Ayn Rand Was Right About …

Well, Not Everything, But She Was Right About This

[also, ouch] Alex Tabarrok quotes Ayn Rand on the Antitrust Laws. (And I am quoting his entire short post.)

Here is Ayn Rand on the antitrust laws:

Under the Antitrust laws, a man becomes a criminal from the moment he goes into business, no matter what he does. For instance, if he charges prices which some bureaucrats judge as too high, he can be prosecuted for monopoly or for a successful “intent to monopolize”; if he charges prices lower than those of his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “unfair competition” or “restraint of trade”; and if he charges the same prices as his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “collusion” or “conspiracy.” There is only one difference in the legal treatment accorded to a criminal or to a businessman: the criminal’s rights are protected much more securely and objectively than the businessman’s.

Exaggeration? Here is the FTC case against Amazon which has switched almost overnight from one theory to the diametrically opposite theory:

“It’s really hard to square the circle of the earlier theory of harm that Lina Khan enunciated with the current complaint,” said John Mayo, an economist who leads Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy. “The earlier complaint was that prices were going to be too low and therefore anticompetitive. And now the theory is they are too high and they are anticompetitive.”

More generally, the FTC under Khan seems to be a lost opportunity. There are abusive practices such as hidden pricing by hospitals that could be improved but the FTC is throwing it away on pursuing the greatest store the world has ever known. Why? I have liberal friends who quit the FTC because they wanted to work on real cases not political grandstanding.

The National Review editors also look at Lina Khan’s Anti-Amazon Crusade. Their take is both perceptive and unpaywalled, so check it out too. Their bottom line:

The message from the FTC to businesses right now: Don’t get too big, or too successful, or too beneficial to consumers, because if you do, we’re coming for you. That’s the wrong message for the federal government to send, and it’s contrary to the agency’s mission to promote competition and protect consumers.

And that's the disgusting message coming from the New Hampshire Attorney General's office as well.

(Our Eye Candy du Jour has nothing to do with antitrust. I just saw a version on Power Line's Week in Pictures and thought it was pretty funny.)

Also of note:

  • Reality bytes. A bold Cato claim from Thomas A. Firey: Reinstating 'Net Neutrality' Is to Ignore Reality.

    Usually, when some government proposal is floated in D.C., it should be evaluated with careful, sober policy analysis. But in the case of the Federal Communications Commission’s new “net neutrality” push to more‐​or‐​less reinstate regulations that were repealed a half‐​decade ago, an old internet meme suffices:

    [Day 4]

    If you don’t remember net neutrality, it prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from treating some data streams differently than others, typically by either charging more or limiting the delivery speeds for, say, high‐​definition movies from outside the ISP. Regulation supporters claimed that all data streams should be treated the same. ISPs and other internet infrastructure providers responded that if they were to provide more and better services for heavy users, they should be able to charge those users higher prices or moderate their use.

    I've recently had problems with Netflix on my Roku: tried watching the first Star Trek movie with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto and it was unwatchable as if I were using a 2400 baud modem. Switched over to Paramount+, and… as smooth as silk. Problem with Netflix? Or Comcast treating it "neutrally"?

  • But no doubt also favor maintaining their revenue streams. I'm out of National Review gifted links this month, but maybe this will get you to cough up for a subscription yourself, cheapskate: Climate Scientists Increasingly Favor Destroying the Economy.

    Almost three-quarters of self-identified “climate policy researchers” want to stop economic growth in the name of battling global warming or feel neutral about that proposition, according to a recent survey by the scientific journal Nature Sustainability.

    The survey asked 764 “climate policy researchers” if they preferred “green growth,” meaning they believe the economy can continue to grow while greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced, “agrowth,” meaning the researcher is essentially agnostic on economic growth, or “degrowth,” meaning they want economic growth in high-income countries to end.

    A mere 27 percent of respondents stated that “green growth” is preferable, with 73 percent of respondents stating that economic growth is neutral or bad. The latter two positions represent “scepticism toward the predominant ‘green growth’ paradigm with degrowth representing a more critical view,” according to the researchers conducting the study.

    Something to keep in mind when those "experts" are quoted in the future: they are not looking out for your interests.

  • RIP, but… Jacob Sullum reminds us that On Guns, Drugs, and National Security, Dianne Feinstein Was Consistently Authoritarian.

    During Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's 2018 confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) asked him to "reconcile" his conclusion that "assault weapon" bans are unconstitutional with "the hundreds of school shootings using assault weapons that have taken place in recent history." It was a classic Feinstein moment, combining her steadfast support for arbitrary gun laws with blatant misinformation and a logical non sequitur.

    Feinstein, who died Thursday night at age 90, wrote the 1994 federal "assault weapon" ban, which prohibited the importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession of semi-automatic guns that she falsely claimed were uniquely suitable for mass murder. Although the distinctions drawn by that law never made much sense, Feinstein was determined to reinstate the ban after it expired in 2004, proposing a series of new, supposedly improved versions. Her dedication to a logically, practically, and constitutionally dubious gun control policy was of a piece with her diehard support for the war on drugs, her embrace of mass surveillance in the name of national security, and her willingness to restrict speech protected by the First Amendment, all of which reflected her consistently authoritarian instincts.

    For most of that time, she didn't even have the dementia excuse.

  • I've been known to use grep on /usr/share/dict/words maybe twice a month. But that's not what they're talking about here. Via GeekPress: Many Wordle users cheat to win, says mathematics expert. That math expert is James P. Dilger "who by day is professor emeritus at Stony Brook University". And (ackshually) you don't need to be a math expert, or even a whiz, to find something fishy going on:

    The game has a data bank containing 2,315 words, good for five years of play. (There actually are more than 12,000 five-letter words in the English language, but The Times weeded out the most obscure ones.)

    Dilger calculated that the odds of randomly guessing the day's word at 0.043%, totaling 860 players. Yet, Times statistics show that the number of players making correct first guesses in each game never dipped below 4,000.

    Yes, the math "expert" successfully converted the reciprocal of 2315 into a percentage.

    For the record, my stats as of today:


    Yes, I got it in one guess once out of 557 tries. My (slightly more advanced) calculation says I had about a 21.4% chance of doing that. So: lucky, but far from impossibly unlikely.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:10 PM EDT

The Second Murderer

[Amazon Link]
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I seem to be a sucker for "Philip Marlowe" novels authorized by the Raymond Chandler estate. This started a long time ago with Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream from Robert B. Parker. (The first being a sorta-collaboration between Chandler and Parker, the second being entirely Parker.) Since then, I've bought and read The Black-Eyed Blonde by John Banville; Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne; The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide. And now this.

I'd read a couple books by Denise Mina in past years, and I thought they were OK. But a Marlowe novel written by a Scottish lady? Would that work, or would that be like (I dunno…) Mickey Spillane writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice?

Reader, I thought it worked great. Ms. Mina has a feel for Chandler's prose, her take on Marlowe's character is spot on, her descriptions of late-1930s Los Angeles are evocative. If anything, she turns the Chandlerisms up to 11, starting on page one, where Marlowe is mulling the too-tidy solution to the last case he worked: "There was something wrong, something bad in it, like a mouthful of soup with a stray hair that brushes your lip on the way in and then disappears."

But soon enough Marlowe gets a new job, via a mysterious phone call from a husky-voiced woman summoning him to the Montgomery Mansion. ("She left a small pause that might have meant yes, or no, or come over here and kiss me right now.") Chrissie Montgomery, the only heir to the vast Montgomery fortune, has gone missing, walking voluntarily into the mean streets of LA. Could Marlowe track her down?

Well, of course he can. But nothing is ever simple. Along the way, everyone consumes copious amounts of alcohol and nicotine. Some sexual practices ranging from the unconventional to the perverse. There are, of course, murders that need to be solved, cops to be avoided, dames to be rescued.

Fun stuff: Marlowe visits the famed Bradbury Building and the Angels Flight funicular. And a character from Farewell, My Lovely, Ann Riordan, re-enters Marlowe's life and plays an important role here.

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

You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Work at a University.

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BU faculty member David Decosimo has tenure, but he's still pretty brave to take to the pages of the WSJ, describing How Ibram X. Kendi Broke Boston University. After recounting the current mess:

Such an outcome was entirely predictable. In June 2020, the university hired Mr. Kendi, created and endowed his center, and canceled all “classes, meetings, and events” for a quasi-religious “Day of Collective Engagement” on “Racism and Antiracism, Our Realities and Our Roles,” during which Mr. Kendi and his colleagues were treated as sages.

They denounced voter-identification laws as “an expressly antiblack form of state violence,” claimed Ronald Reagan flooded “black communities with crack cocaine,” and declared that every black person was “literally George Floyd.” One speaker said that decades ago “literal uprising and rebellion in the streets” forced the creation of black-studies programs in universities nationwide, and now was the time to revolutionize the “whole institution” and make antiracism central to every discipline and a requirement for all faculty hiring.

That summer many BU departments published Kendi-ist “antiracist” statements limiting academic freedom and subordinating inquiry to his ideology. With their dean’s oversight and approval, the School of Theatre passed a plan to audit all syllabi, courses and policies to ensure conformity with “an anti-oppression and anti-racist lens” and discussed placing monitors in each class to report violations of antiracist ideology. The sociology department publicly announced that “white supremacy and racism” were “pervasive and woven into . . . our own . . . department.” In the English department’s playwriting program, all syllabi would have to “assign 50% diverse-identifying and marginalized writers,” and any “material or scholarship . . . from a White or Eurocentric lineage” could be taught only “through an actively anti-racist lens.” They even published hiring quotas based on race: “We commit to . . . hiring at least 50% BIPOC”—an acronym for black, indigenous or people of color—“artists by 2023.”

It appears that Kendi is being (as they say) thrown under the bus. By making it all about his manifest incompetence, his co-ideologues can continue to promote their "anti-racist" grift, in all its bullying, censorious, illiberal glory.

Also of note:

  • Calling Leonard Pinth-Garnell. Brian Riedl points out The Impending Government Shutdown is Nothing But Theater.

    As a federal budget economist, I typically analyze budget fights in the context of competing economic and fiscal approaches, and then define what I consider to be the optimal policy. However, the current government shutdown debate lacks any coherent policy explanation. Nor is it truly about fiscal or economic policy at all. It is purely political theater driven by a small handful of Republican House lawmakers who are being called out by their own colleagues for self-promotion and populist positioning.

    Congressional Republicans claim that this fight is about reining in budget deficits that approach $2 trillion this year and are barreling toward $3 trillion a decade from now. Yet they propose no changes to the Social Security and Medicare shortfalls that are overwhelmingly driving projected deficits. Nor are they proposing significant reforms to other mandatory programs, defense, or veterans’ benefits. Instead, they are focusing entirely on a 10 percent sliver of spending known as non-defense, non-veterans discretionary spending. Yes, every spending cut counts, but even achieving the House objective of cutting this spending by 25 percent would merely reduce the deficit a decade from now from $3 trillion to $2.8 trillion. Lawmakers who are serious about deficits would also address the 90 percent of spending that is actually driving the red ink.

    Meanwhile, House Democrats are passing the popcorn.

    In case you don't recognize the reference above: Wikipedia is your friend.

  • Visiting the CIA to CYA, Tony? Matt Taibbi, Alex Gutentag, and Michael Shellenberger seem to have the receipts: Fauci Diverted US Government Away From Lab Leak Theory Of COVID’s Origin, Sources Say.

    The former director of the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci, who led the US government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, visited CIA headquarters to “influence” its review of COVID-19 origins, the House Oversight Committee reported yesterday.

    Last month, Committee Chair Brad Wenstrup made headlines when he revealed that seven CIA analysts “with significant scientific expertise” on the agency’s COVID-19 Discovery Team (CDT) received performance bonuses after changing a report to downplay concerns about a possible lab origin of the virus.

    It's pretty clear that Fauci was far more concerned with covering his own ass than saving American lives.

  • Abolish the FCC. It's a leftover from the fascism-flirting 1930s. And it's up to its old mischief, saving us from… something, as Berin Szóka reports: FCC Revives Common Carriage for the Internet.

    Until Monday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had been deadlocked for 2.5 years. It took President Joe Biden six months to nominate a third Democratic commissioner—and after moderate Democrats balked, it took another 17 for him to nominate someone else. The swearing-in of Anna Gomez gave Democrats a majority—two-thirds of the way into President Joe Biden's presidential term. With so much to cram into so little time, the next year will be the most frenzied in the FCC's nearly 100-year history.

    The key issue is broadband regulation. It's been five years since the Republican FCC supposedly "killed net neutrality"—yet even after the pandemic's shift towards remote work, remote school, and remote everything broadband service is better than ever thanks to $2 trillion in private investment since 1996. That's by far the largest source of capital expenditures in the U.S., dwarfing public subsidies, even the generous grants included in pandemic stimulus bills.

    Get ready for years of expensive litigation, as companies spend money on lawyers that they could have spent on infrastructure.

  • Why is New Hampshire doing this? A couple days ago, I wondered why New Hampshire was one of the (only) 17 states to go after Amazon on antitrust grounds. Michael Graham has journalistic resources, and provides an article about that: Not Ready for 'Prime' Time? Sununu Admin Joins Amazon Antitrust Lawsuit. He asks the right question:

    New Hampshire and Oklahoma are the only two states with Republican attorneys general participating in the lawsuit. Even liberal Republican Gov. Phil Scott, next door in Vermont, is not on board.

    So why is the pro-business Sununu administration throwing punches at Amazon Prime?

    And after many, many people are quoted:

    Sununu did not respond to a request for comment.

    Yes, even if you're a journalist, you can't force a politician to answer relevant questions about spending state resources to persecute a company he once dreamed would establish a major headquarters here.

    Reader, if you see Chris Sununu out on the street, could you maybe ask him for an answer?

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:50 AM EDT

The Big Bus

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

My movie mood was leaning toward "dumb and funny", so I picked this blast from the past. And shelled out $3.99 to Amazon for the privilege. I saw it when it came out in 1976, and not since. Although it's still funny in spots, my memory was overly rosy.

An opening prologue references the movies parodied here: "There have been Movies about Big Earthquakes . . . There have been Movies about Big Boats sinking . . . Movies about Big Buildings burning . . . Movies about Big German Balloons busting . . . And now a Movie about . . .". And (amazingly) this movie was made before Airplane!. They don't make 'em like this any more, do they?

Joseph Bologna plays Dan, a bus driver down on his luck, reviled by his peers for a past catastrophe in which bus passengers were eaten by crash survivors. But Dan himself was cleared, since he was unaware of the ingredients of the stew his co-driver prepared. ("You eat one lousy foot and they call you a cannibal!")

He gets a chance at redemption when his ex-fiancee, Kitty (Stockard Channing) importunes him to take "Cyclops", the titular nuclear-powered one-headlight vehicle, on its maiden nonstop voyage from New York to Denver. Complication: an oil magnate will stop at nothing to sabotage the bus. A careless hillbilly causes a collision. The bus (literally) teeters on the edge of disaster. And (of course) both crew and passengers are a colorful lot.

But I fell asleep on the sofa with about 20 minutes left in the movie. Fortunately, Amazon lets you back up.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:50 AM EDT

Starring Lina Khan as Ursula

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Well, it's mostly about the Federal Government's war on successful companies that consumers like. Based on the theory that you're too fricking stupid to avoid those companies, or too masochistic, or something.

So let's get to it:

  • It's a perfectly cromulent word. Liz Wolfe at Reason sums up the news: Amazon Gets Sued Bigly. And her lede is spot on:

    Lina Khan is why we can't have nice things: Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Amazon, accusing it of suppressing competition and "illegally forcing sellers on its platform to use its logistics and delivery services in exchange for prominent placement and of punishing merchants who offer lower prices on competing sites," per Bloomberg.

    "Amazon is a monopolist and it is exploiting its monopolies in ways that leave shoppers and sellers paying more for worse service," said FTC Chair Lina Khan to reporters.

    The lawsuit attempts to substantiate this claim by noting that Amazon makes other sellers' products harder to find if they find their price has been undercut, so "sellers hike prices… due to fear of Amazon's penalties." (More on this by Reason's Joe Lancaster.)

    "If the FTC gets its way, the result would be fewer products to choose from, higher prices, slower deliveries for consumers, and reduced options for small businesses—the opposite of what antitrust law is designed to do," said Amazon's general counsel David Zapolsky.

    Following that are some twitter reactions. Check 'em out.

  • "Ambigopoly": another perfectly cromulent word. Peter Jacobsen defines it:

    Back in March, I answered an “Ask an Economist” question about antitrust laws and free market regulation of monopolies. In order to decide if something is a monopoly, I noted, we must first have a definition of monopoly. In that article I borrowed a pretty standard textbook definition of monopoly which read as follows: “a market structure characterized by (1) a single seller of a well-defined product for which there are no good substitutes and (2) high barriers to the entry of any other firms into the market for that product.”

    This is pretty standard for all economics textbooks, and the primary issue with this definition is the associated ambiguity. What does it mean for a product to be a close substitute for another product? Similarly, the textbook I’m currently using for Intermediate Microeconomics authored by Goolsbee, Levitt, and Syverson calls monopoly “a market served by one firm.” This definition doesn’t escape our ambiguity problem. What constitutes a market? As I say in the prior article:

    “Is a smartphone a ‘good’ or ‘close’ substitute for a computer? Is college football a close substitute to the NFL? What about the NBA? Is a grocery store a substitute for a restaurant? Is Twitter a substitute for Facebook? Is Zoom a substitute for transportation? The point of these questions is that it isn’t clear. If you define a good narrowly enough you could argue all firms are monopolies.”

    The FTC filing against Amazon recognizes this problem explicitly. It claims that Amazon has a monopoly in two markets. I’ll focus on one. Apparently Amazon has a monopoly on the “online superstore market”. Notice how important these words are for the FTC. If you remove the word “online” then clearly Amazon has no monopoly. There are lots of superstores. If you remove the word “superstore,” again there is no monopoly. Amazon does not have a monopoly on online stores.

    I've noted that if you define "market" as "places you can buy beer within 2300 crow-flying feet of my house", it turns out there's a monopoly in that market. Somebody call Lina!

  • Also piling on with that point is… Megan McArdle in the Washington Post (who properly discloses that Jeff Bezos owns that newspaper): FTC’s firebrand chair has had Amazon in her sights a long time. Making a point similar to Jacobsen's above:

    Among the familiar motifs are excruciatingly fine definitions of the relevant market. Six years ago, when Amazon was wildly popular but barely profitable, [Khan] wrote you could see predatory behavior if you focused on very particular markets — for example, how Amazon priced best-selling e-books, rather than all e-books. Today, rather than looking at all retail, or even e-commerce, the FTC complaint argues that Amazon has gained utter dominance of the “online superstore” market, a market that seems primarily defined by … describing Amazon. It’s a little like arguing that I have an anticompetitive monopoly over Post columnists named Megan McArdle.

    Why, it's almost if Lina's arbitrarily changing the rules to get the result she wants.

    "Democracy dies in darkness". But the rule of law is getting slaughtered right out in broad daylight.

  • "I'm not asking much, just a token really, a trifle!" Noah Rothman looks at what he considers to be a very, very weak FTC case and claims Lina Khan Is in Over Her Head.

    But! She might be playing the long game! 7-dimensional chess!

    And yet, though the series of high-profile face-plants to which she has committed her agency may sap Khan of “her deterrent effect,” Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis conceded, what the FTC commissioner ultimately wants is “to permanently change the law.” By playing to lose — and doing so in spectacular fashion — she may still achieve her ultimate objective.

    “She might hope after 2024 or at some point in the future that these losses will be seized upon by her allies in Congress” to revise antitrust statutes so they more closely reflect Khan’s vision, McGinnis speculated. “This is kind of a ‘winning by losing’ strategy.” Given her losing record, it’s perhaps unwise to stipulate that Khan is playing the long game, laying the groundwork for sweeping legislative reforms in 2025 and beyond in the assumption that Democrats retake both chambers of Congress. But it’s not out of the question, and nothing else explains her conduct beyond her ideological monomania.

    Frankly, Pat Carroll had Lina beat.

  • Also accused of the crime of being successful: Google. We have had our disagreements over the years. And you'll notice that the search box over there on your right sends you to Duck Duck Go. Which (sorry, DDG) in most cases, gives you inferior results compared to the same search on Google. Which implies the same rhetorical question asked by Thomas W. Hazlett at Reason: Maybe Google Is Popular Because It’s Good? He looks at the company history, and…

    Such boffo success for a capitalist start-up, ingeniously solving the needs of the World Wide Web—well, that's your American Dream scene, just as Norman Rockwell sketched it for the brochure. It's a generational blockbuster, with 200,000 Google professionals living large and enjoying a median 2022 compensation equal to $279,802. Naturally, all of this leaves public policy experts with just one option:

    Sue the bastards!

