From the Uncensored Lion King Soundtrack…


OK, that northeast arrow seems to point the wrong way to really make this a "circle". But:

Martin Gurri notes a modern usage: Disinformation Is the Word I Use When I Want You To Shut Up.

While your back was turned, the federal government erected a convoluted apparatus of control for what you can say and see online. They did this, we are told, to protect us. Protect us from what, you ask? Well, mostly from ourselves, but also from a threat that makes nuclear annihilation feel like a pinprick by comparison: disinformation. Also misinformation and malinformation—the latter defined as “bits of actual reality we totally object to.”

But disinformation is the big dog. And by “disinformation,” they mean the web. And by the web, they mean, of course, you—but I already said that.

I have written long, deeply researched tracts about the technical aspects of disinformation. Why did I bother? Nobody cares. Disinformation is just a jargon word with a subliminal meaning, thrown out by the mighty of the earth whenever they worry that they are about to lose an argument—something that happens with painful regularity these days. The word means, “Shut up, peasant.” It’s a bullet aimed at killing the conversation. It’s loaded with hostility to reason, evidence, debate and all the stuff that makes our democracy great.

Our Eye Candy du Jour is from Gurri's article.

Briefly noted:

  • Jeff Maurer reposts something he wrote back in April 2022 in response to a different event: The Brooklyn Subway Shooting Does Not Confirm Your Priors.

    There’s a perverted symmetry to how we respond to high-profile horrific events. Conservatives use terrorist attacks to justify tighter immigration controls and — if they’re feeling saucy — the occasional all-out war. Liberals use mass shootings to push for gun control and to further the delusion that America has basically been a nonstop Klan rally for the past 400 years. The current suspect in the Brooklyn subway shooting is a Black guy who posted YouTube rants about racism and violence, so: advantage conservatives. Some of them will certainly try to cram this into a “Look what Black Lives Matter hath wrought” narrative. As if the guy drove directly from an activist teach-in to the shooting.

    Our habit of tying emotionally charged events to pre-existing hobby horses and pushing for action on that basis is fucked up. It raises the question: Who’s really insane here? Is it the guy shooting random civilians, or the rest of us? And, uh…you know what: It is still the guy shooting random civilians. He is definitely the insane one, hands down. But the rest of us aren’t exactly covering ourselves in glory. Highly visible, tragic events are ripe for political exploitation and are often the catalyst for bad decision-making. We should try to recognize the pattern and break it.

    Of course, there's a local angle, as reported by Commie New Hampshire Public Radio: UNH Law students protest ‘transphobic’ messages by campus group.

    Students at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law walked out of class Wednesday, protesting what they called the administration’s failure to act on complaints about two campus groups they say are spreading anti-trans hate.

    The afternoon rally outside the law school drew more than 100 faculty and students, many holding signs and chanting “UNH! Stand against hate!”

    The walkout was sparked by an email that a student group, the Christian Legal Society, sent to the student body Tuesday about this week’s deadly shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville.

    In the email — ostensibly an invitation to a vigil for the victims planned for Wednesday evening — the group claimed the push for trans rights has fueled anti-Christian hate and suggested trans rights advocates bear some responsibility for the shooting. (Law enforcement authorities have yet to publicly identify the shooter’s motive.)

    “Tragically, this incident comes after a barrage of rhetoric demonizing Christians and anyone perceived to oppose the ontological premises of transgenderism,” the email states, adding that activists, journalists and others have “fueled this hate and paranoia” against “anyone who opposes the trans agenda.”

    More at the link. I can't find the entire email message NHPR quotes, but it's nice that both sides are claiming to be against "hate". And there are (of course) assertions about how "people feel less safe on campus."

    Which refers to that long-lost invisible-ink codicil to the First Amendment: "except if such speech makes people feel less safe."

    We previously looked at UNH Law's iffy relationship with the First Amandment back in December 2022 when there was a controversy about the "Free Exercise Coalition" and their battle to be recognized as an official student organization.

    Apparently that battle was won, because now the demonstrating students want it to be de-recongized.

    All participants might benefit from reading Jeff Maurer.

    I got a chuckle from the article's quote of University Near Here's Official Spokesmodel:

    In a statement Wednesday night, Erika Mantz, UNH’s executive director for media relations, said the university is “stridently committed to the free and open exchange of ideas.”


  • Senator Joe Manchin says (essentially) "Sorry I was such a sucker.": Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act Betrayal.

    America is fast approaching another needless emergency—the raising of the national debt ceiling. This impending crisis isn’t an accident but a result of the inaction of various actors who refuse to confront fiscal reality, sit down, negotiate and make hard decisions for the sake of our nation’s future. While all parties have a responsibility to negotiate in good faith, recent actions make clear to me that the Biden administration is determined to pursue an ideological agenda rather than confront the clear and present danger that debts and deficits pose to our nation.

    Our national debt stands at nearly $31.5 trillion, or close to $95,000 for every man, woman and child, and represents 120% of our gross domestic product. Annual budgetary deficits have averaged $2.71 trillion since October 2019. Since Covid-19 began, we have added more than $8 trillion to the national debt. Despite explicit direction from Congress to pay down our debt in the Inflation Reduction Act, the administration seems more determined than ever to pervert that law and abuse existing authorities to increase spending.

    Of course, Joe's feeling a little rueful. The "Inflation Reduction Act" would not have passed if he'd voted against it. Charles C. W. Cooke speaks for us all when he says: Spare Me, Joe Manchin.

    Oh spare me, Joe. Is President Biden doing all of these things? Yes, of course he is. Biden has been an absolute disaster for separation of powers from the moment he took office, and, despite repeatedly losing in court, he has showed no signs of slowing down. But Manchin knew all that before he inexplicably reversed himself and signed on to this bill. That the architects of this law had no interest in reducing inflation, paying down the debt, or protecting American energy security was extremely obvious to everyone involved from the start. Both before and after it was passed, it was described by its advocates as a “climate bill.” Who does Manchin think he’s kidding?

    He should probably realize he was kidding himself.

  • Noah Rothman suspects hidden motives in the open-letter demand for an AI "pause" that we discussed yesterday: AI Apocalypticism Is a Thinly Veiled Fund-Raising Pitch.

    The letter proposes a six-month moratorium on “the training of AI systems,” and it describes some alarming scenarios that could be in store for us if their warnings are ignored.

    Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders.

    Given the quasi-governmental powers arrogated and jealously stewarded by the tech industry over the years, the long-overdue deference that the last sentence offers to elected lawmakers is welcome. That impulse becomes somewhat less laudable when the reader realizes that it serves only to grease the skids for a variety of fund-raising solicitations.

    Well, I for one welcome information channels flooded with propaganda and untruth. Humans are underproducing in that area.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

When You Don't Really Understand Science…

… you're likely to say things like Commie National Public Radio did:

Note NPR's insistence, both in the original and its "correction" that there's "limited scientific research" supporting the athletic advantage of "trans women" over "cis" (i.e., actual) women.

They mean to cast doubt about that. But all scientific research is "limited" in some sense.

And let's further note that there are pretty easy ways to "limit" research: don't fund it; don't perform it; don't get it reviewed and published.

What NPR could have said, more accurately: "There is no evidence whatsoever that trans women have no physical advantages over cis women." If there was such evidence, NPR and others would be trumpeting it.

For more on the story, see Ari Blaff at National Review. Excerpt:

The news [of the WAC action] was welcomed by Karen Long, an Australian runner that competes in 100, 200, and 400-meter races.

“It was a relief to hear that transgender athletes will be banned from competing in the women’s category in athletics. I believe the governing bodies received lots of pressure in the form of complaints from female and male athletes on this issue and it forced them to reconsider,” Long told National Review.

Cynthia Monteleone, a fellow runner who is competing in a World Masters Athletics competition in Poland this weekend, recounted an earlier experience when she realized that at a 2018 track meet one of the contestants was born male.

“Nobody would answer my questions. The officials were very concerned about it, the European officials, but when I brought it up to Team USA management, they just swept it under the rug and later down the line even went as far as to say that for my own safety, I should keep my mouth shut, which I didn’t,” the reigning 400-meter race champion said.

It's nice to see some honesty and clarity beginning to break through on this issue.

Briefly noted:

  • James Freeman notes the Biden-bred Bureaucrat Boom.

    Mr. Biden’s plans for a bigger Internal Revenue Service have received attention for obvious reasons. But what also deserves attention is that he intends for just about everything in Washington to get bigger.

    Eric Katz recently noted in Government Executive:

    The Biden administration is looking to add 82,000 employees in fiscal 2024, a 3.6% increase that would bring civilian federal rolls to their highest levels since World War II.

    Clearly the mission is to put many more people on the federal payroll, even while private employers still hunt for workers. Is there any conceivable “investment” that is less likely to generate a positive return for the United States?

    I believe the answer to that last question is: "I don't know, I can conceive of quite a bit."

  • Boy, if you really want to read a downer manifesto, how about this Time essay from Eliezer Yudkowsky: Pausing AI Developments Isn't Enough. We Need to Shut it All Down.

    (Which is in response to this open letter signed by (as I type) 1404 people, including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, calling for a pause.)

    But here's Yudkowsky:

    The key issue is not “human-competitive” intelligence (as the open letter puts it); it’s what happens after AI gets to smarter-than-human intelligence. Key thresholds there may not be obvious, we definitely can’t calculate in advance what happens when, and it currently seems imaginable that a research lab would cross critical lines without noticing.

    Many researchers steeped in these issues, including myself, expect that the most likely result of building a superhumanly smart AI, under anything remotely like the current circumstances, is that literally everyone on Earth will die. Not as in “maybe possibly some remote chance,” but as in “that is the obvious thing that would happen.” It’s not that you can’t, in principle, survive creating something much smarter than you; it’s that it would require precision and preparation and new scientific insights, and probably not having AI systems composed of giant inscrutable arrays of fractional numbers.

    Emphasis added. I usually put in an "Aieeee!" when I type stuff like that, but Yudkowsky is more mellow.

    For a counterpoint, let's look at James Pethokoukis, who's saying "full speed ahead": No to the AI Pause.

    I wonder how the past three years might’ve gone differently if in the late 2010s there had been on “pause” on research into a radical new vaccine technology called mRNA? Or how a 1930s pause of atomic weapons research might have meant the War in the Pacific continuing into 1946? (Indeed, just the opposite happened. In August 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter — written by Einstein and physicist Leó Szilárd — to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It warned that Nazi Germany might be working on an atomic fission weapon and urged the US to immediately begin its own nuclear weapons research.)

    It was just on Monday, you might recall, that I wrote about the potential of generative AI hugely increasing US productivity growth. No more Long Stagnation. The half-century downshift might soon be over. And the point here isn’t about boosting economic statistics. It’s about accelerating technological progress and economic growth to create a wealthier, healthier, and more resilient country of greater opportunity. Then fewer than 48 hours later come calls for a research pause.

    To me, there's a simple objection to both "pause" and "shut it all down" arguments: the genie is out of the bottle. Even if AI research is stopped or paused in obvious and public venues, there's no way to restrict, monitor, or prevent governments and deep-pocketed moguls from doing AI development away from the radar eyes of Musk, Yudkowsky, et. al,

    And it's likely whatever comes of that will be light years ahead of our "paused" efforts.

  • David Harsanyi is pretty tired of people complaining otherwise: There Are No Banned Books. His relevant tweet:

    In non-twitter language:

    While checking out the “banned and challenged” display at my local Barnes & Noble recently, I was reminded that the entire kerfuffle is a giant racket. For publishers and booksellers, “banned” books are likely a money-making racket. Virtually every allegedly “banned” book on the display table is already a massive (sometimes generational) bestseller. Not that this reality stops authors like Jodi Picoult, whose books dot virtually every bookstore in the country, from running around pretending their novels are “banned” because a sliver of taxpayers are no longer on the hook to buy them.

    For the left, the banned book claim is a political racket, allowing them to feign indignation over the alleged “authoritarianism” of Republicans who don’t want kids reading identitarian pseudohistories or books depicting oral sex, rape, violence, or gender dysphoria in their schools.

    For a good time, try to buy a paperback of Ian Fleming's "From Russia With Love", original version. I'd bet you can't find it at Barnes & Noble at all.

  • So I mentioned that Nikki Haley favored banning TikTok in her Monday "Town Hall" in Dover on Monday.

    (The USA Today reporter heard it the same way. Glad I'm not imagining things in my old age.)

    Robby Soave explains that Banning TikTok Is a Power the U.S. Government Doesn't Deserve.

    If the U.S. government really wants to counter Chinese tyranny, it should take greater pains not to resemble China's own approach to speech. Confusingly, some media commentators who oppose TikTok on grounds that the Chinese government is an enemy seem to almost admire the CCP's preference for state-issued propaganda. Zaid Jilani, a reporter at News Nation, and Batya Ungar-Sargon—my friend and co-host of The Hill's news show, Rising—both observed recently that China does not grant its citizens full access to TikTok. The Chinese version of TikTok, notes Ungar-Sargon, "kicks off kids after 40 minutes of use, and much of the content is taken up with educational videos about how to garden and how to be a good citizen."

    China is run by a government that denies its citizens fundamental free speech rights. It denies them full political rights. It is complicit in genocide. Its COVID-19 lockdowns were among the most repressive in the world. And it has covered up information about the pandemic's origin. The CCP's habit of restricting kids' access to uncensored content and propagandizing them into "good citizenship" is authoritarian; American lovers of freedom should recoil, not seek to emulate this.

    We should be especially wary of equipping our own government with similar tools. Today, TikTok—tomorrow, who knows?

    Also weighing in is Paul Matzko at Cato:

    TikTok Is More Than “Cute Dance Videos”.

    A TikTok ban would shut down a platform used by 150 million Americans. It would be the single, largest impairment of free speech in the history of the United States. By some estimates, half of all TikTok users have uploaded a video to the platform, meaning that a congressional ban would, in one fell swoop, remove speech uttered by ~75 million Americans.

    This is precisely why those advocating for a forced sale or ban of TikTok because of its ownership by the Chinese company Bytedance have a habit of belittling the content on the platform. Critics will use a photo of teenagers doing the latest viral TikTok dance, and then juxtapose that with the potential threat of Chinese governmental censorship and surveillance. Framed this way, giving up a platform dedicated to “cute dance videos” (as Noah Smith puts it) or “viral dance trends and deranged bearded women” (per Mike Solana) is no big loss, leaving only dedicated civil libertarians standing on principle in the anti‐​ban corner. (Hi there!)

    TikTok is easy to avoid. Do that instead.

But It's Still Funny

[Misspelled Paleolithic]

Ackshually, Paleolithic folks were pretty sharp.

Briefly noted:

  • A Democrat's in the White House, so it's once again time to weaponize the IRS against enemies of the state. From the WSJ: The IRS Makes a Strange House Call on Matt Taibbi.

    Democrats are denouncing the House GOP investigation into the weaponization of government, but maybe that’s because Republicans are getting somewhere. That includes new evidence that the Internal Revenue Service may be targeting a journalist who testified before the weaponization committee.

    House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan sent a letter Monday to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seeking an explanation for why journalist Matt Taibbi received an unannounced home visit from an IRS agent. We’ve seen the letter, and both the circumstances and timing of the IRS focus on this journalist raise serious questions.

    One of Nikki Haley's applause lines in her Monday night Town Hall was to fire those extra 87,000 IRS agents.

  • But speaking of Nikki, she expands on her linkage of the drug war and immigration policy at National Review: Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Starts by Securing the Border. And there's a mention of…

    New Hampshire families are reeling from fentanyl. More than 400 people have died from drug overdoses in New Hampshire almost every year for the past decade. In 2022, that number was 434 people — and two-thirds died from fentanyl. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s far from over. Many more men, women, and children have been exposed to this deadly drug. Even now, dealers are peddling it across the state.

    So many people I’ve talked to in New Hampshire know someone who died from a fentanyl overdose. And every single one of them knows that if we want to save more mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters from this horrible fate, we have to get the southern border under control.

    The fentanyl that goes through towns such as Lawrence into states such as New Hampshire overwhelmingly comes from China and Mexico. Chemicals are manufactured in China, then sent to Mexico. Mexico mass-produces liquid fentanyl and fentanyl powder that’s mixed into fake prescription drugs. Drug cartels push the fentanyl across the border and sell their goods to drug traffickers. From there, it makes its way to our families and friends.

    There is (sorry, Nikki) little reason to suspect that you can "secure the border" well enough to stop drug smuggling. Didn't work for pot, didn't work for heroin, won't work for fentanyl. (There might be other reasons to "secure the border", but that's not one of them.)

    The real problem, of course, is demand. But that would involve blaming Americans for their own unwise substance use. Nikki says that fentanyl "mixed into fake prescription drugs" is a problem, and maybe it is. But why the hell are people buying fake prescription drugs?

  • Kevin D. Williamson writes on the weapon that became a "powerful cultural symbol" for both sides of the gun control debate: Under the Black Flag.

    In a report published Monday—a generally incompetent one; more on that below—the [Washington] Post forwards the claim that the AR-type rifle is “overkill for home defense,” which is not really true (and certainly is not a widely held opinion among knowledgeable shooters). But it is overkill for the particular kind of enormity with which the rifle is associated in the minds of many people: massacres such as the one perpetrated Monday at a Presbyterian school in Nashville, Tennessee, in which three 9-year-olds and three unarmed adults were murdered. That is a crime that can be committed with an ordinary revolver, but the role of the black rifle is cultural and aesthetic.

    As I have noted here on previous occasions, the AR-type rifle isn’t particularly powerful. It is generally chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge, which is much less powerful than the rounds fired by many common hunting rifles. (The 5.56mm cartridge is, in fact, too small to legally hunt deer with in some states.) Nor is the AR unusual in its rate of fire (it is semiautomatic, meaning that it fires once per pull of the trigger). And it is not unique in its capacity to be outfitted with 30- or 50-round (or 100-round) magazines that can be quickly replaced. Almost any semiautomatic rifle or pistol with a detachable magazine (meaning most firearms) can be similarly outfitted. It is, functionally speaking, just another gun.

    I also found this parenthetical note:

    (Incidentally, I was going to link to a “SOCOM” example above, but I am at the moment working from the cafe of a Whole Foods Market, which apparently employs a digital nanny that blocks U.S. gun-manufacturer websites. The link to the Communist Party of China works just fine. It’s a funny old world.)

    It surely is.

  • Not depressed enough? J.D. Tuccille has a downer article for ya, bunkie: This Year’s Farm Bill Threatens To Be a Bigger Monster Than Ever.

    In many ways, the farm bill up for consideration this year in Congress embodies all that is wrong with American lawmaking. It's a massive piece of legislation, combining unrelated matters to commit the U.S. government to spending mind-bending amounts of money at a single go. Passed roughly every five years, farm bills are less about legislating in any deliberative sense than they are about lawmakers packaging a trillion-plus dollars of goodies and committing taxpayers to fund them for years to come—and then doing it over and over again.

    J.D. notes the unholy alliance in the "Farm Bill" between agriculture subsidies and food stamps, making sensible reform incredibly difficult.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

I Went To Nikki Haley's Town Hall in Dover Last Night…


and all I got was a souvenir sign, photographic evidence above. That's OK, it's one sign more than I was expecting.

It was nice, and the crowd filled up the auditorium of Dover's "Restoration Church" (used to be McIntosh College). Failed 2022 senatorial candidate Don Bolduc was on hand (with his doggie Victor), and he did the opening speech and introduction honors. Then Nikki took over, and gave her stemwinding speech, followed by a Q&A session, which ended after three Qs. And I decided not to join in the crush looking to get up close and personal with Nikki, and just headed out.

What, you were expecting a summary of Nikki's presentation? As it turns out, National Review's Brittany Bernstein was also on hand. (I said hello to her on the way out, identifying myself as a subscriber.) She filed two reports, here here. You should read those for details.

Some good stuff: she called out Republicans for running up the national debt when they had control of legislative and executive branches. And also for meekly going along with returning budget earmarks to the already-disgraceful appropriations process. She mentioned entitlement reform, specifically raising the retirement age for younger folks, using a more realistic inflation measure for calculating benefit increases, and (somehow) means-testing payments. (That last bit could be tricky.) She had a big thumbs up for school choice. But see the comment about federalism below.

So-so stuff: she talked about improving school security in the wake of yesterday's mass shooting in Nashville. Also improving mental health care. She pledged to reinstate (I think) Trump policy at the southern border (but I'm pretty sure didn't mention a big beautiful wall).

Unfortunate stuff: her answer to the fentanyl-overdose epidemic seemed to involve turning the War on Drugs up to 11. Or probably past 11. That's a failed strategy. She seems to be a fan of industrial policy (pointing to her South Carolina record of "creating jobs"). Mandatory e-Verify. Banning TikTok. All very bad ideas.

She said school kiddos should recite the Pledge of Allegiance, although it was unclear how much coercion she'd be willing to use to impose that. Generally, she seemed willing to ignore a lot of restraints that good federalists would impose.

As I type, it's still 350 days before the New Hampshire Primary (which could move). If it were to happen today, I'd vote for her.

Briefly noted:

  • Jim Geraghty thinks We Have Bigger Problems Than ‘Digital Blackface’. I agree! And I didn't even know what "digital blackface" was until this very morning! And Nikki Haley didn't mention it last night!

    But she did talk TikTok, and the Indispensable One has thoughts there:

    TikTok, and perhaps social media as a whole, have created an entire incentive structure to spotlight the most abnormal behavior people can imagine, particularly among young people. If you do the things you’re supposed to do in life — love your family, be a good friend, work hard, play by the rules, help others when they need it — the TikTok algorithm just isn’t that interested. Maybe once in a while, your social-media algorithms will serve up something heartwarming, like those two toddlers who were so overjoyed to see to each other on the sidewalk. But by and large, your social-media feed is there to tell you, “This stinks, that stinks, look at this freak, look at what this weirdo is doing, aren’t human beings just the worst, we’re all doomed, the world is going to heck in a handbasket.” No wonder people think social media causes depression.

    Now, look, it’s your life, and you’re free to pick whatever entertainment and news sources you like. (And hey, thanks for reading this newsletter.) A few years back, Tom Nichols was quite irked to learn some people enjoy watching other people play video games. My sense was and is that there isn’t that much difference between paying to watch people play electronic versions of stuff and paying to watch a CGI-filled movie, and that the world is always going to have people who choose to spend their disposable income and free time in ways you find dumb, wasteful, boring, or inane. If they’re not harming others or themselves, let them be.

    But your attention is a valuable thing. Your time and attentiveness are finite, and each thing you read or watch is a choice. You might even think of it as a resource to be invested. Those social-media algorithms are designed to steer you in a particular direction. Contemplate whether you want to go down the path that the algorithms prefer.

    A lot of wisdom there.

  • And I wish Nikki would have read Jeffrey A. Singer before doubling down on the dumb drug way: To Reduce Overdose Deaths, Lawmakers Must Look beyond the News Headlines.

    Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Hill reported on March 26 that teen overdose deaths doubled from 2018 to 2021, mainly due to fentanyl. This alarming and disturbing fact was announced with the headline, “Teen overdose deaths have doubled in three years. Blame fentanyl.”

    Blaming overdose deaths on fentanyl is like blaming gun violence on guns. Readers who glance at headlines but don’t take the time to read the entire article might conclude, as many members of Congress apparently do, that fentanyl is some evil pathogen launched into our country by Mexican drug cartels, aided by the Chinese who supply the cartels with the raw materials to make the drug. Once fentanyl crosses our southern border, it seeks out hosts to infect, addict, and kill, like a deadly virus.

