Memorial Day 2023

Our yearly reminder: with whatever fun we're having today, let's all not forget to remember.

[Memorial Day]

Story about the picture here.

The Long Tomorrow

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I couldn't help but notice that this book is one of the elements in the clickbait listicle at Gizmodo: 10 Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them). I've now read six out of the ten.

But seeing that list was coincidence. I've owned this book since the mid 1970s (retail price $1.25 back then, nowadays the paperback will set you back $15.00 at Amazon). Reading Chandler's The Big Sleep back in February reminded me that the author, Leigh Brackett, was one of the screenwriters for the Bogie movie. And that also reminded me that she got a screenwriting credit for "The Empire Strikes Back". Now that's a career. But how about this book?

Originally published in 1955, it's a dystopian novel of sorts. It's set decades after a big old nuclear war that didn't quite put us back to the Stone Age, but squarely back in the 19th century. Cities are gone, and the USA has passed the Thirtieth Amendment, which forbids towns greater than 1000 people, or more than 200 buildings per square mile. The most advanced technology: some clunky steam engines. There's—literally—old time religion, a lot of various flavors of Mennonite.

What puts the "dys" in this dystopia: anything that might threaten to bring back the bad old days of near-armageddon is ruthlessly quashed, usually by lawless mob violence driven by fear.

Against this backdrop, young Len Coulter is feeling the stirrings of curiousity and rebellion. His cousin Esau is also chafing under societal constraints, but does something Len would never consider: stealing a gadget from the horsecart of the mysterious trader Ed Hostetter. And then swiping some pre-war textbooks. Pretty soon Len and Esau find themselves in hot holy water, and their yearnings cause them to bug out of their community in search of the fabled city of Bartorstown!

Which they eventually come to. But it's not what they expected.

A few pages in, I was wondering if this was published as a juvenile. (Heinlein was writing his juveniles in the 1950s, after all.) Then a few more pages in, I realized there was quite a bit of explicit violence; maybe a no-no for school library shelves. Then a surprising amount of, well, sex. Discreetly described, but still. Given what I've heard about school libraries, it might fit right in today.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:59 AM EDT

Still on Hiatus, But…

An important reminder of what all the best people were saying back then:

The Overstory

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This book was on the New York Times Best Books Of The Last 125 Years list, as voted on by their readers. I turned that list (the ones I hadn't already read) into a reading project. And so… I was underwhelmed by this one. But now I only have five books to go!

But I can see why NYT readers might like it! It also won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. But so did Walter Duranty.

I went in knowing next to nothing about it, not even reading the dust cover flaps. This was a good move. The first section of the book, “Roots”, is wonderful: essentially eight short stories, presenting nine characters. The stories are variously horrible, hilarious, heartfelt, honest, heartbreaking, and that’s just the Hs. If only the rest of the book were like this. Instead, things take a turn toward the tedious, tendentious, tortuous,... Ah well.

I think this is the ecological version of War and Peace. And I say that never having read War and Peace.

Executive summary: It's about trees. Trees are good. Trees are our friends. And we're so mean to them.

So: a grownup version of The Giving Tree and The Lorax. (There are shout-outs to both these works along the way.) We follow those nine characters over the next few decades, and a host of others, as they get into eco-activism, branching into eco-protests, then to eco-vandalism, and … eventually worse. Not all the earnest folks in the book make it to the final pages.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:59 AM EDT

"You Are Not Expected to Understand This"

How 26 Lines of Code Changed the World

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A fun book, a collection of essays about coding. One of my main duties in my old job at the University Near Here. The topics are super diverse. The book’s title is taken from an amusing comment in the context-switching code in Version 6 UNIX back in the mid-70s. People thought it was meant to imply the associated code was tricky, obscure, and somewhat incomprehensible. (We’ve all seen code like that.) But the actual purpose was different, it seems.

What was, arguably, the very first line of code? “The answer may surprise you.”

There are essays about the origins of email, computer gaming (Spacewar!), Internet Relay Chat, JPEG, web bugs, popup ads, search engines, the “Like” button. Bitcoin. Roomba. The encryption algorithm Your Federal Government tried to classify as a “munition” and (unsuccessfully) suppress. Famous bugs: Heartbleed, the Morris Worm, the doomed Mars Climate Orbiter. The VW code that caused their diesel cars to cheat on emissions testing. The demise of databases that demanded a strict gender binary.

Unfortunately there are a couple clunkers. The essay on the development of BASIC starts: “During the first half of 1964, two college-age White men, …” If you see that as a warning flag that what follows will be remarkably tedious, you're correct: the author constructs a clumsy framework of racial grievance over boring old history. Almost as bad is “The Police Beat Algorithm”, a tendentious description of an effort to direct law enforcement most heavily toward locales and people with unusually high levels of crime. Surprise, this had a “disparate impact” on communities of color. The author takes this as prima facie evidence of nefarious racism instead of an effort to minimize victimization. The author doesn’t point out that the victims in high-crime areas are also disproportionately “Black and brown”.

Overall, though, an interesting read.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:58 AM EDT

Burning Down the House

How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed

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Every so often, I try to read outside my ideological comfort zone. This book, by Andrew Koppelman, counts.

Koppelman bills himself as a "pro-capitalist leftist". I'll put my cards on the table too: I'm a Schrödinger-catlike mixture of National Review-style conservatism and Reason-style libertarianism, about 65-35 weight on the libertarian side. (I subscribe to both magazines, and my disagreements with their articles and editorials are nearly always mild.)

My disagreements with Koppelman are somewhat less mild. But lets get to the good news first: he has studied the "big" libertarian thinkers and popularizers: Hayek, Nozick, Rand, Mises, Rothbard. Others are mentioned less thoroughly: Epstein, Friedman (Milton and David), Barnett, … And some not at all: Sowell, Machan, Murray,…) He also deals with pols and influencers: Reagan, Paul (Ron and Rand), Koch (Charles and David). While he's critical, sometimes very critical, thumbs up for (at least mostly) reading and understanding these folks' arguments and positions. He's most complimentary to Hayek (that's the man himself on the cover, looking out of that burning house on the cover). But his take is a bit weird.

In contrast, Koppelman's own position draws heavily on John Rawls, whose Theory of Justice arguments and their subsequent refinements are described less critically.

Let's be fair: Koppleman's is not a totally crazy position. He's a fan of the European social democracies, with their relatively free economies, strong civil liberties, but also big social "safety nets", financed by high rates of taxation.

He claims that libertarianism has pretty much taken over both political parties. The Democrats hold "Hayekian" (i.e., sensible, respectable) positions, the GOP "Rothbardian" (i.e., crazy, greedy, and stupid) ones. It comes as a huge shock to libertarians that they've actually been in control all this time.

I said above that I was mostly a Reason-style libertarian. You would think that a book purporting to examine the current state of libertarianism might pay more attention to the arguments and proposals carried in that magazine. But no, Reason is pretty much AWOL here; Koppelman prefers to take his shots at people who mostly have been dead for more than a couple decades.

Overall, the book was a constant irritant, even given the author’s occasional pro-capitalism nods. There are a lot of exceptions to that pro-capitalism stance that pile up over the chapters. Koppelman never met a crisis that failed to justify government intervention. Nary a social problem that doesn’t call for some combination of regulations, fines, mandates, bailouts, prohibitions, and subsidies. Covid? Koppelman's disappointed that things weren't more stringent; if only it weren't for those damn libertarians griping about everything. Climate change, of course, calls for serious clampdowns on emissions.

Despite his admiration for Hayek, he pooh-poohs the notion that we’re on the Road to Serfdom; we heeded Hayek’s warnings and now all is well! It’s as if he’s never read Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs (another ignored author).

The book’s title refers to a Tennessee incident back in 2010, where a house burned to the ground despite the presence of the fire department from a nearby town. People in the area had the option of paying a yearly subscription fee for the department’s services, but the house’s owner “forgot” to do that. This is Koppelman’s lead-off example of a “corrupted variety” of libertarianism. (The fire department in question was government-owned, and was operating under the control of its democratically-elected town government, but never mind.)

On taxation, Koppelman, like most leftists, points to the fabled 1950s when the top marginal income tax rate was 90% and everything was great! QED! Not mentioned: Federal government receipts averaged 16.5% of GDP in the 1950s; in (for example) FY2022 they were 19.2% and rising. He likes Hayek, but I'm not sure he likes Chapter 20 of The Constitution of Liberty, "Taxation and Redistribution". He doesn't talk about it much.

It's disappointing that Koppelman doesn't deal with substantive criticisms of Rawls' Theory of Justice. See, for example, Michael Munger's lecture exercise where he puts his students behind an actual "veil of ignorance" and asks them to decide on redistribution strategy; his results are non-Rawlsian. Maybe not a total knock-down argument, but close.

I'd also recommend the symposium on Koppelman's book hosted at Jack Balkin's blog. Which includes responses from Koppelman to his critics there.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:58 AM EDT

The Night Shift

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I noticed author Alex Finlay last July when investigating Joyce Carol Oates' claim that "first novels by young white male writers" were being rejected unread by publishers. Due to whiteness and maleness. Controversial claim! My test was to look at a couple articles ("15 Best Debut Authors of 2021" from GoBookMart and "10 best debut novelists of 2021" from the Guardian) to discover they were pretty low on young white guys. Specifically, 20%.

Finlay appeared on GoBookMart's list on the strength of his novel Every Last Fear, deemed "a perfect spine chiller". Finlay's website has more raves. So I put that on my "Get At Library" list.

But in the meantime, his second novel, this one, appeared at Amazon, the Kindle version going (at the time) for a mere $2.99. I hit that "Buy Now" button so fast…

Sorry for the long-winded explanation. I don't know why I think other people would be interested in my haphazard methods of book-picking. On to the book:

On New Year's Eve 1999, the Blockbuster Video store in Linden NJ, is about to close up. Unfortunately, before that can happen, most of the staff are stabbed to death, leaving a sole survivor, Ella. A suspect is named (bad boy "Vince"), arrested, released for lack of evidence, and then vanishes, assumed to be on the lam.

Then, years later, another knife-based slaughter occurs in the Dairy Creamery, a late-night Linden ice cream store. Again, there's only one survivor, Jesse. Ella has become a therapist. And she's called in to help Jesse deal with her trauma.

Complications abound. Ella's a therapist, but she's overly fond of booze, pills, and sex with strangers. Jesse's an aspiring journalist, but she likes to live on the edge herself. And remember vanished Vince? Is he back, and up to his old mass-murdering tricks? Maybe, but since 1999, his brother Chris has escaped their abusive dad, gotten adopted, has become a public defense attorney, and gets assigned to defend the accused in the Dairy Creamery murders.

And then there's FBI agent Sarah Keller, who's eight months pregnant with twins, gets roped in on the investigation. She and her partner Atticus Singh have a marginal role: see if Vince could be the perpetrator of this new horror. They do not remain marginal.

And many more. It's a twisty plot, involving many characters, many murders, Dickensian coincidences in addition to the ones mentioned above. Finlay does a pretty good job of pulling all this off; it's a definite page-turner. (Or, on my new Kindle, a screen-poker.)

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:58 AM EDT

Hiatus II

For personal reasons, I'm taking an indefinite suspension of normal ("Default") Pun Salad blogging. It will probably be on the order of months.

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

Thanks for reading. Best wishes to all.

Sure, Why Not?

[Amazon Link]
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Jim I. Geraghty asks the burning question: Could Joe Manchin Become the H. Ross Perot of 2024? And Susan Collins become the Admiral Stockdale?

After noting that Trump is a big fan of (fellow loser) Kari Lake…

Needless to say, plenty of Americans would cringe at the choice of Biden-Harris or Trump-Lake. Meanwhile, the organization No Labels aims to get on the ballot in all 50 states and is expected to have at least $70 million to fund a major independent bid for the presidency.

And West Virginia senator Joe Manchin keeps refusing to rule out a presidential bid. He faces challenging odds in his Senate reelection. Earlier this year, Manchin and GOP senator Susan Collins of Maine headlined a No Labels event. (Obvious joke: How should you describe a No Labels event?)

Our Amazon Product du Jour is a mere $1.99 on Kindle. It was published back in 2014, and its introductory essay was by… Senator Joe Manchin! Followed by a couple ditties from … Jon Huntsman! Remember him?

"No Labels" is heavy on anodyne feel-good messaging. For example, the word "commonsense"—they like spelling it that way—appears four times on their front page.

Also of note:

  • A WIRED tongue bath. Virginia Heffernan provides one for the Secretary of Transportation: Pete Buttigieg Loves God, Beer, and His Electric Mustang. The needle on the sycophancy meter is in the red from the start:

    The curious mind of Pete Buttigieg holds much of its functionality in reserve. Even as he discusses railroads and airlines, down to the pointillist data that is his current stock-in-trade, the US secretary of transportation comes off like a Mensa black card holder who might have a secret Go habit or a three-second Rubik’s Cube solution or a knack for supplying, off the top of his head, the day of the week for a random date in 1404, along with a non-condescending history of the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

    As Secretary Buttigieg and I talked in his underfurnished corner office one afternoon in early spring, I slowly became aware that his cabinet job requires only a modest portion of his cognitive powers. Other mental facilities, no kidding, are apportioned to the Iliad, Puritan historiography, and Knausgaard’s Spring—though not in the original Norwegian (slacker). Fortunately, he was willing to devote yet another apse in his cathedral mind to making his ideas about three mighty themes—neoliberalism, masculinity, and Christianity—intelligible to me.

    Oh my. Oh dear. This reads like a parody. So bad, it inspired commentary by David Harsanyi: Let’s Probe The Beautiful, Voluminous, And Transcendent Mind Of The World’s Most Remarkable Human Being, Pete Buttigieg

    When Heffernan asks our hero whether “Republicans really want to be dragged into a bigger far-right project, including the renunciation of democracy, modernity, civil rights, human rights,” the greatest mind of our generation — perhaps any — treats readers to his fresh, incisive perspective. The “two greatest pillars of the mainstream right” destroying “democracy, modernity, civil rights, human rights,” says Mayor Pete, are GOP’s efforts to limit abortion and “lower taxes for the wealthy.”

    I bet you dummies are pretty mad you never thought of that, right? But, to top it off, Mayor Pete drops these words on us:

    “They’re now the dog that caught the car. And, to switch metaphors, they rode a tiger to get there. They made a lot of distasteful bargains in order to get there.”

    Who can argue? The man who once told us that the “shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue,” also illuminates our understanding Christianity. “When you’re making public policy,” the political left’s go-to man on faith notes, “you’re often asking yourself, ‘How does this choice help people who would have the least going for them?’” Help the poor? Finally, a new concept for Christians to ponder!

    And (no surprise) it also inspired wicked, albeit easy, parody, for example, from Charles C. W. Cooke: A Profile: I Love Pete Buttigieg.

    We chit-chat for a while about minutiae — Fermat, musical counterpoint, the known origins of the umlaut — and then, unbidden, he opens up about his personal life. “I like water,” he tells me, effervescently. “I drink it often — sometimes cold.” “Tell me more,” I ask girlishly, sensing that he has more to give. “I like pizza, too,” he adds. “I have a pizza oven at home. We use it on Saturdays.”

