to both National Review and Reason, picking and choosing what to agree and disagree with, I'm fine with Hood's "Freedom Conservative".

  • Pardon me? I'm in favor of ending the "war on drugs", but Jeff Jacoby makes a good point about Biden's recent effort in that area: The pardon power is being stretched too far.

    "NO ONE should be in jail for possessing marijuana," said President Biden on Oct. 6, as he announced a "full, complete, and unconditional" pardon for any American convicted of marijuana possession, a federal crime under the Controlled Substances Act. The president's pardon will not actually set anyone free, since the number of people serving time in a federal facility for possessing pot is — zero. In recent decades, roughly 6,500 defendants were convicted of simple possession, but all of them have served their sentences or been released. The new pardon will expunge the conviction from their records, which may make it easier for some of them to get hired or be approved for a loan. But anyone now incarcerated on drug charges would have been convicted of a more serious crime, to which this pardon won't apply.

    What if it did, though?

    According to the Pew Research Center, more than 90 percent of Americans say marijuana use should be legal in at least some cases, with 59 percent saying it should be legal in all cases. So it's a safe bet that Biden's pardon of anyone who was prosecuted for marijuana possession won't prove controversial. I certainly don't want anyone locked up for mere possession of weed.

    But I also don't want presidents using the pardon power to invalidate laws they don't like. Under the Constitution, "all legislative power" — that is, the power to make and repeal laws — belongs to Congress, not the chief executive. Yet doesn't Biden's blanket pardon effectively nullify the federal law against possessing marijuana? The law is still on the books — Congress hasn't amended it, repealed it, or set a timetable for its expiration. But with his wholesale pardons to those convicted of violating the law, Biden has rendered it a dead letter.

    Let's all fantasize about a libertarian president who decided to pardon everyone convicted of tax evasion.

  • Science is real. Allysia Finley looks at a recent dustup between a vaccine dissident and his opponents: If You’re Hunting for Heresy, You Aren’t a Scientist.

    Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo stirred a hornet’s nest when he released an analysis of state death and vaccine records that showed young men experienced an 84% increased risk of cardiac death within four weeks of receiving an mRNA vaccine. Actually, that’s unfair to hornets. They aren’t as mindless or vicious as the self-anointed experts attacking Dr. Ladapo.

    Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and one of America’s leading Covid scolds, condemned Dr. Ladapo’s study as “baseless, reckless, and irresponsible” because it seemingly contradicted the expert consensus that myocarditis caused by vaccines is “typically mild and fully resolves in nearly all affected” (emphasis added).

    The latter is probably true, but Dr. Ladapo’s study shows that some young men may experience severe effects. And it’s far from clear, as Dr. Ladapo notes, that the benefits of the mRNA vaccines for young, healthy men—who were at low risk to begin with, and the vast majority of whom now have some immunity from prior infection or inoculation—outweigh the risks.

    Finley shows a disturbing proclivity of (some) "scientists" (often ex-scientists who have moved into bureaucracy and journalism) to demand that "misinformation" be "shut down". "Science" must speak with unanimity, they argue, lest the rabble get confused.

    Ladapo's analysis might be right or wrong, but there's no need to fling poo at him.

  • I'm glad I have an old dishwasher. Because new ones suck. A brief explanation from Christian Britschgi: How Federal Regulations Make Dishwashers Worse.

    Dish soap maker Procter & Gamble has an odd new ad campaign urging folks to "do it" every night by loading their dishwashers instead of wasting time and water on handwashing.

    Persuading people to put crusty dishes in a machine that will clean them seems like it shouldn't require sexual innuendos crafted by Madison Avenue. Yet survey data show that nearly one in five Americans who own a dishwasher don't use it.


    The increase in unused dishwashers is correlated with federal energy efficiency standards that have made newer models less effective. In the last 20 years, the U.S. Department of Energy has twice tightened those standards, which limit the amount of water and electricity that dishwashers use. Manufacturers have met those standards by building machines that recirculate less water over a longer wash cycle.

    Consumer Reports bills itself as an advocate of "strong pro-consumer policies". That has long been a lie. When it comes to dishwashers, CR is firmly against letting consumers choose better-performing dishwashers. And (of course) they found a friendly ear in Washington:

    [O]n his first day in office, no less, President Biden ordered the DOE to reconsider these new classes of dishwashers, along with clothes washers and dryers. Today, DOE finalized that process and decided to revoke these new classes of dishwashers. As Reason.com described it, “the Biden administration has decided to take the side of big business in this conflict between industry and individuals.”

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:56 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • When I say "straight", I'm not talking about sex stuff. Glenn Greenwald seems to be a straight shooter. He has a masterful tweet thread leading off here:


    I encourage you to click over for the thread.

    Now, when I say "straight shooter", I'm not saying I agree with him on everything. But he's right here: "these corporate news outlets [Politico, HuffPost, Mother Jones, the Intercept, NBC, CNN, …] and their employees deserve your deep contempt."

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    It's just good old fascism operating under a new shiny name. Samuel Gregg provides an excerpt from his new book (Amazon link at your right) at Reason: How Corporations' Good Social and Environmental Intentions Undermine the Common Good.

    The Business Roundtable—an association of America's leading CEOs—committed itself in 2019 to "modernizing its principles on the role of a corporation." In the past, the group explained, it held that "corporations exist principally to serve their shareholders." But "it has become clear that this language on corporate purpose does not accurately describe the ways in which we and our fellow CEOs endeavor every day to create value for all our stakeholders, whose long-term interests are inseparable."

    That term—stakeholder—represents a significant shift. But it did not emerge from nowhere. There is an entire historical and political apparatus underlying it that has led to results that are decidedly unfriendly to free markets.

    Who are these stakeholders? The Business Roundtable statement invokes "customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders," but that isn't the only definition. One scholar identified no fewer than 593 different interpretations of who qualifies as a stakeholder. R. Edward Freeman, a prominent stakeholderism booster, has argued that stakeholders include "any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievements of the firm's objectives." Such all-embracing conceptions underpin what is called pluralistic stakeholderism: the theory that companies must consider the effects of their choices on potentially infinite numbers of stakeholders—even to the point of requiring businesses to consult with, if not receive approval from, such constituencies before making any significant decisions.

    I left a comment:

    Not that it matters, but I recently read Recessional, a book of essays by David Mamet. His comment on “stakeholder” is interesting:

    Over the last decade “shareholder” has been replaced by “stakeholder.’ I will remind my readers that a stakeholder is an onlooker to a gambling event.

    The contenders in the wager trust the stakeholder to hold their respective bets (the stakes) and at the contest’s conclusion to award them to the winner.

    The stakeholder is one who, by definition, can have neither interest nor profit in the outcome.

    Now, Mamet’s gripe is somewhat offbase: the modern use of “stakeholder” has been going on for longer than a single decade. Some dictionaries have both Mamet’s definition and the modern one, but at least one omits Mamet’s definition entirely.

    It’s kind of funny how an existing, albeit somewhat obscure, word got grabbed by jargonists, who inverted its meaning from the original.

  • People fail. Because they are people. Arnold Kling is tired of facile "refutations" of libertarianism: Markets Fail. . .And Libertarianism Still Works.

    Jason Furman recently gave a talk in which he described how he teaches economics. He says that early in the course, he describes perfect competition. This is when the free market is most likely to be optimal. Then, over the course of the semester, the students learn all of the preconditions that must be assumed in order to have perfect competition. Since these preconditions are almost surely not satisfied, market failures will occur, and students learn how government intervention can produce better outcomes. (His talk began four hours into the conference, and the remarks that I am paraphrasing are at about the 4:15 mark.)

    Furman comes close to making what I call the straw-man argument against libertarianism and for technocracy. That argument goes:

    1. Libertarianism relies on markets.

    2. Markets are optimal only under conditions of perfect competition.

    3. The conditions for perfect competition are rarely satisfied.

    4. There are many instances of market failure.

    5. Therefore, libertarianism does not work.

    This argument constantly emanates from economists of Harvard and MIT and their disciples. Students and journalists, who are inclined to resent markets and despise libertarians, feel vindicated when they hear this argument. They come away believing that markets are never any good, even when professors who teach this way, like Jason Furman, are less dogmatically anti-market.

    What is wrong with the argument? Step (2) is a swindle. It sneaks in the assumption that markets have to be optimal in order to be preferable to government intervention.

    It's an imperfect world, ever since Eve ate that darned apple. As I've said probably dozens of times, comparing actual market outcomes with theoretically-perfect government "solutions" is worse than fallacious.

  • Bringing back the Misery Index. Matthew Continetti reviews (and pans) The Stagflation President.

    Another month, another bad report. On October 13, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that consumer price inflation, at an 8.2 percent annualized rate, was higher than expected through September. Americans continue to endure the worst inflation in four decades. They continue to experience a decline in real average hourly earnings. They continue to tell pollsters that the economic recession has arrived. Blerina Uruci, an economist at T. Rowe Price, does not like what she sees. “This is very troubling,” Uruci told the New York Times. “The trend is very troubling.”

    Not at the White House. It doesn’t see any troubles. According to President Biden, the most recent BLS data are superfluous. After all, everybody already knows that “Americans are squeezed by the cost of living: that’s been true for years, and they didn’t need today’s report to tell them that.” As a matter of fact, Biden said in a statement, rising costs are “a key reason I ran for President.” And anyway, the situation is under control. “My policies — that Democrats delivered — directly tackles [sic] price pressures we saw in today’s report.”

    End of story, thank you all very much, nothing to see here, move along, move along.

    Just a minute. Biden’s reading of recent economic history is filled with evasions, half-truths, and “yarns.” They deserve comment and rebuttal. I don’t remember Biden staking his 2020 candidacy on inflation. He couldn’t have. The inflation hadn’t happened. It didn’t arrive until the spring of 2021. By which time Biden was living — during weekdays, at least — at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    Biden probably doesn't remember that far back.

  • The most lucrative "green" careers involve holding a bucket under a helicopter drop of government money. Andrew Follett notes a funny thing: About Those Green Jobs . . . They Keep Vanishing.

    Left-wing politicians promise that millions of good “green jobs” are right around the corner, but companies keep announcing layoffs in that extremely unproductive sector.

    Just last week, General Electric announced it was laying off 20 percent of its entire U.S.-based onshore wind-power workforce, with hundreds of employees getting pink slips. “We are taking steps to streamline and size our onshore wind business for market realities to position us for future success. These are difficult decisions, which do not reflect on our employees’ dedication and hard work but are needed to ensure the business can compete and improve profitability over time,” a spokesperson for GE Renewable Energy told CNBC.

    One might think that so-called green energy should be booming. After all, U.S. electricity prices are at record highs, with a kilowatt-hour in a U.S. city in August selling for 16 percent more than it would have just a year ago. The Democrats’ so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” pledged to invest $369 billion in wind and solar power over the next decade, giving a windfall of cash to the types of energy often favored by environmentalist activists. America already poured almost $450 billion into those energy sources between 2010 and 2019.

    Follett also has a telling calculation: energy produced per worker in various energy industries. Click over to check it out.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:56 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Heeeere's Remy! His new smash hit: Clown World.

    Explains a lot, doesn't it?

  • In Russia … I'm told, all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Good news: my CongressCritter Chris Pappas found a happy one, as reported by Michael Graham: Another Pappas Ad Snafu: 'New Hampshire Home' Is in Putin's Russia.

    Now Pappas has released a new ad that begins, “Here in New Hampshire, we keep the government out of our homes…”

    But the kitchen where a happy family is enjoying corn on the cob and orange juice in the Pappas ad appears to be not in Manchester, but in Moscow.

    Here's the ad, which (for some reason) hasn't been taken down yet:

    This has a slight "too good to check" whiff, but I don't care.

  • Way past time to clean house. At Techdirt, Tim Cushing notes the stench emanating from the ugly brutalist building at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW: Hundreds Of FBI Employees Are Simply Walking Away From Misconduct Charges.

    The problem is one that every employer faces: when employees are caught doing bad things, there’s nothing stopping them from quitting, rather than facing the consequences of their actions. That’s the case here, where a whistleblower has provided information on the FBI’s apparently endemic sexual harassment problem.

    Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he obtained internal records from a whistleblower alleging 665 FBI employees retired or resigned following misconduct investigations to avoid receiving final disciplinary letters.

    Grassley said the whistleblower — whom he did not name — provided an internal Justice Department report that indicated the employees left between 2004 and 2020 and included 45 senior-level employees.

    “The allegations and records paint a disgraceful picture of abuse that women within the FBI have had to live with for many years,” Grassley wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

    The exit of 45 senior-level employees may not seem like much, especially when spread over a 15-year period. But the problem isn’t limited to those at the upper end of the org chart. Following up on a 2020 Associated Press report — one that showed the upper echelon did little to discipline violators — Sen. Grassley is now demanding answers from the FBI about the mass exit of employees accused of misconduct.

    Supplemental light reading from Power Line:

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    It's more than I'm willing to pay. Michael Shermer has a new book coming out (Amazon link at right), and he plugs it at his substack: The Cost of Conspiracism. He starts out with the recent Alex Jones trial, but moves on to more general observations:

    Or take Pizzagate and QAnon. Does anyone really believe that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats are running a secret Satanic pedophile ring out of the Washington D.C. Comet Ping Pong pizzeria? Edgar Welch did, and he went there with his loaded AR-15 assault rifle and a revolver to stop the crime when no one else would do anything about it. (The cost of conspiracism for Welch was $5,744 in damages and four years in prison.) But for most people who tell pollsters that they think there might be something to these conspiracy theories, their belief is more in the realm of what I call proxy conspiracism, in which the specific theory is a proxy for other paranoias (like Democrats secretly plotting to turn America into a socialist commune); or it’s tribal conspiracism (“it’s the kind of thing Democrats would do”), or it’s constructive conspiracism (“so many conspiracy theories turn out to be true that it pays to be a little paranoid”).

    Other factors are at work in conspiracism. It’s entertaining (Alex Jones once called himself a “performance artist”). It simplifies a complex world and reduces a tangle of causal variables to a single factor (Sandy Hook wasn’t caused by poorly-understood mental illness, lax enforcement of gun-control laws, poverty, family background, or genes—it was staged). It’s proportional to the event in which big events need big causes (JFK can’t have been killed by a lone gunman; Princess Diana cannot have died because of drunk driving, speeding, and no seat-belt, and Sandy Hook can’t just be the result of a mentally-ill young man with a gun). And it is comforting in the sense that the world is not as out of our control as it often seems. As scary as it might be to think there are powerful people somewhere secretly running the world, it can be even scarier to think that no one is in charge and that events often unfold as a result of chance, randomness, and accident.

    My spell checker doesn't recognize "conspiracism" yet, but it's only a matter of time.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:55 AM EDT


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Continuing with my rereading-Crais project. About a dozen novels left to go.

This one is a "standalone", not in his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. In a similar setup to Crais's previous novel, Demolition Angel, protagonist Jeff Halley is a broken cop, traumatized by his experience as an LAPD hostage negotiator: a young boy was killed, Halley blames himself.