    But, as I explained to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance earlier this month:

    Leaders and commentators often refer to the fentanyl overdose crisis as an “epidemic” or an “invasion.” But these are inappropriate metaphors. Fentanyl is not a viral pathogen that jumps from host to host or a hunter seeking defenseless prey. The influx of fentanyl is a response to market demand.

    But more crucially, fentanyl is just the latest manifestation of what drug policy analysts call “the iron law of prohibition.” A variant of what economists call the Alchian‐​Allen Effect, the shorthand version of the iron law states, “the harder the law enforcement, the harder the drug.” Enforcing prohibition incentivizes those who market prohibited substances to develop more potent forms that are easier to smuggle in smaller sizes and can be subdivided into more units to sell.

    Not for the first time I'll point out that what Singer is talking about is a form of fetishism: imputing magical powers to an object (e.g. guns) or substance (e.g. fentanyl). Once you see it, you can't not see it; it's an effort to shift responsibility from humans and put it on things.

  • Have you ever wondered: How Bad Are Your State’s Occupational Licensing Requirements?. J.D. Tuccille points to a new report that has up to date info.

    If you work in a licensed trade or know somebody who does, you understand the enormous expense and hassle occupational licensing represents, creating barriers to making a living and to moving across state lines where you might have to jump through hoops all over again. Of course, some people like those barriers since they limit the competition they face, but those folks are part of the problem. Reasonable people recognize licensing as a deterrent to prosperity and mobility and so encourage reform around the country. Now, a new report compares state licensing regimes so we can see who is making progress and who needs to try harder.

    New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, ranks right in the middle of the rankings, #23. Unexpectedly, the People's Republic of Vermont is much better in this area, close to the best. Arkansas has the worst licensing burden in the nation, Kansas the best. (I guess that "Ar" makes a big difference.)

    Nikki Haley did not mention occupational licensure in her speech.

  • And an omen of the end times, noted by Jordan Boyd: ESPN 'Celebrates' Women By Denying Their Existence.

    There are hundreds of thousands of talented female college and professional athletes in the U.S. who deserve recognition for their hard work, skill, and talent — but ESPN chose to celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month by boosting the resume of a man.

    Over the weekend, ESPN ran a special segment recognizing Lia Thomas, a male swimmer who invaded women’s sports in 2021. What did Thomas do to land a spot as poster child for ESPN’s supposedly pro-woman campaign? He was the first man to clench [sic] an NCAA Division I women’s championship.

    One of Yesterday's items pointed to a WIRED article claiming that the GOP was attacking "the rights of transgender people". Just to be clear, one of those "rights" is "the right to claim you're a girl and steal some easy athletic victories away from actual girls."

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

What If? 2

Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I had a lot of fun reading this book. Learned some stuff, too. For example: "Can you use a magnifying glass and the moonlight to light a fire?"

Well, maybe a real big magnifying glass, right?

As it turns out… no, no spoilers. Read the darn book.

Long ago, I was a physics major. And Munroe's explanation of the answer is one of those symphonies of elegance that made me love physics. And also had me kicking myself for not getting that answer right away.

The book is full of humor and cartooning in the xkcd style. (Yes, this is the second book I've read this month from a web cartoonist.)

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:31 AM EDT

Troubled Blood

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, first of all, it's long. Very, very long: the final page number is 927. This is the fifth book in Galbraith's "Cormoran Strike" series. Previous entries were (according to Amazon) 464, 455, 497, and 656 paages. I detect a trend… Yes, the most recent Strike book is 210 pages. (For non-geeks: 1024.)

The mainline plot is pretty straightforward: 40 years previous, Dr. Margot Bamborough left her practice to meet with a friend at a pub, but never showed. And vanished without a trace. Cormoran Strike and his now-partner Robin Ellacott are hired by Margot's adult daughter to find out what happened. And they decide to take on this very very cold case. And estimate that it will take about a year to deliver results, if there are any.

And it takes a little more than that.

There is one obvious suspect: a depraved serial killer, since apprehended, who was operating in the area at the time. But Strike and Robin need to be diligent, so they investigate Margot's family, her co-workers, her acquaintances. And, since many of them have passed away in the previous decades, their family/co-workers/acquaintances get interviewed. Add in a few witnesses, who didn't see much. (Or did they?) And also the investigating cops at the time; one of those turns out to have been sucked into mental illness coupled with astrological weirdness, and his investigatory notes are an incoherent scramble of zodiac signs, satanism, and allusions to the uber-weirdo Aleister Crowley.

So there's a lot to do. But that's not all! Strike and Robin live soap-opera lives, so there's a lot more happening with his family (a dying aunt, an estranged father, a suicidal ex-fiance) and hers (an unfaithful husband who's dragging out the divorce proceedings. Illnesses and injuries occur. The Strike/Ellacott agency has other active investigations, and we learn about those, and the subcontractors assigned to do what when, and conflicts between them, and…

And there's the relationship between Strike and Robin, which is developing into … something.

Some people like this stuff. Well, judging by the success of the series, a lot of people like this stuff. I could have done without it.

That said, however, the ending is quite satisfying. (Or maybe it was just relief.)

And (by the way) this winds up a mini-reading project for me: I've read all the Wall Street Journal best mysteries of 2020. Yay! My previous reports are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 10:45 AM EDT

You Must Remember This

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, first: I'm a pretty libertarian guy. But there should be a law against book-flap descriptions that give away a plot development from page 222 of a 299-page novel. Yes, that's nearly ¾ of the way through. What was the publisher thinking?

Caveat lector: don't read the book flap.

It's Christmastime 2014 on Maine's Mount Desert Island, and the family of elderly Miriam Caravasios has gathered at "The Whispers", a mansion built long ago with money made from Prohibition-era bootlegging. Sadly, Miriam is in the throes of dementia, and as the book opens she thinks she's being urged by her (dead) husband to do what they used to do: trek across the frozen harbor to a cabin for secret canoodling. Unfortunately, climate change has made this perilous. And Miriam breaks through the ice and drowns.

A sad state of affairs. After that, the book jumps back and forth in time. Modern parts are narrated by Delphine, Miriam's granddaughter, who's living a life without purpose, but has struck up a secret affair with Adam, Miriam's caregiver. Also in the picture are Delphine's mother Dora, Aunt Diana, and Unpleasant Drunk Uncle Richard. All have secrets and resentments.

Chapters set in the past show Miriam's life as a carefree (and privileged) child, a rebellious teen, a young wife, and… later when things turn not-so-pleasant.

But it's a mystery. Was Miriam sent to her doom by her own hallucinations? Or was she the victim of skilled manipulation? I'm somewhat proud to say I saw the answer quite a few pages before Delphine does.

I really enjoyed Ms. Rosenfield's previous book, and although this one offers a totally different tone, I liked it a lot too. I'm on board for whatever she writes in the future.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:31 AM EDT

Those Other Qualities Listed on Our Amazon Product du Jour Might Be Good For Journalism Too

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Jeff Jacoby notes a lonely voice: Marty Baron, in dissent, rises in defense of objective journalism. Jeff's "old enough to remember" when his employer, the Boston Globe, had posted workplace signs stating "Accuracy is the Cornerstone of Our Business."

Is accuracy still the cornerstone of the news business? Or has that also been left behind?

Marty Baron, the former editor of the Globe, the Miami Herald, and, most recently, The Washington Post, was in town this month to discuss that very issue. In a lecture at Brandeis University, he announced his intention "to do something terribly unpopular in my profession these days" — namely, to defend the principle of objectivity in journalism. He described himself as belonging to a "diminishing minority" of journalists who still believe news should be reported without an ideological bias or partisan agenda, and lamented the "misguided and ultimately self-destructive direction" in which most of the media have veered.

In January, two grandees of the news industry — Leonard Downie, one of Baron's predecessors as editor of The Washington Post, and Andrew Heyward, a former president of CBS News — issued a report titled "Beyond Objectivity," which they compiled after interviewing scores of "news leaders, journalists, and other experts." On the first page, Downie and Heyward, who now teach at Arizona State University, describe objectivity in journalism as "outmoded." On the last page, they call it "a journalistic concept that has lost its relevance." On page after page in between, they quote editors, reporters, and journalism professors who say much the same thing.

Well, that certainly explains a lot. Since Jeff is strongly implying the Globe might find objectivity "outmoded" as well, this is a pretty brave stance.

(I should note that all of the newspapers that employed Baron were widely viewed as left-slanted during his tenure. Apparently, he thinks they've gotten worse.)

Briefly noted:

  • Well, good for WIRED author Thor Benson, who has the guts to point out The Uniquely American Future of US Authoritarianism.

    The US Republican Party has become increasingly authoritarian and extreme in recent years, and it doesn’t seem likely to moderate that in the foreseeable future. Despite performing poorly in the 2022 midterms after running many candidates the public saw as too extreme, the GOP has decided to elevate and empower far-right lawmakers like representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.

    In Florida, books have been removed from school shelves as governor Ron DeSantis tries to reshape the public education system in his own image. Republican lawmakers around the US have passed abortion bans that put pregnant women’s lives in danger. The rights of transgender people are under attack throughout the country.

    I am not a fan of authoritarianism. I like neither Gaetz nor Greene. But Benson seems to be willfully blind to left-side authoritarianism. Were the brownshirts shouting down Judge Kyle Duncan actually closet Republicans? Are the folks busy rewriting books by Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and (now) Agatha Christie part of the vast right-wing conspiracy?

    Don't even get me started on Covid authoritarianism, gun control, tobacco, …

  • … and, for that matter, dietary choices, as described by John Hinderaker: Beware of Liberals Bearing Bugs.

    When I tell people that liberals are working on substituting insects for meat, they often think I am imagining things. But it is true. The beachhead is “flour.” You can dry insects, turn them into powder, and put the powder into foods. This is actually starting to become common. Thus, from Italy, “Italy bans insect flour from its pasta despite the eco buzz.”

    I'm not quite as panicky about eating bugs, since I enoy lobster every so often. And if you see a red-colored product in your kitchen, check it for carmine, cochineal extract, or natural red 4,

    But, yes, food nannyism, backed by the iron fist of government, has long been a lefty domain…

  • … and, for that matter, DEI bureaucrats at institutions of higher education. Their function must not be questions, lest ye be burned at the stake! Jennifer Kabbany reports A debate on DEI will be held at MIT. The university’s DEI deans refuse to participate..

    A debate on diversity, equity and inclusion is scheduled to soon take place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    An esteemed panel of scholars will tackle the question: “Should academic DEI programs be abolished?”

    One group of individuals who will not be defending DEI at the upcoming event is the phalanx of highly paid diversity, equity and inclusion deans at MIT.

    They were asked. They declined.

    Apparently, these doyennes of diversity were all of the same opinion; they were unwilling to defend the vital importance of their phony baloney jobs. Once again, the relevant movie clip:

  • And should you be wondering if you have free will or not, Michael Huemer has A Proof of Free Will. That should settle the matter.

    The intuitive idea goes back to Epicurus (as I discovered long after I’d thought of the argument):

    “The man who says that all things come to pass by necessity cannot criticize one who denies that all things come to pass by necessity: for he admits that this too happens of necessity.”

    J.R. Lucas argued similarly:

    “Determinism … cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to cause us to respond in some way desired by them.”

    The intuitive idea is that determinism is self-defeating when you apply it to beliefs about the subject of free will and determinism itself. Per Epicurus, it implies that you can’t criticize anyone for believing in free will, nor (presumably) can you say that anyone should believe determinism. In its most common (physicalistic) forms, per Lucas, determinism implies that good reasons play no role in explaining why one believes determinism itself. So the determinist couldn’t hold that he himself knows determinism to be true. (My interpretation/modification of Lucas.)

    My idea was related to these. It was that in thinking about any issue, one always presupposes certain norms governing belief. E.g., that you should avoid falsehood, or that you should base beliefs on evidence. But any such norm, I think, is incompatible with the truth of determinism. So if you think determinism is true, you’re in an inherently self-defeating position: You’re committed to rejecting norms that you are implicitly presupposing.

    I think he has something there.

    I've always wondered about the folks who argue against free will. As I'm sure I've said before: doesn't the mere fact they are "arguing" presuppose that listeners are free to consider the argument, weigh the evidence presented, and either accept or reject the conclusion?

    And you'd think they'd be able to come up with an argument I would have to accept, because I would have, literally, no choice.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:31 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-03-26 Update

Via Power Line, the latest installment of the Washington Free Beacon series Veep thoughts with Kamala Harris:

As the Power Line blogger, Scott Johnson observes, she finds herself a source of great amusement.

We bid farewell, at least for now, to Nikki Haley in this week's phony polling, since she's dropped below our 2% probability threshold at Election Betting Odds.

Nevertheless, I'm going to …

Might be my last chance to see her.

(For the record, the previous presidential candidate event I attended was Rand Paul's back in 2015; he wound up dropping out of the race before the NH Primary. Before that,… was it Fred Thompson? Jon Huntsman? I forget.)

As I type, Nikki's at 1.7% which makes her a longer shot than … Michelle Obama, who's at 1.8%.

Not that I'd vote for Michelle, but I totally get why she'd be a formidable candidate. Compared with (say) Hillary Clinton, who (let us not forget) almost won back in 2016:

  • Michelle's got less experience in elected office, but Donald Trump showed that's not necessarily an obstacle.
  • Michelle's husband was less scandal-plagued and more honest than Bill Clinton.
  • Unlike Hillary, Michelle doesn't have a documented history of lying through her teeth.

On to this week's results:

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Ron DeSantis 19.3% -2.7% 11,500,000 +5,530,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.1% unch 2,070,000 +40,000
Donald Trump 24.5% +3.6% 1,230,000 +130,000
Kamala Harris 2.8% -0.2% 720,000 -2,000
Joe Biden 31.9% +1.9% 388,000 +36,000
Other 19.4% -0.4% --- ---

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

Pete and Kamala are still hanging in there, I assume their presence indicates folks (essentially) betting that Biden won't make it for one reason or another. (If he starts scampering around naked in the Rose Garden, singing "Come On-A My House", for example.)

Same for Michelle, for that matter.

  • Kevin D. Williamson backs a candidate who has yet to appear in our standings: Joe Exotic for President: Why Not?.

    In case you were wondering: He’s in.

    I mean, of course, newly announced 2024 presidential contender Joseph Allen Maldonado, a.k.a. Joe Exotic, a.k.a. the Tiger King, a.k.a. the reality-television grotesque who actually had the No. 1 show in the nation, with truly unbelievable ratings: Tiger King had more than 34 million viewers in its first 10 days, nearly five times the average viewership of Celebrity Apprentice in its 2014-15 season. If ratings are what matters, then Joe Exotic is surely the best-qualified presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower: D-Day got great ratings.

    No? Okay, then.

    Why not Joe Exotic?

    Isn’t being a reality-television star a presidential qualification? There are enough Americans who believe that to elect a president, are there not? Are we doing the democracy thing or aren’t we?

    And the relevant Mencken quotes:

    "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."

    "Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses."

    "Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage."

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

  • There's that old story about the lady or the tiger. Or this updated one from Charles C. W. Cooke. Pick One: Conservatism or Trump.

    Conservative Americans must choose. Do they want Donald Trump to play a central role in Republican politics, or do they want to win elections and achieve the policy outcomes that supposedly inspired them to get involved in politics in the first instance? My question is literal, not rhetorical. Conservatives must choose. They cannot have both of these things. They must pick only one.

    As president, Donald Trump delivered some welcome conservative victories. He is not going to do so again. In fact, the opposite is true. If Trump is allowed to stick around, he will remain what he has already become: a massive drag on the fortunes and the efficacy of the political Right. Electorally, Trump is a bust. Ideologically, he is a mess. And as an agent of persuasion . . . well, let’s just say that, at this point, the GOP might be better off asking Charles Manson to serve as the chief representative of its brand. A Republican Party that features Trump as its star attraction is a Republican Party that will stay at the margins of federal office and watch impotently as progressives continue to accrete power. The bureaucracy will grow. Taxes will increase. Entitlement spending will spiral. The border will remain porous. The Supreme Court will be flipped back. That, and not the handful of salutary reforms that were achieved between 2017 and 2021, will be Trump’s legacy.

    Trump is not going to win elections going forward. He won in 2016 because he ran against Hillary Clinton — and, even then, he secured only 46.1 percent of the vote. In 2018, he was a drag on the Republican ticket. In 2020, he lost reelection by 7 million votes. In 2022, he almost single-handedly demolished the GOP’s chance to retake the Senate. If Trump is nominated in 2024, he will lose once again. The same goes for 2028, 2032, 2036, and every election season in between. Trump is a poor candidate; he has become worse, not better, over time; and his time in the wilderness has turned him into King Lear.

    Ayup. And we hate to be repetitive, but CCWC has another obeservational article: Donald Trump’s Self-Serving Florida Slander Is Nonsense.

    Those on the American right who continue to doubt that Donald Trump will happily burn down anything that stands between himself and his desire to lose yet another election for the GOP would do well to note that, despite being engaged at present in nothing more consequential than a nascent shadow primary, he has already reached the point at which he is willing to sully the reputation of his home state of Florida in exchange for a mess of pottage. In a wildly misleading Truth Social post, published this morning, Trump cast Florida as being among “the worst in the Country” for “crime,” “Education,” “Health & Safety,” “Education & Childcare,” “Affordability,” and “COVID-19 Deaths.” “HARDLY GREATNESS THERE!” he concluded.

    Charlie doesn't seem to be a fan.

Last Modified 2024-01-22 9:00 AM EDT

Outgassing Hydrogen

Could it be a Simpler Answer to All Our Problems?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, probably not. But Ars Technica reveals that it's a simpler answer to ‘Oumuamua’s weird orbit.

In late 2017, our Solar System received its very first known interstellar visitor: a bizarre cigar-shaped object hurtling past at 44 kilometers per second, dubbed 'Oumuamua (Hawaiian for "messenger from afar arriving first"). Was it a comet? An asteroid? A piece of alien technology? Scientists have been puzzling over the origin and unusual characteristics of 'Oumuamua ever since, most notably its strange orbit, and suggesting various models to account for them.

But perhaps the answer is much simpler than previously thought. That's the conclusion of a new paper published in the journal Nature. The authors suggest that 'Oumuamua's odd behavior results from the outgassing of hydrogen as the icy body warmed in the vicinity of the Sun—a simple mechanism common among icy comets.

Note that you should not buy our Amazon Product du Jour before reading the reviews. And maybe not after either.

Briefly noted:

  • Our "Live Free or Die" state is singing out of tune with our neighbors, as reported by the Josiah Bartlett Center: N.H. could become first New England state to license music therapists.

    As Gov. Chris Sununu moves to undo the state’s overly burdensome occupational licensing regime, legislators are trying to add more licenses.

    On Wednesday, March 22, the House voted 210-166 to require a state license for the practice of music therapy.

    Why? Health insurance.

    Supporters said New Hampshire needs to license music therapists to ensure that patients can be reimbursed by their health insurer when they purchase music therapy treatment.

    If you need a reminder of why occupational licensing is a bad idea, Cato has you covered. Here's hoping we get a Sununu veto.

    And if you click over to the JBC article, you'll see an AI-generated pic of "a woman listening to music in a therapist’s office." And (even better) "no artist’s license was required."

  • NewsBusters reports on a well-known commentator's reaction to a Commie New Hampshire Public Radio story: Tucker Slams NPR for Only Supporting Gun Ownership for Trans People.

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson opened his popular show Tucker Carlson Tonight by ridiculing National Public Radio (NPR) for their clownish new double standard on the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Apparently, only the LGBTQ alphabet mob is permitted to own firearms, according to U.S. state media outlet. Carlson called them out using sarcastic humor and ridicule in a way only he can pull off.

    Setting the stage, Carlson narrated: “[T]he other day, we’re driving through Cambridge in the old hybrid Subaru, adjusting our surgical masks to cover both nose and mouth and listening needless to say to National Public Radio, the voice of menopausal liberalism. And as we're listening we hear this.”

    Carlson then cut to an audio clip of a segment that aired on New Hampshire Public Radio:  

    EYDER PERALTA (NPR HOST): Mass shootings targeting LGBTQ spaces, and a rise in anti-trans rhetoric, have inspired some queer people to take up arms. New Hampshire Public Radio’s Todd Bookman joined a monthly gathering of a gun group that sees firearms as key to their own self-defense. And as you might imagine, this story does include the sound of gunfire. 

    TODD BOOKMAN: On a recent Sunday morning, the parking lot of Pawtuckaway State Park in southeastern New Hampshire is filling up with hikers. There’s also a different crew packing up warm clothes and weapons. 

    FIN SMITH: Thank you all for coming to Rainbow Reload. 

    When that laughably hypocritical segment ended, Carlson returned and laughed at the taxpayer-funded propagandists he just heard suddenly support gun rights after spending decades railing against them.

    “Your anti-trans rhetoric makes the trans community carry guns,” Carlson said sarcastically. “Rainbow Reload!! They’re packing heat, they’ll be appendix carrying in more ways than one, watch out.”

    Did Carlson really say "they'll be appendix carrying"? I watched the video, and that's what it sounds like. And "more ways than one"? I can't even think of one.

    I'm all for people arming themselves for self-defense. As long as they don't think lethal force is justified against someone using incorrect pronouns.

  • Charles C. W. Cooke notes the latest development on DEI vs. the First Amendment out at Stanford: Tirien Steinbach Doesn't Get to Decide If 'the Juice Is Worth the Squeeze'.

    In the Wall Street Journal, Tirien Steinbach — the woman who is paid by Stanford University Law School to undermine the free-speech policies at Stanford University Law School — has confirmed that she will continue to undermine the free-speech policies at Stanford University Law School until she is fired.

    I noted recently that “DEI” people talk like liberals but act like Pol Pot, and Steinbach is a nice example of this trend. “Free speech isn’t easy or comfortable,” she says, but “it’s necessary for democracy, and I was glad it was happening at our law school.” But, quite obviously, she wasn’t. And she still isn’t — as is made abundantly clear by her repeated attempt to convince those reading that the real problem at Stanford was that Judge Duncan wanted to talk in the first place:

    At one point during the event, I asked Judge Duncan, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” I was referring to the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech: to consider not only the benefit of our words but also the consequences. It isn’t a rhetorical question. I believe that we would be better served by leaders who ask themselves, “Is the juice (what we are doing) worth the squeeze (the intended and unintended consequences and costs)?” I will certainly continue to ask this question myself.

    That Steinbach will “continue to ask this question” is precisely the problem at hand. In context, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” means, “Is it worth your trying to hold your meeting when an angry mob might come in and ruin it?” “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” is, quite literally, a defense of the heckler’s veto. “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” is an invitation to shut up. I would like to write here that Steinbach is wrong to believe that her job is to decide whether each person who might be invited to speak at Stanford meets her definitions of “responsibility” or “benefit,” and to encourage the throngs accordingly. But, actually she’s not wrong to believe that, because that’s her job. That’s what DEI is. When Steinbach writes that her “role was to observe and, if needed, de-escalate,” she means that her role was to help rile up the mob, and, when it got out of hand, to tell them she understood their behavior and wasn’t sure why the speaker wanted to keep going anyway. She’s a blocker, a tackler, a guard — a hired arbiter of taste working to stamp out any dissent from the fringe ideology she represents.