    I don’t mind admitting it, but I’m transfixed. The man’s mind is a cathedral, and I, a mere congregant, have been invited into its inner sanctum. “I also have a car,” he offers. “It has batteries in it instead of gasoline. Electric!”

    It is.

    “Do you have any questions?” he asks me. “Yes,” I say. “Which of these do you find the most enchanting: Helicopters, barges, or monorails?”

    The answer to parody-Heffernan's query may surprise you!

  • Authoritarians want you to forget a great many things. (Stephanie) Slade lists one at the top of the list: Post-Liberal Authoritarians Want You To Forget That Private Companies Have Rights

    On Wednesday night, Sen. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio) took the stage at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and declared—to the astonishment of many who subsequently read the quote online—that "there is no meaningful distinction between the public and the private sector in the American regime."

    The remark came during a panel discussion about Regime Change, a new book by the "post-liberal" Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen, in which Deneen argues that classical liberals and left-progressives are all pushing the same agenda and need to be "replaced" by a new conservative elite.Reason.)

    I really liked Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy. I didn't like some of the things he said during his election campaign, but I hoped he'd get better in office. Guess not.

  • Just in case you were in doubt. Eli Lake has his take on the Durham Report: The FBI Didn’t Persecute Hillary. It Protected Her

    If the Durham report shows anything, it is that the FBI leadership bent over backward to protect Clinton’s campaign while launching a full investigation into Trump’s campaign on the thinnest of pretexts. In other words, the FBI was not really the Clinton campaign’s persecutor, as so many insisted over the past few years, as much as its protector.

    “The speed and manner in which the FBI opened and investigated Crossfire Hurricane during the presidential election season based on raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence,” the Durham report observes, referring to the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign, “reflected a noticeable departure from how it approached prior matters involving possible attempted foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign.”

    Consider the bureau’s approach to Clinton.

    The Durham report notes that, in early 2016, a confidential FBI source arranged for a sizable donation to Clinton’s campaign from a foreign country. Instead of taking steps to learn what might be in the works, the bureau eventually instructed the source to stay away from the Clinton campaign. Then, it offered Clinton’s lawyers what is known as a defensive briefing, so Clinton was aware of the foreign country’s efforts to help her.

    … which was something they never "offered" to Trump. More at the link, but the bottom line:

    All of this is a black eye for the FBI. The bureau is supposed to be above politics. Its leaders are supposed to show fidelity to the law and act without partisan favor. Comey, McCabe, and their deputies were guilty of a confirmation bias so severe it led them to embrace partisan falsehoods to get their man, and the republic is still paying the price for their failures. To this day, millions of loyal MSNBC viewers and most Democrats in Congress still act like it’s 2017, and Donald Trump is a Kremlin agent.

    It was a hoax six years ago. It’s a farce today.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:57 AM EDT

The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00

[zero point zero] That was the headline on the lead editorial in the New York Times on January 14, 1987. Alas, the Twin Cities didn't heed that advice, thanks to (as Philip Greenspun points out) PhD-level thinking in economics. Quoting a MinnPost article:

The push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in both Minneapolis and St. Paul has successfully boosted the average worker’s hourly pay in both cities, but it has also led to sharp drops in the numbers of available jobs and hours worked, new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has found.

(Links to the FRB's studies added.)

I'm bemused by the seemingly tautological claim that the minimum wage increase "boosted the average worker’s hourly pay". Well, yeah: if you chop off the lower tail of the hourly wage distribution, the average of what's left of the distribution will necessarily be higher.

But it seems clear that the primary effects of legislatively destroying the bottom rungs of the economic ladder were negative.

PhilG also notes the cavalier attitude of that "PhD-level" thinker quoted by the MinnPost:

“Somebody who loses their job because of a minimum wage increase is going to find another job,” said UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich. “Probably not right away, they’re going to work fewer weeks per year — but they’re not going to be permanently unemployed.”

Let them eat welfare in the meantime. I added a "fun fact" comment to PhilG's post: the quoted “UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich” is one of the founders of the Union for Radical Political Economics, self-described as “an alternative professional organization for left political economists and an intellectual home for academics, policy-makers, and activists who are interested in participating in a left intellectual debate on theoretical and policy issues.”

I guess that’s where you have to go to find an economist willing to defend, however lamely, minimum wage laws.

Coincidentally, Cafe Hayek's Quotation of the Day is from Thomas Sowell:

Minimum wage laws play Russian roulette with people who need jobs and the work experience that will enable them to rise to higher pay levels.

Also of note:

  • Since we're talking about employement… Robert F. Graboyes provides 20 Job Tips for 2020s 20-Somethings. A small sample:

    1. Jobs that can be done in Cheyenne, Des Moines and Sarasota have potent advantages over those that can be done only in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

    2. For now, college degrees are important, but high tuition and opportunity costs, combined with often less-than-stellar returns, are reviving the notion that the workplace is often a better educational venue than a university.

    3. Maybe Ivy League graduates making photocopies for congressmen shouldn’t look down on plumbers who own beach homes.

    That last tip has a footnote that you will not want to miss.

  • Water is still wet, and… David Harsanyi notes that AR-15 Bans Are (Still) Unconstitutional.

    Gun control advocates have become so dependent on emotional arguments they often seem incapable of offering rational ones. So, I was eager to read a new Bloomberg column (via The Washington Post) headlined, “The Second Amendment Allows a Ban on the AR-15.”

    The piece doesn’t get off to a promising start, as author Noah Feldman props up a familiar straw man:

    If we each have the right to bear arms, is there a constitutional right to a military-style semiautomatic rifle like an AR-15? What about a rocket-propelled grenade launcher? A small tank?

    Notice how he jumps from the oxymoronic “military-style semiautomatic rifle” — not a real thing — to a small tank. Anyway, the proposition is that we should not have access to military-grade armaments. (Feldman is unaware that owning a small tank is legal.) But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

    Harsanyi proceeds to a robust discussion of SCOTUS jurisprudence, concentrating (as Feldman does) the United States v. Miller decision, rebutting Feldman's claims about its holding. Then proceeding on to good old Heller.

  • In case you haven't read Hayek recently… Bruce Yandle will brush you up, using a convenient foil: Biden's Experience Doesn't Mean He Can Plan an Economy.

    In a recent interview with MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle, President Biden responded to a question regarding his age (80 years old) and how that might affect his performance should he have a second term in office. "I have acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom and know more than the vast majority of people," Biden said, "And I'm more experienced than anybody that's ever run for the office."

    This was a positive response to a tough question, but one that deserves more examination. No presidency, especially one so active with industrial policy and economic planning, can get by on this answer.

    We all recognize that a person who's lived 80 years will have had more life experiences than one who has trod the planet for 70, 60 or 50 years. And it's easy to see that Mr. Biden, who has devoted his entire adult life to politics, is armed with countless stories and lessons learned about the nation's political economy. But granting this does not support the idea that Biden knows more than the vast majority of us, all topics considered. Nor does any of this matter much if his administration consistently fails to account for the vast majority of the people's knowledge taken together.

    Yandle notes that he's about to turn 90 himself. And, you know, I'd much prefer him as president. He's smart enough to know what he doesn't, and can't, know.

  • But Biden's not the only fool on the hill. Veronique de Rugy has a couple questions. What is 'Common Good Capitalism,' and Why Are Some Conservatives So Enamored?.

    "Common-good capitalism" is all the rage these days with national conservatives. But what exactly is it, you may ask? That's a good question. As far as I can tell, it's a lovely sounding name for imposing one's preferred economic and social policies on Americans while pretending to be "improving" capitalism. If common-good capitalism's criticisms of the free-market and prescriptions for its improvement were ice cream, it would be identical in all but its serving container to what much of the Left has been dishing up for decades.

    The wider adoption of the term Common-Good Capitalism (CGC) can be traced back to a speech given by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at Catholic University in 2019. While there are different strains of common-good capitalism, they all have in common the goal of producing a more balanced and stable economy that better serves the nation and its people.

    The common good is, of course, a vague and subjective concept, the details of which are hard to pin down. Its advocates claim it's an alternative form of conservative governance meant to promote things like tradition, workers' dignity, religion, order and families, rather than the singular free-market focus of personal liberties and economic freedom. How exactly government policies will be used to mold capitalism into achieving these goals — many of which go further than economics — is unclear. This haziness explains why those defending common-good capitalism usually do so only by listing what they see as wrong with the free market, rather than by giving their audiences specific details.

    As we've said before: the "common good" modifier in "common good capitalism" should be understood to mean "not really".

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:03 AM EDT

But What Really Matters is January 6

The WSJ explains Why the Durham Report Matters to Democracy.

Two special counsels, several inspector general reports and six years later, the country finally has a more complete account of the FBI’s Russia collusion probe of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. Special counsel John Durham’s final report makes clear that a partisan FBI became a funnel for disinformation from the Hillary Clinton campaign through a secret investigation the bureau never should have launched.

The 306-page Durham report released Monday afternoon is far more comprehensive than anything issued by original special counsel Robert Mueller. Mr. Durham had already unfurled some of the narrative with his prosecutions of Russian national Igor Danchenko and Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann. He lost those cases, though the indictments laid out how the Clinton campaign used foreign nationals, an oppo-research outfit, and political insiders to feed the FBI and the media lies about Trump collusion.

It's tempting to advocate a massive shakeup of the FBI (and the CIA, while we're at it). Durham's report doesn't recommend such "wholesale changes" because this travesty was primarily due to the lack of integrity of people at the top. If you have political hacks in charge, no amount of "shakeup" will prevent future perversions.

Also of note:

  • Or, as Yoda would say, "Much to learn about free speech you have." Kevin D. Williamson's syntax is down-to-earth, though: Elon, You Have Much To Learn About Free Speech.

    Hey, Elon. Big fan, albeit one of those who believed (and still believes) that your talents are a lot better suited to building cool cars and rockets and stuff than running Twitter, that great open sewer of contemporary public life. I’m not looking for a job—the last time I went to work for a jumped-up media dilettante enthroned atop a vast heap of Silicon Valley money, it went poorly—but, buddy, you need a tutor.

    If you’re going to be in the free-speech business, then you need to learn a little bit about free speech. You’re not in South Africa anymore—hell, you’re not in Canada anymore.

    In defending your decision to bend the knee to Turkish caudillo Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, you wrote: “By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”

    That may have been the dumbest thing published on Twitter during that particular 24-hour period—no mean feat—or maybe just the most childish, as my colleague Nick Catoggio wrote recently. It even made me rethink my conviction that you are poorly suited to run Twitter: If you really believe that the limit on free speech is whatever the “will of the people” says it is, then Twitter, with its ochlocratic mob mentality, is just the right place for you—which is just about the worst thing you can say about someone, I’m afraid.

    Elon's hand on the Twitter tiller is pretty shaky. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Merklein, would have said: "Better, still much room for improvement."

  • We're living in a state-besotted world. Michael Munger provides a response to people who "rebut" his libertarian notions with variations on "You Use the Roads, Don’t You?"

    For some reason, a lot of folks think this is a knock-down argument against classical liberalism, because in their view we all just want to “free ride” (literally, in this case) by enjoying things paid for by others without contributing any of our own income as taxes.

    Since we all run into this (dumb) argument all the time, I asked my usual question. I have worked to get it down to the fewest words possible, because it has more impact that way. My question is this: “If the slave eats the food provided by the master, does that mean the slave consents to slavery?”

    Munger's point is not that we're all slaves. Instead, it's a realization that we live in a far-from-perfect world, and we're obligated to maneuver in the system that exists, not the one we know would be better, surviving and prospering as we can.

  • Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune, whose words doe jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.. Ben Jonson said that back in 1641 or so, and that was the motto of the late, very lamented, Underground Grammarian. And it came to mind when reading through a recent article on the new-to-me substack, Bastiat's Window: Advancing Health Obsequity. The author, Robert F. Graboyes, looks at a small bit of a 54-page report, Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts, from the American Medical Association.

    AHE’s Table 5 is titled “Contrasting Conventional (Well-intentioned) Phrasing with Equity-focused Language that Acknowledges Root Causes of Inequities.” Borrowed from a National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) document, it offers the following sentence as “Conventional” phrasing:

    “Low-income people have the highest level of coronary artery disease in the United States.”

    In place of this straightforward, 15-word, 27-syllable sentence, AHE (via NACCHO) recommends the following 39-word, 78-syllable pilgrimage, which it labels “Equity-focused Language that Acknowledges Root Causes of Inequities”:

    “People underpaid and forced into poverty as a result of banking policies, real estate developers gentrifying neighborhoods, and corporations weakening the
    power of labor movements, among others, have the highest level of coronary artery disease in the United States.”

    Do you remember diagramming sentences? (How old are you anyway?) Graboyes diagrams both phrasings, and shows how the latter "takes the reader on an extended stream-of-consciousness side journey—effectively shutting down many questions that clinicians and researchers might want to ask." It's an alliterative journey into "victimhood, villainy, violations, and vertigo."

  • And to think it all happened by molecules bumping together at random. Howard Lee describes The complicated history of how the Earth’s atmosphere became breathable.

    For almost half of our planet's existence—the entire time before the Great Oxygenation Event, or GOE—Earth was effectively an alien planet. Apart from the obvious (the air was unbreathable), the oceans also lacked oxygen and were full of dissolved iron, while land was lethally irradiated by ultraviolet light, as the atmosphere lacked an ozone layer. Even the color palette was alien: Land lacked the reddish hues of dirt and the greens of vegetation, while the sky was pinkish-orange due to high methane levels.

    Life began in that alien environment, and at some point between 3.2 and 2.8 billion years ago, cyanobacteria began to use sunlight to split hydrogen from water, discarding oxygen as waste. That was a whopping 400 million to 800 million years before the GOE, roughly the same time that separates the present from the dawn of complex life.

    Bottom line: a lot of things had to happen, an interplay of chemistry, geology, and biology. And in the right order, at the right time.

    And that's just to get oxygen into the atmosphere. The processes that produce Dunkin' Donuts drive-thrus were even more complex.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:42 PM EDT

Narrator: Stalin Sent Actual Rebel Girls Straight to the Gulag

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Our Amazon Product du Jour is part of a publishing empire. I didn't count, but many products can be purchased to be read by your local pre-teen person currently identifying as female.

I see one of the 25 "powerful women" in the book is Melinda Gates. Whose route to power and (I guess) rebelliousness was solely due to getting married to, and divorced from, Bill. Truly an inspirational route for your little girl to follow!

But here in New Hampshire, Damien Fisher says: Goodbye Rebel Girl! Concord's Communist Marker Removed.

The historic marker in Concord commemorating unrepentant Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn got sent to the ash heap of history as the Sununu administration finally stepped up and removed it from state property.

People griped, of course.

If you were intrigued by my headline above, there's a website: Women of the GULAG.

Also of note:

  • Today's versions of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Mary Anastasia O’Grady describes How Americans Betray the Cuban People.