So he's shut down, his wife and teenage daughter have left him, and he's taken a low-pressure job as police chief in a small California city. His situation is far from ideal, but it's tolerable. Until a trio of young men (a violent loser just out of a correctional facility, his wimpy younger brother, and a guy who turns out to be (small spoiler) a dangerous psychopath) decides to rob a convenience store. That goes very bad. The perps, fleeing the cops, take refuge in the Smith residence, occupied by father Walter, teenage daughter Jennifer, young son Thomas.

So Halley once again finds himself trying to save some hostages from violent criminals. But there's another complication: Walter Smith has an unusual job, and his superiors are very much determined that his work product not be revealed to law enforcement. And they're not averse to killing people in their way, or taking hostages themselves.

It's a very good crime/action thriller. (It was made into a Bruce Willis movie back in 2005.) A few too many exclamation points! As an amusing historical note, the MacGuffin here is two Zip disks; they were a thing back in 2001 when the book was written.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:55 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Not so much snarky as earnest. My tweet in response to our state's senior senator:

    And don't ask me about my conservatively-invested nest egg at Fidelity. Maybe I shouldn't charter that private jet to Cancun this winter after all.

  • But for serious analysis… let's look at Romina Boccia's take on the COLA increase. She maintains that Social Security’s COLA Increase Is Based on an Outdated Inflation Measure.

    Social Security just announced the biggest increase in beneficiaries’ cost‐of‐living adjustment (COLA) in 40 years: 8.7%. The trouble is, Social Security is using an outdated measure that’s driving up benefit costs. The so‐called chained CPI would protect seniors’ purchasing power while extending Social Security’s ability to provide benefits.

    Social Security benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from a decline in purchasing power when the prices of goods and services rise. That’s generally a good thing. The 8.7 percent COLA increase, announced today, is a direct result of the 40‐year inflation high, that’s plaguing the post‐pandemic nation. Without this increase in nominal benefits, more seniors would likely experience poverty at older ages.

    However, the index used to calculate Social Security’s cost‐of‐living adjustment needs an upgrade. CPI‑W was the name of the game back in 1975 (10 years before this author was born) when Social Security adopted automatic inflation adjustments. Since then, the measure has become outdated and riddled with measurement errors.

    Click over to a detailed discussion of CPI, CPI-W, CPI-U, C‑CPI‑U, and even CPI-E. Ms. Boccia notes that adopting a more realistic measure of inflation might delay the day the "trust fund" gets exhausted, giving legislators time to adopt a better fix. Or just give them more time to ignore the problem, as they've been doing for decades. Which seems more likely?

  • Well, that's a relief. Kat Rosenfield does her political analysis bit: Sex strikes won't win the midterms.

    American culture will sexualise anything in order to sell it to young people: cars, hamburgers, and for decades now, voting. In 1990, the awareness-raising non-profit Rock the Vote sought to bring youths to the polls with a TV spot featuring a flag-draped Madonna: “Doctor King, Malcolm X, freedom of speech is as good as sex,” she raps, before throwing open the stars ‘n’ stripes to reveal a red string bikini. The ad ended with a threat, or perhaps a promise, delivered in Madge’s trademark breathy lisp: “If you don’t vote, you’re gonna get a spanking!”

    Thirty-two years later, with the 2022 midterm elections looming, these attempts to promote civic engagement have changed their medium but not their message. Youth voter turnout is still seen as a matter of national urgency — only half of people under 30 voted in the most recent presidential election — and multiple organisations are now attempting to follow the Rock the Vote model to lure them to the polls. This brings us to a slick music video entitled “No Voting, No Vucking”, which was released last week. In it, rappers Trina and Saucy Santana narrate the story of a young black woman who matches with a promising-looking man on the dating app BLK. There’s just one, critical red flag: he doesn’t vote!

    The music video is grating to my elderly ears, and (worse) it's lascivious without being actually sexy:

    Sorry. Thought you should see for yourself. Ms. Rosenfield doubts that this will cause increased youth turnout.

  • It's the new Loyalty Oath. Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss calls himself an anti-theist, in favor of reducing "the influence of what he regards as superstition and religious dogma in popular culture." Consider his recent WSJ op-ed to be a natural extension of that: Now Even Science Grants Must Bow to ‘Equity and Inclusion’.

    America’s largest research funder in physical sciences isn’t the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the National Science Foundation. It’s the Energy Department’s Office of Science, which gives money to university programs throughout the country and oversees the 10 major national laboratories, from Livermore to Los Alamos.

    Its brief includes energy and research into fundamental questions: the structure of matter, the nature of the cosmos, high-energy and nuclear physics with large accelerators, materials physics with X-ray synchrotrons, fusion and advanced scientific computers. And now, social justice.

    Starting in fiscal 2023, which began Oct. 1, every proposal responding to a solicitation from the Office of Science is required to include a PIER plan, which stands for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research, to “describe the activities and strategies of the applicant to promote equity and inclusion as an intrinsic element to advancing scientific excellence.” In the words of the announcement, “The complexity and detail of a PIER Plan is expected to increase with the size of the research team and the number of personnel to be supported.”

    Krauss notes the Office of Science is currently headed by Asefaw Berhe, "most recently a Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry", which isn't a focus of the Office. But she did have "extensive experience working on diversity issues."

  • Maybe, maybe not. Veronique de Rugy takes a look at our likely near-term political future: Divided Government Is Good. In 2023, Bipartisanship Would Be Better..

    The upcoming midterm election has got me thinking about divided government. In normal times, the prospect of newly shared power in Washington might have me looking forward to the resulting slowdown of one party's hyperactive agenda. The Democrats who are in power are indeed pushing a fiscal and regulatory agenda that has become a serious risk to Americans' prosperity and freedom.

    But these are not normal times. Today, I don't know how confident I am in divided government. If it's going to work, Republicans must bring better ideas to the table, and both parties must be more open to bipartisanship.

    Here are just a few of my concerns. Some GOP candidates are either barely fit or altogether unfit for office. Democrats may be no better, but two wrongs don't make a right. More and more, many Republicans abandon serious thinking about policy and governing and instead focus on making Democrats' lives a living hell.

    Fun as that might be, it's no way to run a country. Can't we wangle together enough Democrats and Republicans to (for example) at long last repeal the Jones Act?

  • Don't blow it, SCOTUS. Katelynn Richardson implores Supreme Court Justices to, well, deliver some justice: SCOTUS Gets New Chance To Protect Artists From Forced Speech.

    During its new session, the Supreme Court will have a chance to reassess the Colorado law that has entangled Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips in a decade-long legal battle for his First Amendment rights.

    Lorie Smith, owner of the small graphic design business 303 Creative, is challenging the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibits public accommodations from restricting services based on sexual orientation. It’s the same law that brought Phillips before the Supreme Court in 2018 for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding and continues to cause him legal trouble.

    Though Phillips won his 2018 case, the ruling never addressed the core question: Can the government compel artists to speak against their convictions? Instead, it narrowly found that the Colorado Commission of Civil rights demonstrated “clear and impermissible hostility” against Phillips’ beliefs and did not give his claims “neutral and respectful consideration.”

    Here's hoping Ms. Smith prevails.

Directed by James Burrows

Five Decades of Stories from the Legendary Director of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, and More

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

The subtitle notes that James Burrows directed many episodes of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, and Will & Grace. You can look at his IMDB page and find over a hundred more.

Including, if you care, one episode of Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers. Reader, that is a different guy. Just as well: Burrows says: "As affable as he was, Paul was not a series lead. He was too ephemeral and asexual to have the appeal a sitcom star needed at the time." And, indeed, the show sputtered to a halt after one season.

Anyway: I've had bad luck with celebrity memoirs, always looking for, and failing to find, something insightful and revealing about creative genius. This book, perhaps because it's from a guy who's mostly behind the scenes, is much better on that score. Burrows describes his directing and producing process in great detail. You will learn the major differences in the number of cameras used to film an episode. ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show": three. Friends: six.)

But mostly, Burrows tells stories, and they are pretty good, especially if you (like me) loved most of those shows. Great, hilarious scenes are described with script excerpts. Burrows praises … well, nearly everyone he's ever had dealings with: actors, producers, network honchos, you name it. (Only one exception: Rob Schneider, the SNL alum. Burrows doesn't seem to like him at all.)

And there's the time Burrows found himself at a Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks' wife) show at the Café Carlyle, sitting between Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney. Who were clapping and singing along to Rita's performance of "Harper Valley P.T.A."

Burrows namedrops nonstop. He occasionally drops into cliché territory ("Comeraderie and kindness are not just the right thing to do, they are the tools for success for any smart director.") But that's OK.

I suspect that this book was produced without Burrows doing much actual typing. The text has a pronounced "as told to" flavor; the cover says "with Eddy Friedfeld", so I suspect that's the guy who did the work of assembling Burrows' oral history onto the printed page.

I'll note that while I loved four out of the five sitcoms named in the subtitle, I found Will & Grace unwatchable. In fact (consulting the IMDB page), I'm not sure if I've watched more than one series he's been involved with since Friends. What changed, sitcoms or me?

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:55 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Wikipedia: Just Say No. At least if you're a non-leftist considering one of their perennial appeals for your money. @echetus has a pretty devastating Tweet thread:

    If that interests you, "Read the full conversation on Twitter". As @echetus details, your money mostly isn't going to keep the disks spinning down on the server farm. It goes to the Wikimedia Foundation, which couples the noble cause of making encyclopedic information a mouseclick away with strident leftism. In response to George Floyd's death, for example:

    We see our Black colleagues, community members, readers, and supporters grieving, fearful, and feeling the weight of this week and the history of all of the weeks just like this. Today, and every day, the Wikimedia Foundation stands in support of racial justice and with the movement for Black Lives. As an employer and part of an international movement our work in every country depends on promoting and defending human rights.

    Over the past week, we have witnessed communities across the U.S. and around the world stand up for racial justice and demand an end to police brutality and extrajudicial killings. This has been met with more brutality, arrests, and even lethal force against citizens from Minneapolis to New York City, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. In many places this policing response has been accompanied by egregious attacks on freedoms of the press and the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

    On these issues, there is no neutral stance. To stay silent is to endorse the violence of history and power; yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is well past time for racial justice in America and beyond.

    @echetus points out that that bolded sentence doesn't sit well with Wikipedia's pledge to have a neutral point of view.

    Maybe Wikipedia should have an alternate funding mechanism where donors can direct their contributions to operations and maintenance, with assurances that it won't fund wokism.

  • We're number two! Or, more precisely, Chris Sununu is, in Cato's Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors 2022. (He was beat by Iowa's Kim Reynolds.) Here's their take:

    Chris Sununu has led New Hampshire government since 2017. He has repeatedly cut taxes in his already low‐​tax state, and he has limited annual average general fund spending growth to 1.1 percent since entering office. Sununu has cut the rates of New Hampshire’s two major business taxes, and he signed legislation in 2021 ending the state’s 5 percent tax on interest and dividends. He has also vetoed costly tax hikes, such as a new payroll tax for a paid leave scheme. Sununu received the highest score on the 2020 Cato fiscal report and the second‐​highest score on this 2022 report.

    So, good for him, and us.

  • He didn't go boldly enough. James Pethokoukis thinks William Shatner's gloomy viral comments about space were ... unhelpful. There's some more-in-sorrow-than-anger analysis of those comments. But:

    I have no idea if Shatner intended to give aid and comfort to the space naysayers who see a zero-sum game between making life better down here and extending life further out there. (I would guess not. I would guess he still thinks space exploration is a worthy human endeavor — just don’t forget about the elephants and rain forests, gang.) But I fear he has, whatever the intent. “Even Captain Kirk thinks space is distraction!” Of course, Earth or Space is a false binary that only obtuse activist-types fail to recognize:

    • If humanity’s biggest challenge is ensuring its continued existence, then there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you think devoting 0.5 percent of GDP to space activities doesn’t seem like wild overspending, then there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you think humanity can do more than one thing at time — during the 1960s America went to space, expanded civil rights, and started cleaning up the environment — then there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you think some amazing innovations that would make life better here on Earth are possible through a vibrant orbital economy, then there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you want more abundant resources of all kinds, there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you think there’s value in adding to the stock of human knowledge about the universe we inhabit — and thus knowledge about ourselves — there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you think humanity needs a frontier to help keep its culture and institutions vibrant, then there’s a strong case for space.

    • If you find space to be merely a place of “cold, dark, black emptiness,” as Shatner writes, then there’s a case for filling it with life and thus a strong case for humanity in space.

    I'm not a fan of massive government spending, and I'm not a fan of Artemis and the sclerotic and wasteful NASA mindset that brought it forth. But Pethokoukis's case is pretty strong, and it would be nice if we had a NASA that could go about that efficiently. (But perhaps SpaceX… whoa, can we rely on a single visionary guy, who's also quite mercurial?)

  • … and I've learned a lot. Self-admitted Marxist Freddie deBoer has a winning essay on Learning From Our Limits. It takes off from the case of Maitland Jones, fired from NYU because pre-med students there found his Organic Chemistry class too hard.

    This firing over a question of educational rigor has inspired a lot of concern, including from me. Of course, as this is a culture war issue, some have taken to the ramparts to insist that the fired professor must have been a bad teacher if so many students rebelled, that the students have a right to be taught how they want given that they’re paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for college, that the “weed out” element of organic chemistry exists to perpetuate the doctor cartel

    Whatever the case, I want to suggest that the students who launched the petition were denying themselves a central element of education: figuring out what you’re not good at. Failing. Trying to learn, and failing to do so. This is an element of education as vital as learning what you’re good at, the act of self-discovery of one’s own lack of ability. All of us have limits, natural limits on what we can learn and do in academic fields. Some exceedingly rare individuals appear to be brilliant at everything, but for the rest of us, there’s a whole suite of topics and skills that we will never perform with any facility. And if colleges insist on reducing rigor to the point that learning those limits becomes impossible, something will have been lost.

    In my own time as a graduate student in the humanities and as an administrator in the City University of New York, I was dismayed by the ongoing assault on rigor, with arguments against homework, against grading, and against taking attendance. Many in academia default to any position that seems pro-student, due to a desire to be “the cool professor” or through tendentious political definitions of the purpose of higher education. But such people tend to define “pro-student” as meaning whatever students want, when of course part of the point of being an educator is to do what’s best for students that they may not want to do themselves. I believe that rigor is essential to providing students with value for their tuition dollars, as I personally have been brought closer to the level of my potential thanks to professors who made serious demands of me. I have also learned the limits of that potential thanks to those teachers, who helped me to understand what I was and was not good at.

    I found that personally touching, as I've bumped up against such failures more than once. I've worked around them so far, but…

    I'm experiencing that now, trying to figure out how to rewrite a Chrome extension that's been abandoned by its original author. It's four files, three JavaScript, one JSON. A grand total of 3428 bytes. And I'm just bouncing off of it. Cross your fingers, I need to get it working before Google starts breaking Manifest V2 extensions sometime in 2024.

  • Not only do you have to take one bad-tasting medicine, there's also this intrusive medical procedure… Veronique de Rugy and Jack Salmon claim that Winning the Battle Against Inflation Also Requires Supply-Side Reforms.