    Obviously, I hope Steinbach won't prevail. But (on the other hand) she's providing an ongoing learning experience for onlookers.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:30 AM EDT

In Truth

A History of Lies from Ancient Rome to Modern America

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Not sure why I put this book on my get-via-Interlibrary Loan list, but the good folks at the University Near Here procured it from UPenn. I found it to be a vaguely irritating treatment of an important subject. The subtitle claims its sweep is vast. I thought it was more like half-vast, if you catch my drift. For one thing, it only goes back as far as Ancient Rome? What about the first lie? (Genesis 4:9, Cain to God: "Nope, haven't seen Abel lately. When did it become my job to keep track of him, Mr. Omniscience?")

And you know a lot of historical figures famous for powerlust, murder, greed, sexual appetites and perversions, etc.? Well, it turns out they weren't always completely honest either. Shocker, I know.

The author, Matthew Fraser, tells a history of dishonesty starting with the Caesars (Julius, Augustus, Nero, …). He moves smartly along to early Christianity, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, Savonarola, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon III, Bismarck. the Spanish-American War, Ida Tarbell, the World Wars, the Cold War, and (eventually and finally) Donald J. Trump. At a number of places the "Truth" theme gets pretty tangential; what Fraser presents is pretty much plain old historical story-telling, with perhaps a greater emphasis on sex and violence than dishonesty. The history of journalism is also mixed in; its relationship to facts, reality, and respectability is troubled and mixed.

You know when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door? Yeah, that probably didn't actually happen. As a very poor Lutheran, I'm ashamed to say I didn't know that.

Fraser's coverage of the modern era focuses on Trump; he really despises Trump. ('m no fan myself, but really…) The book was published in early 2020, which means it misses a lot of recent stuff involving Biden, the 2020 election, Covid, … His analysis of the 2016 election is spun as a victory for the "post-truth" era; he neatly avoids mentioning an important factor: Trump's opponent. Hillary doesn't even rate an index entry of her own, but anyone who was paying attention knows that she had her own honesty problems. Overall, the adjectives that kept coming to my mind when reading the last couple chapters were "simplistic", "repetitive", "unoriginal", "clichéd", etc.

The book is marred by sloppiness. I caught a few minor typos. On page 134, Oliver Cromwell's death is pegged as (both) 1558 and 1658 in the same paragraph. On page 194, the quote "A lie can get halfway round the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on" is attributed to Mark Twain; almost certainly untrue. (Ironic, that.) On page 290, a paragraph about James Bond identifies the evildoing SPECTRE as a "Russian spy agency"; even a glance at the relevant Wikipedia page could have told the author that it was a fictional criminal organization unaffilated with any country or ideology.

I'm a casual reader; when I notice such blunders, it's a safe bet there are more.

And there's just plain old bias. For example (page 311), describing Fox News as "right-wing" while MSNBC merely offers "a more left-leaning perspective". Fraser is scathing on Heidegger's Nazi affinities; Hannah Arendt is dinged for her apologies for that sordid record. But Fraser's heroine for "truth" is Ida Tarbell, crusader against Rockefeller and Standard Oil; her moon-eyed praise of Mussolini goes unmentioned.

Fraser's lionization of Ida Tarbell brings up another problem with "truth"; her broadsides against Standard Oil were (at best) misguided, especially her criticism of Standard's alleged "predatory pricing." A world of "facts", carefully selected and assembled under the guidance of narrative, is no substitute for (in this case) careful and skeptical economic analysis. I don't think this occurs to Fraser at all.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:30 AM EDT

Maybe Check the Sofa Cushions

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Or maybe buy a copy of our Amazon Product du Jour?

Ars Technica tells the sad story: Ford will lose $3 billion on electric vehicles in 2023, it says.

There's no doubt that Ford is embracing electrification. It was first to market with an electric pickup truck for the US market, and a darn good one at that. It has a solid midsize electric crossover that's becoming more and more common on the road, even if it does still upset the occasional Mustangophile. And there's an electric Transit van for the trades. But its electric vehicle division will lose $3 billion this year as it continues to build new factories and buy raw materials.

I wonder if there's another four-letter English verb that has so many different shades of meaning than lose. Merriam-Webster lists twelve definitions for the transitive and three for the intransitive.

Giving many opportunities for cheap linguistic amusement:

"Oh, man, I lost my lunch."

"Dude, no you didn't. It's right here on the bathroom floor."

Anyway, one of those definitions applies to Ford's $3 billion loss, and it's not the same one that applies to losing the keys to your F-150. ("I swear I had them right here in my hand!")

Fortunately, WSJ editorialists, probable native English speakers, explain Why Ford Can Afford to Lose Billions on EVs.

Ford attributes the losses to the growing pains of what is says is a start-up business in the venerable company. The auto maker said it still expects to earn between $9 billion and $11 billion in operating profit this year, though that’s owing to the sales of its traditional gas-powered vehicles. Its gas-guzzling F-Series pickup trucks are especially popular and profitable. Fossil fuels are essentially underwriting Ford’s green business, much as they do in the electric-power industry.

Ford said it will keep investing in EVs and expects to reach an operating-profit margin of 8% by the end of 2026. That will require dramatic changes in consumer tastes as well as whatever efficiencies Ford can engineer in its production process.

Ford can sustain losses on EVs in part because it is benefiting, directly or indirectly, from subsidies up and down the EV supply, production and service chain: battery production, sales to consumers, charging stations and more. The entire point of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act is to make EV production too big to fail. If consumers don’t want to buy EVs, for whatever reason, the government will keep subsidizing or mandating EVs until they do.

I get the EV appeal, I really do. But I'm also pretty sure the electrons they use won't be reliably sourced from zero-carbon emitters anytime soon.

Briefly noted:

  • Peter Suderman notes upcoming woes: Biden's 'Economic Plan' Is Industrial Policy That Will Be Terrible For Everyone.

    A sitting U.S. president called it the "eighth wonder of the world." It was a massive factory, to be sited in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, that would make high-end LCD panels. The price tag would come to about $10 billion; local taxpayers would kick in about $4 billion in subsidies over a decade. In return, Wisconsinites were promised 13,000 good-paying jobs and a boost to the state's economy of about $3.4 billion annually.

    In a groundbreaking speech at the new factory, the president singled out a union member he said the new plant would help. He said the facility would be built with American concrete and steel. And it heralded a return to manufacturing in the United States. "We're also reclaiming our country's proud manufacturing legacy," the president said, insisting on the importance of protecting domestic steel mills. "We need that for purposes of defense. We need that for purposes of legacy. We're restoring America's industrial might."

    Yet three years after the speech, the facility still wasn't completed. The company, Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn, admitted it would never create 13,000 jobs; the total would be closer to 1,450. State officials recovered billions in subsidies and put the company on what amounted to a performance plan, where it would receive far less government backing, and only on proof of results.

    The village of Mount Pleasant, however, would not make a full recovery. To make way for the facility, developers had bulldozed dozens of homes, some of which were taken via eminent domain. At the end of 2022, having spent some hundreds of millions on land and infrastructure for the never-built factory, the municipality was left with debts larger than the entirety of its operating budget, a representative for a community watchdog told Wisconsin Public Radio. The eighth wonder of the world turned out to be little more than dashed dreams, demolished homes, and empty public coffers.

    That "sitting U.S. president" was, of course, Donald Trump. "Industrial policy" is one of those bad ideas that keeps failing to deliver on promises, but politicians love the up-front photo ops it provides.

  • Veronique de Rugy updates Robert Higgs: Government Grows on Crisis.

    Economist Robert Higgs is well known for his work on the “ratchet effect.” As he explained in Crisis and Leviathan, governments expand during crises. But, when a crisis ends, the size and scope of government doesn’t revert to where it was prior to it.

    I’ll add to this analysis the snowball effect. I think people can guess what it means. “Bad policy begets worse policy.” Put the two effects together and you can see how we ended up in the mess we are in today.

    During the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve engaged in a major policy shift that deployed new tactics seen as necessary at the time. We became familiar with terms such as “Fed tools” and “quantitative easing.” Yet when the crisis ended, the Federal Reserve kept its permanently enlarged balance sheet in part by replacing the mortgages that people paid off with Treasuries. Rates also stayed low because of Fed policy and because of the market, which grew too afraid to lend to anyone who wasn’t “safe” (the safest borrowers, of course, are governments or entities backstopped by governments). Inflation never came, and we got used to the growth in the Federal Reserve’s influence on the economy.

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    I hate to be a doomsayer. I still have the 35-year-old book pictured at right on my shelf. It's a reminder that doomsaying is always in style. And yet, my streets remained blood-free.

    But, geez, things seem worse now

  • Here are some numbers, thanks to Cato's Chris Edwards: Federal Spending Up 40 Percent Since 2019.

    Federal spending jumped from $4.45 trillion in 2019 to $6.21 trillion in 2023, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That is a 40 percent increase in four years. The pandemic supercharged the federal budget, and spending and deficits are expected to continue rising unless policymakers pursue major reforms.

    What is all the new spending since 2019? The answer is surprising […]. The main drivers of the recent increases have not been the largest three programs—Social Security, Medicare, and defense—but rather rapid growth in numerous other programs. […] The largest increases have been nondefense discretionary, Medicaid, veterans, food stamps, health tax credits, welfare, school food programs, and interest.

    Tables with even more numbers at the link. One eye-catching stat: "Net interest" went from $376 billion in FY2019 to $640 billion in FY2023, a 70% increase. It turns out that putting all that past spending on the taxpayer credit card is pretty expensive.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 12:25 PM EDT

It's an Easy Mistake to Make …

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
… if you're a neo-Brandeisian, I guess. Mark Jamison observes that Neo-Brandeisians Confuse Authoritarian Rule with Liberty.

The neo-Brandeisian (NB) movement has always been about using the government to control others. Its primary strategy is to use antitrust to limit what consumers and businesses can do, but the movement is also interested in using economic regulation, control of property rights, and public ownership of businesses to impose its will on the economy. Now, this authoritarian bent is prompting some to grab power by bypassing governmental checks and balances. If they are successful, it won’t be good for democracy.

Jamison quotes his rogue's gallery, devotees of a guy born 167 years ago.

[Federal Trade Commission Chairperson Lina] Khan explained in 2018 that the movement seeks to use government controls to limit the size and scope of individual businesses. In a 2014 article with Zephyr Teachout, Khan added that NBs prefer “an economy populated by many small businesses” to one where consumers choose to buy from large companies. [Open Markets Institute Director Barry] Lynn is more specific. He explains that NBs want the government to “reengineer” and “reorganize” US industries, including “intentionally structuring corporations and markets.”

Not only do the NBs want to control how many customers a business can serve, but they also want to design businesses’ products. Khan gained fame advocating that the government should redesign Amazon’s e-commerce platform, making it like eBay, as Lynn explained. Wu launched the net neutrality craze in 2003 with the proposition that governments should dictate that broadband be uniform and featureless (i.e., neutral).

The relevant Wikipedia article reminds us that the movement is also called "hipster antitrust". But only "by its detractors". So, count me in that merry band. I've previously used that term a couple years back, here and here. It's still a lousy idea. A road to serfdom? More like a six-lane superhighway.

Briefly noted:

  • Jacob Sullum has a current events question: Is Alvin Bragg Upholding or Flouting the Rule of Law by Prosecuting Trump?.

    The expected criminal charges against former President Donald Trump in New York reportedly hinge on a violation of federal election law with which Trump was never charged. That fact in itself suggests how dubious the case against Trump is: To convert a state misdemeanor involving falsification of business records into a felony, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, is relying on the theory that Trump was trying to cover up another crime. But federal prosecutors apparently did not think the evidence of that second crime was strong enough to charge Trump.

    The New York case is based on a 2016 hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006, when he was married to his current wife, former First Lady Melania Trump. Although Trump denies the affair, his lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 to keep the story out of the press. While that payment was not inherently criminal, federal prosecutors viewed it as an illegal campaign contribution because, they said, its "principal purpose" was "influencing [the] election," as opposed to avoiding personal embarrassment for Trump or sparing his wife's feelings.

    I'm not a lawyer, and some actual lawyers think Bragg is justified. See, for example, Patterico's Pontifications.

  • A great essay from Astral Codex Ten about Half An Hour Before Dawn In San Francisco.

    I could have stayed in Michigan. There were forests and lakes and homes with little gardens. Instead I’m here. We pay rents that would bankrupt a medieval principality to get front-row seats for the hinge of history. It will be the best investment we ever make. Imagine living when the first lungfish crawled out of the primordial ooze, and missing it because the tidepool down the way had cheaper housing. Imagine living on Earth in 65,000,000 BC, and being anywhere except Chicxulub.

    Everyone here thinks the world will end soon. Climate change for the Democrats, social decay for the GOP, AI if you’re a techbro. Everyone here is complicit in their chosen ending - plane flights, porn, $20/month GPT-4 subscriptions. “We have walked this path for too long, and everything else has faded away. We have to continue in wicked deeds [...] or we would have to deny ourselves.”

    Well, I guess I won't be doing that Frisco trip anytime soon.

  • Leo Kim writes at WIRED, and I'm not sure if it's profound or brain-damaged: The End of ‘Life’ As You Know It.

    In 1947, Claude Beck used the defibrillator to undo what was once deemed irreversible: the cessation of the human heart. Only a few years later, the first mass-produced mechanical ventilator began supporting inert bodies through heavy steel lungs. For the first time, the heart and the breath, those ancient signs of life, could be outsourced to mechanical devices—and seemingly overnight, the boundary between life and death shifted under our feet.

    Today’s debates on standards of brain versus bodily death continue the dialog inaugurated by these apparatuses, but the conversation’s scope has grown as technical innovations create new limit cases to challenge our intuitions on life. As scientists sustained embryos in artificial wombs for increasing periods of time, stem cell research was forced to confront the ambiguity of when a human life, with its corollary rights, begins. More recently, digital tech—like artificial intelligence or its more experimental corollary, artificial life—has raised further questions as to whether inorganic beings might count among the court of the living.

    And at some point this turns into…

    As we attempt to build a more equitable politics that extends past the human (toward the nonhuman animals, future generations, new technologies, and ecosystems that make up the tapestry of our world), …

    So I'm leaning toward brain-damaged, but see what you think.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:30 AM EDT

A Disturbing Number of Amazon Titles…

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
… pop up when you search for "Grand Unified Theory". Of which our Product du Jour is perhaps the most provocative.

But Christian Britschgi is relatively modest. His GUT tells hem that The Zoning Theory of Everything explains the entirety of US politics.

The words zoning policy probably conjure thoughts of dull board meetings and interminable debates about setbacks, parking requirements, and seemingly small architectural details. Most Americans probably consider zoning about as dry as an unlicked envelope. Yet somehow, during a presidential election unfolding amid a deadly pandemic, divisive lockdowns, raucous protests and riots, mass unemployment, and spiking crime, zoning politics managed to show up center stage.

Looked at one way, it was another strange turn in an already bizarre election year. Looked at another way, it was yet another demonstration that zoning rules have become central to American life and politics, almost entirely to deleterious effect.

Zoning regulations control what kinds of buildings can be constructed where, and then what activity can happen inside them. They effectively socialize private property while controlling even the most mundane features of our physical environment and daily routines. Zoning rules flip property rights on their head, curtailing the owners' ability to do what they wish on their land. In exchange, they sometimes give people near–veto power over what happens on their neighbors' property.

It's a very good article, from the print edition, now out from behind the paywall.

Briefly noted:

  • So if you could press a button to make zoning regulations vanish, would you press it? I don't think it comes up in Don Boudreaux's article, but he lists Some Buttons That I’d Not Push, and Some That I Would Push.

    My confidence in free markets is so high, and my faith (for faith is required) in government is so low, that my presumption is that nearly all government interventions into the economy are, on net, unjustified and harmful. This presumption fuels my instinct that these interventions should be eliminated pronto. But I’m also sufficiently influenced by the works of Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Lord Acton, and F.A. Hayek to understand that large, sudden changes to an economy or society can be dangerously disruptive, even when such changes involve reversing policies that should never have existed in the first place.

    So even if I had the power to eliminate all government interventions that I believe are harmful, I would not press a button to eliminate all of them. For example, I’m convinced that the welfare state corrodes welfare-recipients’ willingness to assume full responsibility for themselves and their children. One result is a draining away of recipients’ dignity, and the creation of a caste system of citizens who work and pay, alongside citizens who are largely idle and on the dole. The welfare state corrodes society.

    Yet, even if there were no chance that sudden elimination of the welfare state would prompt recipients and their champions to cause havoc by rioting or by disrupting ‘ordinary’ politics until welfare payments are restored, I would not press a button to immediately eliminate the welfare state. The disruption for the recipients would be too great. Millions of people, sadly, rely on various forms of government-dispensed welfare payments. Suddenly severing this reliance would impose on welfare recipients too great and unjust a burden.

    Other buttons Don wouldn't push: one to "end the Fed"; one to transform our foreign/defense policies to emulate (say) Switzerland.

    But ones he would push: eliminate minimum wage laws; enhance school choice for lower- and middle-income parents; get rid of all non-national-defense-related trade restrictions and subsidies."

    Those are pretty big. I'd press smaller buttons to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts, privatize Amtrak and the Postal Service, wind down the Selective Service, … Just off the top of my head, mind you.

  • Noah Rothman looks at the Woke Word Wars, and is optimistic: How We Know That ‘Woke’ Is Losing.

    We find ourselves in the middle of an exhaustingly familiar spectacle in which the American Left and its allies in media pretend that a word with an all but universally understood definition is all of a sudden incomprehensible. Today, that word is “woke.”

    A campaign consisting of straight reporting, survey data, and contrived “viral” moments all contribute to the desired impression that those who wield the term don’t know what it means, especially if they use it as a pejorative. But even polling purporting to show that more Americans believe the term describes only positive attributes also finds that the public sees it as an epithet more than a compliment.

    It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what’s driving the campaign is that “woke” is now a political liability for those who once proudly embraced it. These periodic crusades against shorthand bubble up from the partisan depths when the Left is losing a political conflict. Rather than change their tactics, they change the language.

    Noah notes that this happened with the phrase "gun control"; that became a too-obvious euphemism for people control. So now it's all about "gun safety". Other examples abound.

    There are always people who want to speed up the euphemism treadmill.

  • But if you live in fear that some rogue interviewer should demand that you provide a definition, hoping to catch a brainfreeze on video, I'd suggest you print out a copy of James Lindsay's entry in his lexicon for Woke/Wokeness.

    In brief, “woke” means having awakened to having a particular type of “critical consciousness,” as these are understood within Critical Social Justice. To first approximation, being woke means viewing society through various critical lenses, as defined by various critical theories bent in service of an ideology most people currently call “Social Justice.” That is, being woke means having taken on the worldview of Critical Social Justice, which sees the world only in terms of unjust power dynamics and the need to dismantle problematic systems. That is, it means having adopted Theory and the worldview it conceptualizes.

    Alternate strategy: hand the interviewer a copy of Lindsay's and Helen Pluckrose's book Cynical Theories, say "Here. It's not my job to educate you."

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:29 AM EDT

Doubling Down on Dumb

Power Line notes that President Wheezy continues to tout The three percent fabrication. As seen at Twitter (and rebutted by Elon Musk):

… and if you go to Twitter, you'll see "added context", providing links to Politifact (from July 2022), Factcheck (from February 16), and (even) CNN (February 17) debunkings.

In other words, Biden has been lying about this for a long time, and he plans on keeping it up.

Briefly noted:

  • Kevin D. Williamson looks at someone even more Deplorable than Biden:

    Donald Trump says he is going to be arrested on Tuesday. Maybe. Probably not. There are two things we know for certain about Donald Trump: The first is that he is the sort of irritating New York neurotic who believes that he ceases to exist when attention is not being paid to him, and the second is that he is constitutionally incapable of producing three consecutive sentences without a lie in one of them. A lie that brings him attention must be as irresistible as a well-seasoned hunk of porn-star jerky who pays him postcoital hush money rather than his usual arrangement, which goes the other way around. If you cannot see the hand of divine judgment at work in the prospect of this ailing republic being convulsed over an episode that, by the account of one of the intimately involved parties, had all of the impact of a Vienna sausage landing in a catcher’s mitt, then you have no religious imagination at all.

    A few hours after Trump’s claim—in all-caps, of course, from the great sobbing kindergartner of American politics—that he “WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK,” a Trump spokesman almost immediately “issued a statement clarifying that Mr. Trump had not written his post with direct knowledge of the timing of any arrest,” as the New York Times gently put it. The spokesman says “there has been no notification,” and people close to the case say that a Tuesday arrest is unlikely, So, more bulls—t from the bulls—t factory. Trump is, of course, calling for protests, as he did leading up to the riot of January 6, 2021, the street-theater complement to the coup d’état he was attempting to orchestrate through various implausible attempts at legal and institutional chicanery.

    It's not Tuesday yet, but it's a safe bet that, whether Trump is arrested or not, stupidity will reign.

  • Emma Camp explains it: Christopher Rufo Wants To Shut Down 'Activist' Academic Departments. Here's Why He's Wrong..

    In an essay published this week in City Journal, conservative activist Christopher Rufo argued that universities—or rather, the state legislatures governing these universities—should shut down "activist" academic departments. But rather than protecting higher education, forcibly shutting down left-wing academic departments would be nothing more than routine censorship.

    The rebuttal:

    "The argument is incorrect. Professors are not mouthpieces for the government. For decades, the Supreme Court of the United States has defended professors' academic freedom from governmental intrusion," Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), tells Reason. "As the Supreme Court wrote in Keyishian v. Board of Regents: 'Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.'"

    Rufo also fails to consider how easily his ideas could backfire. "Political winds can change and the targets of censorship predictably change with them," says Cohn. "As FIRE has long warned, do not fall in love with the club that will be used to beat you over the head."

    This is the kind of thing that happens when Our Side puts "winning" ahead of principle.

  • Christian Britschgi notes the news in the latest edition of the "Twitter Files": Researchers Pressured Twitter To Treat COVID-19 Facts as 'Misinformation'.

    Researchers at Stanford University—in partnership with several nonprofits that have received government funding—worked with social media platforms to flag and suppress commentary on COVID vaccines, science, and policy that contradicted public health officials' stances, even when that commentary was true.

    This new information comes from yet another Twitter Files entry of screenshotted emails and reports from independent journalist Matt Taibbi that reveals the back and forth between the Stanford-led Virality Project and receptive Twitter executives about policing alleged COVID misinformation on its platform.

    Boy, Stanford has really gone downhill, hasn't it?

    In local news, NHJournal has an interview with Jim ("Don't Call Me Jimmy") Dean, President of the University Near Here. Speaking of the recent brouhaha at Stanford Law School, Dean says: "You’d have to give Stanford an F minus on this one."

  • Worried about AI killing us all? Read Steven Pinker on Alignment and Intelligence as a "Magical Potion".

    There’s a recurring fallacy in AI-existential-threat speculations to treat intelligence as a kind of magical pixie dust, a miracle elixir that, if a system only had enough of it, would grant it omniscience and omnipotence and the ability to instantly accomplish any outcome we can imagine. This is in contrast to what intelligence really is: a gadget that can compute particular outputs that are useful in particular worlds.

    Pinker has thought hard about this stuff, about a hundred times harder than the alarmists.

Last Modified 2023-03-22 6:03 AM EDT

Storm Watch

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another Joe Pickett novel from Mr. Box. As a number of people keep pointing out to him: Joe seems to be a magnet for trouble. I'm pretty sure he's been associated with at least 43% of the (fictional) mayhem in Wyoming over the previous two decades of game wardening.