    The New York Times report on Cuba’s attempt at a Covid-19 vaccine was laughable. Toilet paper is scarce in the socialist paradise. But in February 2021 the Times breathlessly hyped—in language dripping with contempt for the U.S.—the Havana line that a breakthrough was looming. “The vaccine heading for a final phase of trials is called Sovereign 2, in a nod to the pride the island takes in its autonomy, despite decades of hostility from its neighbor to the north. Already, Cuba is floating the idea of enticing tourists to its shores with the irresistible cocktail of sun, sand and a shot of Sovereign 2.”

    Lots of Cubans were given a shot, but who knows what was in it? In August 2022, the Economist tallied excess-mortality data on the island to estimate the Covid-19 death toll per capita. It found Cuba’s rate to be “among the 20 worst” across the globe and far above the country average in the region.

    Cuba’s revolutionary pact was that the regime would guarantee food and medicine and, in return, Cubans would surrender their liberty. Now that they have none of the above, they’re angry.

    Are the ghosts of Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews guiding the NYT coverage of Cuba?

  • Embracing the malarkey. The NR editors seem disdainful of Joe Biden’s 14th Amendment Folly.

    Joe Biden is musing aloud about violating his oath of office and seizing powers not granted him by the Constitution in order to avoid negotiating with the House of Representatives. This is a shameful way for the president of a constitutional republic to act.

    The so-called 14th Amendment option — to have the president issue debt not approved by Congress — doesn’t actually exist. Until 2023, nobody in the executive branch has ever pretended that it does. “I have talked to my lawyers,” Barack Obama said in 2011, and “they are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.” Left-leaning legal scholars such as Laurence Tribe once agreed. Nothing has changed but the intensity of partisanship.

    The Constitution is quite explicit: Congress, and only Congress, has the power “to borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” Congress, and only Congress, has the power to raise revenue, and all bills to do so must start in the House. The Framers were quite open in designing this system to give Congress the power of the purse so that it could bring the executive to heel.

    I want to ask my CongressCritter (Democrat Chris Pappas): If you don't think this would be grounds for impeachment, what would?

  • I didn't miss it, but in case you did: Jon Miltimore points out The Moral Lesson in ‘Office Space' Everyone Misses. If you haven't seen the movie: (a) what's wrong with you? (b) go and watch it, then come back.

    This is what Peter Gibbons ultimately learns: how to take control of his own life and stop blaming his unhappiness on [his boss Bill] Lumbergh and [employer] Initech.

    This is the lesson many people, particularly younger ones who see America as a “capitalist hellscape,” can take from Office Space. It’s not that Lumbergh and Initech weren’t awful. But the truth is, you’re going to encounter awful people in life. What’s important is to not give one’s power and agency over to others by seeing oneself as a victim of external forces beyond one’s control.

    "Capitalist hellscapes". A phrase used by folks never having lived in a socialist hellscape.

  • I was intrigued by the headline. It's from WIRED's Rose Eveleth: The Fanfic Sex Trope That Caught a Plundering AI Red-Handed.

    These days, so-called generative AI can (allegedly) make art, write books, and compose poetry. Systems like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and ChatGPT are seemingly quite good at it. But for some artists, this creates problems. Namely, determining what legal rights they have when their work is scraped by these tools.

    Faced by the rise in these systems, authors and artists are pushing back. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is striking in part over the potential use of AI to write scripts, referring to such systems as “plagiarism machines.” Visual artists have penned open letters denouncing the use of AI to replace illustrators, calling it “the greatest art heist in history.” Getty sued Stability AI in January for copyright infringement.

    But what if your work exists in a kind of in-between space—not work that you make a living doing, but still something you spent hours crafting, in a community that you care deeply about? And what if, within that community, there was a specific sex trope that would inadvertently unmask how models like ChatGPT scrape the web—and how that scraping impacts the writers who created it.

    You forgot to copyright your "specific sex trope". Tsk.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:57 AM EDT

I'll Take "Things That Make Zero Sense" for $1000, Mayim

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
David Harsanyi points out that the emperor has no clothes, and also that The Democrats' Debt Ceiling Position Makes Zero Sense.

“If you buy a car,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre explained the other day, “you are expected to pay the monthly payment. … It’s that simple.”

Is it? Now, obviously, those who argue that the president can cancel millions of student loans by decree aren’t in a position to offer lessons on personal responsibility. The deeper problem with Jean-Pierre’s analogy, though, is that there isn’t a bank on Earth that’s going to keep lines of credit open when a person is compounding unsustainable debt year after year.

Speaking of which, the federal government has already hit the debt limit. The Treasury Department is now relying on “extraordinary measures” that will sputter out by June, at which time we will all be forced to forage for food and barter for medicine. The only thing that can save us from this dystopian hellscape, Jean-Pierre explains, is for Congress to do its “job” and return to regular order.

Note to readers: If I notice that an article uses "dystopian hellscape" somewhere, I'm probably gonna link to it.

Also of note:

  • Also taking David Byrne's advice too literally… Jeff Maurer notes The "Rules" About Which Actors Can Play Who Never Made Sense. (Subhed: "There were never even actually rules")

    Netflix is embroiled in a controversy over its new Jada Pinkett Smith-produced show, Queen Cleopatra. In the “documentary series” (their words), Cleopatra is played by Adele James, who is Black. I wouldn’t normally note an actor’s race, but the people who made Queen Cleopatra made it clear that James’ race is a key part of the show: Queen Cleopatra is part of a series called “African Queens”; Pinkett Smith explained “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about Black queens, and that was really important for me.”

    This casting choice has caused a firestorm on social media, but hey: What doesn’t cause a firestorm on social media? More notable is the fact that many Egyptians are unhappy. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities declared the show a “falsification of Egyptian history”, and an Egyptian lawyer filed a suit seeking to shut down Netflix in Egypt. Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef — seen here being lauded by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2012 — accused Netflix of trying to “take over our Egyptian culture.” In short, Netflix is being accused of “Blackwashing”, an inversion of the “whitewashing” accusation frequently levied against Hollywood.

    On its face, Queen Cleopatra would appear to be an egregious violation of Hollywood’s norms about which actors can play which roles. The subject is a historical figure whose lineage is largely know (detailed discussion of Cleopatra’s ancestry to follow) played by an actor whose lineage is decidedly different. The people who claim that figure as part of their history are loudly objecting to the portrayal. We might expect Netflix to be in full damage-control mode; we might expect a groveling statement in which they vow to “do better”, paired with a sizable donation to…I don’t know. Somebody.

    That hasn’t happened. And that’s largely because the rules about which actors can play who are an incoherent bunch of nonsense. They’re not even really “rules”; they’re a disjointed series of notions enforced by internet mobs. If we want to address the real problem of insensitive racial portrayals in media, then we should try to tease out some principles about which actors can play which roles.

    Related: Paul Tassi at Forbes claims Netflix’s ‘Queen Cleopatra’ Appears To Have The Worst Audience Score In TV History.

    Heckuva job, Jada!

  • Also not making sense. Ahmed Rehan Nasir at Game Rant: Naruto: Why the Substitution Jutsu Makes No Sense.

    No, I have no idea what that means. But certainly the lead paragraph will clear things up…

    The Naruto series features an extensive lineup of distinct jutsu and techniques, with most varying in strength and power. However, not all techniques align with the concept of ninjutsu set within the series, thereby pushing the boundaries of preexisting narratives. The Substitution Jutsu is one such technique, which, despite being relatively simple, breaks the preset notion of chakra and ninjutsu.

    Nope. Just made things worse.

  • Also not making sense, especially in the "Live Free or Die" state: Drew Cline reports that NH Zoning Atlas offers groundbreaking insight into local building restrictions. It's published by the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College, and you can read it here. But here's the eyebrow-raising bit:

    The atlas shows that single-family homes are allowed by right on 90% of New Hampshire’s buildable land, and by public hearing on another 6%. Sounds good, right?

    A closer look, though reveals that single family homes on lots of less than one acre are illegal—yes, literally illegal—on most of that property. It is legal to build a home on less than one acre in only 16% of the state’s buildable land.

    You might think of zoning as “allowing” certain types of property uses. In reality, zoning is a prohibition. It carves communities into areas in which most uses of private property are outlawed. Large minimum lot size requirements are the perfect example of a regulation that outlaws a once common housing preference. The result is a nearly statewide prohibition on the construction of affordable starter homes.

    Back in the day, I was assured that zoning was the only barrier to having someone construct an oil refinery next door.

  • Happy (Belated) Birthday to Israel. Oy! You don't look a day over 74!

    But someone pointed out this two-year-old Babylon Bee article, and as usual the entire "joke" is in the headline: Tensions Rise In Middle East As One Side Wants To Kill Jews And The Other Side Are Jews Who Don't Want To Die And Neither Will Compromise. But I'll excerpt anyway:

    JERUSALEM - Israel has tried to get along with Palestine and other neighboring countries, but a core disagreement between the two groups has increased tensions and made peace seem impossible. For many in the Middle East, what they want most of all is to kill Jews -- which they see as a reasonable request. But a majority of Israel is made up of Jews who, first and foremost, do not want to be killed. And neither side is willing to compromise on these desires.

    I called this a "joke" above, but…

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:57 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-05-14 Update

So Donald Trump came up to New Hampshire for a CNN "Town Hall" last week and…

No, that's a "parody". Anderson Cooper did not actually say that. But, yes, Trump actually did repost that phony video.

Donald Trump's pilling on CNN in the wake of his town hall by posting a doctored clip of Anderson Cooper saying Trump owned CNN during the event ... but with far more colorful language.

Trump is clearly relishing the fact CNN is getting tons of blowback from the left for giving him a platform -- and he spiked the football with this fake video of Anderson reacting to the end of the town hall. As the crowd roars for Trump, you see Anderson say "That was President Donald J. Trump ripping us a new ass****."

Put politics aside, for just a moment, and the clip is pretty hilarious. However, it's also a stark reminder of just how petty and self-congratulatory Trump can be.


There are no changes to our phony lineup this week, and only one minor change in the standings: RFK Jr and Michelle Obama switched places:

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Ron DeSantis 14.1% unch 8,390,000 +920,000
Donald Trump 26.9% +0.3% 1,060,000 -30,000
Joe Biden 36.6% +1.6% 368,000 +13,000
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.5% +0.4% 193,000 +16,000
Michelle Obama 2.7% unch 161,000 -18,000
Kamala Harris 2.3% -0.5% 107,000 +4,000
Other 12.9% -1.8% --- ---

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Although new assholes were not actually ripped… Jim Geraghty scores the bout: Trump’s TKO against CNN.

    Last night’s “town-hall meeting” turned into a nationally televised live Trump rally, with intermittent questions from moderator Kaitlan Collins that the former president brushed off, mocked, and ignored. Instead, Trump offered the live audience and those at home an auditory version of his Truth Social rants, bulldozing over Collins’s objections.

    Meridith McGraw of Politico reported that the audience “was mostly made up of Republicans who offered cheers and a standing ovation to Trump tonight. Last week, CNN invited the New Hampshire GOP and other state groups to help fill the audience per an email that was passed along.”

    The result was an extremely pro-Trump audience at Saint Anselm College. Trump won the New Hampshire primary back in 2016 by almost 20 percentage points more than the second-place finisher, son of a mailman John Kasich. In 2020, 365,654 New Hampshire voters cast their ballots for the incumbent, and the people who showed up last night appeared to rank among Trump’s most ardent fans in the state. I suppose if you’re skeptical or not a fan of Donald Trump, you don’t drive somewhere on a Wednesday night to watch him answer questions for an hour.

    Our state's governor, Chris Sununu, didn't appreciate Trump's derogatory references to E. Jean Carroll:

    “It was embarrassing,” Sununu told MSNBC’s Jen Psaki in an interview set to air Sunday.

    “The audience was absolutely filled with Trump supporters, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the support,” he said. “But when you’re talking about a serious issue like that, and laughter and mocking and all that, it’s completely inappropriate, without a doubt.”

    The interview will be on MSNBC at noon today, for you masochists.

  • Poor Michelle. If Michelle actually decided to run for president, she'd be a very credible candidate, despite her lack of actual experience. Unlike some other candidates, she's not obviously crazy or demented, she's relatively young, and the mainstream media love her. In fact, we have to go back to 2020 to find the question Kyle Smith asked, and we're still wondering about: What Does Michelle Obama Have to Complain About?.

    There’s a curious joy deficit in Michelle Obama’s video memoir Becoming, the Netflix documentary produced by her and her husband. As she glides from one beautiful space to another, surrounded by beautiful and famous people, with beautiful daughters and a beautiful bank account and much else to be grateful for, the viewer keeps waiting for her Flounder moment: Oh, boy, is this great!

    Instead, the tone is mostly dour, pained, even somber. I suspect (and hope!) that, off-camera, the Obamas are a bit more full of joie de vivre than Michelle Obama is in this film, which is largely a litany of complaint. She says she felt so much pressure to be perfect for eight years in the White House that when it was over she let the dam burst by crying for half an hour (half an hour?) when she and her husband departed on Air Force One. She talks about the various times she feels she was targeted by racism, exaggerating what actually happened. She walks us through her press coverage, which she finds indescribably unfair and hurtful.

    She is, however, so bereft of examples of nasty media attention to cite that two of the examples she shows us are ironic, i.e. the joke is on her detractors. One of them is a cover story in the (left-wing) magazine Radar that asked, wryly, “What’s So Scary about Michelle Obama?” (The underlying story, by Ana Marie Cox, made it clear that there was nothing scary about Michelle Obama.) Another is the famous New Yorker cartoon cover that depicted Barack Obama in traditional Muslim dress and put Michelle Obama in an Afro, with an assault rifle and a bandoleer on her chest, as an American flag burned in the fireplace. The Obamas complained about this at the time and many pointed out that a) The New Yorker has always been a vociferous supporter of the Obamas and b) the cartoon was portraying an obviously fanciful image of the Obamas that existed solely in the fever dreams of right-wingers. The New Yorker itself hastened to explain the joke at the time, which must have been painful for that institution.

    She thinks of herself as a victim. Not an attractive quality in someone who's lived a more privileged life than (at least) 99% of Americans of any race.

  • Also: Bats. Bonkers. Daft. Loco. Unhinged. Just a reminder from John Hinderaker: RFK, Jr. Is Crazy. Quoting the NYPost:

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. doubled down Monday night on his claim that the Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.

    The Democratic presidential candidate appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” and discussed the 1963 murder of the 35th president.

    “There’s millions of pages of documents — of, uh, CIA documents, of, uh, transcripts, of recorded conversations from, uh, the Cuban embassy in, in Mexico City, from — it’s hard to summarize the evidence,” Kennedy, 69, told host Sean Hannity.

    Comments Hinderaker:

    Yes, there are millions of pages of documents. And they contain not a shred of support for the Left’s conspiracy theories. There are recorded conversations from the Cuban embassy in Mexico City because Lee Oswald, a Communist who thought the USSR had gone soft, went there in an attempt to contact his hero Fidel Castro.

