Scanned Thirty Seconds Before Shredding

[Shred Me]


Come and get me, NRCC. Bzzzzt!

Without even opening the envelope, I can confidently state that it holds a "canvas" replete with ludicrously loaded questions ("Do you oppose the Biden Administration's utter failure to enforce immigration laws?"), thinly disguising a plea for cash. ("To make my views known and allow Republicans to continue fighting Democrats' dangerous agenda, I'm enclosing (check one)…")

Also of note:

  • We have always been at war with the Deep State. Matt Taibbi's latest installment in an ongoing project. Tracking Orwellian Change: New Meanings of "Deep State" and "Working Class". It's part of his effort to chronicle "multitudinous dystopian alterations to American political speech." Sample:

    In July of last year David Rothkopf wrote a piece for the Daily Beast called, “You’re going to miss the Deep State when it’s gone: Trump’s terrifying plan to purge tens of thousands of career government workers and replace them with loyal stooges must be stopped in its tracks.” In the obligatory MSNBC segment hyping the article, poor Willie Geist, fast becoming the Zelig of cable’s historical lowlight reel, read off the money passage:

    During his presidency, [Donald] Trump was regularly frustrated that government employees — appointees, as well as career officials in the civil service, the military, the intelligence community, and the foreign service — were an impediment to the autocratic impulses about which he often openly fantasized.

    This passage portraying harmless “government employees” as the last patriotic impediment to Trumpian autocracy represented the complete turnaround of a term that less than ten years before meant, to the Beast’s own target audience, the polar opposite. This of course needed to be lied about as well, and the Beast columnist stuck this landing, too, when Geist led Rothkopf through the eye-rolling proposition that there was “something fishy, or dark, or something going on behind the scenes” with the “deep state.”

    Click through to read how past years' sorta-Marxist lionization of the "working class" is quickly being inverted into the demonization of the "white working class."

  • Any excuse will do. David Harsanyi notices: Media Uses Racist Shooting To Smear DeSantis And Chill Debate

    A day after a racist psychopath murdered three black customers at a Jacksonville Dollar General store this week, NBC News informs us that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “policies toward the Black community” are coming “under fresh scrutiny.”

    Matt Dixon “reports:”

    Florida’s Black community and beyond have been vocally opposed to the DeSantis administration’s focus on wiping out higher education diversity programs, the teaching of institutional racism to public school students, scrutinizing African American history courses and drawing a redistricting map that erased northern Florida’s only Black-performing congressional seat, which included the city of Jacksonville.

    What, you may wonder, does that string of completely unrelated left-wing grievances have to do with a shooting? Is the claim here that teaching kids 1619-style pseudohistory or funding “higher education diversity programs” would have changed the mind of a suicidal murderer? I mean, presumably, the shooter was in school when the old Florida AP history course was still being taught, when DEI ideologues still had their state-funded jobs, and when Florida’s only “Black-performing congressional seat” was still a thing.

    If you speak against the woke agenda, you're causing murder. Shut up!

  • Good questions deserve honest answers. Here's one from Robert F. Graboyes: Does Plessy Linger Still? It's based on his contribution to a symposium on "Systemic Racism in Education and Healthcare" held by the Liberty Fund last year. Excerpt:

    Thomas Sowell and Roland Fryer have investigated and measured the effects of systemic racism. Their analyses stress that (1) The impact of systemic racism on health and other variables is greatly overstated by some in the policy sphere, and (2) The mere existence of disparities does not constitute prima facie evidence of bias. Their work is strikingly exhaustive and persuasive. But purveyors of systemic racism theory are often disinclined to consider such evidence or to debate it dispassionately and honestly. (To be honest, some classical liberals may be too willing to dismiss the idea of systemic racism out-of-hand.)

    It's possible to believe two things: (1) Systemic racism is a real problem. (2) People make it worse by overstating it, demonizing honest critics, and recommending authoritarian "solutions".

    Another bit:

    For some advocates, the philosophy underlying systemic racism is not subject to refutation by logic or evidence. Its tautological, Orwellian nature is beautifully crystallized in a statement by psychology professor Angela Bell: “If you have to ask if you are a racist, you are … And if you are not asking if you are a racist, you are.”

  • My ancestors had the good sense to leave. Brian Riedl and John Gustavsson explain to City Journal readers: Why the U.S. Can’t Be Nordic

    Why can’t the U.S. build a social democracy like those in the Nordic countries? Progressives have wistfully asked this question for more than half a century. Why can’t Americans enjoy universal health care, free college tuition with generous universal student grants, universal pre-kindergarten education, and 18 months of paid parental leave? Why don’t policymakers just tax the rich and usher in the social-democratic utopia?

    The inconvenient answer is that they can’t. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are not quite the utopias that American progressives claim. Key aspects of their economic systems would be unpopular and unworkable in America.

    A current bumper sticker in my state reads "Don't Mass Up New Hampshire". Which is punchier than "Don't Sweden Up America", but the same idea.

    Fun fact: the latest edition of the Cato report on the Economic Freedom of the World ranks only Denmark (fifth place) above the US (seventh place). Norway is #32, Finland #26, Sweden #33.

  • Don't be "Section Guy". Arnold Kling does a similar thing to Pun Salad: largely recommending interesting things he's seen in his web crawling, adding his own comments. Here's something I liked:

    On last week’s Republican debate, Josh Barro writes,

    When Vivek Ramaswamy and I were undergraduates at Harvard, students would sometimes talk about the scourge of “section guy.”

    “Section guy” wasn’t a specific person, but an archetype — that guy in your discussion section who adores the sound of his own voice, who thinks he’s the smartest person on the planet with the most interesting and valuable interpretations of the course material, and who will not ever, ever, ever shut up.

    This sounds like a profile of an ultra-narcissist. But should we be shocked? For politicians these days, extreme narcissism seems to be an advantage. It’s like the voting public’s ideal date is a Dark Triad pick-up artist.

    Need to know what the "Dark Triad" is? Wikipedia has you covered, friend.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:25 AM EDT

Don't Tread on Colorado Boy

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Robby Soave notes a deadly collision of (a) First Amendment ignorance and (b) historical ignorance: Colorado Boy Removed From School Over 'Don't Tread on Me' Patch

Jaiden is a 12-year-old boy who attends the Vanguard School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the subject of a video that went viral on social media; it shows the boy and his mother confronting a school administrator who asserts that the Gadsden flag patch on his backpack violates district policy.

On Monday, school officials removed Jaiden from class due to his Gadsden flag patch. His mother has fought back against this disciplinary action, explaining that the flag—a coiled snake above the phrase "Don't tread on me"—is not a pro-slavery image; it has its origins in the Revolutionary War and was intended as a symbol of resistance to British tyranny.

District officials did not respond to a request for comment, but Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack—who first publicized Jaiden's situation—shared an email that they sent to Jaiden's mother, in which the district reiterated its position that the Gadsden flag is an "unacceptable symbol" tied to "white-supremacy" and "patriot" groups.

That was posted early yesterday. Later, RedState reported The Gadsden Flag Kid Just Secured Total Victory

In a very surprising turn of events, the members of the school board called an emergency meeting and affirmed their respect for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In doing so, they also decided that the Gadsden patch is a valuable part of American history and that Jaiden may keep it on his backpack if he so chooses.

Well, duh. A happy ending thanks to a fortuitous combination of quick, smart, publicity and the hardheaded ignorance displayed way too proudly by "school officials". Can't help but wonder, though, how many other cases of this sort of petty tyranny are out there flying under the radar.

Also of note:

  • Ignorance is everywhere. It's bad when displayed by a school bureaucrat. But it's a lot more serious when displayed by an actual Federal judge, as told by Jacob Sullum (with one of his epic column headlines): A Ruling Against a Man Arrested for a COVID-19 Joke Highlights the Influence of a Pernicious Analogy: A Federal Judge Compared Waylon Bailey's Facebook Jest to 'Falsely Shouting Fire in a Theatre'

    Back in March 2020, a dozen or so sheriff's deputies wearing bulletproof vests descended upon Waylon Bailey's home in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, with their guns drawn, ordered him onto his knees with his hands on his head, and arrested him for a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The SWAT-style raid was provoked by a Facebook post in which Bailey had made a zombie-themed joke about COVID-19.

    Although a federal appeals court recently ruled that Bailey could pursue civil rights claims based on that incident, a judge initially blocked his lawsuit, saying his joke created a "clear and present danger" similar to the threat posed by "falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing panic." That decision illustrates the continuing influence of a misbegotten, century-old analogy that is frequently used as an excuse to punish or censor constitutionally protected speech.

    Bailey's joke alluded to the 2013 zombie movie "World War Z," starring Brad Pitt. Bailey jested that the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office had told deputies to shoot "the infected" on sight, adding: "Lord have mercy on us all. #Covid9teen #weneedyoubradpitt."

    For latecomers, Sullum describes the 1919 origin of the "pernicious analogy" and why (quoting Greg Lukianoff) "Anyone who says 'you can't shout fire! in a crowded theatre' is showing that they don't know much about the principles of free speech."

  • Is President Harris a legitimate issue? Rich Lowry provides the obvious answer to that burning question: Yes, President Harris Is a Legitimate Issue.

    Kamala Harris is one of the most prominent people in the United States, with the potential that at any moment she could inherit some of the most fearsome powers on earth, but no one is supposed to notice.

    Republicans are deemed unhealthily fixated on Harris for saying that a vote for the increasingly rickety President Joe Biden is a vote to make Kamala Harris president.

    “Why are Republicans so obsessed with Harris?” asked a Boston Globe columnist.

    Jemele Hill, the former ESPN journalist currently with the Atlantic, rapped Nikki Haley in lurid terms for warning of a President Harris: “So part of the reason racism is such a terrible sickness in this country is because politicians like this know they can rally a certain base with the fear of OH MY GOD A BLACK WOMAN MIGHT BE PRESIDENT IF YOU DON’T VOTE FOR ME.”

    Hill then connected Haley’s sentiment with racist violence. Q.E.D.

    Lowry notes that efforts to shield Harris from criticism is pretty ludicrous given the incoming fire from the left aimed at Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle.

    Kamala Harris makes Dan Quayle look like Pericles of Athens.

  • Just an ordinary Joe. Jack Butler remembers Samuel ‘Joe’ Wurzelbacher, R.I.P.

    Seeking out then-candidate Barack Obama in October of that year’s presidential campaign at an event near Toledo, Ohio, Wurzelbacher chastised the future president for wanting the state more involved in his life, not less. “I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year,” he said. “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” Obama admitted that a company of that size would see tax increases, but added that it would still get tax credits, and other businesses and individuals below that threshold would see tax cuts. Obama continued:

    My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off if you’re gonna be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

    That last line — “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody” — took off. Wurzelbacher, quickly dubbed “Joe the Plumber,” subsequently described Obama’s answer as “kind of a socialist viewpoint” and “not the American dream.” In fall 2008, I was a 15-year-old living in Ohio and closely following a presidential campaign for the first time. Joe’s take on Obama’s answer held sway in my political conversations with friends and in contemporary conservative media, playing a significant role in my ongoing political maturation. It even, shall we say, trickled up to the next presidential debate, at which Joe was mentioned more than two dozen times, by some counts. He also joined the McCain-Palin campaign — now there’s an artifact — on the stump.

    Butler also notes that Joe was immediately placed under a microscope by the MSM and government officials. The kind of scrutiny that Democrats and their allies somehow manage to avoid.

    But, as David Harsany describes, 'Joe The Plumber' Was Right About Barack Obama.

    Obama would answer Wurzelbacher’s accusation over the next couple of weeks with a torrent of platitudes and strawmen. It was clear the soon-to-be president believed we were a nation awash in breathtaking greed, inequality, and exploitation. By 2011, in a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, Obama dropped the pretense and made a progressive case against markets, which he called a “simple” ideology that “speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. … And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work.” Today, regrettably, this kind of statist rhetoric runs the partisan gamut.

    Obama was interested in transforming America into something distinct and new. Democrats viewed Obama as a counterrevolutionary against Reaganism. And, whereas Reagan promised Americans the power to build their own shiny cities on hills, Obama promised endless dependency and handouts. So they were right.

    Harsanyi also explores the, um, disparate investigation of Joe's personal life by (for example) the New York Times and ABC News.

  • A mything link. Yesterday, we looked at discussions of a recent book, The Myth of Left and Right from Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson. Byran listed questions for the authors he didn't get to ask in his interview. And one of the authors, Hyrum Lewis, gave his answers. Sample:

    6.b. At any given time, leftist and rightist thinkers disagree, so there’s got to be some room for indeterminacy, right?

    Yes, all categories have indeterminacy at the margins. For instance, we could show that there is indeterminacy in the category “chair”—which we might define as “a human-made device for human sitting”—by pointing to marginal examples, such as dollhouse chairs or stumps around a campfire. But the left-right categories are not indeterminate at the margins, they are incoherent at their core. To show why, let’s go back once again to your “anti-market” essence:

    Adolf Hitler was not a marginal figure to the right; he’s considered the quintessential right winger—the purest, most perfect embodiment of the right-wing essence taken to its logical conclusion. And yet he was a proud socialist who believed in government nationalization of private industry and vast redistributions of wealth. Hitler was, by any measure extremely anti-market. So, according to the “anti-market” essence, Hitler should be on the “far left” (his anti-market views were even more extreme than the most radical Democrats today). The same is true of Tojo, Mussolini, and many other quintessential “far right” figures of the past century.

    Donald Trump is not a marginal figure to the right; he’s considered the quintessential American right winger—a “far right” ideologue who captured the Republican Party and drove it to its extreme right wing—and yet Trump is far more anti-market than was Bill Clinton. So why does the left despise Trump and praise Clinton? When Trump and Bush moved the Republican Party in a more anti-market direction, we were told that they had both moved the party “to the right.” It seems to me that if your “anti-market” essentialist claim were correct, the consensus would be that Bush and Trump had moved the party “to the left.”

    I (actually) bought the book, and will provide my report in due course.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:00 PM EDT

The Two Minute Rule

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[Continuing my "reread Robert Crais" project. Originally read back in 2006.]

Like many Robert Crais novels, there's a short prologue with no apparent connection with the main plot of the book: a couple of meth-fueled criminals take too much time (and have way too much fun) visiting violence on the employees and customers of the bank they're robbing. Thereby violating the rule in the title, and leading to the grisly end of their careers.

Don't worry, it eventually connects.

Max Holman is finally out of Lompoc, serving out his ten-year sentence for bank robbery. He has plans to go straight and reconnect with his biological son, and his son's mother. But it turns out that both are dead. Particularly heartbreaking: his son, a rookie LAPD cop, was murdered the night before Holman's release, one of four cops shotgunned while (allegedly) drinking beer in the concrete channel of to Los Angeles River.

Holman is unconvinced of the official story of the homicide, a simple revenge killing, open-and-shut. His questions draw considerable hostility from the detectives on the case, and it becomes apparent that they're not being totally straight with him. He teams up with a female ex-FBI agent (who happens to be living on the edge of financial ruin) to find out what's really going on.

It's a complex plot, a lot of characters, and (again, typical for Crais) a pulse-pounding page-turning climax. I seem to be saying this a lot these days: it would make an excellent FX miniseries.

Last Modified 2024-02-14 9:14 AM EDT

Myth America

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Arnold Kling drew my attention to a new(ish) book, The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America by brothers Verlan and Hyrum Lewis. He links to sorta-reviews from Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson. (Both of those reports link to a video interview Hanson and Caplan had with the brothers, which I haven't watched.).

I've long wondered how relevant the seating arrangements in the 18th-century French legislature could possibly be to today's politics.

Caplan summarizes:

The thesis of The Myth of Left and Right: Despite much pretense, neither “left” nor “right” are remotely coherent philosophies. There is no foundational leftist premise from which leftist conclusions flow, nor is there any foundational rightist premise from which rightist conclusions flow. Ideologies don’t just change mightily over the long-run; they change sharply even from one election to another. For intellectually irrelevant reasons.

The Lewis brothers do not defend the moderate position that the two main ideologies fail to make perfect sense. In both print and in-person, they affirm that the two main ideologies make no sense at all. Our political polarization rests on a giant collective delusion.

And here's Hanson:

That is, there are two main parties, with “left” and “right” positions just denoting whatever those parties have supported lately. When those parties change their positions, everyone quickly changes their minds about which positions are on which side. Most important positions have in fact switched sides in history, and there are a great many diverse theories about what is the left-right essence, none of which gets much support from the data.

This is on the whole correct, and nicely illustrates a key concept of the sacred: instead of directly pledging ourselves to the people of our tribes, we prefer to indirectly feel bound to those who see something sacred the same as us. Once upon a time, we might have felt bound to those who revered the same sacred tree. Now we feel bound to those who revere our end of the political spectrum. In both cases, we pretend that it is a thing outside of us that we care most about, while in fact we mainly use that external thing to bind us together.

Both Caplan and Hanson are skeptical about the Lewis's absolutism. And it's good to be skeptical. But I'm kind of intrigued by emperor-has-no-clothes arguments. So I will try to check out the book someday.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:00 PM EDT


I was bemused enough by the headline on Saturday's WSJ front page lead article, that I resorted to posting my comment on the Website Formerly Known as Twitter:

I suppose Powell had to say something suitably oracular to avoid both (a) market turmoil and (b) charges that he might be failing to Do Something™.

Also of note:

  • Could we all just tone it down a bit? Tal Fortgang notes apocalyptic rhetoric isn't just for right-wingers any more, describing Mark Tushnet's Flight 93 Moment

    Alarmism, catastrophism, escalationism—call the spirit of brinkmanship that sees existential threats around every corner what you will, it’s no way to run a country. That is true regardless of whether the looming threat is a partisan election or a Supreme Court controlled by ideological opponents. If every moment is so perilous that it demands throwing all norms out the window to save the republic, there is no longer any republic worth saving. Yet that paradox seems to escape feverish elites who claim that the latest crisis demands some self-destructive action.

    The right-wing populist version of this is familiar. Sweeping rhetoric about left-wing barbarians at the gates has animated a great deal of rationalized support for candidates who have no business being anywhere near power. “2016 is the Flight 93 election,” wrote Michael Anton in an infamous Claremont Review of Books essay, two months before Donald Trump’s victory shocked the world. “Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.” The essay was rightly derided as representing the worst of pro-Trump apologetics. Dressed up in the faux-grandeur of classical philosophy, the essay actually relied on hyperventilation over Trump’s opponent and the state of the republic: Our current moment is akin to 9/11. Take dramatic action, even if it is reckless to the point of foolishness. Any benefits of prudence pale in comparison to the need for decisive action.

    Strip away the dramatism and you are left with the oldest trick in the political demagogue’s book: If we don’t escalate the situation now, they, the hated enemy, will escalate first. So throw your little principled concerns about policy, prudence, and wisdom out the window. Know what time it is. Sadly, this kind of reasoning has hardly dissipated in the years since, which is unsurprising because there was really very little about 2016 that made it a crucial moment in American history any more than 2023 is. Some right-wing activists and lawyers would take this mentality into the courtroom, advocating a kind of “Flight 93 jurisprudence,” abandoning originalism’s grounding in the Constitution’s concrete meaning for something more outcome-oriented because the legal conservative movement had failed to achieve its substantive goals. (Originalism’s demise turned out to be greatly overstated; the October 2021 term yielded landmark conservative decisions on abortion, guns, and religion.)

    But this paranoid style is limited to neither right-wingers nor fringe academics-turned-Trump-whisperers. Frustrated over the Supreme Court’s latest slate of conservative-constitutionalist decisions, Harvard Law School Professor Mark Tushnet demonstrated that he is Anton’s kindred spirit with his “Open Letter to the Biden Administration on Popular Constitutionalism” (co-authored with political scientist Aaron Belkin). Tushnet and Anton hold opposite views on substantive positions, but share a preference for the worst ideas about how our nation should deal with its inherent problems of ideological division. It’s always Flight 93, all the time—an idea so plainly destructive only an intellectual could advocate it.

    As Fortgang notes: "There's always an excuse for storming the cockpit."

  • Speaking of a 'Flight 93' argument… certainly one recent one is: "Let's use the 14th Amendment to keep Trump off the ballot."

    Because, you know, otherwise people might actually vote for him. Can't have that.

    And, as we mentioned in a couple items a couple days ago (here and here) some are urging New Hampshire's Secretary of State to declare Trump ineligible for the 2024 Presidential Primary ballot. And there was speculation that our Trump-averse Governor Chris Sununu was doing that urging. Or urging someone else to do that urging. Or something.

    That's a long-winded note to point out some actual reporting on the issue (as opposed to baseless speculation). From Michael Graham at NHJournal, asking Will 'Insurrection' Keep Trump Off NH Ballot?

    It turns out that the primary (heh) instigator of the move is a guy named Corky Messner,

    Messner says he has heard from some Trump supporters who hate what he is doing, and from some anti-Trump folks who are fans (“Some even want to give me money to take this to other states.”) But despite rumors circling among MAGA Republicans in the Granite State, one person he has not heard from is Sununu.

    “I’ve had no direct or indirect communication with Chris about this. None. Zero.”

    Some far-right Republicans who have long been frustrated with Sununu’s outspoken criticism of Trump suspect he must be behind the effort to block the former president’s name from the ballot. However, according to Sununu spokesperson Ben Vihstadt, Sununu does not expect Trump to face any trouble getting on the New Hampshire ballot.

    So that's that, I think. Fun fact: despite running for US Senator (and losing badly) against Jeanne Shaheen in 2020, Corky Messner has only been mentioned once here at Pun Salad, where I predicted he would "lose handily". And he did, 57%-41%.

    Further fun fact: Trump endorsed Corky in the primary.

  • Merit ≠ Value. Virginia Postrel writes on a bunch of topics (wisely, as always): Merit, Value, Luddites, and AI. On the first two, Hayek and (unexpectedly) Matt Yglesias are cited extensively. Excerpt (footnote elided):

    I can’t help thinking that America would be less riven by conflict if everyone “frankly recognized that there [is] no necessary connection between merit and success.” On both sides of the red-blue divide are economic winners who resent challenges to their sense of superiority—especially from other affluent people with different backgrounds and politics—and economic losers who want both more money and more respect. Recognizing the distinction between economic success and moral worth wouldn’t eliminate conflict, but it might ameliorate it.

    Hayek saw the distinction between merit and value as an argument against economic redistribution in the name of equality. If merit and value are different, he believed, there is no moral justification for overriding what markets reward and there are many good arguments against the intervention that would be required to force a “meritorious” outcome. At the same time, I suspect his clear distinction between merit and value also helps to explain why, unlike more absolutist libertarians, Hayek supported safety-net transfers. He didn’t see them as intrinsically unjust. Hayek’s primary concern was allowing people the freedom to act on their own knowledge (including knowledge of their own subjective preferences), without being overridden from on high. I don’t know how he would have assessed the Danish welfare state but, like Yglesias, he certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed that the country’s market economy still produces unequal results.