    Despite several interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve (five so far, totaling 300 basis points), inflation remains alive and well, with core inflation continuing to tilt upward. That’s because the Federal Reserve can’t fight rising prices by itself. Stopping inflation will require continued monetary tightening as well as fiscal deficit reduction. But winning the battle against inflation will also require supply-side reforms that make the economy more dynamic and more competitive.

    Before we discuss supply-side solutions, let’s remember how we got here: During the pandemic, and while the economy was closed and then later only partially reopened, government officials engaged in big money printing, big borrowing and big spending. As if that wasn’t enough, when the economy was almost back to normal, Congress and policymakers didn’t move to end the party, but instead announced that big deficit spending would continue. And it did, even as inflation began to tick up.

    Now we are in a mess. Everyone fundamentally understands why inflation is a problem: Earnings and savings buy less and less. That’s why it now tops the list of average Americans’ concerns. What is not so well understood is how much worse the problem of inflation can be during a period of high government debt. We won’t bore you with all the details, but if you must know one thing, know this: While the best way for the Federal Reserve to control inflation is to raise interest rates, the higher interest rates go (and with the 10-year Treasury rate being around 3.8%, it is already a whole 2.5 percentage points higher than it was just over a year ago), the larger the interest the federal government must pay on the debt. That can become very expensive, very quickly, since our debt is roughly 100% of GDP, and 30% of our debt is coming due within the next year.

    Vero and Jack (I call him Jack) have a "few suggestions"; read for the details: Dramatically increase the number of immigrants legally allowed into the country; Make changes to our trade policy, starting with abolishing punitive tariffs, duties and quotas; Eliminate the Jones Act, which mandates that all freight moved between U.S. ports must be handled by U.S.-built, crewed and flagged ships; Build, Baby, Build.

A Line to Kill

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This is Anthony Horowitz's third book in his series featuring his fictional self accompanying the unconventional and inscrutable master detective Daniel Hawthorne. The idea is that Horowitz accompanies Hawthorne on his investigations in order to relate them in the very books you're reading. It's as if Sherlock's companion was not named "Watson", but "Arthur Conan Doyle".

Based on the recent publishing of the first novel in the series, Hawthorne and Horowitz get invited to a literary festival on the Channel Island of Alderney. (I was sure it was fictional, but it's not.) We're immediately plugged into a dizzying array of characters: the other authors who have been invited; the festival organizers; some of the island inhabitants; and one dark figure out of Hawthorne's past.

And of course, there's soon a grisly murder. Alderney barely has a police force, so Hawthorne gets roped into the investigation, with Horowitz tagging along as usual. I'm not a huge fan of these "find the murderer among these N colorful suspects", but I think Horowitz does a pretty good job of keeping it all moving along and interesting. At least there's no "You're probably wondering why I've gathered you here" scene" in which the killer is revealed.

And I see at Amazon that a fourth book in the series is coming out next month. I'm in.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:55 AM EDT

URLs du Jour



  • By sheer coincidence… our first item is nicely illustrated by Mr. Ramirez's cartoon above. At the WSJ, Judy Shelton says that central banks are The Not-So-Invisible Hand.

    Politicians may debate whether big-government socialism or free-market capitalism leads to better economic outcomes. Their constituents may worry about rising prices and declining prospects for retirement. But neither group has the power to create money with no questions asked, manipulate the cost of capital, or counteract movements in financial markets. The central bankers are in charge—and perhaps that should change.

    Even if duly elected leaders try to make good on campaign promises, they face hurdles if monetary authorities, domestic and global, disagree. What happened in Britain is a cautionary tale for nations that have relinquished to central banks the keys to economic performance. British Prime Minister Liz Truss, together with her finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, last month announced plans to spur investment and economic expansion by cutting taxes for individuals and businesses. Days later, they were verbally lashed by Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England, for “working at some cross-purposes” with the nation’s central bank.

    Allowing politicians to get their grubby paws on monetary policy? I foresee problems!

    But there's that whole question of whether the Fed is constitutional. Yes, it has a "long-standing tradition of existence." But could we do better?

  • I blame Doritos. Charles C. W. Cooke wonders: Why Do Progressives Treat Obesity Differently? Specifically, different from other health risks?

    There is a strange exception to the progressive movement’s obsession with science, health, and safety — and that strange exception just happens to be one of the biggest problems in the United States: obesity. This morning, the Huffington Post is lauding the “perfect,” “epic clapback” that pop-star Lizzo supposedly delivered in response to criticism from Kanye West.

    Here’s that “clapback” that “brought the house down”:

    “I feel like everybody in America got my mother****ing name in they mother****ing mouth for no mother****ing reason, I’m minding my fat Black beautiful business” the pop star said.

    Here’s what West — who is also black — said:

    “Let’s get aside from the fact whether it’s fashion and vogue, which it’s not, or if someone thinks it’s attractive, to each his own, it’s actually clinically unhealthy,” West said.

    That’s, er . . . boringly true. Aesthetically, it’s a matter of taste. Clinically, it is, indeed, “unhealthy” to be as fat as Lizzo is. Does anyone doubt that?

    NR asteriskized CCWC's post at some point after he posted it.

  • And it's in Massachusetts! Daniel J. Mitchell looks at The Most Important Ballot Referendum of 2022. After noting Massachusetts being in the top 10 states for "outbound migration" to other states:

    But bad news can become worse news. And that will definitely be the case if voters in Massachusetts approve a referendum next month to junk the state’s flat tax and replace it with a class-warfare system that has a top rate of 9 percent.

    Mitchell quotes extensively from Jeff Jacoby, the WSJ, and others to (to my mind) convincingly demonstrate how awful the proposal is. The Tax Foundation's report, "Massachusetts Graduated Income Tax Amendment: Details & Analysis" is quoted, and here's one of the graphs that provides some Granite State interest: [AGI Migration from MA]

    I don't mind the immigration too much, although I worry that the new arrivals will forget why they moved up here, and make the same political mistakes they made in Massachusetts.

  • Crossing my fingers. Granite Geek says it's time to Panic!!! It's only 18 months to the total eclipse!.

    The biggest solar-eclipse booster in New Hampshire – perhaps the biggest on the Eastern Seaboard – has a confession to make: “I may have started a little early.”

    Rik Yeames has been eagerly anticipating April 8, 2024, when a total solar eclipse will cross New Hampshire’s northern tip, since at least February of 2019. That’s when he showed up in the Monitor warning people not to wait until the last minute to prepare for one of nature’s great spectacles.

    Expecting people to start preparing for something five years in the future was a little optimistic, he now admits, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying. Since that first article Yeames has overseen creation of everything from an eclipse song – “The Three of Us” based on Bill Withers’ “The Two of Us,” playing off the fact that an eclipse requires the sun, the moon and an observer – to turning his car into an EclipseMobile that visits schools and other locations as part of a “no child left inside” push. He admits that his wife is getting slightly tiredof it.

    I still have my eclipse glasses from when we tried to watch the 2017 eclipse just outside of St. Joseph, Missouri. The weather was disappointing.

  • This is not a fake post. Ars Technica reports another AI application: Fake Joe Rogan interviews fake Steve Jobs in an AI-powered podcast.

    A voice synthesis company based in Dubai published a fictional podcast interview between Joe Rogan and Steve Jobs using realistic voices digitally cloned from both men. It takes place during the "first episode" of a purported podcast series called "Podcast.ai," created by Play.ht, which sells voice synthesis services.

    In the interview, you first hear a replication of Rogan's voice created by voice cloning technology similar to that which we've covered before on Ars. Deep learning technology has allowed AI models to replicate distinctive voices with a high degree of accuracy, such as in the case of Darth Vader in Disney's Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series.

    I've long thought that it would be neat to have new movies starring CGI-generated versions of Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, etc. Of course, I didn't imagine that the movies could be written by an AI.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 7:15 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


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  • I'm pretty sure she's on something. But that's not important right now. Elizabeth Nolan Brown lectures a pol in a "high" position: Better Late Than Never on Weed, Kamala.

    In the wake of President Joe Biden's drug policy announcement last week, Kamala Harris crowed that the Biden administration is "changing the federal government's approach to marijuana." According to Harris, "The bottom line there is nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed."

    Her statement was met by ample applause. I wonder how many of the people cheering know about Harris' history on this issue.

    During Harris' tenure as California attorney general from 2011 through 2016, nearly 2,000 people went to state prison for having drugs that Harris now scoffs at locking people up for. And as a prosecutor in San Francisco, Harris helped ensure that people who may previously have been eligible for drug diversion programs were instead imprisoned.

    I watched this video the other day, and geez louise:

    The weird hand motions, the smirks, the I-gotta-to-the-bathroom squirming… can that be a normal brain in control?

  • Call in the stealth bombers. Stewart Baker notes the latest excuse to impose a policy that progressives really want: Stealth Quotas.

    You probably haven't given much thought recently to the wisdom of racial and gender quotas that allocate jobs and other benefits to racial and gender groups based on their proportion of the population. That debate is pretty much over. Google tells us that discussion of racial quotas peaked in 1980 and has been declining ever since. While still popular with some on the left, they have been largely rejected by the country as a whole. Most recently, in 2019 and 2020, deep blue California voted to keep in place a ban on race and gender preferences. So did equally left-leaning Washington state.

    So you might be surprised to hear that quotas are likely to show up everywhere in the next ten years, thanks to a growing enthusiasm for regulating technology – and a large contingent of Republican legislators. That, at least, is the conclusion I've drawn from watching the movement to find and eradicate what's variously described as algorithmic discrimination or AI bias.

    Baker looks at the "American Data Privacy and Protection Act" legislation working its way through Congress, and the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights issued by the White House. Both contain "disparate impact" language which implies that any algorithm that results in different results for a "protected class" compared to the population at large is guilty of … something. Racism, probably, or sexism.

  • It's all about the green. Theodore Darlymple takes on The Economics of Envy. He's not a fan of the proposed-then-rescinded tax cuts from Great Britain's Tories. But he's even more appalled by the arguments against them.

    Commentators in Britain immediately alighted on the fact that Mr. Kwarteng’s proposed tax cuts would benefit principally the rich: which, to its credit, the government freely admitted and did not attempt to hide.

    But in the eyes of most people, the fact that the rich would benefit from the tax cuts more than the poor was enough in itself to condemn them, irrespective of their outcome for their economy as a whole: that is to say, even if they were to increase general prosperity, they would still be undesirable because they would have increased inequality.

    I emphasise here that I never believed that Mr. Kwarteng’s measures would in practice have the desired effect. But the opposition political party immediately announced that it would restore the taxes, without a caveat that it would not do so if they proved to be beneficial. (The promise to restore them would, of course, have undermined any possible beneficial effect that they might have had, by making it likely that they would not last for more than two years, thus discouraging delayed financial gratification.)

    A dog-in-the-manger attitude to the rich is now morally de rigueur, even among those whom the majority of their fellow citizens would consider rich. To hate the rich is, ex officio almost, to sympathise with the poor, and therefore be virtuous: but hatred and sympathy are not two sides of the same coin. Hatred not only goes deeper than sympathy but is easier to rouse and to act upon. It is quite independent of sympathy. Hatred of the rich in the name of equality was probably responsible for more death and destruction in the twentieth century than any other political passion. The category of the rich tends to expand as circumstances require: ‘Rich bastards,’ Lenin called the kulaks, the Russian peasants whose wealth would now be considered dire poverty, and which consisted of the possession of an animal or two, or a farm tool, more than other peasants possessed. What Freud called the narcissism of small differences (the psychological equivalent of marginal utility) means that grounds, however trifling, can always be found for hatred and envy.

    Emphasis added.

  • Worst game show ever. Nick Catoggio Who’s The Extremist?

    We may be headed for what Nate Silver has described as an “asterisk election,” a midterm that defies modern expectations of a wave for the out-party because of a black-swan event that shifts the tectonic plates of American politics. Or we might not: An electorate that’s nervous about inflation and about crime sounds like an electorate poised to run a buzzsaw through the ruling party.

    The strategic question for Republicans is whether there’s anything they can do to dislodge the Democrats’ immovable object before it meets the irresistible force. Not all Democrats believe that it’s immovable, notably. “A lot of these consultants think if all we do is run abortion spots that will win for us. I don’t think so,” James Carville told the Associated Press this week. “It’s a good issue. But if you just sit there and they’re pummeling you on crime and pummeling you on the cost of living, you’ve got to be more aggressive than just yelling abortion every other word.”

    Catoggio gets into the polling weeds to discover the "optimal" GOP positioning on the abortion issue. It's pretty cynicism-inducing. If you are a politician who believes (as does Kevin D. Williamson, for example) "you don’t kill children who haven’t been born for the same reason you don’t kill children who have been born", it's tough to trim your public statements to the poll numbers, which show Americans' total ambivalence on the issue.

    Of course, that's if you're a serious politician. Most just call in the focus groups in order to find the right phrasing that won't lose you too many votes.

  • On the other hand, I'm in New Hampshire, and I extend a welcome to any political refugees. But the NR editors take a broader view: California Needs Better Governance, and Soon.

    California has been a reliable incubator of far-left policies for quite a while, but the state seems to be outdoing itself as of late.

    Perhaps the ghastliest policy is the state’s new transgender-sanctuary law. It essentially takes the principle of sanctuary cities on immigration and applies it to transgender laws in states. The likely consequences of that law will include cases of pitting children against parents, denying parents custody of their children, and performing irreversible procedures on minors that they may later regret.

    California is taking a similar attitude toward abortion. In the aftermath of Dobbs, Governor Gavin Newsom wants the state to become a “sanctuary” for abortionists, going so far as to advertise California’s openness to abortion in other states. California’s status as an abortion safe haven may even be enshrined into the state constitution.

    Newsom signed a Covid “misinformation” law that flies in the face of the First Amendment. The law will punish doctors for medical advice they give their patients about Covid if the California state government decides it is misinformation, on a more or less arbitrary basis. Even a progressive public-health activist wrote in the Washington Post against this bill, so egregious are its implications.

    And there's even more at the link. But why should I care?

    All of this would be bad enough if only Californians had to suffer this misgovernance, but the entire country is affected by California’s failures. It’s the largest state by population and by economic impact, and it has a desire to spread its influence throughout the country. For the sake of Californians and of Americans, the Golden State needs better governance, and it needs it soon.

    Oh yeah. Good point.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:55 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


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  • I wouldn't want to join any party that would have me for a member. Morris Fiorina looks at a new book at Reason. Review: 'The Other Divide' Questions Left-Right Polarization Narrative.

    With The Other Divide, political scientists Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan have made a significant contribution to the polarization debate. Wait! What debate? Everyone knows that Americans are more polarized now than at any time since the Civil War. There is no debate. The science is settled.

    Well, actually not—or at least not in political science, whatever the average political journalist might erroneously believe.

    When the polarization narrative first became popular in the early 2000s, my collaborators and I wrote a short book showing that in terms of ideologies, issue positions, and partisanship, the American electorate was no more polarized than it was when it chose between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976. In fact, significantly fewer Americans were willing to claim affiliation with either of the major parties than had been the case in the supposedly pre-polarized era. (Political scientists still debate how to think about those independents.)