    For the record, Bing results are also worse than Google's, but slightly better than Duck Duck Go's.

  • We can generalize this rule to a fish found in any beverage. Jonah Goldberg observes The Trout in Robert Menendez’s Milk.

    “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong,” Henry Thoreau observed, “as when you find a trout in the milk.”

    Yes, it's about Senator Robert Menendez, who is (continuing that headline theme) a fish in a barrel with Jonah holding the shotgun.

    But I really wanted to quote this excerpt, because it's funny and interesting:

    There are three classic explanations of where laughter comes from. The first, which comes from Plato but really should be ascribed to the Germans, is that laughter comes from that feeling of superiority we enjoy at the expense of others’ misfortune. This is why it will never stop being funny to see men hit in the crotch with a football. Plato thought laughter was mostly evil and malicious. This view stemmed at least in part from the fact that Plato was a bit of a dick.

    Which brings me to a second theory that we get via Sigmund Freud and Herbert Spencer. We laugh to release “nervous energy.” This, they explained, is why we laugh at bawdy and scatological things (“He called Plato a ‘dick!’ Haha!”). The small taboos about bodily functions and sex are like little tension wires and when we cut through them, we laugh.

    A third explanation for laughter is closest to what I’m getting at. A lot of humor—like a lot of wisdom—revolves around pointing out the seeming incongruities or oddities in our lives and finding solutions, commonalities, or pointing out our shared experience of them. Lots of observational humor falls into this camp. “Did you ever notice…” that people named Todd smell like elderberries? Shopping carts always have one bad wheel? People who drive slower than you are idiots and people who drive faster are maniacs? Etc.

    But how does that relate to Senator Bob? Unfortunately, it's Dispatch-paywalled so you might need to subscribe to find out.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:50 AM EDT

Because It Upsets the Woke Narrative

Coleman Hughes takes to the Free Press to wonder: Why Is TED Scared of Color Blindness?.

Like any young writer, I am well aware that an invitation to speak at TED can be a career-changing opportunity. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was invited to appear at this year’s annual conference. What I could not have imagined from an organization whose tagline is “ideas worth spreading” is that it would attempt to suppress my own.

As an independent podcaster and author, I count myself among the lucky few who can make a living doing what they truly love to do. Nothing about my experience with TED could change that. The reason this story matters is not because I was treated poorly, but because it helps explain how organizations can be captured by an ideological minority that bends even the people at the very top to its will. In that, the story of TED is the story of so many crucial and once-trustworthy institutions in American life.

What follows is pretty damning. By his own description, Hughes' April talk advocated "the idea that we should treat people without regard to race, both in our personal lives and in our public policy." I.e., "color blindness".

And you won't believe what happened next!

Well, actually, if you've been paying attention over the past few years, you probably will. TED subjected Hughes' talk to a "disparate" treatment: like no other talk, Hughes was required to debate his views with antagonists afterward. And TED seems to have done everything it could to un-publicize it.

The discussion continues on Twitter. TED head Chris Anderson defended his organization's behavior. He's very civil and complimentary toward Hughes, but it's a case study in defending the indefensible. See the accompanying comments pointing this out.

Also see the (equally civil) response from Hughes. Essentially, he forgives TED for the weaselly behavior demanded by a vocal and intolerant minority of wokist employees.

Also of note:

  • Beware the wrath of Khan. Elizabeth Nolan Brown's cover story in the latest issue of Reason is out from behind the paywall, and it's a must read, given current events: Competition, Not Antitrust, Is Humbling the Tech Giants.

    In 2017, a 27-year-old Yale Law School student published an article arguing that the online retailer Amazon had grown so large that federal regulators should treat it as inherently suspect. Amazon, the paper said, engaged in a wide variety of harmful anticompetitive practices. The article did not merely demand far greater federal oversight of the company; it called for a complete overhaul of how regulators approach antitrust, urging more frequent, more aggressive legal action founded on a generalized antagonism toward large companies and corporate mergers.

    At the time, the view was relatively novel, with few adherents in government or the academy. But today that former student, now 34, leads the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and both the agency specifically and the Biden administration more generally are pursuing a concrete version of her antagonistic agenda.

    That student was Lina Khan, and her swift ascendance from young academic with a dream to bureaucrat with real power showcases some rapid political and intellectual shifts that have taken place over the last few years. Not only did Khan take command of a major regulatory agency, but the Biden administration found plum spots for fellow antitrust revisionists such as the Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, who became special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, and the attorney Jonathan Kanter, who was installed in the antitrust division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Beyond the White House, politicians on both the left and the right have embraced versions of these theories—and called for applying them to a swath of increasingly large, increasingly successful technology companies.

    ENB's article was probably written a few months back. So it doesn't include yesterday's news from Joe Lancaster: FTC Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against Amazon.

    In the lawsuit, the FTC, along with the attorneys general of 17 states, call the e-commerce giant a "monopolist" and accuse it of "exploit[ing] its monopolies in ways that enrich Amazon but harm its customers."

    FTC Chair Lina Khan said that "today's lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition."

    One of my attitudinal guiding stars is from Elvis: don't be disgusted, try to be amused. But I am in fact disgusted that New Hampshire is one of those (only) 17 states suing Amazon. Using taxpayer resources. I hope our local journalists do some footwork to discover why New Hampshire is teaming up with (mostly) blue states to hamstring a successful company.

    We'll almost certainly be paying attention over the coming days, weeks, months, years… But for now, let's just append some criticism from Lancaster's article:

    Ryan Young, senior economist for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said in a statement that "Amazon controls roughly ten percent of total retail, and about 38 percent of online retail. For Amazon to look dominant, the FTC had to invent new terms such as the 'online superstore market that serves shoppers' and the 'online marketplace services purchased by sellers.' Even if Amazon monopolizes those specially-defined markets, the FTC will have a difficult time proving consumer harm."

    "Under antitrust law, big is not automatically bad," Young says. "Big must behave badly first by harming consumers. The rapid innovation, low prices, and low profit margins across the retail and grocery industries, make it unlikely that Amazon is harming consumers."

  • More like Family Matters Last, amirite? You would have to have a heart of stone not to chuckle at James Freeman's article on the manifest indifference of most Americans to progressive/woke ideology: If You Think Socialism Is Unpopular Now.... Noting the recent discussion of Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research in mainstream news, he extracts this bit of pathos from a Michelle Goldberg opinion column in the NYT: :

    “Once the center was established under the near-total control of a single individual, there were many conscientious, talented, dedicated people who came there because they recognized it as a site of power,” Spencer Piston, a Boston University professor who until recently served as faculty lead in the Center for Antiracist Research’s policy office, told me. (He says he hasn’t been able to get a straight answer about whether he’s been fired.) “Tens of millions of dollars were flowing in, and there was lots of prestige, and they thought this would be a chance to do some good.”

    Piston remains proud of some of the center’s work, particularly research projects done in concert with local organizations like Family Matters First, which helps families caught up in the child welfare system. “It’s absolutely true that many of the center’s most high-profile projects have been failures,” he said. But there were also successes, despite what he called “the many pathologies at the center.”

    Last week, however, Family Matters First found out that its contract with the center had been terminated ahead of schedule, meaning the group won’t receive $10,000 it was counting on. Tatiana Rodriguez, the founder, told me that the association with the center had meant a great deal to her tiny organization: “This was something that we were excited about as a community,” she said. Now she feels betrayed by Kendi.

    Okay, so Kendi's got money problems. Specifically, what-did-you-do-with-all-that-money problems. But there's also…

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    News you can use. New Jersey senior Senator Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) has money problems too, but unlike Kendi's, they are where-did-you-get-all-that-money problems. The WSJ's personal finance reporters Jeremy Olshan and Anne Tergesen have some guidance on The Right Amount of Cash to Keep at Home for Emergencies. Hint: Not $480,000..

    So, just how much cash should people keep at home in case of an emergency?

    When the question was put to more than a dozen advisers and disaster-preparation experts, the answers ranged from $200 to more than two weeks’ worth of expenses. Though it is personal-finance gospel to save an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses, advisers say money should be collecting interest, not dust at the back of your sock drawer.

    There was some consensus: Few, if any, Americans need to stash anything near the $480,000 in cash investigators found in the home of Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), which he said was for emergencies.

    There's some very good advice combined with snark in this article. If you do need to keep more than a couple hundred bucks close by for "emergencies", putting the currency in plastic bags in a fireproof safe would be a better location than stuffing it into random articles of clothing. And maybe …

    [Emergency preparedness expert John] Ramey suggests applying a portfolio approach to securing one’s cash. “I wouldn’t want all my cash in one safe,” he said. “Have a safe, sure, but also something hidden in plain sight—a Barbasol can with a fake bottom or a decoy wallet.”

    Yes, our Amazon Product du Jour is just for you, for a mere $15.95, the "Barbasol Diversion Safe Stash Can with Food Grade Smell Proof Bag with Hidden Compartment for Keys, Cash and Valuables (11oz Travel Size)".

    But now that it's been publicized, everyone will know about it, so…

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:49 AM EDT

Retro Pols

Drew Cline says beware of The Politicians Stuck in the '50s.

Americans’ confidence in large institutions, and government in particular, is collapsing. We no longer trust large, complex bureaucracies with little accountability to stick to their missions and do their jobs with honor and integrity.

And yet many of our politicians continue to talk and act like business professors from 1956, arguing that we should concentrate power and authority in the hands of a few top-level managers.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, to be an able manager was to do four things well: plan, organize, direct, and control,” management professor Phil Rosenzweig wrote for Harvard Business Review back in 2010. “Leading business thinkers conceived of managers as rational actors who could solve complex problems through the power of clear analysis.”

Too many of our politicians take exactly this approach to governing. See a problem in society? Government will fix it! How? By crafting a plan, then organizing, directing and controlling citizens and/or businesses in pursuit of the plan’s objectives.

Sigh. It's only been a few days since we posted an excerpt from Timothy Sandefur's Freedom's Furies about the great enthusiasm back in the 1930s for dictatorship, as various intellectuals looked wistfully at examples set by Stalin, Mussolini, and (even) Hitler. We're still dealing with some of the governmental baggage of that era.

Also of note:

  • We're also dealing with governmental baggage from the 1910s. Like the Federal Trade Commission, which Wikipedia tells us dates from 1914. Ryan M. Yonk and Ethan Yang have been watching recent FTC antics and they describe what happens when Partisan Oversight Meets Partisan Antitrust.

    On August 21, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) communications with its counterparts in the European Union (EU). Those who support FTC Chair Lina Khan say the probe is a biased attempt to score political points by scrutinizing a favorite right-wing punching bag. Those who oppose what the FTC is doing argue the agency has been politically captured by a Chair with a clear and expansive agenda. They are both right, and the end result is a realistic and workable system of checks and balances. Just as the Founders intended.

    The Committee requested documents pertaining to agency officials dispatched by the FTC to Europe to aid with the implementation and enforcement of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), a far more aggressive antitrust law than anything found in America. Although the FTC regularly coordinates with antitrust enforcement and consumer protection regimes around the world, its work with the EU on this subject raises political, legislative, and due process issues because of the expansive nature of the DMA.

    It appears that Lina Kahn's FTC, after failing to get its way under American law, is helping Europe's regulators to go after the American companies that it wants to target: "Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft."

    (It's somewhat surprising that those companies tilt so heavily Democratic. It's been over 30 years since Paul Weaver wrote The Suicidal Corporation; maybe it's time for an update.)

  • And it's a not even good theater. J.D. Tuccille looks at yet another sequel: The Government Shutdown Debate Is Political Theater.

    Asked if we should expect a shutdown of the federal government, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) says "no" and points out "we still have a number of days" until funding runs out on October 1. The White House, though, insists debate over spending is "marching our country toward a government shutdown." The battling takes are political theater as are so-called "government shutdowns" which, unfortunately, are nothing of the sort. No matter how D.C. disputes end, the federal government will certainly continue spending entirely too much and, no matter what the headlines say, will never have really shut down.

    And please be aware that whatever the outcome of this particular drama, it's unlikely that anything will be done to deal with this:

    Large swaths of both parties will simply avert their eyes. Until it's too late. (And it might already be too late.)

  • In a double feature with Political Theater, we have… Comedy With No Sense of Humor. It's Kevin D. Williamson's take on Hasan Minhaj, and it's funnier than … well, anything that Hasan Minhaj has done.

    So, wait—you’re telling me that a rabbi, a priest, and a pastor didn’t actually walk into a bar?

    Hasan Minhaj, a comedian and social commentator, has come under criticism because many of his moving and outrageous stories turn out to be made-up. Made-up stories are not a problem for Hasan Minhaj the comedian, but they are a problem for Hasan Minhaj the social commentator. Minhaj has made trouble for himself, but the genre in which he works is hardly his creation and was always begging for trouble: He has, at worst, only amplified the errors and distortions of such figures as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, what Jim Treacher called the “clown nose off, clown nose on” routine: Offer red-meat commentary with unearned authority, and then protest, “I’m just a comedian!” when your mistakes, misunderstandings, and ignorance are pointed out. As my friend Charles C.W. Cooke points out, Donald Trump’s admirers employ a similar frame-shifting defense of their man: When he says something outrageously stupid or offensive, it’s “He’s a fighter!” but when he retreats, as he always does, into political cowardice, it’s “He knows how to win! We can’t afford your purity tests!” Minhaj’s version of that act is: “Listen to this story that proves what a racist society this is!” “Uh, that didn’t happen.” “I’m a comedian! I’m an artist, damn you!”

    That's at the Dispatch, it has one of those little padlocks at the top, but (really) if you can afford to subscribe, …

  • Also funnier than Minhaj: Marshall McLuhan. Jeff Jacoby notes his quote: 'Art is anything you can get away with'. And how that's playing out in Denmark:

    "TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN" is the name of an early Woody Allen movie and a song by the Steve Miller Band. It is also the name of a contemporary artwork by the Danish artist Jens Haaning. Or at least art is what Haaning says it is. A court in Copenhagen says it's a scam. Who's right?

    The background: In 2021, Haaning was commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art to reproduce a pair of his earlier works, in which he attached paper money to large, framed canvases. The museum supplied the cash Haaning would need to make the new versions — it gave him 533,000 Danish kroner (equivalent to roughly $76,000) and he signed a contract agreeing to return the currency after the four-month exhibition.

    What Haaning delivered, however, was not a recreation of his earlier pieces but two empty frames, which he titled "Take the Money and Run." In an email to the museum, he said he had decided to "make a new work for the exhibition," rather than duplicate his previous pieces and that he was keeping the banknotes for himself — as part of his art.

    "The work is that I have taken their money," he told the Danish network DR. "I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same." In an interview with CNN, he denied that he was committing theft. From his "artistic point of view," he said, he had "created an art piece, which is maybe 10 or 100 times better than what we had planned. What is the problem?"

    No problem here, Jens! I assume that inflation has hit your budget for mind-altering substances, and a guy's gotta make ends meet somehow.

Feel-Good Headline of the Day

It's the front page of this morning's WSJ: Hedge Funds Make Big Profits Betting Against FTC and Khan.

The efforts by Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan to protect Main Street are inadvertently enriching some on Wall Street, generating outsize profits for Pentwater Capital Management and other large hedge funds that bet on merger deals.

For the past two years, Khan has pursued an aggressive strategy as head of President Biden’s antitrust agency, attempting to block proposed deals including Microsoft’s acquisition of videogame maker Activision Blizzard and Amgen’s pursuit of drugmaker Horizon Therapeutics.

In both cases, the FTC’s intervention spooked investors and sent shares of the target companies swinging. This phenomenon complicated the playbook for a group of hedge funds whose main strategy relies on wagering that mergers and acquisitions will succeed or fail.

Yet for a handful of firms willing to stomach the volatility, the FTC’s antitrust efforts have yielded an unexpected windfall.

Their strategy? Betting big against Khan.

It's nice that you can make some money betting in favor of the rule of law, and against a massive anti-consumer change in antitrust regulatory policy.

I really wanted to make a Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan joke about this, but I couldn't make it work. I bet someone else has, though… yeah, Google is your friend. (Lina might fix that, though, so click sooner than later.)

If you're interested, Lina Khan has been an occasional mention here at Pun Salad since 2020: Pun Salad's here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. She's not my friend, and she shouldn't be yours either.

Also of note:

  • When will Lina Khan start regulating these guys? The excellent novelist Kat Rosenfield is also a very good essayist. At the Free Press she looks at the latest instance of The Lies of Trauma Merchants. After listing some egregious examples from the past few decades (!), starting with James Frey:

    Today, the collective horror at Frey’s deception feels like the product of a more innocent time, particularly when compared with the muted response to last week’s unmasking of his contemporary equivalent. Comedian and television personality Hasan Minhaj, an alumnus of The Daily Show, built his career on stories of the persecution he had faced as an Indian, Muslim son of immigrants in a post-9/11 America. But as outlined in a devastating report by New Yorker writer Clare Malone, his most popular material contained key omissions and barefaced lies.

    The FBI informant who infiltrated Minhaj’s Muslim community and then reported his mosque to the authorities? Minhaj never met him. The hospitalization of Minhaj’s daughter after someone mailed him an envelope full of a white mystery powder that could have been anthrax? Never happened. And the high school ex-girlfriend who accepted Minhaj’s invitation to prom, only to jilt him on her doorstep for racist reasons while her new (white) date slipped a corsage on her wrist? She had actually turned down Minhaj several days earlier, and this doorstep moment—upon which Minhaj more or less built his career—was a complete fabrication.

    I note that back in 2014, the publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cancelled the columns of George Will because he had the audacity to point out that "when [colleges and universities] make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

    Since then, victimhood status has become coveted in larger arenas than institutions of higher education. And I'd like to think that GFW reads essays like Rosenfield's and thinks: toldya so.

  • When will the St. Louis Post-Dispatch apologize to George Will, anyway? Ed Morrissey also looks at Hasan Minhaj and the rise of the fabricated-trauma porn industry. And he wonders…

    Why? One has to wonder whether this is a sign of cultural decline, or perhaps the end result of the educational rot from decades of emphasizing America’s failings in history without any thought of the overall context of the American experiment. In its way, it seems like the same impulse that climate-change activists have in declaring every hot day and every weather event the Unmistakable Outcome Of Global Warming Denialism. The constant thirst for doom and despair comes from the desire to destroy everything and rebuild it under an Enlightened Despotism of Sciencey Goodness, in which The Experts® will run everything and tell us how to live every aspect of our lives lest we anger the gods of Gaia or racial/ethnic determinism.

    Increasing lost arts: skepticism, accepting complexity, looking for context, …

  • But it's not just comedians. It is (of course) politicians too. Scott Johnson writes that one guy is outstanding in that field: On Biden’s Lying. Quoting from an Michael Moynihan interview with Biden biographer Franklin Foer:

    MM: The other day, Biden said he was at Ground Zero the day after the September 11 attacks. He wasn’t. He said that he was a professor, I think, at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching political theory for four years. He wasn’t. Said something similar about his grandfather dying in the hospital the same day. He falsely claimed to have been arrested during a civil rights protest. He falsely claimed that he, quote, “used to drive an 18-wheeler,” falsely claimed to have visited the Pittsburgh synagogue where worshipers were killed in a 2018 mass shooting, falsely claimed to have visited Iraq and Afghanistan as president, told a false story involving a late relative and a Purple Heart, and falsely described his interactions decades ago with late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. He frequently refers to his son, Beau Biden, who died of cancer, dying in Iraq. At what point is that lying and not a gaffe?

    FF: It’s clearly a tendency that is deeply ingrained in him that these are not straight examples. They’re part of a pattern of the way that he describes himself and his role in events in history. And there is something both disturbing about it on some level and, I think, very reflective of something deep in his psyche, that this desire to be at the center of the narrative and to have a version of events that kind of meshes with some idealized version of those events.

    MM: But you’re reluctant to call it lying.

    FF: On the surface, yes, it is. It is lying. But there are different reasons why people lie. And I think that needs to somehow be wrapped into the way in which we morally judge them. The pattern of lies are really always about himself, not about other people. And they’re self-aggrandizing. And so it’s this tendency towards self-aggrandizement, which is super connected to the way that he exists as a politician and super connected to all of these insecurities that he has.