    It almost makes me wish for Junior to become president so we can witness the pitched battle between the White House and the CIA over this.

    Not for the first time, I'll remind us that presidential candidates are likely to be several sigma off the mean on any number of psychological/personality traits. It's a judgment call on how/whether some combination thereof will wander into Crazytown.

  • Among other things. Jim Geraghty [again, sorry] sounds a little peeved at having to point this out: Joe Biden Lies About the National Debt, and Everybody Yawns.

    President Biden, offering an update on the debt ceiling negotiations, [May 8]: “I might note parenthetically: In my first two years, I reduced the debt by $1.7 trillion.  No president has ever done that.”

    As you likely know, this is not even close to true. When Biden took office January 20, 2021, the national debt was $28.4 trillion. The national debt is now $31.4 trillion, an increase of $3 trillion.

    Biden has made similar false boasts and claims during his presidency with metronomic frequency. And it may surprise you that almost every fact-checker has, at least once, called Biden out for these false boasts about reducing the debt. CNN, Newsweek, the Washington Post,, PolitiFact — Biden repeats these inaccurate numbers often enough that just about all of those fact-checkers have felt obligated to come out at one point or another and say, “no, Biden does not have his numbers correct.”

    Geraghty's observation: "Why do politicians lie so much? Because most of the time, there’s no discernable negative consequence."

Last Modified 2023-05-14 10:00 AM EDT

Do You Feel Protected Yet?


I understand this is even better if you're a Beastie Boys fan.

OK, for serious commentary, go to Cato, and read their policy analysis: The Jones Act: A Burden America Can No Longer Bear.

For nearly 100 years, a federal law known as the Jones Act has restricted water transportation of cargo between U.S. ports to ships that are U.S.-owned, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-registered, and U.S.-built. Justified on national security grounds as a means to bolster the U.S. maritime industry, the unsurprising result of this law has been to impose significant costs on the U.S. economy while providing few of the promised benefits.

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

I should point out that that article is from June 2018, so America has been able to "bear" the Jones Act for the nearly five years since. As Adam Smith pointed out, there's a lot of ruin in a nation. (These days, I'd like to think he'd add "But not an infinite amount, so knock it off.")

On a slightly less serious note, but still at Cato: their 2023 Protectionist Madness Tournament. It's over now, but you can make your own calls as to which lousy policy out of the original 32 competitors might win.

Oh, heck: it was the Jones Act. A lot of stupid things there, though.

And if you ain't depressed enough about the Land of the Sorta-Free, Dan Mitchell has a link-filled article, pointing to a study Ranking Trade Freedom.

Ranking 88 countries best-to-worst for trade freedom, where do you think the United States finished? Go ahead, pick a number between 1 and 88, then click over. Small spoiler: my guess is that you'll pick a too-low number.

Also of note:

  • Sometimes you have to rant to get people to pay attention. And I paid attention to Jerry Coyne, who was paying attention to… Glenn Loury rants, McWhorter apparently agrees. Loury has given up walking on eggshells, at least temporarily. In fact, he's stomping on them. Coyne quotes from Loury's substack:

    Sometimes, when trying to articulate my views on the show, I go into rant mode. This one, from a discussion of the social dysfunction plaguing black America, got away from me a little. I had to admit in the end: I overdid it a bit.

    Still, I stand by the substance of my remarks. I see in the crime statistics and in the rioting and looting perpetrated by black American youth a failure to raise our kids properly. Regardless of the complex historical reasons that led to this failure, we urgently need to do something about it instead of finding new ways to excuse it. History may have gotten us here, but we can no longer afford to let it define us.

    I gave up reading Andrew Sullivan when he went on the Sarah Palin Uterus Patrol. But Coyne liberally quotes from his (paywalled) reaction., and it's sane:

    . . . On the most serious violent crime, murder, the stats are also staggering: in 2021, of all murderers in America whose race was known, a full 60.4 percent were black — overwhelmingly male and young. So if you narrow it down to young black men, around 3 percent of the population is responsible for well over half the murders in America. In Minnesota, African-American males make up 3.2 percent of the population and commit 76 percent of the homicides and 87 percent of the burglaries. That’s a ratio that is resilient and persistent.

    . . . Biden’s woke Department of Justice actually wants to bar law enforcement from using any of these racially specific crime statistics in “making decisions about where and how to focus their activities.” The aim is deliberately to ignore the 3 percent committing over half the murders in the country, and focus randomly on the 97 percent (including the vast majority of African-Americans) who don’t. It’s insane — the kind of racial equity for criminals that leads to grotesque racial inequity for victims. African-Americans are 13 percent of the population and make up more murder victims than every other race combined. In Chicago, for example, 79 percent of murder victims are black.

    The constant fetishistic prattle about "gun violence" is convenient, and uttering it won't get you tarred with a "racist" brush. But just maybe the prattlers should look at the low-hanging fruit. And feed that low-hanging fruit to the elephant in the room.

  • I hate Illinois Nazis. And I'm not fond of New York Commies. Jay Nordlinger's "Impromptus" covers a range of topics, but (given our state's ongoing imbroglio about honoring Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, American Communist), I thought I'd quote this bit:

    Harry Belafonte has been an American icon for a long time. All of my life, certainly. He died the week before last, at 96. Belafonte was an actor, a singer, an activist. He was also one of the handsomest men in America. I saw him in Carnegie Hall once, in his later years — sitting in the audience. I can’t remember who was performing. Belafonte still looked like Belafonte.

    I know a lady who lived in the same building as he in about 1960. She had come from Central America. “Guapo?” I asked her. (“Was he handsome?”) She answered, “Guapissimo.”

    But he had some ugly views and did some ugly things.

    Along with righteous ones. He campaigned for civil rights in America. He aided the King family, financially. Decades after that, he promoted educational efforts in Africa.

    But he was a friend and champion of Fidel Castro, and a friend and champion of that dictatorship. He was a fan of Hugo Chávez. (Lot of that goin’ around.) During a meeting with Chávez in 2005, he called President George W. Bush “the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world.”

    You should judge a life in its totality, if you have to judge it at all. We all make mistakes. None of us can ’scape whipping. But for Belafonte’s Castroism alone . . .

    I mean, I think of all the political prisoners, some of whom I have known personally. I think of all those who were killed.

    It’s hard to get beyond that.

    Don't get me started on Carole King.

Diamonds are Forever

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

The fourth James Bond novel, and it's a step up from Moonraker, so that's good. I don't recall reading it in my younger days. (I do remember watching the movie. It was pretty bad, a waste of Sean Connery.)

Bond gets away from dealing with Russians in this one; he's tasked by M to impersonate a small-time crook who was recruited to smuggle a small fortune in African diamonds into the US. His job is to uncover the participants in the smuggling ring, mostly the mysterious ringleader known only as A B C. He's assigned a handler, "Tiffany Case", who (no surprises here) eventually becomes Bond's love interest. (Kind of a joke name, but she's got an explanation for it.)

I'd say the book is 70% travelogue. I could gripe about that, but I found I didn't mind it that much; it's an interesting look at life in the late 1950s. The first leg of Bond's journey is a transatlantic hop on a BOAC "Stratocruiser", a double-decked prop-powered behemoth with sleeping berths. (Bond fails to wangle a berth, but he smokes up a storm to make up for it.) Then New York, a jaunt up to Saratoga Springs to bet on a fixed horserace, back to New York, then it's off to Vegas for blackjack (also fixed) and roulette. Then to "Spectreville", a ghost town in the Nevada desert. Then back to Britain, with Tiffany, on the RMS Queen Elizabeth. The sights along the way are lovingly described ("They flew over Barstow, the junction from which the single track of the Santa Fe strides off into the desert on its long run into the desert of the Colorado Plateau, skirting on their right the Calico Mountains, once the Borax centre of the world, and leaving far away to the left the bone-strewn wastes of Death Valley.") Also lovingly detailed: the food and drink consumed along the way. (E.g,, scrambled eggs, sausages, buttered rye toast, and Miller High Life at the "The Chicken in the Basket", a roadhouse on the way to Saratoga Springs.)

And yeah, there's eventually action and violence. Bond's survival becomes iffy at one point, but he's saved (spoiler!) by Tiffany.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:56 AM EDT

Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!

[The Canyon of His Mind]

In her syndicated column, Veronique de Rugy describes Why the Debt Ceiling Continues to Matter.

The debt-ceiling standoff has people concerned about what will happen if the U.S. defaults on its debt. I certainly hope both sides will come together to avoid this outcome. But it is still worth reminding everyone how incredibly precarious the status quo is, and why something needs to change.

You've heard the warnings about our debt levels, to the point where they might be easy to tune out. I make these all the time. When assessing how much we should worry, it's wise to look both at our current situation and where we're heading. This year, our budget deficit will likely be $1.4 trillion. What's more, the deficit will reach about $2.8 trillion in 2033. And that's assuming peace, prosperity, relatively low interest rates, no new spending and that some provisions of the 2017 tax cut will expire as scheduled.

Vero has more numbers at the link, and they are not reassuring.

Briefly noted:

  • Heckuva job, Governor. Damien Fisher reports on the lack of progress: NH State Website Still Touts Historic Marker Honoring Communist Leader.

    The “Rebel Girl” is still causing headaches for the Sununu administration a week after the governor said he wanted the state Historical Highway Marker honoring Communist Elizabeth Hurley Flynn removed.

    Despite the governor’s complaints, his own New Hampshire Department of Cultural and Natural Resources continues to tout the marker for Flynn, the former head of the American Communist Party, on its website.

    “The N.H. Division of Historical Resources is pleased to announce that a New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker honoring Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a well-known labor, women’s rights, and civil liberties activist, has been installed at the corner of Court and Montgomery Streets in downtown Concord, near the site of her birthplace,” reads the press release, which was still online as of Wednesday.

    And, as we type on Friday, it is still online.

    Some wags refer to the Concord Monitor as Pravda on the Merrimack, and it's doing its level best to earn that nickname with its headline: Residents urge state commissioner to leave Concord historical marker in place.

    How many residents? Two.

    And they are the same ones who "urged" the erection of the marker in the first place.

    The two civil libertarians who petitioned for a historical marker in Concord to mark the birthplace of labor activists Elizabeth Gurley Flynn wrote to state officials Thursday urging them to reject calls for the placard’s removal.

    Gurley Flynn was a significant historical figure in the state and country and was much more than a Communist, they argued, which is what sparked criticism after the green marker was unveiled last week.

    I have no doubt that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was "much more than a Communist". And George Lincoln Rockwell was much more than a Nazi. So?

    The article goes on to claim that "several [Concord] councilors said they would be disappointed if the state decided to remove the marker", but they are not named or quoted.

    But let's go see what the actual commies have to say. The People's World (direct descendent of the Daily Worker) points to the real enemy: New Hampshire Republicans want to erase Communist leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from history.

    Yes, this is kind of like claiming that getting rid of Confederate battle flags from statehouses in the south is erasing their history. But never mind that.

    The People's World story is pretty much the same AP story we pointed to on Tuesday, although the AP headline was slightly more anodyne: New Hampshire history marker for communist draws GOP anger. (And we observed the confirmation of Jim Treacher's observation: "When Republicans screw up, that's the story. When Democrats screw up, the Republicans' reaction is the story.")

    Beyond the headline, though, there's another small, but significant, difference between the two versions. The last few paragraphs of the People's World story:

    One marker from 2011 that was brought up during Wednesday’s meeting celebrates the 50th anniversary of the “Betty and Barney Hill incident,” during which the couple reported a close encounter with a UFO. Their experience was described in a best-selling book, a television movie, and numerous speaking engagements.

    “The UFO one I’m gonna live with,” said Kenney, the Executive Council member. “That’s a funny story.”

    A serious marker about a real-life historical figure who fought for women’s equality and labor rights is apparently too much, however.

    That last paragraph doesn't appear in the AP story. Hm.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:03 AM EDT

Picky Picky

I know, "no harm, no foul". Nevertheless: "Jeopardy" will never accomplish a total destruction of the human spirit, but....

That headline is Ann Althouse's.

I first read Solzhenitsyn as a high schooler in the sixties. I knew the answer, as did all three contestants. And, even through I know what to avoid saying, I'm unsure the Jeopardy! judges would have accepted my pronunciation. ("Soul-Zen-Eats-In". Is that about right?)

Briefly noted:

  • When the only tool you have is a hammer … Francis Fukuyama observes that The New Right Loves the State.

    One of the staples of my teaching of comparative politics over the years was to point out the differences between European and American conservatives. The former were generally comfortable with the exercise of state power, and indeed sought to use power to enforce religious or cultural values (the old unity of “throne and altar.”) American conservatives, on the other hand, were different in their emphasis on individual liberty, a small state, property rights, and a vigorous private sector. In Seymour Martin Lipset’s account of American exceptionalism, American politics were thoroughly imbued with a Lockean liberalism that saw the government limiting its own power through a strict rule of law. These principles defined the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, which wanted lower taxes, deregulation, federalism, and multiple limits on state power.

    This understanding of conservatism has now been upended with the rise of Trumpist populism. Trump himself was perfectly comfortable with big government spending, promising to protect entitlements and approving a huge Covid relief package even as he cut taxes. He was happy to use the Justice Department to go after his enemies, and chafed at the restrictions on police powers in putting down protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing in 2020.

    It's a dismal future if every election is gonna be a "Flight 93" election, bitterly fighting about where exactly to crash the plane.

  • Not to mention Orwell. Scott Gerber tells on his employer: DEI Brings Kafka to My Law School.

    Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested, prosecuted and killed by an inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. I’m Josef K.

    Around 1 p.m. on Friday, April 14, Ohio Northern University campus security officers entered my classroom with my students present and escorted me to the dean’s office. Armed town police followed me down the hall. My students appeared shocked and frightened. I know I was. I was immediately barred from teaching, banished from campus, and told that if I didn’t sign a separation agreement and release of claims by April 21, ONU would commence dismissal proceedings against me. The grounds: “Collegiality.” The specifics: None.

    That "collegiality" term casts a pretty wide net. I don't see any word about this at the FIRE website, but maybe soon.

  • I was alive in the Seventies. They kind of sucked. So this, from J.D. Tuccille, is kind of bad news: Biden's Industrial Policy Promises a Return to the 1970s.

    If you're eyeing President Biden's grandiose subsidies and intrusive economic regulations with concern as to where it all will end, the answer is, the 1970s. That's the last time governments of nominally free countries openly favored steering economies over maintaining the preconditions for individuals and businesses to make their own economic decisions. Whether you call it "industrial policy" or by older terms for statism, political functionaries once again tout plans to guide investment and favor industries. Good luck to us all.

    We'll need it.

  • What it means to not be sexist. Arnold Kling writes on a topic that might provoke hysteria: Assimilating Women into Male Institutions.

    When women became accepted into leading universities, in the professions, and into managerial and executive positions in the work place, both men and women held some harmful cultural attitudes. Many of us have come to understand how men need to change. The need for women to change is less well appreciated.