    I think of these hyperpoliticized folks as the "Flight 93" crowd.

  • I still like him. John Tierney looks at the politician it seems everyone loves to hate: Mr. Paul Goes to Washington.

    For all its virtues, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has never been considered a realistic film. Critics complain that Frank Capra’s movie is at once too corny and too cynical: one brave senator singlehandedly defending the public good against the thoroughly corrupt political and journalistic establishments. But we’ve been seeing a version of that plot for two years now, thanks to Senator Rand Paul’s lonely battle against Anthony Fauci, the Centers for Disease Control, and the mainstream press.

    Like the politicians meekly following orders in the film, most of Washington has bowed to the CDC’s Covid edicts, but Paul has never tired of challenging the agency’s futile policies and dubious science. Like the movie’s media baron Jim Taylor, Fauci’s cheerleaders in the press and on social-media platforms have shamelessly pushed the party line—and worked hard to squelch opposing views, though they prefer to use “fact-checkers” rather than the street thugs whom Taylor hired to silence a rival newspaper. Journalists have smeared Paul, and censors have removed some of his scientifically accurate heresies from YouTube, but no one can stop him from regularly berating Fauci at the televised hearings of the Senate health committee.

    Paul isn’t as folksy or likable as Jeff Smith (Jimmy Stewart), and his tousled hair isn’t quite as disheveled as during Smith’s epic filibuster, but he, too, likes to deliver lectures on democracy and liberty. Unlike Smith, he hasn’t read the Declaration of Independence to his jaded colleagues—at least, not yet—but he did invoke Friedrich Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit at a hearing early in the pandemic, when he was pleading with Fauci to stop locking down Americans in their homes.

    Senator Paul didn't get much traction when he ran for president. In fact, he dropped out of the race before I could vote for him in the New Hampshire Primary.

  • I still like this guy too. Chris Stirewalt notes a reverse Flynn Effect: Senate Brain Drain Set to Continue With Sasse.

    Political awfulness is self-concentrating. 

    Indeed, that can be part of the problem with our upper chamber. So well-developed is the dignity of many of the mostly older, already wealthy members that they don't have the spunk to deal with the growing number of zealous, self-promoting demagogues in their midst. 

    It was all fun and games 15 years ago when it was just Bernie Sanders, who was good for a head pat and a press conference and would be on his way muttering about millionaires and billionaires. But the bear-baiting purveyors of class-warfare bull pucky are now everywhere: Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Josh Hawley, Tommy Tuberville, and Mazie Hirono have all arrived since then. Others, like Kirsten Gillibrand and Ron Johnson, caught the bug after they arrived. 

    Don't worry, he gets to Senator Sasse later on in the article.

  • Part Three of "Economics for English Majors". And it's from Kevin D. Williamson, so if you wrote your senior thesis on a feminist interpretation of Alfred Lord Tennyson's 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', it's for you: The Power of Choice.

    Opportunity cost is one of the three or four most important concepts in economics, especially for non-economists who want to understand economic thinking in the public policy context. It is simple enough, but still underappreciated, in part because we tend to look at opportunity cost from the consumer point of view and forget all about the production side.

    The fundamental issue in economics is scarcity. Scarcity is a fact of life: No matter how rich we become as a society, and no matter how much material abundance we enjoy, there is never enough to go around to satisfy every desire of every person: Some goods are naturally limited (there are only so many Rembrandt paintings), some goods are rivalrous in consumption (if Steve smokes a cigar, Jonah can’t smoke the same cigar), and our desire to consume goods that require work to produce (see last week’s discussion of Say’s Law) conflicts with our practically infinite appetite for leisure time. As much as it may grieve David French, you can’t plant turnips and play World of Warcraft at the same time. You have to choose one.

    That special application of scarcity—“If you want x, you have to forgo y”—is opportunity cost.

    You all know that, of course. I’m just laying some groundwork.

    You may know that, but do you appreciate that?

  • And finally, an item to go with our Amazon Product du Jour. And it's from J.D. Tuccille: Putin Have You Panicked? You Can Survive a Nuclear Exchange.. This is really news you don't want to use. But…

    While it's possible to ignore overseas horrors so long as they stay distant, that's increasingly difficult with the war in Ukraine. Not only is the conflict worsening conditions in a world already damaged by pandemic responses, but Russia's President Vladimir Putin threatens nuclear escalation and U.S. President Joe Biden warns of resulting "Armageddon." It's a grim reminder that government power enables ambitious individuals to put millions of lives at risk. And it's a heads-up to us as individuals do what we can to preserve ourselves, our families, and our communities if the situation gets even worse.

    "To protect Russia and our people, we, Of course, we use all the means at our disposal. This is not a bluff," Putin huffed in a September address to his country that was far from the first time he and his government invoked the use of nuclear weapons, always by insisting it's in response to the West. "The territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be ensured, I emphasize this again, by all that we have means. And those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind rose can turn around and in their direction."

    If you can read this, Armageddon haan't happened yet. Also, thank a teacher.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:55 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


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  • Well, that's a darn shame. Arnold Kling's headline is sad: ...And Everybody Hates the Libertarians. It's his report on the Cato program "New Challenges to the Free Economy". Speaking of hate, an interesting observation here about the company everyone loves to hate:

    [Hal] Varian, the Chief Economist of Google, was on a panel of like-minded speakers called “fighting back against antitrust populism.” Varian fought back with data that said that most searches are not for products or services, and sellers of products and services get most of their traffic from something other than ads. He pretty much said that the reason Google doesn’t have competition in search is that search is a lousy business—you have to respond to lots of queries, few of which generate revenue. Somebody should have asked him whether Google’s shareholders see it that way.

    Well. GOOGL was down 2.7% yesterday, so maybe some shareholders (or ex-shareholders) were seeing it that way. (If I'm doing this right, it's down nearly 35% from its 52-week high.)

  • High Fidelity, Part One. At American Greatness, the Flight-93 guy, Michael Anton asks: What Does Fidelity to Our Founding Principles Require Today?

    Let me begin to answer that question with a quote—perhaps a familiar quote to some or most of you. But it’s apt, and there’s always a chance some of you haven’t heard it, and/or that others can use a refresher.

    The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types—the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.

    Those words were spoken by G.K. Chesterton, a Brit, in 1924. He was speaking of the British Constitution, not ours. But the words strike me as especially apt to our situation.

    What have our conservatives conserved? But before we answer that—hint: almost nothing—let’s first ask: what were they supposed to conserve? What do they say they are conserving in all those fundraising letters they send out that have been netting them hundreds of millions per year for most of my lifetime?

    Anton serves up a jeroboam of jeremiads: declining life expectancy, declining birth rates, deaths of despair, the deep state, unaffordable housing, etc. And then slides over into blaming “the weasels, compromisers, mediocrities, and losers of the Republican-conservative-libertarian establishment”?

    And he names names. Specifically, some of my favorite names. Sigh.

  • High Fidelity, Part 2. I probably wouldn't have linked to that article, had it not been for this article in National Review by C. Bradley Thompson, also conveniently titled: What Does Fidelity to Our Founding Principles Require Today? His bottom line isn't gonna make Randi Weingarten happy:

    It is imperative, therefore, that the proponents of a free society support the “Separation of School and State” principle, which means we must be abolitionists.

    So, how do we get from here to there? Here is a back-of-the-envelope, five-step program for abolishing the government-school system. We must:

    1. Delegitimize the government schools not only as failing in practice but as immoral;
    2. Encourage ordinary Americans to JustWalkAway;
    3. Rescind all laws regulating homeschooling and the creation of micro schools and education pods;
    4. Require all Republican politicians to pledge they will support abolishing the federal Department of Education and its 50 state surrogates;
    5. Take whatever steps necessary to “decertify” the so-called “ed” schools.

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is the revolution, and the leaders of the revolution are ordinary Americans. This movement will not be stopped, and the revolution will not be televised. We have achieved critical mass and there is no going back.

    Dusk is approaching and the owl of Minerva will soon spread its wings.

    Interesting takes.

    My take: blame Jonah Goldberg and Kevin D. Williamson all you want. But the real problem is the voters. You can't shove classical liberalism down peoples' throats in a democracy. If the people don't value individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free-market capitalism… well, then, you won't have any of that stuff.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

Norwegian by Night

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Such are my idiosyncratic reading habits that I often don't become aware of great writers and their fine books until years after everyone else knows about them. I read Derek B. Miller's How to Find Your Way in the Dark only because it appeared on the NYT's list of The Best Mystery Novels of 2021. I liked it a lot, which sent me to Amazon's author page, and snapped up a used copy of this, his first book. Right on the front cover, the NYT review blurb says it "has the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller." True.

How to Find Your Way in the Dark told the story of young Sheldon Horowitz, born in the mid-1920s. Norwegian by Night, published in 2012, is (mostly) the story of old Sheldon Horowitz, age 82. He's living in Norway with granddaughter Rhea and her husband Lars. In the first few pages we learn that he's widowed. His son, Saul (Rhea's father) was killed in Vietnam. It takes him "an hour to pee." Rhea suspects dementia. But another theory is: he's haunted by people and events from his past: his own as a Marine in Korea, and his son's in Vietnam.

But the thriller part is kicked off when an abused single mother knocks at his door with her young son, begging for a safe refuge. But she quickly becomes a victim of violence, and Sheldon takes it on himself to shelter the boy. They set off on a perilous journey, chased by the bad guys. Along the way, Sheldon's secrets are gradually revealed to us.

All that sounds like the book is a total downer. Not true! As with How to Find Your Way in the Dark, the book mixes in solid humor along the way. Particularly comic: the Norwegian police investigation, led by Sigrid Ødegård, who's apparently the main character of the next Miller book I'm going to read.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

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  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies. Veronique de Rugy knows better than to wonder Are Deficits Actually Going Down?.

    The president is annoyed. On Saturday, during a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, he complained that "I'm so sick of Republicans saying we're the 'big spenders.' Give me a break. Give me a break." He all but said in one portion of the speech that he is spending a lot of money on special interests and yet "doing all of this while reducing the deficit — last year, $350 billion, and this year by $1 trillion." It's magic.

    It's amazing to watch a speech in which so few fiscal facts are correct. First, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that "the Biden administration has enacted policies through legislation and executive actions that will add more than $4.8 trillion to deficits between 2021 and 2031." That's exclusively his administration, and these sums will be added to the trillions in debt accumulated by previous administrations.

    And let's not forget that the $4.8 trillion figure would be significantly larger if he and his Democratic friends in Congress had passed the roughly $2.5-to-$5 trillion Build Back Better legislation they pushed so hard for. The figure also rests on the dubious assumption that the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which was passed in lieu of BBB, will reduce the deficit. Last but not least, this figure doesn't include Biden's student-loan forgiveness order, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculates will alone add over $400 billion in deficit spending over 10 years.

    You can read that Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget report that Vero talks about here.

    With respect to our Amazon Product du Jour pie chart, I'm not sure if Biden's rhetoric goes in the "lies" or "dementia" slice.

  • Or perhaps too many people don't want you to know. Jim Geraghty quotes former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb: ‘The Search for Covid’s Origin Seems to Have Stalled’.

    I wish I had a cheerier or more optimistic outlook, but I doubt we will ever definitively know the origin of Covid-19 because a lot of people are comfortable not knowing, and deeply uncomfortable with the ramifications of confirming a pandemic that has killed as many as 27 million people around the world was the result of a lab leak. As I wrote last month, “I think the Chinese government would prefer that the origin of the virus remain a mystery; that way, it doesn’t have to admit any fault, permanently shut down any wet markets, or allow international inspectors into its biological-research labs. Our current confusion, division, and waning interest is exactly the outcome that works out best for China.”

    As long as the origin of Covid-19 is a mystery, life can go on, and people – including those with deep economic interests in China, and U.S. policymakers – can more or less live their lives the way they did before the pandemic. The moment someone finds smoking-gun evidence that it was a lab leak, everything regarding China and the rest of the world changes, and likely in dangerous and unpredictable directions.

    We don’t know, because we don’t know. But we also don’t know because we don’t want to know.

    27 million people is 4.5 Holocausts. Just sayin'.

  • Worse, those "conversations" always turn into "shut up and listen". Adam Thierer questions the narrative: We Really Need To ‘Have a Conversation’ About AI ... or Do We?.

    Last month, New York Times columnist Kevin Roose wrote a piece entitled “We Need to Talk About How Good A.I. Is Getting,” even while admitting how, “It’s a cliché, in the A.I. world, to say things like ‘we need to have a societal conversation about A.I. risk.’”

    He doesn’t even know the half of it. If you’ve read enough essays, books or social media posts about artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics—among other emerging technologies—then chances are you’ve stumbled on variants of these two arguments many times over:

    1. “We need to have conversation about the future of AI and the risks that it poses.”

    2. “We should get a bunch of smart people in a room and figure this out.”

    Who can possibly disagree with those two pearls of wisdom? Well, I can—because they have become largely meaningless rhetorical flourishes which threaten to hold up meaningful progress on the AI front.

    Thierer quotes himself: “[L]iving in constant fear of worst-case scenarios—and premising public policy on them—means that best-case scenarios will never come about.”

    He gets a lot of flak from flacks, perhaps deserved, for palling around with Trumpian "national conservatives". But his article here seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • I probably shouldn't complain about laziness of others. I mean, I'm not the most energetic guy myself. Case in point: I'm outsourcing criticism of The Laziest Politics to Kevin D. Williamson.

    Our politics is upside-down in several different ways, but one of the most important of them is that politicians and activists seem to have forgotten how to ask for votes and how to engage in old-fashioned democratic persuasion. Instead of saying, “What can I do to earn your support?” our contemporary politicians insist that we are morally obligated to support them no matter what. After hearing the stories about Herschel Walker, purportedly a pro-life Republican, paying for an abortion for one of his many extramarital attachments, Dana Loesch gave the definitive Republican answer of 2022: “I don’t care if Hershel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles—I want control of the Senate.”

    Never mind that such a figure as Dana Loesch will never have control of the Senate: She will be at most an instrument of someone else’s control. Nobody on the right seems able to stop and ask: “Why? Why do we want a party whose leading lights are such figures as Donald Trump and Herschel Walker to control the Senate? Why would we want such figures as Lindsey Graham or Josh Hawley to control anything?”

    Maybe there is a case for that. But I spend a lot of time around politicians, especially Republican politicians, taking copious notes on their emissions, and I have not heard a case for Republicans worth repeating in years—only a case against Democrats.

    Democrats, for their part, are in essentially the same rhetorical position.

    I think I should take a nap for about six weeks or so.

  • I had no questions but… I knew Jeff Maurer's Answers to queries posed by his subscribers would be entertaining.

    Do you think that you have more in common ideologically with the Woke Left or a good-faith conservative? By "good-faith" I mean that they come by their beliefs honestly, appreciate dialogue, and are passionate about Founding Values like Free Speech, Due Process, etc.

    This is an easy one: I have more in common with a good-faith conservative. Or really a good-faith anything; there are good-faith leftists whose opinions I respect.