    To quote Clint Eastwood: "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

  • Probably you are visualizing atoms wrong. Thanks to Carl Sagan. And that between-scenes animation on The Big Bang Theory. Mario Barbatti will fix that: Why the empty atom picture misunderstands quantum theory

    The empty atom picture is likely the most repeated mistake in popular science. It is unclear who created this myth, but it is sure that Carl Sagan, in his classic TV series Cosmos (1980), was crucial in popularising it. After wondering how small the nuclei are compared with the atom, Sagan concluded that

    [M]ost of the mass of an atom is in its nucleus; the electrons are by comparison just clouds of moving fluff. Atoms are mainly empty space. Matter is composed chiefly of nothing.

    I still remember how deeply these words spoke to me when I heard them as a kid in the early 1980s. Today, as a professional theoretical chemist, I know that Sagan’s statements failed to recognise some fundamental features of atoms and molecules.

    If you want to get a clearer visualization, click through and read on. Although "visualization" is a very tricky concept at that level.

    Fun fact: This "myth" was also promulgated on the November 30, 2015 episode of Jeopardy!. Double Jeopardy round, category "Physicists" for $1200, clue: "Ernest Rutherford found that the volume of an atom was made up mostly of this". A triple stumper, because no contestant provided the show's preferred (and inaccurate) response "What is empty space?"

    I remember my dilemma watching this episode! Would I have offered the response they wanted, or a more accurate answer?

    (For pedants: Rutherford's experiments showed the atomic nucleus was tiny compared to the entire atom, but contained nearly all the mass. His picture of electrons "orbiting" the nucleus like tiny billiard balls in otherwise empty space was wrong.)

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:00 PM EDT

The Half-Life of Policy Rationales

How New Technology Affects Old Policy Issues

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Another recommendation from Adam Thierer's bookshelf collection of the works having "the greatest influence on my thinking about technological innovation / progress." It's a publication from Cato, a collection of articles on a common theme: do the old, well-known arguments for governmental provision/heavy regulation of (some) goods and services still apply in the modern age (if they ever did)? As you might expect, from Cato, the answer is "mostly not". We might not have our flying cars, but we do have a vast array of innovative tools at hand that our forefathers lacked.

The articles are mostly written for a policy-wonk audience, somewhat advanced at times for a dilettante like me. I may have skimmed over, for example, the section discussing the use of anaerobic digestion in dealing with water impurities. But overall, there are a lot of observations and ideas here.

One downside: the book is twenty years old. A generation of technology had yet to be developed, and it shows in some of the discussions.

One chapter deals with the classic public-good example: lighthouses. As it turns out, lighthouses were never the pure public good their publicity implied. Tolls were often successfully collected by their non-government owners. Yet the general provision of navigational aids for watercraft (and aircraft, for that matter) is still mostly a government-owned and operated service. Does it have to be? No.

Other public-good-related chapters discuss fishery management, protection of the "airshed", handling of automotive traffic, and urban parking.

There's the "government must regulate X" argument; that's examined in chapters discussing free banking, medical licensing, and general "consumer protection" agencies. The article on banking really shows its age, since it was written pre-bitcoin. And (by the way) the case for medical licensing was never very good. It was criticized harshly back in 1962 in Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.

There's also the "natural monopoly" argument. This is examined, and found wanting, in three areas: electricity generation and distribution, provision of water to homes and businesses, and (everyone's favorite) the United States Postal Service.

And a couple chapters deal with other topics: protecting endangered species and an (oddball but interesting) argument for providing housing development as leased land, instead of ownership. (The lessee is more like a shopowner in a mall than a feudal lord.)

All in all, interesting, but I'd maybe recommend perusing more recent back issues of Reason or the Cato website for more recent developments.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:00 PM EDT

Underestimate Her. That'll Be Fun.

Look who's back!

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 35.8% -0.8%
Donald Trump 27.7% +1.6%
Gavin Newsom 5.6% +0.2%
Ron DeSantis 5.5% +1.2%
Vivek Ramaswamy 4.8% -3.0%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.6% +0.3%
Michelle Obama 3.2% -0.6%
Nikki Haley 2.4% ---
Kamala Harris 2.2% +0.2%
Other 8.2% -1.5%

Yes, it's Nikki Haley, back above the 2% win-probability threshold at Election Betting Odds. I admit, those odds are minuscule. (Less than Michelle Obama's?!)

Still, she's being talked about. And as Wilde observed: : “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

The big loser compared to last week: Vivek Ramaswamy. Let's take a look at some commentary. It's not pretty:

  • Let's go, Brandon. Brandon Weichert opines at the 1945 blog. He seems to be a DeSantis fan. Nothing wrong with that! But he was very unimpressed with the "skinny guy with a funny last name": Vivek Ramaswamy Is a Scam

    Vivek Ramaswamy comes across as a fast-talking charlatan who is highly skilled at sprinkling Republican voters desperate for the genuine thing with just enough glitter to distract them from the fact that they are merely being given the political equivalent of chickenfeed.

    Brandon also highlight's Vivek's 2007 NYT op-ed, discussing the ethics of experimental human-animal "chimeras" created via genetic tinkering. Brandon says that Vivek is a "proponent of some of the most unethical, ghoulish experiments in modern biotechnology." I think the actual column is somewhat more nuanced.

  • Who will dare call out Vivek's brazenness? George Will. Here you go: Ramaswamy brings a Trumpian brazenness to denying the undeniable

    Interminable presidential campaigns, unlike the migraines they induce, are useful, as Vivek Ramaswamy is demonstrating. They provide ample opportunities for candidates to reveal whether they have sufficient seasoning for the daunting challenges of the office.

    Except Ramaswamy is serenely undaunted. His only puzzlement seems to be that the nation’s problems puzzle others.

    The problem of unsustainable Social Security and Medicare trajectories? Simple, says Ramaswamy: Just achieve sustained 5 percent economic growth, and the problem will disappear. (Average annual economic growth from 1947 to 2022 was 3.1 percent, according to Cato Institute fiscal analyst Norbert Michel; only once was it more than 5 percent for three consecutive years.)

    The problem of China’s threat to Taiwan? Not a problem, Ramaswamy says, if we dare to embrace ruthlessness: “Xi Jinping should not mess with Taiwan” — until 2029. Ramaswamy says that at the end of his first term, the United States would have “semiconductor independence” and no further use for Taiwan. Announcing a date when Xi can launch a risk-free invasion of Taiwan is one way to reduce uncertainties.

    That's just a couple things. GFW goes on. Turn off Javascript and check it out.

  • And not in a good way. Elizabeth Stauffer says that Debate performance changed my mind on Ramaswamy

    While the candidates were responding to a question about climate change, Ramaswamy chimed in: “Let us be honest as Republicans. I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for.”

    Ramaswamy’s rivals, naturally, did not take kindly to this insult and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the first to pounce. Christie said: “Hold on, hold on. I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT, standing up here. And the last person in one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama. And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur tendencies tonight.”

    Elizabeth's bottom line: "I’ve left the Vivek is an 'interesting, provocative candidate' camp and joined the Vivek is a 'complete jerk' category." Ouch.

  • Since when has incoherence been a barrier to political success? Matt Welch wonders: Why Is Vivek Ramaswamy's Incoherence So Popular?

    Vivek Ramaswamy, who four months ago most voters could not pick out of a police lineup, successfully made the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate all about his own outrageous-seeming statements, including the claim that all of his competitors were "super PAC puppets" interested in making "pilgrimages" to Ukraine to see their "pope," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

    "If you have a broken car, you don't turn over the keys to the people who broke it again. You hand it over to the new generation," the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur said early in the broadcast. "The reality is, you have a bunch of people, professional politicians, super PAC puppets, following slogans handed off to them by their 400-page super PACs last week. The real choice we face in this primary is this: Do you want a super PAC puppet, or do you want a patriot who speaks the truth? Do you want incremental reform, which is what you're hearing about, or do you want revolution?"

    The crowd and the assembled 2024 aspirants erupted in outrage. The Fox News moderators ripped up their questions and asked sardonically if Ramaswamy's opponents were indeed puppets. The edgelord smiled, victorious.

    One example (of many) of Vivek's incoherent inconsistency:

    "In June," [Washington Examiner reporter Gabe] Kaminsky reported, in one of several similar examples, "Ramaswamy posted a video on Twitter about the federal holiday Juneteenth, which aims to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., calling it 'a celebration of the American dream itself.'…Just two months later, in August, Ramaswamy told voters in Iowa that Juneteenth was 'useless.'" (The campaign responded to the piece by suggesting that Kaminsky was working on behalf of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.)

    (And here I was expecting that making Juneteenh a federal holiday would usher in a golden age of racial harmony. Guess not.)

  • Ben Mathis-Lilley, a "senior writer" at Slate, which is still around, observes: Vivek Ramaswamy was the GOP debate’s Pete Buttigieg, in that the other candidates clearly hate him.

    [Nikki opines on Vivek nononverbally]

    On Wednesday night in Milwaukee, eight Republicans trailing Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential primary gathered for the cycle’s first debate and, with a clear and united voice, denounced one man: Vivek Ramaswamy.

    You read that right. With Trump running away with the race and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis behind him in a clear (if tenuous) second, it was somehow the 38-year-old Ramaswamy who took the most direct hits. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s was likely the most memorable: After two of Ramaswamy’s high-energy, relentlessly loquacious answers, Christie described him as “a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.” Former Vice President Mike Pence made a glaringly condescending reference to Ramaswamy “learning on the job,” to which the crowd responded with a deserved oooooh. The super PAC that supports DeSantis called Ramaswamy a fraud on Twitter, and you can see former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s opinion of him expressed nonverbally above. (“You have talked down everyone on this stage,” Haley told Ramaswamy later, during a segment about Ukraine. “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.”)

    "Hate" is a pretty strong word. How about "despise"?

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:30 AM EDT

I'm Pretty Sure Dave Bowman Had One Of These Looks When He Was About to Go After HAL in 2001

The logic seems to be that "Stanley Kubrick used this shot to show that characters were demented, therefore Trump is demented." Amusing, but the logic isn't exactly ironclad.

WRT the headline above, et's see if I'm remembering correctly… yeah, pretty close I think:

[Sing Daisy for me, Hal]

Also of note:

  • Don't look at me that way, Matt. Matt Vespa has a plaintive question: New Hampshire, Why Are You Doing This?. Where "New Hampshire" is "Some people sending mail to the New Hampshire Secretary of State". And "This" is (quoted from the Boston Globe article):

    A debate among constitutional scholars over former president Donald Trump’s eligibility for the 2024 presidential race has reverberated through the public consciousness in recent weeks and reached the ears of New Hampshire’s top election official.

    Secretary of State David Scanlan, who will oversee the first-in-the-nation presidential primary in just five months, said he’s received several letters lately that urge him to take action based on a legal theory that claims the Constitution empowers him to block Trump from the ballot.

    Scanlan, a Republican, said he’s listening and will seek legal advice to ensure that his team thoroughly understands the arguments at play.

    I have zero expertise in the Constitutional law involved. Seems a stretch, though.

    If violating the presidential oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" is grounds for disqualification from the ballot, Biden would make a pretty good test case (just one example).

  • I hate this. I hate Chris Sununu. Therefore… Another bit of less-than-compellng logic on this issue from Steve MacDonald: Is Chris Sununu Pressuring Sec-o-State David Scanlan to Block Trump from NH's Primary Ballot? With the "several letters" the NHSOS says he's received:

    Are those letters subject to RSA 91a, the Granite State’s Right-to-Know Law, because “several letters” sounds to me like from Chris Sununu. Or maybe they are from his “girlfriend in Canada.”

    It would put His Excellency in the same category as Gavin Newsom or Kathy Hochul.

    True fact: back when I worked in the IT department at the University Near Here, an edict came from above: we shall ensure all mail to and from UNH's bank (TD, Toronto Dominion) be encrypted.

    Sure enough. It's just a pretty easy tweak to sendmail configuration files … whoa, look at all that mail being rejected.

    It took a few weeks to straighten this out with my opposite number in Toronto. A very nice young lady that I referred to in our meetings as "my Canadian girlfriend."

    The intersection of people who (a) got the reference and (b) were amused was pretty much the null set as I recall.

  • The perfectly Constitutional things he wants to do are pretty bad on their own. Eric Boehm has another good reason to vote against Trump, if you needed one: Trump Floats Tariff Plan That Will Make Everything More Expensive

    Inflation apparently has not been high enough in the few years since former President Donald Trump left office—so he's proposing new import taxes that will raise prices for American families and businesses.

    In an interview last week with Larry Kudlow, the former president floated plans for a new 10 percent tariff on all imports to the United States. Trump described the proposal as putting "a ring around the collar" of the U.S. economy.

    "When companies come in and they dump their products in the United States, they should pay, automatically, let's say a 10 percent tax," Trump said on Fox Business. "I do like the 10 percent for everybody."

    Note (as does Eric): American tariffs are largely borne by Americans.

  • This is Joe's brain on… whatever meds Joe is on. Charles C. W. Cooke has been shocking some people by noting that President Biden is an asshole, and getting that unexpurgated word into the sacred pages of National Review. (Apparently, for some people, accurate truth is not a defense.) More recently, he took a look at Biden’s Twisted Idea of Empathy

    For the living, the news of a death brings with it a peculiar mixture of the transcendent and the mundane. There is shock to absorb, anguish to process, and passion to assuage, and then, in the midst of all that, there is the bureaucracy. Within hours, one must turn one’s attention to the dull but necessary questions that all mourners face in such times. Questions such as: “Where can we get hold of the coroner?” “What should we do with the body?” And, “How swiftly can we get Joe Biden here to make this event about himself?”

    I joke, but only in part. Last week, political spectators marveled at the seeming callousness of the president’s repeated insistence that he had “no comment” about the devastating fires in Hawaii, but it turned out that the taciturn approach had been the correct one all along. Eventually, Biden consented to visit Maui and to say a few words about what had happened, and, as everyone ought to have anticipated, it did not go well. Addressing the news that 114 Americans had died thus far, and that 1,000 more were yet to be found, Biden told the families that his wife and daughter had died in a car accident in 1972, and that he, too, grasped what it’s like to “lose a home,” because his house suffered an insignificant kitchen fire back in 2004 and he almost lost his Corvette.

    It's a close call: who can hold their nose harder, Republicans voting for Trump, or Democrats voting for Biden?

  • It was only a matter of time. If it's a conflict between Constitutional liberties and "democracy", Jacob Sullum notes that one institution has made a choice: The Washington Post Says Democracy Demands Less Freedom of Speech.

    Donald Trump was back on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, last night for the first time since he got the boot in 2021 following the riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol. Trump posted the mug shot of him that was taken at Atlanta's jail this week when he was booked on the charges laid out in his Georgia indictment, which stem from his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in that state. He included a caption that described the indictment as "ELECTION INTERFERENCE" and urged his followers to "NEVER SURRENDER!"

    After taking over the platform that was then known as Twitter last year, Elon Musk, an avowed "free speech absolutist," reinstated Trump's account. But this is the first time that Trump, who started a competing platform that is still known as Truth Social, has made use of Musk's permission. The Washington Post, in a news story published this morning, portrays Musk's decision and the attitude underlying it as part of a worrisome trend that threatens "democracy" by allowing "political misinformation" to proliferate on social media. The piece nicely illustrates the confusion, obfuscation, and hypocrisy that characterize mainstream press coverage of that subject.

    You would think that even the Washington Post might notice that (1) press freedom and (2) freedom of speech are protected by the very same amendment. If you blow up (2), why would you think (1) is safe?

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:31 AM EDT

It's True. All of it.

Mine eyes are opened:

Also of note:

  • What's so extreme about wanting to kill unborn children anytime, for any reason? Alexandra DeSanctis watched and noticed: The GOP Debate Exposed Democrats’ Extremism on Abortion

    During last night’s Republican primary debate, GOP hopefuls drew attention to the Democratic Party’s extreme position on abortion. This was a shrewd political move: Few Americans — indeed, few Democrats — support allowing abortion until birth for any reason.

    But following the debate, progressive commentators rushed to insist that no one, and certainly not any Democrat, is in favor of allowing unlimited abortion. “No one supports abortion until birth,” tweeted Jen Psaki, formerly of Biden’s White House staff and now at MSNBC.

    And Psaki was not alone in her naysaying. But DeSanctis counters:

    But of course, none of these claims square with the facts. The 2020 Democratic Party platform explicitly affirms a universal right to abortion and doesn’t reference a single abortion limitation acceptable to the party. “We believe unequivocally . . . that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion,” the platform states.

    It also promises to “fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to reproductive health and rights” — in other words, to block any and all limits on abortion, including gestational-age limits. The platform embraces federal funding for abortion businesses, supports repealing the Hyde amendment that precludes taxpayer dollars from directly reimbursing abortion providers, and promises to “protect and codify the right to reproductive freedom.”

    That last pledge is a reference to the federal Women’s Health Protection Act, supported for years by most Democrats in Congress, which not only would create a fundamental right to abortion at the federal level with no limits but also would abolish any state law protecting unborn children at any stage of pregnancy.

    How hard would it be for mainstream "journalists" to notice the obfuscation involved in Democrats' denials and pro-abortion euphemisms? Not very. But I won't hold my breath waiting.

  • I knew I liked her. Noah Rothman also noticed something about the debate: Nikki Haley Treats You Like an Adult

    It’s hard to avoid noticing how many Republicans in the race for the White House don’t seem to have much respect for your intelligence. Much of the field of 2024 presidential candidates seem to believe that if they acknowledge life’s complexities, they’ll cause some great offense among Republican voters. So many of the GOP’s presidential candidates insist that all things are possible through sheer force of will — indeed, they are possible “on day one.” Nikki Haley took a different approach on Wednesday night’s debate stage by making the genuinely courageous decision to treat Republican debate watchers like adults.

    After spending much of her time as a declared candidate avoiding the risk of offending any potential Republican primary voter, thereby appealing to no one in particular, Haley took a calculated risk in May when she advocated the pursuit of a “national consensus” on abortion. The former South Carolina governor took that position to the debate stage on Wednesday, arguing that her approach has the added advantage of being “honest” with both “the American people” and, though it was unspoken, Republican primary voters.

    I think Nikki makes a lot of sense on that. Yes, you can posture and throw out red meat to the crowd. You can employ the candidate-as-entertainer strategy embraced by Trump.

    Or you can actually get something done.

  • Strange new respect for Nikki also seen … on the WSJ editorial page: Nikki Haley’s GOP Debate Truths

    If Nikki Haley gets a bump in the polls from Wednesday’s presidential debate, one reason will be that she respected viewers by telling them the truth. Ms. Haley said, accurately, that passing a national abortion ban at 15 weeks is politically off the table, since it would require 60 votes in the Senate. She has argued this before, but many Republicans might be hearing it for the first time.

    The former South Carolina Governor instead suggested—brace yourself—consensus policy-making. “Can’t we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions?” she asked. “Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available?” At the same time, Ms. Haley called herself “unapologetically pro-life.”

    I'm hoping that voters will notice Nikki is treating them like adults, and respond appropriately. ("It's a crazy scheme, Ambassador Haley, but it just might work.")

  • Scariest thing I've read recently. The Guardian reports: Zadie Smith, Stephen King and Rachel Cusk’s pirated works used to train AI.

    Zadie Smith, Stephen King, Rachel Cusk and Elena Ferrante are among thousands of authors whose pirated works have been used to train artificial intelligence tools, a story in The Atlantic has revealed.

    More than 170,000 titles were fed into models run by companies including Meta and Bloomberg, according to an analysis of “Books3” – the dataset harnessed by the firms to build their AI tools.

    Books3 was used to train Meta’s LLaMA, one of a number of large language models – the best-known of which is OpenAI’s ChatGPT – that can generate content based on patterns identified in sample texts. The dataset was also used to train Bloomberg’s BloombergGPT, EleutherAI’s GPT-J and it is “likely” it has been used in other AI models.

    I'm not sure that's a good idea. To put it mildly as I can.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT


The Curious Science of Humans at War

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Mary Roach has been dubbed "America's funniest science writer". A couple years ago, I read her book on the human digestive system, Gulp, finding it to be gross, disgusting, icky, and just plain hilarious.

This book, about the intersection of science and (mostly) American armed forces is also (to be honest) equally graphic, and somewhat hilarious. But Ms. Roach never flinches from the basic reality that her subject matter involves real people engaged in some very dangerous work in remote places. And many come back damaged or dead. Her hilarity is tinged with respect and somberness. (It helps that many of the service members she interviews are equally dark-humored.)

If you run out of water in the desert, and are dying of thirst, should you resort to drinking your own urine? Ms. Roach answers no: "The proteins and salts are by that point so concentrated that the body needs to pull fluid from the tissues to dilute tham, which puts you back where you began, only worse, because now you are saddled with the memory of drinking your own murky, stinking pee."

Fun facts revealed in a footnote about mixing up food for sandfly larvae (for some reason Purina doesn't sell Sandfly Larvae Chow): it involves rabbit feces. And: "Rabbit turds are more expensive than rabbits." $35/gallon. (Although they don't sell rabbits by the gallon,)

In fact, Ms. Roach devotes an entire chapter to maggots. They can show up in some pretty nasty places, like genitalia. The technical term is "myiasis". (Yes, Google it if you don't believe Mary.) And:

Here again, some words from the Armed Forces Pest Management Board: "Vaginal myiasis is a concern of increased importance because of the larger numbers of women serving in deployed units. . . . Egg laying may be stimulated by discharges from diseased genitals." In a hot climate, there might be a temptation to sleep outside uncovered, the board points out. And the kind of soldier who sleeps outside with no underpants would also, I suppose, be the kind of soldier with a genital disease. The kind headed for "dishonorable discharge" of one kind or another.

Moan. But also: Ha.

The book covers a lot of disparate topics, but the reader will notice the overall theme: the armed services devote a lot of their resources into keeping their members alive and healthy. And, failing that, devoting a lot of their resources into finding out what went wrong, and (if possible) putting things back together. (Like penises.)

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT

Not Relevant to Last Night's Debate, But It's Funny, So…

It's actually from last March. Brought to you by those scamps at Reason.

Also of note:

  • Speaking of Reason Eric Boehm gives some respect to Pun Salad's fave (still): Nikki Haley Burned Trump and Her Fellow Republicans for Blowing Up the Debt. She's Right.