    Over my employment history, I couldn't help but notice that the biggest source of workplace drama was not between men and women, but between women and other women. That's just an anecdote, take it for what it's worth. But it matches up well with Kling's essay.

  • Just sayin'. Beth Mole's story at Ars Technica is celebratory: FDA advisers vote unanimously in favor of OTC birth control pills. But I just wanted to highlight this bit:

    "The risks to women of an unintended pregnancy are much greater than any of the things we were discussing as risks of putting this pill out over the counter," panel member Katalin Roth, a medical professor at George Washington University, said in closing remarks. "The history of women's contraception is a struggle for women's control over their reproduction, and we need to trust women."

    Gee, as long as you're at it, how about trusting men? How about just generally trusting adults to make their own decisions about what they want to ingest?

  • Schrödinger's cat isn't dead, in fact he's putting on weight. Sabine Hossenfelder has the latest science news:

    Not only that, but they've gotten around to counting our galaxy's arms.

    Hossenfelder has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. (Should I add "for a German" to that? Nah, guess not.)

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:42 PM EDT

And Where is Biden Living?

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Lao Tzu should have added a "If you are delusional…" option. Eric Boehm notes that. Biden Tried To Take Credit for the Falling Budget Deficit. Now, It Is Rising Again..

In a speech delivered one year ago this week, President Joe Biden took credit for what he called "the largest drop ever" in the federal budget deficit.

"Let me remind you again: I reduced the federal deficit," Biden said. "All the talk about the deficit from my Republican friends, I love it. I've reduced $350 billion in my first year in office. And we're on track to reduce it by the end of September by another 1 trillion 500 billion dollars—the largest drop ever."

As Reason—and others in the media—pointed out, this was a wild exaggeration. Biden had done nothing to reduce the deficit. In fact, policies enacted since he'd taken office had caused the federal government to borrow more, not less, than it otherwise would have. The lower federal deficit total in 2022 relative to the two previous years resulted from expiring one-time emergency expenditures during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had swelled the deficit to record highs.

In short, 2022 was a major outlier from the trend of growing budget deficits—a trend that had started before the pandemic and that was projected to reemerge after the tsunami of federal pandemic borrowing had passed. "The deficit will begin rising again next year and will rise faster and higher than it would have before Biden took office," I wrote in June of last year.

Well, the deficit is rising again.

Let's do a bit of pedantry: In theory, the Federal Government can only spend money that Congress authorizes. See Article I, Section 9, Clause 7. As Boehm notes, Biden didn't deserve credit for the "falling" deficit; on the other hand, Congress certainly shares the blame, with Biden, for the increase.

And, yes, that attributin to Lao Tzu is bogus. They didn't have anxiety or depression back then.

Briefly noted:

  • No, no, it's not dead, it's resting! Kevin D. Williamson (I think) is overoptimistic: Death of a Talking Point.

    One of the most ignorant and dishonest of the Democratic talking points that show up during budget debates like the one we currently are having is: “We could fix our budget problems if only we would return to the tax policies we had in the 1950s and 1960s, a time of widely shared prosperity with top tax rates above 90 percent for the rich.” 

    That is a fun talking point. My progressive friends love it. But it is a lie. 

    In the 1950s, there were very high statutory tax rates, meaning that a taxpayer could, in theory, pay a top marginal rate of 92 percent. But this applied to very few taxpayers and to a very small share of their income. That is why when you look at the data from a more meaningful economic perspective, U.S. taxes were a lot lower in the 1950s than they are today: Federal tax revenue from 1950-60 averaged only 16.8 percent of GDP, as opposed to the 19.6 percent of GDP collected in federal taxes in 2022. (GDP terms are useful because they capture the fact that our population is both larger and richer.) 

    KDW points to the OMB's Historical Tables. And, friends, it's pretty simple: whenever someone talks about eliminating the deficit, bring up Table 1.2 on that page ("Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits (-) as Percentages of GDP: 1930–2028"), point to columns C (Receipts) and D (Outlays), and note that Receipts (e.g., 19.6% of GDP for FY2022) have been much less than Outlays (e.g., 25.1% of GDP for 2022) for about the last 20 years.

    And ask: what should those two numbers be instead? And how do you propose to get there?

  • Speaking of proposals… At Econlib, John Phelan puts forth A Modest Proposal to Fix Social Security. Pedestrian solutions (let the cuts to benefits happen; raise taxes astronomically) are both painful and boring.

    Fortunately, there is a less gruesome solution. Remember, that in an “actuarially unfunded,” ‘Pay-As-You-Go’ system, your contribution to its capacity to pay benefits out to you in the future isn’t the money you pay in today, that immediately gets paid out to some retiree, it is your contribution to the tax base of the future: your children, in other words. We could fix Social Security by making payouts dependent on how many children you have had.

    This might strike some as unfair. But the generation now retiring is the one which voted for the politicians who passed across-the-board benefit increases of 7% (1965), 13% (1967), 15% (1969), 10% (1971), 20% (1972), and 11% (1974). In 1972, benefits were tied to the Consumer Price Index, yielding an annual ‘cost of living adjustment.’ All this was at a time when, as Paul Samuelson was explaining, the capacity of the system to meet such commitments depended on “this generation [having] children at the same rate as did previous generations:” And they didn’t. The Boomers voted themselves ever higher Social Security benefits without having the children to pay for them.

    I'm 85.6% certain that in calling this a "modest proposal", Phelan is being entirely Swiftian. Nevertheless I left a comment on that last bit I bolded above:

    Quibble: In the mid-1960s to early 1970s timeframe you point to, the Boomers were pretty young, some not even of voting age. Those who were voting, I don’t think a lot of them were thinking about Social Security at the time (other than a drag on their paychecks), let alone using it as a single-issue voting guide.

    But go ahead and blame the Boomers; we’re used to being blamed for stuff.

  • Ann Althouse rudely corrects Miss Manners. And it's a joy to behold: When the manners expert is unaccountably snooty... and wrong..

    Miss Manners, at WaPo — answering some question about how to eat haricot verts and informing us that haricots verts means string beans — adds a snarky parenthetical: "(Considering the number of people who think 'RSVP' is a noun, Miss Manners is not going to trust that everyone passed high school French.)"

    First, passing a high school course doesn't signify much knowledge. What do you have to do to fail? Surely not enough to ensure you know the phrase underlying the initialism "RSVP." I'll bet you could pass without even knowing how to say "please."

    But more importantly, is there anything about French that makes it wrong for a person speaking English to use "RSVP" as a noun? I find my answer in the Oxford English Dictionary:

    And according to the OED RSVP-as-a-noun is pretty much standard English usage and has been since 1850.

    Moral: don't be bullied by snarky WaPo columnists.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:56 AM EDT

When Republicans Screw Up…

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The complete Treacher quote is: "When Republicans screw up, that's the story. When Democrats screw up, the Republicans' reaction is the story." The AP seems to think Democrats screwed up here: New Hampshire history marker for communist draws GOP anger.

A historical marker dedicated to a New Hampshire labor activist who championed women’s rights and was a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union — but who also joined the Communist Party and was sent to prison — has draw objections from Republican officials and scrutiny from the governor.

I guess there's little doubt that the folks behind the initial push for the "labor activist" being memorialized were not Republicans. But a bunch of Republicans had to be asleep at the switch in the meantime.

Briefly noted:

  • But how will we know who's in charge unless they make more money? Andrew Cline looks at the numbers, and says Teacher pay in NH lags the national average despite $1 billion in new spending.

    Teachers unions and school officials regularly advocate for higher public school spending on the argument that teacher pay is too low. In fact, teacher pay in New Hampshire is relatively low compared to other states. But that’s not a product of low funding levels.

    Average public school district spending in the Granite State is is 14.4% above the national average, while our teacher pay is 5.3% below the national average.

    Depressing graphs at the link.

  • If it weren't for double standards… I'm sure you know how the rest of that saying goes. But Jonah Goldberg is pretty perceptive about them, because he's Buzzed on Coffee and Double Standards.

    Public policy and secular debates are drenched in this sort of categorical inconsistency. Smoking is so terrible that even vaping must be banned because it reminds people of smoking, but isn’t it great that everyone is free to smoke as much weed as they want? Racial discrimination is terrible, but schools must be able to take race into account in admissions. The influence of Big Business on government is outrageous and we shouldn’t allow corporate “loopholes” that let corporations avoid paying their “fair share,” but let me tell you about the progressive tax credit I’ve introduced to encourage companies to fight climate change and my new public-private partnership to promote affordable housing. Crony capitalism and “picking winners and losers” is corrupt and antithetical to the free market, but we must protect American industries and make everybody “buy American.” Who are you to say that men shouldn’t identify as women if they want to, but we all know that white people who identify as black, like Rachel Dolezal, are monsters. The one-drop rule was a hideous manifestation of American racism, but we definitely need it for purposes of affirmative action and census taking. Free speech is under assault, but we have to stiffen the penalties for hate speech. 

    Also making an appearance is the Vox article concerned with embryonic pain in chickens.

  • A dreadful story is told by Emma Camp in the latest issue of Reason, and it's out from behind the paywall: How an Ill-Informed Internet Mob Ruined a UVA Student's Life.

    The story went something like this: A white woman pulled up to a Black Women Matter protest in Charlottesville and told attendees they would make "good fucking speed bumps." When protesters confronted her, the driver cried and called the police.

    If you were a student at the University of Virginia (UVA) during summer 2020—as I was—you almost certainly heard this tale. It was repeated hundreds of times, over group chats and Instagram posts and viral tweets. The rumors were given a sheen of legitimacy by local news reporting and were acknowledged by the university administration.

    Camp's investigation makes it clear that wasn't what happened. But the student, Morgan Bettinger, was successfully railroaded by a UVA tribunal anyway. It's a powerful and tragic story.

  • Also untrusted: that kid who keeps crying "Wolf!" Becket Adams explains that the Public Doesn't Trust the Press for Good Reasons.

    There’s a reason the public distrusts the press. It’s very simple: Too many journalists behave in an untrustworthy manner! In the past week alone, reporters at various major-league institutions have produced or promoted, either purposely or accidentally, misleading or utterly bogus information.

    A National Public Radio reporter, for example, falsely accused Twitter, and Twitter CEO Elon Musk specifically, of censoring NPR’s unflattering coverage of the social-media platform. None of it was true.

    And that tall tale was echoed uncritically and unchecked in other outlets.

    To quote the truest thing Marvin Gaye ever sang: "Believe half of what you see, some and none of what you hear."

  • I would have preferred the iceman. Steven Malanga warns: The Tax Nexus Cometh. And there's a New Hampshire example:

    A small, employee-owned New Hampshire outfit, Littleton Coin Company, sells currency through its website to collectors. After the Supreme Court ruled in its 2018 South Dakota v. Wayfair decision that such firms would henceforth have to pay sales taxes on transactions that they made in states where they weren’t physically present, Littleton Coin found itself potentially liable for levies in more than 12,000 state and local jurisdictions—“all with different laws, tax rates, filing processes, websites, registrations, product classifications, and exemptions,” CEO John Hennessey told a congressional hearing last June.

    The bill is a whopper. The Court’s ruling predicted that the technical capabilities to deal with myriad tax laws would soon be in place at reasonable cost; but in 2018 alone, Littleton invested $225,000 to buy approved software to monitor its new tax liabilities. Since then, the business’s compliance costs—including engaging legal experts and technical staff—have added up to another $275,000 to track and pay proliferating obligations. Several states, meantime, have come, hand outstretched, for retroactive sales-tax payments—some for transactions made years before Wayfair. Worse still, Littleton is looking at unanticipated new levies based on states’ aggressive interpretation of the decision, written by now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Three thousand miles away, California has demanded income taxes from Littleton Coin. And Littleton fears that this is “just the tip of the iceberg, of states reaching beyond these taxes into what could become an unlimited number of new areas,” Hennessey warned.

    Wayfair was decided 5-4, with the majority opinion written (badly, the article claims) by Anothony Kennedy. But the dissenters were the usual bad guys: Breyer, Soromayor, and Kagan joined by Chief Justice Roberts.

  • It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. Also on the legal beat, J.D. Tuccille is pretty steamed about the Proud Boys going away: Punishing Rioters Is Wise. Bogus ‘Seditious Conspiracy’ Charges Are Not..

    The problem with convicting members of the "western chauvinist" Proud Boys on seditious conspiracy charges is that it wrongly elevates a violent tantrum by a bunch of thugs to the level of an insurrection, and it lets officials who prosecute them puff themselves up as saviors of the republic. Worse, the case took liberties with a statute that is probably best forgotten to arrive at its conclusion when normal criminal law could have punished rioters without putting the criminal justice system through contortions.

    See what you think. You don't have to be a Proud Boys fan to find this odious.

  • The fix is in? Maybe. We'll see. I trust Andrew C. McCarthy when he says On Hunter, Biden Is Re-running the Obama Fix for Hillary.

    With President Biden now unabashedly influencing the criminal investigation of his son — as well as his other family members and himself — how can Attorney General Merrick Garland persist in refusing to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Biden-family scheme to cash in on Joe’s political influence, to the tune of millions of dollars pried from corrupt, anti-American regimes?

    In a friendly interview on MSNBC on Friday, the chief executive made it clear to his subordinates at the Biden Justice Department that he has determined his son Hunter should not be charged with a crime. “My son has done nothing wrong,” said the president. “I trust him. I have faith in him, and it impacts my presidency by making me feel proud of him.”

    I hate the "if it were Trump" argument, but I'll say it anyway: if it were Trump, there would be calls for impeachment.

  • Selling the rope. The College Fix reports with a straight face: UT-Austin paid Angela Davis $25,000 for speech bashing capitalism. OK, you know the bad stuff, but I didn't know about the current revisionism:

    Davis, who supports reparations, started the lecture by promoting the theory that slavery in the West did not end because of Enlightenment-era ideas about liberty and equality, but because industrial capitalists wished to engage in more pernicious racial exploitation.

    “The real reason slavery was abolished was because it was no longer of service to capitalism,” Davis said.

    Well, that's certainly … interesting.

    Your relevant University Near Here link: up-and-comer Kate Slater, whose epigraph for her 2020 presentation "4 Steps to Begin An Anti-Racist Education" is from Davis: "In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist."

    Kate's also the co-author of the 2021 Anti-Racist Roadmap, featuring a quote that would make Davis proud: "We can’t abolish White supremacy without abolishing capitalism." Eek!

    Puzzled by the "selling the rope" reference? You shouldn't be. (Note apocryphal origins.)

  • Hey, kids! Let's make up our own Constitutional interpretation! Rich Lowry describes The Absurd 14th Amendment Option on the Debt.

    The position of the White House on the debt limit may be shifting from “President Joe Biden doesn’t want to compromise” to “President Joe Biden doesn’t have to compromise under the U.S. Constitution.”

    The heretofore fringe idea that Section 4 of the 14th Amendment empowers the president to keep borrowing and spending as usual even if the debt limit isn’t extended is getting a respectful hearing.

    Back in January, the U.S. reached the current debt limit of $31.4 trillion, which — surprise, surprise — wasn’t nearly enough. The Treasury Department has been using “extraordinary measures” to this point to avoid hitting the wall but will exhaust its running room around the beginning of June.