    The problem, in my opinion, is rigid ideology. Some people decide “this is what I believe” and then reverse-engineer the justifications. These people aren’t rare; I think they’re probably a majority. I find that approach to politics pretty useless; it’s like playing Pictionary and just yelling “boat!” over and over again no matter what your partner draws.

    We should also never forget how fucking boring it is to be ideologically pigheaded. I don’t want to talk to blinkered an uncurious people partly because I already know what they’re going to say. If I’m talking to someone who actually is acting in good faith and truly is interested in finding solutions, we might find common ground. Talking to those people is also a good reminder that I should approach politics with clear eyes and an open mind, and not scroll Twitter seeking out opinions I already agree with, even though I’ve been known to do the latter from time to time.

    I have a pretty rigid ideology. I think so, anyway. Maybe.

  • And finally, a quote from Steven Hayward's periodic Loose Ends post at Power Line:

    Can someone explain to me the difference between “lived experience” and “experience”? Isn’t all experience “lived”? Is “lived experience” some kind of extra-super-dooper kind of experience, special to that extra-special class of people known as “millennials”? Isn’t this ubiquitous phrase redundant—yet another example of linguistic inflation that turns a clear term like “library” into “learning resource center”? I earnestly wish “lived” experience would die.

    Yes. Someone should compile a list of such warning signs of bullshit.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

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  • Try to unwrap this headline: The ‘Big Lie Is No Lie’ Lie. Kevin D. Williamson explains himself:

    The thing about Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” is that it is: 1. big and 2. a lie. Trump has now filed a $475 million lawsuit against CNN, insisting that the news channel stop referring to his lies as “lies.”

    That’s High Trumpism: lying about lying while putting your hand out and asking for money.

    CNN’s lawyers can rest easy. The lawsuit (which I encourage you to read) is an amateurish dog’s breakfast of cut-and-paste hackwork, a slop pail of whining and whimpering that overlooks the one absolute defense against a libel claim: truth. The claims of fact about Trump made by CNN’s talking heads have been, for the most part, true. The analysis has been at times hysterical and irresponsible—this is CNN—but, as CNN’s lawyers point out, even the letter of complaint Trump’s team sent to CNN in July demanding the removal and retraction of a few dozen segments and articles didn’t allege any particular falsehood as such.

    Disclaimer: I haven't watched CNN for a long time. Or Fox, for that matter. I can barely stand a half-hour of local news on WMUR. My main TV-watching algorithm these days is figuring out how best to evade political ads.

    KDW is as good at the Dispatch as he was at National Review: taking no prisoners, relentless honesty, occasional hilarity, and spot-on observations. Specifically, in this case: he hopes Trump's lawyers "got paid in advance."

  • But just look at all those broken windows! Jeff Jacoby provides a short course entitled "Bastiat 101": No, Hurricane Ian will not 'fuel the economy'. Embarrassing the one newspaper I to which I subscribe:

    The Wall Street Journal this week blithely assured its readers that the hurricane, far from being a terrible blow, is actually a blessing in disguise, since it "will nudge up economic output over the coming years." The paper quoted University of Illinois economist Tatyana Deryugina, who had no trouble seeing the silver lining in other people's ruined livelihoods. Sure, "some businesses [will be] forced to close," she conceded. "On the other hand, there will be destroyed cars, destroyed housing that needs to be rebuilt, and people will go out and spend money and that will drive GDP up."

    Et tu, WSJ?

    After providing other examples, Jacoby cuts to the quick:

    These are just a few examples of the popular fallacy that destruction is economically beneficial, since money must be spent to repair what was damaged. The 19th-century French thinker Frederic Bastiat exploded such reasoning in a famous 1850 essay, "That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen." The essay opens with a parable: A boy breaks a shop window. As the merchant sweeps up the shards of glass, dejected over his loss, onlookers attempt to console him by observing that the loss is actually a gain: The six francs it will cost him to restore his window, they point out, will benefit the glazier, who will then have more money to spend on something else. Those six francs will circulate, and the economy will grow.

    The critical flaw in that thinking, explained Bastiat, is that it concentrates only on "what is seen" — the glazier who will be paid for a new window. What it ignores is "what is not seen" — everything that the shopkeeper will not be able to do with those six francs. Forced to spend the money on repairing his window, he will lose the opportunity to spend them on, say, a pair of shoes or a new book. The glazier gains, but the shopkeeper loses — and so does society as a whole. There is no financial upside to destruction.

    Disregard Frederic at your peril, journalists. Doing so makes you an easy target for folks like Jacoby. (Also me, if I happen to notice.)

  • A good candidate for "Best Blog Headline of the Month". And it's from Granite Grok's Steve MacDonald: Local Diversity and Inclusion Council Wants Member Who is Not Like the Others to Quit.

    I left a comment that it reminded me of that classic Dr. Strangelove quote: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

    But the local council to which GG refers is over in Barre, Vermont.

    For the record: according to the Census Bureau, Vermont as a whole is 94.0% White, 2.0% Asian, 1.5% Black. (other pigeonhole percentages at the link).

    But the town of Barre is way more racially diverse… oh, wait, no it's not: 95.8% White, 2.1% Black, a mere 0.2% Asian. And anyway, the spat on the Diversity and Equity Committee is pretty amusing when seen from slightly over 100 miles away.

    Further Fun Fact: Barre is the go-to town should you want to see the largest zipper in America.

  • Back to seriousness. The WSJ editorialists comment on The Climate-Change Censorship Campaign. Surprisingly, they are not fans.

    Elon Musk said this week he’ll buy Twitter after all, and the hopeful view for online speech is that his rockets-and-flamethrowers heterodoxy might be an answer for what ails social media. He won’t have it easy. On Tuesday more than a dozen environmental outfits, including Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote to the big tech companies to blame them for “amplifying and perpetuating climate disinformation.”

    What the letter asks for sounds modest, but the implication is clear. The Digital Services Act recently enacted by the European Union includes transparency rules, and the green groups want Silicon Valley “to commit to including climate disinformation as a separately-acknowledged category in its reporting and content moderation policies in and outside of the EU.” Then they could proceed to complain that the tech giants aren’t doing enough censoring.

    It's not hard to imagine that (say) Greenpeace, et. al. could well demand that voices like Steven Koonin's be unGoogleable.

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies, I think. Kat Rosenfield attempts to answer the burning question: Is Ronan Farrow a MeToo hero?.

    Farrow was chasing the Weinstein story at the same time as the New York Times journalists, but his first report, for the New Yorker, didn’t come out until five days later. Still, he is regularly described — here in The Times of London — as “the man who exposed Harvey Weinstein”. The book he wrote about his MeToo reporting, Catch and Kill, was the same in substance if not in scale as all the men proclaiming their intent to #BelieveWomen on social media. Imagine every white-knighting male feminist ally impulse blown up to national (and extraordinarily telegenic) proportions: here was Farrow, vowing to use his position of privilege to speak on behalf of the downtrodden, to uncover injustice, and in doing so, atone for his complicity in the system that had wrecked women’s lives.

    Farrow, who is gay, couldn’t claim to be a reformed cad à la the Yancys of the world, but a family connection to a famous sexual assault case — his father, Woody Allen, was accused of molesting his sister Dylan in 1992 — served the same purpose: “I once was one of those guys proximate to a woman with a claim like this saying, ‘why don’t you just shut up about it?’” Farrow said, on PBS NewsHour in 2019.

    If MeToo coverage until this moment was by women, about women, Farrow injected a new perspective — and an elevated sense of drama. His reporting was very often described as “explosive”. Even as he claimed to be merely a conduit for the testimonies of courageous women, those women had a way of fading into the background of his stories, eclipsed by the jaw-dropping villainy of whichever man he accused — but also by the presence of Farrow himself, chasing leads. His quest to uncover evidence that Weinstein had hired surveillance operatives in an attempt to stop him from telling the truth is a prominent and thrilling subplot in Catch and Kill. It was all too easy to forget the female victims in the face of such a compelling narrative — one about a dogged, handsome reporter battling a conspiracy of menacing evildoers in America’s glitziest and most elite industry.


    Citations of his Pulitzer prize-winning journalism almost invariably fail to note that he shared the honour with the two women who exposed Weinstein in the New York Times, women who broke the story first and yet have always been a distant second to Farrow when it comes to getting famous from it. Their book about uncovering the story, She Said, did not make headlines in Hollywood Reporter for having sold 44,000 copies in its first week, unlike Catch and Kill. Their audiobook didn’t get a Grammy nomination, unlike Farrow’s (he voiced it himself). Farrow is the one being lionised in the Hollywood press as a having “ignited the movement”. He’s the one lingering in the spotlight, long after the villains have gone to prison and the victims have moved on with their lives. The only name more closely associated with the movement, ironically, is Weinstein’s.

    Ms. Rosenfield always tells an interesting story, without ideological blinders.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

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  • I've sworn off writing Letters to the Editor. I've dropped my subscription to the local rag, Foster's Daily Democrat, and it doesn't seem fair somehow.

    But on Monday, our mistake-prone paper delivery person brought us a copy of Foster's instead of the Wall Street Journal. And there was a letter on the Opinion page that almost got me to send in a rebuttal.

    I'll do it here instead. The letter is from Chuck Rhoades of Dover, NH. (You have to scroll down a bit at the page linked above to get to it.) Apparently he's a willing volunteer in the Democrat pre-election LTE-writing campaign:

    Governor Sununu prides himself on being a stalwart against raising taxes. But so far he’s played a key role in the ever increasing property taxes in the state.

    Foremost is his support of public funding for private schooling. His appointee as education commissioner, Frank Edelblut has mirrored extremist right-wing tactics by implementing the horribly misnamed Education Freedom Accounts. This funding plan started at $400,000, but has exploded to an estimated $8-9 million.

    Guess where the money will come from? That’s right, our property taxes.

    Ignore the "extremist right-wing" name-calling. I'm pretty sure the NH EFA program (as described by extremist right-wing New Hampshire Public Radio) takes existing per-student funding from "public" (government) schools, and directs it to parents for "private school or home-schooling expenses." So there shouldn't be any increase in the state tax burden. And of course local governments can spend whatever they democratically decide on their schools; they don't lose money either.

    So I strongly suspect Chuck's charge is bogus. But let's skip down a bit:

    On the other side of the ledger, Sununu and the GOP killed a Democratic Party proposal to actually help property taxpayers by having the state pay 7.5% of the retirement costs for municipal, school, and county employees. The state used to pay up to 40% of this cost, but shifted the burden to counties and municipalities.

    The Democratic plan was to help reduce local taxes by having the state return to its past practice of helping defray the cost to local taxpayers. The state has access to a much wider revenue pool than counties and municipalities. Last year, the 7.5% funding would have used $28 million of the state’s estimated $400 million surplus to reduce property taxes. Thanks to the Republicans, this did not happen.

    Ah. So let me get this straight, Chuck:

    You (erroneously) claim the "extremist right-wing" EFA program will cost $8-9 million and cause "increasing property taxes".

    But the Democrat plan to have the state subsidize part of local governments' bills for "retirement costs" will cost (as an opening bid) $28 million. And that funding will magically appear via the "surplus".

    Note that the surplus was a one time windfall (and the legislature has already spent a lot of it). But the subsidy would go on forever. Funded how? You got it.

    But most of all, note that $28 million is over three times bigger than your fictitious $9 million.

    And (by the way) also note that the EFAs go toward kids' education expenses, and theoretically might cause those kids to actually learn something. The subsidies to local governments simply encourage further spending on employee "retirement costs". Maybe we should let local governments bear the full costs of their spending decisions, instead of playing shell games with magic money from the state?

    I'm not sure Chuck thought this through. Maybe he shouldn't have written this self-refuting letter.

  • But for more on EFAs. Damien Fisher is on the hypocrisy watch at NHJournal: 'Choice for Me, But Not for Thee'? NHDems Oppose EFAs, Send Kids to Elite Private Schools.

    State Sen. Tom Sherman is running for governor as a self-declared champion of public schools and opponent of school choice. He opposes allowing low-income families to use public money to choose a private school education for their children.

    Perhaps the same private school Sherman chooses for his son.

    While Sherman says he is a proponent of public school education, he sent his son to the Governor’s Academy in Newbury, Mass., a private school with tuition approaching $70,000 per year, GOP activist Patrick Hynes reported in his Union-Leader column on Sunday.

    Democrat State Rep (and State Senate candidate) Debra Altschiller is also quoted, misstating the funding issue (as did Chuck in our previous item).

    By sheer coincidence, Debra is married to Howard Altschiller, Executive Editor of "Seacoast Media Group", which includes the dreadful local Foster's Daily Democrat. Explains a lot.

  • It's not a pretty picture, Emily. David French is Lifting Up the Rock on the Gutter Right.

    I want to write about cruelty and slander and how those dark sins are wielded as weapons of political and cultural warfare in the worst corners of the online right. While politics has never been a gentle pursuit, the advent of Trumpism and the Trumpist ethos has spawned a host of popular voices who embrace lies as a tactic and character assassination as an objective.

    Consider my last few days as a case study. It all started, as so many of these online mobbings do, with a lie. A person who works for The Blaze and who trolls me constantly accused me of calling management to complain about his tweets. I did no such thing. The claim is completely false, and I told him so. And that, I thought, was that.

    But no. His completely false claim was picked up by a gutter website called “Twitchy.” Twitchy’s business model is to package right-wing Twitter attacks into news stories, slap inflammatory headlines on them, and gleefully claim that this or that person has been shamed, destroyed, humiliated—often by a set of random Twitter trolls.

    It got very ugly, very quickly. I do not want to be associated with people who would do things like this.

  • Why, it's just like shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Harold Hutchison notes the latest push for killing the First Amendment: Major Medical Orgs Demand That The DOJ Prosecute People Who Share ‘Misleading’ Information Online.

    The American Medical Association (AMA) sent Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter Monday calling on him to “investigate the organizations, individuals, and entities coordinating, provoking, and carrying out bomb threats and threats of personal violence against children’s hospitals and physicians across the U.S.”

    “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment, and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions,” the AMA, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) said in the letter. “Our organizations have called on technology companies to do more to prevent this practice on digital platforms, and we now urge your office to take swift action to investigate and prosecute all organizations, individuals, and entities responsible.”

    On the other hand, it's a good idea to prosecute people doing the violence. (The AMA doesn't specify any "Organizations, individuals, and entities" carrying out violence.) And "true threats" have always been a 1A exception, if you can prove them.

    But outside that, nope. The word "provoking" really carries a lot of weight in the AMA letter. They should have left that out.

  • Update from Downeast. Jerry Coyne has the latest from Gorham, Maine: Maine Professor demonized for teaching that there are only two human sexes penalized. It's an update to the incident we talked about a few days ago, where a University of Southern Maine education prof claimed (accurately) that there were two human sexes. Two. T-W-O.

    This outraged her students, who whipped themselves up into a mob, staging a walkout. Demands were issued. What would the University do?