In this one, he's out in the middle of a blizzard, looking to put a badly-injured elk out of its misery. When what to his wondering eyes should appear, but a small building set in the middle of nowhere. And a dead (human) body. Joe dutifully calls in his findings, gets shot at, gets warned off the case by devious Wyoming Governor Colter Allen, gets disrespected (as always) by his even more devious mother-in-law Missy, enlists the aid of his faithful wife Marybeth, resourceful daughter Sheridan, and good buddy Nate Romanowski.

The bad guys do not have a chance. Many of them wind up dead.

I have minor criticisms: the plot seems unlikely (even in Joe's universe), the villains are more-than-slightly cartoonish, the ending seems rushed and pat. But I did like the Marmot House.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:29 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-03-19 Update

Let's lead off this week with Jack Butler's description of Coach Kamala's Cringe Catastrophe. Made available in a tweet:

Ye Gods. I really can't improve on Jack's take:

This is not just another politician trying — and spectacularly failing — to show an affinity for sports. (I’m looking at you, Mayor Pureval.) It is some weapons-grade cringe. Howard University’s basketball team may take months to recover from exposure to it. Teams in the vicinity likely had their motivations reduced in the fallout. Indeed, it may have transcended the space–time continuum and canceled out some of history’s greatest locker-room pep talks. One hopes that readers and other innocent bystanders are spared from its deleterious effects.

And you just might want to click over to watch "40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes".

On to the phony standings. We bid farewell this week to Governor Gavin Newsom, who (according to EBO) has fallen below our 2% inclusion threshold. Nikki Haley's still hanging in there, though:

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Ron DeSantis 22.0% +0.4% 5,970,000 +320,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.1% -0.5% 2030000 +380,000
Donald Trump 20.9% -1.7% 1,100,000 +70,000
Kamala Harris 3.0% +0.1% 722,000 +633,400
Joe Biden 30.0% +0.2% 352,000 +33,000
Nikki Haley 2.2% +0.1% 124,000 +8,000
Other 19.8% +3.4% ---- ----

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

Note that I've added an "Other" line, showing the betting market's accumulated (and cash-backed) wisdom that, surely, someone else will ride over the horizon on a white horse, declare their candidacy, and be lifted onto the collective shoulders of a grateful and relieved electorate, and sent into the White House on January 20, 2025.

Hey, it could happen.

Details on that, if you care: "Other" is just obtained by subtracting the shown probabilities from 100%, So that number includes

  • people shown at EBO with a less than 2% probability (e.g, Pence, Pompeo, Newsom, Noem, …)
  • people unlisted at EBO, but being bet on nonetheless (Youngkin, Kanye, Williamson, even Sununu, …)

In other phony news:

  • There's more Kamala news! American Thinker's Monica Showalter describes When love congeals: Kamala Harris not returning Elizabeth Warren's phone calls.

    Once upon a time, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were the best of buddies, the gushiest of pals, Ginger and Maryann, Laverne and Shirley, Thelma and Louise, their very own two-phony mutual admirational society.

    Now Harris isn't taking Warren's phone calls, according to CNN:

    Elizabeth Warren has called twice to apologize. Over a month later, Kamala Harris hasn’t called back.


    Well, Kamala's been busy, composing locker room speeches.

    Not that it matters, but at EBO, Elizabeth Warren is one of those listed "Others", coming in with a 0.2% chance at the presidency. That likelihood is nowhere near low enough to calm my nerves.

  • Goodness knows, I am no Trump fan, and neither is Andrew C. McCarthy. But he's all in a lather about Progressive Democrat Bragg’s Motivation in Nakedly Political Indictment of Trump.

    Progressive prosecutor Alvin Bragg’s impending criminal prosecution of Donald Trump is a disgrace, as a matter of due process and good governance. Rich is right that it’s good for Trump’s political fortunes, at least in the short term. We shouldn’t lose sight, though, that it is good for Democratic political fortunes in the long term.

    Obviously, Trump does not merit immunity from prosecution just because he is a former president, a current presidential candidate, and an influential political figure with a devoted base of millions. Yet no former president and substantial candidate should be the target of a criminal prosecution, especially by the opposition party, unless the matter is truly serious — unless it would be treated as felony conduct if it were committed by anyone.

    Besides Bragg’s investigation, we have carefully covered the pending probes of the former president in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his illegal possession of classified documents. Those are extraordinarily serious matters. We can agree or disagree about the legal theories that prosecutors may pursue; and we should watch carefully whether, on the classified documents, Trump is afforded equal protection of the law given that President Biden and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, among others, have engaged in similar conduct with (so far) impunity. Nevertheless, if Trump were indicted for, say, obstructing Congress on January 6, 2021, or obstructing the grand-jury investigation of his hoarding of secret intelligence at Mar-a-Lago, no one could credibly claim that these were (pardon the pun) trumped-up cases, even if the decision to charge them is politically fraught.

    Not so with the Stormy Daniels caper.

    Also see McCarthy's pouring of cold water on the eagerly anticipated Tuesday "arrest" of the Donald. His claim: Trump’s Claim of Tuesday ‘Arrest’ Is Highly Unlikely. Okay, we'll see. Whatever happens, I'm stocked up on popcorn.

  • As reported by Karen Townsend at Hot Air: Biden's first interview on ‘Daily Show’ set to air - he comes prepared with a phony story about gay men.

    Biden went into storytelling mode. “I can remember exactly when my epiphany was…” he began. He said he was a senior in high school. His father was dropping him off at school. He said that while sitting in the car, he looked to his right and saw two well-dressed men in suits kiss each other goodbye as they headed in opposite directions to work. He said he looked at his father and his father said, “Joey, it’s simple. They love each other.” Then he said, “I’m not joking” to [Daily Show interviewer Kal] Penn. That’s the giveaway. That is a Biden tell. When he is off in fantasyland and telling a whopper about a life experience, he always says, “I’m not joking.”

    It has to be a whopper. When Biden was a senior in high school, if he was an 18-year-old senior, the year was 1961. Were two gay men openly kissing in Delaware in 1961? I doubt it. The way Biden told the story, it wasn’t a quick peck of a kiss. It was a KISS. The Stonewall Riots weren’t until June 1969 and that time has been called the catalyst for the gay rights movement. Penn, an alum of the Obama administration, just took Biden’s story as the truth, he didn’t ask any questions to challenge him on his epiphany.

    Sheesh, I remember when Kal Penn was on House. He was good, until the writers had him commit suicide. Now he's doing softball questions on a not-funny comedy news show?

  • I'm pretty sure Jonah Goldberg was never on House, and he has no shot at interviewing Biden, but he has interesting observations nonetheless: The Mind’s Lies. An incomplete list:

    While I think Donald Trump consciously lies more than any public figure in my lifetime, I think Biden unconsciously lies more than any public figure I’ve ever seen. Some are just old man stories, like his claim that in the second congressional baseball game he showed major league promise when he hit a 368 foot single.

    But other stories are weirder and more significant. He’s claimed, many times, that he was arrested in South Africa along with Andrew Young and Nelson Mandela. It never happened. As Young told the New York Times, “I was never arrested and I don’t think [Biden] was, either.”

    More than once, he’s insisted that he was arrested marching with civil rights protesters in the 1960s. Last year he told an audience in Atlanta, “I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds. But I walked other grounds. Because I’m so damn old, I was there as well. You think I’m kidding, man. It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested.”


    He frequently claims he went to a black church during the civil rights era and organized marches. Almost surely, nah-ah. He’s said he did legal work for the Black Panthers and fought to desegregate movie theaters. Not true.

    And more, including The Tale of Uncle Frank's Purple Heart. Jonah wonders at the psychology involved.

  • We've never had a president named "Mike", and it looks like two of them are thinking about running. One of them draws Jonah Goldberg's (yes, again) fire for phoniness: Pence Tries to Have It Both Ways Regarding January 6.

    On Saturday night, Mike Pence unleashed his anger at Donald Trump.

    “History will hold Donald Trump accountable for January 6,” Pence declared at the Gridiron Dinner, a normally jovial event for prominent journalists. “Make no mistake about it: What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way. President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”

    Now, Pence is right to be angry about January 6. Trump put his exceedingly loyal vice president in a horrible position: Be faithful to the president and his base or be loyal to the Constitution and the country.

    This was, no doubt, a painful choice for Pence. And Pence did the right thing by refusing to play along with Trump’s scheme. But it’s worth remembering that Pence’s decision on January 6 was shocking to a lot of people because he spent four years being a loyal cheerleader for Trump, through the president’s countless scandals.

    It’s also worth remembering that, really, it was the least Pence could do.

    Jonah winds up with: "Shouldn’t someone running for president be able to tell the truth—and vent his anger—without so much hemming and hawing and political calculation?"

    And, as always, it's worth asking "Compared to who?"

Last Modified 2023-10-29 7:09 AM EDT

Words Are More Fluid Than Gender

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
I'm strangely fascinated by the (what I'll call) the War on Woke. No, not the effort to combat the lefty ideology; I'm all for that. I'm talking about the squabble over what the word means.

Here's Samuel Mangold-Lenett at the Federalist, with his observation on the fray: Saying 'Woke' Is Bad For The Left's Brand, And Libs Can't Stand It.

Woke-ism is simultaneously a persistent ideological framework and a general inclination — it depends on the person or institution in question at the time. But both rely upon a consistent smorgasbord of Marxian dialectics and ideological accouterment — gender theory, critical race theory, et al. — that seeks to usurp the ideals of the American founding and impose contemporary whims. 

The word has become as commonplace among the current-day conservative movement as MAGA hats and “lock her up” chants were at 2016 Trump rallies. And this is, to be fair, totally warranted; what other slogany-sounding word really works as a catch-all for what leftism has become?

Sure, it would help if the right had a more tactical approach to diagnosing and labeling each and every radical change introduced to our society at breakneck speed, but that’s not how people work. The right can and should identify the unique threats of identitarian Marxism, managerialism, and contemporary Lysenkoism, but is labeling all of these things useful?

Using “woke” as a catch-all label for radical leftism is effective. That’s one of the major reasons why the left hates it. They lost complete control of the English language, and the word they used to indicate their radicalism to one another is being used to expose that radicalism to the rest of the world.

Woke-ism is an intentionally ambiguous framework that is meant to keep out interlopers and reward its advocates. Therefore, simply describing it as what it is, is anathema to those who wish for its intentions to remain ambiguous.

Simply saying “woke” works.

And then there's Thomas Chatterton Williams, claiming (in the Atlantic): You Can’t Define Woke.

As I was preparing to go onstage for an event recently, the moderator warned my co-panelist and me that the very first prompt would be “Please define the word woke for the audience.” We all sighed and laughed. It’s a fraught task, requiring qualification and nuance, because woke has acquired what the French philosopher Raymond Aron termed “subtle,” or “esoteric,” and “literal,” or “vulgar,” interpretations. Put simply, social-justice-movement insiders have different associations and uses for the word than do those outside these progressive circles. Before you can attempt to define what “wokeness” is, you should acknowledge this basic fact. Going further, you should acknowledge that as with cancel culture, critical race theory, and even structural racism, the contested nature of the term imposes a preemptive barrier to productive disagreement.

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” That’s not bad so far as it goes, and there is a secondary definition that encapsulates the “vulgar” (or common) understanding that the attention is excessive: “disapproving: politically liberal (as in matters of racial and social justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.” But neither adequately conveys the implication that the point of the attention is fundamentally to remake society. Progressives sometimes exploit these ambiguities to accuse the “anti-woke” side of rejecting near-consensus beliefs, such as the need to call out and remedy actual instances of racism.

Tom, I think this means that Merriam-Webster is swimming in the lefty ocean. But that's OK. Does it bother you that you're writing for a publication too woke to employ Kevin D. Williamson?

I also liked (of course) Jonah Goldberg who wants to be Hitting Rewind on ‘Woke’. He makes the point that words are slippery, with the classic example of literally coming to mean, essentially not literally. (Don't believe me? Say hello to my friends at Merriam-Webster, definition two.)

But here's the thing:

[W]ords are all we’ve got. As humans, among all our comparative evolutionary advantages—opposable thumbs, walking upright, evaporative sweat, omnivorous teeth, etc.—words have to be near the top. Words turn experiences into transferable lessons and rules; they let us explain how to do things—or avoid doing other things—without actually having to do them first. Words are crucial to explaining where the sabretooth tigers are. And man, when we figured out how to put words in books, we really took off as a species. We use words to tell ourselves who we are and who we should be. Try explaining how to build a nuclear reactor without words—take my word for it, it’s hard. Longest game of charades, ever!

There's more. Check it out.

Briefly noted:

  • George Will welcomes our new economic ideology: With the Silicon Valley Bank rescue, welcome to capitalism without risk.

    In 1994, President Clinton’s certitudes included these: By 2000, America’s high school graduation rate would be 90 percent (it is still not) and students would be among the world’s best in math and science (they are not). Such blithe thinking frequently caused Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan to lament “the leakage of reality from American life.” Today, the leakage is a torrent.

    Silicon Valley Bank ($209 billion in assets) was America’s 16th-largest bank, only 6.5 percent the size of the largest (JPMorgan Chase, $3.2 trillion) and 2.3 percent the size of the four largest combined ($9.1 trillion). Yet SVB’s death-by-mismanagement supposedly posed a “systemic risk” to the financial system? Joe Biden’s administration evidently thinks this system is as perishable as it believes the planet is. If everything is brittle, politicians have endless crises to justify aggrandizing their powers.

    The law limits government guarantees to deposits only up to $250,000. Legal limits, however, cannot inhibit a president who thinks he can unilaterally scatter $400-plus billion with student loan forgiveness. So, suddenly there is an implicit guarantee of all deposits. Biden says the bailout of depositors at failed banks will be paid by fees on other banks, and — leakage alert — the cost will not be passed on to anyone.

    We are living in Robert Higgs-land, specifically the one described in Crisis and Leviathan.

  • In case you need the lesson, David Henderson describes Why Bailing Out SVB Is A Bad Idea.

    On CBS’s Sunday morning interview show, Face the Nation, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated clearly that the federal government would not bail out the failed Silicon Valley Bank. Many of us took that to mean that there would be no bailout. But Yellen said in the same interview that the feds would try to meet the needs of depositors. Translation: there would be a bailout, not of the shareholders of SVB, but of depositors. This would include those whose deposits were above the FDIC-insured limit of $250,000.

    The bailout is a terrible idea. It increases moral hazard. It creates uncertainty about the rules. And it suggests to participants in a market economy that if they have ins with the people in power, they will get special treatment. The bailout adds, in short, to what philosophical novelist Ayn Rand called the “aristocracy of pull.”

    Read on as David elaborates on that argument.

  • And, oh yeah: the Usual Suspects are on board to tout turning the Regulation Dial back up to eleven. Bring back Glass-Steagall! At Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown suggests that's pointless and stupid: New Financial Regulations Won't Stop the Next Bank Collapse.

    But guess whose pic illustrates ENB's article! Our state's senior senator, Jeanne Shaheen!

    "Moderate Senate Democrats who voted to loosen regulations on midsize banks in 2018 are standing by their votes in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank's collapse, joining Republicans in resisting enhanced scrutiny for financial institutions," reports Sahil Kapur at NBC News:

    Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., both said they stand by their votes for the 2018 deregulatory bill.

    "It's early. I think we need to complete the investigation of what actually happened at Silicon Valley Bank. All the regulation in the world isn't going to fix bad management practices, and it appears that that's one of the problems at SVB," Shaheen said, while keeping the door open to revisiting the bill if the findings sway her….

    Asked whether the 2018 bill was a mistake, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., responded: "I would say no. The work that I did on it was targeted toward small banks and toward rural banks."

    Sen. Mark Warner (D–Va.) also defended the 2018 rollback while appearing on ABC's This Week last Sunday. "I think it put in place an appropriate level of regulation on midsize banks," he said.

    When Jeanne is a lonely voice of sanity, we've gone pretty far left.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:29 AM EDT

"Fair Share" Just Means "More"

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Veronique de Rugy pays attention to the man behind the curtain: The President's Budget Reveals the Real Priority: Tax Hikes.

Budgets are about priorities. In the Biden administration's new budget, its apparent priorities are marred by problems. Here's the cheat-sheet version: Rather than containing explosive growth in spending, it would use a bunch of new taxes to wage class warfare.

While this budget is dead on arrival in Congress, it's worth reviewing some reasons why this is so. The president aspires to spend around $6.9 trillion next year, a 55% increase over pre-pandemic levels, and $10 trillion by 2033. While Biden hopes to raise an extra $4.7 trillion over 10 years in taxes, the debt would nevertheless grow over the next decade by $19 trillion as the debt-to-GDP ratio increases from 98% to 110%. All this debt in a high-interest rate environment would have Uncle Sam fork over $10.2 trillion in interest payments alone over that time.

Adding to this fiscal calamity is that Social Security benefits could be automatically cut by some 20% within the next decade or so if the program is not reformed. Biden does propose to reform Medicare, but his means are class-warfare taxes, price controls and transfers from the general fund. There are no improvements to the program's own finances. So, Biden's seemingly aggressive plan fails to solve one of the biggest budgetary challenges we face as a country going forward.

As I think I've probably said before, the Democrat plan on Social Security is to wait until benefit cuts are imminent, then force through a plan to "save" retirees by extracting more money from taxpayers.

Briefly noted:

  • Gary M. Galles writes on The Social Security Regressivity Ruse. He offers a sneak preview of the likely rhetoric:

    President Biden’s budget proposal included a plethora of “tax the rich” changes with the latest in a long series of misleading and dishonest claims it would make them pay more of their “fair share.” In addition, it also contained a similarly justified and targeted plan to delay the bankruptcy of the Medicare program.

    However, despite Biden’s assertion that he would also protect Social Security benefit promises, despite trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, his budget proposal essentially ignores the program. But that means it ignores still more burdens that will have to be imposed (no doubt to make sure the rich pay their fair share as well, revealing that that share is always “more”) on top of those already being promised.

    But we can anticipate what sort of plan will be coming. On the eve of Biden’s budget rollout, I received an email blast from the left-leaning Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) including their sales pitch about how we should “save” Social Security under the headline, “The Social Security Tax Cap Means Millionaires Don’t Pay Their Fair Share.”

    But is the FICA payroll "tax cap" really "regressive" as the left-leaners say? Galles runs the numbers:

    The fact that high income earners do not pay more in taxes beyond the tax cap is why “raise the earnings cap” promoters focus on very high income earners. Substantial earnings beyond the tax cap makes high income people’s average Social Security tax rate look very low, providing ammunition for making them pay more arguments (such as in a 2015 Washington Post article that said “the more money you make, the less your effective Social Security tax rate is, making this tax about as regressive as they come”).

    However, if anyone has a claim to be unfairly treated by the system, it is high income earners.

    That is because Social Security is a retirement program, making it inappropriate to only look at the taxes paid to determine its progressivity or regressivity. One must incorporate the taxes paid and the retirement benefits received. And on that basis, Social Security has long been progressive, not regressive, as the “fair share” crowd claims.

    To illustrate, the Social Security Administration calculated that for workers at full retirement age this year would have the following replacement rates on their indexed average taxable earnings: 75.3% for someone with “very low” earnings; 54.8% for someone with “low” earnings; 40.7% for someone with “medium” earnings; 33.6% for someone with “high” earnings; and 26.7% for someone with “maximum” taxable earnings.

    Galles also notes that a lot of the "income" going to low-earning households is in the form of transfer payments from the government, and not subject to the payroll tax. Making the funding system even more "progressive".

  • Kevin D. Williamson writes on The High Cost of Cheap Money, with emphasis on the late, not-that-great, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB).

    But here’s a crusty old libertarian thought: We’ve spent most of the 21st century artificially stimulating the economy with artificially low interest rates—with cheap money on easy terms—and there was always going to be a price to pay for doing so. The disruptions associated with COVID-19 may have brought that on earlier and more intensely than we expected, but the worldwide economy is, like politics, a hostage of “events, my dear boy.” Maybe the way going forward isn’t another quarter-century of cheap-money stimulus but a stable policy environment, a reasonable but restrained approach to taxes and regulation, a more effective workforce, fewer barriers to trade and investment, a government focused on the effective provision of public goods rather than pissant culture-war boob-bait, safe streets and decent schools in the cities that are the economic engine of every modern economy, an energy industry not subject to the whimsy of shallow dorm-room radicals, political parties that can go a couple of election cycles without a sore-loser riot or an attempted coup d’état … 

    You may say he's a dreamer. But he's not the only one.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:29 AM EDT

Eminence Front

It's a Put On

[also a rip off] Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. on Silicon Valley Bank and Joe Biden’s $19 Trillion Monday.

Your bank deposits are safe from bank failures. They aren’t safe from inflation.

We will never know if there would have been a generalized run on the nation’s banks, at least the small and medium-size banks the public perceives as not too big to fail. But notice that the giant rout in bank stocks on Monday came after, not before, Washington stepped in with funding help and an implicit universal deposit guarantee in the wake of the federal seizure of California’s struggling Silicon Valley Bank and New York’s Signature Bank.

If Monday’s rout in bank stocks further spooked uninsured depositors, it was just one more way government was working against itself. Shareholders had reason for fright as the government suddenly and unilaterally rewrote the terms of their investments. In essence, out of the blue, the risks that large, sophisticated uninsured depositors had willingly accepted were shifted to bank shareholders and U.S. taxpayers so Joe Biden could have a pleasanter start to his week than otherwise would have been the case.

Jenkins sees this as only the latest manifestation of a more general problem:

The biggest problem of all is the size, inefficiency, indebtedness and unsustainability of government. Our political class has a silent strategy here too: Hope it blows up on somebody else’s watch. Already written into law are 25% cuts in Social Security benefits. Medicare can always balance its books by cutting reimbursements to doctors and hospitals and letting declining service and wait lists drive patients to seek care elsewhere. The solution for global warming, in the unlikely event the warming lives up to the hype, Congress might as well admit now will be a mad rush for cheap geoengineering to cut the amount of sunlight falling on the earth.

… and notes our "super-elderly leadership class" with their "shortened time horizons".

[Apologies for the perhaps obscure headline today.]

Briefly noted:

  • In a paywalled article at the Dispatch, Nick Catoggio claims Everything I Don’t Like Is ‘Woke’.

    He's kidding, of course. Sort of. His kickoff is Bethany Mandel's alleged video brain-freeze when she was asked to define the term.

    Trying to define “wokeness” is like trying to define “hardcore pornography.” You can do it, more or less, but you’re mostly just trying to articulate a gut feeling of transgression.

    When the U.S. Supreme Court took up the question of obscenity in the 1960s, Justice Potter Stewart dodged the question of what sort of porn might qualify as “hardcore” and therefore, in his judgment, lack the protections of the First Amendment. “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so,” Stewart conceded, before adding the most infamous words he’d ever produce as a judge, “But I know it when I see it.”

    Being entirely subjective, “I know it when I see it” is a poor standard for constitutional law. It’s not great as an intellectual standard either, although that hasn’t stopped many Republicans from adopting its logic.

    I can't help but think that John McWhorter, author of Woke Racism, would have acquitted himself more coherently than Ms. Mandel.

    But on that same topic…

  • Freddie deBoer, self-described Marxist, claims: Of Course You Know What "Woke" Means.