    Hoping the GOP won't go wobbly. But I realize that's a long shot.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:56 AM EDT


The Story of the Human Mind

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The author, Paul Bloom, based this book off an "Introduction to Psychology" course he taught at Yale. (He's now mainly at the University of Toronto.) It shows, and in a good way: the text is accessible to the general reader, full of interesting anecdotes, funny asides, and colorful language. An easy read, and you nevertheless find yourself learning things.

He discusses some famed luminaries of the field in detail: Freud, Piaget, Skinner. But most of the book focuses on broad concepts, broken into clearly demarcated, stand-alone chapters: the materialist origins of thought and consciousness; language development; rationality (and irrationality); biases and racism; mental illness; the nature of happiness.

Bloom is a research psychologist, but he's straightforward about the troubles in his own field, and full of healthy skepticism. Thomas Szasz is discussed; Bloom disagrees with his radicalism, but respectfully. He looks at that pesky replication crisis. And, although Bloom's got evidence on his side that psychological therapy works—that lady telling you to "seek professional help" is actually giving you good advice—there's not been a lot of actual progress in that area for a long time. The most damning quote Bloom provides is from Thomas Insel, onetime director of the National Institute for Mental Health: after 13 years at NIMH, spending an estimated $20 billion on research, he admits not "moving the needle" on suicide, hospitalization, or patient recovery.

He's not refunding that money, however.

When Bloom discusses racial/gender differences, he's not that far off from Charles Murray, although not in any way that would cause Yale students to shriek. He notes that formally egalitarian societies can "max out" genetic potential: people can literally "be all they can be". But he doesn't go on to mention (as Murray does) that those racial/gender disparities still persist in the most egalitarian countries. So?

When discussing schizophrenia, Bloom rattles off the symptoms, including "disorganized speech" (the tendency to produce word salad) and "odd and inappropriate actions, such as inappropriate giggling". Gee, I didn't previously think Kamala Harris was schizophrenic, but now I'm open to the possibility. I'll keep my eyes open for other telltale signs.

And Bloom mentions an ongoing mystery: why we behave so darn oddly when seeing cute babies: the urge to pinch, squeeze, and nibble. Prof Bloom, that happens to me all the time. Why? When psychology solves that enigma, I'll be more comfortable calling it a science.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:56 AM EDT

More Smart People Should Do This

I've read a number of those.

And it occurs to me I should probably read Virginia Postrel's The Future and its Enemies again.

I've put some of the others on my wanna-read list.

The Christie Affair

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This book made the WSJ's list of best mysteries for 2022. I don't always find the WSJ reviewer a reliable guide, but he was on target here.

I remembered, dimly, that famous mystery writer Agatha Christie went AWOL back in the 1920s, accompanied by a great deal of public speculation. She returned after a few days, but her whereabouts and activities during that period remained mysteriously unexplained. This book weaves a tale around that incident and, although it's been at least forty years since I read a Christie novel, I detected (heh) hints of her plotting style here.

The narrator is Nan O'Dea, and she's a self-admitted homewrecker. She has aimed herself at Agatha's husband, Archie; as the book opens, she's successfully convinced him to divorce Agatha. But it's pretty clear from Nan's narration that Archie is not only an unfaithful cad, he's also kind of a dimwit. Nan clearly has ulterior motives, but what are they? They are eventually revealed via horrific flashbacks to her unhappy youth in very Catholic Ireland.

Another layer to the mystery is added when Agatha vanishes. A frantic countrywide search ensues. A cop, Frank Chilton, is pulled out of retirement to help out with that; he becomes a major character in the narrative.

And a couple of poisoning deaths occur along the way. And Chilton needs to check those out too. (And he's a nice enough guy, but he's no Hercule Poirot.)

A final mystery for the reader: Nan is narrating events, but just how reliable a narrator is she? Especially when she's describing things she didn't actually witness? How much of this story is told through speculation, delusion, lies, and maybe a touch of insanity? No spoilers here, but it's something to keep your eye on.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:56 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-05-07 Update

Vivek Ramaswamy has yet to make it into our phony standings; as I type, Election Betting Odds has him a 0.9% chance of winning. And Nick Gillespie notes that he's pretty misguided on an important issue: Vivek Ramaswamy Is Wrong About the National Debt. Video:

And from the transcript at the link:

If you want to get a politician to change the subject, ask them how they're going to deal with the federal debt, which is growing to be bigger than the U.S. gross domestic product and has us on a path to fiscal disaster. Economists across the political spectrum agree that large, persistent, and growing annual deficits and the national debt depress long-term economic growth, the one known way to increase living standards.

As Nick points out, Vivek joins Trump, Biden, and the other pols that refuse to entertain any cuts to entitlement spending, preferring to embrace Pollyanaish fantasies.

And it's not just entitlement reform. Alexander William Salter notes another Vivek whiff: On Fed Reforms, Ramaswamy Swings and Misses.

Vivek Ramaswamy, investor and declared Republican presidential candidate, proposes ambitious Federal Reserve reforms in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. He promises to “[preserve] the US dollar as a stable financial unit to help prevent financial crises and restore robust economic growth.”

Purchasing power stability is all well and good, and there’s a strong economic case for it. Unfortunately, Ramaswamy’s arguments reveal he is unfamiliar with the ins and outs of monetary policy. His suggestions are poorly motivated and won’t result in a stronger economy. He’ll need to do better if he wants to rein in the Fed.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
You can click over for a detailed analysis. Salter is a fan of replacing the Fed's "discretion" (i.e., whims, pushed by politics) with predictable rules. Amazon link at to his book (co-authored with Peter Boettke and Daniel Smith) at your right.

So Vivek isn't likely to get sworn in on January 20, 2025. That mere fact wouldn't stop me from voting for him, because my number one criterion is, and probably will remain, "better than Biden".

In our phony lineup, Nikki Haley has (sigh) once again dropped below our 2% inclusion threshold. But we have two new faces making their first appearances: Robert Kennedy Jr. and—whoa, Nellie—Michelle Obama!

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Ron DeSantis 14.1% +0.6% 7,470,000 -9,030,000
Donald Trump 26.6% +0.3% 1,090,000 +30,000
Joe Biden 35.0% +0.3% 355,000 -45,000
Michelle Obama 2.7% --- 179,000 ---
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.1% --- 177,000 ---
Kamala Harris 2.8% +0.1% 103,000 -3,000
Other 14.7% -6.1% --- ---

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

Yes, despite losing nine million Google hits in a single week, Ron DeSantis maintains a comfortable phony lead over Donald J. Trump.

  • Megan McArdle has a relevant observation: DeSantis’s Disney attacks are pointless political pantomime.

    Once upon a time, politicians and corporations held an uneasy truce.

    Sure, if politicians threatened a firm’s bottom line, the business would fight back. But there were limits: Companies tended to conduct these battles politely, for fear of offending regulators who held a great deal of power over them, or customers who might disagree with them. And they did not pick fights on matters that didn’t directly affect their profits.

    Sometime in the past decade, that truce broke down. A mass corporate boycott forced Indiana to substantially amend a religious freedom law that critics said would roll back LGBTQ+ rights, Delta withdrew a group discount from the National Rifle Association convention, and CEOs signed open letters protesting abortion bans.

    Conservatives are understandably unhappy with the new “woke capital” and eager for their politicians to push back. Hence the ongoing fracas between Disney and the Florida GOP, which started with Disney offering a mild criticism of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act (better known to residents of blue states as the “don’t say gay” law) and has now escalated to a lawsuit in which Disney accuses Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials of retaliating against the company for its constitutionally protected political expression.

    The lawsuit is an excellent illustration of the merits of the old truce: Disney’s criticism of the law achieved nothing except attracting the ire of Republican politicians who were spoiling for a fight. But it is also an excellent illustration of why Republicans keep failing to restore the truce, because they have gone about these fights in the dumbest possible way.

    I'm currently seeing ads (during Jeopardy! on WBZ-Boston) for DeSantis, who (remember) has not announced. One of the images is a guy placing a DeSantis bumper sticker over his old Trump one.

  • The bettors tracked by EBO still have Trump bumper stickers on, though: 63.8% probable to win the GOP nomination. Joseph Epstein is pretty bereft about that prospect: America Hits Bottom With Trump and Biden in 2024.

    How have we come to the pass where two undistinguished, not to say deeply flawed, men will be competing for the highest office in the land? Does it say that the system by which our political parties nominate presidential candidates needs radical revamping? Have party politics in America now devolved to a point lower than the Founding Fathers—or anyone since—reckoned possible? Has the time come to reread, and possibly rewrite, the Federalist Papers? What does it say about the U.S. that it can do no better in choosing a president than the choice presented between the gross Donald Trump and the unctuous Joe Biden?

    A forthcoming presidential election between these two men would only seem to prove the sad wisdom of Joseph de Maistre, who wrote that “every country gets the government it deserves.”

    Also see Mencken's corollary: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

  • There must be a pony in here somewhere, says Ira Stoll, finding The Bright Side of Biden vs. Trump.

    The prospect of a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump strikes many commentators as dismal. But the two have recently been vying over who will provide more freedom for the American people. If that continues, the campaign could be surprisingly uplifting.

    Mr. Biden announced via video last week that he is seeking re-election. “Freedom,” he opened: “Personal freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans. There’s nothing more important—nothing more sacred.” He casts the election as turning on that notion. “MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms,” he says, referring to Republican efforts to dictate “what health decisions women can make,” ban books, and tell people “who they can love.” We hear the word six times in only three minutes.

    Mr. Trump sounded similar notes at a recent campaign rally in Waco, Texas. “If you put me back in the White House,” he said, “America will be a free nation once again.” He would “defend free speech” and “hold a competition to build new freedom cities throughout our country.” Mr. Trump proposes to spur economic growth and expand the housing supply by creating 10 cities on what is now federal land. “We will liberate America,” he added. “We will rescue freedom, liberty and justice.”

    Stoll doesn't convince me to cheer up, but you might be swayed.

  • But what about the (likely) other guy? Matthew Continetti points out that Biden Finds New Ways to Fail. Spurred by the announcement (from Kamala Harris) that Uncle Stupid would fund "seven new AI research institutes" and would tell companies "they have a role to play in reducing the risks and that they can work together with the government."

    The hubris of Progressives never ceases to amaze. They flit about, from issue to issue, never bothering to consider the real-world effects and unintended consequences of the policies they take up and impose at whim. What’s been happening on the border since Biden took office, for example, is the definition of a man-made disaster. By overturning Trump-era enforcement policies, and by raising the prospect of a comprehensive immigration reform that would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants, this administration contributed to record-levels of unauthorized border crossings and to a spiraling humanitarian crisis that affects not just the southwest but also far-flung cities like Chicago and New York.

    Continetti also goes on to lampoon Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's 82-page public health advisory on loneliness. As did I, a few days back.

    Folks, you aren't even getting the basic functions of government right. What makes you think… ah, never mind. They're not listening.

  • But you'll notice that our phony list is (currently) contains three non-senile Democrats. OK, they're long shots, and they're various flavors of awful. But it's a signal that agrees with Matt Welch's take: Biden More Vulnerable in 2024 Primary Than Trump Ever Was in 2020.

    It's possible that Democratic voters, after indulging in a brief fling with political competitors, no matter how weird, will rally back around the old incumbent. For the moment, most major party figures, led by power-thirsty California Gov. Gavin Newsom, are being good soldiers. But if the anti-establishment fringe continues to attract nearly one-third of Democratic polling support, or even increase on that, keep on the lookout for three potential responses: 1) The Biden campaign strong-arming ostensibly neutral party institutions; 2) the media opening up an all-out assault on the (very assaultable) record of RFK Jr., and 3) the more ambitious of establishmentarians beginning to quietly edge off the sidelines.

    Beto again? Mayor Pete again? America needs you, Bernie!

    This would be fun to watch. Except that I'd have to forget that the future of the country might be at stake.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:56 AM EDT

They Weren't Asked About Queer Theory

Via Instapundit, a pretty sobering sight on Twitter:

Who would have thought that the middle of the Trump/DeVos Dark Ages would be a high point in student knowledge of history and civics? I was assured this couldn't be so!

No doubt the pandemic had something to do with this. But it's certainly multicausal, and I'd wager that promulgation of woke indoctrination by teachers who claimed at the same time that they were "just teaching history" was another factor.

I recommend Nat Malkus's post at AEI: US History Tests Show the Falling Floor for Student Achievement for more graphs and explanation.

Briefly noted:

  • Also on that topic… the WSJ editorialists look at the head educrat pointing fingers: Miguel Cardona, Miseducation Secretary.

    The federal Department of Education’s mission is supposed to be . . . what exactly? Apparently Education Secretary Miguel Cardona thinks it’s something other than improving educational results. New national test results this week showed eighth-grade U.S. history scores at an all-time low, and Mr. Cardona’s response was to attack the GOP.

    The data released is from 2022 tests on U.S. history and civics under the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the “nation’s report card.” The average eighth-grade history score is down five points from 2018 and nine points from 2014. It’s the lowest on record, going back to 1994. Scores dropped the most among the lower performers. Only 13% of students were deemed NAEP proficient. The civics results are similarly depressing.

    This is a damning record for the educational establishment, on top of last year’s news that NAEP math scores for eighth-graders in 2022 fell to a 20-year low. For all the money the U.S. keeps pumping into education, surely somebody in authority ought to be embarrassed by these pitiful outcomes, working to reverse them, and explaining to the citizenry what is being done. Maybe that person is supposed to be the U.S. Education Secretary?

    The WSJ has examples of "basic" and "proficient" questions. See how you do. My guess is that you are more knowledgable than today's average US eighth-grader.

  • Making sure you don't know much about history. In case you have any doubt about whether government schools prioritize indoctrination over education, Garion Frankel and Daniel Buck note a recent bit of advocacy: Progressives Push Abortion Messaging into the Classroom.

    There was a time when schoolteachers — even if they broached controversial topics in class — kept their opinions private. It was a badge of honor for teachers who could lead a classroom debate and keep their students guessing as to their instructor’s opinion on the matter. Was the teacher a skilled enough rhetorician to defend a view contrary to the one that they held for the sake of their students’ intellectual growth?

    Well, that time is no more. Last year, gender or critical race theory seemed like the height of advocacy in the classroom. Now, even abortion is becoming less of a taboo.

    In a recent issue, the influential education magazine Rethinking Schools, whose books sell upwards of 200,000 copies and make it onto college reading lists, declared that educators must begin teaching about the benefits of abortion. The Dobbs decision, it claimed, warrants an “all-hands-on-deck response to ensure abortion for those who want and need it.” Namely, a teacher’s “most critical role is to combat the silence, shame, and misinformation around abortion” through instruction. Topics worthy of coverage include the right to an abortion, abortion stories from the advocacy group Shout Your Abortion, and literature that addresses “sex, sexual violence, pregnancy, forced pregnancy, sterilization, abortion, and miscarriage.”