    Jerry quotes Jennifer Gingrich, a local:

    Thank you for addressing this, Dr. Coyne. I live in Portland, Maine, where the professor is under attack by her students and I have a petition asking the university to support her. I hope you don’t mind, but the petition quotes you (I put it up before you wrote this piece, so it quotes something you wrote a while back).

    Unfortunately, USM announced today that although they are not firing [Hammer], they have created an identical class with a different instructor that students can attend instead, effectively leaving Dr. Hammer in an empty classroom (the one student who didn’t initially walk out has been pressured into apologizing for it).

    I've signed the Change.org petition; check it out and see if you agree.

  • Total BS: why I'm letting my WIRED subscription expire. Kate Knibbs ("a senior writer at WIRED, covering culture") pens an online article featuring deep thinker Adrienne Buller ("Senior Research Fellow" at "Common Wealth"), dedicated to examining how democratic ownership can transform how our economy operates and for whom.

    (I assume I don't have to translate that into normal language.)

    Anyway, the article wonders: Is ‘Green Capitalism’ Total BS? Adrienne has a new book out:

    How much is a whale worth?

    It seems like a self-evidently ridiculous question, borderline obscene—whales are majestic creatures whose worth transcends the human impulse to quantify, obviously! Yet it is one which has been seriously considered by economists in an effort to convince governments and corporations to value wildlife. In her new book, The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism, Adrienne Buller dissects the asinine logic of “green” capitalist thinking, from putting a dollar value on cetaceans to carbon offsets to financial products like “sustainability-linked bonds.”

    The director of research for the London-based progressive think tank Common Wealth, Buller sees market-based corporate “green” initiatives as distracting at best—and, at worst, actively destructive. The Value of a Whale takes a bracing look at how corporate interests are using the superficial trappings of climate activism to reinforce their own power. As one might imagine, it’s not the most uplifting read in the world. But it’s a galvanizing, tough book, one that asks us to not accept a simulacrum of improvement for the real thing.

    It gets worse from there, as Adrienne muses to Kate:

    There are two core tenets of green capitalism I identify. The first is that it’s an attempt to resolve the climate crisis in a way that minimizes disruption to our existing ways of organizing the economy, to existing distributions of wealth and power. The second tenet is pursuing decarbonization in a way that makes sure that there are still opportunities for profit-making and rent extraction in that decarbonized future. In contrast to, for instance, moving away from private car ownership to mass transit as a climate solution, the green capitalist framework is more about making sure we can transition to electric vehicles when we’re moving away from fossil-fuel-driven cars so that private companies can keep profiting.

    Translation: dealing with climate change isn't the point. The point (as always) is to destroy capitalism, expropriate wealth, and socialize the economy. Climate change is just the current excuse.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

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  • A quaint preference for precise language. Bryan Caplan replies to a twitter-critic of his recent book Don't be a Feminist: The Definition of Feminism. The critic points to the dictionary definition: "feminism is the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for women." And, indeed, who could be against something so noble-sounding (albeit vague on the details).

    My response, to be blunt, is: The dictionary is wrong. Defining feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” is advocacy disguised as lexicology.

    Feminism is not remotely as bad as Stalinism, nor is the feminist movement’s intimidation against dissent remotely as harsh. Both movements, however, successfully corrupted dictionaries.

    He notes that the anodyne definition conflicts with common usage:

    [I]n this 2016 Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 40% of women and 67% of men did not consider themselves “feminists.” But over 90% of both genders agreed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” If Google’s definition of feminism conformed to standard English usage, these patterns would make very little sense. Imagine a world where 90% of men say they’re “bachelors,” but only 40% say they’re “unmarried.”

    He proposes a definition of "feminism" more in line with actual usage: it's "the view that society generally treats men more fairly than women". And suggests this is a definition that "feminists, non-feminists, and anti-feminists" could potentially agree with.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is (of course) Bryan's book. It's short, cheap, and (as I type) Amazon hasn't gotten around to banning it yet.

  • Blaming the system is pretty easy. It's what Kevin D. Williamson calls The Soft Smollett.

    Jussie Smollett entered our national hall of infamy by pretending to be the victim of a violent crime motivated by racism and homophobia, one that was carried out by (so we were instructed to believe!) a couple of racist and gay-hating MAGA types who spent a lot of time watching gay black men on Empire—so much that they could spot Jussie Smollett on the street in Chicago, where they happened to be wandering around on the coldest night of the year with a bottle of bleach and a noose. The Smollett story was an interesting test case: Only a few months before the hoax hit the news, the nation had been transfixed by the Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of all manner of sexual violence, most prominently by Christine Blasey Ford. Blasey Ford, for whatever reason, received a tremendously sympathetic hearing, including from people who did not believe her claims about Kavanaugh but who conceded that something awful simply must have happened to her. People in public life were remarkably hesitant to suggest that the most obvious explanation was the true one—i.e., that she made the whole thing up, just as other similar claims about Kavanaugh, including those made in sworn statements, clearly had been invented. But people generally took a much more skeptical view of Smollett’s claims.

    The “soft Smollett” is different from the full Smollett in that it cannily declines to provide specific villains whose guilt or innocence can be adjudicated in some rigorous way. Instead, it posits a general moral failing on the part of society at large—one that just happens to provide a useful excuse for an embarrassing failure, as in the case of Bros’ disappointing box-office numbers. Or it can provide useful ballast to wobbly progressive victimization narratives. Apocalypse cults always go wrong when they proffer a specific date for the end of the world—a competent conspiracy theory does not provide such easily falsified hypotheses. And, of course, a conspiracy theory—a polite-society conspiracy theory—is precisely what this sort of thing really is.

    I'm currently reading Hate Crime Hoax by Wilfred Reilly (written pre-Smollett). It discusses in detail the left's need to keep pushing the "America is irredeemably bigoted" narrative; if specific actual incidents are lacking to support that, then let's just fuzz it up and talk about "systemic" oppression.

  • What? But it's supposed to be hard. Many folks out there are jumping on this story, but let's go to Robby Soave at Reason: NYU Chemistry Professor Fired After Students Said His Class Was Too Hard.

    Maitland Jones Jr. was a professor of chemistry at Princeton University. In 2007, he semi-retired and began teaching organic chemistry at New York University on an adjunct basis.

    Not anymore: NYU has fired Jones after students circulated a petition protesting that his class was too hard.

    But according to Jones, the students weren't putting in enough effort—and had become disengaged, anxious, and indolent as a result of the pandemic.

    "They weren't coming to class, that's for sure," said Jones. "They weren't watching the videos, and they weren't able to answer the questions."

    Robby summarizes the story so you don't have to evade the New York Times paywall. Also weighing in is (self-admitted Marxist) Freddie deBoer: NYU Students Punch Down at Adjunct.

    “Punching up vs. punching down” is an inane, stupid standard for behavior. Power in human affairs is not found along a simple ordinal scale, but exists in all manner of dimensions. Power relations are irreducibly complex, not a matter of simplistic binaries pre-tuned for culture war.

    But, OK, let the activists have it their way: we can now say with great certainty that at New York University students punch down at their contingent professors. Celebrated organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones Jr. had high standards, and we can’t have that in 2022. NYU students - who are, by any rational measure, some of the most privileged people on planet earth - organized a petition and got him fired. I hope you never get treated by one of the doctors who emerges from this mess. For years and years, I’ve used the example of adjunct vs. college students to trouble the artificial punching up vs punching down binary; adjuncts hand out grades and have ostensible power over their students in class, but in the 21st-century university, students have power in almost every way that matters. And yet the wokies continue to represent students as oppressed truth-tellers and advocates, rather than as entitled consumers who expect to be handed everything in exchange for their crushing loan debt. Well, here we have it folks, the central dilemma of social justice politics: the belief that you are a powerless subaltern under the thumb of the injustice of oppressors who you can nevertheless get fired at your whim. It’s almost enough to make you think that the world’s more complicated than the simplistic binaries everyone is so deeply dedicated to.

    And finally, a one-liner from Alan Jacobs, offering a translation of the students' demands:

    “I’m not paying you to teach me organic chemistry, I’m paying you to tell medical schools that I know organic chemistry — and you’re not keeping your end of the bargain!”

  • To be fair, not a lot of help is required. But David Harsanyi provides it anyway: Some Helpful Ideas For Biden's Impeachment.

    Over at MSNBC, Steve Benen contends that Republicans, poised to take back the House next year, keep promising to impeach Joe Biden but “haven’t quite worked out” why. As a big fan of impeachments and congressional investigations, I may have some helpful ideas.

    In his conduct while president of the United States, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has shown a habitual contempt for the rule of law, on numerous occasions willfully violating his constitutional oath by corrupting and manipulating the power of the executive branch.

    Take the eviction moratorium. The Supreme Court explicitly ruled that the plan “exceeded … existing statutory authority.” Biden even conceded that the “bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster.” And yet, knowing all this, the president decreed it so, openly ignoring the Constitution, admitting to cynically exploiting the slow pace of judicial branch rulings “to keep this going for a month, at least — I hope longer.”

    David also covers the impeachable conduct embodied in Wheezy's "student loan forgiveness" decree, and more.

  • The progressive longing for authoritarianism. It's often exemplified by WIRED, and a recent example is here: Biden's AI Bill of Rights Is Toothless Against Big Tech.

    Toothless? That's bad! We need teeth! Big sharp ones! The better to rip our enemies apart!

    Last year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that the US needed a bill of rights for the age of algorithms. Harms from artificial intelligence disproportionately impact marginalized communities, the office’s director and deputy director wrote in a WIRED op-ed, and so government guidance was needed to protect people against discriminatory or ineffective AI.

    I think WIRED writers have a hotkey that allows them to enter "disproportionately impact marginalized communities" with a single keystroke.

    Today, the OSTP released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, after gathering input from companies like Microsoft and Palantir as well as AI auditing startups, human rights groups, and the general public. Its five principles state that people have a right to control how their data is used, to opt out of automated decisionmaking, to live free from ineffective or unsafe algorithms, to know when AI is making a decision about them, and to not be discriminated against by unfair algorithms.

    I refer you to our first item in today's list. This is "advocacy disguised as lexicology". Who could be against making algorithms "effective" and "safe" and "fair"? Or (for that matter) being able to "control how your data is used"? Who wants to me "discriminated against"?

    However, unlike the better known US Bill of Rights, which comprises the first 10 amendments to the constitution, the AI version will not have the force of law—it’s a nonbinding white paper.

    Awww. You mean Biden can't just decree that "big tech" start acting the way he wants? You mean there might actually have to be legislation passed by Congress? And that it specify exactly (for example) what an "unfair" algorithm is?

    This is one reason (among many) I'm letting my WIRED subscription expire.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
  • I hear you wondering: will throwing money at the IRS fix its problems? Well, Katherine Mangu-Ward has your answer, bunkie: Throwing Money at the IRS Won't Fix Its Problems.

    There is something irresistibly appealing to certain politicians about the idea of giving more money to the IRS. Like the king in "Rumpelstiltskin," they thrust fistfuls of straw at the tax collection agency and demand that it be spun into gold. Also like the king, they do not care to look too closely at where exactly the gold is coming from, or at what eventual price.

    In August, the Inflation Reduction Act allocated $80 billion in new funds to the IRS. A massive sum, but one carrying the weight of outsized political promises: Enough to hire 87,000 workers, increase the agency's enforcement budget by 69 percent, and surgically punish rich tax cheats yet somehow leave small businesses and everyone who earns less than $400,000 a year unmolested—all while raking in a hefty return in federal revenue by closing the "tax gap" created by evasion.

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did indeed estimate in 2021 that $80 billion in new spending under terms floated by President Joe Biden would bring in $204 billion in new revenue. A 250 percent return sounds like a pretty good deal, but $80 billion isn't the real price and $204 billion won't be the real return.

    Click through to find out why. You will not be mollified to learn that, once the promises of the "Inflation Reduction Act" are shown to have been bogus, the perpetrators of that lie will not be punished, and the IRS will keep the (more than) $80 billion it grabbed out of your tax-paying pocket..

  • Yes. But. Robert Tracinski asks the loaded question: Do the Populists Have a Point? The whole thing is good and insightful, but I think I can skip down to the spoiler:

    If the elites are prone to groupthink, blind spots and partisanship—so, dear reader, are you.

    The folly of the populists is that they rebel against the real and imagined corruption of “the elites” and “the Establishment”—and then seek to replace them with a new elite that is usually worse. They dismiss the “so-called experts,” but lacking any genuine expertise of their own, they fill the vacuum by embracing crackpot notions and conspiracy theories.

    After all, a belief in conspiracies is implicit in the populist worldview. The experts are not merely fallible, not merely self-dealing or even sometimes dishonest, they are actively and constantly lying to you. It’s all a big cover-up, and everyone is in on it. In this view, the universal rejection of an idea by the mainstream—by experts, by fact-checkers, by the media—is the greatest recommendation for it.

    The problem with "the system" is not that "elites" are running things for their own benefit.

    Although that's largely true.

    The problem is that nobody can successfully run "the system". Because we have tasked it with duties that are literally impossible to perform, let alone perform well.

  • You don't Say. Kevin D. Williamson dishes on Say's Law (very roughly, "supply creates its own demand"): A Pleasure to Serve.

    Like comparative advantage, Say’s Law is often misunderstood, and at times it is intentionally misrepresented by those who do not like its implications. Whether Say’s Law is coherent as a technical economic matter is, in fact, a lively issue, one that typically breaks down along tribal cleavages: Free-market types tend to be better disposed toward it, while capitalism-skeptical would-be social engineers reject it in part because it complicates their political ambition to follow a policy of “fine tuning” the economy, particularly through neo-Keynesian monkeying around with “aggregate demand.”

    That kind of macroeconomic management is a tricky business: Our Federal Reserve is, for all of its many faults, one of the better central banks, and it has been generally effective in its responses to challenges such as the 2007-08 financial crisis (two cheers for the creature from Jekyll Island!). But even with its great expertise and genuine autonomy, it is a blunt instrument, one that is, for example, almost certainly about to push the country into a painful recession in order to counteract the current destructive inflation that is in part a result of earlier Fed intervention. Say’s Law implies that what really drives the economy is the supply side rather than the demand side—demand just sort of comes along for the ride.

    What does it mean to claim that “supply creates its own demand”? What it doesn’t mean—though the misapprehension apparently is common—is that firms have the ability to simply exnihilate demand for their products into existence just by putting them on the market, possibly with the help of a crafty advertising campaign. If that were the case, there would be no failed products or failed companies, but products fail all the time: We Generation Xers remember the trauma of New Coke like it was our own D-Day. I’ll leave it to you younger readers to dig into the history of Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt Shampoo—and let’s just go ahead and meditate on the juxtaposition of “yogurt” with “shampoo” for a second here—for yourselves. (There are lots of examples: Business genius Ray Kroc thought McDonald’s needed a meatless burger to sell to Catholics during Lent—those were more observant times—and his first effort was the “Hula Burger,” which was a thick slice of pineapple and two slices of cheese on a hamburger bun.A local franchisee in Cincinnati had the better idea: the Filet-O-Fish, which even sounds Catholic.) Companies fail, too: In David Foster Wallace’s futurist novel Infinite Jest, Wayne Huizenga is still a Very Big Deal in the business world—but many of you readers will know his most famous endeavor, Blockbuster Video, only as a 1990s nostalgia totem.