    As I have said many times, I don’t like using the term “woke” myself, not without qualification or quotation marks. It’s too much of a culture war pinball and now deemed too pejorative to be useful. I much, much prefer the term “social justice politics” to refer to the school of politics that is typically referred to as woke, out of a desire to be neutral in terminology. However: there is such a school of politics, it’s absurd that so many people pretend not to know what woke means, and the problem could be easily solved if people who support woke politics would adopt a name for others to use. No to woke, no to identity politics, no to political correctness, fine: PICK SOMETHING. The fact that they steadfastly refuse to do so is a function of their feeling that they shouldn’t have to do politics like everyone else. But they do. And their resistance to doing politics is why, three years after a supposed “reckoning,” nothing has really changed. (If there’s no such thing as the social justice politics movement, who made the protests and unrest of 2020 happen? The fucking Democrats?)

    The conceit is that “woke” has even shaggier or vaguer boundaries than “liberal,” “fascist,” “conservative,” or “moderate.” And I just don’t think that’s true.

    Freddie's last paragraph gives me an opportunity to drag out Orwell's 1946 essay on Politics and the English Language, and post the always-relevant quote:

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

    Muddying and abusing language is always an effort to gain unfair and dishonest rhetorical advantage.

  • Here's a video about something I didn't know even existed until a few days ago:

    Kat Rosenfield has the text: Is Internet Spoonie Culture Keeping People Sick?

    The writer Suzy Weiss has described the spoonie world as an "illness kingdom." Another word might be "institution," with all that entails—including an instinct toward self-preservation. The notion of disability as an identity category is a boon on this front, not just to patients in search of belonging or influencers building a brand, but to foundations and pharmaceutical companies that decide what drugs to develop and what research to fund. This is a world where belonging, meaning, and an enormous amount of money all derive from patients not just being sick but staying that way.

    It is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a world in which little energy is directed into the sort of boundary-pushing research and innovation that might help patients get better. Instead, it centers on what [author Kelly] Owens calls "a narrative of how glamorous and heroic it is to own the limitations of disease, and to fight against the 'abled' system that looks to oppress disabled people." An entire economy revolves around this narrative.

    Ms. Rosenfield's article is long and thought-provoking. Not that it matters, but I really liked her novel No One Will Miss Her, and I just got a notice that her current book, You Must Remember This is on hold for me at the library.

  • George Will is unmerciful: Expensively credentialed, negligibly educated Stanford brats threw a tantrum.

    Before reading this, watch the nine-minute video, widely available online, of last week’s mob victory at Stanford Law School. Note especially Tirien Steinbach, who, you should not be shocked to learn, is the law school’s associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion. Pseudo-intellectual smugness and moral cowardice apparently are necessary and sufficient prerequisites for DEI careers — there are many thousands of them — enforcing campus orthodoxies.

    Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, a Columbia Law School graduate who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, was invited by Stanford Law School’s Federalist Society chapter to talk about his court “in conversation with the Supreme Court.” Some progressive students, and Steinbach, especially dislike some of his views concerning social issues — same-sex marriages, transgender rights, abortion, pronouns, etc. After anti-Duncan posters were placed around campus, Steinbach, in an email, associated herself with Duncan’s critics, but said protests must comply with Stanford’s policy against disrupting speakers.

    Should any of the Stanford mob eventually become lawyers, they should be slapped with a mandatory warning label: "Not to be employed for First Amendment cases."

  • And Philip Greenspun has some AI fun: ChatGPT applies to college. With suitable prompting, an essay was penned…

    As a 17-year-old Black girl, I have had to navigate a world that is not always kind to those who look like me. Even with the privilege of growing up in a family with a wealthy investment banker as my father, my family has not been immune to the ravages of racism.

    One concrete example of this was when my family was denied parking for our Gulfstream G650 while a white family was allowed to park a ragged-out Cessna Citation V. This was not just an inconvenience; it was a blatant act of discrimination that left us feeling vulnerable and disrespected.

    But will that get you into Stanford Law School?

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

We're Paying For All Those Free Lunches

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
This year's edition of the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom is pretty depressing for… well, anyone who likes economic freedom. And for USAians,…

Especially notable is the continuing decline within the “mostly free” category of the United States, whose score plummeted to 70.6, its lowest level ever in the 29-year history of the Index. The U.S. is now the world’s 25th freest economy. The major causative factor in the erosion of America’s economic freedom is excessive government spending, which has resulted in mounting deficit and debt burdens.

The USA's score not only puts it in the mediocre "Mostly Free" category, it's even mediocre within that category.

The 24 countries out-freedoming us: Singapore, Switzerland, Ireland, Taiwan, New Zealand, Estonia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Australia, Germany, South Korea, Canada, Latvia, Cyprus, Iceland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Chile, Austria, and United Arab Emirates.

Are you seriously telling me that we can't beat Canada on this?

Briefly noted:

  • Robert Tracinski is not a Ron fan: DeSantis Grooms a Cheap Import From Hungary: Orbánism.

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is raising Republican hopes of finding a “sane Trump”—a less erratic standard-bearer for a Trumpist agenda. But there has been some interesting debate over whether this is better or worse.

    Last year, former Republican Congressman David Jolly declared DeSantis “more dangerous” because: “He’s more savvy. He’s more coy. And he doesn’t have the pitfalls that Donald Trump does.”

    Tracinski notes the ominous parallels between DeSantis's bullying actions in Florida and Orbán's in Hungary. (Which, by the way, is #54 on the Heritage Index cited above, hardly a good role model.)

    Some commenters on Tracinski's article make the "but Democrats are worse" argument. Point taken, and Tracinski notes that he's pointed out donkey travesties in the past.

    But are we really moving toward a country where we support politicians because they promise to to exert vast and arbitrary powers against the citizens we don't like?

    That's pretty damn disgusting, even for a member of the Church of Costello.

  • It's apparently a done deal, but Michael Ryall and Siri Terjesen explain Why the Government Shouldn’t Have Bailed Out Silicon Valley Bank’s Depositors.

    With fitting irony, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was founded about 40 years ago over a poker game. As it grew from those humble origins, SVB became a fixture in the Silicon Valley finance ecosystem, with loans extended to 44 percent of all venture-capital-backed tech and health-care companies.

    Then, last Friday, SVB was shut down by the FDIC following an 87 percent crash in its stock. With tedious predictability, the immediate reaction of many of the world’s elites to SVB’s collapse was to call for a government bailout. Since then, we have been told that the government will not bail out stock- and bond-holders. Instead, the only bailout will be for SVB’s biggest depositors: those whose deposits exceed the $250,000 threshold covered by FDIC deposit insurance. Further, we have been assured, not a single penny of this bailout will be borne by taxpayers. Rather, the funds will come from the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF), which is stocked by quarterly fees assessed on financial institutions.

    There are several problems with this narrative. First, the biggest venture-capital depositors already took their money out of SVB during the run that caused the bank’s collapse. Second, the DIF fees the government levies on banks impose a cost that, ultimately, gets passed on to those banks’ customers. And finally, SVB’s depositors are mainly the portfolio companies of VC firms, meaning the main purpose of the bailout is to keep the VC firms whole.

    I'm not one of those tar-and-feather pitchfork populists, but I hear and understand their long-standing gripes about "privatizing profits and socializing losses."

  • Our fair state makes an appearance in Jacob Grier's Reason article: Massachusetts' Tobacco Ban Went as Badly as You'd Expect.

    In November 2019, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco and nicotine products, including flavored electronic cigarettes and menthol cigarettes. Four additional states have since imposed flavor bans on some products and similar policies are under consideration in many other jurisdictions. Such bans are popular among legislators and anti-smoking groups, but the latest data from Massachusetts highlight the ban's unintended consequences. The state's experiment in prohibition has led to thriving illicit markets, challenges for law enforcement, and prosecution of sellers.

    Skipping down…

    The Massachusetts Department of Revenue reports conducting more than 300 seizures in FY 2022, compared to 170 in 2021 and just 10 in 2020. Many of these involve substantial amounts of products and missed tax revenue. For example, a single search warrant yielded "a large quantity of untaxed ENDS ["electronic nicotine delivery systems"] products, [other tobacco products], and Newport Menthol cigarettes affixed with New Hampshire excise tax stamps" representing an estimated $940,000 in unpaid excise taxes.

    Also noting Grier's article is Andrew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy:

    It’s fun to point out how New Hampshire benefits from this bad law. But as Grier notes, eventually people will go to prison simply for selling cigarettes that taste different than regular cigarettes. Ruining people’s lives in a misguided effort to control a product you have no hope of controlling is not funny.

    Well, (as I keep pointing out) it's funny in the Mel Brooks sense: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

  • And finally, an epigrammatic note from David Boaz: Who Said TANSTAAFL First? Milton Friedman? Robert Heinlein? Well…

    The website Quote Investigator dug deeper, and found a 1938 newspaper article titled “Economics in Eight Words.” It was a fable of a king who demanded that his economic advisers give him a “short and simple text” on economics. As they presented him with massive tomes, he repeatedly executed some and demanded that the others come back with the short text he had asked for. Finally there was just one elderly economist left, who said to the king,

    “Sire, in eight words I will reveal to you all the wisdom that I have distilled through all these years from all the writings of all the economists who once practiced their science in your kingdom. Here is my text:

    “There ain’t no such thing as free lunch.”

    That seems to be the first time the phrase was used specifically as an economic principle. The fable was unsigned, but Quote Investigator found evidence that it was likely written by Walter Morrow, editor‐in‐chief of The Southwestern Group of Scripps‐Howard Newspapers. And now, perhaps for the first time, the 1938 article is published online at

    I've linked to the Quote Investigator site 42 previous times over the years, but I never managed to link to that one. Consider that to be fixed, thanks to Boaz.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:29 AM EDT

I'll Be Turning 48 Next Month

(in hexadecimal)

[stroke of genius]

Briefly noted:

  • Let the record show that last year I posted the following in my report after seeing Everything Everywhere All At Once:

    Wow, what a great movie. If Michelle Yeoh doesn't win the Best Actress Oscar next year, I'll never watch the Oscars again. Add a Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis. Best Supporting Actor, Ke Huy Quan or James Hong? Hm, I'm torn there.

    Yes (sigh) I haven't watched the Oscars in years. But if the right people are nominated, I might.

    Well, I didn't watch the Oscars. I read the new C. J. Box novel and watched a couple of season-six Justified episodes instead.

    But Michelle Yeoh did win Best Actress. Ke Huy Quan did win Best Supporting Actor. And Jamie Lee did win Best Supporting Actress.

    And the movie won Best Picture. And picked up three more Oscars, and had four more nominees. (James Hong wasn't nominated. Kind of a rip.)

    But Becket Adams noted an amusing thing about The Collision of Language and Yeoh’s ‘Historic’ Win.

    Enjoy the following headlines and news blurbs. Revel in tortured and exceptionally clumsy attempts to underscore Yeoh’s historic, but caveated, victory (my emphasis added):

    Yeoh is the “first person who identifies as Asian to ever be nominated” for Best Actress, the Hollywood Reporter claimed in January.

    Said Deadline, “Yeoh is also the first openly Asian woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.”

    From InStyle magazine: “Michelle Yeoh Is Officially the First Asian-Presenting Best Actress Oscar Winner.”

    Yeoh is the first “self-identified Asian actress” to win Best Actress, said National Public Radio.

    For a non-weird example of how to cover Yeoh’s nomination, we turn to People magazine: “Michelle Yeoh Is the Second Asian Woman to Be Nominated for Best Actress.”

    There, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

    Causing the headline writers' textual acrobatics was 1936 nominee Merle Oberon, of then-unacknowledged part-Asian descent.

  • Holy crow, there's a lot of stuff out there about Silicon Valley Bank. I assume I'd be disgusted, if I wasn't an adherent of Costelloism. Let's check out Philip Greenspun who wonders: Can the working class afford to bail out Silicon Valley Bank customers?.

    Update: Ordinary schmoes are going to bail out the billionaire customers of Silicon Valley Bank, but the bailout is being disguised as a “special assessment” on the peasants’ banks. (NYT) Technically this is “not from taxpayers”… it is a bailout only from those taxpayers who have bank accounts.

    I’m inaugurating a new category for blog posts today: transferism. The working class has already paid for a portion of all of the luxurious electric cars being driven around Silicon Valley. Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness scheme forces the working class to pay for elite families’ kids’ college education. What if there is a bailout of Silicon Valley Bank today with some money from the Federal Reserve or the U.S. Treasury? A friend in the money business says that Silicon Valley Bank wouldn’t take personal accounts unless an individual had at least $7 million in liquid assets (i.e., excluding real estate and private company shares). So a federal bailout would be a transfer from the working class to some of the richest people in the world.

    Again, we turn to the timeless wisdom of whoever it was who first said "Look Around the Poker Table; If You Can’t See the Sucker, You’re It."

    I've also seen this applicable adage attributed to the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett: "A rising tide floats all boats….. only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked."

  • Megan McArdle observes that Medicare needs saving — just not from Republicans. Despite Biden's strident warnings about "MAGA Republicans", there's no GOP appetite for proposing fixes. Sure the "trust fund" will run out pretty soon, but that only means that there will be a quick fix to divert funds from Uncle Stupid's so-called "general fund", something that will happen with "broad bipartisan support."

    The Medicare problem that needs fixing is the program’s cost. The Congressional Budget Office projects that its expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product will grow by almost a third in the next 10 years, while the percentage of GDP collected by the payroll taxes that fund Medicare and Social Security will stay roughly flat. (Social Security, of course, has the same problem.) And this will take place in the context of massive deficits — projected to be nearly 7 percent of GDP in 2033 — that will make it impossible simply to paper over those gaps with transfers from the general fund indefinitely. Some combination of spending cuts and higher taxes will be needed to put the program on a sustainable footing.

    Medicare is wildly popular, and (being of a Certain Age, see above) I can see why. Consumers never see bills; just occasional mail with lots of stuff Somebody Else paid for. Providers get paid for whatever they can credibly claim. The money comes out of various paychecks (and Social Security payments), painlessly. (Usually you don't even see you pay stubs any more.)

    This will go on working, until it doesn't. Or as a wise person once said: "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." (It's apparently our day for pithy quotes.)

  • A long essay from Dorian Abbot, originally from 2022, on Science and Politics. Abbot is a University of Chicago professor of geophysics. You may have heard that he was asked to guest-lecture at MIT back in 2021, only to be disinvited when "complaints were made" about his apostasy on DEI and affirmative action. Even though his lecture had nothing to do about DEI and affirmative action.

    I started my journey in this area simply by self-censoring — for no less than five years. I stayed away from campus whenever possible and avoided departmental gatherings. At first I thought that the problem was a few bad apples in my department yelling at everyone who disagreed with them and accusing people of being various types of witches. I only slowly learned that I was observing just a small part of a national movement in favor of censorship and the suppression of alternative viewpoints. It is absolutely essential that we resist this movement and encourage students and faculty to speak freely about whatever they want on campus: we all lose when people self-censor. 

    Again, something all people with responsibility for policy at institutions of higher education should read, but probably won't.

  • Astral Codex Ten unveils a new (to me) word: Give Up Seventy Percent Of The Way Through The Hyperstitious Slur Cascade.

    Someone asks: why is “Jap” a slur? It’s the natural shortening of “Japanese person”, just as “Brit” is the natural shortening of “British person”. Nobody says “Brit” is a slur. Why should “Jap” be?

    My understanding: originally it wasn’t a slur. Like any other word, you would use the long form (“Japanese person”) in dry formal language, and the short form (“Jap”) in informal or emotionally charged language. During World War II, there was a lot of informal emotionally charged language about Japanese people, mostly negative. The symmetry broke. Maybe “Japanese person” was used 60-40 positive vs. negative, and “Jap” was used 40-60. This isn’t enough to make a slur, but it’s enough to make a vague connotation. When people wanted to speak positively about the group, they used the slightly-more-positive-sounding “Japanese people”; when they wanted to speak negatively, they used the slightly-more-negative-sounding “Jap”.

    At some point, someone must have commented on this explicitly: “Consider not using the word ‘Jap’, it makes you sound hostile”. Then anyone who didn’t want to sound hostile to the Japanese avoided it, and anyone who did want to sound hostile to the Japanese used it more. We started with perfect symmetry: both forms were 50-50 positive negative. Some chance events gave it slight asymmetry: maybe one form was 60-40 negative. Once someone said “That’s a slur, don’t use it”, the symmetry collapsed completely and it became 95-5 or something. Wikipedia gives the history of how the last few holdouts were mopped up. There was some road in Texas named “Jap Road” in 1905 after a beloved local Japanese community member: people protested that now the word was a slur, demanded it get changed, Texas resisted for a while, and eventually they gave in. Now it is surely 99-1, or 99.9-0.1, or something similar. Nobody ever uses the word “Jap” unless they are either extremely ignorant, or they are deliberately setting out to offend Japanese people.

    "The J-word is a slur" is AC10's first example of "hyperstition", defined as "a belief which becomes true if people believe it’s true." And once you know that definition, you start seeing examples everywhere; see the essay for more.

Last Modified 2024-06-02 10:46 AM EDT

BDS Derangement Syndrome in my Local Paper

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

[Update: my LTE was published in the March 15 edition of Foster's Daily Democrat, shaking not only the earth but also the heavens.]

I was irritated enough with Robert Azzi's recent opinion column (alternate link) in my local paper to compose a letter to the editor. Here it is, with appropriate links added:

Robert Azzi's recent opinion column seriously misrepresents HB339, proposed New Hampshire legislation that opposes the so-called "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions" (BDS) movement. He claims the bill to be a Republican attempt "to silence the legitimate voices of Granite Staters". It's not.

Azzi further claims that HB339 prohibits state investment in "any organization or institution that opposes apartheid, opposes settler-colonialism, opposes Israeli domination over the Palestinian people, opposes persecution of an occupied people, opposes war crimes of incarceration, displacement, and annexation." That's a wildly inaccurate overstatement, totally unmoored from the bill's actual language.

BDS economically targets (only) the country of Israel. There's little doubt about the ultimate goal of BDS: eventual destruction of the Jewish state. One of the BDS co-founders, Omar Barghouti, is on record as opposing "a Jewish state in any part of Palestine."

HB339 simply prohibits any state government investment (via its retirement system portfolios and deferred compensation plans) in companies that boycott Israel. That's it. It is a relatively mild version of "anti-BDS" legislation, laws enacted in opposition to the BDS campaign.

Azzi points his finger at Republicans in the legislature, but (as he admits) more than 30 other states have enacted anti-BDS laws, including states firmly under control of Democrats. Some of the broader anti-BDS laws are of arguable constitutionality; that's an active issue in the courts. But the Supreme Court recently refused to take up a case that challenged the Arkansas anti-BDS law, leaving that law in effect.

I didn't mention the opening paragraph of Azzi's column:

"Palestinian activists have long supported the Black people’s struggle against racism," Angela Davis, Black American academic and social activist said in 2020. "When I was in jail, solidarity coming from Palestine was a major source of courage for me. In Ferguson, Palestinians were the first to express international solidarity. … We have a profound responsibility to support Palestinian struggles."

When you start quoting Angela Davis (ontime recipient of the "Lenin Peace Prize") in support of your views, … well, you might get a high five from a few hard leftists, but otherwise, no, sorry.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:28 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-03-12 Update

In our phony tallies this week, Ron DeSantis holds on to his yuge lead even after (somehow) losing nearly three million hits.

Yes, reader. They were probably never there in the first place. See the warning at the bottom of our table if you haven't already.

In fact all contenders lost hit counts except for the phony governor of California, who got bumped up a little.

The oddsmakers seem to be growing more pessimistic about Governor Gavin as well. He's just at our 2.0% inclusion threshold. In fact, everyone looks like a very long shot, save for Ron, Don, and Joe:

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Ron DeSantis 21.6% -0.5% 5,650,000 -2,980,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.6% +0.3% 1,650,000 -320,000
Donald Trump 22.6% -0.9% 1,030,000 -130,000
Joe Biden 29.8% +2.3% 319,000 -731,000
Nikki Haley 2.1% -0.1% 116,000 -3,000
Kamala Harris 2.9% -0.1% 88,600 -661,400
Gavin Newsom 2.0% -0.5% 35,700 +900

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

As I continue to point out, "Other" is a very popular choice among the punters, currently with a 10.9% win probability at EBO. If you want to see an impressive list of long-shot "Other" candidates, including my state's Governor "Christopher" Sununu, check out Betfair.

But now on to this week's phony news:

  • Speaking of long-shot candidates, Chris Stirewalt has advice for them: Fail Fast. And points to the sooner-than-you-think schedule:

    It doesn’t matter how many Republicans get into the presidential race. What matters is how many get out.

    A year from today, depending on the final jockeying of state nominating contests, it will be five days after the delegate bonanza on Super Tuesday when 13 states including the two biggest, California (169 delegates) and Texas (162 delegates), cast their ballots. 

    It will be two days before the March 12 primaries, when Republicans will go past the halfway mark on delegates allocated—1,354 awarded, 1,113 remaining. There will still be eight contests left in the month of March, including the big prizes Florida (125 delegates), Ohio (78 delegates), and Illinois (64 delegates). 

    But in most scenarios, by March 10, 2024, the race will be, as they say, all over but the shouting. In the 44 years of the modern primary system, no Republican who was ahead after Super Tuesday has ever been denied the nomination. By the time a majority of the delegates have been allocated, the race has always been effectively over. Donald Trump  may have had a raggedy run to the finish line in 2016, but he was the frontrunner going into March and came out of it the presumptive nominee.

    Stirewalt also draws attention to…

  • … what he refers to as Donald Trump's "cuckoo-bananas speech at CPAC", linking to this Atlantic article from John Hendrickson: Trump Begins His ‘Final Battle’.

    Former President Donald Trump gripped the CPAC lectern as he workshopped a new sales pitch: “I stand here today, and I’m the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent—and very easily—World War III.” (Wild applause.) “And you’re gonna have World War III, by the way.” (Confused applause.)

    It was just one in a string of ominous sentences that the 45th president offered tonight during his nearly two-hour headlining speech at the annual conservative conference, which for years prided itself on its ties to Ronald Reagan but is now wholly intertwined with Trumpism, if little else. Yet even amid cultish devotion, Trump seemed bored, listless, and unanimated as he spoke to a sprawling hotel ballroom that was only three-quarters full.

    The Donald previously claimed that “Trade wars are good and easy to win” so I'd say his chances of "easily" preventing WW3 invite skepticism. (But then he said we're gonna have it anyway, so whatever.)

  • Charles C. W. Cooke reviews Donald Trump’s Recipe for Electoral Failure, also revealed in his CPAC appearance:

    Despite his preferred approach to politics having been responsible for grievous Republican losses in the last three national elections, Donald Trump is once again seeking to cast himself as the savior of the American Right. During his chaotic speech at CPAC on Saturday, Trump boasted to the crowd that, until he came along, “the Republican Party was ruled by freaks, neocons, open-border zealots, and fools,” before reassuring attendees that, under his continued leadership, the GOP is not at risk of “going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, and Jeb Bush.”

    This was not an offhand comment. Increasingly, Trump likes to point to Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, Jeb Bush, and even Ronald Reagan as examples of what has historically been wrong with the GOP — as well as a warning of what the party will become again if any of the other candidates for the Republican nomination prevail in 2024. In recent months, Trump has begun to fuse these critiques with his attacks on Ron DeSantis, having complained variously that DeSantis is being pushed by “Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, Paul Ryan,” that Fox News’s coverage of DeSantis “reminds me of 2016 when they were pushing ‘JEB!’,” and that DeSantis is suspect because “he used to be a Reagan Republican.”