    As always, I offer my modest proposal: repeal compulsory school attendance laws.

    No, really.

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies. Jacob Sullum wonders: Do These Seditious Conspiracy Convictions Prove the Capitol Riot 'Was Not Spontaneous'? But he doesn't wonder for long:

    A federal jury yesterday convicted four Proud Boys of participating in a seditious conspiracy aimed at keeping Donald Trump in office after Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. Those verdicts, former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argues in an MSNBC opinion piece, show that the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol was "an organized, violent uprising meant to overturn the 2020 election." According to Aftergut, "It's now established beyond a reasonable doubt that the Capitol siege was not spontaneous, but rather a planned assault by force on our democracy."

    There are a couple of problems with that characterization. First, the prosecutors in this case, who relied heavily on questionable inferences, never showed that the defendants explicitly planned to disrupt congressional certification of Biden's victory. Second, it seems clear that most of the Trump supporters who participated in the riot did act spontaneously, a point that Aftergut glides over.

    The Proud Boys should not be proud. But they shouldn't be overcharged either.

  • Among the many things by which you shouldn't be fooled… Near the top of the list these days is, according to Liz Wolfe: Don't Be Fooled by Randi Weingarten's Rehabilitation Tour.

    On Tuesday, the fact-checkers over at PolitiFact—which is run by the Poynter Institute, that nonprofit focused on media literacy and journalism ethics training—declared that "it's misleading to suggest that [American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten] didn't want to pursue reopening schools at all."

    "As educators, parents and students struggled through the early COVID-19 pandemic to balance learning with health safety rules, teachers union president Randi Weingarten grappled, too," wrote Madison Czopek in a piece that attempts to evaluate Weingarten's truth telling before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic last week (approvingly shared on Twitter by the subject herself). Czopek proceeded to go line by line not evaluating Weingarten's numerous claims during her testimony or on her recent media tour, but rather the claims made by Twitter users who added community-sourced context to the AFT head's tweet.

    Here's the tweet and the "added context".

    Yes, Twitter users are outperforming Politifact. Which remains trash.

    It's not easy to admit you were wrong. It's even less easy when the things you were wrong about caused grievous damage to the kids you thought you were trying to protect.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:42 PM EDT

Concord Should Just Change its Name to Stalingrad

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Historical Marker Concord NH

Yahoo! News carries the New Hampshire Union Leader story: GOP councilors speak out against historical marker for Communist activist.

With state officials objecting to a historical marker on public property honoring the life of a Communist activist and Concord native, Gov. Chris Sununu has asked for a review of the approval process.

Executive Councilors David Wheeler, R-Milford, and Joseph Kenney, R-Wakefield, said the decision to place a marker about the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in Concord was an insult to all veterans, and state officials should have blocked it in the first instance.

"Every man and woman who served in uniform as a Cold War warrior and our sisters and brothers, we do not support at all that this particular person gets a historic marker," said Kenney, a Gulf War veteran.

"This was a devout Communist. We are the Live Free or Die state. How can we possibly be popularizing this propaganda and spreading it in downtown Concord?"

Good question. At NHJournal, Damien Fisher is as gobsmacked as Joseph Kenney, wondering Why Did NH Approve A Historic Marker Honoring A Concord Communist?.

The Sununu administration approved a new Historical Highway Marker honoring a committed Communist from Concord who received a state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square. Now state officials are asking how it happened.

On Monday, May 1 — May Day for the international Socialist movement — the New Hampshire Department of Natural & Cultural Resources unveiled the marker honoring Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who once led the Communist Party USA.

Flynn was born in 1890 in Concord and became a socialist activist in her teens. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and, in 1936, joined the Community Party, becoming the U.S. Party Chair in 1961.

Her decision to join the Communist Party during the period of Josef Stalin’s deadly purge and high-profile show trials is particularly disturbing. In fact, her membership in the party got her expelled from the ACLU in 1940. A decade later, she was found guilty under the Smith Act of advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence.

Underline: she joined the Communist Party in 1936, in her mid-forties. "Youthful idealism" is not avaiable as an excuse. This was only a few years after the Holodomor killed millions of Ukrainians. Stalin's Great Purge was ramping up, with a body count of at least 700,000. Flynn had no problem with that.

About the only amusement to be had is watching various state officials (Governor, Executive Councilors, the head of the agency in charge of the historical marker program), and city officials finger-pointing and buck-passing. There's more of that in a followup NHJournal article: State Puts Blame For Marker Honoring Concord Communist On City.

Fallout from the state’s historic marker honoring a notorious Communist continues as the Sununu administration invites Concord to remove the monument, and the city insists it never requested the placard in the first place.

“If the City Council objected to the placement of the marker on city property, the application would have been denied,” New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart wrote to Concord’s mayor Thursday.

“It’s their sign, not ours,” Ward 3 Concord City Councilor Jennifer Kretovic told NHJournal. “And if they want to say differently, they can go pound sand.”

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway: anyone who had cozied up to Nazi Germany like Flynn had with the Commies would not have been lionized like this.

Briefly noted:

  • But it's not just New Hampshire. David Mikics notes a different example of the same damned thing: Commie Chic Invades American Grade Schools.

    Every day, my son, who is in seventh grade, sees a quotation from Angela Davis painted on his school’s wall: “Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” (The line actually comes from Karl Marx.) Four years ago, during Black History Month, a poster of Davis beamed down from the wall of his public elementary school in Brooklyn.

    I eagerly praise my son’s charter school to other parents. It’s full of dedicated teachers who urge their students to debate politics and history with an open mind. So I wrote to the administration, proposing that they should balance the school’s homage to Davis with a quotation from Andrei Sakharov or Natan Sharansky, who fought to free the millions of Soviet bloc citizens that Davis wanted to keep locked up. After all, I reasoned, some of the school’s families are themselves refugees from communist tyrannies. My suggestion was met with silence.

    Davis, who is now euphemistically celebrated as an “activist,” was in fact a loyal apparatchik who served working-class betrayers, some of whom were murderous bureaucrats, and others outright maniacs who defy any normative political description. Among the objects of her adoration were dullards like the East German leader Erich Honecker and the stupefied (and stupefying) Soviet Communist Party Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, as well as the Reverend Jim Jones. Before the grotesque mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, Davis broadcast a worshipful speech about Jones to the imprisoned Black women who were murdered by his cult.

    Yah, Angela Davis. A continuing mystery is why she gets idolized by "respectable" institutions. Like (for example) the University Near Here.

  • It's a weird WIRED world. For some reason, WIRED hosts authors Jehan Azad and Uri Bram who have joined the Henry George fanclub: Land Ownership Makes No Sense.

    In our times, owning land seems as natural as owning cars or houses. And this makes sense: The general presumption is that you can privately own anything, with rare exceptions for items such as dangerous weapons or archaeological artifacts. The idea of controlling territory, specifically, has a long tenure. Animals, warlords, and governments all do it, and the modern conception of “fee simple”—that is, unrestricted, perpetual, and private—land ownership has existed in English common law since the 13th century.

    Yet by 1797, US founding father Thomas Paine was arguing that “the earth, in its natural uncultivated state” would always be “the common property of the human race," and so landowners owed non-landowners compensation “for the loss of his or her natural inheritance.”

    A century later, economist Henry George saw that poverty was rising despite increasing wealth and blamed this on our system of owning land. He proposed that land should be taxed at up to 100 percent of its “unimproved” value—we’ll get to that in a moment—allowing other forms of taxes (certainly including property taxes, but also potentially income taxes) to be reduced or abolished. George became a sensation. His book Progress and Poverty sold 2 million copies, and he got 31 percent of the vote in the 1886 New York mayoral race (finishing second, narrowly ahead of a 31-year-old Teddy Roosevelt).

    Sticklers for historical accuracy will probably point out that George detected "rising" poverty in the midst of what Deirdre McCloskey has dubbed the Great Encrichment: a vast increase of the wealth of everyone in countries that adopted (what McCloskey doesn't call) free-market capitalism.

    It is true enough that the moral foundations of land ownership are dubious.

    But you might know another area where the moral foundations are dubious: political authority. I read Michael Huemer on this a few years ago, and agreed with his conclusion: Not only does the emperor have no clothes, his power over his subjects lacks any rational justification. And that argument applies to any form of government: you have the rulers and ruled, and the method for putting people in one class or the other isn't particularly relevant.

    And yet, efforts to construct a no-government polity have all failed. It's a mystery as to why, but I assume it's got something to do with that pesky human nature.

    And so also with Georgist policies. Have they been successfully implemented anywhere? Well, OK, wake me when that happens.

The Egg and I

A Tweet via the NR Corner:

Maybe we should set up a rival organization to PETA: PETP, People for the Ethical Treatment of People.

Ah. It's been done.

Briefly noted:

  • In case you had any doubt. David Strom looks at a recent factcheck, and concludes, correctly, that Politifact is trash.

    Randi Weingarten, for those of you unfortunate enough not to have read my article “Randi Weingarten is an evil liar,” is the President of the American Federation of Teachers. She is, perhaps, the single biggest reason that schools in the United States remained closed for so long. A year or more in many places.

    Randi has been going on a propaganda tour claiming she was desperately trying to get schools open as quickly as possible, as it becomes clear that school closures may be the single-biggest COVID-related disaster and one of the biggest government missteps in recent history.

    Kids are literally dying because of those school closures, and their mental health has taken a nosedive. Much of this transgender craze is related to all the TikTok time kids had during the pandemic.

    And Politifact has thrown its weight on the pro-Randi side. As Strom notes, it's "convoluted and deceitful", deftly "Cherry-picking things Weingarten said and ignoring what she did."

  • Another ass-covering retcon. Jacob Sullum follows the science: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Refuses To Acknowledge the Government's Misrepresentation of Mask Research.

    In a recent interview with The New York Times, former White House COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci conceded that face masks had, at best, a modest overall impact on coronavirus transmission during the pandemic. "From a broad public-health standpoint, at the population level, masks work at the margins—maybe 10 percent," he said. "But for an individual who religiously wears a mask, a well-fitted KN95 or N95, it's not at the margin. It really does work."

    This week CNN's Erin Burnett asked Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about Fauci's gloss, which she said might be perceived as "an extremely significant statement," because "we were told it didn't matter what kind of mask [we wore]." She also noted that children were required to wear masks in schools and day care centers, adding that "none of them wore them the right way." The contrast between that frequently mandatory advice and what Fauci is saying now, Burnett suggested, is "upsetting to a lot of people."

    Murthy's response illustrates the persistent difficulty that public health officials have in speaking honestly about this subject. He conceded that shifting government health advice "can be disconcerting" but said "sometimes guidance does evolve over time as you learn more." He also allowed that the pandemic "has been incredibly hard for a lot of people, especially kids and parents." And he mentioned "greater loneliness and isolation" as one consequence of the pandemic, saying the Biden administration is working on "a national strategy to address loneliness."

    Whoa, that last part?

    "Hi, I'm from Your Federal Government. Wanna go bowling, or something?"

  • An AI wouldn't have to be very intelligent to outwit Lina Khan. This Ars Technica article plays it straight: “We must regulate AI,” FTC Chair Khan says.

    On Wednesday, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan pledged to use existing laws to regulate AI in a New York Times op-ed, "We Must Regulate A.I. Here's How." In the piece, she warns of AI risks such as market dominance by large tech firms, collusion, and the potential for increased fraud and privacy violations.

    In the op-ed, Khan cites the rise of the "Web 2.0" era in the mid-2000s as a cautionary tale for AI's expansion, saying that the growth of tech companies led to invasive surveillance and loss of privacy. Khan feels that public officials must now ensure history doesn't repeat itself with AI, but without unduly restricting innovation.


    James Pethokoukis takes aim at Lina's op-ed at his Substack: ⚔ The FTC's Lina Khan vs. GenAI.

    (Yes, he really did find a Unicode "Crossed Swords" symbol in his headline. I have to start perusing the Unicode tables for stuff like that.)

    You have to dig a little to find the thesis of FTC Chair Lina Khan’s essay in The New York Times, “We Must Regulate A.I. Here’s How.” It’s way down in the twelfth paragraph, almost near the end: “The history of the growth of technology companies two decades ago serves as a cautionary tale for how we should think about the expansion of generative A.I.”

    There’s your trouble. The story of Big Tech in the 2000s isn’t a cautionary tale, not at all. Why would it be? These companies are the crown jewels of the American economy. Europe would love to have them, and China is trying to build them. To answer that question, Khan offers a version of the “surveillance capitalism” critique of the digital economy created by companies such as Facebook and Google. From her essay:

    Those innovative services, however, came at a steep cost. What we initially conceived of as free services were monetized through extensive surveillance of the people and businesses that used them. The result has been an online economy where access to increasingly essential services is conditioned on the widespread hoarding and sale of our personal data. These business models drove companies to develop endlessly invasive ways to track us, and the Federal Trade Commission would later find reason to believe that several of these companies had broken the law. Coupled with aggressive strategies to acquire or lock out companies that threatened their position, these tactics solidified the dominance of a handful of companies. What began as a revolutionary set of technologies ended up concentrating enormous private power over key services and locking in business models that come at extraordinary cost to our privacy and security.

    Sounds pretty serious. And it must frustrate those who worry about “surveillance capitalism” that there’s little evidence most of us share their concern. All those “invasive” business models that provide services at “steep cost” — in the words of Khan — seem to provide an acceptable tradeoff to most of us. This view was nicely summed up back in a 2019 piece by Axios reporter Erica Pandey who wrote, “I, like scores of others, have decided that I’m OK with giving up personal data in order to keep getting convenient, cheap (or free) services. Despite the known episodes of firms misusing data, the ease and quality of life under the reign of Big Tech generally seems worth it.”

    I also liked a tweet Pethokoukis included:

Why, I'm Old Enough to Remember…

… this old National Lampoon cover:


That's where my depraved mind went when I saw the latest Reason cover:

[Buy this magazine or the bird gets it]

Yes: If you don't buy this magazine, we'll shoot this stork.

But the referenced article is very good. Elizabeth Nolan Brown says Storks Don't Take Orders From the State.

On the left and the right, in Europe and the United States, a consensus is growing: People aren't having enough kids—not enough to support the welfare state, not enough to preserve the culture, not enough to keep advanced economies young, thriving, and entrepreneurial.

The last time the U.S. was at replacement level fertility (the number of kids the average woman must have to stave off population decline, without immigration) was 2007. Replacement level fertility is roughly 2.1 kids per woman. Since then, America's total fertility rate dropped to 1.66. This, in turn, led to a lot of unanswered questions about the fate of federal entitlement programs, innovation, education, politics, and culture in an aging country.

To many, the solution is obvious: Americans should have more children. Yet pro-natalist policies have a weak track record in every country where they've been tried. They're incredibly expensive, they produce few or no gains in fertility, and they can lead to a disturbingly authoritarian form of governance where individual choices about family formation are deprioritized and women are pressured to have babies for the national good. Efforts to control birthrates at the population level inevitably end with efforts to control women at the individual level. Meanwhile, birthrates have declined in tandem with several social upsides as well: better education, greater wealth, longer life spans, and more freedom for women.