    I used Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" function to find DFW's reference to Huizenga; it's on page 415 of the paperback version, and it's an alternate-future shout-out to not only Blockbuster, but also TCI. Somewhat prescient, somewhat off, completely fun to read. I miss DFW.

  • Beneath the phony tinsel of progressivism… you'll find the real tinsel. Latest example of that from James Freeman: Progressives Love Regressive Biden Loan Scam.

    Any moment now, the U.S. Department of Education is going to start transferring student loan debts from borrowers to taxpayers, helping the price gougers in higher education to avoid reform. Congress never approved this Biden bailout, but many congressional Democrats are acting as if it’s legal—and a gift to the downtrodden. A new report serves as a timely reminder on who’s most likely to benefit.

    This week Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) is claiming on Twitter that Republicans are “doing everything they can to stop President Biden from cancelling student debt for the people who need it the most.”

    This week Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) is claiming on Twitter that Republicans are “doing everything they can to stop President Biden from cancelling student debt for the people who need it the most.”

    But borrowers with low incomes were already receiving help—with no penalties for the colleges that sold them overpriced degrees.

    Perennial Babylon Bee headline: Harvard To Pay Elizabeth Warren $400,000 To Teach Class On Why College Is So Expensive.

    [Our headline, on the other hand, is a somewhat adjusted famous quote.]

  • What Jonah Goldberg calls "rank punditry". Nick Catoggio suggests we Forget the Polls. Let’s Talk About Vibes.. And Nick thinks the vibes are currently trending toward Team Red.

    Polling of the national generic ballot is only so useful in deciphering how 435 distinct districts will break. We could see Democrats score Saddam Hussein margins of victory in indigo districts due to a left-wing Dobbs backlash and then fall short in one battleground after another as voters frustrated with inflation overwhelm the ardent but much smaller pro-choice contingent.

    And since we’re vibing here, if you want the best of the best-case scenarios for the Republican Party, I recommend this Cohn piece on systemic polling error from last month if you missed it at the time. In theory, the polls this year might be systematically underestimating either party by overlooking an important contingent of voters when modeling the electorate. For instance, there could be a large group of casual young voters incensed at Dobbs who tend not to respond to polling surveys but fully intend to vote this fall. The polls would miss them, and therefore underestimate Democratic support.

    But if you’ve followed elections during the Trump era, you know that’s not how it tends to go—at least when Trump is on the ballot. It’s Republicans, not Democrats, who tend to be lowballed in polling, probably because some meaningful number of MAGA voters has decided on principle not to answer the phone when some “fake news” liberal establishment pollster dials them up. The resulting oversight produced some garish discrepancies in 2020 between the polling and the results on Election Day, especially in states like Maine and South Carolina where Republicans who were cracked up to be in tight races ended up waltzing to victory. Cohn wonders whether history might be repeating this year. Other analysts are wondering the same thing.

    If it happens again, America’s polling industry will have proved itself to be little better than, well, vibes. Bad news for writers. Great news for bloggers!

    I note that FiveThirtyEight's oddsmakers have shown a small but noticeable GOP trend in both their Senate and House forecasts over the past couple weeks.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[then a miracle occurs]

  • Magic Eight Ball says: "Better not tell you now." At American Greatness, Dan Gelernter wonders: Will Republican Candidates Deny America the Senate?

    This week in these pages, Edward Ring argued that voting Libertarian does nothing but hand elections to Democrats. “The disunity, imperfections, and failures of Republicans don’t justify their collective destruction,” he wrote. As someone who formerly took exactly this point of view, I’d like to explain why I’ve changed my mind.

    I understand the logic of Ring’s approach: Republicans are better, on the whole, than Democrats. Therefore, while the GOP candidate may only be our second choice, it’s still better than getting our last choice. As Ring put it, “Right now, the fact that Republicans are not Democrats should be enough.”

    But it isn’t.

    Looking at the behavior of the Republicans over the last two years, I no longer believe there is a functional difference between the career politicians of either party. They favor different special interests, but that is all.

    Fair enough. My observations:

    The article by Edward Ring to which Gelernter links in the first paragraph makes an observation we've made too: in many recent election outcomes, the votes won by the Libertarian Party candidate were greater than the vote difference between the Democrat and Republican.

    Example, New Hampshire, 2016: Hillary got 47.62% of the vote, Trump got 47.25%, LP candidate Gary Johnson grabbed 4.13%. This didn't effect the national result, but it well could have if events had bounced around a bit more.

    Unfortunately, I don't know of any losing candidates publicly moaning Gee, if I'd only made a slight nod in favor of free markets and individual liberty! as a result of this.

    And Ring doesn't make that argument either: he simply thinks that libertarian voters should have voted GOP instead.

    Libertarians tend to be individualists. At least in my case, I note that the chance my vote will make any difference in the election outcome is infinitesimal. So I might as well vote for whatever candidate is most congenial to my views.

    But, getting back to the Gelernter article: he argues that Republicans don't deserve our support because they are as addicted to big-government spending as Democrats. Fine. But then…

    For me, the proof in the pudding was the 2020 election. Not the theft, per se, but the Republican response to the theft.

    Yes, Gelernter's one of those. This is why, despite occasional sensible points, I can't make American Greatness an everyday stop.

    [I don't know if Dan is related to David Gelernter, but I suspect so.]

  • Perhaps America is prime, and nothing divides it except one and itself? Joel Kotkin is not talking math, though, when he describes What really divides America.

    Reading the mainstream media, one would be forgiven for believing that the upcoming midterms are part of a Manichaean struggle for the soul of democracy, pitting righteous progressives against the authoritarian “ultra-MAGA” hordes. The truth is nothing of the sort. Even today, the vast majority of Americans are moderate and pragmatic, with fewer than 20% combined for those identifying as either “very conservative” or “very liberal”. The apocalyptic ideological struggle envisioned by the country’s elites has little to do with how most Americans actually live and think. For most people, it is not ideology but the powerful forces of class, race, and geography that determine their political allegiances — and how they will vote come November.

    Of course, it is the business of both party elites — and their media allies — to make the country seem more divided than it is. To avoid talking about the lousy economy, Democrats have sought to make the election about abortion and the alleged “threat to democracy” posed by “extremist” Republicans. But recent polls suggest that voters are still more concerned with economic issues than abortion. The warnings about extremism, meanwhile, are tough to take seriously, given that Democrats spent some $53 million to boost far-Right candidates in Republican primaries.

    It's that damnable "Flight 93" mentality. Storm the cockpit! By whatever means necessary!

  • It's all games now: all lies and deceit. What happened to the truth? What happened to the dream? What happened to all that lovely hippie shit? Jonah Goldberg notes that (for some reason) we've become Country for Old Men. He's kind of on a roll here:

    Joe Biden presents something of a challenge for me. I’ve been making Joe Biden jokes for a very long time. Two decades ago, when Biden was a youthful fiftysomething, I was pointing out that he was the rhetorical equivalent of a Dada painting. His sentences would go on and on like a drunk guy chasing a blind spider monkey through a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit. And when he’d catch a moldering teddy bear that had been left at the bottom of the pit he’d show it to you and say something old-timey, like, “And you can take that to the bank!” Or when he was acting like the verbal equivalent of a melting clock with caveman feet, he’d stop dead in his tracks and say something in the loudest whisper you’ve ever heard: “And that’s why unicycles don’t have wings.” A few things have changed since the old days. He has more hair than he used to. That’s true for many of us, but usually the new crops sprout up elsewhere. Also, he doesn’t flash his new teeth the way he used to. I don’t intend this to be mean, it’s just that he used to do this thing where he would punctuate his monologues with these giant oral semaphore flashes of teeth that he didn’t have as a younger man. It was almost like his teeth were in a kind of open rebellion with his mouth, like an untrained rider atop a stampeding elephant, screaming for all to hear, “I’ve got no brakes!” To his credit, it does seem like the teeth eventually won the battle, because he’s not nearly the loquacious talker he once was. He still produces gaffes—he’s called himself a “gaffe machine” for years. He also said chipmunks taste blue. Actually, no he didn’t. But you believed me for a second, didn’t you?

    Here's a comparison that most people are not making:

    Since we’re wandering down memory lane here, like Biden telling NATO about CornPop, it’s worth pointing out the double standard Biden benefits from. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s age was a source of constant worry and even mockery. Here’s the 1986 music video for Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” which portrays Reagan as such a doddering old fool he launches a nuclear missile by mistake. Reagan was two years younger than Biden is today when it was made. Indeed, Reagan did not turn 78 until after he left office. This November, Biden will turn 80.

    [Headline reference from an underrated rock opera, lyrics here.]

  • And now for something completely different relatively serious. Alexander Salter & Philip Magness provide A lament of rising illiberalism on the Right and Left.

    Classical liberals are on the precipice of political homelessness. America’s animating philosophy, which emphasizes individual liberty, the rule of law, free enterprise, and equal dignity for all, is getting swept away by torrents of illiberalism. On both the Left and Right, winning political coalitions have little use for those who pledge allegiance to our nation’s historical creed.

    As classical liberals, we cannot hide our dismay with contemporary politics. On the Right, the fusionist coalition that once offered old-fashioned liberals a voice within the GOP is falling apart. On the Left, Democrats treat as enemies of the state anybody who dares dissent from extreme progressivism. Now, even elements of the Libertarian Party are turning against classical liberalism, preferring outrage-stoking and noxious racialism to a principled defense of human freedom.

    It's looking that I might not have anyone decent to vote for next month. It's depressing, but it's nice to know that people like Salter and Magness are out there.

  • All I need is a miracle. Don Boudreaux has an extended digression to one of his Quotation of the Day articles at Cafe Hayek, on the "creative destruction" caused by innovation and competition:

    In markets, the allocation of resources is guided by prices confronted by, profits earned by, and losses suffered by individuals spending their own money. And because what is ‘destroyed’ by market-driven creative destruction isn’t anything physical or biological – because what is destroyed isn’t human lives – because this ‘destruction’ is merely of economic value and is the result only of peaceful and productive choices rather than of war or famine or disease – the process of creative destruction is a blessing for humanity. To the extent that it is allowed to operate, the process of creative destruction brings us ever-greater prosperity.

    Advocates of industrial policy imagine that, by some miracle, government officials can allocate resources in ways that either do not cause losses to anyone, or that cause only particular losses that are less burdensome or more acceptable than are the particular losses caused by creative destruction. But this imagined miraculous ability of government officials is purely fanciful. Why should we suppose that whenever industrial-policy mandarins order that resources be shifted from Here to There, that the particular losses suffered by those persons who are Here will be both more than offset by the resulting gains to the persons who are There, and be less troublesome than are the losses suffered by those persons whose firms or jobs are ‘destroyed’ by market-driven creative destruction?

    "By some miracle." I bet you were wondering when we'd get to our Eye Candy du Jour.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 7:22 AM EDT

Gone With the Wind

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Yet another book picked from the New York Times shortlist of fiction whence they asked their readers to pick "the best book of the past 125 years". Which makes seven to go.

Although this is not so much a book as an experience. (My library's edition was 959 don't-drop-in-on-your-foot pages.) I'm not familiar with the standards of its time, but it's surprisingly racy. (Also, by coincidence, kinda racist. More on that in a bit.) It was the only novel written by Margaret Mitchell that was published during her lifetime.

Set in Georgia over the 1860s and early 1870s, it centers on Scarlett O'Hara, privileged daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner. In her orbit are saintly Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, rapscallion Rhett Butler, effete Ashley Wilkes, and a host of supporting characters. Mitchell does an excellent job of characterization; I felt I knew these folks almost as well as I know people in my own family.

But mainly Scarlett, of course. I kept coming up with adjectives to describe her: scheming, self-centered, vain, flighty, delusional, cold-hearted, dishonest, manipulative, … well, I could go on. And so will you if you read the book.

Mitchell also does a great job of describing Georgian society, both during and after the Civil War. Especially early in the book, it's clear that the O'Haras and their peers occupy the tippy-top of the social milieu, a structure that's built on land-owning, cotton-growing, and (duh) slavery. It's also clear that they have a totally cockeyed view of the rectitude of their system, and its chances against the North, if things came to war. As (you may have heard) it did.

Scarlett's too occupied with her personal issues to pay any attention to that. ("Fiddle-de-dee, I'll think about that tomorrow.") She's infatuated with Ashley, and infuriated when he pops the question to Melanie instead. This sets her on a long and tangled romantic odyssey, which keeps getting knocked off course by larger events. You know, like the Civil War. And then Reconstruction.

The war, especially, is presented in all its gritty horror. Sherman's march across Georgia, culminating in the burning of Atlanta, is described from the South's point of view, mirroring those Kubler-Ross stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) to a T.

Mitchell puts the n-word in the mouths of her characters a lot. Black dialect abounds. Her telling of history is clearly South-sympathetic, especially in describing the dysfunctional Reconstruction era. The birth of the Klan and its terror? Regrettable, but a completely understandable reaction to Yankee oppression and corruption. (Bad Yankee behavior granted, Margaret, but you needn't pretend they didn't have some legitimate gripes against the Confederacy, and they certainly were correct that ex-slaves wouldn't fare well without Federal protection.)

On the other hand, many black characters are described with sympathy and respect. The famous "Mammy", for example, seems to have much more sense and wisdom than nearly all the other characters.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
  • If you don't want to buy our Amazon Product du Jour… even though it's a mere $5.38 for the Kindle version, you can get a pretty good case from Dominic Pino: Biden’s Jones Act Support: Bad Economic Policy.

    Few things demonstrate the inconsistencies of President Biden’s economic policy more than his support for the Jones Act. After being beaten around in the media for a few days, his administration finally granted a limited waiver to allow a non–Jones Act vessel carrying diesel to dock in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico. But the law will continue to impose substantial costs on the residents of Puerto Rico due to lack of competition, which Biden claims is a major concern for his administration.

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, which struck Puerto Rico on September 18, the island territory is in need of supplies for recovery. The Jones Act is a potential impediment to providing those supplies, because it restricts which ships are allowed to service the island from the U.S. mainland.

    The Jones Act says that any ship delivering goods between two U.S. ports must be built in the U.S., flagged in the U.S., owned by Americans, and operated by American crewmen. It’s one of the strictest protectionist laws on the books, and few vessels meet its demands. It makes U.S. domestic shipping uncompetitively expensive. It puts New England in the awkward spot of importing natural gas from Russia instead of buying from Texas (there are currently zero LNG tankers that are Jones Act–compliant). And even though Puerto Rico is not a state, the law applies there as well, saddling the island with high shipping costs.

    An "unholy alliance" between the US shipping industry and the unions is involved, which means (roughly) that neither Republicans or Democrats can muster the backbone to repeal this bad law.

  • She could have pretended. But Laura L. Morgan refused to pretend, and (as she tells it at the WSJ): ‘Implicit Bias’ Training Cost Me My Nursing Job.