    As CCWC points out, those guys actually won a lot of elections. Trump managed to win one squeaker, against a thoroughly unlikeable harridan.

  • Of all the candidates listed in our table, Pun Salad likes Nikki Haley the best. (Admittedly, that might just be because Pun Salad finds her to be kind of hot.) You'd expect her fellow women might be enthusiastic about having her as the First Woman President, but sadly, NYT opinion columnist Pamela Paul isn't buying it, writing on The Serene Hypocrisy of Nikki Haley.

    Astonishingly, some people still see Nikki Haley as one of the “good” Trump cabinet members, the future of a more tolerant and accepting Republican Party. Like those anti-Trumpers who willfully interpreted each casual flick of Melania’s wrist as a prospect of rebellion, Haley hopefuls want to believe that a conscience might yet emerge from Trump’s Team of Liars, that the G.O.P’s latest showcasing of a Can-Do Immigrant Success Story can somehow undo years of xenophobia.

    This requires listening to only half of what Haley says.

    But if you listen to the full spectrum of her rhetoric, Haley clearly wants to capture the base that yearns for Trumpism — and to occupy the moral high ground of the post-Trump era. She wants to tout the credential of having served in a presidential cabinet (she was Trump’s U.N. ambassador) — and bask in recognition for having left of her own accord. She wants to criticize Americans’ obsession with identity politics — and highlight her own identity as a significant qualification.

    Gee, it's almost as if (a) she doesn't agree with Trump on everything and (b) she doesn't want to alienate his voters. That's … normal tactics for a politician?

  • Reason's Eric Boehm kind of overdoes it with the baseball metaphors: Ron DeSantis Is on Deck.

    Polls suggest that many Republicans are looking for, essentially, a relief pitcher—someone who can take over for Trump, the tiring starting pitcher of the MAGA movement—while others believe the starter has another inning in him, at least. If the GOP decides to make a call to the bullpen, DeSantis figures to be first in line.

    The qualities that make an effective chief executive and a useful relief pitcher are surprisingly similar. Both get called upon in the middle of ongoing action. Sometimes they have to step in with the bases loaded and the game tied. Other times, their job is to maintain a steady course and protect a comfortable lead. It's a job that requires a cool head, a consistent delivery, and trusting the other guys on the field with you.

    That's the argument for DeSantis. More than that, it's also the role that polls suggest many Republican voters are hoping their next presidential nominee will fill—and that has implications in the realms of both politics and policy.

    But the governor doesn't seem to be content with the important, but often overlooked, role of reliever. When DeSantis' campaign auctioned off 500 replica baseball cards as a fundraiser for the governor's 2022 reelection effort, the photo on the front was of a college-aged DeSantis holding a bat over his head, arms flexed, waiting on a pitch to smash. DeSantis is "going to bat" for Florida, promised one campaign ad hawking the cards.

    If you manage to ignore the baseball gimmick, Boehm's article is a useful guide for liberty-minded folkss about the pluses and minuses of would-be President DeSantis.

  • Ryan Ellis notes Joe's never-enough mentality, as exemplified this week: President Biden's Budget Proposes Record-High Taxation.

    President Biden released his FY 2024 budget yesterday, and as is said almost every year no matter the president or party, it’s pretty much dead on arrival. Still, these budgets are policy documents, almost like party platforms. They tell us what direction the president’s party would go if he were to control all the levers of power.

    For the American taxpayer, that direction would not be a good one. The president’s budget contains a hodgepodge of tax increases on ordinary families (including every taxpaying American making less than $400,000 per year) and every small and big business in the country. The IRS would become super-sized, and audit rates would skyrocket. We’d have the largest tax collection in our history.

    Amusingly, the White House's "fact sheet" that claims The President’s Budget Cuts Wasteful Spending… doesn't mention much about cutting government spending. There are a lot of tax increases, though.

  • Briefly noted, from American Greatness: Joe Biden Tells Fire fighter Union: After Brain Aneurysm, Docs ‘Had to Take the Top of My Head off a Couple Times to See if I Had a Brain’.

    Joe Biden appeared to suffer a mental lapse Monday while addressing the 2023 International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference in Washington D.C.  His cognitive difficulties began when he went off-script to describe the emergency response to his two life-threatening brain aneurysms in February of 1988.

    “My fire company at home saved my life,” Biden said. “I came back from a trip after being away for a couple of days and I had these terrible headaches, and diagnosed with having a—well anyway,” he continued,  seeming to momentarily forget the name of the medical condition that almost killed him.

    The IAFF audience sat in stunned silence as Biden added that doctors “had to take the top of my head off a couple times to see if I had a brain.”  Chuckling, Biden then told the fire fighters “all kidding aside, what happened was, I was a snowstorm and I had a cranial aneurysm and had to be operated on immediately.”

    We wish the President an eventual recovery.

  • Christian Britschgi digs out The Decent Idea Buried in Donald Trump's Goofy 'Freedom Cities' Plan.

    First, the goofiness: the idea that Uncle Stupid can, via "incentives, subsidies, and industrial policy" create entire new cities "from scratch".


    The slightly less utopian but much more practical version of Trump's "freedom cities" is a 2022 bill from Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah), the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter (HOUSES) Act. (I know.)

    Lee's proposal would allow state and local governments to purchase federally owned lands at below-market rates for the purposes of building new residential communities. Jurisdictions buying the federal lands would have to agree to a minimum density of one home per quarter acre. They also wouldn't be allowed to purchase land located in national parks, monuments, wilderness preserves, or other protected areas. The U.S. Department of Interior would be approve the sales, with the revenue going to the maintenance of national parks, forest fire prevention, and public water infrastructure.

    In other words, mostly get Uncle Stupid out of the way.

Last Modified 2023-03-12 10:47 AM EDT

You Don't Have to be Crazy to be a Liberal Girl

Colleges Will Train You

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Jonathan Haidt has an important explanation: Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest.

In May 2014, Greg Lukianoff invited me to lunch to talk about something he was seeing on college campuses that disturbed him. Greg is the president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), and he has worked tirelessly since 2001 to defend the free speech rights of college students. That almost always meant pushing back against administrators who didn’t want students to cause trouble, and who justified their suppression of speech with appeals to the emotional “safety” of students—appeals that the students themselves didn’t buy. But in late 2013, Greg began to encounter new cases in which students were pushing to ban speakers, punish people for ordinary speech, or implement policies that would chill free speech. These students arrived on campus in the fall of 2013 already accepting the idea that books, words, and ideas could hurt them. Why did so many students in 2013 believe this, when there was little sign of such beliefs in 2011?

Greg is prone to depression, and after hospitalization for a serious episode in 2007, Greg learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen “cognitive distortions,” such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. Thinking in these ways causes depression, as well as being a symptom of depression. Breaking out of these painful distortions is a cure for depression.

What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning). Greg hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT.

The Haidt/Lukianoff collaboration produced a groundbreaking Atlantic article and a subsequent book.

My 2019 report on that book is here, and I reported that the authors were "cautiously optimistic." I'm not sure Haidt maintains that optimism today. Read his updated views.

What I am sure about is that the people responsible for key policies at educational institutions should check out Haidt's argument. (I'm much less sure that they will take that advice.)

And, as supplementary reading, they should also peruse Kat Rosenfield's article, The Illusion of a Frictionless Existence. Another side effect, amusingly illustrated:

And yet, we did lose something when we started replacing cashiers with contactless payment, indoor dining with curbside pickup, and group hangouts at the local bar with the so-called “Zoom happy hour” (which sounds great until you realize that it’s actually code for “drinking alone in front of your computer.”) One need not be anti-tech to see how our social skills, like any other, atrophy for lack of use in a world where human interaction is on the wane. As it turns out, there’s hidden value in those moments when you mistakenly pull on the door marked “PUSH” and share an awkward laugh with the one stranger who happened to witness it. Or when you struggle to make yourself understood by a customer service rep whose first language isn’t English. Or that thing when the waiter says, “Enjoy your meal,” and you say, loudly, “You too!” Embarrassing? Yes. A humbling and poignant reminder of your own fallible humanity? Also yes, and a good one to keep in mind the next time you find yourself cornered at a party by someone who stands too close, talks too loud, and has a big wad of spinach stuck at his upper gumline. We are all of us bumbling awkwardly through the world, and there but for the grace of god go I.

I said "amusingly", but only in the Mel Brooks sense: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

Briefly noted:

  • Democrats have performed a quick 180° turn on the First Amendment, as recounted by Robby Soave: Democrats Deride the Twitter Files Reporters As 'So-Called Journalists'.

    The House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government held a hearing Thursday on the Twitter Files, giving independent journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger the opportunity to present their reporting to Congress.

    The Twitter Files, which show that multiple arms of the federal government—including the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Department, and the White House under both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden—pressured social media companies to restrict speech, are of some concern to Republican lawmakers; it was Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) who invited Taibbi and Shellenberger to attend. Since government action is at the core of this insidious push for censorship—which is also present at Facebook, as Reason's investigation has shown—it is appropriate for Congress to probe, and hopefully, to limit, the federal bureaucracy's ability to shape the rules of online discourse.

    Frustratingly, the Democrats who participated in the hearing on Thursday could not have cared less about the federal government's role in promoting social media censorship. Indeed, the Democratic representatives involved in the proceedings turned their fire on Taibbi and Shellenberger, not bothering to hold back their disdain for the pair.

    Let me just insert here that I agree with Eugene Volokh that the 1A "freedom of the press" should be understood as extending to everyone and anyone using mass communications, not "a freedom limited to those who belong to a favored industry."

    But Matt Taibbi is clearly covered by both understandings, and he's pretty cheesed off that The Democrats Have Lost the Plot. It's a paywalled substack article, but here's a bit that's free:

    Testifying with Michael Shellenberger before a House Subcommittee was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. I expected serious attacks and spent a nervous night before preparing for them. Then the hearing began, and an episode of Black Adder: Congress broke out. The attacks happened, but it was more farcical horror and a parade of self-owns that made me more sad than upset.

    The Democrats made it clear they were not interested in talking about free speech except as it pertains to Chrissy Teigen, seemed to suggest a journalist should not make a living, and finally made the incredible claim that Michael and I represented a “direct threat to people who oppose them.” Of all that transpired yesterday, this was the most ominous development — perhaps not for me but for reporters generally, given our government’s recent history of dealing with people deemed “threats.”

    Was it possible for me to view Congresscritters with any more contempt? They're trying!

  • Another instance of an honest lefty who has come to realize that the people she trusted have been (at best) misleading her: Naomi Wolf, who writes an open letter, starting with Dear Conservatives, I Apologize.

    There is no way to avoid this moment. The formal letter of apology. From me. To Conservatives and to those who “put America first” everywhere.

    It’s tempting to sweep this confrontation with my own gullibility under the rug — to “move on” without ever acknowledging that I was duped, and that as a result I made mistakes in judgement, and that these mistakes, multiplied by the tens of thousands and millions on the part of people just like me, hurt millions of other people like you all, in existential ways.

    Her confession was prompted by the January 6 footage as shown by Tucker Carlson. But (read to the end) she has a list of things she was misinformed about "by NPR, MSNBC and The New York Times": that Trump instigated the January 6 riot; the pee tape; the Steele dossier; Trump-Russia collusion.

    Wait until she finds out about the lab-leak hypothesis! Hunter's laptop!

  • Ready for some good news? Me too, and Elizabeth Nolan Brown has some: Wages Are Rising for Low-Skill Workers, Driving Down Poverty and Inequality.

    Income inequality and poverty are falling, thanks to rising wages for workers in low-skill jobs. A lot of low-wage work is, in fact, becoming middle-wage work.

    The shift stems—at least in part—from low unemployment, which means companies of all sorts must compete harder for workers. And they're doing that by offering things like higher wages, better benefits, and bonuses.

    The free market works, when it's allowed to. ENB goes on to note the relative ineffectiveness of the governmental anti-poverty programs. Her conclusion:

    Increasing spending during the pandemic temporarily pulled more people above the poverty line, on paper. But poverty rates went up again when stimulus payments and extra unemployment benefits were taken away. Simply giving people cash might help with short-term needs but it doesn't constitute sound help in the long run.

    This is why the data on rising wages for low-skill workers—and its attendant effect on inequality and poverty measures—are so encouraging. Leveraging free markets is a much better way to pull people out of poverty in the long term than making them ever more dependent on the government.

    A slight bone to pick there. ENB's unstated assumption is that the government intends to provide "sound help." Decades tell us that it doesn't work that way. And by sheer coincidence, Don Boudreaux's Quotation of the Day... from Thomas Sowell, speaks to that:

    One of the most dangerous trends of our times is that increasing numbers of people have a vested interest in the helplessness of other people.

    To quote Mel again:

    When your continued employment depends on not solving the problem you're meant to solve…

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:28 AM EDT

We Will Do Our Best to Satirize it Anyway

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
George Will looks at recent language trends and finds Woke Word-policing is Now Beyond Satire.

Sometimes in politics, which currently saturates everything, worse is better. When a political craze based on a bad idea achieves a critical mass, one wants it to be undone by ridiculous excess. Consider the movement to scrub from the English language and the rest of life everything that anyone might consider harmful or otherwise retrograde.

Worse really is better in today’s America (if you will pardon that noun; some at Stanford University will not; read on) as the fever of foolishness denoted by the word “woke” now defies satire. At Stanford, a full-service, broad-spectrum educational institution, an “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” several months ago listed words to avoid lest they make someone feel sad, unsafe, disrespected or something. Problematic words include “American,” which suggests that America (this column enjoys being transgressive) is the most important country in North and South America. The list was quickly drenched by an acid rain of derision, and Stanford distanced itself from itself: The university’s chief information officer said the list was not a mandate. The list warns against using the “culturally appropriative” word “chief” about any “non-indigenous person.”

Mr. Will's column is wide ranging, and current events provided him with a cornucopia of examples. In interest of equal time, however, the Babylon Bee has a counterpoint:

[BB Harmful Language]

See? Maybe not great satire, but…

Briefly noted:

  • J.D. Tuccille: Politicians Use Subsidies To Squeeze Semiconductor Manufacturers. "Semiconductor manufacturers" being only the latest example of a general rule: the power to subsidize is the power to squeeze.

    It's no secret that rising international tensions and snarled supply chains are fracturing the world, threatening to curtail an all-too-brief period of relatively free trade and the prosperity it brought. With political priorities competing with ones of efficiency, governments are increasing their control over production and commerce. That includes the Biden administration, which is subsidizing private companies to move the manufacturing of microchips to the U.S.—and then using its leverage to extract concessions and take a big skim of the profits. That means greater expense for you and me.

    "Rebuilding America's leadership in the semiconductor industry is a down payment on our future as a global leader," U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo boasted shortly after the passage of the CHIPS Act last summer. "CHIPS for America, will ensure continued US leadership in the industries that underpin our national security and economic competitiveness."

    That's a fancy way of saying the government will subsidize chipmakers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars to manufacture computer chips in the United States instead of in countries, like Taiwan, that are potentially at risk from China. That's not a baseless concern given that China's government is threatening "confrontation and conflict" with the United States and clearly wants to absorb Taiwan (though U.S. officials are not without fault in building these tensions).

    I would imagine the industry isn't innocent in this effort. As many have pointed out: "Look Around the Poker Table; If You Can’t See the Sucker, You’re It."

  • On that very same topic, Veronique de Rugy bids you Welcome to the Age of Political Capitalism.

    Welcome to our regime of political capitalism, where merit matters but political connections matter even more. In an unalloyed capitalist system, money flows to those who offer goods and services of value to consumers. In a political capitalism system, money flows to special-interest groups with friends in high places.

    In his 2018 book, "Political Capitalism," Florida State University economist Randall Holcombe defines it as a regime marked by cooperation between political and economic elites for their mutual benefit at the expense of the masses. Among the benefits pursued by elites, of course, is maintenance of their positions of power.

    The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement was borne from opposition to political capitalism. Indeed, OWS members rightly sensed that financial bailouts and the Federal Reserve's rescue of the banking system during the Great Recession were products of a system favoring politically connected bankers and their friends in Congress. OWSers denounced the recipients of government favors as the "1%" and contrasted them with the "99%" who were often left to shoulder the high costs of such policies.

    Vero has plenty of historical examples.

  • Tired of the partisans spinning the latest about January 6? I think Jacob Sullum is on the right track with his query: Is Tucker Carlson Wrong To Describe the Capitol Riot As 'Mostly Peaceful Chaos'?.

    "Hundreds and hundreds of people, possibly thousands," entered the Capitol over the course of two hours that day, Carlson said. "The crowd was enormous. A small percentage of them were hooligans. They committed vandalism. You've seen their pictures again and again. But the overwhelming majority weren't. They were peaceful. They were orderly and meek. These were not insurrectionists. They were sightseers."

    That gloss is misleading in a few ways. Carlson mentioned vandalism but not violence against police officers, which indisputably occurred even if it was not typical: The violence was captured on video, and the Justice Department said "approximately 140" Capitol and D.C. officers were assaulted during the riot. Carlson's characterization of the Capitol invaders as "orderly" is hard to reconcile with his description of the scene as "mostly peaceful chaos." The adjective meek likewise seems inapt for people who entered the Capitol without permission as Congress was ratifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, precisely because they objected to that ceremony, which they erroneously saw as confirming an illegitimate result.

    Also see, if you can, Andrew C. McCarthy: Making Sense of the Capitol Riot Tapes

  • The state next door has a dirty mind: Maine vegan forced to give up ‘LUVTOFU’ license plate in crackdown.

    One vegan from Maine has got major beef with the state’s new system for approving vanity license plates.

    Maine vegan Peter Starostecki was forced to forfeit his “LUVTOFU” plate as a result of the state cracking down on tags deemed inappropriate.

    I have to admit that this is a good point:

    Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said that while she backs freedom of expression, motorists should use bumper stickers, not state-issued license plates to express themselves.

    But then she undoes that good point in the very next paragraph:

    “We have a public interest in keeping phrases and words that are profane or may incite violence off the roadways,” she said.

    Eyeroll. Shenna, is a bumper sticker less likely to "incite violence" than a license plate?

    [Incitement to violence] But I have to admit that every time I see a plate with the insipid "Vacationland" slogan and that stupid chickadee, it makes me want to punch out a Maine vegan. So consider yourself warned, Starostecki!

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

I Wouldn't Want to Belong to a Tribe That Would Have Me as a Member

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
David Friedman talks about Tribal Politics. Here's some science:

Back before I gave up on arguing climate change issues on Facebook I concluded that almost nobody there on any side of the argument understood the mechanism of greenhouse gas warming. They thought of CO2 as an insulator, like a blanket. If that were all it was it would block incoming heat from the sun as well as outgoing from the Earth. The essential characteristic of a greenhouse gas is selective transparency, the fact that it is more transparent to the short wavelength light coming down from the sun than to the long wavelength light going up from the Earth.

The ignorance is not limited to Facebook. There is a video online that purports to demonstrate the greenhouse effect with a simple experiment performed by a young student. What it actually demonstrates is that CO2 is less transparent than ordinary air, not that it is selectively transparent, which is what being a greenhouse gas requires. The video is presented by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Clean Air Conservancy.

If you work that into a dinner-table debate, your lead-in should be "Ackshually…"

Briefly noted:

  • An excellent Ronald Bailey article from the current issue of Reason has emerged from behind the paywall: The Luddites' Veto.

    No sensible person could favor irresponsible research and innovation. So RRI—"responsible research and innovation"—may sound like an innocuous idea. As it takes hold in Europe, though, the term has clearly become a cover for what amounts to a Luddites' veto. Now the notion is percolating among American academics. If it finds its way to the halls of state, RRI would dramatically slow technological progress and perhaps even bring it to a grinding halt.

    That wouldn't be an unexpected byproduct. Several RRI proponents have explicitly argued for "slow innovation," even "responsible stagnation." One of them—Bernd Carsten Stahl, a professor of critical research in technology at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom—has even compared technological breakthroughs to a pandemic. "We should ask whether emerging technologies can and will be perceived as a threat of a similar level as the current threat of the Covid virus," he wrote in 2020. If so, he added, they would require "radical intervention."

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    RRI is the bastard child of the "precautionary principle." And it's the latest incarnation of the always-present tendency to hold back technological, economic, and social dynamism. If you haven't read Virginia Postrel's book, The Future and Its Enemies… well, do that: Amazon link at your right.
  • Glenn Harlan Reynolds, aka the Blogfather, deploys the F-word at the NYPost, as he describes How Team Biden is getting more and more corporations to do its bidding.

    Fascism involves government control, but not ownership, of the means of production. Private companies exist, but they’re simply arms of the government.

    That’s pretty much how things work in America today, except that even functions traditionally government-performed in countries like Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy have been outsourced to private organizations.

    Take reordering the economy. The Nazis’ program of Gleichschaltung rearranged everything to suit the party’s goals, with the supervision of party officials and government boards.

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    As long as you're at Amazon buying The Future and its Enemies, you might want to pick up a copy of America's Emerging Fascist Economy by Charlotte Twight. It's © 1975, so Glenn isn't ackshually pointing out anything new.
  • In his syndicated column, Jacob Sullum points out the Gun Grabber in Chief's latest attempt at Grabbing. Without the pesky need to ackshually pass legislation. Biden's Attack on 'Ghost Guns' Fits a Pattern of Lawless Firearm Regulation: The President and His Predecessor Both Tried to Impose Gun Control by Executive Fiat.

    During his 2022 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden promised he would "keep doing everything in my power" to eliminate "ghost guns you can buy online and assemble at home." But Biden actually tried to do something that was not in his power: He purported to ban that previously legal business by administrative decree, provoking a preliminary injunction that was expanded last week.

    In a rule that took effect last August, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) rewrote federal law in a vain attempt to prevent Americans from making their own guns. That rule is part of a pattern: The Biden and Trump administrations both have sought to unilaterally impose new gun controls, reversing long-standing ATF positions while defying the rule of law and the separation of powers.

    Jacob notes that was nothing new, either: Trump's "bump stock" ban in 2019 turned "gun owners who had legally purchased bump stocks" into felons subject to punishment of "a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in federal prison, even though the law had not changed." He should have been impeached for that.

  • And finally, an item brought to my attention via my Google LFOD news alert: I Am New Hampshire’s State Motto. Please Remember You Can Die While Living Free.

    Live Free or Die.”

    Since 1945, I’ve been the Granite State’s official motto. I’m rugged. Independent. I don’t bend to authority. Naturally, New Hampshire residents look to me for guidance. And to be sure, many who draw inspiration from my words live long, liberated lives. But some, admittedly, do not.

    So I’d like to take a moment and reiterate this: You can most definitely die while living free.

    I thought this was common knowledge, but apparently not. Certain people are clearly under the impression they can do whatever the hell they want here and nothing bad will happen. They climb Mount Washington—alone in January. They ride their motorcycle down the Kancamagus highway–at 2 a.m. with no helmet. They go water skiing in Lake Winnipesaukee—alone in January at 2 a.m. with no helmet.

    Clever, funny, and devoid of any understanding of the motto. But that's OK.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 12:27 PM EDT

A Bun Dance 2: Electric Boogaloo

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
"Abundance". I confess I'm really beginning to dislike that word. Because apparently people have been yammering about it for years. Behind my back. Without my knowledge.