    On the surface it's lying. But below the surface, it's … yep, still lying.

    Or as someone said about Hollywood: strip away the phony tinsel and you find the real tinsel underneath.

  • Putting two and two together. Lawrence M. Krauss brings us a letter from Alexander Barvinok, a mathematician who is Leaving the American Mathematical Society.

    With grave concern, I see the growing use of DEI statements as a required component for job applications, in particular in mathematical sciences. In my opinion, it has an enormous corrosive effect on the math community and education in this country. Even if one is required to say “I passionately believe that water would certainly wet us, as fire would certainly burn”, the routine affirmation of one’s beliefs as a precondition of making a living constitutes compelled speech and corrupts everyone who participates in the performance.

    I grew up in the Soviet Union, where people had to affirm their fealty to ideals and the leaders embodying those ideals, on a daily basis. As years went by, I observed the remarkable ease with which passionate communists turned first into passionate pro-Western liberals and then into passionate nationalists. This lived experience and also common sense convince me that only true conformists excel in this game. Do we really want our math departments to be populated by conformists?

    Well, do we?

Hobson's Choice Is No Choice At All

[It's lemmings and sheep, all the way down.]

Of course, there's always the Libertarian Party. So Mr. Ramirez should add "… or raving loonies" to that speech balloon.

The betting market has some actual interesting movement, as of this morning:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 32.2% +3.0%
Joe Biden 31.9% -0.1%
Gavin Newsom 6.6% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 4.5% +0.1%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.5% +0.4%
Ron DeSantis 3.7% -1.4%
Vivek Ramaswamy 3.6% -0.3%
Nikki Haley 3.4% unch
Kamala Harris 2.8% -0.1%
Other 6.8% -1.1%

Yes, the punters are favoring Trump over Biden. Slightly.

But the top two candidates are … by far the top two candidates. Which means that all of America (generally) and Steven Greenhut (specifically) is plaintively asking: Do we really have to relive a Trump-Biden election?

My favorite religious movie hands down is Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy where an arrogant TV anchor is forced to relive the same day thousands of times until he fixes his attitude and learns to care about his neighbors. He can’t move on with his life until he graduates from his purgatory in Punxsutawney, Pa. It’s a brilliant allegory for our spiritual journey as individuals and, apparently, as a nation.

Yet here we go again. Whatever Americans tell pollsters, we’re locked in a partisan grudge match that shows signs of escalating rather than abating. This remains one of the freest and most prosperous nations that’s ever existed, and yet Americans are angry, pessimistic and don’t seem to like their fellow Americans very much. We can’t even agree on a basic set of facts – and virtually no one cuts their opponents any slack.

And gazing down the list… yep, Nikki's still my choice. Even though I roll my eyes somewhat when she talks about China.

Also of note:

  • From the UNH Survey Center, so it's a cloudy window. Noah Rothman takes a look through it anyway: New Hampshire Poll Gives Us a Window into 2024.

    New Hampshire occupies a valuable position on the political calendar. As one of the only early primary states that is also a contested swing state in the general election, the Granite State provides political observers with some indications as to how an ongoing primary race will shape the contours of the general election to follow. The latest poll of New Hampshire voters via CNN and the University of New Hampshire does just that, cutting through the clutter of too-early surveys of the national electorate and clarifying the state of the presidential race ahead of 2024.

    Candidates for the White House have devoted time and resources to this state, unlike many other states. The campaigns are on the air broadcasting both positive introductory messages about themselves and, perhaps more importantly, negative ads against their opponents. Many of the candidates on the GOP side are campaigning in New Hampshire, acquainting themselves with voters and building voter-contact operations. Likewise, Joe Biden’s incumbency ensures that the state is fully appraised of his conduct in office, even if his campaign isn’t broadcasting there yet.

    That dynamic allows us the first glimpse at what the electorate will look like next year. The first impression to which readers of this CNN/UNH survey are privy is that New Hampshire voters, having marinated in each candidate’s messaging, have come away from that experience with a dim view of everyone in the race.

    Yes: a dim view through a cloudy window.

    Skimming through that 46-page document of survey results definitely lends credence to Greenhut's observation that "we can’t even agree on a basic set of facts." Even in New Hampshire. Example: in response to the query "Who do you believe won the 2020 presidential election?"

    Voting Registration Biden Trump Don't know/
    Not sure
    Democrat 97% 2% 1%
    Republican 27% 54% 19%
    Undeclared/Not registered 62% 27% 11%

    It would be nice if more of my fellow registered Republicans were not wedded to alternative facts.

  • Hope springs eternal. Michael Graham sees it glimmering: Nikki Haley Is Having a Moment in New Hampshire.

    Donald Trump’s prohibitive lead in the GOP presidential primary is undeniable, and he continues to dominate the headlines. But there is another conversation Granite State Republicans are having: “What are you hearing about Nikki Haley?”

    The former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador has been generating buzz among GOP activists and insiders, and the volume ticked up this week — along with her numbers in two new polls.

    In the CNN/UNH Survey Center poll that dropped on Wednesday, Trump had 39 percent support, but that was down from the 42 percent he had a few months ago. Meanwhile, Haley surged over the summer from five to 12 percent in the Granite State, enough for third place behind Vivek Ramaswamy (13 percent). Ron DeSantis had fallen to fifth place.

    I'm encouraged, but 12% is still … 12%

  • Nor should anyone else. Nathanael Blake suggests that Pro-Lifers Shouldn’t Trust Trump.

    Former President Donald Trump has broken his deal with pro-lifers. The bargain was that pro-lifers would provide Trump political support in exchange for Trump giving the pro-life movement political wins. And it paid off. Trump got to be president, and pro-lifers got originalist Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.

    Now as Trump seeks the Republican nomination for a third time, he is making it clear that the alliance is over. Pressed on abortion in a recent interview, Trump blasted his rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for signing a law banning abortions after the baby has a detectable heartbeat. Trump declared, “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”

    Trump is being honest. There is no reason to doubt that he said what he really believes: that restricting abortion to any meaningful extent is a terrible mistake and that he has no will to fight to protect human life in the womb. Before denouncing DeSantis (and, implicitly, every other Republican governor and state legislator who has protected babies from being killed in the womb, along with the voters who supported them), Trump insisted he would be able to cut a deal with Democrats to bring “peace” on this issue. However, in promising this peace he refused to commit to even a 15-week limit on abortion.

    My guess is that Trump's calculation is simple: political expediency; DeSantis's action was "terrible" because it will cost him more votes than it gains.

    Trump has no discernable position on the moral issue. Moral issues are just not on his radar.

  • The Case of the Purloined Documents would have been a pretty good Hardy Boys title. And Jacob Sullum would be a good choice to write it, judging from his take on Trump’s Preposterous Defense in the Purloined Documents Case.

    In May 2022, Donald Trump received a federal subpoena demanding all the documents with classification markings that remained in his possession at Mar-a-Lago. At that point, SiriusXM talk show host Megyn Kelly suggested in an interview with the former president last week, he was legally obligated to surrender those records.

    "I know this," Trump replied, then immediately corrected himself: "I don't even know that, because I have the right to have those documents." That startling response epitomized the lazy arrogance that Trump displayed in January 2021, when he removed thousands of presidential records from the White House, and during the ensuing year and a half, when he stubbornly resisted efforts to recover them.

    In addition to 32 counts of willfully retaining national defense information, that pattern of defiance resulted in eight obstruction-related charges, which may pose the most serious threat to Trump's continued freedom. While the other three indictments against Trump face formidable obstacles, including controversial legal interpretations, complicated narratives, and difficult questions of knowledge and intent, the story behind the documents case is relatively straightforward: Trump took a bunch of stuff that did not belong to him and refused to return it.

    And (once again) note that Trump has a lead in our weekly odds tabulation.

  • To be fair, this doesn't distinguish him from other Democrats. John Hinderaker points out that RFK Jr. Is a Crazy Left-Winger.

    Some conservatives have an unreasonably positive view of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., based on the fact that he sounds sensible on two or three issues. But in fact, he is nuts, as manifested most grotesquely in his conviction that Sirhan Sirhan did not murder his father. Beyond that, he is, on the large majority of issues, an unreconstructed far left-winger.

    Hinderaker takes particular note of his demand to ban fracking. Part of his "10-point plan to fix the plastics pollution crisis". Which is generally Stalinist.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:06 PM EDT

It Can't Happen Here, Except That It Almost Did

And it's probably a good idea to remember that it's never entirely off the table.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
David Boaz writes, inspired by our Amazon Product du Jour: In 1932-33 Leading Intellectuals Used 'Dictatorial' as a Positive Recommendation. In America.

In his recent book Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness, Timothy Sandefur describes the intellectual climate that those “founding mothers of libertarianism” faced in the Hoover‐Roosevelt Depression years:

Between 1917 and 1919, agencies such as the War Industries Board and [Herbert] Hoover’s U.S. Food Administration appeared to vindicate Progressive beliefs in government planning. A decade later, many—including Hoover himself—pointed to that precedent, arguing that the Depression was analogous to a world war and should be dealt with in the same way.

That was the basis for the idea that General Electric’s president Gerard Swope proposed in September 1931. He recommended that the federal government create a system of industrial cartels under which all companies of more than 50 employees would be assigned to a trade association vested with authority to dictate the types and amounts of goods and services businesses could provide, and how much they could charge. This would prevent “destructive” competition, by giving companies the power to prohibit their competitors from reducing prices or introducing new or improved products, which would “stabilize” the economy and ensure full employment. “Industry is not primarily for profit but rather for service,” Swope declared. “One cannot loudly call for more stability in business and get it on a purely voluntary basis.” Although hardly the only such proposal—it mimicked the corporatism already being implemented in Italy and Germany—the Swope Plan gained the most attention and would later form the blueprint for the National Industrial Recovery Act. But at the time, Hoover labeled it “fascism” and rejected it as “merely a remaking of Mussolini’s ‘corporate state.’”

Many similar schemes were offered by prominent intellectuals, including historian Charles Beard, who proposed “A Five‐​Year Plan for America” on the Soviet model, and New Republic editor George Soule, whose 1932 book A Planned Society proposed political control over the entire economy. These writers, said one of Soule’s colleagues, “were impatient for the coming of the Revolution; they talked of it, dreamed of it.” And they were not alone. That same year, novelist Theodore Dreiser published Tragic America, which he had originally planned to call A New Deal for America. It advocated the overthrow of capitalism and the replacement of the Constitution with a government that would control industry in the style of the Soviet Union, where he thought communism was “functioning admirably.”…

Dreiser probably changed his title because A New Deal had already been taken by economist Stuart Chase, whose book of that name also appeared in 1932. Chase—who considered it “a pity” that “the road” to socialist revolution in America was “temporarily closed”—looked forward to the day when the government would seize all industry and “solv[e] at a single stroke unemployment and inadequate standards of living.” It would do this, he said, by compelling all individuals to “work for the community.” The government should forbid high interest rates, stock market speculation, the manufacturing of “useless” products, the creation of new clothing styles, businesses “rushing blindly to compete,” and other “ways of making money”—and it should do so “by firing squad if necessary.” The 44‐year‐old Chase was inspired by the “new religion” of “Red Revolution,” which he found “dramatic, idealistic, and, in the long run, constructive.” “Why,” he asked, “should the Russians have all the fun of remaking a world?”

I liked Sandefur's previous book about Frederick Douglass. Looks like I'll have to read this one too.

Also of note:

  • Or duck under it. Avoid it, in any case. Mathew Lloyd explains Why Libertarians Must Rise above the Left-Right Dichotomy of Politics.

    In the UK we have a Conservative prime minister—right wing—and the results of their governments interference in the economy and politicization of everyday life has had a negative impact on individual lives, public discourse, and the economy. In the US there is a Democrat president—left wing—and their neighbors to the north, Canada, have a Liberal government—left wing (though not truly liberal in the original meaning of the word)—and both these countries have economic troubles and heavily politicized daily lives just like the UK. The list of countries with leaders and governments from opposite sides of the spectrum goes on and on, but what all these left and right wing governments have in common is the same poor outcomes and worsening situations created by their beliefs.

    How can two supposedly vastly different worldviews result in similar outcomes? If they were truly worlds apart then the results would be worlds apart too. The reality is both sides of the spectrum rely on varying degrees of authoritarianism to achieve their popularity, and both sides deploy authoritarian policies against the economic and social lives of citizens which is why the results are so similar. Both sides cripple economies through taxation, regulation, and punishment of economic activity. Both sides forbid certain speech, certain behavior, certain views, and certain interactions. Both sides believe in the use of force against different groups of people and in punishing different groups based on immutable characteristics in the name of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness.’ Both sides are unprincipled and will change their positions based on whichever way the political wind is blowing. To put it bluntly, both sides are just different flavors of the same foul stew.

    I'm kind of sympathetic to this argument. Although when it comes to voting, the Libertarian Pary keeps insisting on nominating lunatics. So that's kind of a deal-breaker for me.

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:49 AM EDT

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

[4.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I went to the Strand Theater in Dover (NH) to see this movie when it came out back in 2005, and I remembered enjoying it quite a bit. And the Writer/Director, Shane Black, went on to direct the best (imho) Iron Man movie, that would be number three (your mileage may vary, but shouldn't). (Black also had an impressive run of writing action movies, see his IMDB résumé.)

I was under the impression, a few years back, that eventually any movie or TV show that ever was would be available to stream via some provider, at a reasonable monthly fee. David Janssen's short-lived private eye classic Harry O. The goofy comedy The Big Bus. Ken Russel's surrealistic musical comedy The Boy Friend. And …

Well, wasn't I was a starry-eyed optimist. If anything, trends seem to be going the other way, with services pulling shows and movies off their lists. And adding advertising to what's left.

But I wanted to see this bad enough to send Amazon an extra $3.99.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Harry, a small-time New York crook who, by sheer accident, gets hired for a movie role out in LA. There he meets Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) who is supposed to be tutoring him for his part. And is reunited with a childhood acquaintance, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), who's looking to make her mark in Hollywood as well. But pretty soon, Perry and Harry accidentally witness a murder while on a stakeout.

The plot is very complicated, self-concious, and ludicrous. And a lot of fun. Downey and Kilmer are great.

Nice touch: this noirish movie has acts with titles stolen drawn from Raymond Chandler books.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:49 AM EDT

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This finishes up my reread-Stephenson project, undertaken back in 2019 with Cryptonomicon. I first read this back in 2017 when it came out. And I agree with what my six-year-ago self said back then: it's a lot of fun to read, and highly recommended.

And my memory is currently faulty enough that I was re-gobsmacked by the sly revelation on page 164. "What!? … Oh, I get it." There are upsides to being old!

I should also add that Neal Stephenson's co-author, Nicole Galland, wrote a sequel back in 2021, Master of the Revels. I was shamefully unaware. But I picked it up at Amazon. And in an unusual move for me, paid full hardcover-price, in the hopes that Ms. Galland will get the resulting royalty.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:48 AM EDT

Betteridge's Law of Headlines Reconfirmed

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Johan Norberg answers the burning question: Does Capitalism Really Make Us Lonely?

Presume the economic case for free markets is true: that capitalism makes us freer and richer, creates better jobs and greater opportunities, and helps us solve environmental problems. Does it make us happier too?

The American conservative Patrick Deneen believes liberal capitalism makes us "increasingly separate, autonomous, nonrelational selves, replete with rights and defined by our liberty, but insecure, powerless, afraid, and alone." Under the exhaustive headline "Neoliberalism—the ideology at the root of all our problems," the British leftist George Monbiot claims that these problems include (but are by no means limited to) "epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia."

Freedom "doesn't make us free, it makes us lonely," adds Christian conservative Joel Halldorf. "Increasing mental illness, isolation and populism are signs that liberalism cannot sustain itself." The leftist economist Noreena Hertz argues that "neoliberalism has made us see ourselves as competitors not collaborators, consumers not citizens, hoarders not sharers, takers not givers, hustlers not helpers."

Such sweeping statements are only very rarely followed by attempts to document any causal link or even a correlation. Surprisingly often, a quick misreading of classical liberals is supposed to be enough to prove the connection between liberalism and greed and loneliness, as if the resistance to forced relationships was based on a resistance to relationships themselves.

Norberg goes on to debunk the scurrilous accusation. With statistics. The science is settled, people!

The Reason article is adapted from Norberg's new book, our Amazon Product du Jour.

Also of note:

  • As predictable as the sunrise off Martha's Vineyard. Those Soviet-style N-year plans were never gonna work. The WSJ editorialists note the latest detour on the Road to Serfdom: The Great Northeast Wind Bailout.

    If only the hot air blowing at the United Nations’ Climate Ambition Summit this week could be used to generate electric power. That would be especially convenient since Governors in the Northeast are lobbying the White House to bail out their states’ offshore wind projects, which have hit a gale of ballooning costs.

    “Inflationary pressures, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the lingering supply chain disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have created extraordinary economic challenges,” wrote Govs. Kathy Hochul (N.Y.), Ned Lamont (Conn.), Phil Murphy (N.J.), Maura Healey (Mass.), Wes Moore (Md.) and Dan McKee (R.I.) to President Biden last week.

    It's worth pointing out that those states are among the richest in the US. Specifically, ranked by median household income, Maryland is #1, New Jersey is #2, Massachusetts is #3, Connecticut is #8, New York is #15, and poor Rhode Island is #15. It takes some brass cojones for those states to demand that (in effect) poorer states send them more money.

    (It's also worth pointing out that the median household in the District of Columbia has a higher income than any state. It's expensive to maintain the fiction of "free money" coming from Uncle Stupid.)

  • To a first approximation: check cashing. James Freeman wonders what's going on down there in Boston, specifically: What Exactly Happens at the Center for Antiracist Research?. That would be the center at Boston University, established in 2020, under the control of Ibram X. Kendi. Producing pretty much bupkis. Even the Boston Globe is wondering!

    “Boston University and Dr. Kendi believe strongly in the center’s mission,” Lapal Cavallario said. “We look forward to working with him as we conduct our assessment.”

    BU’s announcement of the inquiry came hours after the Globe sent the university extensive questions about the center’s operations.

    In interviews with the Globe this week, current and former employees described a dysfunctional work environment that made it difficult to achieve the center’s lofty goals.

    The organization “was just being mismanaged on a really fundamental level,” said Phillipe Copeland, a professor in BU’s School of Social Work who also worked for the center as assistant director of narrative.

    Assistant director of narrative.

    It's a huge job directing narrative, folks. You need an assistant to help. Freeman comments:

    Mr. Copeland resigned from the center in June, reports the Globe. His blunt comment on the record, coupled with the fact that he is a credentialed narrative expert, suggests trouble for Mr. Kendi. For if the latter can’t rely on a friendly media narrative, what can he rely on?

    And at National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke joins the scrum, wondering: Is Ibram X. Kendi a Racist? Betteridge's Law of Headlines fails here. Turns out the answer is yes.

    CCWC also quotes from the Boston Globe story:

    Since its announced launch in June 2020, just days after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the center has raised tens of millions of dollars from tech entrepreneurs, Boston-area corporations, and thousands of small donors.

    At the time, Kendi, the author of the bestselling 2019 book “How to Be an Antiracist,” said the center would “solve these intractable racial problems of our time.”

    Well, maybe the center did "solve these intractable racial problems of our time." I mean, all that money must have done something, right?

  • I grew up in Iowa and Nebraska, and I like farmers. But, as Scott Lincicome painstakingly details, there is no plan to get them off the federal tit. Just the opposite, in fact: The Farm Bill Is a Case Study in What’s Wrong With Washington.

    As many conservatives and libertarians know all too well, “bipartisanship” is one of the most annoyingly misunderstood concepts in American politics and media. Yes, sure, it’s fine and good when Congress approves a good bill with lots of votes from both major political parties, but good law can get made via party-line votes and bad legislation can sail quickly through the legislative process with nary a peep of opposition. Indeed, some of the worst laws on the books were enacted with lots of R and D votes, and—frustratingly—with advocates using that bipartisanship as a useful shield against legitimate criticism. 

    There’s perhaps no better example of this kind of bipartisanship—the bad kind—than the farm bill, which Congress is again considering (as it does every five years) and will almost surely pass later this year with overwhelming bipartisan support. On its face, the farm bill is a sprawling, $1 trillion piece of legislation ostensibly about U.S. agriculture policy; but it’s really about a lot more than that—and it’s a testament to how bad policy gets made in Washington, too often accompanied by a harmonious chorus of happy Republicans and Democrats.