    I was fired from my nursing job this year for refusing to take “implicit bias” training. After 39 years of providing equal care to all my patients without regard to their race, I objected to a mandatory course grounded in the idea that I’m racist because I’m white. I fear every healthcare professional will soon be forced to make the same awful decision I did: Falsely admit to being racist or abandon the medical field.

    My ordeal started in September 2021 when my employer, Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health, rolled out its annual training modules for clinical educators. The list included “Overcoming Unconscious Bias.” After viewing the interactive course, I contacted my supervisor and asked for a meeting with the chief nursing officer and the human resources director. The former sent a surrogate; the latter didn’t attend. After two meetings, it was clear that I wouldn’t be given an exemption. My supervisor told me, “I don’t want you to die on this cross.”

    But I did. The idea of implicit bias is grounded in the belief that white people treat those who aren’t white worse than those who are. It’s part of the woke assumption that society, including healthcare, suffers from “systemic racism.” Accordingly, my own supposed implicit bias, which is a euphemism for ingrained racism, must be rooted out. Not only that, it must be replaced with preferential treatment for the nonwhite. I fail to see how real racial discrimination is justified by my nonexistent racism.

    Ms. Morgan goes on to note that activists in many medical professional groups have successfully demanded this sort of thing, requiring their white membership confess their racist guilt, and pledge allegiance to wokism.

  • On that same note… Jerry Coyne looks at another incipient witch trial, somewhat close to home: Professor in Maine demonized for teaching that humans have two sexes; students walk out and demand her suspension. Specifically:

    That's the University of Southern Maine, about an hour's drive north from Pun Salad Manor on Maine Route 4.

    Coyne quotes extensively from the Bangor Daily News story referenced in the tweet. The online article attempts to argue from authority:

    Biologists believe there is a larger spectrum to sex than just the male-female binary.

    And Coyne, a biology professor at the University of Chicago, responds:

    No we don’t, not in most animals. And check the link: it goes, of course, to a Scientific American article that argues, because of the rare existence of people with disorders of sex development, clinically defined intersex, or chromosome loss, that “sex is a spectrum.” But none of these individuals [are] considered members of a different sex—not as biologists define it in animal species, where it’s based on whether your gametes are big and immobile (eggs) or small and motile (sperm). Certainly in humans there are just two sexes, though a variety of genders.

    The Bangor Daily News story details the travail of the (very) demanding student quoted in the tweet above:

    Leibiger, who is non-binary, was absent from class that week but learned about the incident from classmates. When Leibiger arrived for the next class, on Sept. 14, they immediately brought up the discussion again.

    “I asked [Hammer] how many sexes there were,” Leibiger said. “She said, ‘Two.’ I felt under personal attack.”

    Leibiger then gathered their things and walked out of class because they no longer felt respected.

    “I let her know I didn’t think she was qualified to teach a class about positive learning environments,” Leibiger said. “It’s the ultimate irony.”

    Yes, the Bangor Daily News, confusingly, uses Leibiger's (apparently) preferred pronouns. Because otherwise, no doubt, Leibiger would not have felt respected, and felt "they" were "under personal attack."

    Because this really is all about the feels, isn't it?

    No word on what the USM professor, Christy Hammer, "feels". It seems clear that there's plenty of attacking going on. Actual attacking.

  • Speaking of irony… While brownshirts in Texas and Maine are destroying the careers of dissenters, Glenn Reynolds explains Why the left keeps smearing its political rivals as Hitlers or Mussolinis.

    Well, you can’t call non-elite figures on the right communists, because (1) those people are on the left, and (2) the press generally thinks of communists as good guys.

    So you go with the most loaded remaining terms, and that’s various accusations of bigotry and fascism. We’ve seen the same thing at home with Joe Biden standing in front of uniformed Marines on a blood-red stage calling Republicans fascists. (Or, “semi-fascists,” whatever that means.) 

    We used to teach kids in school that politics was a game of give and take. My own former US senator, Howard Baker, was famous for saying that you should listen to your opponents: “The other guy might be right.”

    If you lost an election, that meant you weren’t doing what the people wanted. It was time to take stock, adjust your positions and try again next time while serving as the loyal opposition in the meantime.

    Now any election the left loses is treated as an existential struggle, the equivalent of war. And all’s fair in war. Calling your opponents Nazis justifies whatever you want to do to them, and makes you the good guy when you do it.

    All respect to the Blogfather, but in response to that last paragraph: it wasn't the leftists that deemed 2016 the "Flight 93 Election". The phenomenon he describes is occurring on both sides to an increasing degree.

  • And now for something completely different filthy. Jeff Maurer wonders Did We Learn a Single […] Thing From Covid? [f-word used as intensifying adjective elided]:

    Everyone loves a good World War II narrative. The specifics change, but the theme is always the same: A group of people come together to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes it’s a platoon coming together, sometimes it’s a squadron, sometimes it’s an all-women’s baseball team. Often, an entire nation comes together; Americans like these narratives a lot and Brits love them substantially more than oxygen. We enjoy these stories because they celebrate our big win, even though the main reason that the Allies won World War II is that Hitler tripped over a pile of frozen Russian corpses on his way to Moscow.

    For a nanosecond, it looked like Covid might be this type of story. Sure, cheering for health care workers was performative and cheap — where I was, people cheered even though health care workers couldn’t have heard us even if my building had been full of Freddy Mercury clones screaming at the top of their lungs — but it signaled a desire to band together. Maybe this was the moment that the nation would heal. Maybe a serious threat would compel us to drop the nonsense and make clear-eyed decisions. And maybe, just maybe, we would stop playing Who Has The Right To Throw The Biggest Hissy Fit for ten minutes and focus on what we have in common.

    The pandemic is now over, and: nope. That did not happen. American politics did not cease to be an orgy of brain-dead points scoring. We do not seem to have developed decision-making skills that will serve us well in the next crisis. When all this started, I thought the presence of a science-based challenge with high stakes might force us to move down some learning curves at an accelerated pace. And it’s hard to assess how “we” did when “we” are 330 million individuals, but here’s my general impression of things we could have and maybe should have learned from Covid that we didn’t.

    Listing his lessons not learned, click through for his explanations:

    1. An old person’s death is not the same as a young person’s death;
    2. Being “pro-science” means you might have to change your opinions;
    3. Everything involves trade-offs;
    4. The media has a responsibility to be scientifically literate;
    5. People bear some responsibility for their own protection.

    Good points all.

    And with respect to that number three thing: those who didn't read Thomas Sowell in their youth are doomed to, eventually and perhaps unwittingly, grant his insight.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • All respect to Matt Taibbi. Because his memory (and that of the maker of this video) goes back longer than two years:

    We can gripe about "memory holing". And we should. But even Orwell might point out that his fictional hole was far more effective; there were no Taibbis in 1984.

  • The primary purposes of bureaucracy are… In no particular order:

    1. self-promotion;
    2. self-perpetuation;
    3. self-aggrandizement.

    Actually effectuating its stated mission is (at best) secondary. So the following news, relayed by Charles Hilu from the University of Michigan, is totally unsurprising (but also amusing): The DEI Bureaucracy is Failing, Even On Its Own Terms.

    On March 10, 2022, the University of Michigan’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion emailed students notifying them of the end of “DEI 1.0” and its intentions to transition to “DEI 2.0,” a new strategic plan set to begin in the fall of 2023. The 2022–2023 school year is an evaluation period for DEI 1.0, so it is not quite set in stone how the new program will look, but the university’s email made it clear that DEI 2.0 will double down on the school’s “commitment to . . . the advancement of anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-Semitism, gender equity and building a climate resistant to sexual misconduct.” And no, you did not read that third item in the list wrong.

    Several hours later, the administration sent out a follow-up email apologizing for the “harm” caused by the obvious mistake. Although insignificant in and of itself, such errors are the natural product of the incompetent DEI bureaucracy at U-M, which employed 167 staff in 2021 and is the largest office of its kind in the country according to a report from the Heritage Foundation. And according to a recent survey conducted by the university, since the size of the DEI staff began ballooning under President Mark Schlissel (who arrived in 2015 and was fired earlier in the year for an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate), the campus climate has only worsened.

    Yes, they weren't really paying attention to what they were saying.

    Which is a common problem with these folks. Back in 2014, I noted the dreadful rhetoric promoting an "anti-violence" event at the University Near Here. Which, among other things, encouraged UNH denizens to:

    blog blooper

    As I noted back then, the mindset seems to be: "We don't have to think about what we're saying if our hearts are pure."

  • And shut up those sneaky little Hobbitses. David Harsanyi notes New Zealand's PM Calls For Global Censorship Regime. Noting some disparate coverage:

    Only days after the American left was lamenting the fall of Italy to the alleged fascist Giorgia Meloni, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern told world leaders assembled at the United Nations that unfettered free expression was one of the greatest threats facing humanity. In her speech, cloaked in the same trendy euphemisms popular among American progressives — and probably familiar to the despots and theocrats in attendance — she warned that the internet had been corrupted and weaponized by bad actors who spread mis- and disinformation and hateful ideologies. And the only way we can stop this “weapon of war” is to come together and create a set of “rules and transparency.”

    As our president might say, no right is absolute. Or, as our former president might say, disinformation is killing people.

    (Hope everyone got the reference in this item's headline.)

  • Kat Rosenfield is a national treasure. She takes a turn of summing up the week's news at Common Sense. (And don't get me started about the plain fact that claims of "common sense" are far more common that actual common sense.) Anyway, here's a slice: TGIF: Lizzo, Coolio and Everyone in Between where she talks about "fascist Giorgia Meloni".

    → Italians Rallyin': Giorgia Meloni, the newly elected prime minister of Italy, went viral this week after her remarks from a 2019 speech at the World Congress of Families in Verona surfaced on Twitter. Not since Roberto Benigni vowed to make passionate Jupiterian love to the entire audience at the 1999 Academy Awards has a speech by an overwrought Italian gotten so much attention from the American chattering class.

    The aforementioned nervousness about Meloni isn't just due to her ability to bring a crowd to its feet; her win in Italy is part of a rising tide of populist sentiment in Europe. There, the years-long migration crisis and pandemic-related economic struggles have combined with anxieties over the war in Ukraine to give right-wing politicians a boost. Sweden, which is experiencing similar issues, just saw a major election win for the far-right Sweden Democrats, which are now the second-largest party in the next parliament.

    For mainstream American commentators, the main point of debate seems to be whether or not Meloni is a fascist. (For much of this crowd, everything and everyone to the right of Bernie Sanders is a fascist.) Here’s what we know: Meloni’s party, the Brothers of Italy, is a sort of nephew-thrice-removed of Italy's original fascist party. But as Yascha Mounk at The Atlantic points out, Meloni has disavowed fascism (“fascism is history,” she has said) and suspended members of the party who praise it. So declaring her the second coming of Mussolini would be, at the very least, premature.

    We have less premature things to worry about, like the speech cop in New Zealand.

  • As previously noted, Her Majesty was a pretty nice girl. Jeff Jacoby is no royal sycophant, nevertheless writing about Elizabeth the good. He notes that "monarchy is, if not inherently disgraceful, then decidedly anachronistic and contrary to the deepest American ideals". He also notes that (nonetheless) there seems to be an inherent human craving for something like it:

    For all that, there is no getting around the fact that even in America, countless people long to be ruled by individuals with the "right" genetic lineage. Until Joe Kennedy III unsuccessfully challenged Ed Markey in the 2020 US Senate race, a majority of Massachusetts voters had for 70 years automatically elected any member of the Kennedy family who appeared on the ballot. As his Senate campaign faltered, Kennedy released a commercial that all but laid claim to the office on the basis of his DNA. "Joe Kennedy knows how a legacy is earned," an announcer declared, as images of Robert, Edward, and John F. Kennedy appeared on the screen. "It's a fight in his blood." That was shameless.

    But he liked QE2. And (among other things) tells this priceless tale:

    In one hilarious vignette, a royal security escort named Richard Griffin recalled the time he was accompanying the queen as she walked her dogs on the grounds of the Balmoral estate and they came across a pair of American tourists at a public picnic site. At such moments, the queen would generally stop and courteously say hello — usually giving the flustered tourists an unexpected thrill — but on that occasion it was clear that the two tourists hadn't recognized her.

    Making small talk, the visitors asked the older woman where she lived. She replied: "Well, I live in London but I've got a holiday home just over the hills. I've been coming up here ever since I was a little girl, over 80 years."

    One tourist asked: "Well, if you've been coming up here for 80 years you must have met the queen?"

    Without missing a beat, the queen replied: "Well, I haven't, but Dick here meets her regularly." When Griffin was asked, "What is she like?" he replied with a twinkle in his eye: "Well, she can be very cantankerous at times but she's got a great sense of humor."

    The tourists asked if they could have their picture taken with Griffin, and asked his companion if she would do the honors. After the queen took a picture of Griffin with the tourists, they swapped places and Griffin took a picture of the tourists with the queen. He said: "We never let on, and we waved goodbye and Her Majesty said, 'I'd love to be a fly on the wall when they show those pictures to their friends in America and hopefully someone tells them who I am.'"

    I don't think we'll see another one like her.

Why We Drive

Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I was beguiled into putting this book on my get-at-library list by the author's appearance on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast. OK, that was back in January 2021. I was slow about it.

Because I am the near opposite the author, Matthew B. Crawford. I am a hopeless non-starter when it comes to things mechanical, especially motor vehicles. And I can't remember the last time I drove in order simply to get out of the house, to assuage my wanderlust. Crawford has me beat on both those scores.

But I was wrong in my reluctance and delay: Crawford is a fine writer, with an obvious enthusiasm for his topics, making them accessible and interesting to (I think) just about anyone. So I enjoyed this read quite a bit.

Note that I said "topics" just now. There's a lot of stuff going on here. The "philosophy" promised in the subtitle is here, of course. But there's also some straight reportage, tales of his personal experiences, and some pretty intense gearhead stuff with illustrations of timing gears, piston rods, crankshafts, … Something for everyone! Even the philosophical stuff covers a range of topics: ruminations on self-driving cars, safetyism, absurdly low speed limits, and how "surveillance capitalism" is encroaching on our privacy (specifically, tracking our travels).

The tone varies from chapter to chapter. On page 195, you'll read about a woman at a Virginia dirt bike race haranguing a hesitant young man (her son?), suggesting he "Quit being a fucking vagina!" Only a few paragraphs after that, Nietzsche and Plutarch are called in for their relevant takes.

Gee, I hope that's OK to say at Goodreads.

There is a streak of Hayekianism where the author ruminates on countries where traffic is less regulated. (Busy intersections without traffic lights or stop signs? Sure! Left on red? Why not! Speed limits? Pishtosh!) It turns out that people adopt their own rules in such situations, without (much) detriment to safety or efficiency.

But there's also a strong streak of anti-corporatism in Crawford. Especially the new-fangled tech-driven companies, the Ubers, the Teslas, the Googles. Especially Google. (The Volkswagens, Fords, Hondas, etc. are OK, though.) There's something creepy, he thinks, about the masses of data the tech companies collect, and then sell to (gasp!) advertisers. Who might actually bring your attention to a product or service you might find useful! Heinous!

Still, it's an interesting argument, made well.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:53 AM EDT