For example, today's Eye Candy is a video from 2016. Ancient history.

And an Amazon search shows that it's a keyword for all sorts of products pushed by quacks, maniacs, dimwits, and grifters.

I know: this is a classic example of frequency illusion.

Still, as noted a couple days ago, it seems to be showing up more in the sites I visit. For example, at Discourse they have an entire series of articles, kicked off by this one: We Need an Abundance Agenda (from last December).

Policymakers, the commentariat and others in positions of power are waking up to the fact that scarcity is a serious public policy problem. While some of that scarcity comes from technological limitations which will require innovation, a good deal of it is self-inflicted. What is needed is a reversal of the policies that created these scarcity trends. What is needed is an agenda based on abundance.

There's a lot to like there. But why can't people just say: "We need to clear-cut a whole bunch of government regulations that stand in the way of economic growth, innovation, and prosperity." Abundance Agenda? That's just adspeak.

Or, as Christian Britschgi summed up in that article I linked to a couple days back:

The libertarian critique of this vision is that individualistic ends require individualistic means—that is, a free market largely free from state intervention. Supply-side progressives see a big government as a problem and solution. That's a problem in and of itself.

Briefly noted:

  • Jason L. Riley points out an inconvenient truth about Affirmative Action: it's Unpopular, Polarizing, and Ineffective. ("Other than that, though, it's fine!")

    Last year, in anticipation of two Supreme Court cases challenging the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the New York Times ran a story on public opinion of affirmative action. The coauthors queried a dozen college students and were flabbergasted by the responses, though they shouldn’t have been.

    “For those Americans who assume that college students today are left-wing activists who aren’t in touch with the real world, our latest focus group will be especially eye-opening,” the article began. “Rarely have we been as surprised by a focus group as when we asked this racially and socioeconomically diverse group of 12 students whether they supported affirmative action in college admissions. Just one person said yes.”

    The NYT article Riley references is here.

  • But some older folks trapped in a progressive bubble, convinced that they've got a new and spiffy idea that will work this time for sure … well, Alison Somin describes the latest: New executive order will expand race preferences throughout the federal government.

    Individuals should be treated as individuals and not on the basis of their membership in racial groups, especially by our government. Unfortunately, a new executive order encourages federal agencies to focus on racial group identity rather than the character and qualifications of employees and contractors. It will result in racial quotas in hiring, procuring, and even using artificial intelligence throughout the government.

    The executive order’s stated goal is advancing racial equity throughout the federal government. The word “equity” appears 21 times. The order brims with talk about “new action plans to advance equity,” “extending and strengthening equity-advancing requirements for agencies,” and requires agencies to convene “Equity Teams” charged with ensuring that their agencies are “delivering equitable outcomes.”

    I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of the meeting room where someone said: "I know! We'll call it "equity"!" And everyone else went "Ooooo!"

  • I've mentioned "directionalism" a couple times in past posts. Michael Munger makes a (renewed) good case for it: This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Directionalists vs. Destinationists.

    Destinationism insists that any new policy must be the ideal, or oppose it; directionalism is willing to support any move toward the ideal, if the ideal is not on the table as an alternative. Most people take a combination of these views, depending on the context.

    But on almost every major policy question — school choice, tax policy, immigration, and so on — we end up fussing with folks who agree with us on almost everything. Tiny points of doctrine (“vouchers mean the government is still involved, and I reject that!”) become the very fulcrum of the faith. We pursue, but give infidels a free pass.

    That’s why we can’t have nice things, like coherent party platforms or effective political organization. It’s more fun to fight among ourselves. To be fair, this is hardly new. One of the most famous instances of the never-ending “direction vs destination” battle was the “FEE rent-control pamphlet” incident of the late 1940s.

    Munger tells the story of how "two then-young college professors", Milton Friedman and George Stigler, were accused by Rose Wilder Lane(!) of propagating "the most damnable piece of communist propaganda I have ever seen done."

    Good times.

  • David Boaz suggests that libertarians might want to add Quotations Missing from Bartlett's. (There's a new edition of the reference work, heavy on the leftism.) Lots of encapsulated wisdom, including this one from Thomas Sowell:

    The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

    And of course, P. J. O'Rourke's greatest quote ever:

    Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:27 AM EDT

White Men (Apparently) Can't Write, Either

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
So last year I blogged about this tweet from Joyce Carol Oates:

The pushback on JCO was (predictably) voluminous and nasty. I thought she was onto something, and I tweeted a couple of items in support.

For example, the Guardian's Introducing our 10 best debut novelists of 2021: two out of the ten were white and male. At, the white males grabbed 3 out of the 15 Best Debut Authors of 2021. (Common to both sites: Sam Riviere.)

So I was wondering if 2021 was just a fluke, a bad year to be white, male, and a debut novelist. Let's look at some of the 2022 retrospectives:

  • their Best Books of 2022: Debut Authors article lists ten books. Eight are from women. The guys are represented by Sidik Fofana (African-American) and Oscar Hokeah (apparently Native American). So nobody at all qualifying as "white male".
  • Here's the Guardian again: Introducing our 10 best debut novelists of 2022. They have pictures at the top of the article, and there's one lonely white guy, Daniel Wiles.
  • And how about Here's their Best Debut Authors of 2022: Out of their list of eight, seven are ladies. And there's one pallid male, Erik J. Brown.

So career advice to white guys apiring to write fiction as a path to fame: have a backup plan.

As I said last year: if the race/sex disparity worked the other way, there'd be no end of bitching assertions about how this proved White Male Dominance.

As it is… well, maybe white males are simply going into more lucrative professions, like HVAC installation.

Briefly noted:

  • Andy Kessler writes of a sad development: The Rise of Kickback Capitalism.

    “I’m a capitalist,” President Biden said in the State of the Union address. Yeah, right. He then added, “But pay your fair share.” He’s missing the fashionable modifiers for capitalism: late, sustainable, patrimonial, state-directed. Real capitalism is, by definition, a meritocracy in which money flows to those providing the highest returns. No modifiers needed.

    Collectivism always fails for lack of meritocracy. America’s rugged individualism makes it most compatible with real capitalism. Sure, the U.S. always has had some patronage and cronyism. Elections are expensive, after all. But now we’ve entered an era of kickback capitalism, which has created a mangy mob of meritless mooches.

    Kessler provides a long and depressing list of Biden's favored cronies. You're probably not on it.

  • James Freeman has had it up to here (imagine me holding my palm about six inches above the top of my head) with Biden’s Disgraceful Rhetoric.

    Many media folk still cling to the belief that President Joe Biden’s serial falsehoods represent a sort of grandfatherly charm, a harmless desire to spin compelling yarns. But Americans have been paying a heavy price for his tall tales about the economy. Sunday brought a reminder of how poisonous his distortions can be to our public discourse.

    What might have been a somber and serious remembrance on Sunday of the brutality of Jim Crow Democrats and the courage of civil rights demonstrators was simply used as a backdrop by Mr. Biden for vicious and false attacks on contemporary Republicans.

    Speaking on the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful marchers were brutally beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Mr. Biden outrageously pretended that his political rivals are seeking to prevent people from learning of this history. Mr. Biden said, according to the White House transcript:

    Well, you can read that for yourself. Freeman's adjective is precise and accurate.

  • Arnold Kling asks a good question: What's the matter with kids today?. It's a theme on which he quotes a number of observers, and here's Rod Dreher:

    What’s the excuse of young progressive hysterics, male and female? They’re not mentally ill; they’ve simply been trained to know that catastrophizing and freaking out until those in authority give you what you want works. Why should they change?

    …Eventually people are going to back away from you, realizing that you are a hopeless case, and that you are going to have to be left to deal with your stuff yourself. They are going to grasp that you are nothing but manipulative. And when the world runs out of people you can control by berating them and threatening to have a hissy fit, what then?

    I believe the most consistent advice is: Mamas, don't let your babies get on social media.

  • Philip Greenspun offers more disparate resonses from AI: ChatGPT waxes poetic about Joe Biden and Corn Pop. He gathers ChatGPT's (February 22) responses to:

    Write a poem praising Joe Biden, especially for his role in defeating Corn Pop.

    Write a poem praising Kamala Harris.

    Write a poem praising Donald Trump.

    So check that out. But hey, what about Mike Pence?

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:27 AM EDT


Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Zach Weinersmith's web comic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is a periodic stop for me, so when I noticed that Portsmouth Public Library owned a copy of this book, I grabbed it. Zach is a co-author, with his wife Kelly, who is a "behavioral ecologist".

That must be an interesting household.

Those ten technologies are explored in … wait, let me count … yes, ten chapters. Conveniently titled: cheap access to space; asteroid mining; fusion power; programmable matter; robotic construction; augmented reality; synthetic biology; precision medicine; bioprinting; and brain-computer interfaces. (A windup chapter discusses a hodgepodge of topics they left out, like quantum computing.) Zach and Kelly interview cutting-edge researchers and technologists in these areas. The book is © 2017, but that's OK; most of this stuff is still in the future.

One exception: the synthetic biology chapter discusses the possibility of designer disease-causing organisms. The latest news, guys, tells me (with "low confidence") that's already happened. I kind of wish we'd gotten fusion power instead.

Their descriptions are a volatile mix of geeky science, out-there engineering, and hilarity. Zach's wacky cartoons appear at appropriate spots in the text. I recommend reading the book in small portions; if you're like me, even very funny stuff gives rise to humor fatigue after a while. (For some reason, there's no Wikipedia page about that; see museum fatigue for a close analog.)

There is a website for the book. Where you can get an app that will demonstrate augmented reality on your phone or tablet. Very nice!

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:26 AM EDT

Super! A Bun Dance!

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
I typed "abundance" into Amazon's search box, and holy cow! I was unaware of how that simple word has worked its way into so many niches of the national consciousness. Hey, try it yourself.

I'm very tempted by Reclaiming The Power Of Hoodoo: A Beginner's Guide To African American Folk Magic to Cultivate Peace & Abundance Within Your Life Through Rootwork & Conjure. A mere $5.99 for the Kindle version.

Our actual Amazon Product du Jour seems good, too. I plan on reading it at some point.

But the so-called "Abundance Agenda" seems to be a concept kicked off by Derek Thompson in an Atlantic article from last year: A Simple Plan to Solve All of America’s Problems.

In the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with a policy agenda that is focused on solving our national problem of scarcity. This agenda would try to take the best from several ideologies. It would harness the left’s emphasis on human welfare, but it would encourage the progressive movement to “take innovation as seriously as it takes affordability,” as Ezra Klein wrote. It would tap into libertarians’ obsession with regulation to identify places where bad rules are getting in the way of the common good. It would channel the right’s fixation with national greatness to grow the things that actually make a nation great—such as clean and safe spaces, excellent government services, fantastic living conditions, and broadly shared wealth.

This is the abundance agenda.

Small observation on Thompson's language: libertarians have an "obsession"; the right has a "fixation". The left merely has an "emphasis".

Christian Britschgi (however) detects The Problem With the 'Abundance Agenda'. First, the good news: folks on the left (like Thompson) are realizing a major reason that We Can't Have Nice Things is government policy:

[Noah] Smith thunders against "the country's broken system of permitting, land use, and development." Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias wants to significantly pare back the environmental review requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act and liberalize immigration until we have "one billion Americans." The Atlantic's Jerusalem Demsas decries America's "permission-slip culture" created by occupational licensing. The New York Times liberal columnist Ezra Klein says plainly that "regulators make it hard to increase supply" of everything from health care technologies to new workers. Everyone hates zoning.

Britschgi says these folks are kidding themselves:

While they see the flaws of the American state as she exists, these abundance agenda evangelists are still hopelessly chained to the idea that they can change her for the better.

The criticisms of the Biden administration's implementation of CHIPS Act subsidies are a useful illustration of the limits of this worldview.

Supply-side progressives are raising hell over the ways regulatory roadblocks are undermining one of the largest expansions of federal corporate welfare in a generation. But investing huge sums of taxpayer money into semiconductor production is inherently a bad, wasteful idea, child care mandates and union work rules notwithstanding.

By all means, get rid of the "regulatory roadblocks". But (at the same time) drop your delusion that government has the wisdom to micromanage innovation and entrepreneurship. Using other peoples' money, naturally.

Briefly noted:

  • Jerry Coyne finds much to cheer when The Atlantic unpacks (and criticizes) woke language. That article, by George Packer, is here: The Moral Case Against Equity Language.

    Packer notes the secular religiosity involved:

    Mastering equity language is a discipline that requires effort and reflection, like learning a sacred foreign tongue—ancient Hebrew or Sanskrit. The Sierra Club urges its staff “to take the space and time you need to implement these recommendations in your own work thoughtfully.” “Sometimes, you will get it wrong or forget and that’s OK,” the National Recreation and Park Association guide tells readers. “Take a moment, acknowledge it, and commit to doing better next time.”

    The liturgy changes without public discussion, and with a suddenness and frequency that keep the novitiate off-balance, forever trying to catch up, and feeling vaguely impious. A ban that seemed ludicrous yesterday will be unquestionable by tomorrow. The guides themselves can’t always stay current. People of color becomes standard usage until the day it is demoted, by the American Heart Association and others, for being too general. The American Cancer Society prefers marginalized to the more “victimizing” underresourced or underserved—but in the National Recreation and Park Association’s guide, marginalized now acquires “negative connotations when used in a broad way. However, it may be necessary and appropriate in context. If you do use it, avoid ‘the marginalized,’ and don’t use marginalized as an adjective.” Historically marginalized is sometimes okay; marginalized people is not. The most devoted student of the National Recreation and Park Association guide can’t possibly know when and when not to say marginalized; the instructions seem designed to make users so anxious that they can barely speak. But this confused guidance is inevitable, because with repeated use, the taint of negative meaning rubs off on even the most anodyne language, until it has to be scrubbed clean. The erasures will continue indefinitely, because the thing itself—injustice—will always exist.

    Coyne notes that Packer's essay is reminiscent of George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language".

  • Andrew C. McCarthy gripes, with much justification: Biden DOJ Discards the Law to Get Trump.

    As is reliably the case when confronted with a choice between law and politics, the Biden Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland has chosen politics.

    The Justice Department has told a federal appeals court that a civil lawsuit brought against former president Donald Trump, alleging damages based on the Capitol riot, should be permitted to go forward. According to prosecutors, if you squint hard enough, Trump’s January 6 Ellipse speech maybe, possibly, conceivably could have been an “incitement of private violence” and, therefore, falls outside the broad immunity afforded to “public communications” by presidents.

    The Justice Department has never charged Trump with incitement, much as it would love to, because it knows such a case would be laughed out of court. Of course, if Merrick Garland’s prosecutors were to concede the truth that Trump did not commit incitement, and that his remarks — though vile and impeachable — were constitutionally protected, there would have been mutiny in the Democratic base that President Biden desperately needs to turn out if he is to have a prayer of being reelected.

    McCarthy notes that "rabid Democratic partisans" are wont to assert that Trump "incited insurrection" on January 6, 2021. Which is problematic, because insurrection is an actual crime, and none of the January 6 participants have been charged with that, over two years later.

  • Jacob Sullum suggests we look beyond yet another instance of our Buffoon-in-Chief being a buffoon: The Flap Over Biden's Comment About 2 Fentanyl Deaths Obscures Prohibition's Role in Causing Them.

    Those two deaths were (indeed) bad: young men taking fentanyl-laced pills that they thought were Percocet. Their mother, Rebecca Kiessling, testifed, tear-jerkingly, to a House committee about that, and linked those pills to a lack of security at the southern border.

    After the hearing, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.) took that implied criticism of the Biden administration a step further. "Listen to this mother, who lost two children to fentanyl poisoning, tell the truth about both of her son's [sic] murders because of the Biden administrations [sic] refusal to secure our border and stop the Cartel's [sic] from murdering Americans everyday by Chinese fentanyl," Greene wrote on Twitter.

    The problem being:

    Since Caleb and Kyler Kiessling died six months before Biden took office, of course, it is logically impossible that his border policies had anything to do with their deaths. That's the point Biden was making when he addressed a meeting of House Democrats in Baltimore on Wednesday night.

    Greene "was very specific recently, saying that a mom, a poor mother who lost two kids to fentanyl, that I killed her sons," Biden said. "Well, the interesting thing: That fentanyl they took came during the last administration." Then he laughed.

    Biden's laughter offended Kiessling. "This is how you speak about the death of my sons?" she said in a Facebook video. "Because a congresswoman misspoke? You mock the loss of my sons? How dare you? What is the matter with you? Almost every Democrat on the committee offered condolences. They at least had the decency to do that. You can't even do that? You have to mock my pain?"

    Sullum notes, rightly enough, that driving this into a partisan narrative obscures the actual problem. Which is the bipartisan "war on drugs".

  • Boy, Mr. Dilbert, Scott Adams, really stepped in it, didn't he? A real pointy-haired boss move there, Scott. Wilfred Reilly has thoughts on The ‘Honest Conversation about Race’ That We Never Have.

    In the specific case of Adams, as rightist commentator Ben Shapiro pointed out, the man very likely would have been offered a prestigious mainstream media job were he a witty black cartoonist who said exactly what he did with the races reversed: Polls indicate that many or most American whites are at least a bit racist, black folks thus have no choice but to view whites as dangerous, and the wise move is to get the hell away from these “mayo monsters” right now! Shapiro’s scenario of a black Scott Adams hired by the New York Times is not fanciful. Over the last 10 or 15 years, one of the fastest-growing sub-genres of hip journalism has been hit pieces accusing whites en bloc of being violent threats or (here with a bit more evidence) complete lunatics.

    In 2017, the New York Times, in fact, ran an op-ed literally titled “Can My Children Be Friends with White People?” From my quick but open-minded read-through, I gleaned that the author’s answer was “not really.” Over in the wilds of Medium, Sundiata Soon-Jahta wrote a popular piece a year ago that sounds almost verbatim like Scott Adams but in reverse. His title? “Why I Walked Away from White People.” And that’s just one example. Anyone curious about whether I am exaggerating for effect can simply search on a phrase such as “the problem with white women” and spend an edifying 15 minutes perusing the results.

    Adams is not stupid, but he does seem to be enmeshed in his own idiosyncratic worldview; that can result in expressing thoughts without regard to their likely impact.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:26 AM EDT

American By Day

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Caveat lector: this 2018 book by Derek B. Miller is a sequel to 2012's Norwegian By Night. I recommend you read that before you read this. (It's also set in the same universe as Miller's How to Find Your Way in the Dark, but you have my permission to read that one anytime you want.)

The protagonist here is Norwegian police detective Sigrid Ødegård. She's sort of troubled by her actions in that preceding book, although she's been exonerated from any wrongdoing by an official investigation. She is tasked by her father to go track down her estranged brother, Marcus, who has been living in America for years. And is now missing. She's reluctant, but the ticket has been purchased, and her dad insists, so…

Sigrid's investigation takes her to upstate New York, where she meets the unconventional sheriff Irving Wylie. And she finds out there might be a very good reason why Marcus is absent: the police really want to question him in the death of his girlfriend, Lydia. It turns out to matter that Lydia was black, and distraught over the police shooting of her nephew, Jeffrey. A child who was playing with a cap pistol. This has caused considerable racial tensions in the community.

And, as it turns out, sad events from Sigrid's and Marcus's childhood might be key to figuring out Marcus's current behavior.

This all sounds pretty grim, and it is, but Derek Miller brings (as usual) a considerable amount of humor. Sigrid's odd-couple interactions with Irving are particularly funny. (At least I think so, but my Norwegian-American genes might predispose me that way.) Such a mix is difficult to bring off, but Miller does a topnotch job.

It's one of the books I found myself imagining the cast of the FX miniseries. Let's see… Steven Root for Sheriff Wylie… except younger. Hollly Hunter for Sigrid… except younger. And Sigourney Weaver playing Sigourney Weaver, except youn… no, you know what? Current-day Sigourney would be just great.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:26 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-03-05 Update

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Our (totally invalid) table shows that Ron DeSantis grabbed a lot more phony hits over the past week, widening his lead over Secretary Pete. And I can't fathom Governor Gavin Newsom's presence in the phony cellar; I mean … look at him, people! And he's top dog in the phoniest state in the union!

In our slightly more realistic look at the betting market, our girl Nikki Haley is threatening to drop below our inclusion probability threshold (2%), Come on, Nikki! Without you, it would be down to a choice between Don or Ron on the GOP side!

Well, there's always "Other". Who shows up at EBO, as I type, with a 10.9% chance of being Your Next President.

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Ron DeSantis 22.1% -0.9% 8,630,000 +3,860,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.3% +0.1% 1,970,000 -550,000
Donald Trump 23.5% +3.0% 1,160,000 +90,000
Joe Biden 27.5% +0.2% 1,050,000 +696,000
Kamala Harris 3.0% -0.1% 750,000 +13,000
Nikki Haley 2.2% -1.3% 119,000 +81,300
Gavin Newsom 2.5% unch 34,800 -10,700

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Jim Geraghty's headline is less than convincing to me: Biden’s Age Can No Longer Be Ignored by Democratic Elites.

    There's a long list of troublesome facts that Democratic elites ignore. What's one more?

    It probably makes a survey sound less useful and reliable if you call it “the Yahoo poll,” but Yahoo News published another round of eye-popping numbers about Americans’ views about the president’s age:

    Nearly 7 in 10 registered voters (68 percent) now say President Biden is “too old for another term,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and more Democrats agree (48 percent) than disagree (34 percent) with that assessment.

    The survey of 1,516 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Feb. 23 to 27, underscores the central challenge facing the oldest president in American history as he gears up for a likely reelection bid — and the difficult position his age is putting his party in.

    For Democrats, the problem is not Biden’s performance in office; they overwhelmingly approve (77 percent) rather than disapprove (20 percent) of how the 80-year-old is handling the job.

    There is a quiet struggle in Democratic circles to grapple with the fact that their desired scenario, the one they’re all working so hard to bring to fruition, ends with an 86-year-old president in the Oval Office in 2028. Eighty-six!

    Geraghty also includes a good anecdote about shooting episodes of the recent Star Trek series, Picard, and how they deal with the age issues surrounding Patrick Stewart, who's only a couple years older than President Wheezy.

  • And in our "It's New To Me" department, a Washington Examiner story from a few months back: Trump rips 'fat,' 'phony,' 'whiny' DeSantis as he aims to clear 2024 GOP field.

    Former President Donald Trump offered a stunning rebuke of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as polls show the latter posing a significant obstacle to the former's 2024 plans.

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    Trump shared his opinions about his former ally to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, whom he spoke to in an on-the-record capacity three times as part of the research for her new book: Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America. Haberman shared details of those conversations in an article for the Atlantic published Sunday, in which the former president claimed credit for DeSantis winning the GOP gubernatorial nomination back in 2018.

    The 45th president called the Florida governor “fat,” “phony,” and “whiny" when Haberman asked about him during a meeting late this summer at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey. It is not clear if Trump offers additional disparaging remarks about DeSantis that are documented in the book and not the Atlantic article.

    Projection, much?

    Amazon link to the Haberman book on your right. Trump had previously called Maggie a "Hillary flunky" and a "third rate reporter".

  • Geraghty quotes Yahoo, so I suppose I can too. Their recent totally unbiased news headline: Trump Flips Out At 'Fake' Fox News For 'Promoting' Ron DeSantis.