    It's paywalled, from the folks at the Dispatch. If you're blood pressure can stand it, maybe you should subscribe. Or you could check out Cato's "briefing paper" from Chris Edwards, advocating something that's not gonna happen: Cutting Federal Farm Subsidies. Fun facts:

    Farm subsidies disproportionately benefit high‐income households. In 2021, the average income of all farm households was $135,281, which was 32 percent higher than the $102,316 average of all U.S. households. The median income of farm households was $92,239, which was 30 percent higher than the $70,784 median of all U.S. households. Only 2 percent of farm households have net wealth below the U.S. median household net wealth.

    And, lest we forget: The Rich Get Richer: 50 Billionaires Got Federal Farm Subsidies. I'm far from a class warrior, but come on.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:48 AM EDT

"Beloved" by the Survivors II

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

If our Amazon Product du Jour looks familiar to you, it's the same one we used just last month. Its full title is The National Health Service: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the NHS and it was officially released just last week! Amazon's description calls it a "photographic celebration of the United Kingdom's most beloved institution" and (in case you haven't got the message yet) calls the NHS a "vital institution that has long been the envy of all nations."

Recently, James Freeman looked at the current state of play: Annals of Government-Run Medicine.

One of the world’s most celebrated socialized medical systems is doing what socialized medical systems do: limiting patient care. Pending work stoppages could mean that the worst is yet to come for patients of England’s National Health Service.

For obvious reasons, American politicians seeking an even greater federal role in U.S. health care avoid discussing the staggering privations under Marxist regimes in places like Cuba and Venezuela. Instead, pols like Sen. Bernie Sanders (socialist, Vt.) point to government-run health systems within largely free, developed economies. But the U.K. is another example they’ll want to avoid.

Josephine Franks reports for Sky News that senior doctors, called consultants in Britain, will be joining their less experienced colleagues in withholding treatment:

Consultants and junior doctors are set to strike for several more days this week and early next month, bringing more chaos to the NHS after several months of walkouts and delayed appointments...
A health chief said the NHS is in “uncharted territory” due to the strikes, with thousands of patient appointments expected to be cancelled.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said this week’s strike action “can’t become the status quo”.

Sadly it can. If there’s one brutal lesson of government-run health care it’s that things can always get worse. Turning doctors into unionized government bureaucrats brings a host of problems, including the fact that politicians, not patients, decide what doctors are paid. This is of course a problem in the U.S. as well. England is a sort of preview of just how badly government management can mangle the incentives to provide medical services—and the duty to provide care.

Hey, there, "all nations". Still envious?

Also of note:

  • Look out below! Cato reports on the New Economic Freedom Report: Hong Kong Falls from Top Spot.

    Hong Kong is no longer number one, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2023 Annual Report, released today by the Fraser Institute and co‐published in the United States by the Cato Institute. As Hong Kong’s ratings declined, Singapore increased its score and edged the Chinese territory out for the top spot.

    The report finds that the Chinese government imposed “new and significant barriers to entry” in Hong Kong and otherwise increased the costs of doing business there. The rule of law also saw a deterioration, contributing to the city’s decline.

    Other countries ranked as follows: United States (5), Canada (10), Taiwan (11), Japan (20), Chile (30), France (47), Mexico (68), India (87), Turkey (101), Russia (104), China (111), Egypt (144), Argentina (158), Zimbabwe (164), Venezuela (165).

    "The rule of law also saw a deterioration" translated: Commies (eventually) gotta commie.

    The other countries outscoring the US were Switzerland and New Zealand.

    Hey, maybe if Hong Kong continues to fall, we can move up to #4!

    Or we could do worse.

  • George Will says The UAW can strike, but it’s running out of gas.

    Henry Ford, according to corporate legend, said that if he had asked potential customers what they wanted when he founded his company in 1903, they would have said faster horses. The infant automobile industry began by giving people what they did not know they wanted. Twelve decades later, this industry is being discombobulated by government pressure to manufacture products — electric vehicles — that the public does not much want, least of all in the quantities that Washington’s central planners deem proper.

    Fun fact, as reported by Kevin D. Williamson:

    As of late 2022, none of the largest U.S. car factories were producing Fords, any of the General Motors marques, or any of the Chrysler-Dodge-Ram-Jeep brands. The most productive car factory in the United States last year, as Bloomberg ran the numbers, was Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, producing 8,550 cars a week. No. 2 was Toyota’s plant in Kentucky, followed by BMW’s operation in South Carolina. Next was another Toyota plant, the one in Princeton, Indiana. None of the formerly Big Three made the list until—this will not surprise you—Ford’s truck factory in Kentucky in fifth place. 

    His question about the UAW strike: "Will anybody notice?"

  • They're just after the shekels, anyway. David Bernstein notes people who just can't resist revealing their bigotry: Despite What Those Shadowy, Elite, Rich Jews Say, We're Not Antisemites.

    The "Palestine Writes Literary Festival" is being held at the University of Pennsylvania later this week. This has attracted severe criticism from Jewish groups and individuals within and without Penn because some of the speakers have a history of engaging in antisemitic rhetoric.

    The Penn administration acknowledges that people have raised concerns about several speakers who "have a documented and troubling history of engaging in antisemitism by speaking and acting in ways that denigrate Jewish people." Penn nevertheless defends hosting the conference on academic freedom grounds, but adds that the conference was not organized by the university.

    Bernstein further notes:

    Well, if you want to know how NOT to start a letter defending yourself from accusations  of antisemitism, you can use this letter as a model. After noting that the festival has been harshly criticized by "the Jewish Federation and the ADL," the organizers have this to say:

    unlike our detractors, we do not operate in the shadows nor among elite decision makers and funders. Rather, we value transparency and public access, accountability, and scrutiny. We are also acutely aware of the power disparity between these highly funded, connected and organized Zionist organizations versus our small cultural institution run by volunteers and student organizations, most of them Penn students.

    Talk about self-owns… The organizers are so clueless about antisemitism that they engage in classic anti-Jewish tropes while defending themselves from charges of antisemitism. Which kinda undermines anything else they have said or will say in their defense.

    Antisemitism: it's not just for knuckle-dragging Nazis any more!

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:48 AM EDT

I Wanna Be Like You

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Okay, the online version of this story has the tell-it-straight headline: At Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Bear Temporarily Shuts Down Portions of Park. And here's the beginning of the story:

A bear sighting at Walt Disney World in Florida on Monday caused the closure of numerous rides and portions of the park until it was captured by authorities.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the black bear was reported to be in a tree at the Magic Kingdom park in Walt Disney World.

Biologists and law-enforcement officials with the agency captured the adult female bear.

Temporarily closed portions of Magic Kingdom park included Frontierland, Liberty Square and Adventureland. Those areas were reopened later, a Disney spokesperson said.

Ah, but in my print edition yesterday, the headline was:

[Not named Baloo]

If you need a hint why I was amused, a clue is in our Amazon Product du Jour.

Also of note:

  • Just wetting his beak a little. Andy Kessler reveals that New York mob boss Senator "Chuck" Schumer Wants a Cut of AI.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, who’s never seen a camera he didn’t want to jump in front of, held a closed-door meeting last week on artificial intelligence. What? Closed? To me, it suggests an agenda beyond paving the path to a fantastic future. At the meeting, Elon Musk warned that AI is a “civilization risk.” Mr. Schumer declared, “We can’t be like ostriches and put our heads in the sand.” They sound more like dodo birds.

    One clue to the hidden agenda: Besides Mr. Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, OpenAI’s CEO and other techies, the attendees included union leaders such as Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Liz Shuler of the AFL-CIO, Meredith Stiehm of the Writers Guild and two tech critics with “Humane” in their company names. Ugh. It looked like the ghosts of economics past had come to spook the spirit of economics future.

    So of course it was held behind closed doors. It was as if the nascent AI companies were called into a meeting with a tough guy named Spike who listens and then says, “You wouldn’t want anything to happen to your nice companies there, would you?” Or as if the union representatives of the horse-drawn-trolley conductors, rail-gauge manufacturers and manure sweepers were sitting in car-design meetings, demanding full employment for their guilds.

    I'm pretty sure Randi Weingarten would be flummoxed if asked to elaborate on Euclid's algorithm. Or even carry it out. She's one of the main reasons American AI development will probably be carried out (if we're lucky) by immigrants.

  • Can't we just lock Hunter Biden up for sheer obnoxiousness? What? That's not actually a crime? Oh well.

    Jacob Sullum notes a downside to a son's legal woes: Hunter Biden's Gun Charges Threaten Firearm Rights and the Right to Trial. And he says that like it's a bad thing.

    The new federal gun charges against Hunter Biden set up a constitutional challenge that will pit him against his father, who has steadfastly defended the firearm regulations that his son violated. Several federal courts have deemed the federal ban on gun possession by illegal drug users inconsistent with the Second Amendment, and the president's son is likely to challenge the case against him on the same grounds.

    The indictment that David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, unveiled last Thursday also vividly illustrates the penalty that criminal defendants pay for insisting on their Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. And it provides a window into the wildly uneven enforcement of federal gun laws that prescribe draconian penalties for conduct that violates no one's rights.

    Hoist on Dad's petard. That's a switch.

    Sullum, of course, would make the same argument if the political sides were changed from Blue to Red. He's got principles.

  • Well, isn't that… special. Andrew C. McCarthy is scathing: How ‘Special’ Counsel David Weiss Handed Hunter Biden a Second Amendment Defense. (Not a gifted link. I'm running low on those. Subscribe, peon.)

    Many things can be said about the Hunter Biden case. One is that it has been a clinic in bad lawyering. Here, I’ll focus again on the prosecution side: Delaware U.S. attorney David Weiss, the faux special counsel who finally indicted the younger Biden on gun charges last week.

    As we’ve observed, Hunter’s best hope of beating the indictment’s felony gun charges is the originalist-leaning Court’s Second Amendment jurisprudence. This has to be uncomfortable for President Joe Biden, a longtime anti-gun-rights demagogue who stands to be embarrassed as his son attacks the constitutionality of laws he has championed for decades.

    Are there really five votes on the Supreme Court to gut the federal firearms laws? I don’t think so, for reasons I’ll outline in a separate post. For now, though, the point is that the president can thank Weiss for his predicament. If Hunter’s gun case had been competently prosecuted, there would be no Second Amendment issue.

    ACMcC notes the facts of Hunter's case have been well-known for years, before the 2022 SCOTUS decision in Bruen, which might hand Hunter a … I was going to say a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, but it's more like a "Stay Out of Jail, With the Help of an Expensive Legal Team" card. But, in other words, the DOJ had a "slam dunk" against Hunter before that.

  • And now for something completely… local. The town of Somersworth is adjacent to Rollinsford, home of Pun Salad HQ. It's a pretty depressing locale, the downtown full of empty storefronts and blight, held together by the Walmart and strip malls on High Street.

    But there's an upcoming election. Disgraced Dana Hilliard is on his way out of both the mayor's chair and his lucrative position at Somersworth High. And one of the candidates to take his place is kind of a hoot, as reported by the local paper's headline: Mayoral candidate Kitara Maxey says Somersworth 'can be like a bank'. (Which is paywalled, but duplicated at Yahoo! News.)

    My first thought: A bank?! Why not something fun, like a zoo?

    But from the story:

    "I plan on making (Somersworth) the first financially independent city in America," Maxey said. "Rising up to making New Hampshire the first New England state to become financially independent as well. I have big plans of progressive actions and want to share with the world what is happening in the quiet city of Somersworth."

    Maxey's stated goals go beyond the role of local governments. Cities and towns are funded largely with tax dollars and federal and state funding, and they aren't involved with personal financial planning. Maxey was asked to provide specifics on what she means by creating financial independence for the city and residents and how she would do it as mayor. Her response didn't include policy plans. Instead she supplied the following statement:

    "We in Somersworth are determined to ensure no family is left behind. Helping the citizens is number one," she wrote in a prepared statement. "For we the people make up the reason we must provide funding as a city for the projects of economic development and education. By taking progressive action forward in implementing the proper education in financial literacy, each citizen and business will begin to build a strong financial foundation. Once the people can understand the rules of the money game, the tool of money will begin to help re-inspire the citizens. The door of opportunity is wide open when we apply proven strategies that begin to help build a legacy and generational wealth. Properly funded and structured financial vehicles for all citizens from birth to dirt. This will be the beginning of alleviating our debt and stepping forward into becoming a self-insuring city one individual at a time."

    Heck, that's Kamala-level bullshit right there.

    Maxey's LinkedIn is also fun, revealing her self-description as "Leader/Wealth Management/Financial Professional/Entrepreneur/ Marketing/ at World Financial Group (WFG) -Pinnacle Elite".

    Not to cast aspersions on her asparagus, but that company is described here: " depending on who you talk to, World Financial Group -- or WFG -- is either an excellent business opportunity or an outright scam." It is, like Amway, a multi-level marketing scheme, and … well, you decide.

Recently on the book blog:

[Readers of Pun Salad's "Default" feed might find this interesting.]

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:05 PM EDT

A Lot of People Are Saying

The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

A lot of people are saying this book is good. I was unimpressed. The book's general idea is that "democracy" is uniquely threatened by what they authors (Harvard prof Nancy L. Rosenblum and Dartmouth prof Russell Muirhead) call the "New Conspiricism". Which generates (they say) imaginary conspiracies that lack a conspiracy theory. Conspiracists (they say) make it up as they go along, tossing out dark allegations without the slightest effort at marshalling evidence, connecting the dots, not even setting up the corkboards with ragtag newspaper clippings, pushpins, and red yarn.

The paperback edition, which I read from the Portsmouth Public Library, is dated 2019. So it misses Covid, the 2020 election, and January 6. What a field day the authors could have had with those! As it is, their examples of "conspiricism" are kind of weak and repetitive. Exhibit A is Pizzagate, deserving of a dozen separate index entries. There's Jade Helm with six entries. And the authors take special care to mention the various plots alleged by the "conspiracist in chief", Donald Trump: birtherism, 2016 election fraud (denying him the popular vote win he thought he deserved), Ted Cruz's dad was involved in JFK's assassination, and more.

So many more.

The obvious thing about Trump is that he's a bullshitter, prone to throwing off self-serving evidence-free nonsense from the top of his head. The authors (to their minor credit) do mention Harry Frankfurt's classic On Bullshit, only to deny the obvious: it's necessary to their thesis to make Trump a conspiracist, not a mere bullshitter. I thought their argument here was unconvincing.

Muirhead and Rosenblum also go out of their way to distinguish the "new conspiracism" with "classic" conspiracy theorizing. The new conspiracism is (again) "conspiracy without a theory", which is a punchy, soundbite-friendly, allegation that is mostly (I thought) handwaving. It would be damned odd if (somehow) humanity's well-known mental foibles, evolved over millennia, suddenly developed an entirely new channel for fallacy and fabulism. And damned odd if that mind-virus infected only one political inclination.

But it's necessary for the authors to associate the "new conspiracism" with Republicans. In order to do that, they (more or less) hammer on the facts of recent history to make them fit their model.

They have to ignore (for example) Hillary Clinton's deeming Trump an "illegitimate president". (And the Republican National Committee compiled a helpful history of Democrat election denialism, equally ignored by the authors.)

What the authors seem to miss entirely is the cause of this sort of thing. The best explicator I've seen in recent years is Martin Gurri, whose thesis is that the public is increasingly fed up with the smug arrogance of "elites". Muirhead and Rosenblum are total fans of the elites, but (in plain fact) they have squandered whatever trust we once placed in them.

(Pun Salad blog posts referencing Gurri, most with quotes, may be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. That penultimate link observes that this book might have been a lot better if the authors had read Gurri first.)

But let's give the authors (some) credit. Their concluding chapter outlines a "worst-case scenario" of where this might all be leading. And their description is actually pretty close to what happened after the 2020 election. Their thesis is shaky, but their prognostication is strong.

Not that it matters, but the Dartmouth author, Russell Muirhead, is also a representative in the New Hampshire House. The latest ratings from the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance score him (with 103 other reps) as a "Constitutional Threat". So he's a fan of "democracy", fine, but liberty? Not so much.

And their institutions? Muirhead's Dartmouth is ranked #240 out of 248 colleges in the latest ratings from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. And Rosenblum's Harvard? Dead last at #248.

The authors probably don't have a lot of influence over their employers' speech policies. It would have been nice if they'd shown the slightest awareness of the censoriousness of elite institutions, as typified by their very own.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:47 AM EDT

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose

A 30-year-ago cartoon from the Reason archives:

[Call me Bro, OK?]

Also of note:

  • Stop me before I experience an unequal outcome! She's famed for her incoherent word salads, but she seened pretty straightforward in Ben Wilson's summary: Kamala Harris Says Government Must Enforce ‘Equal Outcomes’. From the Free Beacon:

    Vice President Kamala Harris spent Thursday afternoon lecturing college students about how the government must ensure "equal outcomes."

    "If we want equal outcomes, we need to take into account not everybody starts out on the same base, and we have to make adjustments," Harris told a crowd at Hampton University in Virginia on her month-long college tour called "Fight for Our Freedoms."

    She told students that "if we want fair outcomes, we must understand what are disparities, and then accommodate and adjust for those disparities if we want equal outcomes."

    Just kidding! It turns out the official transcript is pretty jumbled in the Kamala tradition:

    There’s an attack right now on diversity, equity, and inclusion … where supposed, so-called extreme leaders are suggesting it’s a bad thing to care about and pay attention to inequities, to say DEI is a bad thing, when in fact, if we want fair outcomes, we must understand what are disparities and then accommodate and adjust for those disparities if we want equal outcomes.

    So, environmental justice raises those points, right? Equitable outcomes. Are — is everyone coming out the same way? Well, if they don’t s- — look, if you don’t start on the same base — everybody can have an equal amount — you’re still not going to end up on the same base, right?

    If we want equal outcomes, we need to take into account not everybody starts out on the same base. And we have to make adjustments.

    She really overworks that baseball metaphor. People don't start out on the same base, but they must all end up on the same base.

  • Stop me before I lie again! Just kidding. Nobody's gonna stop him. Jeff Jacoby: As the deficit soars, Biden boasts that he has cut the deficit. After listing a few presidential whoppers…

    But worse still is a particular fiscal boast of Biden's that is so deceitful it has been repeatedly discredited by fact-checkers. All to no avail: Biden insists on trotting it out again and again, as he did in a speech on Labor Day.

    "In my first two years, all this stuff — guess what?" the president said in Philadelphia during an appearance before the local Sheet Metal Workers union. "I cut the deficit $1.7 trillion. Here's the bottom line: My economic plan is working. It's reducing the deficit."

    Biden has made that claim in scores of speeches, many of which are posted on the White House website. According to an online database of his public remarks, he has recited that statistic 44 times this year alone.

    But, to use a Bidenesque phrase, here's the thing: He hasn't cut the deficit by a penny.

    Our perennial reminder: Biden just signs the spending bills. The ones Congress plops on his desk.

    And who elected those bozos (and bozettes)? Oh, right.

  • Stop me before I take this low-wage job again! Kevin D. Williamson notes how workers ‘Dispossessed of Their Pathetic Livelihoods’ by automation (and AI) … actually wind up better off.

    Josh Hawley is a familiar type: the prep-school/Ivy League toff who grew up wealthy and has, for obviously self-interested reasons, appointed himself tribune of the plebs, champion of the working class, and zealous defender of literal McJobs—in this case, jobs working the drive-through window at fast-food restaurants.

    I suppose that young Josh Hawley might have learned something about the drive-through window at the bank of which his father was the president, but here is the voice of experience from an actual graduate of Burger King University and a veteran of the drive-through window at University Avenue and Loop 289 in Lubbock, Texas: 

    Don’t save these jobs.

    Really. Don’t.


    Hawley is joined by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (now there’s a brace of them) in pushing a destructive, anti-market, anti-innovation, AI-regulation model that would base decisions in part on “effects on employment.” That sounds anodyne enough, but, in hearings with Microsoft President Brad Smith, Hawley made clear that he intends to see this construed in something very close to a literally Luddite fashion—he doesn’t want to see automation replace a single job, including (this was his example, and he dwelled on it) jobs running the drive-through windows at fast-food restaurants.

    KDW's headline quote is from this book which relates how (literal) cotton pickers in the South were replaced by one guy driving "International Harvester’s Model H-10-H"

    Did I say "one guy"? You can see a picture of the H-10-H here, and I'm pretty sure that's a lady in the driver's seat.