    When it comes to runaway federal spending, unsustainable levels of borrowing, and the inflation that those first two things have helped unleash, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that Republicans better look in the mirror.

    "The truth is that Biden didn't do this to us, our Republicans did this to us too," Haley said during the early moments of Wednesday's Republican primary debate. She pointed specifically to Republican support in Congress for COVID stimulus bills and other recent spending packages. "They need to stop the spending, they need to stop the borrowing, they need to eliminate the earmarks that Republicans brought back in," she said.

    Then she delivered the hammer blow: "And Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for this," Haley said.

    To be fair, you can look at the closest thing Nikki has for an issues page, and not find a single thing about restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget.

  • But she's tough on China! In fact, one of the things you'll see on that page linked above is that she's in favor of being tough on China! Megan McArdle says she's heard stuff like that before: The stories we’re telling about China today are déjà vu all over again.

    Early in Michael Crichton’s 1992 novel “Rising Sun,” a police captain turned Japan expert named John Connor, a thinly veiled stand-in for the author, marvels at the sight of people “calmly discussing the fact that their cities and states were sold to foreigners.”

    “Americans are eager to sell,” he continues. “It amazes the Japanese. They think we’re committing economic suicide. And of course they’re right.”

    In a scriptwriting class, they’d call that moment “the theme is stated,” a theme that Crichton hammered, remorselessly and without humor, for another 300 pages. I read his novel the summer after it came out, between my sophomore and junior years of college, and was for a time full of indignation at the thought of my passive, shortsighted elders allowing the Japanese to elbow America out of its preeminent place in the world economy. I recommended the book to others. I waxed voluble in coffee shop arguments.

    Several economics classes later, I ruefully repented. Crichton had the spectacular ill-fortune to publish just as Japan’s economic bubble was deflating and the country was sliding into its “lost decade” (which actually lasted for closer to two or three, depending on who is counting). The Japanese remain valuable trading partners and important geostrategic allies for the United States, but the idea that we’re going to become their economic vassal now seems as quaint as a tricorn hat.

    China is, of course, a nasty oppressive dictatorship, and Japan really wasn't. I think that would be to China's relative disadvantage, but I'm open-minded enough to not be absolutely certain about that.

  • But speaking of China… News like this makes me wonder if they're ahead of us. Specifically, ahead of us on the Road to Serfdom, experiencing the stuff we'll be seeing here in a few years. Today's example from Joe Lancaster: China's E.V. Graveyards Are an Indictment of Subsidies

    Last week, Bloomberg reported on China's electric vehicle (E.V.) "graveyards"—plots of land across the country where hundreds of vehicles have been abandoned.

    From the outset, the piece places blame on "the excess and waste that can happen when capital floods into a burgeoning industry." It closes by quoting a Shenzhen–based photographer who calls the graveyards "a result of unconstrained capitalism…. The waste of resources, the damage to the environment, the vanishing wealth, it's a natural consequence." Not only does this quote get cause and effect totally wrong, but it also ignores the fact that China poured tons of government money into the industry.

    China's government first implemented E.V. subsidies in 2009, spending nearly $30 billion by 2022. Buyers could receive rebates of as much as $8,400 per vehicle purchased. By the mid-'10s, Beijing disadvantaged the production of cars with poor fuel economy, and cities like Shijiazhuang and Hangzhou banned cars with internal combustion engines altogether.

    One of the early Star Trek episodes was "Where No Man Has Gone Before". The Enterprise discovers the trail of the long-lost SS Valiant, doomed by a disastrous encounter with a glowing energy field. And Captain Kirk's bright idea is to do exactly the same thing the Valiant's captain did.

    Even as a 15-year-old, I recognized that as a Bad Idea.

    I guess I'm trying to draw an analogy here. Maybe I should have left it at the Road to Serfdom reference.

  • Welcome to Applebee's. Scott Lincicome writes on The Chains That Bind Us.

    Among the handful of topics on which folks on the left and the right seem to agree is that large chain restaurants and “big box” stores are Bad, while small, local establishments are Good. Various polls reveal this preference (as does a lot of online snark), and politicians at all levels of government routinely push policies to aid “small businesses” or directly punish the big ones. Chief among the reasons for this preference is the widely accepted notion that small, independent businesses are manifestly good for local communities, boosting not just jobs and tax revenue but also a town’s identity, cohesion, and social capital. Chains, on the other hand, are American consumerism at its worst, basically doing the opposite of the great stuff that local shops do.

    As I wrote a couple years ago, the economic arguments against big box retail are weak—they pay relatively well (better than mom-and-pop competitors), boost local economic output, and are great for consumers. But that’s just heartless libertarian talk; maybe those communitarian arguments against big chains are important—important enough, in fact, to pay the cold, calculating economic costs of supporting them?

    Well, that doesn’t appear to be the case either—at least when it comes to encouraging social interactions among America’s rich, poor, and middle class. In fact, according to a fascinating new working paper, the establishments that do the most in this regard aren’t your local boutiques or gastropubs—or even our libraries and churches—but Applebee’s and other chains like it.

    Sigh. Now I'm hungry.

  • Democracy dies. Film at 11. A couple of Pun Salad faves are disrespecting Adam Grant's recent op-ed at the NYT, now titled The Worst People Run for Office. It’s Time for a Better Way. (Original headline: "To Improve Democracy, Get Rid of Elections". Provocative!)

    Since we were talking a bit ago about The Road to Serfdom, let me remind you that the title of Chapter 10 was "Why the Worst Get on Top".)

    James Freeman at the WSJ: History and the New York Times

    Why do so many media folk who constantly warn that our form of government is under attack also constantly promote misleading attacks on our form of government? This week the opinion editors of the New York Times, who seem to care more about particular, arbitrarily selected “democratic norms” than about democracy itself, published an ill-informed case against our constitutional republic and the entire concept of voting.

    The Times published contributor Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who writes:

    On the eve of the first debate of the 2024 presidential race, trust in government is rivaling historic lows. Officials have been working hard to safeguard elections and assure citizens of their integrity. But if we want public office to have integrity, we might be better off eliminating elections altogether.

    Tristan Justice at the Federalist: New York Times Op-Ed Declares Elections 'Bad For Democracy', and he also excerpts:

    According to Grant, elections are counterproductive to democratic governance. Grant claimed that randomly chosen leaders would be more effective and cited ancient Greece as his prime example, as if ruling an ancient city-state were comparable to managing global affairs in the 21st century.

    If you think that sounds anti-democratic, think again. The ancient Greeks invented democracy, and in Athens many government officials were selected through sortition — a random lottery from a pool of candidates. In the United States, we already use a version of a lottery to select jurors. What if we did the same with mayors, governors, legislators, justices and even presidents?

    “When you know you’re picked at random, you don’t experience enough power to be corrupted by it,” Grant added. “Instead, you feel a heightened sense of responsibility: I did nothing to earn this, so I need to make sure I represent the group well.

    I read Adam Grant's recent book Think Again, and liked it OK. I'm not as critical of Grant's op-ed as Freeman and Justice are. "Democracy" is kind of a sacred cow, and (OK) maybe it doesn't deserve butchering, but maybe could use a rethink..

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT

Who is Maud Dixon?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another book picked off the New York Times' Best Mystery Novels of 2021. Yes, I know we're well into 2023. I'm working on it.

It's unusually difficult to report on this book without spoilers. In fact, I self-spoiled. In order to use my Reading Schedule Generator, I needed to get the ending page number. I accidentally saw the last line on that last page! Well, crap. I should be more careful. If you're going to read it, I suggest you avoid looking at the last page, or back-cover blurbs, book flaps, reviews… just go to page one and start.

Who is Maud Dixon? Page 11 spoiler: it's the pseudonym of a reclusive author whose first novel, Mississippi Foxtrot, was a blockbuster a couple years back. It's unknown (even) what sex "Maud" is.

Another question while we're at it: why did the NYT consider this book to be a mystery? It takes a while for that to become clear.

In spite of the spoilage, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It follows young Florence Darrow, working in a low-level job at a New York publishing company. After a mysterious prologue set in a foreign hospital, we're introduced to a woman who's insecure, lacking self-esteem, and kind of self-delusional. She wants to be a writer, but keeps making excuses as to why she's not actually writing anything. What's obvious to the reader is mystifying to Florence.

At first this is played for laughs. (At least I was amused.) But then it gets kind of creepy. And then it gets really creepy. And then (soon enough) it gets dangerous and murdery. Hang in there.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT

Kraken Still Unreleased


We'll forgive Mr. Ramirez's Brit spelling.

From the relevant AP story:

Former President Donald Trump now says he won't be holding a news conference next week to unveil what he claims is new “evidence” of fraud in Georgia's 2020 presidential election — even though no fraud has ever been substantiated — citing the advice of lawyers as he prepares to face trial in two criminal cases that stem from his election lies.

No compelling evidence of the wide-scale fraud Trump alleges has emerged in the two-and-a-half years since the election in Georgia or elsewhere, despite Trump's baseless claims. Republican officials in the state have long said he lost fairly and three recounts there confirmed President Joe Biden's win.

“Rather than releasing the Report on the Rigged & Stolen Georgia 2020 Presidential Election on Monday, my lawyers would prefer putting this, I believe, Irrefutable & Overwhelming evidence of Election Fraud & Irregularities in formal Legal Filings as we fight to dismiss this disgraceful Indictment," Trump wrote on his social media site Thursday in announcing his reversal.

Okay. Can anyone explain Trump's rules for capitalization?

Also of note:

  • It's politically impossible right now, but… I'm nevertheless glad to see this forthright recommendation from Kerry McDonald at the Foundation for Economic Education: Compulsory Schooling Laws Have Got To Go. Excerpt:

    Compulsory schooling is incompatible with freedom, as Thomas Jefferson himself recognized. While promoting broad educational offerings, free to the poor, and noting that a society could not be both free and ignorant, Jefferson opposed forced education. “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father,” Jefferson wrote in 1817.

    Instead of criminalizing parents whose children miss school, sometimes for heartbreaking reasons such as bullying, we should seek instead to eliminate compulsory schooling statutes and free families from the government’s coercive clutches. In the absence of these laws, a robust, diverse, and decentralized education ecosystem would emerge that would be grounded in consent over coercion and defined by variety over monopoly.

    Ms. McDonald also recounts the sordid history and motivations behind these nasty laws. For more, see the works of John Taylor Gatto.

  • Zombie Reaganites are not after your brains. Rachel Lu makes The Case for Zombie Reaganites

    I’ve been waiting a long time for the Zombie-Reaganite apocalypse. I’m willing to donate my brain to the cause. Though I personally prefer plants, it seems clear that a horde of walking dead can sometimes be the best fix for a dysfunctional political party. Happily, a window to this option opened this summer with the release of the Freedom Conservatism Statement of Principles.

    For the most part, this is a restatement of classically liberal principles that were once utterly uncontroversial among conservatives. Two or three decades ago, it would have felt ridiculous to lay these out in a dramatic, flag-planting gesture. Today it does not feel ridiculous, and though I am not personally acquainted with Avik Roy, or any of the statement’s key drafters, the point of the initiative seemed clear enough to me when I first read it last June. I was happy to sign, perceiving the statement as a welcome counterpoint to the arguments of “New Right” thinkers and intellectuals who have repeatedly assured us that the entire architecture of Reaganite or Buckley-style conservatism is structurally unsound, fit only for a wrecking ball. Many of us disagree. And though we’ve become fairly accustomed to being cast as the befuddled, out-of-touch straight men of the New Right narrative, we actually have some fairly substantive views of our own that our crusading neo-traditional brethren might do well to address. Maybe it’s finally time for some serious discussion of these matters that doesn’t sidestep critical questions with grandstanding speeches about “cuckservatives” and “market worshippers.”

    Check out that first link; it goes to a statement of principles that a lot of Pun Salad faves have signed onto. Including the author of our next item.

  • Gonna watch the GOP candidates debate tonight? Me neither. (Although I'm getting what seems like hourly email from Nikki Haley begging me to.) However, if this fantasy became reality, I'd be tuning in: Kevin Williamson Moderates the GOP Debate

    Thank you all for being here. It is weird not to have the frontrunner here, of course. But, then, it’s a little weird that the frontrunner is the guy who lost last time around and then tried to overthrow the government.

    Which brings us to our first question: Who won the 2020 presidential election?

    I’d like to remind you that those electrodes attached to your … are we allowed to say that on television? … are hooked up to our state-of-the-art Acme B.S. Detector. And thanks to our sponsors at Acme B.S. Detectors! On the other side of that circuit is a Duralast Platinum AGM Battery boasting 750 cold-cranking amps—and thanks to our other sponsors at AutoZone! You know the drill: We have Mitch Daniels standing by with the controls in hand, and, if you try to wholesale the kind of bull you normally feed gullible Republican primary voters and fawning Fox News types to our audience, then it is ZAP! right in the ’nads.

    Instead: Episode 7 of Justified: City Primeval on Hulu.

  • One day, you're living in paradise… The next day, paradise is trying to kill you. Horrific. At Cato, Marc Joffe observes: Maui Wildfire Response Sure Looks Like Government Failure

    Bear in mind that government action, whether in Maui or under other circumstances, is often justified by the idea of market failure, a condition in which resources are allocated inefficiently because “individual incentives for rational behavior do not lead to rational outcomes for the group.” One set of market failures is public goods (or services), which the market may under‐produce because potential market actors cannot prevent free riders from benefiting.

    An example of a public good is disaster‐response, like in Maui. As Michel Jarraud, Secretary‐General of the World Meteorological Organization, told a 2015 UN Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, disaster early warning systems are “public goods in all countries, without exception, so they must be financed by public investment.”

    But as we have seen in Maui, entrusting public goods to the government offers no assurance that they will be provided when needed. Hawaii, for instance, has a decades‐old system of sirens, including 80 on the island of Maui that are tested monthly. But public safety employees reportedly failed to activate the sirens during the Lahaina wildfire.

    I was reminded of a book I read a few months back: Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed by Andrew Koppelman. It was a wide-ranging critique, but (from my report):

    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.)

    To put it mildly: we have different standards for "market failure" and "government failure". Thought experiment: Imagine what the commentary would have been like if Maui's fire department was privately owned and operated with the same results.

  • A lesson for New Hampshire? The "Antiplanner" looks at a current example of an ongoing fallacy: “Priming the Pump” = Subsidizing the Myth

    Maryland has decided it needs to “take a more active role in promoting development around transit stations,” according to an article in the Baltimore Banner. “It’s priming the pump to get these things moving,” says Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld, who used to be general manager of Washington Metro.

    "Take a more active role" meaning: "spend more taxpayer money". So far, New Hampshire has managed to dodge the commuter rail bullet, but advocates keep shooting.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:34 AM EDT

Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal: Congressional "Fairness" Reform

2023 Update

This is an update to a post originally made in April 2017, triggered by my recent read of a book by Lawrence Lessig, They Don't Represent Us. Also see this 2022 post with results reflecting the 2020 elections. This much shorter post analyzes the results of the 2022 elections.

The "crackpot" notion, which would require some Constitutional tinkering: Any candidate for the US House of Representatives who receives greater than 1% of the popular vote in the general election shall be entitled to a vote in the House equal to the fraction of the vote he or she receives. More details available at the articles linked above.

The natural question: how would that have worked out in an actual election? Well, we don't know, and there's no way to tell, because the voting incentives would be totally different under this scheme. That won't stop us from speculating anyway. The MIT Election Data + Science Lab recently updated their data to include the 2022 elections, and I wrote a simple script to show the results for party breakdown, assuming this crackpot scheme was in place.

For example, given the 2022 vote breakdown, here are the Congresscritter-counts and votes for each party that grabbed a vote fraction over 1%:

Party Representatives Votes
REPUBLICAN 429 216.20
DEMOCRAT 416 206.56
GREEN 3 0.24

The grand total: 1078 Representatives, with a total of 434.13 votes. Some notes and observations:

  • The Republicans still "win", as they (barely) did in 2022. In this fictitious scenario, however, they fall just short of a majority (49.8%).

  • 70 Libertarians go to DC! Yay! Or not, given the recent LP takeover by lunatics. Or, if you aren't lib-sympathetic: "even crazier lunatics".

  • Party labels sometimes confuse things. For example, see the "Working Families" party in the table? That's a New York thing. It appears a single candidate can be listed under more than one party on the ballot.

    Drilling down: In NY-14, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got 60.41% of the vote as a Democrat. But she picked up another 6.86% on the "Working Families" ballot line.

    (Why do I suspect that many people voting for "Working Families" candidates aren't actually working?)

  • Unfortunately, my favorite party name from 2020, the "Justice Mercy Humility" party, didn't show up at all this year.

  • To repeat: if the election had been held under this scheme, the voting incentives would have looked a lot different, so too the results.

Diminishing Returns. It's the Law.

[Yes, you too can own this Getty image misspelling "government" for $175 or more!]

Infrequent National Review contributor Herbert W. Stupp makes a contrarian claim: The Problem Isn’t Joe Biden’s Age

President Biden has declared himself a candidate for reelection in 2024 and, by his modest standards, has begun campaigning. Surveys and person-on-the-street interviews suggest that Americans do not want him to run again. Indeed, 68 percent of registered voters believe he is “too old” to run for president, according to an ABC News/Washington Post survey.

Most observers, and my own eyes and ears, tell us there is something wrong with our president, as he blathers that we can “lick the world,” to cite one recent gaffe in Ireland. But is that a by-product of turning 80, as Mr. Biden did in November?

Not necessarily.

Stupp was commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging, 1994–2002. He has numerous examples of people thriving well into their eighties and nineties. As an old person myself, I am encouraged.

President Biden should be judged, instead, on his lavishly wasteful federal spending (fanning calamitous inflation), incompetent appointees, a daily catastrophic invasion of unvetted migrants, waffling on the world stage, high taxes, avalanches of fentanyl, busybody regulation, burgeoning scandals, and his working to make elections less secure and reliable, among many other failures.

Sure. But also, he's way old.

Also of note:

  • Faith Bottum, writing at the WSJ describes California’s Weapons of Math Destruction

    The California State Board of Education issued on July 12 a new framework for teaching math based on what it calls “updated principles of focus, coherence, and rigor.” The word “updated” is certainly accurate. Not so much “principles,” “focus,” “coherence” or “rigor.” California’s new approach to math is as unfair as it is unserious.

    The framework is voluntary, but it will heavily influence school districts and teachers around the Golden State. Developed over the past four years, it runs nearly 1,000 pages. Among the titles of its 14 chapters are “Teaching for Equity and Engagement,” “Structuring School Experiences for Equity and Engagement” and “Supporting Educators in Offering Equitable and Engaging Mathematics Instruction.” The guidelines demand that math teachers be “committed to social justice work” to “equip students with a toolkit and mindset to identify and combat inequities with mathematics”—not with the ability to do math. Far more important is teaching students that “mathematics plays a role in the power structures and privileges that exist within our society.”

    Parents who can afford to will send their kiddos to non-government schools, private academies, or home-school with samizdat calculus textbooks.

    And the kids whose parent's can't afford that will be stuck with their dumbed-down curriculum. (But they will probably know how to spell "equity".)

    I am reminded of the 40-year-old report "A Nation at Risk", which included the memorable observation: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

    Yes: 40 years ago.

    But it's not an "unfriendly foreign power. It's us.

    Ms. Bottum refers to this site from Stanford math prof Brian Conrad, a detailed evisceration of the "Framework".

Doesn't the Mere Fact That Perry Johnson is Running for President Mean That He's Unacceptably Delusional?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, maybe. But, as Thomas Sowell said: it's always useful to ask "Compared to what?" Is Johnson delusional compared to Joe Biden? Donald Trump? Hm.

But I mention him because he sent me an actual book. Two hundred twenty pages, hardcover, and available at Amazon via the link over there to your right.

I'm nothing special, so I assume he sent a copy to every New Hampshire registered Republican.

If you are not a New Hampshire registered Republican, it will set you back $19.95. (Or, truth in advertising, a mere $1 at his website.) I can't tell you if that's worth it or not, because I've only glanced at some pages. It has cartoons.

Let's see if Perry's making a showing with the oddsmakers… um, no:

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 36.6% +0.6%
Donald Trump 26.1% -1.6%
Vivek Ramaswamy 7.8% +0.7%
Gavin Newsom 5.4% +0.8%
Ron DeSantis 4.3% -0.8%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.3% -0.9%
Michelle Obama 3.8% +0.7%
Kamala Harris 2.0% unch
Other 9.7% +0.5%

The (slightly) notable thing here is Newsom's leapfrog over DeSantis and RFKJr. What's up with that? One scenario I've seen mentioned:

  1. Dianne Feinstein resigns her Senate seat.
  2. Newsom appoints Kamala Harris as her replacement!
  3. Kamala needs to resign as Veep, though, so…
  4. The 25th Amandment is invoked! Biden nominates Newsom to fill out Kamala's term!
  5. Which somehow gets okayed by Congress.
  6. And then Biden dies. Or resigns. Or declines to run.
  7. Whatever way, Newsom waltzes into the White House at some point before, but also on, January 20, 2025.

But let's get back to Perry. At NH Journal Michael Graham (generously) grants him "longshot" status: Perry Johnson's Longshot Bid Makes GOP Pres. Debate Stage

Michigan businessman Perry Johnson says he has met the qualifications to appear on the GOP presidential debate stage in Milwaukee Wednesday night and is encouraging front-runner former President Donald Trump to join him.

“There has been a flood of polling in the last 72 hours that meet the RNC’s requirements and qualify me for the debate stage,” Johnson said in a press release Friday. “Therefore, I will be at the debate in Milwaukee and look forward to sharing my Two Cents Plan to Save America, which will balance the budget and secure the border.”

“I am encouraging President Trump to attend the debate so the American people can measure the plans and the records of all major candidates on stage.”

Johnson, a Michigan businessman with almost 30 years of experience in the quality standards field and a degree in mathematics, has been pushing what he calls his “Two Cents to Save America” plan in ads targeting New Hampshire. His proposal would “cut two cents off of every dollar in federal discretionary spending to end inflation and solve the debt crisis,” Johnson says.

I am extremely dubious that a 2% reduction in discretionary spending could get even close to balancing the Federal budget. (Details? See: calculations and projections from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.)

But Perry is the math major, so maybe he's got some sort of calculation, perhaps involving proof of the Riemann Conjecture, that makes everthing work. I will keep you posted if I get up enough interest to investigate further. But I'm still leaning toward "delusional".

Also of note:

  • Just when I was feeling optimistic… Chris Stirewalt comes along and harshes my mellow with a timeless observation: The Law Is No Substitute for Public Virtue. And how that applies (does it ever!) to our current mood.