ENB convincingly argues that we are, for better or worse, on track for vastly different demographics, no matter what governments do. That's not necessarily bad, but government policies that depend on an ever-increasing supply of young taxpaying workers are likely to break.

Briefly noted:

  • And a weary country moans and searches for the TV remote. Charles C. W. Cooke welcomes back his friends to the show that seemingly never ends: The Trump & CNN Show Returns.

    Rarely in the history of popular entertainment have we played witness to a duo as gainfully co-dependent as CNN and Donald Trump. Hall and Oates, Statler and Waldorf, and Rodgers and Hammerstein can all eat their hearts out. Sure, they did some good work. Certainly, they complemented one another. Yeah, when you think of one, the other appears sua sponte from the ether and glues himself to the billboard. But Trump and CNN? That’s next-level Hollywood gold. They laugh. They cry. They spar. They correct each other’s sentences. And then, when the cameras stop rolling, they guffaw all the way to the bank. There’s no business like show business.

    Season One of The Trump & CNN Show ran from 2015 to 2016. Season Two, which was finally greenlit yesterday afternoon, will start in New Hampshire on May 10. As with the first version, the locations and stories are expected to vary, but CNN has confirmed that episode one will take the form of a “presidential town hall next week in New Hampshire” that will serve as Trump’s “first appearance on CNN since the 2016 presidential campaign.” By all accounts, Donald Trump was as keen to rekindle the relationship as CNN, whose “executives,” a senior Trump adviser told Semafor, “made a compelling pitch” to the former president. Having received the offer, Trump swiftly agreed that it was time “to jumpstart the relationship,” and the rest was history. At this point, it is unclear whether CNN’s spin-off show, #Resistance, will be brought back for a second run.

    Also chiming in at NR was Mr. Indispensable, in an addendum to his Morning Jolt column. (Which is mostly about Biden's vaccine mandate floperoo.)

    Does anyone else find it a little odd that for the past two to three years, or even longer, so many contributors to CNN characterized former president Donald Trump as a “threat to democracy,” “terrifying,” a “vibrant threat to democracy”; how his team “adopts the narratives of autocracy,” how he’s “dangerous,” how January 6 “appears darker and more dangerous by the day. . . .”

    . . . and then the network turns round and agrees to host a live televised town hall with him on May 10?

    How exactly is CNN going to promote this? “He’s the vibrant threat to democracy that you don’t want to miss! He led a coup, wants to be a dictator, and will stop at nothing to punish anyone he deems an obstacle — and we’re putting him the spotlight for a whole hour, live! You never know what he’ll say or do next — so tune in next Wednesday!”

    I remember during the runup to the 2016 primary season, I was in an Epping restaurant where a big screen was tuned to CNN. And there was a lengthy live shot of Trump's campaign plane about to land somewhere in South Carolina. Which seemed to last throughout my meal. Whenever I looked up: yup, plane still flying.

    Slow news day, I suppose. Still: did no cute zoo animals give birth that day? Did no toddler fall down a well? No, the big news, deserving live coverage, was Trump's plane about to land in South Carolina.

  • I hear you asking, friend: Will repealing the payroll tax cap save Social Security? Well, Kevin D. Williamson has your answer: Repealing the Payroll-Tax Cap Won’t Save Social Security.

    Gail Collins, one of the most tedious repeaters of cheap partisan talking points in the business, has some thoughts about Social Security. 

    In one of her regular New York Times conversations with Bret Stephens—the asymmetry in partisanship is dramatic—Collins says:

    [M]y top priority for fixing government finances is to get the rich to pay their fair share of Social Security taxes. … Right now, the Social Security tax cap is so low that anybody who’s made a million dollars or more this year has already maxed out. You and I are getting taxed right now, but Elon Musk isn’t.

    This is, of course, nonsense. 

    It is not the case that anybody who has made $1 million this year (as of May 1) has already maxed out. It is the case that anybody who has made $160,200 has maxed out—because $160,200 is the cap, after which your income is still taxed in all sorts of ways, but not subjected to the payroll tax that, in the great fiction of Washington accounting, “funds” Social Security. 

    KDW also takes on that execrable "fair share" bit of boilerplate. Really, I despise it when comes from politicians' mouths—they're in the business of bullshit, after all. But it's really obnoxious when it comes from a "journalist".

    I assume that the folks paying that "fair share" tax wouldn't actually get increased benefits at retirement reflecting their increased "contribution". That's the progressive definition of fair: not really fair at all.

  • "Unconstitutional?" Maggie laughed and exclaimed, "Why, fiddle-dee-dee!" At TechDirt, Mike Masnick has a little list: Bipartisan Panic: 26 Senators Support Terrible, Dangerous, Unconstitutional ‘KOSA Act’.

    Passing blatantly unconstitutional dangerous laws “to protect the children” based on totally unsubstantiated moral panics appears to be part of a bipartisan mass hysteria these days. The Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA, is officially back. And, with it, the recognition that over a quarter of the Senate has bought into this dangerous, unconstitutional nonsense:

    It’s sponsored by long-term anti-internet Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, and has a ton of co-sponsors, who seem all too eager to support this kind of nonsense:

    The Kids Online Safety Act has been cosponsored by U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.). More cosponsors may be added during today’s session.

    If you see your senator in that list, … well, my sympathies.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:03 AM EDT

The True Believer

Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

At some point in my life, I acquired this slim, dog-eared, heavily underlined and student-annotated, spine-cracked paperback for (the sticker on the front cover says) 75¢—list price $1.95. (The Amazon link is to the in-print version: $10.99.) After decades of neglect, it's about time I read it.

I seem to remember that a number of courses I avoided taking in high school and college used it as a text. Well, I bet those courses would be pretty hard to find now. One of the first things I noticed was that the author, Eric Hoffer, was given to broad generalizations about entire classes of people, most of which (um) could be perceived as negative. You can't get away with that sort of thing these days.

Anyway, it was considered important back then, I kept seeing complimentary references to it, and I finally got around to reading it. As the subtitle indicates, Hoffer's book is a finely detailed analysis of the "nature of mass movements". Some of Hoffer's prime examples are Nazism in Germany; the Bolsheviks in Russia; the French Revolution; the rise of Christianity. There are a lot of moving parts, but the biggie for a "mass movement" are the masses, the foot soldiers, the true believers. Hoffer is not complimentary: they are motivated by resentment and a perception of their own inadequacies. They long for belonging, action, even self-sacrifice for a Cause, and they're not particular about the details. (Hoffer mentions that, historically, it's been pretty easy to turn (say) Nazi sympathizers into Communist sympathizers, and vice versa.)

Other components: leaders, "men of action", and "men of words". (Another reason this book might not be as popular in colleges now: as near as I can remember, there are no women present on Planet Hoffer. That wasn't a problem in my academic days, but now…) They all have important parts to play. Come to think of it, this might make a pretty good how-to book for aspiring revolutionary leaders.

(The book came out in 1951. Although there are a couple (negative) mentions of Chiang Kai-Shek, I didn't notice anything about Mao. That would have made a pretty interesting addition.)

One problem with the book: I don't think anyone—even an actual True Believer-is likely to recognize themselves here. But it's pretty easy to pick out descriptive passages and apply them to people we don't like. Section 90 rattles off some characteristics of a leader: "fanatical conviction that he is in posession of the one and only truth"; "faith in his destiny and luck"; "a capacity for passionate hatred"… are you thinking of any particular politician you know?

And it's full of fascinating trivia. Here's something I didn't know: the rise of Christianity happened primarily in large cities of the day. The words pagan and heathen derive from old words for "villagers" (pagani) and those inhabitants of the countryside (the heath).

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:55 AM EDT

About as PG-13 as Mr. Ramirez Gets

Test your Spanish skills, readers:

[Where is Tucker]

(But if you want to cheat, click on the cartoon for an English version.)

Briefly noted:

  • And it's not just their asses that are old. Jeff Maurer provides A Brief History of Old-Ass Presidents.

    How old-ass is Joe Biden? He is 80 years and 162 days — old-ass by any objective measure. But how old is he according to dodgy, unscientific measures developed for entertainment purposes? Let’s dig into that a bit…

    In 1820, the median American was 16.7 years old. Yes: The median American back then was some sullen little snot who thought her parents were SO LAME because they didn't use new technology like the precision lathe or the miner's lamp. Except that 16 year-olds back then could probably fix a wagon and skin a moose and also had three kids of their own. At any rate: America was a different country back when someone the age of Finn Wolfhard — 20 — was presumably eligible for free coffee at Mac-Donald’s Meat Dispensary and Hasty Brothel (as McDonald’s was known back then).

    Health, generally, was different in those days. We didn't have dieticians and MRIs and magical copper socks; we had doctor-slash-lumberjacks who would chop off appendages that showed signs of gangrene. If — through some miracle — you managed to dodge the viruses, wild beasts, and Englishmen that made life so perilous and lived to, say, 70, then it probably wasn't a good 70. There's an excellent chance that at that age, you were a half-sentient bag of arthritis sitting in a corner with one of those big, funnel-looking horns affixed to your ear.

    Maurer does something actually interesting: displays the inauguration-age of each president as a percentage of the US median age at the time. He calls this the "Old For His Time" (OFHT) metric. And the record holder? Spoiler alert:

    One thing suggesting that this metric might not be completely useless is the fact that the oldest OFHT president was William Henry Harrison. And William Henry Harrison was initially famous for being old, and soon after famous for being dead. I'm sure WH2 hates it when people tell this story, but: Harrison was the oldest president ever elected, and to prove his virility, he gave a two hour inauguration speech on a cold, rainy day with no jacket. Then, in one of history’s most extreme cases of being publicly proven wrong, Harrison’s “I’m virile” argument was convincingly countered by Mother Nature, who gave him pneumonia and then killed him. D’oh! They didn’t write headlines like MOTHER NATURE TOTALLY DESTROYS WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON’S VIRILITY ARGUMENT back then, but it would have been apt.

    Yes, I'm a sucker for people doing math. And making fun of presidents.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:03 AM EDT

"Don't Get Mad, Get Even."

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Today's headline is often attributed to Robert F. Kennedy (Sr.); that's apparently bogus. But Junior has apparently taken that guidance halfway: he does Get Mad, and he really has a hankering for the power that will allow him to Get Even. As discussed by Matt Welch: The Strange New Respect for Authoritarian Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr..

Ever since the 69-year-old conspiratorial activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination last week, a curious new category has appeared among the commentariat—libertarians and/or right-of-center journalists expressing strange new respect for a Hugo Chavez–admiring scion of the Establishment who has serially fantasized about throwing his political opponents in jail.

"I'm quite certain that I've never heard a more erudite speech in any political context," enthused Brownstone Institute President Jeffrey Tucker after attending Kennedy's announcement rally. "As [a] Democrat he must be bad on all sorts of things," tweeted's Scott Horton, "But not the ones that matter the most." The Libertarian Party of Colorado tweeted (and then deleted) "Bravo and godspeed hero." Tablet, a publication not usually known for boosting overheated analogies to murderous 20th-century totalitarians, gave RFK Jr. an 18,000-word valentine with such soft-toss "questions" about his previous controversial statements (like terming the impact from childhood vaccines "a holocaust") as: "You activated an automated outrage machine that was looking for a gotcha."

Speaking of fantasizing, it's nice to fantasize that his candidacy could pull a Gene McCarthy-style ambush of Biden in the New Hampshire Primary. It's not that far-fetched; Democrats only have a problem with authoritarianism when it's Republican authoritarianism. And, being human, they are as susceptible to conspiracy ravings as Republicans.

Briefly noted:

  • I pledge to do my part. Which is negligible. Jeff Jacoby urges us: Republicans can spare the country a rematch it doesn't want.

    So here we are: The election rematch America doesn't want is shaping up to be the one it gets. In 2016, Trump and Hillary Clinton were repeatedly described as the two most disliked presidential nominees in living memory. Eight years later, the same scenario is unfolding again. Only 38 percent of Americans view Biden in a positive light. Only 34 percent have a positive view of Trump.

    Is there no way out?

    At this point, only death or disability will keep Biden off the 2024 ballot, so Americans can avoid another Biden vs. Trump contest only if Republicans say no to the former president.

    There are excellent reasons for them to do so, beginning with the fact that nominating Trump is the best way to ensure Biden's reelection.

    You'll note that Jacoby is not fantasizing a stunning NH upset forcing Biden to emulate LBJ in 1968.

  • Gee, that's too bad. The Independent (UK) reports the feel-good story of the day: Russian forces suffer radiation sickness after digging trenches and fishing in Chernobyl.

    Russian troops who dug trenches in Chernobyl forest during their occupation of the area have been struck down with radiation sickness, authorities have confirmed.

    Ukrainians living near the nuclear power station that exploded 37 years ago, and choked the surrounding area in radioactive contaminants, warned the Russians when they arrived against setting up camp in the forest.

    They'll be easier to shoot if they glow in the dark.

  • I'm simple. Or so people have told me. Ann Althouse notes another example of sex discrimination at the New York Times: their coverage of The complicated woman and the complicated man.. Spurred by their observation that actress Lizzy Caplan "is known for playing complicated women."

    She's playing the role made famous by Glenn Close in a new version of Fatal Attraction.

    In other words "complicated" means "slutty, batshit insane, eventually homicidal".


    This is a variation on a point I've made a few times: The mainstream media present whatever is true of the woman as good. If the same quality were found to be true of a man, it would be presented as bad.

    In this case — complicatedness — is something that — in a woman — feels intriguing and sophisticated. But what the hell is a "complicated man"? We're not wasting our time exploring his psyche. Screw him. He's an asshole.

    Stones video at the link, too.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 10:55 AM EDT

Glass Onion

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Glass Onion]

Why yes, this is the first movie I've watched in 2023.

It's pretty good. I liked it, anyway. Daniel Craig reprises his role as Benoit Blanc, the World's Greatest Detective. I see at IMDB that he's signed up for a third movie in the "Knives Out" series, and I'm game for that.

Blanc attends a weekend gathering on a private Greek island, hosted by Miles Bron, an eccentric tech billionaire. There's a gimmick: Bron has designed an intricate "murder mystery" game, where he's the victim, and the guests are supposed to spend the weekend unravelling the crime.

Those guests are all erstwhile friends of Bron; now they are potential suspects. Their relationships with Bron, and each other, have become tattered and corrupt over the years. When an actual, non-game murder occurs, Blanc gets on the case.

But not all is as it seems. As befits the movie title, there are layers to the plot that need to be peeled back.

Like Knives Out, it's a very Christie-like plot. Also like Knives Out, the moviemakers have wangled one of the world's most beautiful women to act as Blanc's plucky co-protagonist: Janelle Monáe. In Knives Out, it was Ana de Armas.

Come to think of it, both movies had roles played by older women who were once very hot, but are still pretty hot: here, Kate Hudson; in Knives Out, Jamie Lee Curtis.

There are a lot of blink-or-you'll-miss cameos. (I did miss a bunch; what would I do without IMDB.)

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:03 AM EDT