  • Stop me before I blindly trust scientists again! Jon Miltimore relates Carl Sagan's Final Warning on the Importance of Scientific Skepticism.

    The University of Chicago-trained astrophysicist pointed out that science is not simply “a body of knowledge, it's a way of thinking," one based on skepticism and questioning. It was imperative, he said, not just that people be educated in the sciences and grounded in healthy skepticism, but that people be allowed to question and challenge those in authority.

    "If we are not able to ask skeptical questions to interrogate those who tell us something is true to be skeptical of those in authority, then we're up for grabs for the next charlatan—political or religious—who comes ambling along.

    …It's a thing that Jefferson lay great stress on. It wasn't enough, he said, to enshrine some rights in the Constitution and the Bill or Rights, the people had to be educated and they have to practice their skepticism and their education. Otherwise, we don't run the government, the government runs us."

    Sagan’s warning was eerily prophetic. For the last three-plus years, we’ve witnessed a troubling rise of authoritarianism masquerading as science, which has resulted in a collapse in trust of public health.

    This collapse has been part of a broader and more partisan shift in Americans who say they have “a high degree of confidence in the scientific community.” Democrats, who had long had less confidence in the scientific community, are now far less skeptical. Republicans, who historically had much higher levels of trust in the scientific community, have experienced a collapse in trust in the scientific community.

    Miltimore draws a distinction that sloppy people tend to ignore: there's a difference between being "anti-science" (bad idea) and distrusting the "scientific community" (increasingly a good idea).

  • Stop me before I speak freely again! Scott Johnson uses that old Ring Lardner quip: Shut up, he explained. And, as a bonus, Mel Brooks.

    The Biden administration has deputized Krazee-Eyez Killa Jack Smith to put President Trump away some time before the 2024 presidential election. The train keeps a rollin’, banana republic style.

    Last week Smith filed a motion in his District of Columbia 2020 election case against Trump. Smith’s motion is supported by a 19-page memorandum that is posted online here. Jonathan Turley criticizes Smith’s motion in “Gagging Donald Trump: Why Smith’s ‘Narrowly Tailored Motion’ is Neither Narrow Nor Wise.”

    Section I.B. of Smith’s memorandum is headed “Since the Indictment, the Defendant Has Deployed Misleading and Inflammatory Statements About this Case to Undermine Confidence in the Justice System and Prejudice the Jury Pool.” The whole thing reminds me of Governor Le Petomane’s outburst in Blazing Saddles: “We’ve gotta protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen.” It’s actually worse than that, but that’s the idea. Appearances must be preserved.

    I didn't get a "harumph" out of that guy.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:04 PM EDT

Me too. Sort of.

Also of note:

  • Warning: barnyard epithet ahead. Rich Lowry has a theory about Why Joe Biden Lies. And it's pretty simple. To quote the subhed: "He’s a classic bullshitter."

    No news to readers of Pun Salad (for example) or Harry Frankfurt.

    And I did want to point out that it was only three months ago at that same website that Charles C. W. Cooke observed that Joe Biden Is an Asshole, but felt the need to spell Lowry's epithet as "bullsh*t". Times change.

    But on to the excerpt (but, really, RTWT). After quoting from Frankfurt:

    [Frankfurt] adds that the bullshitter “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

    So what is Biden’s purpose? Self-valorization, of course — literally from the moment of his birth.

    His stories are almost always supposed to be dramatic, moving, and pointed, with Biden himself the center of the action — overcoming adversity, fighting injustice, righting wrongs, witnessing great events and acts of courage.

    That's a "gifted" link, one of my five for the month, so use it wisely.

  • But it's not just bullshit. J.D. Tuccille adds that There’s Plenty of Evidence of Corruption Around Biden.

    If there's "no evidence" of wrongdoing, as many pundits insist, why is the Republican House majority fooling with an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden's business dealings with his son, Hunter? Well, when talking heads say, "no evidence," they mean "no smoking-gun proof." And they're right; the current case against the president probably wouldn't prevail in court. But there really is evidence of corruption and sleaze around Joe Biden, even if, so far, it doesn't rise to courtroom standards. While impeachment proceedings will likely go nowhere, Americans are entitled to pass their own judgments based on that evidence.

    Judgments have already done been passed here at Pun Salad HQ.

  • But back to bullshittery… My usual disclaimer: Trump is no friend to the truth either. But Mollie Hemingway points out the naked emperor who recently interviewed him: NBC’s Kristen Welker Lied Repeatedly About Democrats’ Extreme Abortion Position.

    Kristen Welker brazenly and repeatedly lied in a bizarre, conspiracy-laden debate with former President Donald Trump on Sunday. The show was her first time as the permanent host of “Meet The Press,” previously hosted by Democrat activist Chuck Todd.

    Welker interrupted her own pre-taped debate with the president to insert her own “fact checks” that were false or were not responsive to actual claims Trump made. For example, she falsely claimed there is no evidence President Biden had pressured Attorney General Merrick Garland to indict his primary political opponent, Trump. In fact, in addition to statements calling for efforts to prevent Trump from running, that pressure campaign was publicly laundered for all the world to see through The New York Times on April 2, 2022, in an article headlined “Garland Faces Growing Pressure as Jan. 6 Investigation Widens.” The article reported that Biden was extremely frustrated by Garland not having indicted Trump and, further, that Biden was telling people he wanted Trump prosecuted. The Times’ White House stenographers said Biden “wanted Mr. Garland to act less like a ponderous judge and more like a prosecutor who is willing to take decisive action.”

    And don't even get Mollie started on the abortion lies.(But she's also disgusted by Trump's response.)

  • You vant lentils, dollink? Ve got lentils on sale! Jim Geraghty treads that fine line between disgust and amusement: Just What Chicago Needs, Government-Owned Grocery Stores.

    The city of Chicago — already doing such a terrific job on handling crime, poverty, homelessness, and unemployment — is exploring the possibility of establishing municipally owned grocery stores.


    Now, no doubt Chicago’s city-run grocery stores would have the same service, efficiency, and quality that Chicago residents have come to expect from the local government of a city ranked 149th in its financial stability, 67th in its education system, 71st in its health-care system, 80th in its public safety, 129th in the quality of its economy, or, credit where it’s due, 37th in its infrastructure and pollution. (That’s out of 149 U.S. cities.)

    Call me crazy, but I think if you had safe streets and no shoplifting and petty theft, grocery stores could thrive in any neighborhood, because people have to eat. The good news is that so far this year, murder is down in Chicago, with “only”435 people killed from the beginning of the year to September 10, compared to 485 people in the same time period last year. The bad news is that overall, major crimes are up 30 percent from the same period last year. Motor-vehicle theft has nearly doubled from last year.

    Jim, you're ‥ not crazy.

  • What will Chicago's People's Revolutionary Food Dispensaries Lack? A safe bet: Umami. But for you non-Chicagoans, that link has more about that wonderful taste.

    What if suddenly there were five cardinal directions, Snow White had the company of eight dwarves, or there were thirteen months in the year? What if a number that seemed eternally fixed became augmented by a quality or quantity that had been hiding in plain sight all along?

    Something like that happened in the culinary sciences not too long ago. For most of history, humans knew and named no more than four taste qualities: sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. But the human tongue distinguishes a fifth one, which remained unknown and unnamed until Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo, identified it in 1908.

    There's a chart, and a map of how people get their umami on, 'round the world. In the US: ketchup, bacon, barbecue sauce, gravy. How about Russia? "Pass the salted herring, dollink."

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:47 AM EDT

Every Last Fear

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Apologies if you are not interested in my how-I-came-to-read-this stories. The entire backstory is here, which contains a link pointing to an article claiming the author, Alex Finlay, as one of the "15 Best Debut Authors of 2021". And this book in particular: "From the very first page to the last its [sic] a perfect spine chiller that grabs you and don’t let you go."

Based on the strength of that recommendation, I bought (at a bargain price), Finlay's second book, The Night Shift, which I liked OK, except for finding it a little heavy on the Dickensian coincidence.

So I (eventually) got this debut novel, and was kind of disappointed, especially after all that hype.

The main protagonist is Matt Pine, an NYU film student. Who gets some devastating news: most of his immediate family have met their demise in Mexico: his mom and dad, his sister who was about to enroll at MIT, and six-year-old brother. (That's pretty dark.) The only surviving member is his older brother, Evan. Who was (relatively) safe in prison, having been convicted of the gruesome murder of his (pregnant) high school sweetie years before.

The latest deaths are ruled accidental, but come on.

Matt soon suspects he might be in danger as well, one clue being that he's pushed into oncoming traffic by a mysterious figure with a cleft lip. That does not deter him from… well, actually, he's kind of a passive, not particularly likeable, doofus. He gets interrogated by an FBI agent who's investigating the shady company his dad used to work for. (Could they be involved?) He goes off to Mexico to implore the authorities to release the bodies. (Which it turns out would happened anyway, without his intervention.) Then it's off to small-town Nebraska for the mass funeral. Every step holds peril for him, which he evades by running away.

Red herrings abound. They did not stop me from fingering the actual string-pulling villain about halfway through.

The prose is lackluster and padded, full of pointless detail. Wainscotting? Who cares? Going out for Runza in Nebraska? Yes, I get it, Mr. Finlay: you've been there.

"A small eternity passed…". I wasted way too much time thinking if that could possibly mean anything other than "Look at me, I'm writing here."

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:47 AM EDT

Emily the Criminal

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Alternate title: Looking for Mr. Goodscam.

I decided I shouldn't watch so many Big Dumb Movies. So I watched this free-to-me on Netflix; it's a Little Dumb Movie. And it has Aubrey Plaza in it; she's easier on the (heterosexual male) eyes than Gerard Butler.

She plays the titular Emily. Right off the bat, it appears she's got problems with honesty and temper, as she botches a job interview by failing to disclose a past felony conviction for assault. She has a low-paying catering delivery job, and (as a result) is falling behind on her student loan payments. She's also prone to abusing substances, and making bad decisions.

So when she gets a tip about a gig buying expensive electronics with stolen credit card numbers, she takes a toe-dip into criminality. Her mentor is a charismatic Lebanese guy, Youcef, and he keeps introducing her to riskier schemes with a higher payoff. And (as it develops) a greater chance of violence. As noted above, Emily has a temper, especially when she feels she's been wronged.

It's definitely watchable. But, of course, there's a Deeper Lesson, and the movie beats the viewer over the head with it:

Well I guess five examples is enough, although Google tells of more. If you're looking for a more market-friendly critique, here's Hollywood in Toto:

The film doubles as a critique of modern capitalism, suggesting the current system is “rigged” against its own citizens.

Reality is more complicated, of course, and college graduates shouldn’t expect to lead their best lives in a New York Minute. That explains why the film can’t stick with reality long enough to make us care for the titular “Criminal.”

If you are a John Billingsley or Gina Gershon fan, they have brief roles as soul-crushing, dream-trashing capitalist exploiters.

I was also planning on watching Nomadland, but I think I'll have to watch some more Big Dumb Movies first.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:46 AM EDT

I Think Mr. Ramirez Missed Drawing Something Important Here

[Unfortunately] And that is: Joe's got us in the plane with him.

But on to this week's standings, from Election Betting Odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 32.0% -2.9%
Donald Trump 29.2% +0.3%
Gavin Newsom 7.1% +2.1%
Ron DeSantis 5.1% +0.1%
Michelle Obama 4.4% -0.2%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.1% +0.3%
Vivek Ramaswamy 3.9% -0.2%
Nikki Haley 3.4% -0.5%
Kamala Harris 2.9% +0.2%
Other 7.9% +0.8%

The big loser this week is President Wheezy, although he's still the favorite among the bettors. Our big gainer is that slick California phony Gavin Newsom. Draw from that whatever lessons you would like.

  • If you say "His lips are moving" one more time, I'm gonna scream. Back in a previous decade, I had some fun with President Obama's persistent use of "dime". As in "This legislation is fully paid for and will not add one single dime to our deficit." I called it "a reliable signal of dishonesty, deception, delusion, or general incoherence."

    But now it's 2023, and we have a new Liar-in-Chief. Noah Rothman performs an invaluable service in listing All the President’s Tells: How to Spot a Biden Lie. (But it's more like "Some of" instead of "All".)

    Joe Biden is a serial fabulist, habitual plagiarizer, and a reliable falsifier of facts great and small alike. But while the president is a known liar, he’s not very good at it.

    Biden has developed a series of verbal tics that tend to either precede or follow some of his more flagrant mendacities. One way to tell that the president is pulling your leg is that he is quick to assure you that what he has just said is “not a joke.”

    “I may be a practicing Catholic, but [I] used to go to 7:30 Mass every morning in high school and then in college before I went to the black church,” Biden told the congregants of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., during a service honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in January. “Not a joke.” This isn’t the first time the president has claimed, “I was raised in the black church politically,” adding, “not a joke,” but longtime attendees of the Union Baptist Church in Wilmington, Del., have no recollection of the president’s attendance.

    And more.

    There are, as I type, 360 comments on Rothman's article. And it's only a slight exaggeration to say that most of them make the same, lame, joke: "How can you tell if Biden is lying? His lips…"

    Not sure why I bothered, but I added one tell in the comments: Joe's verbal tic "literally, not figuratively". It's (literally) Googleable. An example from 2012:

    “We now find ourselves at the hinge of history, and the direction we turn is not figuratively, it’s literally in your hands.”

    And (hooray for consistency!) last month:

    "I was able — literally, not figuratively — talk Strom Thurmond into voting for the — the Civil Rights Act before he died."

    Not even the Associated Press bought that one.

  • Lord, he was born a ramblin' man. Dan McLaughlin takes to the NYPost to tour Joe's Fantasyland: Senile Joe Biden rambles about pony soldiers, Vietnam and lies about 9/11. While talking in Hanoi:

    Biden, a day after his visit to India, told a rambling story about a John Wayne movie where an “Indian scout” tells Wayne an American soldier is “a lying, dog-faced pony soldier.” Biden has used the line before, but nobody’s ever been able to locate a movie with that scene.

    Even with his usual prepared list of which reporters would be allowed to ask him questions, Biden got lost. “I’m just following my orders here,” he pleaded, then asked after a long pause, “Staff, is there anybody I haven’t spoken to?”

    He then turned down a reporter not on the list: “No, I ain’t calling on you. I’m calling on — I said there were five questions.”

    Biden then repeatedly had to ask reporters to repeat what they said, and his stammering often rendered his answers incoherent.

    Protesting that “I don’t want to contain China,” Biden explained, “It’s about making sure the rules of the road — everything from airspace and — and space and in the ocean is — the international rules of the road are — are — are abided by. And so — and I hope that — I think that Prime Minister Xi — I mean, Xi has some — some difficulties right now.” I’m glad he cleared that up. Now, how about actually containing China?

    I think the official transcript cleans that up a bit.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    The selling of the President 2020. Joe McGinnis had a hit book back in 1970, describing the 1968 campaign that brought us the Nixon presidency. Which (according to Amazon) examined "mysterious space between image and reality".

    Charles C. W. Cooke notes that the more things change, the more they stay the same: The Biden We Were Told about Never Existed.

    The gap between the image of Joe Biden that is peddled in the press and the reality of Joe Biden as he exists here on earth has always been uncomfortably wide, but, as we hurtle toward the end of the third year of his presidency, the gulch has come to resemble the Mariana Trench. There is a point in every breakup at which the partner who has fallen out of love comes to realize that, for some time now, he has been more attached to the idea of his paramour than to the actuality. It has developed in fits and starts, and been a long time coming, but, at long last, the American electorate seems to have reached that point with this president. On the questions that matter, there will be no more fluctuations. They know who Joe Biden is, and who Joe Biden is not, and, after extended consideration, they do not like him.

    Most "journalists" apparently couldn't figure this out during the campaign.

  • But enough about Biden. Should we put a conspiracy theorist in the White House?

    Um, I mean, another one?

    Kevin Carroll thinks that would be a bad idea: Conspiracy Theorists Need Not Apply.

    Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s remarks last month about the September 11, 2001, terror attacks that took the lives of 2,977 innocents afford us an opportunity to end a harmful trend: allowing public figures who indulge in conspiracy theories and make outrageous statements to be deemed fit for high office.

    Ramaswamy asks, “How many police, how many federal agents were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers?” and “Do I believe the 9/11 commission?”—answering the latter question, “Absolutely not” because “there are lies the government has told about 9/11” regarding Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the attacks.

    No serving law enforcement officers were on American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175. However, 37 Port Authority police officers, 23 New York City police officers, three New York State court officers, an FBI agent, and a Secret Service agent gave their lives rescuing about 47,000 civilians from the World Trade Center.

    I wanted to like Vivek, but…

  • Yes, I have a mything link! And it's right here, pointing to an article by Wilfred Reilly: Model Minority 'Myth': There Are Model Minorities.

    A popular recent Vox article, “Vivek Ramaswamy and the lie of the ‘model minority,’” gets its central premise backwards. In fact, the so-called model-minority myth is no myth at all. By any empirical standard, there actually are model minorities — and model majority groups too.

    On September 5, one of the left-wing magazine’s stable of writers, Prachi Gupta, argued that current GOP presidential contender Ramaswamy is dangerously and “pernicious[ly]” using his own success to “perpetuate the myth of America as color-blind” and to argue for the existence of a meritocratic U.S. By so doing, Gupta contends, Vivek (“like cake”) perpetuates the old MMM, ignores the fact that minority immigrants like himself sometimes succeed only despite America’s “expansive wealth gap and staggering inequality,” and minimizes the reality of historical discrimination against Asians in immigration policy.

    Gupta goes on to engage in some increasingly common critiques of the claim that U.S. Asians in fact represent a unique success story at all. Among these: Asian Americans have the “deepest income inequality” of any broadly defined racial census group in these States United, and Asian-American youngsters are the only group for whom the leading cause of death is consistently suicide. Harsh stuff.

    However, all of these arguments are fairly easily revealed to be just typical leftist wordplay. To take them one by one: The “racial wealth gap” in the U.S. exists, but it does not disadvantage Asian Americans relative to whites or anyone else. The median Asian-American household outearns the typical white household by roughly $26,000 per annum — $100,572 to $74,932. Similarly, the United States does have a racist history, but American immigration policy has — if anything — favored minority immigrants from Asia and Latin America since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

    Not really about the campaign, but Vivek was mentioned.

  • Look out below! Matt Vespa of Townhall tells us that The Calls to Drop Kamala Harris in 2024 Are Growing.

    It’s not just Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who thinks Kamala Harris isn't Joe Biden's best vice-president choice. The California liberal credited Harris for being politically astute, which isn’t accurate, but failed to deliver a ringing endorsement of Ms. Harris heading into 2024. She’s been a trainwreck for this administration, a source of mockery due to the endless word salad episodes and awkward behavior. It’s why she’s kept out of the spotlight as much as possible. 

    While word on the street is that Democrats quietly admit that Joe Biden is too old, one would guess a healthy number thinks that Harris is unqualified for her job. Several columnists have written pieces about dumping Harris, which is something to consider, albeit in an academic exercise only. There’s no way Harris gets booted unless Joe Biden and his staff want to infuriate the black community.

    Vespa links to this Politico article, which, among other observations, says "dumping Harris could come with significant backlash among Black voters."

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:15 PM EDT

We're Lost in This Masquerade

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Like me, George Will is no Trump fan. Both of us think that Trying to disqualify Trump is lawlessness masquerading as legality.

Mae West (1893-1980), a salty actress, once played a character who said that when facing a choice between two evils, she opted for the one she hadn’t tried before. A 2024 presidential choice between today’s incumbent and his immediate predecessor would preclude West’s cheerful strategy: Both have been tried, and together have produced a whopping bipartisan majority eager to see the last of them. This partly explains the spreading flirtation with the idea that the 14th Amendment bars Donald Trump from seeking the presidency.

Many advocates of this idea are academics eager to infect presidential politics with the cancel culture of their campuses: Do not refute your adversaries, ban them. Less nakedly partisan people might think that using the 14th Amendment to remove Trump would thereby prompt President Biden to totter off into the sunset. But recourse to the amendment would be lawlessness masquerading as legality. And there already is a surfeit of illegality.

I should add one important difference between GFW and I: he doesn't quote me.

I should also note that the 14th Amendment argument seems to have failed locally: [New Hampshire Secretary of State David] Scanlan says no legal basis to keep Trump off New Hampshire ballot.