    There are many reasons why politicians wouldn’t engage in corruption and unsavory practices. One is certainly the law, and the threat of imprisonment. But much of what is wrong is not illegal. Lying to a federal agent is a crime, but lying to voters is so normal now that it scarcely gains our notice. And that’s because the previously presumed penalty for public dishonesty was political. Fear of voters has done far more to limit corruption than fear of a jail cell.

    But what if voters don’t care? What if a felony conviction would not be enough to persuade a majority of the members of a major party to abandon its presidential frontrunner? What if the leaders of the other party were confident that voters would not care about the obvious corruption of the sitting president’s son?

    In a nation that is both evenly divided and blind drunk on partisanship, the electorate has become an unreliable custodian of public virtue. Thus excused from pragmatic decency, it falls to the individual character of our leaders and the norms and traditions of the institutions in which they serve. We all know how that’s going.

    Donald Trump has most spectacularly exploited this acceptance and even celebration of corruption, but we have to bear in mind that we did not arrive here by accident or all at once. We have been slowly sinking into the mire for decades.

    I don't see one of those little padlocks on Stirewalt's article, which may mean you can read it unimpeded, and you should.

  • Worse, it didn't work. Eric Boehm noticed something on a CNBC interview: Ron DeSantis Admits His Fight With Disney Was a Political Stunt All Along

    The fact that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now trying to back away from his fight with the Walt Disney Company should confirm at least one thing about the whole ugly mess.

    It was never a principled fight against special privileges granted to a private company. It was a political stunt meant to raise DeSantis' profile on the national stage.

    That mission having been accomplished—and with the prospects of a legal battle against Disney looming—DeSantis told CNBC on Monday that he has "moved on" from the issue. He also encouraged Disney to "drop the lawsuit" that it filed in April against his administration.

    Disney is doing a pretty good job of self-destruction without Ron's help:

    And it seems increasingly unlikely that America is gonna be saved by Ron DeSantis.

  • Vivek should have been a math major, like Perry. Because he would have taken at least one course in logic, and would have avoided this observation from Noah Rothman: Vivek Ramaswamy Takes Nationalist Logic to Its Obvious, Horrifying Conclusion

    Nationalist Republicans who oppose the continued provision of aid and lethal arms to Ukraine sometimes argue that the West’s commitment to degrading Russia’s capacity to project power abroad comes at a steep cost. America is a strained, reeling great power, they argue, and every dollar devoted to European security is one that is not spent on the more acute threat to U.S. dominance posed by China. Millennial GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has made many of these now rote arguments, but he has done the public a service by taking the nationalist line to its logical conclusion.

    “Xi Jinping should not mess with Taiwan,” Ramaswamy told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday. That is, “until we have achieved semiconductor independence,” the candidate continued, “until the end of my first term when I will lead us there.”

    “After that,” Ramaswamy inadvisably added, “our commitments to Taiwan — our commitments to be willing to go to military conflict — will change after that, because that’s rationally in our self-interest. That is honest. That is true, and that is credible.”

    He’s right about that. When an American president vacillates on his willingness to preserve the deterrent dynamics that make hostile foreign powers think twice about invading their neighbors, the world’s land-hungry despots stand up and take notice. Just ask Joe “minor incursion” Biden.

    Foreign policy is (arguably) one area that's under Presidential control.

    Implementing whatever command-and-control central planning necessary to achive "semiconductor independece" is not. (Or at least shouldn't be.)

    Deal-breaker, Vivek. Sorry.

  • Specifically: it was malarkey. Hey kids! Remeber Pierre Delecto? John Barron? Whatever this was? Well, that trick eventually gets discovered. Glenn Reynolds looks at the latest: Joe Biden's email aliases reveal truth behind aw-shucks facade

    In an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch, Ronald Reagan (brilliantly played by Phil Hartman) pretends to be a doddering, out-of-touch dotard until the press leaves the room, and then suddenly transforms into an evil genius.

    Is this what’s going on with Joe Biden?

    In public he appears increasingly out of it.

    He speaks nonsense, he shows flashes of inappropriate anger, he walks off stage in the middle of events, and he has trouble with stairs.

    Even Democrats are beginning to admit to serious doubts about his ability to function as president.

    But what if it’s all an act?

    I ask that because the latest word is that, according to James Comer, President Biden had at least one pseudonymous email account that he used so he could secretly collude with his son (and alleged bagman) Hunter.

    Dementia Joe could be putting us on? Say it ain't so, Joe! Or say it is so. I'm not sure which would be worse.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT

Blogification Specification

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
I'm a sucker or language trends flying under my radar, and Ann Althouse pointed to one: The “-ification” of Everything

For example: I spent last month hunting for a new apartment in Chicago. All I wanted was a unicorn: an old building in a historic neighborhood, with humane updates and classic fixtures. Instead, I was confronted with a drab and seemingly ubiquitous new aesthetic. Like any U.S. city, Chicago has been beset by the constipated whimsy of as-seen-on-TV home renos: gray floors, gray counters, and the pallid ingenuity of an open floor plan. The look is “inoffensive, inexpensive, innocuous,” as Amanda Mull described it recently in The Atlantic. Call it, as the headline of that piece does, the “HGTV-ification of America.” Have you noticed it, too? Not the gray laminate but that suffix: “-ification.”

I see it cropping up everywhere. In addition to “HGTV-ification,” The Atlantic has covered the “flu-ification of COVID policy.” A recent piece in Esquire considers the “merch-ification of book publishing,” and the Daily Beast, writing on the Netflix docuseries “Harry & Meghan,” declared the “Gen Z-ification of the royal couple.” Vox has lately published articles on the “old man-ification” of television, the “Easter egg-ification” of celebrity beefs, and the “ ‘You’re doing it wrong’-ification” of TikTok influencers. Last year, Teen Vogue announced the end of Pete Davidson’s “Kim Kardashian-ification” after the actor, who’d sharpened his look while dating the image-conscious star, wore a hoodie at a film première following their breakup. (The New Yorker has proved reticent on this particular kind of neologism, although, as far back as 2002, the magazine did refer to fears of “le Big Mac-ification” of French life.)

I will await further clarification.

Also of note:

  • Another bit of language abuse… is illuminated by James Lileks from a recent dead-trees issue of National Review: Banner Year. With apologies in advance, a long:excerpt:

    The Temecula Valley Unified School District didn’t want to use a particular book in its schools. Governor Newsom said Oh no you don’t, or rather Oh yes you will and threatened fines. He said the school’s actions constituted censoring of the book, as if it had the power to make the words vanish from all extant copies.

    Of course, declining to put a book in a library, or teach it in class, is regarded as a BAN — another word ground into meaningless powder by vigorous misuse. It seems to go like this:

    What the parent says: “I don’t like this cartoon book called ‘The Adventures of Hieronymus Hindquarters and Lolly Lube on Sodomy Island’ in the elementary school library!”

    What the administrators hear: “Donald Trump had an election stolen by a cabal of pedophile child-brain harvesters!”

    What the blue-haired teacher with a cowbell attached to their septum hears: “This way for the gas, ladies and gentlemen.”

    What the press reports: “Parents in this conservative school district are objecting to the very existence of gay people, a move strikingly reminiscent of Republican opposition to the civil-rights movement.”

    The result: School board actually looks at the material, is surprised to find they’re defending a comic book with sex tips for middle schoolers that includes sections on “stump play” for amputee enthusiasts, and decides Yeeaaahhh, maybe this one should be for high schoolers only.

    In other words, they BAN it. Next step: Someone posts a tweet that shows how they added The Adventures of Hieronymus Hindquarters to their Little Free Library, next to The Diary of Anne Frank, and gets lots of likes and retweets by people who are absolutely certain that fascism is behind all this oppression, and we must redouble our efforts to have drag queens tell stories to four-year-olds to keep the spark of liberty alive. Why, if the Weimar cabarets had sent their fishnet-clad sirens into the schools of Germany in the early ’30s, Hitler would’ve gained no purchase.

    The Portsmouth Public Libray doesn't carry Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love. (See below for more on that.) Are they banning it?

  • A reason that only works one way. Joe Lancaster has an an example: Biden Credits Falling Profits for Lower Inflation. Is Corporate Greed Over?

    It's an article of faith on the political left that any number of problems can be explained by corporate greed, and inflation is no exception. In 2021 and 2022, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) complained that high grocery prices were the result of "a handful of giant chains" choosing to "force high food prices onto Americans while raking in record profits." When the price of eggs more than doubled during 2022, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich each named "corporate greed" as the singular cause.

    Today, grocery price inflation is cooling, but egg prices have fallen dramatically, from a peak of $4.82 per dozen in January 2023 to $2.09 in July.

    If corporate greed was to blame for rising prices, then is the opposite—corporate benevolence—to credit when prices fall?

    I'm sure someone is asking Warren, Sanders, and Reich (et al.) that question directly, right?

    By the way, the AAA says the US average regular gas price is $3.869/gal. And that's up thirty cents from a month ago.

  • I think this explains something. Emma Camp reports Janet Yellen Accidentally Ate Chinese Magic Mushrooms but Swears She Didn't Get High

    America's chief macroeconomist accidentally microdosed on Chinese "magic mushrooms" last month. Well, sort of.

    Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen accidentally dined on hallucinogenic mushrooms on a recent diplomatic trip to China. However, she swears she didn't actually get high from the dish.

    "There was a delicious mushroom dish. I was not aware that these mushrooms had hallucinogenic properties," Yellen told CNN's Erin Burnett. "I learned that later."

    Omitted from the article: Yellen's addition of "man" to her sentences. "There was a delicious mushroom dish, man. I was not aware that these mushrooms had hallucinogenic properties, man. I learned that later, man."

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT

Olympus Has Fallen

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Yes, I'm still in my Big Dumb Movie mode. And (also) yes, it's only been a few days since I watched White House Down, a remarkably similar movie to this one. Both were made in 2013. This bit of IMDB trivia claims both movies were based on the same Vince Flynn book. (Flynn died in 2013, but apparently not from suffocating under the huge piles of cash Hollywood dumped on him.)

The broad strokes are the same: both feature an ultraviolent White House takeover aided by a traitor inside the building. The perpetrators advertise one motive to the public, but actually have an even more dastardly plan. There's a kid in danger. The evildoers are thwarted by an outsider with unexpected talents.

I liked this one a bit better. It's rated R, while White House Down garnered a PG-13. Why? The language is saltier, and there's more violence, and a lot of it's pretty explicit. And it seemed that White House Down was considerably jokier, if that makes sense.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:58 PM EDT

From Russia with Love

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

So I have a reading project in progress: Ian Fleming's James Bond books. (This is number five of fourteen.) And (for some reason I don't understand myself) I want to own the books.

Complication: the edition I wound up buying (not pictured) has the bowdlerization notice up front:

This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.

I hate this. I'd prefer to read what Fleming wrote, not what some oversensitive censor thinks I should want to read instead. But the original editions were taken out of print, and their prices at Amazon (predictably) rose.

So (don't laugh) even after buying the expurgated book, I discovered that the University Near Here Library had a copy of the 1957 edition. It was very beat up, but that's what I read instead. And whenever I came across something that "might be considered offensive", I checked the new edition to see if it was altered,

Reader, I only found one "update", near the beginning of chapter 18, where Fleming decribes two "gipsy" women about to fight each other to the death. Original:

They were both gipsy-dark, with coarse black hair to their shoulders, and they were both dressed in the collection of rags you associate with shanty-town Negroes—tattered brown shifts that were mostly darns and patches.


They were both gipsy-dark, with coarse black hair to their shoulders, and they were both dressed in the collection of rags you associate with shanty-town people—tattered brown shifts that were mostly darns and patches.

Even I can't work up a lot of dudgeon about that edit. It's unnecessary and thoughtless, but eh.

There may be other "updates", but that's the only one I found. There's plenty more to be offended by, though. See this Goodreads review from a reader who was offended by… well, nearly everything. Except for the "rampant homophobia" described here.

Not that it matters, but I also noticed the original edition had a comma in the title: From Russia, with Love. That went away in more recent printings (and the movie).

And (fun fact): James Bond doesn't show up until we're nearly 40% of the way through the book. The first part is devoted to the bad guys: SMERSH, the Russian "death to spies" agency, and its plot to kill Bond "with ignominy" employing the psychotic defector Red Grant. ("I am an expert at killing people. I do it very well. I like it.") The semi-innocent bait in their plot: the lovely Tatiana Romanova, who assures MI6 that she can deliver a "Spektor" code machine if Bond will come over to Istanbul to woo her.

I found this to be a real step up in quality compared to the first four books in the series. Although there's still way too much travelogue.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:58 PM EDT

Win One For the Grifter

[Deep Pockets]

Need text instead? How Trump Uses Supporters’ Donations to Pay His Legal Bills

Also of note:

  • Giving Trump too much credit for planning? Maybe Christian Schneider is: Chaos Was Donald Trump’s Plan All Along.

    In any good mystery novel or short story, there is an item that will later reveal itself to the reader as a clue they should have seen all along. A tidbit hiding in plain sight that, in retrospect, is the key to solving the case. It could be a surreptitious whisper by one of the suspects, the style of shoes they wore, or an inconsistency about their whereabouts during the crime. (For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” do you wonder why there is a bell cord in the victim’s room that isn’t attached to any bell? By the end of the story, Sherlock Holmes makes it all clear.)

    One wouldn’t call Donald Trump a mystery, but when divining whether the former president knew he was intentionally creating a conspiracy to overturn a U.S. election, the evidence has always been there, plain as day.

    As in any good whodunit, the clues were buried in a torrent of misdirection. Of course, picking out Trump statements that are truly shocking and noteworthy is difficult to do in real time, as once he utters an absurdity, he moves on to the next one before anyone can run to their computer to properly mock it. At one time, he’s suggesting he is singularly qualified to handle Covid-19 because he had an uncle who was a scientific genius. Then he’s suggesting that people cure Covid by injecting bleach. Or he’s proposing firing a nuclear weapon into a hurricane and correcting the Weather Service’s hurricane-path projections with a black Sharpie.

    But there he was, in Oshkosh, Wis., in August of 2020, declaring that he could lose the presidential race in 2020 only if the election was “rigged.”

    That seems to be the word. David Strom at Hot Air: Did the CIA work to rig the 2020 election? (Seems like it did.) And there's even a tag "rigged election" at Granite Grok!

    At least everyone (except Trump) seems to have backed off "stolen".

  • Speaking of plans, though… Charles C. W. Cooke asks a question of an audience that doesn't seem to be listening: What Is the Plan, Republicans?

    May I risk the wrath of the hive mind and ask Republican primary voters what their plan is? Is there one? According to pretty much every poll I’ve seen in the last year, Donald Trump is running away with the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination. This is not a favorability test; it means something concrete: It means that, instead of a new candidate being the Republican nominee in 2024, the Republican nominee in 2024 will be Donald Trump.

    And the broader public hates Donald Trump.

    I have no doubt that there are lots of Republican primary voters who do not know many people who hate Donald Trump. Perhaps you are one of them. But the thing is: Those people that you don’t know still get to vote. There are a lot more of them than there are of you. And like it or not, they are sending about as strong a message as it is possible to send that they do not want Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee in 2024. Unlike the party’s primary voters, they do not believe that the many charges against Trump are frivolous. The bringing of those charges has not caused them to like him more than they did before. The public’s impression of him has worsened, rather than improved, over time. Again, this may not be your personal experience, but the data are clear: The gap between the Republican primary electorate and the voting public is now comparable to the gap between progressives in elite institutions and the voting public. Remember that New Yorker cover showing the cramped and myopic view of America that is exhibited by the residents of New York City? At present, one could mock up a similar drawing depicting the GOP base.

    You don't really need to "rig" elections when your opponent is Donald J. Trump.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    A useful distinction! Robert F. Graboyes makes one: Experts Agree! Scholars Don't

    A thoughtful friend and I recently engaged in a long email exchange over climate change, petroleum, plastics, electric vehicles, cobalt, nuclear power, and, above all, experts and expertise. “Carrie” (not her real name) seems more pessimistic about the state of the world than I am and perhaps more optimistic than I about the capacity of collective action to mitigate problems. At one point, she said: “CO₂ levels are off the charts high, and experts tell us it’s almost too late to do anything about it.” Anticipating my response, she added, “But you tend to dismiss ‘experts.’”

    I don’t “dismiss” experts. I listen, weigh their words, and discount those who feign certainty and hurl ad hominem attacks at those who disagree. I recoil at the expression “experts agree,” and even more so when it’s festooned with faux precision (e.g., “97 percent of experts agree.”). History’s greatest outrages were fueled by agreement among experts and intolerance of dissidents.

    Perhaps it’s useful to differentiate “expertise” from “scholarship.” Expertise (as seen on TV!) often combines the trappings of scholarship with a marketing department, lobbying shop, and protection racket. (“Nice tenure-track professorship you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”) Scholarship, in my mind, is more detached, detailed, and skeptical.

    A good introduction to Graboyes' approach to controversy is The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef. (Kindle link at your right, a mere $6.99.)

  • They just don't like big things. Veronique de Rugy describes how we're getting fooled (again): Corporate Mergers Are Under Attack, But Not on Your Behalf

    Last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a draft of proposed new guidelines for mergers and acquisitions. Sounds like a problem reserved for people who sit in board rooms, right? Not exactly. Such rules will affect all of us.

    If implemented, the proposal will preemptively block private-sector corporate transactions with little regard for the actual impact on consumers. This power grab by progressives in the Biden administration would shift antitrust law from standards that corporations and courts can understand to a series of vague and ambiguous "guidelines" that only give bureaucrats greater power over corporate America.

    Despite the common handwringing over corporate mergers and acquisitions, they should be subject to free market forces. And if there is a role for the government to superintend mergers, the guiding standard should be consumer welfare — the prices we all pay, as well as the quality and quantity of the products being made available to us — rather than politicians' belief that bigger equals bad or the perception of unelected officials that all mergers are problematic.

    Instead of the "consumer welfare" standard, what standard will be used instead? Well, pretty much whatever suits the whims of the people in control of the FTC/DOJ.

    That's from the people pretending to like the "rule of law."

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:40 AM EDT

Beloved by the Survivors Anyway

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Kevin D. Williamson is one of the many critics of the "New Right". He looks at one author's latest folly: The New Right Discovers … Socialized Medicine?

As the so-called New Right continues its transformation into the Old Left, some of the people who spent the Obama years caterwauling about “socialized medicine” have discovered a strange new respect for … socialized medicine—the real kind, not the oogedy-boogedy “socialized medicine” of talk-radio hysteria and Fox News huffery-puffery.

Former New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari, who only a few years ago was wringing his hands over the “illiberalism” of the Affordable Care Act (remember when these guys worried about the state’s illiberalism? Good times!) has found a new idol: the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Ahmari writes that his “own sense of vulnerability” was heightened by fatherhood, but he had the good luck to be working for the Wall Street Journal in London at the time of his son’s birth. “Each time my wife and I confronted the illnesses of early childhood, we received decent, humane care from the NHS,” he writes. “And there would be nary a copay, let alone a scary bill.”

Of course there is a scary bill to pay. That the British are not sure they can pay it is one of the central facts of public life in the United Kingdom today.

Our Amazon Product du Jour is a tongue bath for the NHS, a book described as a "photographic celebration of the United Kingdom's most beloved institution". And claiming that it provides "a timely reminder of the importance of maintaining this vital institution that has long been the envy of all nations."

KDW begs to differ, and provides more than a "photographic celebration" to back up his claims. Example:

As the Royal College of Emergency Medicine runs the numbers, as many as 500 people are dying every week from delays to emergency care alone. For perspective, that means that the British health care system is killing more people weekly than the number who die weekly in firearms murders in the United States—in a country with one-fifth the U.S. population. A separate analysis by the Times of London put the excess deaths at 1,000 a week.

KDW also provides an interesting overview of how other rich countries handle medical services. His bitch-slapping of the "New Right" is correct, but kind of a sideshow.

Also of note:

  • Also brutal: the Red Sox's loss to the Nats last night. Jeff Maurer beholds The Brutal Beauty of Baseball.

    The Major League Baseball trade deadline just passed. The trade deadline is when teams make final decisions about their rosters; good teams fortify for the stretch run and bad teams dump any player with any value and pray that they can lure fans to the ballpark with Free Frisbee Night. Fans — no matter what — complain. We bitch about our team’s rank idiocy and speak with supreme confidence about what should have been done. Strangely, despite being far-sighted visionaries with the recipe for success at our fingertips, few fans ever seem to think: “Hey, I should apply these skills to my own life.”

    The trade deadline is often when long careers end. Players who have hung on until they’re disgustingly old — we’re talking mid-30s (gross!) — get unceremoniously dumped. Former All-Stars get sent to the minors. World Series champions get driven upstate, pushed out of a car, and then watch with teary eyes as their teams speed away. The fans — as always — are just and wise. “What a loser,” we’ll tweet, brushing Cheez-It crumbs off of our sweatpants. “His O-Swing was up and BABIP was down, so of course his fWAR tanked,” we’ll type, which is a sentence that loosely translates to: “Whatever brain power I possess has been horrendously misapplied.”

    Maurer considers the sad case of Bubba Thompson, claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers (where he was batting .170) by the Kansas City Royals, and optioned to their Triple-A team, the Omaha Storm Chasers. (Where, as of last night, he is hitting .250.) I like this paragraph because of the Omaha connection:

    So, stressful, for sure. But…also pretty fair, yes? I mean, I don’t want to add to Bubba Thompson’s problems — I’m not trying to make this blog a forum for Bubba Thompson bashing — but he was hitting .170 with no home runs when he was sent down. There can’t be much of an argument that he should be in the big leagues right now. He might be pissed that he’s heading to Omaha (though his attitude might change when he visits Omaha’s lovely Lauritzen Botanical Garden), but he probably has a clear sense of why he’s been sent down. And he probably also knows that if he hits in Omaha, he’ll find himself back in the majors pretty soon.

    I went with Mrs. Salad to Lauritzen Garden when we were in Omaha for my 50-year high school class reunion in 2019. (Yeah, I'm old.) Jeff is right, it's nice.

    I recommend the article because it's funny and insightful about the nature of "brutal" capitalism. Is it too soon to wonder if Jeff Maurer will be writing for Reason in a few years?

  • No thanks, Jimmy. I link to Wikipedia a lot, because on non-ideological matters, they seem pretty reliable. Emphasis on non-ideological, because their credibility drops off a cliff otherwise, as described by Jordan Boyd: Edits To Hunter Biden's Wikipedia Page Prove Site's Extreme Bias

    Emails from Hunter Biden suggest that the son of now-President Joe Biden paid thousands of dollars to a public relations firm to scrub his Wikipedia page of several unflattering details about his personal life and business ties.