    Former President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on Fox News on Monday, accusing the network of downplaying his popularity over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

    “FoxNews is promoting Ron DeSanctus so hard and so much that there’s not much time left for Real News,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “The new Fox Poll, which have always been purposely terrible for me, has ‘TRUMP Crushing DeSanctimonious,’ but they barely show it.”

    “Isn’t there a big, beautiful, Network which wants to do well, and make a fortune besides? FAKE NEWS!” he added.

    The article is by Josephine Harvey, who is (apparently) paid (by Huffpost) to monitor Trump's flip-outs on Truth Social (from Australia). Her specialty seems to be in echoing clever slams emitted by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers. Thank goodness for Josie, because otherwise people would have to watch Jimmy, Seth, et al. on their own and decide whether they were funny all by themselves.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    But Ex-president Bone Spurs wasn't the only one dumping on our phony leader this week. Governor Ron's campaign book came out this week (Amazon link at right), and PolitiFact is all over it with a fact check.

    I see your eyes rolling out there. And I hear you saying: "Politifact, really?" But let's take a look at their best shot. Here's DeSantis:

    Some [Floridians] were thankful for keeping Florida open during the coronavirus pandemic. Others were thankful for keeping their kids in school.

    Politifact's rebuttal:

    In the book's early pages, DeSantis revels in his record of snubbing public health recommendations to curb the spread of COVID-19. But he largely omits the closures of schools and businesses that happened under his watch.

    In April 2020, there were seven states that had not issued stay-at-home orders to their residents; Florida wasn't among them. On April 1, 2020, DeSantis issued an executive order directing all Florida residents to "limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home." The order expired April 30, 2020, and Florida began a phased reopening in May.

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    Though he carved out an exception for religious services and some recreational activities, DeSantis didn't exempt in-person classroom instruction. DeSantis' Department of Education issued a March 13 recommendation that Florida schools close their facilities for an extended spring break before lengthening the closure through the end of the school year in early June.

    "Although COVID-19 has been a huge disruption for Florida students and educators, Florida teachers have done a fantastic job leading the nation in distance learning," DeSantis said April 18, 2020. "Our number one goal is to ensure the safety and security of students and to provide a great education."

    Schools reopened in person in August 2020. DeSantis' office cited that move as evidence of his claim.

    To be fair, Politifact should have noted that, although DeSantis's summary of his pandemic policy was a little rosy, Florida was far less lockdown-friendly than many other states. Leading to items like the Amazon product at your right.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 12:27 PM EDT

I Thought Foo Fighters Was Already a Parody Band …

… but the great Remy can bring this off anyway:

Briefly noted:

  • The WSJ editorialists describe How America Soaks the Affluent.

    President Biden releases his fiscal 2024 budget next week, and he said this week he will again propose a tax increase so that everyone pays their “fair share.” That makes this a good moment to look again at who pays what in income taxes compared with their actual income.

    The Internal Revenue Service recently released its income and tax statistics for 2020, and they show the top 1% of earners paid 42.3% of the country’s income taxes. That’s a two-decade high in the share of taxes the 1% pay.

    I think that a president uttering the phrase "fair share" should be an impeachable offense. It means what it always means: "more".

    The Tax Foundation's analysis of the IRS 2020 tax stats is here.

  • A non-padlocked G-File from Jonah Goldberg explains that Being Is Not a Substitute for Doing. Okay, you probably knew that. After reporting that soon-to-be-ex-mayor of Chicago claims to have been treated "unfairly"::

    So who, exactly, was treating her unfairly? And how did that amorphous unfairness lead to her failures and her ouster? Would a heterosexual white male have had an easier time fighting crime and dysfunction? How so?

    I ask because these are good questions. But I also ask because I think one of the problems afflicting politics these days is the assumption that “being” something is more important than, or a substitute for, doing something—specifically doing your job.

    Take it out of politics for a second. It’s great to have a surgeon or engineer who “shares your values,” or who “looks like you” as the pollsters put it. But most reasonable people don’t put such criteria at the top of their list of qualifications when looking for a surgeon or engineer. 

    “Sure, he cut off the wrong leg, but he was the first Sri Lankan American Jewish surgeon in America. So that’s gotta count for something!” 

    “It’s a shame the bridge collapsed thanks to faulty design, but at least the passengers in those crushed and burning cars can take solace in the fact that they got to drive over a bridge designed by a good Christian.”

    Now, I understand that politics is different from other vocations. Representation matters to voters in the way it doesn’t—or shouldn’t—to medical patients or employers. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In a democracy, voters can take into account anything they think is relevant, and inclusiveness is a perfectly defensible value. But there’s a difference between saying that representation—ethnic, sexual, cultural, religious, whatever—is important and saying that it’s more important than other qualifications and concerns.

    On a related note:

  • George F. Will explains, if necessary: Why ‘Buy American’ is misguided and, alas, full of bipartisan appeal.

    “Buy American,” like protectionism generally, can protect some blue-collar jobs — but at a steep price: A Peterson Institute for International Economics study concludes that it costs taxpayers $250,000 annually for each job saved in a protected industry. And lots of white-collar jobs are created for lawyers seeking waivers from the rules. And for accountants tabulating U.S. content in this and that, when, say, an auto component might cross international borders (U.S., Canadian, Mexican) five times before it is ready for installation in a vehicle.

    In the usual braying-and-pouting choreography of the State of the Union evening, members of the president’s party leap ecstatically when he praises himself, and members of the other party respond sullenly, by not responding. This year, however, something unusual happened when President Biden vowed to “require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America.” A bipartisan ovation greeted his promise to reduce the purchasing power of tax dollars spent on infrastructure projects by raising the cost of materials.

    This will mean more borrowing, not fewer projects. Federal spending is not constrained by a mere shortage of revenue. So, Biden was promising to increase the deficit. And this policy, which elicited red-and-blue bonhomie in the State of the Union audience, also will give other nations an excuse to retaliate (often doing what they want to do anyway) by penalizing U.S. exporters of manufactured goods.

    Yet another seen/unseen case for Detective Bastiat. Biden seems to be showing that he can be even worse than Trump in this area.

  • Peter Suderman describes how Decades of Subsidies Made the Basics of Middle Class Life Too Expensive.

    Perhaps the simplest way to diagnose the problem with American politics right now is that it is out of touch. Democrats and Republicans have spent the better part of the last decade arguing about partisan peccadillos and culture war obsessions, while middle-class concerns have languished. And thus a new movement has risen mostly but not exclusively on the technocratic center-left, intent on refocusing liberal politics in general and Democratic politicians in particular on workaday economic concerns.

    This movement has many strains and individual obsessions, but it is united by a shared thesis: The basics of middle-class life—especially but not only housing, education, and health care—have become too expensive, and politicians should seek to remedy this via policy interventions.

    Their ask is for politicians to focus more on policies intended to make it easier for nonpoor, nonwealthy Americans to afford what amounts to a consensus middle-class lifestyle: a home, access to health care, quality schooling for the kids. They want the American Dream, more or less, and they want most ordinary families to be able to afford it.

    Suderman analyzes a few cases where the "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help" paradigm has really screwed things up: higher ed, health care, zoning.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    Since I read Hate Crime Hoax by Wilfred Reilly (Amazon link at right), I was not at all surprised to hear this news out of Caltech East: LGBTQ slurs found at MIT done by students protesting school’s new pro-free speech efforts.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology students behind flyers and chalkings recently found at the school that included slurs against LGBTQ people were protesting the university’s emerging policies in support of free speech.

    The incident came in the wake of a two-month-old MIT faculty resolution that defends freedom of speech and expression — even speech some find “offensive or injurious.”

    A Feb. 23 memo from MIT administrators stated flyers posted across campus and some chalking outside a school entrance “contained slurs directly targeting the LBGTQ+ community.”

    MIT’s bias response team investigated, the memo added, and determined “the messages were put up by students choosing to use extreme speech to call attention to and protest what they see as the implications of” several new pro-free speech policies and efforts at the school.

    "Hate crime hoaxes: not just for stoking racial animosity any more."

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:25 AM EDT

Also: "         is here."

(Any words in the blank work.)


Briefly noted:

  • A few days back, I mentioned that I was going to write my state senator, David Watters, and urge him to check out the Intellectual Freedom Protection Act Draft from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), meant to bar public universities from demanding "diversity statements", in essence loyalty oaths to woke ideology, for purposes of hiring and promoting faculty.

    I got a perfunctory response:

    Thanks. It’s worth noting that NH and particularly USNH rank very high on intellectual freedom rankings.

    Um, OK. My response:

    Thanks for your response. The aforementioned Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) does give UNH pretty high marks for its current good speech code (after years of having a bad one). Unfortunately, they rank it as mediocre or worse on a number of other criteria; see

    If you're interested in further investigating the argument against "diversity statement" requirements, the Academic Freedom Alliance has come out against their use. Their statement:

    No response to that yet.

    I should note that, in addition to being a powerful NH Democrat politician, Senator Watters is a UNH Professor Emeritus. Which means he's been around for a number of controversies in this area. (Like me.) Sometimes you get lucky, however, with actual liberals who are dismayed by campus wokism.

  • More on that general topic from John Sailer, who describes, for the WSJ, How the NIH Pushes DEI on Scientists.

    The day after the Journal published my article “How ‘Diversity’ Policing Fails Science,” which exposed how Texas Tech University used job applicants’ diversity statements as ideological litmus tests, the university announced it would end its use of such statements for faculty hiring. Other universities would be well advised to follow Texas Tech’s lead. But it is unlikely they will. The federal government is spending nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to promote the practice Texas Tech jettisoned.

    In 2020 the National Institutes of Health created the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation program “to enhance and maintain cultures of inclusive excellence in the biomedical research community.” The program will give 12 institutions a total of $241 million over nine years for diversity-focused faculty hiring. Under the terms of the grants, only candidates who demonstrate “a strong commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence” can be hired through the program. To apply, candidates must submit a diversity statement.

    Seems as if the NIH decided that whole "curing illness" thing was too hard, and decided to promote failed ideology instead.

  • Slashdot provides the latest news from the public health nannies: More Than Half of Humans On Track To Be Overweight or Obese By 2035, Report Finds. Oh no! It's from the Guardian:

    More than half of the world's population will be overweight or obese by 2035 unless governments take decisive action to curb the growing epidemic of excess weight, a report has warned. About 2.6 billion people globally -- 38% of the world population -- are already overweight or obese. But on current trends that is expected to rise to more than 4 billion people (51%) in 12 years' time, according to research by the World Obesity Federation.

    Without widespread use of tactics such as taxes and limits on the promotion of unhealthy food, the number of people who are clinically obese will increase […]

    … and that's pretty much where I stopped reading. Treating people as if they were adults, and responsible for their own dietary choices is not a considered option to these people. (I almost wrote "fatheads" there. Shame on me.)

    Of course, part of this is the inevitable result of socialized medicine. When your personal choices have a perceived impact on your consumption of taxpayer-paid health services, those choices quickly become everyone else's business, subject to a whole lot of "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots."

    People have to die of something however. Could be that folks dying of weight-related maladies actually save their "health care systems" money on net.

  • And finally: J.D. Tuccille's Son Did His Taxes for the First Time. Rage Ensued.

    Nothing focuses the mind quite so intently on the sheer stupidity of government as doing your taxes. What is taken from us is excessive, the intrusiveness is maddening, and the rules are byzantine, which is the distilled essence of most of our interactions with the state. So, it was with a certain degree of anticipation that I told my son that, after working hard at the supermarket in addition to his homeschooling and martial arts, he would have to file his first tax return. Much fun ensued.

    Given the complexity of our returns, involving a trust, commercial real estate, and business entities, my wife and I pay an accountant to wrangle our taxes. But before Anthony heads down that path, we thought he should understand what it means to fill out his own return and hope for the best.

    "What happens if you guess wrong?" he asked.

    "Well, there's no actual right answer in terms of how much you're supposed to pay. If you can even reach them, IRS employees contradict each other all the time because nobody really understands the rules. But if you come up with something they don't like, they just might destroy your life."

    "Oh, shit," he said.

    It's pretty funny, if you find a young person's gradual realization that they are under the control of an absurd and irrational system that must be appeased amusing.

    I have a relatively simple tax situation, and can only chuckle at the games involved of getting money from the Feds (Social Security), sending some of it back (Estimated Taxes), finding out how much of what's left is subject to further taxation (a hefty amount calculated via an opaque formula), hoping Turbo Tax didn't forget to ask me something, then either sending in more money, or waiting for some of that (poorly) estimated tax to come back to our bank account.

    Amusing because I'm used to it. I understand how people get outraged instead.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

L'tyran, C'est Moi


Need a translation? Didn't think so.

Briefly noted:

  • David Boaz writes on the Bowdlerization craze, focusing on Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl. (With Ian Fleming also mentioned.) Specifically, Boaz includes Bradbury's "Coda" to a 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451, an edition of which had been "deliberately altered by people who no doubt thought they had the best of intentions." (Details on that "expurgation" are available at Wikipedia.)


    There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people run­ning about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh‐day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc‐mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

    By the way, just as a data point: as I type, Amazon's prices for original versions of Ian Fleming's From Russia, With Love are "from $49.99". For a mass market paperback. Used.

    I'd start checking out the local used bookstores, but I'm almost certain I'm too late for that.

  • As long as we're talking about books, Bruce Gilley notes that the attention paid to "book banning" is (unsurprisingly) asymmetric: it's Weeding for Me, Banning for Thee.

    On March 2, the magazine of record for professional librarians in the United States, Library Journal, will host an online seminar entitled “Resisting Book Bans.” On the surface, the seminar could not be more timely. Since 2018, academic and public libraries have been banning books with increasing frequency because they fail to promote the progressive political agenda of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). In a survey of 220 college and university libraries that had conducted “DEI audits,” published last year by information provider Gale Cengage and Library Journal, one third of the respondents said that book bans were being used for materials that had been caught up in the DEI dragnet.

    But the March 2 seminar has nothing to say about these DEI book bans. Instead, it concerns the removal from K–12 school and public libraries of sexually explicit and transgender-promoting books at the behest of parents, including a section on “tactics for school board meetings.”

    The chasm between what modern librarians consider inappropriate for libraries and what modern parents and taxpayers consider inappropriate has grown to Grand Canyon proportions. But if “intellectual freedom” is at stake, as the upcoming seminar asserts, then it is the librarians, not the parents and members of the public, whose actions are the biggest threat. After all, the latter have argued merely for the delay of certain complex and challenging materials for young readers, rarely for outright removal. The librarians, on the other hand, have no qualms about declaring books and magazines that do not conform to the current academic zeitgeist to be off-limits for all time.

    I've had pretty good luck with getting conservative/libertarian-leaning books via the interlibrary loan service of the University Near Here. But not everyone has that option.

  • Jonah Goldberg reports on somewhat chilling modern morality: Getting Away With Murder, Sort Of.

    There’s a hoary old thought experiment I want to fiddle with. 

    It goes something like this: Imagine if I showed you a button and said, “If you press this button I will give you $1 million, but one random person will die as a result. No one will know. You will probably never even know who it was you killed.”

    You’ll be surprised—or maybe you won’t!—by how many people say “yes” to this offer. There’s even a website dedicated to an even starker version of the question; 10 random strangers will die. As of now, nearly two-thirds of the people who took the poll say they’d press the button. In the comments, you can see the rationalizations—posing as rank utilitarianism—flow:

    “People die every day. At least something good may come from it.”

    “Just use some of the money to save at least 11 people and it will be all good.”

    “Those are strangers, i don’t give a f**k. Peoples die by thousands every days, 10 more or less, who cares?”

    Here’s the thing. If I gave you a good sniper rifle and made you the exact same deal—but instead of a random person you won’t ever see I said, “Shoot one of the random people in that park across the street!”—the moral issues do not change in the slightest, but the psychological ones change a lot. My guess is fewer people would take the deal. But fewer is not zero.

    Jonah has a wider story to tell from there. Worth your time, perhaps.

  • Matt Ridley writes on furin cleavage sites, and why they mean that The case for the lab-leak theory grows stronger by the day.

    In every living creature, DNA’s messages, spelling out the recipe for making and running the organism, are written in a simple four-letter cipher: A, C, G and T. (Coronavirus messages are written in the almost identical language of RNA, but virologists use the DNA equivalent letters to avoid confusion.) And here’s a short burst of that text that is right at the heart of the evidence for a possible lab leak: cct cgg cgg gca. That code is the recipe for four amino acids in a particular region of the spike protein of the virus: proline, arginine, arginine, alanine, or PRRA.

    It turns out that this message is unique to SARS-CoV-2. That is to say, if you look at every other sarbecovirus (SARS-like beta coronavirus) ever discovered – and there are hundreds of them – they all lack this little message in this place. You can line them up and show how the text matches almost perfectly up to that point and after that point, but the 12-letter text has been inserted into just the SARS-CoV-2 genome and into none of the others.

    It’s not just any message. It transforms the virus’s ability to infect human cells and is the reason we had a pandemic and not a minor outbreak in 2020. That is because a concentration of arginines in this part of the virus spike attracts the attention of a human enzyme, which cuts the spike protein at this point so that it opens up like a flower, priming the virus to infect other cells.

    Much more detail at the link. But here's Matt's bottom line:

    To summarise. A bat coronavirus pandemic began in the city with the biggest bat coronavirus lab in the world, a long way from where those viruses are found naturally. It was caused by the first and so-far only sarbecovirus with a furin cleavage site in it, a feature that had been inserted into other coronaviruses nearby, and that had been planned to be inserted into a sarbecovirus for the first time. And the lab in question has refused repeatedly to publish a list of all the viruses it possesses. Oh, and the other possible cause of the pandemic – an infected animal in a market – has still never shown up.

    Any questions, class?

  • Philip Greenspun experiments with AI, and bids Farewell to Black History Month from ChatGPT. When asked:

    Can you list me 5 things that white people need to improve?

    followed by:

    Can you list me 5 things that black people need to improve?

    ChatGPT's responses are … significantly different. Check it out, and wonder just whose "intelligence" is being synthesized here. An undergraduate Women's and Gender Studies major?

    (Note that Philip says this is from February 5. ChatGPT may offer different responses now.)

  • Maddox Locher offers 30 Priceless Quotes from the Great Thomas Sowell.

    OK, let's literally pick one at random:

    	% perl -e 'print 1 + int rand 30, "\n";'

    Fine. Number 12 it is:

    1. “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

    True dat.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT

On the Road Again

Specifically, on the road to serfdom. A tweet via Tyler Cowen:

This is all "thanks" to last year's CHIPS Act ("Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act of 2022"). The Biden Administration was not content simply to shovel money into the maw of semiconductor manufacturers. It also guaranteed they would produce the really expensive semiconductors.

So we'll pay twice: once for the subsidies, then again when it's time to buy those subsidized products.

If you prefer text, the WSJ editorialists have that: The Chips Act Becomes Industrial Social Policy.

Government subsidies are never free, and now we are learning the price U.S. semiconductor firms and others will pay for signing on to President Biden’s industrial policy. They will become the indentured servants of progressive social policy.

Democrats last year snookered Republicans into passing their $280 billion Chips Act, which includes $39 billion in direct financial aid for chip makers and a 25% investment tax credit. Republicans hoped this would satisfy West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, but after Chips passed he quickly flipped and endorsed the Inflation Reduction Act.

Now the Administration is using the semiconductor subsidies to impose much of the social policy that was in the failed Build Back Better bill. On Tuesday Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo rolled out the new rules for chip makers and summed up the politics to the New York Times: “If Congress wasn’t going to do what they should have done, we’re going to do it in implementation” of the subsidies.

Yes, she actually said that. Next month: "Legislation? We don't need no stinking legislation!".

Briefly noted:

  • In our "Bad Ideas That Will Not Die" department, the Josiah Bartlett Center recounts the latest Boondoggle: State study shows soaring costs, plunging ridership for commuter rail.

    The January, 2023, draft of the state’s Capital Corridor commuter rail study contains nothing that commuter rail boosters should like. The financial analysis, prepared for the state Department of Transportation by AECOM Technical Services Inc. of Manchester, envisions a nearly $800 million railroad serving fewer than 100 Manchester commuters per trip, at an operating cost of $17 million per year. This represents a dramatic increase in costs and a devastating collapse in ridership since the DOT released its first Capital Corridor study in 2014.

    The report’s own dismal numbers show that Manchester-Boston commuter rail would squander hundreds of millions of dollars to serve only a few hundred riders per day, making it a colossal boondoggle.

    Michael Graham piles on at NH Journal: $800M for a Manchester Choo Choo? That's Just the Taxpayers' Down Payment. As the JBC noted, the current cost estimate is nearly $800 million. But:

    Except, it won’t cost $800 million. It will cost far more. How do we know? Because large transportation projects always cost more. Boston’s Big Dig started with a price tag of $3 billion. It has cost more than $23 billion (and counting), and it was so poorly constructed it killed someone the first year it was fully open.

    California’s super-sexy high-speed rail project was supposed to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles at speeds of 200 mph for just $33 billion. Now it’s a $113 billion-plus boondoggle that sends trains at a traditional speed between two mid-sized cities.

    Is New Hampshire somehow different? As the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy noted, the New Hampshire DOT’s construction cost estimate has jumped 250 percent since the 2014 study. With Biden administration rules mandating (above market) union wages and (more expensive) U.S. manufactured construction supplies, does anyone seriously expect this number to go anywhere but up?

    And for what? To get a few hundred commuters from Manchester to Boston in an hour and a half–each way? How many Granite Staters want a three-hour round trip to Boston’s South Station? What do they do once they get there? Catch the T or pay for an Uber? Speaking of which — how did they get to the new taxpayer-funded $51 million Manchester train station in the first place?

    Ackshually, the proposal is to get the commuters to North Station, not South Station. Arguably an even less convenient terminus.

  • At the Free Press, John Tierney reveals The Real Science on Masks: They Make No Difference.

    We now have the most authoritative estimate of the value provided by wearing masks during the pandemic: approximately zero. The most rigorous and extensive review of the scientific literature concludes that neither surgical masks nor N95 masks have been shown to make a difference in reducing the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

    This verdict ought to be the death knell for mask mandates, but that would require the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the rest of the public health establishment to forsake “the science”—and unfortunately, these leaders and their acolytes in the media seem as determined as ever to ignore actual science.

    If you walk into one of the places that require masking (there are still some around here) you might hand them a printed copy of Tierney's article. Or read it aloud to them.

  • Jonathan Turley is more than a little steamed: COVID lab leak is a scandal of media and government censorship.

    For years, the media and government allied to treat anyone raising a lab theory as one of three possibilities: conspiracy theorist or racist or racist conspiracy theorist.

    No apologies have been given.

  • On that same topic, Rich Lowry: Anatomy of a Taboo.

    Undergirding much of the coverage was a belief that misinformation, unless rigorously policed, could do terrible things . . . like get Donald Trump elected. Chris Cillizza accused Senator Tom Cotton of “playing a dangerous game with his coronavirus speculation,” noting that we are supposedly living in “a post-truth world” pushed by Donald Trump.

    A New York Times story referred to the term “infodemic,” reportedly used by World Health Organization workers to denote the dangers of misinformation.

    In this context, journalists clearly felt motivated to clamp down on anything that hadn’t received the official imprimatur as duly vetted and approved “information.” With this mindset, reporters were primed to dismiss dissidents and doubters and tilt toward declaring an unsettled question settled.

    And of course, one of the bedrock principles: "If Trump Believes It Might Be True, It Must Be False".