Also of note:

  • Lina don't care. Ethan Yang and Ryan Yonk take to Reason to give another example of the general rule: "There's nothing wrong with        that government can't make worse." They fill in that blank with "Google": The DOJ’s Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google Is a Loser for Consumers.

    For decades the consumer welfare standard has been the primary basis on which antitrust enforcement decisions are made. That standard asks about the effect actions and market dominance have on actual consumers. Despite this long tradition, the Biden administration is bringing its first major tech antitrust case in U.S. v. Google and their approach will deemphasize the consumer welfare standard.

    The lawsuit involving Google and the Department of Justice (DOJ) along with a number of State Attorneys General started oral arguments on September 12. The DOJ alleged that the tech giant is monopolizing the market by contracting with Apple to become the default search engine for the iOS platform. The DOJ claims that Google and Apple will harm consumers with the possibility they could exploit their dominant positions.

    It doesn't seem that long ago that Your Federal Government was (equally pointlessly) suing Microsoft. This time, they're trying to put their thumbs on the scale to benefit Microsoft. Life is funny.

  • This will be news only to people who believed Biden. Americans for Tax Reform notes the latest memory-hole operation: IRS Unable to Keep Biden's $400,000 Audit Pledge, Says Inspector General.

    The official IRS watchdog has found the IRS is unable to fulfill President Biden’s pledge not to increase audits on households or small businesses making less than $400,000 per year.

    There is no way to identify the complete population of taxpayers that meet the criterion of $400,000 or more specified by the current Treasury Secretary,” said the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) in a new report.

    “Biden’s $400,000 audit promise is not credible, as taxpayers suspected all along,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. The Biden administration made the promise as it was desperate to impose a dramatic increase in the size and power of the IRS.

    Note that "promise" was only slightly over a year old. Back then, Pun Salad linked to a prescient article by Katherine Mangu-Ward: $80 Billion in New Funding Won't Fix the IRS. And commented (also presciently): "You will not be mollified to learn that, once the promises of the "Inflation Reduction Act" are shown to have been bogus, the perpetrators of that lie will not be punished, and the IRS will keep the (more than) $80 billion it grabbed out of your tax-paying pocket."

  • Take a load off Fani. Andrew C. McCarthy analyzes Fani Willis’s Monstrous Trump Case and it is not pretty.

    Oh, about those 161 “overt acts” in furtherance of a RICO conspiracy that Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis trumpeted in the first few dozen pages of her mammoth indictment of Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants. Never mind. Turns out, according to Willis, that those 161 acts don’t really define the sprawling conspiracy to — well, to do something. They just give you some flavor.

    The prosecutor now says she need not prove any of them. That was Willis’s position in contesting the attempt by Trump’s co-defendant and former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to remove the prosecution to federal court. The district attorney insists that, instead of proving what she’s ramblingly pleaded in the first 60 pages of the indictment, she can just prove other acts, even if they’re not in the indictment. By the DA’s lights, whatever she decides to prove just needs to be somehow connected to what she frames as a conspiracy to reverse the result of the 2020 presidential election — notwithstanding that it is not a crime to try to reverse the result of an election.

    So how are Trump, Meadows, and the other 17 defendants supposed to know what they are alleged to have done to make themselves guilty of racketeering? Well, what’s there to know? In Willis World, to be guilty, they don’t need to have done anything! According to the DA, as long as any defendant was “associated” with the group that is alleged to have conspired, that defendant is guilty — and is looking at a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, with a minimum of five years in the slammer.

    Have I mentioned today that I think Trump is awful? Ah, yes I did, up there in the first item.

    For the record, the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago stuff seems way more solid.

    (And yes, I stole that headline from Power Line.)

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:46 AM EDT

I'm Not Really an "Own the Libs" Type Guy…

but this was just too good to pass up.

I suppose I should provide more info for people not plugged into New Hampshire news. Here's NHJournal, on the side of the angels: Progressive Attacks Don't Stop Board of Ed Approval of PragerU Course.

New Hampshire families can now choose a new financial literacy course from PragerU through the state’s Learn Everywhere program, and New Hampshire Democrats have a new hobby horse to ride into campaign season.

That was the result after three hours of a contentious State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, where Democrats, progressives, and union activists packed the room to denounce PragerU and its “right-wing” politics.

“This approval disregards the potential harm PragerU’s extreme content will inflict on our schools and the education of our children,” said Democratic Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, who is seeking her party’s nomination for governor next year.

At issue is a video course on personal finances and financial literacy called “Cash Course,” and produced by PragerU, a conservative content business. The state Board of Education has been considering making the course, which contains no political or controversial content, part of the content eligible to complete course requirements for students in the Learn Everywhere program.

But what about that allegation that PragureU is "teaching that slavery was 'no big deal' & 'better than being killed'"? True enough, PragerU puts those words in the mouth of Christopher Columbus in this cartoon video. His argument being that judging 15th-century folk by moral codes developed centuries later is at best problematic.

Should kiddos be exposed to that argument? Surely it's better than presenting a simplistic painting of Columbus as an unadulterated villain.

And clearly the @NHHouseDems are lying when they say Prager is claiming slavery was "no big deal". And their argument gets even more strained when they argue that somehow kids might catch conservative cooties from their financial literacy videos.

And (just as clearly) note that these are the same folks that blanch and screech about "banned books" when someone suggests that Gender Queer might not be appropriate in school libraries. Which was the point of my tweet: if you're censorious enough to want to ban (uncontroversial, apolitical) PragerU videos from the curriculum, what other materials do you think should be kept from young, impressionable eyes?

Also of note:

  • I'm pretty sure PragerU doesn't have a football team. But they do have at least one person on the cheerleading squad: Howard Sachs, M.D., who says Thank Heaven Prager University Is Coming For Our Kids.

    This past month, multiple media outlets on the American left, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, NPR and the Atlantic, have decried the decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration to allow the wildly popular and educational Prager University videos into Florida school curricula. Recently Texas and Oklahoma joined.

    Those Americans, namely Democrats, who now embrace leftist ideology are basically outraged that our children might learn some traditional liberal American ideas and values. Such learning would create an obstacle in their drive to bring us their state-run, radically secular, gender-neutral, carbon-free, iron-fisted utopia. In fact, the Democrat leftist tyrants who run my own Montgomery County, Md., government schools just won a court case allowing them to force religious Christians Jews and Muslim kids to be indoctrinated into the 2SLGBTQIA+ poison against their parent’s wishes. I and millions of others have had enough. We are delighted what the leaders in Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma have done — allowed for truth and American values to once again be taught in our schools.

    And why, perchance might I, and millions of others from all around the world, embrace this unaccredited Prager University? Why would I, a nerdy, intellectual, thick eyeglass-wearing, Duke University degree-holding, former Democrat Jew with his nose always in a book be so enamored with its over 1,000 short educational videos? Why would I say and mean things like “I’d rather an American public school or college kid sit in some basement for a few hours a day watching the unaccredited Prager University videos for free than be sitting in most of our accredited, blue-ribboned high school classes or any college class at Yale, Harvard Stanford, UPenn or Columbia?” What makes me actually pay my kids, nieces, and nephews to watch the weekly new 5-minute video?

    It’s because I care about truth and true education, which means caring about transmitting liberal, moral, elevated American values and wisdom, not Marxist ideology, to our children. I and millions of us Prager U fans care particularly about the American and Western ideals of education regarding transmitting truth, beauty, and goodness.

    Dr. Sachs obviously wrote before hearing the news from Concord.

  • He not only saw it coming, he also sees where it is, and where it's going. That's Martin Gurri, readers, in his interview with Brian C. Anderson, discussing the New Censorship.

    Brian Anderson: […] Last year, and you tell us a remarkable story in your essay, the Biden administration established what was called the Disinformation Governance Board, and this basically was kind of centralizing the government’s attempts to shape online narrative. The Biden administration wound up dissolving this board after only four months. Why did it fail so quickly? And maybe just recount that story briefly.

    Martin Gurri: Yeah, that’s a funny one. That’s a fun story. What it tells you. I think this idea that they were going to, first of all, it was going to be in the homeland defense agency that tells you what they think, which is an idea that they’re defending their country against these attacks, both internal, domestic, and foreign because they had given up on pretending that it was just the Russians, that they had domestic anti-democratic threats that they were looking at. And after much thought that maybe amongst the NGOs we were talking about earlier, there was a lot of debate, should this be centralized or should this be dispersed? And the NGOs, as they always do, came down on heavily centralized and whole of government effort is what Renee DiResta said. And after a while, the Biden people decided to go along with that and came up with that governance board.

    They appointed this woman, Nina Jankowicz, who was in part responsible for the thing collapsing because she is, first of all, she was a heavy two-fisted defender of the fact that the Hunter Biden’s laptop was a Russian hack. So this is remarkable that a person who was so completely wrong about that is now being made the head of a disinformation board. And secondly, if you look at her up online, she is online saying that she is the Mary Poppins of disinformation, singing basically what you might call in an older era, indecent songs about herself, about who she needs to be with to get ahead in life. I mean, she was just a crazy person. But I think the main reason that board failed is that inside that establishment left, it is a self-evident good to have control of disinformation. And no matter what kind of government intrusion you need, it’s the outcome that matters.

    So then the outcome is you’re stopping lies. And they live in this bubble where it is very important for them politically to have that control. It’s all one-sided. It aimed at conservatives and Republicans, or somewhat less so at Maverick lefties and Democrats like Robert F. Kennedy. So they have come to the habit of basically believing that everything that’s good for them politically is good for our democracy, and they live in this bubble. And it never occurred to them if they said to the American public, we’re going to have this disinformation governors, it’s going to govern your information, that a lot of Americans are going to go, what are you talking about? And I think the response by the public and by the opposition, and many outlets, caught them by surprise. To them, it is just a self-evident good.

    (Headline inspired by the Arnold Kling quote here.)

FIRE Tries Comedy, Successfully

I laughed, anyway.

Also of note:

  • In the long run, we are all dead. That Keynesian observation explains much about politicians' enthusiasm for price controls, especially when the negative effects won't show up for a while. Megan McArdle looks at an example: Medicare can lower drug prices only by eliminating future medicines.

    Two weeks ago, the Biden administration announced the first 10 prescription drugs that will be subject to price negotiation. In other health-care policy news, this week, the Food and Drug Administration approved updated versions of mRNA coronavirus vaccines that are better tailored to one of the most common current variants of covid-19.

    Why am I telling you these two things together? Because Pfizer makes one of the vaccines and one of the drugs on the negotiation list. And taken together, they illustrate the core of our pharmaceutical dilemma: We want drugmakers to keep creating new treatments, but once they have, we would like to pay as little as possible for them — even if it blunts their incentive to invent future medicines.

    So that's an interesting add-on to Keynes: "In the long run, we are all dead, thanks to not having medicines that weren't invented."

  • Maybe she was high on her own supply? Jim Geraghty advocates making an example of a wannabe tyrant: The Governor of New Mexico Breaks Badly.

    There’s a lot of anger in this country. There’s also quite a bit of paranoia, suspicion, and fear. There are quite a few Americans who believe that someday, the federal government will come to their door to seize their guns. Australia enacted a version of this policy. There are gun-control advocates who believe that due process and judicial review are inconveniences to be swatted away in the name of public safety, that the police and government officials should have the authority to declare someone a threat — without a conviction or documented violation of any laws — and take their guns and bar them from being able to purchase or own any firearms.

    No less a figure than former president Donald Trump once said in the White House, “Take the firearms first and then go to court, because that’s another system. Because a lot of times by the time you go to court it takes so long to go to court, to get the due-process procedures. I like taking the guns early.”

    There are quite a few Americans who believe that the government will even more overtly restrict what they can say and punish them for criticizing government officials. The U.S. government has urged social-media companies to shut down the accounts of critics and those it deems purveyors of “misinformation,” with no legal or judicial review, legal process, or accountability. The argument that Americans don’t get arrested for criticizing government officials feels a little weaker when some small-town cops in Kansas decide to raid the local newspaper because it allegedly illegally accessed the records of a state database, but was in fact investigating why the police chief left his previous post as an officer in Kansas City, Mo.

    I'm reading a very lousy book that blames the increasng lack of trust in government solely on "the new conspiracism". Geraghty points out that the recent history of an "arrogant, smug, elitist, and power-hungry governing class" just might bear some of the blame.

    And goes on to make the worthy suggestion that one small step in restoring trust could be fast-tracking the impeachment of Governor Grisham.

  • Also eroding trust is… John Murawski helpfully points it out: Here's the Climate Dissent You're Not Hearing About Because It's Muffled by Society's Top Institutions.

    As the Biden administration and governments worldwide make massive commitments to rapidly decarbonize the global economy, the persistent effort to silence climate change skeptics is intensifying – and the critics keep pushing back.

    This summer the International Monetary Fund summarily canceled a presentation by John Clauser, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who publicly disavows the existence of a climate “crisis.” The head of the nonprofit with which Clauser is affiliated, the CO2 Coalition, has said he and other members have been delisted from LinkedIn for their dissident views.

    Meanwhile, a top academic journal retracted published research doubting a climate emergency after negative coverage in legacy media. The move was decried by another prominent climate dissenter, Roger Pielke Jr., as “one of the most egregious failures of scientific publishing that I have seen” – criticism muffled because the academic says he has been blocked on Twitter (now X) by reporters on the climate beat.

    "Letting these people speak might interfere with our efforts to stampede the public into panic! Can't have that!"

  • I'm a sucker for Princess Bride references. And Dan McLaughlin makes a good one: You Keep Using That Word, ‘Diversity.’ I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

    David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu have produced an analysis for the New York Times Magazine of “The Top U.S. Colleges With the Greatest Economic Diversity.” What Leonhardt and Wu describe as “a list of the country’s most-selective universities ranked in order of economic diversity” is measured “by analyzing the share of students receiving Pell Grants, which typically go to students from the bottom half of the income distribution.”


    The word “diversity,” however, is being abused here. Diversity means difference. Pell Grants are need-based aid available only to Americans (not foreign students) and disproportionately given to people in the lowest income brackets. It is true that schools such as Tulane, where only 8 percent of students receive Pell Grants, would appear to lack economic diversity. But 94 percent of Berea’s student body receive Pell Grants. If 94 percent of your student body has something in common, that is less diversity, not more. An actual measure of economic diversity would show a full spectrum from poor students to rich students, each in proportion.

    People who speak English rather than woke as a first language understand this. But the habit of liberal/progressive discourse on school admissions, workplaces, and the like is simply to equate “diversity” with maximizing the number of favored groups. When a habit becomes this ingrained, you can no longer even see what you’re doing, to the point where you conclude that maximum diversity would be a student body that consists 100 percent of the same type of person.

    This bit of linguistic violence was brought to you by SCOTUS Justice Lewis Powell, whose 1978 Bakke ruling that blessed "affirmative action" if it suited the goal of having a "diverse student body". Which was immediately seized as an excuse to continue racial discrimination in admissions.

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:45 AM EDT

London Has Fallen

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I was (once again) in the mood for a Big Dumb Movie and went for the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, which I watched last month.

Slight spoiler: the setting is … London, England! World leaders are in town for the funeral of the unexpectedly-dead Prime Minister. But it's all a plot, meticulously designed by a terrorist/arms dealer who seeks revenge for a drone strike on (what turned out to be) a wedding party, killing his just-married daughter. I think. Because basically that's just the excuse for staging a bunch of explosions, gunfights, car chases, more explosions, fisticuffs, helicopter crashes, …

But the first twenty minutes or so of the movie are relatively peaceful (except for that spoiled party), with establishing family man/Secret Service agent Mike Banning's (Gerard Butler) relationships with his pregnant wife and the President (Aaron Eckhart) and Vice President (Morgan Freeman).

But once that's done with, we are never more than a few minutes from impressive amounts of violence and action. Mike has to get the President to safety, but that's made extremely difficult by the (literally) hundreds of terrorists with prescient knowledge of security weaknesses, escape routes, and safe houses. There's a mole, of course.

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

And Then There's Just Plain Old Sinfulness

A guy on Twitter (I refuse to call it "X") posts insightful quotes from Thomas Sowell, and I liked this one a lot:

This struggle is (for me) most evident in fetishism, in the non-sexual sense: "worship of an inanimate object for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit." The modern-day magical objects/substances/services/businesses causing people to behave badly?

Guns, first of all. Witness the popularity of the term "gun violence" which neatly draws the focus away from the human perpetrator.

Drugs! Their siren song beguiles the weak!

Social media! It's the cause of endless woe!

And (most recently) car manufacturers! The ones who make their cars irresistably easy to steal!

Unsurprisingly, a society that downplays personal responsibility eventually becomes… well, irresponsible.

Also of note:

  • Without an ideology to stand on. Martin Gurri look at the current state of tyranny; we're living in The World Before the Thaw. A longish excerpt:

    The fundamental difference between 20th-century dictatorships and our own today is ideology. Back then, aspiring despots could camouflage their thirst for power with ideals—nationalism, racialism, communism—that plausibly addressed the chief anxieties of the age. Ideology was a lever that moved millions and overawed the opposition. Under the “leadership” and “vanguard” principles, rulers personified the ideology and stood on a plane of absolute moral supremacy: They had authority to murder entire populations and wage savage wars. Most were true believers. Stalin and Hitler, Mao and Castro, lived and died without a twinge of regret.

    History has buried these old ideologies. They were defeated in war and outcompeted on every front, and now, in William James’ phrase, they have become “dead options.” Nobody today believes in revolution. Nobody thinks society can be radically transformed unto perfection according to some ideological scheme. We are, no doubt, somewhat sadder but infinitely safer for the loss.

    The 21st century has inaugurated the era of pseudo-ideology. Marxism-Leninism in rigor mortis, for example, is called the “great rejuvenation” in China, “Juche” in North Korea, “anti-imperialism” in Cuba, “Bolivarianism” in Venezuela. These constructs are “pseudo” not merely because they are incoherent patchworks of slogans and exhortations, explaining nothing and persuasive to no one. The reason for the epithet is functional.

    The grand ideologies of the last century arose after World War I and the Great Depression had discredited the liberal order. They grew into mass movements that aimed to overthrow that order and impose utopia by brute strength. In their doctrines and their consequences, they were moral monstrosities, every one of them, but they represented organic attempts to grapple with the big questions of a particular moment in history.

    A pseudo-ideology is designed by the people in power to keep them in power. It is blatantly self-serving and artificial. Far from grappling with big questions, pseudo-ideology rests on a foundation of avoidance. Far from seeking to overthrow the establishment, it demands its perpetuation unto eternity. A world justified by pseudo-ideologies must lapse into the political equivalent of suspended animation. That is our world. All around us, decrepit regimes cling to power by default. Dead ideologies are digitally exhumed and cannibalized. Absent the ferment of new ideas, the flow of history has frozen solid.

    This describes the democracies as well as authoritarian nations. Everywhere, a mutinous public struggles in vain against a glacier of mendacity. In the twisted echo chambers of the web, the public can only rage impotently against the ice age while waiting for a thaw.

    I'm currently reading an awful book that might have been better had its authors read Gurri.

  • You don't have to be stupid to be an antisemite. And sometimes it doesn't even help. Jeff Jacoby looks at The dubious link between education and antisemitism.

    WHAT KIND of person considers Jews "the central enemies of Western civilization"? What sort of individual spreads caricatures of leering, hook-nosed Jews or claims that Jewish Germans used their influence to introduce "sexual perversions of all sorts," including "sadism, masochism, lots of homosexuality"?

    It likely wouldn't surprise you to be told that those grotesque and hateful slurs, which attracted attention recently in the British press, were spewed by a knuckle-dragging boor who never got past grade school. In fact, they are the words of Boštjan Zupančič, who for 17 years was a judge on the European Court of Human Rights. Until recently, Zupančič had a sterling record as a legal scholar and a protector of human rights. He earned degrees from Harvard, lectured at colleges around the world, and published extensively in multiple languages. He even wrote poetry.

    He is also, it transpires, a raging antisemite. Zupančič has spread numerous smears about Jews, of which the examples quoted above are merely a selection.

    This connects well with that Sowell quote up there. We'd like to think that education is a "magic bullet" that will cure all wrongthink. But antisemitism is (as Jacoby says) "moral derangement" and "a form of conspiracy thinking". Rooting that out is difficult in our relativistic time that refuses to see evil clearly.

  • I'm OK with… Impeaching Joe Biden. How does William McGurn feel about it?

    September in Washington, and the Hunter Biden scandal is in the air. The only question now is what happens first: an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden’s role in his son’s influence-peddling—or a Hunter Biden indictment from a grand jury impaneled by special counsel David Weiss.