    Paying someone to alter the pages that are presented as fact and often the first result to pop up in a search about a person, place, or thing seems like a practice that should be prohibited. Wikipedia, however, does nothing to stop outside influences from lacing its articles with propaganda. Instead, it has an effectively unenforceable policy that paid editing must be disclosed by the person making the edits.

    I've noticed recently Jimmy Wales begging Wikipedia readers for money. I've chipped in in the past. I think I'll ignore the pleading until I stop seeing articles like Boyd's.

Recently on the movie blog:

[Google Drive Img]

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:40 AM EDT

Heart of Stone

[2 stars] [IMDB Link] [Heart of Stone]

Free to me on Netflix. And that's Gal Gadot. So let's check it out!

Well, fine. It's not as if I was going to do anything worthwhile.

Ms. Gadot plays Rachel, an MI6 operative, member of a team on a mission to abduct a terrorist, or something. She's a computer geek, and is repeatedly warned to "stay in the van" and not participate in the active bits of the mission. Which means (of course) that she does.

But wait a minute! Rachel turns out to be actually working for "Charter", an even more secretive organization looking to keep the world safe from evildoers. They are aided in this by the "Heart" a supercomputing gizmo that has illicit access to All The World's Data, and can analyze it to detect threats and generate strategies to thwart them.

And the Heart is ensconced in the "Locker", a giant blimp kept 85,000 feet above the surface. Yes, that's an excuse for a Big Action Scene at some point.

In fact the entire stupid plot is an excuse for Big Action Scenes. Explosions, gunplay, chases, … you know the drill. If you're in the mood for that sort of thing, this is the kind of thing you're in the mood for. I felt a little guilty, myself. A better movie would have made me care about what happened.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:40 AM EDT

Dream a Little Dream Of … Oh No, Not That!


In case you (like me) aren't acquainted with Mr. Ramirez's source material: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare.

Poor lady. Poor us!

Also of note:

  • But who's counting? Jim Geraghty is shaking his head about the latest: 91 Felony Charges, But the GOP Base Doesn't Want to Change Course

    A rational Republican Party would look at former President Donald Trump’s fourth criminal indictment in five months — now up to a grand total of 91 felony charges — and pause to reevaluate its options in the 2024 presidential election. We don’t know exactly when all these trials will conclude, and when the juries will return their verdicts, but it is likely that at least one and perhaps several trials will be completed by Election Day 2024. Special counsel Jack Smith is aiming for a January 2024 start to the January 6 trial case, the Manhattan trial about the falsified business records over payments to Stormy Daniels starts in March 2024, and the classified documents case trial starts in May 2024. We don’t know yet when the Georgia trial would start.

    Of course, you could—and probably should—make a similar observation about "a rational Democratic Party", seemingly oblivious to the nasty combination of Biden's incompetence, corruption, and dementia.

  • Burnt, in fact. Clark Neily checks for doneness: Trump’s Toast, Folks. Why? Among other things:

    1. Trump’s disdain for truth. America has seen its fair share of lying politicians, but Donald Trump is in a class of his own. He appears to view literally any interaction with another human being as an opportunity to be exploited and a game to be won. In Trump’s world, rules are for chumps, norms are for losers, and the truth is whatever you can get another person to believe— nothing more. And of course, history makes clear that this approach has been quite effective at advancing Trump’s interests in certain settings—preening on the set of a game show, for example, or spinning up a fawning, frothing crowd at a campaign event.

    But not only will those antics not work in a courtroom, they will backfire. Given the nature of the allegations against him, Trump will have to take the stand even though he has a right not to, and given his nature, he will lie to the jury just like he has lied to everyone else his entire life.

    Unfortunately, we've had decades of well-known presidential dishonesty, with loyal followers gulping and saying "I don't care, he's my guy.". It's not a big deal any more,

  • On the other hand… Jacob Sullum sees a recurring theme: Trump's Georgia Indictment Raises Familiar Questions of Knowledge and Intent

    The Georgia indictment that was unveiled last night charges former President Donald Trump and 18 other defendants with participating in an "enterprise" that engaged in a pattern of "racketeering activity" aimed at an illegal result: keeping Trump in office after he was defeated by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. By relying on Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis was able to connect "a lot of related and relatively unrelated conduct"—including 161 listed actions—by "a bunch of disparate people, some acting directly in concert with Trump and his legal team and some much further removed."

    Georgia's RICO law, as interpreted by state courts, is even broader than the famously flexible federal version, covering many more "predicate offenses," defining "enterprise" very loosely, and prescribing a weaker test for establishing a pattern of racketeering activity. The indictment nevertheless hinges on debatable interpretations of specific conduct that Willis portrays as part of a criminal conspiracy but the defendants will characterize as legitimate efforts to rectify what they perceived as systematic election fraud. As with the federal indictment of Trump that was unsealed earlier this month, which covers much of the same territory, the choice between those dueling descriptions will depend largely on how a jury views each defendant's knowledge and intent.

    I feel like we're stuck watching a bad Netflix movie.

  • There's that saying about being born on third base. And Kevin D. Williamson eventually uses it in his column: Born Rich.

    One of the most distasteful aspects of our politics is the extent to which it is so obviously driven by envy, which is what 99 percent of that “privilege” talk ends up being about. But I suppose I am the wrong person to complain about that, because I was born rich.

    Note: he's not talking about money there.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:40 AM EDT

And Doggone It, People Like Me!

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Ah, yes, I remember "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley" sketches on good old SNL. (Like many recurring characters: funny until, inevitably, run into the ground.) I wonder how Stuart would react to Freddie deBoer, who has penned a Prologue to an Anti-Therapeutic, Anti-Affirmation Movement

I am about to make a prediction about a political shift, of a sort. But I’m not predicting a major social change writ large so much as I am predicting a new or newly invigorated response to a preexisting cultural reality, an unfortunate one. I think there's gathering dissatisfaction with a common set of tropes regarding personal agency and mental health. In particular, I think that the dominance of the therapeutic assumption in American life, and the role of affirmation within it, will be challenged. Currently, an inescapable American cultural mode, particularly among the educated, is one of mandatory therapeutic maximalism and an attendant tyranny of affirmation. The therapeutic/affirmational mode assumes

  • Wanting and not getting is disordered and a kind of identity crime

  • Human life is meant to be spent in a ceaseless state of feeling “valid,” which is to say, affirmed and respected and paid attention to and liked; any deviation from this state is pathological and a vestige of injustice

  • Good people spend a great deal of their time categorically and uncritically affirming others - telling friends and strangers alike that their desires are all legitimate, their instincts always correct, their perceptions of their own needs never mistaken or misguided, their self-conception compelling

That's just the first three items on Freedie's 12-element list. Click over for the remainder. If he's right in forecasting a backlash against that sort of thing, it's devoutly to be wished.

Freddie used to self-identify as "Marxist". He seems to have dialed that to "leftist". Progress!

Also of note:

  • A helpful and scary reminder… from Ace of Spades HQ: The 2nd Amendment Is The Hill Upon Which The Left Will Die: They Will Do Anything To Gut It, And They Will Never Stop

    It doesn't matter to the left how they ban guns. They will go after them with onerous purchase regulations. They will try to confiscate them using "Red Flag" laws. They will increase costs with ridiculous registration and purchase fees, and increased fees levied against retailers. They will restrict the right to carry weapons for self-protection to narrowly defined and useless places. They will demonize guns in the media...even anthropomorphizing if guns were sentient and able to act on their own!

    I will use that last bit to (once again) note one of the definitions of "fetish":

    an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.

    A good thing to point out when someone talks about owners having a "gun fetish". That's a term much more applicable to the left.

  • More like the Internal Revenue Disservice, amirite? J.D. Tuccile looks at a repeat of a TV show you didn't like the first time: The IRS Misplaced Millions of Taxpayer Records. Again.

    Do you know where your tax records are? It's a serious question in the case of millions of Americans whose records the IRS carelessly misplaced. That's the big reveal in a recent inspector general's report telling us that the federal mugging agency continues to be mindbogglingly incompetent at safeguarding the sensitive financial information it forcibly extracts from us all.

    "The IRS was unable to locate any of the FY 2010 microfilm cartridges that should have been sent from the Fresno Tax Processing Center to the Kansas City Tax Processing Center," the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration revealed in an August 8 report on the tax agency's data-handling practices. "As a result of the lack of adequate inventory controls, the IRS cannot account for thousands of microfilm cartridges containing millions of sensitive business and individual tax account records."

    Oddly enough, the IRS is a branch of the very same Federal Government that thinks they're qualified to write regulations on how private companies can handle "your data".

  • Poof! Into a cloud of crack smoke! Andrew C. McCarthy is pretty peeved at a vanishing act: ‘Special Counsel’ David Weiss Makes $5 Million Biden–China Scheme Disappear

    Remember Hunter Biden’s extortionate WhatsApp message to his Chinese business associate, Henry Zhao? The message we just learned about in June because Gary Shapley, an IRS whistleblower agent, shone a light on it? The message that spun up Congress and much of the public, and even stirred the press out of its slumber for a moment or two, because it undeniably implicated President Biden?

    Well guess whom the message failed to stir? That would be none other than newly minted “special counsel” David Weiss, the prosecutor who has supposedly been investigating Hunter Biden — and thus the Biden family influence-peddling business, the main source of income for the president’s son — since 2018. Weiss, of course, is the Delaware U.S. attorney. Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland never tires of pointing out that he is a Trump appointee, but Weiss was confirmed and appointed in Democrat-dominated Delaware only because of strong support by the state’s two Democratic senators, Biden allies Chris Coons and Tom Carper.

    McCarthy helpfully provides Hunter's "extortionate WhatsApp message":

    I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment has not been fulfilled. Tell the director that I would like to resolve this now before it gets out of hand, and now means tonight. And, Z, if I get a call or text from anyone involved in this other than you, Zhang, or the chairman, I will make certain that between the man sitting next to me and every person he knows and my ability to forever hold a grudge that you will regret not following my direction. I am sitting here waiting for the call with my father.

    Since we've mentioned one recurring SNL character already, let's go for another, the Church Lady: Well, isn't that special?

  • Are you a Futurama fan? If no, you should probably stop reading here. Hulu started airing the new episode Parasites Regained yesterday. And boy, it was a hoot. An extended parody of Dune (books and movies), carried out in the desert world of … Nibbler's litter box, thanks to the Professor's shrink ray.

    That was necessitated by Nibbler's parasitic infection, which was quickly eating into his intelligence. The medic said (I'm paraphrasing) that it wouldn't stop until he had the IQ of a terrier.

    Then he said, no it's worse: a Boston terrier!

    Well, you may have noticed me and Barney up there at the top of the right-hand column. The good news is: he wasn't listening when this vile slander was issued.

    But it got me Googling a bit:

    And yes, people have noticed Nibbler's resemblance to that noble breed.

    And (also) yes, people have also submitted their pups to this indignity:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:58 PM EDT

Say It Ain't So

Jonathan Turley throws a beanball at Merrick Garland: ‘Shoeless Joe’ Weiss and the fixing of the Hunter Biden game

Roughly 100 years ago, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson admitted that, as a player for the Chicago White Sox, he and seven other teammates had intentionally lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 1919. When a kid stopped him outside of the grand jury room and asked “It ain’t true, is it, Joe?” Jackson responded “Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is.”

This is not a case of history repeating itself. After being confronted by allegations of a fixed investigation, Attorney General Merrick Garland just sent Shoeless Joe back into the game.

I guess that would make Garland Charles Comiskey in this analogy? If Comiskey had not suspended Jackson.

Anyway, Turley provides a list of the many ways now-"special counsel" has fixed his "investigation" so far. It's daunting.

Also of note:

  • Try to be amused. Like Pun Salad, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. follows the Elvis Costello path: ‘Special Counsel’ Becomes a 2024 Election Joke

    Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Friday’s announcement in the Hunter Biden case is bizarre in a different way when examined against special counsel logic. Mr. Garland said the Hunter investigation had “reached the stage” where such an appointment was appropriate. But the stage the case had reached, after being slow-walked for years, was the stage where Hunter and his prosecutors were caught trying to wave through a plea deal that would end the investigation even as prosecutors told the public the investigation was “ongoing.”

    The absurdity of Mr. Garland’s announcement making David Weiss now a special counsel was all the greater because of the other “stage” the probe had reached. This would be the stage where IRS collaborators publicly accused Mr. Weiss and his Justice Department overseers of violating normal procedures to go easier on Hunter than they would on any other alleged offender.

    Welp, I guess we'll have to wait for some enterprising journalists to uncover the truth here, like Woodward and Bernstein. Oh, wait…

  • Oh, yeah, it's easy to forget but… J.D. Tuccille reminds us that The U.S. Government’s Bad Credit Means Higher Costs for Us All.

    Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen got huffy earlier this month after Fitch Ratings lowered the credit rating of the United States. Insisting that the downgrade is "arbitrary and based on outdated data," she assured the world that "Treasury securities remain the world's preeminent safe and liquid asset, and that the American economy is fundamentally strong."

    Of course, it's Yellen's thankless job to blow sunshine up the asses of the world's financial markets even as the U.S. government ignores constant warnings that its fiscal policies are reckless. But blow though she will, nobody seems to find her especially convincing.

    Fun Fact from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation:

    The growth in interest costs presents a significant challenge in the long-term as well. According to CBO’s projections, interest payments would total around $71 trillion over the next 30 years and would take up 35 percent of all federal revenues by 2053. Interest costs would also become the largest “program” over the next few decades — surpassing defense spending in 2029, Medicare in 2046, and Social Security in 2051.

    Hey, it's not our problem; it's our kids' and grandkids' problem. I'm sure they'll remember us fondly.

  • We're wrong about everything… but Arnold Kling thinks especially that We're All Wrong About AI.

    Looking back at the Apple II, in 2018 Michael Halvorson recalled marketing blurbs

    stating that you can use the device to teach your kids arithmetic and make learning fun, manage household finances, chart the stock market, track your recipes and record collection, and control your home.

    I don’t have to spell out the applications for personal computers that have emerged since then.

    Yeah! Like looking at cat videos! Nobody saw that coming!

    But seriously, Arnold outlines some common AI misapprehensions. Dare we hope for the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" that Neal Stephenson described in The Diamond Age?

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    I'm working on mine. Dave Huber of The College Fix reports with a straight face: Major news network offers guide to ‘neopronouns’. (That network would be CNN.)

    Much has been discussed over the last few years regarding people’s “preferred pronouns,” but have you heard about so-called “neopronouns”?

    Early last year, the U.K.’s University of Bristol offered guidance on neopronouns, defined as “third-person pronouns that are not officially recognised in the language they are used in.”

    Examples? Well, sure. From the CNN report:

    Leaf, sun, star — nounself pronouns are neopronouns that use nature and other inspirations as nonbinary or genderless descriptors […] For someone who uses the nounself pronoun “leaf,” that may look like: “I hope leaf knows how proud we are that leaf is getting to know leafself better!” or “Leaf arrived at the coffee shop before me; I was mortified to have been late to meet leaf.”

    Advocates, like Danish linguist Ehm Hjorth Miltersen, note that all is not rosy for leaf:

    Miltersen added that “some critics” of neopronouns say they’re “silly” and “make it harder for transgender and nonbinary people to be taken seriously.”

    Tsk! Those nasty critics!

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:57 PM EDT

Vivek Fever! Catch It!

Just a reminder that the probabilities in our weekly table are derived from people who are (I think) actually risking their own money on being correct.

Or maybe they just get a thrill from throwing their money away. That would explain a lot of gambling behavior, I guess. From what I observe from standing behind people buying scratch tickets at the local convenience store.

How else to explain why those punters judge that Vivek Ramaswamy is the third most likely person to become Our Next President?

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 36.0% +0.8%
Donald Trump 27.7% -1.5%
Vivek Ramaswamy 7.1% +2.2%
Robert Kennedy Jr 5.2% -0.3%
Ron DeSantis 5.1% +0.1%
Gavin Newsom 4.6% -0.3%
Michelle Obama 3.1% +0.1%
Kamala Harris 2.0% -0.2%
Other 9.2% -0.9%

  • Hey, maybe this explains it. Glenn Reynolds (at his substack) notes the latest wacky proposal: Vivek Ramaswamy Channels Robert Heinlein, and Me

    So Vivek Ramaswamy is channeling a weird mix of me and Robert Heinlein with his new voting age proposal. (Hey, he could do worse).

    The proposal is that the voting age should be raised to 25 by constitutional amendment (necessary to overcome the 26th Amendment, passed in 1971, which set the voting age at 18). Younger people could vote, but only if they had served in the military or as first responders, or if they could pass the same test given to foreigners applying for U.S. citizenship.

    Click through for Glenn's comparison with his own proposal, and the scheme Heinlein described in Starship Troopers.

    I will make my usual observation: the US President has absolutely no Constitutional role in the amendment process. If Ramaswamy wants to dink the Constitution, he should run for some legislative office.

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    I will also repeat my occasional book recommendation: Against Democracy by Jason Brennan. In a nutshell: you wouldn't ask random people to fix your plumbing or perform your heart surgery; but we think it's a great idea for random people to make important decisions about liberty, peace, and prosperity.

    So gimmicks like Rarmaswamy's/Reynolds'/Heinlein's might improve things marginally; but what we really need is to make it much more difficult for political whims to impose their on the rest of us. As long as you're tinkering with the Constitution, throw that in there too.

  • Maybe he should switch to 'tar-and-feather' rhetoric. George Will doesn't care for murder advocacy: DeSantis’s ‘slitting throats’ rhetoric repels moderates he might need

    Ron DeSantis is eager to become president — to sit, as it were, in Lincoln’s chair — so he can start “slitting throats.” Washington, formerly The Swamp, will be The Abattoir.

    Perhaps the folks at the New Hampshire barbecue had a delicious frisson of danger — the thrill of proximity to a roughneck — when DeSantis said that in taking on “these deep state people” he will “start slitting throats on Day One.” But try to name a president who talked that way. Maybe Richard Nixon on the tapes he assumed would never become public — a discouraging precedent.

    Florida’s Republican governor has a penchant for advertising his toughness — something truly tough people need not, and do not, do. There are, for example, his startlingly many references to kneecapping. In a tweet, he boasted that “we have kneecapped ESG” — environmental, social and corporate governance investment criteria — “in the state of Florida.” President Biden “is deliberately trying to kneecap our domestic energy production.” “We kneecap [local police departments] with our clemency power.” Florida Democrats seeking a special legislative session devoted to gun violence would “kneecap” law-abiding citizens. He said that whoever leaked the draft of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision was trying “to kneecap a potential majority” of the justices.

    Exercise for the reader: what's your favorite violent metaphor to use in political speech? Declaring a "war on X"? Looking for a "smoking gun"?

  • When he's not fantasizing about murdering and crippling people… Ron DeSantis has a credibility problem, as described by Eric Boehm: Ron DeSantis' Unconvincing Economic Reset

    In an attempt to kick-start his sputtering presidential bid, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has shifted his focus toward economic issues and away from the culture war obsession that defined the early stages of his campaign.

    The pivot is a welcome—and probably necessary—change that gives DeSantis an opportunity to talk about actual conservative policies rather than seeking new ways to threaten to use state power against private entities the governor dislikes. In recent campaign speeches, an op-ed published Monday in USA Today, and the "Declaration of Economic Independence" published on his campaign website, DeSantis has pivoted toward talking about the worrying size of the national debt, the growth of regulatory burdens, and how both are crushing growth.

    But even as he switches gears, DeSantis still seems stuck in that frame of mind that defined his culture war antics—a mentality that could stall the candidate's attempted reboot.

    Both Boehm and Will think that DeSantis could appeal to "moderates" by moderating his rhetoric. I'm skeptical, but as the saying goes: "It's crazy but it just might work."

  • Among the many things Kamala won't be asked about… Matt Welch describes why Kamala Harris Won't Be Asked About Suicide of Backpage Founder She Persecuted.

    The sitting vice president, shortly before moving to Washington, D.C., successfully scapegoated through heavily publicized if legally unsuccessful pimping prosecutions a career newspaperman who last week shot himself to death at age 74 rather than sit through yet another prostitution-facilitation trial that he insisted to his dying days was an attack on free speech.

    Yet the chances of Kamala Harris being asked this week—or any week—about the late James Larkin, or her starring role in the demonization of his and Michael Lacey's online classified advertising company Backpage as "the world's top online brothel," are vanishingly small. That's because people have a natural revulsion toward anything associated—however falsely—with child prostitution or sex trafficking, true. But it also stems from something far less excusable: When it comes to conflicts between the feds and those from the professionally unpopular corners of the free speech industry, journalists have been increasingly taking the side of The Man.

    Many journalists think that whole "afflicting the comfortable" guidance doesn't apply to comfortable leftists.

  • And one more Kamala lie… this one described by Jeff Jacoby:

    During an appearance at Drake University in Des Moines on July 28, Vice President Kamala Harris repeated one of her favorite talking points, inadvertently undermining the administration's recent boast that "Bidenomics" has been a great success.

    "Most Americans," Harris told her audience, "are a $400 unexpected expense away from bankruptcy."

    In Chicago four days earlier, she had said the same thing virtually word for word: "The average American is a $400 unexpected expense away from bankruptcy."

    It's a line Harris has used a lot over the years. In 2019, as a candidate for president, then-Senator Harris told an interviewer that "in our country right now, almost half of American families are a $400 unexpected expense away from complete upheaval. Four hundred dollars! That could be — the car breaks down. That could be a hospital bill you didn't see coming."

    If true, that is an alarming statistic. In a nation as wealthy as the United States, it is stupefying to think that scores of millions of Americans would be thrown into "complete upheaval" or reduced to bankruptcy by a $400 expense they didn't see coming. There could hardly be a more devastating indictment of America's economic system or a grimmer indication of how badly inequality and social insecurity have corroded the stability of American society.

    But it isn't true.

    And it's bullshit, even after you note Kamala shifting from "almost half of American families" to "the average American" to "most Americans".

  • Nikki's still my choice. Because her team says the quiet part out loud. That's a good thing, right? Karen Townsend: Team Haley says the quiet part out loud about the first GOP debate

    An adviser to GOP presidential primary candidate Nikki Haley said what her strategy will be during the first Republican debate later this month. Haley, and likely the other candidates, too, will focus their fire on Ron DeSantis. It is not expected that the other candidates will take shots at Trump. Except, Chris Christie. He’ll be on the stage to aggressively go after Trump.