    Normally, Republicans might defer to law enforcement. But a politicized Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have squandered the public’s trust. The elevation of Mr. Weiss to special counsel has persuaded many that the fix is in, given Justice guidelines that say a special counsel should come from the outside. Mr. Weiss’s appointment further gives President Biden the “ongoing investigation” excuse for not answering questions, which could bury the issue.

    But the ultimate question surrounding Hunter’s overseas millions from places such as China and Ukraine—and whether his father was the quo for the quid his son received—is political. More important than seeing anyone packed off to prison is learning whether Joe Biden, as vice president, willfully enabled his son’s schemes and twisted U.S. policy in the process.

    Hopefully, McGurn wishes, the GOP-controlled House will avoid the deck-stacking and corner-cutting employed by the Democrats against Trump.

  • It's not about banning Of Mice and Men any more. If I had a dollar for all the times I've seen this self-backpatting bullshit…

    [self praising bullshit]

    You'll note that those books that Cat in the Hat is smirking over do not include And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street or the other five titles deemed to be "hurtful and wrong".

    Also not in the Cat's purrview: Gender Queer. Which recently had a reading at an ad hoc book group: Democrats Froth and Seethe After John Kennedy Reads 'Gender Queer' During Senate Hearing.

    Sen. John Kennedy made waves on Tuesday after he read excerpts from the book Gender Queer, among others, during a hearing.

    The book in question is available in various public schools across the country and has become a symbol of the left's attempt to sexualize children. In light of that, parents across the political spectrum have risen up in order to reassert their rights and demand the removal of pornographic materials from classrooms.

    Astonishingly, Democrats have doubled down, proclaiming that Republicans are instituting "book bans" by passing laws to stop school libraries from stocking sexual content. Some states, such as Illinois, have even gone so far as to pass laws against the removal of pornographic materials from classrooms and libraries.

    There were no reports of anyone coming out of the hearing room smarter or more empathetic.

    Confession: I read A Wrinkle in Time from the Boyd Elementary library (Omaha, Nebraska) when I was 10 or 11. And managed to emerge without a smug look on my puss.

  • Having it both ways. Liberty Unyielding staff forward news you probably should not use: Democratic politician has sex for money on the internet, then claims it is a 'sex crime' to disclose that to the general public.

    “Susanna Gibson, a House candidate in Virginia, had sex with her husband in live videos posted online and asked viewers to pay them money in return,” notes USA Today. A recent video shows the Democratic candidate for Virginia’s House of Delegates doing sex acts. She also had sex with “other men,” not just her husband.

    When a Republican operative brought this to the attention of the Washington Post, which ran a story about it, Gibson claimed that was an “illegal invasion of privacy” and a “sex crime.” The New York Times made that dubious “invasion of privacy” claim the focus of its story about her, declining to quote any free-press advocate or lawyer who could have pointed out that Gibson can’t sue for any invasion of privacy over the release of this publicly-available information. Gibson’s lawyer has also claimed that the release of this information is a criminal violation of Virginia’s revenge porn statute. But it is doubtful that this information can be criminalized as revenge porn, given the fact that the First Amendment protects speech on matters of public concern even when a state law defines it as an “invasion of privacy.”

    Well, I'm sorry, but that's hilarious.

Recently on the movie blog:

[Google Drive Img]

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:14 PM EDT

I Care a Lot

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [I Care a Lot]

It's pretty clear from the get-go that Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has got a pretty nasty scam going. Her opening voiceover soliloquy establishes that she divides the world into "Predators and prey. Lions and lambs." And she's determined to be the former. Her lucrative business model: in league with a crooked doctor, an ex-cop girlfriend, a shady nursing home, and a complaisant judge, she gets appointed as legal guardian of elderly folk with high net worth. And proceeds to isolate them from friends and family and loot their estates.

In short, this is not a great advertisement for American elderly care.

But Marla may have made a mistake in picking her latest victim, Jennifer (Dianne Wiest). Oh, Jennifer gets shuffled off to the nursing home easily enough. But it turns out she has lots of secrets, including a bag full of diamonds squirreled away in a safe deposit box, and a secret connection to a shady mobster (Peter Dinklage). This predator/prey thing works fine, I guess, until and unless you run afoul of another predator.

IMDB classifies its genres as "comedy, crime, drama". But (be warned) the comedy is as black as Lutheran church-basement coffee. And Netflix adds on the "LGBTQ+" genre, based (I guess) on the lesbian relationship between Marla and her partner in crime. (Is it a bold move to make the villains homosexual?)

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:02 PM EDT

Or Impeach Him. Whatever Works.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Eschewing euphemism, James Freeman looks at Biden’s Assault on Liberty. As always, you are encouraged to Peruse the Entire Article, but here are a few quoted paragraphs from the September 8 Appeals Court decision:

We find that the White House, acting in concert with the Surgeon General’s office, likely (1) coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences, and (2) significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making processes, both in violation of the First Amendment...

On multiple occasions, the officials coerced the platforms into direct action via urgent, uncompromising demands to moderate content. Privately, the officials were not shy in their requests—they asked the platforms to remove posts “ASAP” and accounts “immediately,” and to “slow down” or “demote” content...

When the platforms did not comply, officials followed up by asking why posts were “still up,” stating (1) “how does something like [this] happen,” (2) “what good is” flagging if it did not result in content moderation, (3) “I don’t know why you guys can’t figure this out,” and (4) “you are hiding the ball,” while demanding “assurances” that posts were being taken down. And, more importantly, the officials threatened—both expressly and implicitly—to retaliate against inaction. Officials threw out the prospect of legal reforms and enforcement actions while subtly insinuating it would be in the platforms’ best interests to comply. As one official put it, “removing bad information” is “one of the easy, low-bar things you guys [can] do to make people like me”—that is, White House officials—“think you’re taking action.”

By all means, Democrats, continue to claim the real threat is Moms for Liberty. After all, didn't the Southern Poverty Law Center say so?

Also of note:

  • Some words from a victim. Specifically, Jay Bhattacharya, one of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration. He reports victory: The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists. We Fought Back—and Won..

    The Declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public health scientists signed our statement.

    With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary school children. Similarly, Florida has seen lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-obsessed California since the start of the pandemic.

    But at the time, our proposal was viewed by high government officials like Anthony Fauci and some in the Trump White House, including Deborah Birx, then-White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, as a kind of heresy.

    Federal officials immediately targeted the Great Barrington Declaration for suppression because it contradicted the government’s preferred response to Covid. Four days after the Declaration’s publication, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, emailed Fauci to organize a “devastating takedown” of it.

    Vindication is better late than never, I suppose. And certainly everyone involved has learned their lesson that politicizing science is a bad idea, right? I mean, over and above the constitutional free speech issues?

    Nope. Because…

  • "Science" continues its war on … its own credibility. Jerry Coyne, a scientist (who's a proud atheist liberal Democrat), bemoans: The National Science Foundation gives big money to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action. After noting that one of the planks of the NSF charter is to "Advance the national health, prosperity and welfare.", Jerry gets into its recent activity:

    If you conceive of “advancing the national welfare” as “promoting DEI initiatives,” then you might think it’s okay that the NSF handed out a $1.3 million grant designed to promote racial diversity in universities without violating the Supreme Court’s recent prohibition on race-based admissions. (That money, of course, came from the taxpayers, as the NSF is the biggest source of non-health-related science funding in America.)

    Now the Court’s ban on race-based admissions applies to graduate schools as well as to undergraduate schools.  Nevertheless, SFA v. Harvard , while prohibiting race as an explicit criterion for admitting students, still allows race to be used in a circuitous way. Wikipedia describes and quotes the majority decision (my emphasis):

    The majority opinion, written by Roberts, stated that the use of race was not a compelling interest, and the means by which the schools attempted to achieve diversity bore little or no relationship to the purported goals. It was noted however that this prohibition on the use of race in deciding who would be accepted did not stop universities from considering a student’s discussion of how their race has impacted their life “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.

    Ergo we should expect to see a lot of admissions questions in which students can mention their race (especially if they’re members of minorities) in connection with their character or accomplishments, giving admissions officers an implicit lever to promote their applications.  But you can also expect that this practice, too, will be monitored like Harvard’s “personality scores” to see if it leads to ethnic discrimination. That would lead to more court cases.

    He then goes on to describe the $1.3 million grant from the NSF to "researchers" at USC and Minnesota. The principal investigator is Julie Posselt, whose science credentials are … a Ph.D. in "Higher Education".

    Look for "rubrics" to be the next weasel word to allow what Jerry terms "the deep hypocrisy, if not duplicity, of using “race neutral” tools to improve racial diversity."

  • Another minor problem: the fate of civilization. Gordon J. Fulks has a small request: could we get around to, at some point, Restoring the Scientific Method and Saving Civilization?

    Scientists are worried, as well they should be.

    The latest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, John Clauser warns that climate science has become pseudoscience. Meanwhile, Jim Skea, the new Chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change criticizes climate hyperbole as his boss UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres promotes “Global Boiling.” Additionally, high profile billionaires from Bezos and Soros to Zuckerberg and Gates throw their wealth into climate alarm. Mainstream media outlets are recruiting highly politicized young journalists to promote hysteria.

    The fate of science is at stake, and consequently the fate of the civilization it supports.

    Promoting hysteria? Censorship? Ignorance? What could be wrong with that?

  • And then there are ideological litmus tests. Jeffrey Blehar notes that it's not just admissions, but also hiring: The Crushing Costs of DEI on University Campuses.

    On Friday, the New York Times published a truly shocking piece that nevertheless slid by my transom unnoticed until last night. Entitled “D.E.I. Statements Stir Debate on College Campuses,” it begins with the depressing tale of University of Toronto psychology professor Yoel Inbar, who was recently denied a position at the University of California, Los Angeles despite having been already evaluated as highly qualified and mooted to join the faculty.

    His crime? You have already guessed it’s related to the ever-escalating antics of university Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion administrators and activists, and you are not wrong. But it’s even more outrageous than the standard-issue story: Inbar happily submitted a “diversity statement” that used all the proper language and ticked every box as required, but was blocked from joining when a cadre of activist graduate students discovered that, once on his podcast years ago, he had opposed the idea of requiring them for academic hires. The activist mobs usually rule at California schools — Stanford recently had to send its entire law school class to mandatory remedial education on how to tolerate conservative viewpoints — and when over 50 graduate students signed a petition denouncing his potential hiring, Professor Inbar’s application was suddenly and summarily denied. He remains in Canada, a cruel fate for any man.

    Blehar summarizes the NYT article, noting the UC system's process weeds out applicants in the first round based purely on their "diversity statements". Quoting that NYT story:

    An applicant who discusses diversity in vague terms, such as “diversity is important for science,” or saying that an applicant wants to “treat everyone the same” will get a low score.

    Likewise, an applicant should not oppose affinity groups divided by race, ethnicity and gender, as that would demonstrate that the candidate “seems not to be aware of, or understand the personal challenges that underrepresented individuals face in academia.”

    What could go wrong? Or, more accurately: what else could go wrong?

  • Why not, indeed? Charles C. W. Cooke is still pretty incensed over recent actions by a wannabe tyrant: Why Not Arrest Governor Lujan Grisham?.

    Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico has an interesting take on her constitutional role. Elaborating upon her decision to “suspend” the state’s concealed- and open-carry laws in the service of a vaguely defined “emergency,” she explained that “no constitutional right, in my view, including my oath, is intended to be absolute. There are restrictions on free speech. There are restrictions on my freedoms.”

    Okay, then. So why not arrest her?

    The obvious rejoinder to this suggestion is “the law.” But, as she has made perfectly clear, Lujan Grisham doesn’t believe in all that nonsense. In defense of her executive order, she has provided nothing except the reiteration of her desire. She has cited no statute, invoked no constitutional provision, pointed to no court order or precedent or wrinkle. Hers is an assertion: I believe there is an emergency, therefore I must.

    Governor Grisham is an easy punching bag, but let's save some blame for the 52% of New Mexico voters who reelected this empty pantsuit.

Last Modified 2024-02-02 4:06 AM EDT

Two Different Words For Two Different Concepts

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Sohrab Ahmari is a young journalist, and his latest book is our Amazon Product du Jour. Although I don't recommend you buy it. Because, as Paul Mueller describes, Ahmari makes a fundamental error in Confusing Liberty with Power.

Sohrab Ahmari recently published a provocative book called Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty – and What to Do About It. My colleague Samuel Gregg has already reviewed it at length. But I want to accentuate Ahmari’s abuse of the word “liberty” because it undergirds his entire argument and is in the very title of the book.

This abuse or confusion about liberty is widespread. We can see it in James K. Galbraith’s favorable review advocating “countervailing power” in the market. We can also see it in the Rebuilding American Capitalism report. These authors are concerned about uncertainty, limited choices, power, family formation, and inequality, not liberty. As Hayek notes, the oldest and fullest sense of liberty means freedom from coercion – that is, freedom to act according to your own plans and goals rather than according to someone else’s.

That’s it. Liberty does not equal happiness. Nor does it guarantee it.

You might also want to check out Reason's Stephanie Slade for her take on Ahmari's book: 'Tyranny, Inc.' Blames Private Actors for Government Failures. Excerpt:

[Ahmari's] book's goal is to show "that private actors can imperil freedom just as much as overweening governments," and his central claim is nothing if not bold: "Private tyranny precisely describes the world we inhabit today: a system that allows the asset-owning few to subject the asset-less many to pervasive coercion."

In the face of this nightmare, Ahmari says, the way forward is clear: reject unfettered markets and shift from the current "neoliberal" system to a different arrangement. Call it "social democracy," "socially managed capitalism," or—Ahmari's preference—"political-exchange capitalism": a sort of light democratic socialism in which "the state" takes "a far more active role in coordinating economic activity for the good of the whole community."

Ms. Slade's criticism is also devastating.

Also of note:

  • And should be impeachable too. Charles C. W. Cooke looks at the latest effort to Do Something™ and finds it wanting: The New Mexico Governor's 'Suspension' of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is Both Illegal and Stupid.

    The governor of New Mexico has decided to “suspend” the right to bear arms for 30 days:

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she will enact a temporary ban on carrying firearms in any public space across Bernalillo County. The governor made the announcement during a news conference Friday.

    Sitting alongside the Albuquerque Police Chief and Bernalillo County Sheriff. The governor says part of this new order is a 30-day suspension on open and concealed carry on public property for anyone other than law enforcement or licensed security. “I’ve warned everyone that we expect a direct challenge, probably as you’re writing this we’re getting a challenge, and that’s the way it should work. But I have to take a tough direct stand, or basically I’m just ignoring the fact that we lost an 11-year-old, another child,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham.

    This is not how the law works in America. As far as I can see, there’s nothing in any New Mexico statute that gives the governor the power to declare an emergency suspending the right to carry, and there’s certainly nothing in the U.S. Constitution that does. If our elected officials were allowed to shelve our unalienable rights every time they believed that those rights were being abused by outlaws, then they wouldn’t be unalienable rights; they’d be privileges. Lujan Grisham knows this — which is why she has said not only that she has “warned everyone that we expect a direct challenge,” but that the arrival of such a challenge is “the way it should work.” Those are the words of a person who knows she is breaking the law but has resolved to do it anyway. “I have to take a tough direct stand,” she insists, giving the game away. Actually, she does not. She has to uphold her oath of office.

    To amplify that last point: Governor Grisham's oath of office explicitly demands that she "support the constitution of the United States". Did she have her fingers crossed when she was sworn in?

    Jacob Sullum's Reason article, New Mexico Governor Suspends Gun Rights, Says Second Amendment Is Not 'Absolute', notes that the "I" word is, indeed, being bandied about:

    State Reps. Stefani Lord (R–Sandia Park) and John Block (R–Alamogordo) on Saturday said Grisham's order was grounds for impeachment. "This emergency order violates the Governor's oath to protect and defend the rights of New Mexicans," they said in a press release. "The legislature has a duty to intervene when the government is overstepping its boundaries, and Governor Grisham's order and comments disqualify her from continuing her tenure as Governor." Lord called the order "an abhorrent attempt at imposing a radical, progressive agenda on an unwilling populace."

    And the local law enforcers are leery:

    Grisham said state police would be charged with enforcing the order, which prescribes a fine of up to $5,000 per violation. The Associated Press reports that Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina "said he won't enforce it, and Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said he's uneasy about it because it raises too many questions about constitutional rights." In a statement issued on Friday, Allen said "the temporary ban challenges the foundation of our Constitution, which I swore an oath to uphold."

    So another empty act of symbolism, which will only be obeyed by … well, I'm not sure anyone will take it seriously enough to obey.

  • You'll pay up, one way or the other. Allison Schrager looks at one aspect of Bidenomics: Biden's Costly Medicare Drug Price Caps.

    When it comes to the cost of prescription drugs, the numbers are maddening. Just ten drugs account for nearly a quarter of Medicare’s spending on prescription medicines. Meantime, Americans pay more than double the amount, on a per capita basis, that citizens of many other wealthy nations pay for drugs. So President Joe Biden’s plan to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the prices for those ten drugs—and a few dozen more, eventually—might seem like common sense.

    But this negotiation is neither ordinary nor reasonable. The sheer size of Medicare, which makes up most of the U.S. market for prescription drugs, means that the government is effectively acting as a monopsonist—that is, the sole buyer—and using that market power to put a price cap on drugs. These caps will produce short-term savings, but they may end up costing the government and consumers even more in the long run.

    First, it’s not entirely true that U.S. retirees’ drug prices are not subject to negotiation. Most drugs get purchased as part of Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs. Part D is operated by private insurers, which negotiate prices with drug firms and make use of generics. And they do so effectively.

    The costs will be well hidden in the life-saving and misery-reducing drugs that won't be brought to market in the future.

  • It's a safe bet that Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies to Jeff Maurer's article: Will Republicans Learn From the Democratic Primary Like Democrats Learned From the Republican Primary?.

    Let’s return to the dark days of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary. It’s late February. The candidates have spent the campaign debating whether everyone’s medical expenses should be paid in full until the end of time, or paid in full merely until the sun burns out. Those who took the latter position were deemed “moderates”. There had also been sharp exchanges over race and gender, with candidates like Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand scoring major Twitter points before realizing that election boards don’t count Twitter points, they count votes, and nobody wanted to vote for them.

    In late February, there were six serious candidates in the race (if you don’t count Tulsi Gabbard, and nobody except Tulsi Gabbard counted Tulsi Gabbard). The six were: Cranky Ol’ Coot Joe Biden, Charlie Brown Stand-In Michael Bloomberg, Precocious Li’l Lad Pete Buttigieg, Generic Sitcom Mom Amy Klobuchar, Filthy Beatnik Bernie Sanders, and Lady-Who-Hands-Out-Pencils-on-Halloween Elizabeth Warren. Four states had voted; Sanders had won the most votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Biden’s big win in South Carolina had resurrected his campaign. Bloomberg seemed to be there just to be a punching bag, Buttigieg had a not-embarrassing delegate count, and Warren and Klobuchar’s delegates could fit into a Dodge Caravan. Fifteen states and territories were about to vote on Super Tuesday.

    It really looked like Bernie Sanders might win. He was leading the delegate count and polling fairly well in the Super Tuesday states. This was troubling to Democrats like me, and also to Democrats who know people and matter. We could debate Bernie's prospects in the general election (dear God let's not), but I’ll simply summarize my view by saying that if I were doing a word association test, and the word was “electability”, my response would not be “79 year-old Jewish socialist from Vermont”. My opinion and the opinion of many Democrats was that Bernie was probably the least-likely candidate in the field to beat Trump.

    Well, I should stop there, lest I quote the whole thing. Yes, Maurer's a Democrat, but I love his writing, and I think his analysis is spot on.

  • Well, I can always vote for the Libertarian, right? Well, unfortunately, there's a nasty schism in the LP. And, worse, both sides are nuts. Kevin Langston looks at one side: Libertarian Party leader peddles message that 'what the Democratic Party is doing' is 'generally good'.

    According to the media, the Libertarian Party is now split into two factions — the “bad,” alt-right libertarians who now control the Libertarian National Committee, and the “good” libertarians like [Nicholas] Sarwark who hope to unseat them. But the “good” libertarians like Sarwark are rather bad at following traditional libertarian precepts such as fiscal conservatism. They like government handouts.