    Well, we'll see about that. Or maybe we won't. I can't stand watching debates.

  • More pundits need to add "but with jokes" to their commentary. Jeff Maurer is an early adopter of what I hope will be a trend: The Trump Indictment, But With Jokes. Excerpt:

    Trump allegedly worked to get fake electors to cast votes in place of the real electors. The plan was Three Stooges-esque; the hope seems to have been that the fake electors — literal stooges — would show up at the right time and place, and someone would say “You must be those electors I was looking for,” and usher them in. At that point, the Trump electors would cast ballots contravening the votes of the actual electors, and chaos would ensue. It didn’t happen like that, but fake electors did meet in the seven targeted states. Unfortunately, I can’t find good information about precisely where these fake electors met…was it a Denny’s? An 8x5 storage shed? Shame on special prosecutor Jack Smith for denying us the details of these sad little meetings.

    The fake elector plan didn’t get much traction, possibly because it was — in the words of one Trump advisor — “crazy” and “illegal”. But Trump wasn’t done: He allegedly tried to get the Justice Department to back his scheme. At one point, Trump is said to have brought DOJ leadership into the Oval Office and hinted that he would fire them if they didn’t do what he wanted. This pressure campaign led let to a somewhat-hilarious scene in which “Co-Conspirator 4” — almost certainly DOJ official Jeffrey Clark — informed Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen that Trump had decided to replace him. Rosen — having heard nothing from Trump — simply replied that he couldn’t be fired by a subordinate. Which, of course, is true; mid-level DOJ officials can’t fire the Attorney General. Though I sort of admire Clark’s (possible) chutzpah; when I was a low-level EPA staffer, it never occurred to me to walk into the Administrator’s office and say: “Hit the bricks — you’re fired.” And perhaps that lack of initiative is why my EPA career was so middling.

    And Jeff provides an unprecedented, but credible, defense strategy:

    The indictment repeatedly argues that Trump knew what he was doing. The DOJ uses the word “knowingly” 36 times, because proving intent is key to proving fraud. Of course, that’s tricky with Trump, because: Does Trump really know anything? I mean: Does a salmon know to swim back to its place of birth to spawn? Or does it just have an urge that can’t be explained in terms of human cognition? Just as normal modes of human thought might not be applicable to anadromous fish, so, too, they might not be applicable to the 45th president.

    Works for me! Acquitted!

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:57 PM EDT

Accept No Substitutes

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Michael Munger calls this quote "something amazing, a sentence with just 25 words but with a profound insight into how societies work, or could work.

The fact that my fellow man wants to acquire shoes as I do, does not make it harder for me to get shoes, but easier.

I bet you can figure out a number of implications of those 25 (short!) words, but click through to see if you missed any.

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:57 PM EDT

Out of the Silent Planet

[Amazon Link]
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Ever come out of reading a famous book and thinking, "Well, that wasn't at all what I expected."? That was my reaction here, and not in a good way.

It's a book I'm "supposed" to like, I think. Although I'm not particularly religious, I remember reading and liking Lewis's Christian apologetics. (Sorry, Clive, they didn't take.) I'm not big on fantasy, so I've avoided his Narnia books. But I heard … somewhere … that this book was the first entry in a "hard" science fiction trilogy. Got that impression anyway. I was expecting something Heinleinish, got instead Narnia-lite.

Poor Professor Ransom is on a walking tour of England, and in desperate need of a place to spend the night. Instead he's abducted by a "mad scientist" and his accomplice and taken on a spaceship joyride to Mars, which the inhabitants call "Malacandra". Where he learns that he's about to be offered up to the natives as a human sacrifice.

Ransom escapes from his captors and starts on a fantastical trek across the Malacandrian landscape, meeting the friendly inhabitants, learning their language, and (gradually) discovering the relataionships between the various Malacandrian species and their head honcho, Oyarsa, Ransom is grateful for the hospitality, but there's the small matter of the other two Terrans, who plan to take over the planet by violence.

You, reader, are expected to learn a lot of Malacandran lingo yourself: Hross, pfifltriggi, hnau, Handramit, … You might want to grab a glossary off the Wikipedia page.

At one point, one bad guy warns the other that "these devils can spllt the atom". Interesting; the book was written in the 1930s, and the potential for nuclear fission seems to have been well-known at that point.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:57 PM EDT

The Life of Crime

Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I think I picked up this book at the Portsmouth Public Library because I was impressed with an essay by the author (Martin Edwards) in the WSJ last year. Sadly, I was misled.

It's a tome: 622 pages of main text, which includes a few pages of footnotes at the end of each of the book's 55 chapters. And I'll tell you up front: the theme song of the book might be "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Crime Writers". Because the recurring motif in the mini-biographies of the authors discussed here is dysfunction: physical and mental infirmities (including both the authors and their families), violence, infidelity, substance abuse, perversion, left-wing politics, … Well, the list goes on. Edwards seems to have an eye for that sort of thing.

It's rough going in spots, and the coverage is idiosyncratic, with (I think) over-emphasis on the Brits. There's an entire chapter on BBC radio mysteries. But Elmore Leonard doesn't show up at all. No Robert Crais. Robert B. Parker gets a few lines, in one of those end-of-chapter footnotes.

In comparison, Danish writer Anders Bodelsen gets a few lines in the main text. Ever heard of him? (However, that mention inspired me to rewatch a movie based one of his books.)

There are a lot of interesting (if not particularly edifying) stories here. Want to know why Mary Roberts Rinehart was shot at for hiring a butler in Bar Harbor? Why Mencken called S. S. van Dine's behavior a "masterpiece of imbecility"? Why Howard Hawks thought Leigh Brackett was a guy? Who "joined an 'intellectual motorcycle gang' that took inspiration from Dostoevsky and Rimbaud"?

On page 553, Edwards gets around to observing that a "significant number of crime writers have faced mental health challenges". At this point many readers will say: Gee, ya think?

But the lurid stories are separated by long stretches of tedious "then-they-wrote" recounting of works that are often obscure. Spoiler-free as near as I could tell, but I may have skimmed.

Last Modified 2024-06-02 10:47 AM EDT

Velvet Was the Night

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, first of all, I have no idea who that's supposed to be on the cover. A glamorous smoking lady, but the main female character is kind of plain and doesn't smoke. The title is a lyric from that old 1950s hit song "Blue Velvet"; the song plays a role here, but otherwise I couldn't detect what the title had to do with the book.

The book was on the NYT list of The Best Mystery Novels of 2021. I got a little worried that this was an "affirmative action" pick, chosen for its "diversity". The author, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is of Mexican descent, but lives in Canada; the novel is set in 1970s Mexico.

I was pleasantly surprised. The writing here is good, and unsentimental.

The movie follows two main characters. There's Maite, a lonely secretary afflicted with minor kleptomania, self-esteem issues, a romance comic book fetish, and persistent money woes. And there's Elvis, working as a thug for the "Hawks", a CIA-sponsored street gang tasked with violently disrupting Communist "activists" looking to install a Marxist government in Mexico.

Both Maite and Elvis find themselves searching for a lost student, Leonara. Maite has a rather selfish reason: she was asked to take care of Leonara's cat, and she wants to get paid for that so she can get her car out of hock at the repair shop. Elvis is looking because he's been ordered to by the leader of the Hawks: Leonora apparently took incriminating photos at a protest rally, where the Hawks visited deadly violence on the Commie protesters.

And yeah, not kidding about the Communist stuff. There's a Russian spy, Arkady, who beats the crap out of Elvis at one point. I kind of liked him for that. He's probably the most competent character here.

Neither Maite nor Elvis are particularly sympathetic characters, but they're arguably more sympathetic than anyone else here. And (small spoiler) they don't meet up until near the end of the book, driven by Elvis's discovery of their shared love of old music and ineffectual self-improvement. There's a considerable amount of violence that happens just before this.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:56 PM EDT

The Silent Partner

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I remember enjoying this 1978 movie back in the day. A book I'm reading mentioned the Anders Bodelsen novel on which it was based, so I checked and … yep, it was free-to-me via the streaming service "Kanopy" and my Portsmouth Public Library card.

The violence here was considered pretty nasty back in 1978. Oddly enough, these days the violence seems, well, normal. But there's also considerable female nudity, which seems to have become rare. It's a funny old world.

Elliott Gould plays Miles, a nebbish stuck in a boring role at a boring Canadian bank. He's smitten with co-worker Julie (Susannah York) who's having an affair with the boss (to break out of her boring rut). She dismisses Miles' advances. But all this boredom stops when Miles detects a nefarious plan by "Reikle", a psychotic Mall Santa (Christopher Plummer), to rob the bank at gunpoint. He concocts a scheme of his own to counter the heist, and keep the proceeds.

Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. But it turns out to be a lot more complicated, and dangerous, than Miles probably planned. Christopher Plummer's character is about as far away from Captain von Trapp as you can get.

So: some sex and violence, a bit of romantic comedy tossed in. John Candy has a minor role. I enjoyed Miles' cat-and-mouse efforts to outwit Reikle quite a bit. This is the kind of movie they don't seem to make any more.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:56 PM EDT

Just Check Your Currency

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In our epistemic crisis, you shouldn't be blamed for wondering: Who can I trust? The Amazon Product du Jour has one possible answer. And that answer has the official backing of Your Federal Government.

But maybe you're not a believer. And, even if you are, you might worry about practical issues, like setting up a reliable communication link between you and the Almighty.

And maybe you're worried about anyone who claims to have a reliable communication link to the Big Guy in the Sky. Should you trust them? Er…

Anyway, that's sort of a side issue. At Reason, Robin Hanson asks Can We Trust A.I. To Tell the Truth?

"Disinformation is by no means a new concern, yet…innovative technologies…have enabled the dissemination of unparalleled volumes of content at unprecedented speeds," reads a November 2022 United Nations report. Likewise, a January 2023 NewsGuard newsletter said "ChatGPT could spread toxic misinformation at unprecedented scale."

The very idea of "disinformation" sounds terrible: poor innocent victims viciously assaulted by malicious liars. At first glance, I'm sympathetic to the idea we should stop people from saying false things, when we can find truth-authorities to at least roughly distinguish what is false. Thankfully, many widely respected authorities—including journalists, academics, regulators, and licensed professionals—do offer such services.

But we also have meta-authorities—that is, authorities on the general topic of "censorship," such as John Milton, John Stuart Mill, Voltaire, George Orwell, Friedrich Hayek, Jürgen Habermas, Noam Chomsky, and Hannah Arendt. Most meta-authorities have warned against empowering authorities to limit what people can say, at least outside of extreme cases.

Robin's advice: AI might, or might not, be trustworthy. But you should make your own call on that. The last people you should trust are those who want to prevent you from making up your own mind.

Also of note:

  • Duh. David Harsnyi has an example of someone you shouldn't trust: CNN’s Dana Bash.

    While wrapping up a recent segment with an Iowa pro-life advocate, CNN’s Dana Bash let her audience know that despite her guest’s contentions, she had never “talked to a Democrat who wants abortion-on-demand until time of birth.”

    Just because Democrats haven’t talked to Bash about personally driving pregnant women down to Maryland’s all-trimester abortion clinic or Warren Hern’s busy Boulder shop — where he admits to performing late-term abortions on perfectly healthy women and fetuses — those places still exist. And they exist because Democrats, including the president, support legal abortion for any reason until the moment of birth.

    Media types like Bash never "talked" about that, because it's a detail that the Enlightened avoid talking about precisely, preferring to obfuscate with terms like "health care".

  • Veronique de Rugy wants to talk, but who wants to listen? After the U.S. Credit Downgrade, Let's Talk About a Radical Budgetary Change. She plugs the "BRAC"-style reform (we discussed that here a few days ago.)

    But here's another idea:

    Making continuing appropriations automatic in case of a lapse could remove the threat of shutdowns. As explained in one senator's proposal, if appropriations work isn't done, "implement an automatic continuing resolution (CR), on rolling 14-day periods, based on the most current spending levels enacted in the previous fiscal year." Further, to avoid over-relying on CRs, "all Members of Congress must stay in Washington, D.C., and work until the spending bills are completed."

    I rather like the idea of constraining our "public servants" to the Federal District. How about not paying their salaries either?

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:56 PM EDT

You Got One Life That You Better Not Waste

Rest in peace, Robbie Robertson.

Guitarist-songwriter-singer Robbie Robertson, who led the Canadian-American group the Band to rock prominence in the 1970s and worked extensively with Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese, has died. He was 80.

According to an announcement from his management, Robertson died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a long illness.

A mere four days ago, I referenced his "Forbidden Fruit" in an article heading. That very same song's YouTube video is embedded above, and one line is our appropriate headline du jour.

And I embedded a video celebrating the 50-year anniversary of "The Weight" back in 2019. It is wonderful: Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, and a host of very talented musicians you probably have never heard of from (literally) around the world. Check it out (at the end of the post).

Also of note:

  • What is being a fanatic like? Bryan Caplan interviewed Chris Rufo. (I used to link to Rufo's stuff a lot, not so much lately.) His post, Reflections on Rufo is long and thoughtful, but I just wanted to snip out this one bit:

    Being a fanatic is the intellectual equivalent of firing a gun into a random crowd and hoping you shoot Hitler.

    Read the whole thing for why Caplan considers certain thinkers and schools of thought to be "intellectually fraudulent". Surprisingly, Rufo has (instead) developed a strange respect.

  • Don't know much about the French I took. Or economics. But, like Dominic Pino, I do know Journalism Is Not a Public Good. He writes in response to an article in a magazine that should, but does not, know better:

    “Journalism is a public good and should be publicly funded,” says an article in Scientific American by journalism professor Patrick Walters.

    [PS: In fact, that's the headline.]

    A public good is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. That means one person’s consuming the good doesn’t leave any less of it for other people to consume, and it isn’t feasible to prevent people from using the good for free. The classic example is missile defense. If my house is defended from missiles, it doesn’t mean my neighbor’s house is less defended, and there’s no way to only defend specific houses from missiles based on whether they’ve paid for it. So, it makes sense for the government to tax people and use the money to provide missile defense to everyone.

    Pedantic definitions aside, the SciAm article arguing for government subsidies is bad on the merits, and Pino explains why.

    It's also somewhat self-refuting. Why should government pay for sloppy and ill-defined articles in politically biased publications, like Scientific American?

  • George Will is nobody's sweetheart. He explains How U.S. sugar protectionism could sour your Halloween and Christmas.

    Chicago — Carl Sandburg’s hog butcher, wheat stacker, city of the big shoulders — was once America’s candy capital, catering to the nation’s sweet tooth. Today it is less so because the federal government interferes with candy’s most important ingredient.

    With Halloween on the horizon and Christmas close behind, sugar import quotas might produce shortages of candy corn and candy canes. Herewith another story of industrial policy gone sour.

    The Wall Street Journal — headline: “Candy Makers Wrestle With Sugar Shortage” — reports that Spangler Candy of Bryan, Ohio, has had to decline some Halloween candy orders and might be unable to produce its usual 250 million candy canes. An executive of Atkinson Candy in Lufkin, Tex., says that had his company not found a 12th supplier (importing from Colombia) after 11 had said their sugar supplies for this year were exhausted, “we would’ve been going to Costco” for sugar. For tons of it?

    I assume Halloween candy, where you can find it, will be insanely expensive this year. Thanks, protectionists!

  • Maine politicians might be a tad thin-skinned. J. Christian Adams notes some unfriendliness to free speech in that state just on the other side of the Salmon Falls River: Maine’s War on Election Transparency

    Opponents of free speech have cooked up a novel way to violate the First Amendment. Based on information obtained through right-to-know laws passed by Congress, Maine has outlawed public discussion of how well, or poorly, government officials are doing their jobs. If you discover that, say, Maine Secretary of State Sheena Bellows is derelict in her duties, you better keep it to yourself. For now, a federal court has blocked enforcement of penalties for speaking about how poorly government officials are performing, but Maine has appealed the adverse ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

    The story really begins 30 years ago, when Congress passed the top legislative priority of newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton: the National Voter Registration Act, better known as “Motor Voter.” It utilized the Elections Clause of the Constitution to impose a series of new federal election rules on states, most prominently a requirement that states offer voter registration at motor-vehicle offices. When you got a license to drive, you could register to vote. Motor Voter also limited how and when voter registrations could be cancelled. It required states to make a reasonable effort to remove dead registrants and those who had moved away.

    Those aforementioned politicians seem awfully worried that someone might reveal something. What?

Last Modified 2023-08-11 4:16 AM EDT

Modern American English: A Usage Note From Melissa Chen

Thanks to Melissa for this usage note. Speaking of notes…

Also of note:

  • I have had it with my CongressCritters. Especially when they tweet things like this:

    Yes, finally we're "cracking down". We're "doing something". Picture Chris Pappas slapping his forehead, saying "It's so simple! All we need to do is crack down!".

    And then read Jacob Sullum, who will remind all of us: Prohibition Gave Us Tranq-Laced Fentanyl

    The emergence of the animal tranquilizer xylazine as a fentanyl adulterant has prompted law enforcement officials to agitate for new legal restrictions and criminal penalties. That response is fundamentally misguided, because the threat it aims to address is a familiar consequence of prohibition, which creates a black market in which drug composition is highly variable and unpredictable.

    Sullum points out the folly of drug warriors like Pappas: "As usual, they think the solution to a problem created by prohibition is more prohibition."

  • "As clear as mud" would actually be an improvement. James Freeman nominates Another Biden Speech in Need of Clarification. Specifically, the one he gave in Arizona setting up a large national monument.

    The confusion lies in the fact that the president is locking up nearly a million acres and the principal result is to limit potential uranium mining in the region. Uranium fuels nuclear power, a rare technology that can efficiently generate lots of energy while generating zero greenhouse-gas emissions. With this designation he’s just made it harder to meet his climate goals but seems to be under the impression that he’s done the opposite.

    Don't worry, I'm sure we can get all the uranium we'll be needing from Russia.

  • One comparable to the 2023 Boston Red Sox. David Harsanyi pitches a bad movie idea: 'Bidenomics' Has Been A Disaster

    After 40 years of “trickle-down economics,” Joe Biden says, “Bidenomics is just another way of saying restoring the American Dream.”

    It’s not often that a politician openly pledges to bring the country back to a time of crippling inflation, high energy prices, and stifling interest rates. But this president is doing his best to keep that promise.

    Unsurprisingly, “Bidenomics” is failing to gain traction among voters. This has caused consternation in the media. One thing to remember, though, is that “Bidenomics” isn’t really a thing. Unlike, say, “Reaganomics,” which helped bring about the largest expansion of the middle class in world history, the president does not subscribe to any coherent or tangible set of economic theories or principles. The White House defines its economic policy as being “rooted in the recognition that the best way to grow the economy is from the middle out and the bottom up,” which is just platitudinous gibberish.

    Someone needs to point out that there's nothing more "trickle-down" than:

    1. Joe Taxpayer sending cash to Washington.
    2. Washington, after taking its cut, spending it on stuff it likes.
    3. Washington trying to tell Joe that it's done him a great favor.

    (Yes, the Red Sox are back in the AL East cellar once more. It was tough dislodging the Yankees, but they managed.)

  • A good question. WaPo writer Andrew Van Dam did some research, finding The average doctor in the U.S. makes $350,000 a year. Why?

    By accounting for all streams of income, they revealed that doctors make more than anyone thought — and more than any other occupation we’ve measured. In the prime earning years of 40 to 55, the average physician made $405,000 in 2017 — almost all of it (94 percent) from wages. Doctors in the top 10 percent averaged $1.3 million. And those in the top 1 percent averaged an astounding $4 million, though most of that (85 percent) came from business income or capital gains.

    Much, much more at the link.

    I'm not one to begrudge people making a lot of money. But we've heard ad nauseam how American health care is—gee whiz—so darn expensive, and American health outcomes are relatively mediocre.

    This is a big reason why. Occupational licensure, restriction of supply, a pricing system opaque to the customers… all conspire to drive up prices with no improvement in quality. Read the article, and have your blood pressure meds handy.

  • RIP… Wait a minute, is "RIP" a vim command? Reader, every single post on this blog, going back to 2005, was entered through the Linux text editor vim. As was the blog software itself. And… well, you get the idea. Vim has been my go-to editor since I started using Linux (sometime in the mid 90s). And before that, Bill Joy's vi.

    So some sad news: Rest in peace Bram Moolenaar, author of Vim and hero of many developers

    Computing as we know it today was built in no small part by individuals who have written open source software—often for little to no personal financial gain—as well as by developers who use those tools. Few tools like that are as legendary and impactful as the Vim open source code editor, the first version of which was written and released by Dutch engineer Bram Moolenaar in 1991.

    According to a note published by his family to Google Groups this week, Moolenaar passed away on August 3 at the age of 62. The post did not share his cause of death, stating only that he had been suffering from a medical condition for a few weeks.

    I will try to think a little about Moolenaar every time I successfully insert an obscure Unicode character into a text file.

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:56 PM EDT

White House Down

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

What can I say? I was in the mood for a Big Dumb Movie and this one from 2013 fit the bill nicely. It's Die Hard with the White House instead of Nakatomi Plaza. And a much bigger body count. And free-to-me on Netflix.

Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a big lunkhead Capitol policeman. He's divorced, with a daughter who disrespects him. (Fair enough: he missed her talent show performance). But she worships the current President (Jamie Foxx), the Presidency generally, and knows everything about the White House. Which works out well, because Cale has aspirations to join the Secret Service. He's wangled a job interview, which he combines with a White House tour for his daughter.

Unforunately, Cale's aspirations are shot down by a college acquaintance (ex-girlfriend?) Carol, who happens to head up the Secret Service now. And very unfortunately, the tour is marred by an invasion of the White House by a deadly gang of … terrorists? Extortionists? What is their motive exactly? Well, it's complicated. It seems to be one thing, then quickly turns out to be another.

And it doesn't matter, really, because it's an excuse to have lots of gunplay, explosions, fisticuffs, snarling bad guys threatening the innocent, continually frustrated by John McCane's Cale's efforts to thwart their schemes and save the day. And the President. And his daughter. Not necessarily in that order.

I should add that paying attention to the plot only reveals the screenwriter's biases. The actual motive behind the attack is your standard left-wing fever dream.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:55 PM EDT

Don't Be a Feminist

Essays on Genuine Justice

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I guess I'm a Bryan Caplan fanboy. I purchased this book (on dead trees) mostly just to show my support, because I've read nearly all its content over the years on the EconLog blog. He has since moved on to his own Substack, Bet On It. But most of the stuff here seems timeless.

("We are living in the future" aside: I ordered the book from on September 12 of last year, and the back page informs me the book was printed on September 12. Very cool.)

The lead essay here, "Don't Be a Feminist", is apparently new, though. It's an open letter to Caplan's daughter, Valeria. He takes on (for example) the male/female "wage gap" shibboleth, with the standard observation: if you control for relevant variables, most of the "gap" vanishes. Other examples of how women are treated unfairly because of sexism are discussed and debunked. Provocative!

Other than the initial essay, the articles collected here are mostly short and (seemingly) translated mechanically from the original blog posts. Links have been converted to footnotes. At one point (page 211) we're instructed to "prove me wrong in the comments". I noticed a missing-word typo on page 143 ("If you wisely try to get out Dodge…") which was in the original blog post. (Amusingly, it was quoted verbatim by Ilya Somin at the Washington Post, Reason magazine, and the Foundation for Economic Education.) If I notice one, I assume there are more.

Typos are inevitable on a blog. I assume I have accumulated hundreds over the years. I keep noticing them anyway. But… come on, it's a book. That I spent money for.

Caplan's viewpoints are firmly in the libertarian camp. I'm (therefore) very sympathetic. I remain not totally convinced by some of his opinions. He's a fervent backer of open borders; I'm dubious. He is a thoroughgoing pacifist; I suspect that pacifism is an impractical course for a country that doesn't want its citizenry to be dominated and oppressed by less-pacifistic aggressors. On a related matter, he's an ardent anti-nationalist; which is fine in theory, but not much use in navigating the world as it is.

Or I could be wrong. Because I realize that Caplan's arguments are pretty good even when I disagree.

I reported on Caplan's previous blog dumps here and here. His books are also very good; see here, here, and here.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:55 PM EDT

Also Republicans' Fault: Red Sox Going 3-7 In Their Last Ten Games

The Atlantic found Kevin D. Williamson too hot to handle, but has no problem with longtime "congenital liar" Hillary Clinton. Charles C. W. Cooke eviscerates her recent article: Hillary Clinton Blames Loneliness on Republicans

Hillary Clinton is worried about loneliness in the United States. Or, rather: Hillary Clinton is pretending to be worried about loneliness in the United States. “To defend America against those who would exploit our social disconnection,” she writes in today’s Atlantic, “we need to rebuild our communities.” “Over the past two decades,” Clinton observes, “Americans have spent significantly more time alone, engaging less with family, friends, and people outside the home.” That problem, she concludes, is not only bad for our health and well-being but for the future of the country. Why? Because social isolation “saps the lifeblood of democracy,” it has made us “susceptible to a would-be strongman and demagogue,” and it “diminishes civic engagement and social cohesion, and increases political polarization and animosity.”

I do not disagree with all of this. Writers from Robert Putnam to Tim Carney have chronicled the many ways in which Americans have become, in Clinton’s words, “more isolated, lonely, and unmoored from traditional sources of meaning and support.” The rise of the Internet has undoubtedly reduced the frequency of our in-person social interactions. And there, indeed, is a connection between the atrophying of certain communities and the rise of figures such as Donald Trump. But I must confess to finding it utterly astonishing that, in the course of 3,500 words on this topic, the only frame within which Clinton seems able to set the problem of American loneliness is the supposed perfidy of the Republican Party and its friends. Per Clinton, this is yet another story about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” — a phrase that she uses unironically — and the dastardly group of “right-wing leaders” who sustain it. As ever, Clinton’s tale is hilariously one-dimensional. Its villains are the “ultra-right-wing billionaires, propagandists, and provocateurs who see authoritarianism as a source of power and profit”; “right-wing politicians like Newt Gingrich and media personalities like Rush Limbaugh”; and Steve Bannon, whose “key insight,” Hillary proposes, was to turn “socially isolated gamers into the shock troops of the alt-right, pumping them full of conspiracy theories and hate speech.” Its heroes are “the significant investments being made under President Joe Biden,” which will “lift both incomes and aspirations,” “the historic legislation enacted by Biden and the Democrats in Congress,” and . . . well, Hillary Clinton, for having written a book titled It Takes a Village. “It’s clear,” she writes in saccharine self-congratulation, “that the problems I diagnosed in the 1990s ran deeper than I realized, and were more dire than I could have imagined.” Oh, Cassandra, what have we done?

Fun facts: Not that she's obsessed or anything, but "right-wing" occurs nine times in Hillary's article, including one appearance of "ultra-right-wing" as cited by CCWC. And there's "hard-right" and "alt-right" and "far-right" (one each). And MAGA (once)! And QAnon (thrice)! And "January 6" (also thrice)!

As CCWC notes (that is allegedly a "gifted" link above, by the way), after all this finger-pointing at The Other Side, Hillary winds up by demanding that we "break out of our toxic 'us versus them' dichotomies".

That's hilarious, Hillary.

(By the way, William Safire's NYT column calling her a "congenital liar" was from 1996, 27 years ago.)

Also of note:

  • "About himself" is a safe bet. Allysia Finley wonders: What Was Donald Trump Thinking?

    Did Donald Trump believe the 2020 election was stolen? Who knows? Discerning his thoughts would be as challenging as breaking into an iPhone without the passcode.

    Yet Mr. Trump’s attorney claims the government can’t prove, at least not beyond a reasonable doubt, that the former president knew his election-fraud claims were false, even if he had been advised by the vice president, Justice Department, director of national intelligence and White House attorneys that they were. There might be some truth to that.

    You might have seen people pointing with horror to a recent CNN poll that found "69% of Republicans and Republican-leaners say Biden’s win [in 2020] was not legitimate". Ms. Finley notes that even after the Mueller report's release "84% of Democrats still believed the collusion hoax,"

    Remember when people talked about the "reality-based community"? I haven't heard that term in a while. Maybe it's time to bring it back.

  • Heads will roll. James Freeman engages in a lovely fantasy, speculating on likely outcomes If the Justice Department Is Going to Prosecute Political ‘Frauds’...

    The Justice Department’s effort to define former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election results as criminal fraud relies on a brand-new legal standard that could easily be applied to Joe Biden—and also to another of his presidential predecessors.

    Freeman quotes a WSJ column from Kimberly Strassel extensively, and goes on to reminisce about the great fraudulent claims used to pass Obamacare. Remember "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan"?

    Several days later in that fall of 2013, Chuck Todd of NBC News reported:

    President Obama said Thursday that he is “sorry” that some Americans are losing their current health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act, despite his promise that no one would have to give up a health plan they liked.

    Today Mr. Obama’s defenders might say that he should remain in the clear despite the Biden Justice Department’s new standard because Mr. Obama was merely abusing millions of individual insurance customers, not undermining government function. But the Obama falsehoods had other consequences beyond removing choices and raising costs for particular patients.

    For example, there's that whole unsustainable Federal debt.

Last Modified 2023-08-09 7:55 AM EDT

"Free." He Keeps Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What He Thinks It Means.

[Free] Also of note:

  • But about that day or hour no one knows. Kevin D. Williamson thinks Judgment Day is gonna be pretty soon though. He's looking at the entirety of Trump's legal woes.

    Sycophant is an ugly word, but it isn’t ugly enough for Republicans in 2024. The judgment on Trump is, necessarily, a judgment on the Republican Party as a whole, on those who adhere to it, those who make excuses for it, those who cannot bring themselves to call it what it is. What do they do? Mutter about how “it wasn’t really rape, you know, according to the New York Penal Law.”

    I do not know how any one of these trials is going to turn out. But, at a certain level, I don’t need to. And neither do you. 

    That is because the uncontested facts of the case—of the cases—are enough to disqualify Donald Trump from any position of trust. We all know this. Ted Cruz knows it, Sean Hannity knows it, Rudy Giuliani, in his rare lucid moments, knows it. There isn’t any dispute about whether the affair with the pornographic performer happened or whether money changed hands to facilitate its conclusion more conveniently; there isn’t any question about whether Trump had piles of classified documents sitting beneath the gilt chandelier of the Mar-a-Lago toilet; there isn’t any question about the fact that Trump did, in fact, try to nullify the 2020 election and unconstitutionally hold on to power. These uncontested facts ought to be understood as dispositive. The fact that they have not disqualified Donald Trump in the hearts and minds of Republican voters is not a judgment on Trump—it is a judgment on Republican voters. 

    I keep waiting for Republicans to wake up from their rapture. Maybe I should stop waiting.

  • "It's not a ban when we do it." I'm a fan of Kat Rosenfeld's fiction and (increasingly) her non-fiction. At Pirate Wires she is on fire (not literally) about The Burning of America's Library.

    If the headlines are to be believed, book banning is exclusively the purview of the political right. The restriction of the graphic Holocaust memoir Maus at a school in Tennessee; the reshelving of Amanda Gorman's inauguration poem, "The Hill We Climb," for middle school instead of elementary school readers at a school library in Florida; the ongoing imbroglio over the graphic memoir Gender Queer, which features a strap-on blowjob scene that is simultaneously too boring to qualify as pornography yet also too explicit to be shown on television: every one of these incidents became a global news story, fueled by a media class that is heavily invested in the narrative of a national censorship crisis, and even moreso in the idea of a slavering mass of would-be book burners rioting in MAGA gear on the steps of every library in America.

    It's true that incidents like these tend to be initiated by conservatives concerned that the content of certain books is inappropriate for children — although in many cases, it's more like one conservative for whom trying to get books removed from the library has become something akin to a weird hobby (one analysis found that 60 percent of challenges from the 2021-2022 school year were initiated by just eleven people). But this isn't the whole story when it comes to the removal or restriction of books that someone finds morally objectionable. For every parents' rights group demanding the removal of Gender Queer from the school library, members of the political left have their own, no less ideology-driven ways of restricting access to books. The only difference is there's no oversight, and no media outcry.

    Every year, librarians and educators quietly purge their shelves of titles they've deemed outdated, irrelevant, or offensive in a process known as weeding. This is standard practice in school and public libraries across the country, and just as reflective of political pieties as the highly-publicized challenges to books like Gender Queer. Like so many other professions, library science has become increasingly preoccupied with progressive politics in recent years, while the notion that the library should remain apolitical is increasingly unpopular among those who work there. In 2016, librarians donated to Hillary Clinton's campaign over Trump's by a ratio of 419 to 1. The annual conferences of the American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest professional consortium of librarians, are packed with DEI-related programming, and librarians are instrumental in the DisruptTexts and Decolonize Your Bookshelf movements designed to steer readers away from the problematic classics written by straight, white men. Even the Dewey decimal system has been declared racist.

    If you're at all concerned with libraries, Ms. Rosenfeld's essay is highly recommended.

  • As Mom used to say: a myth is as good as a mile. But Alex Epstein tells us about a bad one: The Myth of an Overheated Planet

    The myth of an overheated planet is destroyed with four facts:

    1. Cold-related deaths > heat-related deaths
    2. Earth is warming slowly, and less in warm places
    3. Fossil fuels make us safer from dangerous temperatures
    4. Anti-fossil-fuel policies increase the danger from cold and heat

    Leading media outlets are portraying this summer’s temperatures as unlivably hot, and offering the rapid adoption of anti-fossil-fuel policies as a solution. In reality, cold is a far bigger problem than heat — and anti-fossil-fuel policies will make us more endangered by both.

    Epstein's a pretty good debunker. Climate alarmism is probably going to kill more people than it "saves".

  • Maybe I will fish a little further down the list… Robert F. Graboyes takes a break from his usual economic posts, and tries movie reviewing: Bambi Meets Godzilla, Part Deux. And, reader, it is very funny.

    Every ten years, Sight and Sound, published by the British Film Institute (BFI), conducts a poll of hundreds of film critics, scholars, and others to produce a list of the Greatest Films of All Time. In the first such poll, in 1952, the top film was Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, a.k.a The Bicycle Thief). In 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2002, the winner was Orson Welles’s 1941 Citizen Kane. In the 2012 poll, Kane dropped to the #2 slot, behind Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo. Finally, participants in the 2022 poll startled the world by designating Marv Newland’s 1969 animated short, Bambi Meets Godzilla as the Greatest Film of All Time.

    Actually, Bambi Meets Godzilla was not the winner of the 2022 poll, though it should have been. The actual 2022 winner was Chantal Akerman’s 1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles—a 3 hour, 21 minute-long cinematic lobotomy. The Sight and Sound panel should have chosen Bambi Meets Godzilla because it has precisely the same plot and lasts only a minute-and-a-half. The plot that these two films share is hysterical when confined to 90 seconds, but becomes soul-crushing when stretched to 134 times that length.

    Graboyes embedded the complete and uncut Bambi Meets Godzilla, and so will I if you (somehow) missed it in the theaters:

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:40 AM EDT

Cutter's Way

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

So I'm reading the (huge) book The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators by Martin Edwards. Reader, I'm pretty sure he references every single mystery writer and book over the past couple hundred years. For example, Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg. This critically-acclaimed 1976 book was made into this movie right here in 1981, to critical hurrahs. Based on Edwards' description and the fact that it was a free-with-ads streamer on Tubi, I checked it out. I wasn't that impressed, but YMMV.

Bone (Jeff Bridges) is a boat salesman/gigolo in Santa Barbara; he's crashing with his longtime friend Cutter (John Heard), a bitter, addled drunk, badly damaged (physically and mentally) in Vietnam. Cutter is married to saintly, patient Mo (Lisa Eichhorn). One fateful night, Bone's car breaks down in a poorly-lit alley. He's dimly aware of a larger car disposing of … something in that very same alley, and it nearly runs him down. The next day, it develops that the "something" was a female corpse, and since Bone's dead car is nearby, he becomes the prime suspect.

He's quickly cleared. Based on Bone's vague recollections and sheer coincidence, Cutter develops a theory that the murderer was actually the tycoon J. J. Cord. And, together with the murdered girl's sister, he develops an unlikely scheme to blackmail Cord. If Cord pays up, then they'll use it as evidence to bring him to justice!

It's a crazy idea, but it just might work? Well, no. That plan fails badly. And then tragedy strikes, which may or may not be related. This only makes Cutter more obsessed with bringing Cord to justice. And then things get even worse. (No further spoilers, but Wikipedia calls it "neo noir", and you know what happens in those.)

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:55 PM EDT

Getting It Wrong from the Beginning

Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I noted some enthusiasm for this book in an anonymous review post at the Astral Codex Ten substack. And it turned out to be actually available on the shelves of Dimond Library at the University Near Here. (This is a very rare occurrence!)

The author, Keiran Egan, passed away last year. This 2002 book is one of many. The link above will take you to a detailed (and very long) review of his "magnum opus", The Educated Mind.

There has been a lot of research over the decades into cognitive psychology, including piles of exciting recent insights. This ought to be reflected in the way we teach the youngsters, right? But instead, we seem to be doing the same old stuff, in the same ways, year after year. Spending a lot of money, and the results are awful. What's going on?

Egan argues that the dominant philosophy in modern education is badly flawed, and he points his shaky finger of blame at an unlikely suspect: Herbert Spencer. Today Spencer is widely despised as a forefather of "social Darwinism". But in his own time, he was seen as a progressive, albeit one with a fondness for laissez-faire economics. And he was really a fan of evolution, even coming up with the term "survival of the fittest".

Spencer's view of evolution was flawed, in a Lamarckian way. Understandable, given the state of biological knowledge back then. But he applied that evolutionary view to just about everything he thought about, including education. And his conclusions about the "best" way to foster the development of human minds were widely promulgated, somewhat modified but not fundamentally altered by Dewey and Piaget. And (Egan argues) we're still operating under that fundamentally incorrect paradigm today. (In an amusing aside, he notes that Aristotle carelessly "observed" that flies have four legs; this observation was uncritically "repeated in natural history texts for more than a thousand years".)

What to do instead? Egan has suggestions, involving firing up childrens' power of imagination by telling timeless stories, encouraging their enthusiasms. I have no idea, because I don't even come close to dilettante-level in the area of educational philosophy. Again, the above link has much more detail, see what you think.

Egan's discussion is laced with humor, and a distinctive personal tone. It's not an easy read, but I found it accessible.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:55 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2023-08-06 Update

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

The first thought when perusing the latest election odds: Holy cow, what a clown car. Inspiring our Amazon Product du Jour.

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 35.2% +0.5%
Donald Trump 29.2% +0.8%
Robert Kennedy Jr 5.5% -0.7%
Ron DeSantis 5.0% -0.3%
Vivek Ramaswamy 4.9% +0.8%
Gavin Newsom 4.9% -0.8%
Michelle Obama 3.0% +0.2%
Kamala Harris 2.2% -0.1%
Other 10.1% -0.4%

Your mileage may differ, but I count six pretty obvious clown noses, and that is generously extending the benefit of the doubt to DeSantis and Newsom.

In recent phony news:

  • This is Kamala's brain on … whatever.

    I think it's obvious that was an unscripted remark. Not even speechwriters in their first week of employment would have written that. That's Kamala's brain talking right there.

    And to remind you: she's our actual one-heartbeat-away Vice President.

  • Why indeed? Jim Geraghty answers a question you didn't know you had: Why Vivek Ramaswamy Says These Things.

    Earlier this week, Ramaswamy appeared on Alex Stein’s program on The Blaze, and had this exchange:

    Stein: Was 9/11 an inside job or exactly how the government tells us?

    Ramaswamy:  I don’t believe the government has told us the truth. Again, I’m driven by evidence and data. What I’ve seen in the last several years is we have to be skeptical of what the government does tell us. I haven’t seen evidence to the contrary, Do I believe everything the government told us about it? Absolutely not—


    Ramaswamy:  The 9/11 commission, absolutely not.

    (Note that Stein’s previous question was whether the moon landing was real or faked; Ramaswamy said, “I have no evidence to suggest it was faked, so I’m going to submit that it was real.”)

    Ramaswamy backtracked and clarified a bit later on, elaborating, “Do I believe our government has been completely forthright about 9/11? No. Al-Qaeda clearly planned and executed the attacks, but we have never fully addressed who knew what in the Saudi government about it. We *can* handle the TRUTH.”

    Well, thank goodness for the backtracking, I suppose. Geraghty provides actual information about Saudi involvement, as revealed over the years. His analysis:

    Now, we know darn well what Ramaswamy did in that Blaze interview. He didn’t fully embrace 9/11 Truther theories . . . but he didn’t explicitly reject or denounce them either. His initial statements, “I don’t believe the government has told us the truth” and “we have to be skeptical of what the government does tell us” are what a 9/11 Truther wants to hear. It was only later on, on Twitter, that Ramaswamy declared, “Al-Qaeda clearly planned and executed the attacks.”

    I suppose you could look at this two-step and conclude it was clever. Or you could conclude that the stink of 9/11 Truther-ism will repel more voters than it will ever attract and wonder why an allegedly serious and smart presidential candidate would touch that perspective with a ten-foot pole.

    Yeah, I'm still voting for Nikki, unless she drops out first.

  • Is this part of man's evolution, to be torn between truth and illusion? Jacob Sullum may be playing that old album by The Band: Trump Prosecution Could Be Stymied by Blurry Line Between Deceit and Delusion. (Subhed: "His state of mind when he tried to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election remains a mystery, perhaps even to him.")

    In a CNN interview on Wednesday, former Attorney General Bill Barr weighed in on the legally crucial question of what Donald Trump was thinking when he engaged in conduct that Special Counsel Jack Smith describes as part of a criminal plot to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. "At first I wasn't sure," Barr said, "but I have come to believe he knew well he had lost the election."

    Michael Wolff, a journalist who wrote a trilogy of books about Trump, is much less sure about that. He argues that the main source of evidence regarding Trump's state of mind—things he has publicly and privately said about the election—is such a confusing jumble that it may be impossible to prove criminal intent. "Does Mr. Trump mean what he says?" Wolff asks in a New York Times essay. "And what exactly does he mean when he says what he says?"

    That puzzle is at the center of the case outlined in the federal indictment unsealed this week, which charges Trump with conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiring to deprive Americans of their voting rights. Those charges hinge on the assumption that Trump's claims about the massive fraud that supposedly had deprived him of his rightful victory were "knowingly false." But what Trump knew is a persistent mystery, perhaps even to him.

    I think Reason should gin up a Rod Serling AI to audibilize Sullum's column. Can't you just heare Rod on that last phrase? "… a persistent mystery, even to him, as he navigates… the Twilight Zone."

    (Don't recognize the allusion in the headline? Check it out.)

  • None dare call it racketeering. Andrew C. McCarthy puts forth the case on the ‘Biden Brand’ Racket: President's Family Influence-Pedding Business.

    In one of American cinema’s most riveting scenes, Vito Corleone, the Godfather, rebukes a distraught undertaker whose once-beautiful daughter has been beaten to a pulp by two young men — one of them the son of a powerful politician. Though the case was a slam dunk, a corrupt judge had let the brutes off with no jail time. That the system is rigged against those who play by the rules suddenly dawns on the law-abiding undertaker, whom the film’s co-writer, novelist Mario Puzo, named Amerigo Bonasera — as in Goodnight, America, where threats lurk around every corner, and the rules turn out to be strings pulled by puppeteers.

    Bonasera needs a godfather. So he goes to Corleone, sobbing about the good intentions that were behind his good citizenship, his reliance on police and the courts. The Don cuts him off, scoffing that while he’d opted for the faux protection of the law, true security — the godfather’s friendship — had been there all along if only Bonasera had asked. “And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies,” Corleone says, pausing and pointing at his supplicant, “and then, they would fear you.”

    Nowadays, such Yale-educated professional glibsters as Devon Archer would call this Don Corleone’s “brand.” Such a nice word, brand. Not what we federal prosecutors in the Organized Crime Unit called it back in the Eighties. We were more inclined to say extortion. Or racketeering — say, running a protection racket, as in, “Nice business you have here, be a shame if anyone shut it down.”

    Put succinctly: if Joe Biden weren't what was really for sale, there would have been no incentive to even pretend to buy Hunter Biden.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:55 PM EDT

Which would make the Free State Project… the Jedi Academy?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
A very amusing piece from Drew Cline of the Josiah Barrett Center for Public Policy: If NH is the Star Wars cantina, Massachusetts is The Empire.

Announcing her run for governor, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she’d fight to prevent New Hampshire from becoming Massachusetts. It was as if she had insulted Bill Belichick’s mother.

Lowell’s city manager demanded an apology for Ayotte’s factual assertion that his city has long been a source of illegal drugs entering New Hampshire. Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham compared New Hampshire Republicans, along with all other Republicans, to the patrons of the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, though she lost points for calling the cantina a “bar.”

“In New Hampshire, as in the rest of the country, the GOP has become the bar scene from ‘Star Wars,’ dominated by extremists, conspiracy theorists, culture war obsessives, and cultish devotees of former president Donald Trump,” Abraham wrote.

Also weighing in on the MA-vs-NH front, if you missed yesterday's LFOD item, was Stephen Robinson, confident enough in his masculinity to write for a substack named "Wonkette".

Cline does a good job defending New Hampshire against the slings and arrows of Massholes. (He does not ask, "What's the matter, Yvonne? Jealous?")

By the way, our Amazon Product du Jour is the Lego set for the Mos Eisley Cantina, and it will set you back $399.95.

There's an option to get either Standard or "Frustration-Free" Packaging, and they cost the same. I'm trying to come up with an argument that would favor the Standard. "No, man, frustration opening a Lego set is character-building."

Anyway, if you click through and buy it, I get a cut, and it would make me grateful and very, very, surprised.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:54 PM EDT

A Good Title for an SF Book

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Kevin D. WIlliamson is writing non-fiction, however: An Invitation to Chaos

“We cannot save the world by playing by the rules,” thunders Greta Thunberg, voicing the sentiment of practically every violent radical, terrorist, and concentration-camp builder throughout modern history. Here is a 21st-century question: Is the 20-year-old environmental campaigner old enough to know better? 

[PS: You'd think so. But…]

There was a time, not that long ago, when this would have been understood as a nonsensical question, the answer to which is: Of course. V.I. Lenin spent much of his 20th year translating The Communist Manifesto from German into Russian. This was an act of devotion, not an act of necessary scholarship, the work already having been translated by Mikhail Bakunin some years earlier. No copy of Lenin’s translation exists—it would have been of interest to compare it to other versions. Lenin, of course, was very much of Thunberg’s mind—no time for the rules, no time for niceties when you are saving humanity. The problem is, the thing radicals are always saving humanity from is humanity—hence the inhumanity typical of radical movements. When the other young idealists moved to abolish capital punishment in the utopia they were building, Lenin quashed the reform. “How can you make a revolution without executions?” he asked. He charged those pressing for a more humane approach with “impermissible weakness.” He summed up his strategy: “terror.” His version of “We cannot save the world by playing by the rules” was his call for “unrestricted power based on force, not law.”

KDW also takes on the popular saying "The time for debate is over."

Also of note:

  • Good luck with that. George F. Will writes on the obvious and provocative: A fiscal crisis awaits. Here’s a provocative idea for heading it off.

    When astrophysicist Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) was told that some people believed that only three scientists understood Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, he quietly said: “I’m just wondering who the third might be.” At the opposite end of the intelligibility spectrum, there is broad understanding of the obvious: This nation is slouching into the most predictable fiscal crisis in its history.

    There is no mystery about what the crisis is; there is clarity about what broadly must be done. There is, however, fatalism about the political system’s inability to do it. The fatalism is refutable, but with a mechanism that should make constitutionalists queasy: Should we protect the nation’s fiscal future by further diminishing Congress, which would exacerbate the braided problems of a rampant executive and an unaccountable administrative state?

    It's popular to talk of "black swan events": unexpected, thought to be very unlikely, with vast negative consequences. ("Didn't see that comin'!") The fiscal crisis is (on the other hand): one that anyone can see coming, but is nevertheless being ignored.

    The "provocative idea" GFW is touting is "a BRAC-like Fiscal Commission". Which worked (once upon a time) to close down some unneeded military bases.

    I'd say go for it, but note that the AARP has already freaked out about Mitt Romney's efforts in this direction. (Thanks to AARP—-see the freak out link—you don't actually have to know anything about the proposal in order to demand that your CongressCritters oppose it.)

  • Owning up to a mistake, 46 years too late. At Reason: Stuck Behind an SUV? Blame a Carter Administration Economist. Specifically, blame Bruce Yandle:

    I recently pulled into a store parking lot and noticed a woman with only a small bag of groceries heading to her car. She slipped behind the steering wheel of a 5,000-pound SUV, quickly cranked the turbocharged 200-horsepower engine, and drove away. Recognizing an engineering masterpiece that had evolved in a highly regulated world, I couldn't help but think about the front-row seat I had to the events that accidentally spurred the rise of these vehicles. As the White House moves to subsidize the domestic manufacture of electric vehicles and their batteries, and as it writes regulations calling for tougher fuel economy standards, it's worth remembering how we got to this point.

    The White House has promised that this will all have a positive impact on global climate change and save us money when fueling our SUVs. Hopefully that's true, but no one in government is systematically keeping score and reporting. The industry has become so overloaded with subsidies and regulations that it's hard to tell what policies, if any, would reduce production costs and save consumers money, let alone help solve climate change.

    Back in 1977, as a senior economist on President Jimmy Carter's Council on Wage and Price Stability, I participated in Department of Transportation (DOT) proceedings that set the first fuel economy standards for the U.S. fleet. What transpired is a great example of what can happen when federal regulations become completely entangled with a major economic sector. The forces at play help to explain why a woman happily drives a 5,000-pound SUV to transport 10 pounds of groceries.

    I can assure readers that no one in those proceedings thought the Ford F-150 pickup, beginning in 1982, would top the all-vehicle bestseller list for 41 consecutive years. And we could have never guessed that truck-like SUVs would become vehicles of choice for U.S. consumers. We couldn't have; SUVs did not exist at the time.

    We can only guess which Biden Administration policy wonk will be writing in the August/September 2069 issue of Reason about what he or she didn't see coming. Maybe Lina Khan?

  • On the LFOD front… A guy named Stephen Robinson, writing at a substack titled "Wonkette", wonders: Is Kelly Ayotte Trying To Become New Hampshire’s Next Top DeSantis? I have no idea what that means, even after reading the article. Click through if you'd like to check out a partisan diatribe about Republicans in general, Ayotte in particular. But here's the bit that rang the Google LFOD Alert:

    An NBC News feature claimed that “live free or die” is a motto that “New Hampshire voters take to heart,” which makes them sound unhinged or least insufferable.

    Robinson deems freedom to be "a nebulous concept". Except when you are "denying freedom" to "marginalized groups". That's the only thing you have to worry about, Wonkette readers!

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:54 PM EDT

When You Point Your Finger 'Cause Your Plan Fell Through, You Got Three More Fingers Pointing Back At You

[Self Inflicted]

Also of note:

  • Presidential mental activity is only dimly understood. Jacob Sullum wonders: Did Trump Really Believe the Election Was Stolen? Here Is Why It Matters.

    The indictment that was unsealed yesterday in United States of America v. Donald J. Trump uses the phrase "knowingly false" 33 times, referring to the former president's claims about the massive fraud that supposedly denied him his rightful victory in the 2020 election. There is a very good reason why that characterization is sprinkled throughout the indictment: All of the charges—which include conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiring to deprive Americans of their voting rights—depend on the assumption that Trump did not really think he had won reelection.

    Nearly three years after Trump began complaining about "a major fraud" that supposedly had delivered a phony victory to Joe Biden, however, it remains unclear whether he honestly believed the nonsense he was spouting. The indictment itself includes evidence pointing in both directions.

    I'm pretty sure they didn't execute a search warrant on Trump's brain. And even if such a thing were possible, certainly those executing the warrant would deserve hazardous duty pay.

  • Obvious acquittal on all charges. Jim Geraghty wades into The Uncharted Waters of Jack Smith's J6 Trump Indictment. And I couldn't help but pick this bit out:

    Now, from my perspective, the best defense for Trump is insanity, because he often asserts things that aren’t true and, as far as anyone can tell, absolutely, totally believes them. If you tell Trump something he wants to hear, he will completely embrace it as God’s honest truth, even if there is a mountain of counterevidence. And if you tell Trump something he doesn’t want to hear, and point to a mountain of supporting evidence, Trump will dismiss it because he read something different on the Internet or “lots of people are saying” the opposite. His top advisers telling him that two plus two equals four will not dissuade him from believing that two plus two equals five, if it is in his interests to believe that two plus two equals five. This is an extremely compelling reason to keep Trump out of the Oval Office, but not an extremely compelling reason to put him behind bars. Being delusional is not a crime.

    "Personality traits several sigma off the mean" is a nice way of saying "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs".

  • Things are more like they are today than they've ever been before. Arnold Kling asks if we're in An Epistemic Crisis? Looking at "respected" authorities (apparently) intentionally misleading the public on a range of important issues: the Covid lab-leak hypothesis, Hunter's laptop, Harvard's defense of its race-based admission polcy.

    When elites lie, this puts us in an epistemic crisis. I say that as human beings, in order to decide what to believe, we have to decide who to believe. I cannot work out the principles of physics or the right way to respond to a COVID outbreak all by myself. I cannot investigate every news item I come across to uncover the facts of the matter. I need to find folks I can trust to help me.

    If elite opinion is just wrong, so be it. Anyone can make a mistake. But when elites are telling lies, we are in trouble. If the people who are in high-status positions are willing to lie, then the rest of us have a much harder job sorting out the truth.

    I suggest that elite lies are a particularly bad problem for the Blue team, which styles itself as cognitively and morally superior. You may legitimately call out lies from the Red team, but whataboutism won’t solve the epistemic crisis. “What about Trump’s lies?” is a rhetorical race to the bottom.

    I recently found occasion to quote John 18:38:

    Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

    Now there's an epistemic crisis. I suppose it's not the first one either.

  • Unsurprising headline du jour. Eric Boehm provides it: U.S. Credit Rating Downgrade Is a Sign of Government Dysfunction

    An increasingly unstable fiscal outlook and an elected government that won't do anything about it have triggered America's second-ever credit rating downgrade.

    Fitch Ratings downgraded the U.S. government's credit rating from "AAA" to "AA+" on Tuesday afternoon, signaling to investors that America's Treasury bonds are a qualitatively less ideal purchase. In its announcement, Fitch said the downgrade reflected the federal government's growing mountain of debt and the country's fraught political dynamics—most recently evidenced by the brinksmanship over the debt ceiling that nearly triggered a default on the national debt.

    I have so far resisted the urge to buy gold and bury it in the backyard. (So don't bother trying to dig it up, reader!)

  • Having failed to do anything to fix government dysfunction… some Congresscritters are looking to "fix" something that isn't that broken. Jonathan Nicastro examines the The Latest Bipartisan Folly: A New Commission to Regulate Big Tech

    In the New York Times, Senators Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) published a polemic against technology firms. Besides whining about “Big Tech,” the senators call for the passage of the Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act (DCPCA) to “create an independent, bipartisan regulator charged with licensing and policing the nation’s biggest tech companies,” supposedly “to prevent online harm, promote free speech and competition, guard Americans’ privacy and protect national security.” But their economic arguments are specious, and their noneconomic arguments are dubious.

    To their credit, the senators acknowledge the success of the digital revolution, which has “promoted social interaction, democratized information and [given] us hundreds of new ways to have fun.” Unfortunately, they fail to realize that this success hinges on the economies of scale and natural monopoly status earned by the biggest of the Big Tech firms. If the senators succeed in passing the DCPCA, they will unintentionally grant artificial monopolies that don’t benefit consumers to those firms big enough to afford the agency’s “licensing and policing.” The reality of regulatory capture is lost on Graham and Warren, which is both amusing and frustrating given their dedication of an entire paragraph to the history of regulatory agencies.

    Now, as a mostly-libertarian, I view this as obviously a bad idea. But if there's the slightest bit of doubt about that for you, check out Nicastro.

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-31 8:47 AM EDT

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I missed this movie's theatrical release, and I suppose it's just as well. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed it just fine. But I felt a little guilty about enjoying it. But this is why I pay for Disney+.

OK, so you shouldn't see this without being semi-acquainted with the previous Guardian appearances. Peter Quill has taken to drink, given the death of his girlfriend Gamora. (Ah, but a different Gamora is around, one whose life didn't involve Peter. It's complicated.) Rocket (the raccoon guy) is gravely injured when a super-powered idiot tries to abduct him for the "High Evolutionary", the main villain here. We learn Rocket's origin story here (it's very tragic and shamelessly emotionally manipulative), and it turns out his inner workings are resistant to standard medical care. The gang needs to acquire a cybernetic "passkey" in order to save his life. So it's off to confront the High Evolutionary!

Unfortunately, this means that Rocket's wisecracks are absent for much of the movie.

The special effects are (of course) amazing, and the plot pretty much exists only to justify them. Every major character, and some of the minor ones, gets a character arc, though.

I especially liked Cosmo, the telekinetic dog. He is a good dog!

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:54 PM EDT

The Big Sleep

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Mitchum as Marlowe? Sure, why not? (Even though he was much older than book-Marlowe here.)

Moving the venue from 1930s L. A. to modern-day (well, 1970s) England? Raymond Chandler might object! But I guess those mean streets he wrote about are everywhere.

I recently re-read the book, I saw the Bogie/Bacall movie version from 1946 long ago. And I saw this one when it came out, but decided to rewatch it the other night.

Other than setting it in England, it seems relatively faithful to the book. Ailing General Sternwood (Jimmy Stewart) asks Marlowe's help in tracking down a blackmailer. Which sends Marlowe into a complex world of porn, sexual deviance, substance abuse, mobsters (Oliver Reed gives a chilling performance, Richard Boone a bizarre one). And (of course) murder.

Aaand… this is your go-to movie if you want to see Candy Clark (you might remember her from American Graffiti) nekkid. And she gives a very convincing portrayal of a substance-abusing lunatic here.

The IMDB trivia page is full of Fun Facts, including:

According to Michael Winner, Robert Mitchum and Richard Boone were very drunk when they filmed the final shootout. Winner quipped that it should have been called "Gunfight at Alcoholics Anonymous."

Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:58 PM EDT

Checking… Nope, Just My Fruit of the Looms

The NYT checks out the state of political discourse in Somersworth:

Somersworth is just one town up from where I live. I don't know David Green, though. Sounds like he'd be fun to grab a beer with.

The quote is from an article using David as an example of the "surly mood of the Republican electorate". Surly, you must be joking!

Also of note:

  • From Chapter Five in How to Lie With Statistics David Henderson encourages us to Check Your Axes before gasping in horror. At issue is this graph, published in the Lancet, comparing death rates from heat and cold in European countries:

    [Figure 3]

    But as David urges: check the axes for the left and right sides. Hm.

    Somebody smart and honest fixed it:

    [Figure 3 Fixed]

    If that's what makes it into the Lancet, you can only imagine the quality of papers they reject.

    As indicated, you can find this sort of thing in Darrell Huff's 1954 classic How to Lie with Statistics

  • Mostly, it stokes the fires of hysteria. Bjørn Lomborg takes to the WSJ op-ed page for a similar debunking. Climate Change Hasn’t Set the World on Fire

    One of the most common tropes in our increasingly alarmist climate debate is that global warming has set the world on fire. But it hasn’t. For more than two decades, satellites have recorded fires across the planet’s surface. The data are unequivocal: Since the early 2000s, when 3% of the world’s land caught fire, the area burned annually has trended downward.

    In 2022, the last year for which there are complete data, the world hit a new record-low of 2.2% burned area. Yet you’ll struggle to find that reported anywhere.

    Instead, the media acts as if the world is ablaze. In late 2021, the New York Times employed more than 40 staff on a project called “Postcards from a World on Fire,” headed by a photorealistic animation of the world in flames. Its explicit goal was to convince readers of the climate crisis’ immediacy through a series of stories of climate-change-related devastation across the world, including the 2019-20 wildfires in Australia.

    Lomborg also tweeted the NASA data:

    We might gripe that Bjørn should have set his y-axis origin at zero on the left graph, but…

  • Can we just stipulate that Trump's a liar? Dan McLaughlin takes on the latest legal problem: Indicting Trump for political schemes overshadows the actual bad things in politics

    Not everything that’s bad in politics is illegal – especially in a country that has the First Amendment. Joe Biden’s Department of Justice seems to have forgotten that. At least, that’s the conclusion to be drawn from the latest federal indictment of Donald Trump.

    Among other things Dan mentions about the indictment:

    It charges that Trump promoted ridiculous theories of how the Constitution works. Joe Biden better hope you can’t go to jail for that.

  • The zoo also said the bear was seen near Wuhan in late 2019. This actually was the top story on my Google News page at some point yesterday: China zoo denies allegations that star attraction is a man in a sun bear costume

    In a video that has gone viral, a black-coloured bear at a zoo in China can be seen standing on its two hind legs on the precipice of a rock feature, and interacting with tourists by waving its paws. […]

    The netizen who posted the video is convinced that the “talented” bear is actually a human in a costume, reported Hangzhou Daily.

    In related news, Joe Biden's Department of Justice has indicted Wally the Green Monster and the entire Red Sox management, alleging that "Wally's just a human in a costume, not a real monster. Also, Wally's not his real name."

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:25 AM EDT

Worrying About the Important Stuff

You don't know any of the dozens of people who've touched that before you:

Also of note:

  • Calling a proposal "bipartisan" significantly raises the odds that it's horrible. Joe Lonsdale outlines the latest example: The Graham-Warren Plan to Kill Innovation

    Sens. Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren are teaming up to try to build something called the Digital Consumer Protection Commission—a new federal agency with the power to sue, write rules and even shut down internet platforms.

    RTWT, of course, but let me also quote this bit:

    Ms. Warren has also demanded that Amazon suppress the sale of books offering views that differ from hers on subjects like climate change. She once suggested that the tech and retail giant be broken up after a Twitter spat with its corporate account, saying that antitrust action was needed so that Amazon wouldn’t be “powerful enough to heckle Senators with snotty tweets.” She has shown exactly how she would want a digital regulatory commission to operate. It would use its financial and legal authority to suppress criticism of elected officials, suppress freedom of speech on controversial policy issues, and bully technology companies into obeying every whim of Washington bureaucrats.

    That first link goes to Senator Liz's snitfit about Covid "misinformation". She doesn't quite say that Your Federal Government should be the sole purveyor of misinformation, but she gets pretty close.

  • On that general topic… Virginia Postrel notes: The Power to Regulate Is the Power to Destroy. Principled skeptics of governmental power are tough to find these days:

    Earlier this month, the NYT ran a scary exposé titled “Trump and Allies Forge Plans to Increase Presidential Power in 2025.”

    Mr. Trump and his associates have a broader goal: to alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House, according to a review of his campaign policy proposals and interviews with people close to him.

    Mr. Trump intends to bring independent agencies — like the Federal Communications Commission, which makes and enforces rules for television and internet companies, and the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces various antitrust and other consumer protection rules against businesses — under direct presidential control.

    It sounds scary because more power for Donald Trump is a scary prospect. Any power for Donald Trump is a scary prospect. He’s an erratic bully.

    On policy merits alone, however, the shock and terror with which sensible centrists like Damon Linker (in a paywalled post) greeted the plan is unwarranted. Regulatory agencies should not be free to wield unchecked power. The president is head of the executive branch of government. If Congress doesn’t want him to enforce regulations, it shouldn’t pass them—doubly so if they’re vague. The 20th-century conceit that a technocratic elite should replace politically accountable appointees is based on the myth of disinterested agreement about the “right kind of civilization.”

    But, as in arguments over freedom of speech, you should never assume that your friends will always be in charge. You also shouldn’t presme that your side is coolly rational. FTC chair Lina Khan and Donald Trump both hate Amazon for reasons of their own. Neither should have the power to exercise their animus under cover of law. If the prospect of Donald Trump possessing a power scares you, consider the possibility that no one should have that power.

    The power to regulate is the power to destroy.

    That's a long quote, but here's another interesting tidbit illustrating the same point:

    Back in 1980, economic historian Peter Temin published a book on pharmaceutical regulation that challenged the way prescriptions evolved into restrictions on consumers. He pointed out that their sole original justification was, in the words of the then-FDA chief, “to make self-medication safe.” The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act required labels on over-the-counter drugs, but a prescription would free consumers to buy unlabeled drugs. Self-medication was the norm, and the law wasn’t supposed to prevent it. Once the act passed, however, the FDA changed the rules. “The agency moved within six months of the bill’s passage to curtail self-medication sharply,” Temin wrote, “and thereafter used a substantial and increasing proportion of its drug resources to enforce its imposed limitations.”

    VP wrote The Future and its Enemies a quarter century ago and it's still one of the timeliest books on my shelf.

  • Spoiler: it's the help. Kevin D. Williamson describes The Achilles’ Heel of the Rich and Powerful

    As Hunter S. Thompson observed in a different Palm Beach-related scandal many years ago—the infamous Pulitzer divorce case—“The servant problem is the Achilles’ heel of the rich. That is the weak reed, a cruel and incurable problem the rich have never solved—how to live in peace with the servants. Sooner or later, the maid has to come in the bedroom, and if you’re only paying her $150 a week, she is going to come in hungry, or at least curious, and the time is long past when it was legal to cut their tongues out to keep them from talking.”

    The people with whom Trump surrounds himself are … not the “best people,” as he promised. (But if you are surprised that Trump has failed to keep a promise, you should have asked Mrs. Trump, or Mrs. Trump, or Mrs. Trump, for that matter, or maybe Stormy Daniels.) The list is one that a novelist would blush to invent: Mike Pence, the pious fraud who did Trump’s bidding right up until the moment doing so stopped serving his interests and now presents himself as the second coming of St. Francis; Rudy Giuliani, the knee-walking grifter who still remembers enough law that he already has stipulated the falsehood of his stolen-election nonsense—that swill is fine for the slavering proles in the Fox News audience, but even Giuliani wouldn’t try to defend it in court; Roger Stone, literally the kind of cuckold he likes to accuse others of being metaphorically; etc. And now Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, is facing the prospect of time in a federal penitentiary after what reports describe as a truly clownish cloak-and-dagger affair involving “shush” emojis, sneaking through the hedges at Mar-a-Lago, and roping another minion into a scheme to destroy evidence when he did not have the technical chops to get the job done himself. These putzes make the White House Plumbers of Watergate infamy look like the Count of Monte Cristo crossed with Professor Moriarty. Criminal masterminds, they ain’t.

    It's a paywalled Dispatch article, so you'll probably have to pay up to discover why the former chief of staff at Homeland Security described Trump as "incandescently stupid".

    That's the kind of stupid Your Federal Government can't regulate out of existence.

  • Tackling the important questions. WIRED usually specializes in environmental hysteria these days, but they also have physics prof Rhett Allain in their stable of writers: When You Drop a Rock Overboard, What Happens to the Water Level?

    PHYSICS QUESTIONS ARE the most fun when people don't immediately agree on the answer. What feels intuitive or obvious—sometimes isn’t. We can argue over the solution for hours of entertainment, and we might even learn something in the end.

    Here's one of these seemingly obvious questions that's been around a long time: Suppose a large rock is on a boat that is floating in a very small pond. If the rock is dumped overboard, will the water level of the pond rise, fall, or remain unchanged?

    "The answer may surprise you."

Last Modified 2023-08-02 4:44 AM EDT