    Sarwark defended Joe Biden’s student loan bailout, which would cost taxpayers at least $427 billion, and perhaps well over $1 trillion. It was blocked by the Supreme Court as illegal, but Biden is trying to do it again using a different legal pretext. Democratic Party leaders used to admit that Biden lacks the power to forgive student loans, the very ones who denounced the Supreme Court decision, such as Nancy Pelosi.

    Yeah, sorry Nick, but all that's kind of a deal-breaker for me.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:45 AM EDT

Senility, Incompetence, Incoherence, Phoniness, Corruption, and Bad Musical Taste

[Non Compos Mentis]

No big movement in the election betting odds over the past week, although it's easy to pick out the relative gainers (Trump, Michelle, Vivek, Nikki, RFKJr, and Kamala) and the losers (Biden, Newsom, DeSantis). And "Other" took a big hit, as bettors may be coming to realize that there's no charismatic white knight about to ride over the hill, announce his candidacy, and save us all from this bunch of clowns.

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 34.9% -0.9%
Donald Trump 28.9% +0.9%
Gavin Newsom 5.0% -0.6%
Ron DeSantis 5.0% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 4.6% +0.6%
Vivek Ramaswamy 4.1% +0.5%
Nikki Haley 3.9% +0.6%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.8% +0.2%
Kamala Harris 2.7% +0.6%
Other 7.1% -1.4%

David Friedman takes a serious look at Vivek, and finds him a mixed bag.

He is the most entertaining of the presidential candidates and I agree with several of his positions, but his defenses of some of them strike me as largely bogus. Having proposed that the Fed should maintain stable prices via a commodity bundle, a reasonable if politically novel idea, he defends the proposal by claiming that current Fed stabilization policy is somehow the reason real incomes have not risen, goes on to claim that if only the Fed were not messing things up we would have enough more economic growth to let us eliminate the deficit without cutting spending, thus saving him from having to specify specific cuts — any of which can be expected to offend some interest group whose support he wants.

For some unexplained (but completely obvious) reason, David quotes an 83-year-old essay:

They will promise every man, woman and child in the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll all be roving the land looking for chances to make the rich poor, to remedy the irremediable, to succor the unsuccorable, to unscramble the unscrambleable, to dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable. They will all be curing warts by saying words over them, and paying off the national debt with money that no one will have to earn. When one of them demonstrates that twice two is five, another will prove that it is six, six and a half, ten, twenty. (H.L. Mencken, The Politician)

Meanwhile, Audrey Fahlberg wonders how all Vivek's schtick is playing in Peoria Dublin, New Hampshire: Will Voters Buy What Vivek Ramaswamy Is Selling?

At just 38 years old, Ramaswamy is the youngest candidate in the field, and the biotech entrepreneur—worth hundreds of millions dollars—has embraced his time in the spotlight. He recites those 10 principles with an almost robotic precision at just about every campaign stop, and isn’t shy about sharing his “America First” policy agenda with voters. If elected, for example, he pledges to abolish the FBI, deploy military force against Mexican drug cartels, and cut off U.S. support for the Ukrainian war effort.

But with all the post-debate attention comes heightened scrutiny, and a sustained look at Ramaswamy’s record—from the media and his opponents alike—has unearthed a number of inconsistencies. Is Juneteenth a “celebration of the American dream” or a “useless” holiday? Is climate change “real” or is the “climate-change agenda” a “hoax”? Was Donald Trump’s behavior on January 6, 2021, “downright abhorrent” or is it “unproductive for our country to blame Trump for January 6”?

Someone who's definitely not buying it is Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times, who was unimpressed by attempts to woo him: Vivek Ramaswamy Is a LinkedIn Post Come to Life.

In the wake of his breakout performance at last month’s Republican primary debate, much has been made of Ramaswamy’s irrepressible annoyingness — is it a bug that could prevent him from winning the G.O.P. presidential nomination, or is it the feature that could help him secure it? But what I found striking about Ramaswamy, both in our conversations and on the debate stage, was not that he’s especially irritating (how many people who run for president aren’t?) but that he represents a distinct, very familiar flavor of irritation: He’s the epitome of millennial hustle culture, less a Tracy Flick know-it-all than a viral LinkedIn post come to life. The guy who’s always mining and nurturing new connections, always leveraging those connections into the next new thing, always selling and always, always closing.

Ouch. You'd think that Farhad Manjoo and Vivek Ramaswamy might at least bond over their funny names.

Also of note:

  • Pretty good grip for a feeble geezer. Barton Swaim notes unexpected strength in Joe Biden’s ‘Iron Grip’ on His Party. Sorta like Trump's hold on the GOP. But:

    Whatever may be said about the GOP’s solicitous attitude to Mr. Trump during the years of his presidency, it compares favorably with the left’s omertà in the face of President Biden’s obvious mental infirmity, incompetence and what appears to be a history of self-enrichment.

    Mr. Trump’s election occasioned some unlovely shifting of principles on the right, but it also precipitated fierce debate. Some Republicans refused to find fault with the new president for anything. Others made their peace with his election but remained critical when his conduct and decisions merited it. A few made it their mission to destroy him. Right-oriented policy organizations and conservative publications endured rancorous public schisms. Conservative religious leaders, including evangelical Christians, fell out with each other.

    That is more than one can say for the Democratic Party and the mainstream left of the 2020s. The deficiencies of Mr. Trump are different from those of Mr. Biden, but the latter’s personal culpabilities and political liabilities are what any normal, uninvested person would call grave. Mr. Biden’s cringe-making decline is on display nearly every time he appears in public; examples are too many, and too painful, to describe. His diminished state might be funny in a novel or a movie, but in the real world it’s a continuing invitation to bad actors to engage in devilry and expect no consequence.

    It's quite the pickle!

  • Hey, voter, you wanna buy some tulip bulbs? Power Line's Elizabeth Stauffer outlines A case study in the madness of crowds. After looking at Trump-bashing from the left and right:

    But, in the end, all three fail to explain why Trump is dangerous, why he’s a depraved madman who is “willing to smash our nation’s soul — our democracy.” The lack of specifics and the unfounded contempt in these pieces show just how vast the reality gap has become between the media’s portrayal of Trump vs. Biden.

    Yes, Trump is a flawed man. At times, his conduct has been decidedly unpresidential. Most Republicans will readily admit that Trump is prone to exaggeration and that his behavior is sometimes boorish and infantile.

    But his obvious patriotism and his clear record of achievements are among the strongest of any U.S. president. There was never anything dangerous about his policies. Despite his Grand Canyon-sized ego, he always put America first.

    Well… I'm pretty sure I can think of some instances where Trump didn't put "America" first. And I would use a stronger adjective than "flawed".

    But Stauffer notes the obvious differences between "journalist" treatment of Trump vs. Biden, and she's right about that.

    (Puzzled by the headline snark? See here.)

  • It's a low bar, but he clears it. I'm expending one of my five NR "giftable" articles for September so you can read Andrew C. McCarthy establishing that There Is No Insurrection Case against Trump.

    You know insurrection is a crime, right?

    Just to recap, under Section 2383 of the federal criminal code, a person is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment, if he

    incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto.

    And why do we need a refresher on this? Because the Department of Justice has been investigating Donald Trump and the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot for nearly three years, yet no insurrection charges have ever been brought against Trump or anyone else.

    That should be in the front of our minds as anti-Trump obsessives, of the left and the right, proceed with their incendiary plot to disqualify Trump from seeking the presidency by inducing sympathetic state officials to brand him an insurrectionist under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

    This seems completely obvious to me. I dislike Trump intensely, but come on.

    Of course, I have not read the Baude/Paulsen law review article that purports to have an ironclad 14th-Amendment Trump-disqualifying argument. But I have a good reason: it is 126 pages, and I am lazy.

    I'd like to know how they deal with McCarthy's point, though.

  • Inexplicably, nobody listed "Won't Get Fooled Again". Politico got some of the politicos to "Pick the Songs That Stir Their Souls". Which is fine, although only two candidates from our table, Vivek and Nikki, responded.

    Much more amusing: the commentary from Jeffrey Blehar. His take on Vivek's choices:

    America’s foremost pen salesman was able to respond to Politico’s entirely reasonable request with only eight picks. He performs one of those picks regularly on campaign stops. One is by Fall Out Boy. Another by Aerosmith. Two by Imagine Dragons. He probably hasn’t even listened to the Dolly Parton song he listed. Finally, he ends with a song by a communist.

    VERDICT: Vivek Ramaswamy must be launched into the sun, or at the very least the Libertarian Party.

    Also commenting on the Politico poll is the curmudgeonly Armond White:

    The far-left publication Politico revealed its bias in a poll soliciting all the presidential candidates. This market sampling, titled “We Asked the 2024 Candidates to Pick the Songs That Stirred Their Souls,” forced the contenders to follow the Obama playbook. The upshot? Left media will always own the Right when they hoodwink conservatives into behaving just like liberals.

    At a moment when outsider songs from Jason Aldean and Oliver Anthony have enlivened the pop charts, getting Republicans to praise the music business that largely — openly — despises them was a devious move. Politico enticed candidates to strike a “common man” pose, kissing the music industry’s behind just like pols used to kiss babies’ asses to win over susceptible constituents.

    White notices that Trump's rallies often play the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want". But maybe that's out of tune with today's zeitgeist. Which is more like, "I'll always get you what you want."

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:01 PM EDT

Sanctuary: It's Not Just For Esmeralda Any More.

Via Viking Pundit: Schadenfreude overload.

If you prefer your (probably paywalled) schadenfreude with more text, Jim Geraghty has you covered: Democratic Officials Belatedly Realize the Consequences of Unrestrained Migration.

… we’re witnessing a sea change in how Democratic officeholders talk about illegal immigration and migration. Not that long ago, these officials adamantly insisted that all U.S. immigration enforcement was inherently xenophobic and unjust, and boasted of their jurisdictions’ status as “sanctuary cities” or “sanctuary states.” But in a change intense enough to induce whiplash, Democratic mayors and governors are now warning about the strain on services caused by the wave of migrants; New York City mayor Eric Adams is worrying that migrants will “destroy” his city, and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy insists his state is full and can’t accept any more migrants. What’s your head size, fellas? I need to know for your “Make America Great Again” hats.

I'm trying to come up with some bon mot about "your reality check was returned for insufficient funds", but I'm too lazy this morning to make it work. Sorry.

Also of note:

  • Not a new story, but a predictable one. The NYPost reports: Harvard law grad accuses Biden of plagiarism. And the accusation is plausible.

    A Harvard Law School alum has come forward to accuse President Biden of plagiarizing an article he wrote more than two decades ago.

    Roger Severino claimed Thursday night he was working as a junior editor at the Harvard Journal of Legislation in 2000 when he found multiple instances of copying in an essay the then-Delaware senator wrote defending the Violence Against Women Act.

    “Words like ‘herald of a new era’ tipped me off,” Severino told Fox News host Jesse Watters. “Like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, I’ve heard this before.’”

    Journal editors "fixed" the article ahead of publication to paper over the plagiarism.

    But "violence against women"? Biden?

    I looked at the (fixed) article for… yup, there it is on page four, the "rule of thumb" folk tale.

    Regrettably, Congress learned that states had not escaped this myth-an unfortunate legacy of the common-law "rule of thumb".

    This tells me that Biden really did write that article, and didn't fob it off on some lowly assistant. Because that "rule of thumb" myth been pretty widely known to be bogus since at least 1994, and any decent fact-checking intern would have figured that out.

    Not Biden, though. He said it at UNH in 2011. (I was there.) He was still peddling it in 2019 (at least twice).

    Just another data point showing Biden's addiction to good, but false, stories. Sometimes ones not even involving Corn Pop, drunk drivers that weren't, house conflagrations that weren't, sons that didn't die in Iraq,…

    [I left a version of this commentary at Granite Grok earlier today.]

  • Don't tread on schoolboys. Jeff Jacoby tackles multiple issues on his article, but we'll concentrate on The schoolboy and the Gadsden flag. And he notes a meta-issue involved:

    Do you know what happened when school officials in Colorado Springs, Colo., decided to tread on a 12-year-old student who had a patriotic patch on his backpack?

    Certainly you ought to know; the story made news last week and a video of it was viewed millions of times on social media. The episode was the latest flare-up on the culture war front lines; it highlighted the clash of values that has galvanized so many parents around the country into opposing what they regard as disrespect from "woke" school board members and administrators.

    Whether you're familiar with the story or don't know the first thing about it most likely depends on where you get your news from.

    If your main sources of information include newspapers, networks, and websites with a conservative or libertarian bent — National Review, Fox News, the New York Post, Reason, Washington Examiner, The New York Sun — then you are likely to have come across an account of Jaiden Rodriguez, the boy who was banned from the Vanguard School, a public charter school, because of the Gadsden flag "Don't Tread on Me" patch emblazoned on his backpack. All those media outlets carried stories on the incident, which was both newsworthy and infuriating.


    As mentioned, this story got a lot of media attention, but only in certain quarters of the media. When I checked to find out how "mainstream" news outlets covered the incident, I mostly found — nothing. According to their own embedded search functions, there was nothing in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Globe, NPR, or the Los Angeles Times. Nothing in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Oregonian, MSNBC, or The Guardian. I double-checked at the Nexis media database, with the same results.

    Nothing in the Wall Street Journal, either. Not even on the opinion pages. Sad!

  • But we still love the WSJ. A bunch of responses to a recent column by Tevi Troy advocating candidate debates without moderators. An LTE-writer, Stuart Weinblatt, doubles down on that suggestion: No More Moderators or Audiences for Presidential Debates.

    Regarding “Moderators Have Ruined Presidential Debates. Let’s Get Rid of Them” by Tevi Troy (Review, Aug. 26): Let’s get rid of debate audiences too. Egged on by a crowd that would be more at home at a rodeo or wrestling match, the catcalls, whistles, cheering and booing of the audience encourage the candidates to make extreme and inflammatory comments to get applause and attention.

    We need only look to the first televised debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, where there was no audience and a moderator who understood that his role was to provide a forum for a consideration of important issues, to see what a serious debate should look like.

    Americans have been deprived of a substantive discussion about important issues, which helps explain why our politics today are so dismal.

    I'm actually in favor of moderators. Especially if we equipped them with tranquilizer darts to sedate any candidate exceeding their allocated speaking time by over, say, 20 seconds.

  • Mea Culpa. I wrote a post last Wednesday (September 6), honest. I've been trying to get back to my daily-posting habit. But (somehow) I totally spaced on actually putting it up on the blog. If you are a Pun Salad completist, here it is in its rightful place in the chronology.

Last Modified 2023-09-10 4:53 AM EDT

It's a Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham of a Mockery of a Travesty of Two Mockeries of a Sham

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Rich Lowry writes on The Electric-Car Sham.

Joe Biden has seen the future, and it is electric cars. Lots of electric cars. Electric cars — or else.

Donald Trump has seen the future, and it is a backlash against the mandate for the mass adoption of electric cars. The former president is promising to “stop this Madness, IMMEDIATELY!”

Who wins this political argument may determine who has the upper hand in a state like Michigan in a 2024 rematch. Regardless, all-caps aside, Trump is right about the lunatic urgency across the Western world to use government coercion to render all-but-obsolete a popular, tested, highly efficient means of transportation.

Also weighing in at NR is Kevin A. Hassett, noting an inconvenient truth just a few days after Labor Day: UAW Anticipating an Electric Shock.

The United Autoworkers’ president, Shawn Fain, has made news with increasingly vitriolic threats to the automakers as the deadline for approval of a new contract approaches. At a Labor Day speech last weekend, he warned that the UAW would achieve its contract objectives “by any means necessary,” in a speech that made a strike almost certain. In the past, it has been typical for the UAW to target a single automaker for a strike, but interestingly, this time it appears set to strike against the Big Three.

While negotiations between unions and firms can often feature extreme rhetoric, it would be a mistake to think that Fain is just posturing. Indeed, the UAW clearly understands the reality that EVs pose the greatest threat to the UAW in its history. A few simple undisputed facts about auto manufacturing make the point obvious.

Currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 1 million workers are employed manufacturing motor vehicles and parts, with the vast majority of them currently producing cars with internal-combustion engines. That number is interesting, because it exposes President Biden’s promise to create a million jobs in the EV sector (a sector he defined broadly, by including “domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, from parts to materials to electric vehicle charging stations”) as a misleading sleight of hand. For that million is a gross, not the more meaningful net number. If the switch costs hundreds of thousands of jobs in the conventional car-manufacturing sector, then those should be deducted from the overall job-creation picture, and that’s before considering like-for-like comparisons. Is manning a charging station likely to pay as well as an auto-manufacturing job in Detroit?

The reality, according to Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Farley, is that it takes 40 percent fewer workers to make an electric vehicle than one with an internal-combustion engine. So, to use some back-of-the-envelope math, if baseline employment in the auto industry would, on average over the next ten years, have amounted to 1.2 million jobs, then the wholesale switch to EVs would cost 480,000 jobs.

That's what's called creative destruction. And pushed by union guy Joe. Ironic, isn't it?

But Veronique de Rugy notes the trade warriors are also standing athwart the freeway to the EV future, and has some advice: To Fight Climate Change, Stop Fighting China on Electric Vehicles.

Much of the banter surrounding the rise of China's electric vehicle (EV) industry and the implication for the global economy is misleadingly alarmist. When our government gets involved in such narratives, it calls into question the sincerity of its insistence that EVs are essential to an existential battle against climate change. If China's foray succeeds, the world gets cleaner cars and non-Chinese automakers are obliged to improve their own products.

A common concern among government officials is that while China faces strong headwinds, the country still might have what it takes to firm up its position and maintain dominance as an EV producer and exporter. Such worries aren't confined to U.S. officials. Governments around the world are melding to cut China out of the EV market.

I find it bizarre. We are constantly reminded of the importance of investing in green technology as the world faces a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. By dispensing gargantuan subsidies to support both U.S. electric car production and purchases, the Biden administration clearly wants American voters to believe that it's taking climate change seriously and that more EVs are part of the answer.

As a chaser, here's a perceptive LTE from the WSJ from long-memoried Shirley and Larry Freeman:

Regarding your editorial “The EV Bubble Starts to Deflate” (Aug. 22): Teddy Roosevelt’s administration didn’t mandate the expiration of horse-drawn carriages to compel people not to buy them. In other words, they didn’t shoot horses to force people to buy Ford’s newfangled automobile.

'Twould be interesting to see what might happen in a nation that respected free trade, transportation and energy markets free of mandates and subsidies, along with a dedication to letting an un-"nudged" free people make up their own minds about what kind of stuff to buy.

We ain't there.

Also of note:

  • Not all the alien invaders are being held in Area 51. Jeff Maurer advises: To Help Control Invasive Species, Let's Recognize That People With Exotic Pets Are Douchebags.

    Invasive species are a huge problem. So says a report from the UN that the Washington Post calls “major”. Let’s table the question of whether any UN can be “major”; my suspicion is that few people have their world rocked by UN reports, and where I am, stores are open and life is carrying on as usual despite this “major” report. But that’s beside the point; the point is that invasive species are causing major trouble.

    According to the report, invasive species cost the world at least $423 billion a year. To give you a sense of how much money that is: If you laid 423 billion dollar bills end-to-end, you’d say “fuck this” and give up well before you reached the 423 billionth dollar (especially if it’s windy). Invasive species impose costs by destroying crops, spreading diseases, and just generally being a pain in the taint. For example: Zebra mussels are clogging water intake pipes in the Great Lakes. Basically, zebra mussels are having the same effect on Upper Midwest water pipes that cheese-based food products are having on Upper Midwest arteries.

    The problem is humans. I hesitate to say that, because most of my readers are humans, and the Golden Rule of political commentary is that you should always blame everything on an out-group. And I don’t mean to absolve the Chinese mitten crab of responsibility — fuck that crab. I Might Be Wrong will never become one of those publications that’s in craven subservience to the Chinese mitten crab (I’m looking at you, National Geographic). But humans are why this is happening; human modes of transportation make it possible for species to travel vast distances in short amounts of time. Invasive species stow away in shipping containers. They make their way into cargo holds of airplanes. They take advantage of the highly-discounted fares offered by carriers like Spirit Air and JetBlue. And they traverse oceans and natural barrier in ways that they never have before.

    Apologies for the f-bomb.

  • Dispatches from the mud. Longtime Reason guy Nick Gillespie reports what he did on his summer vacation. Apocalypse Not: I Got Engaged in the Mud at Burning Man.

    It was early Friday afternoon, right after my campmates and I exited a completely naked yet surprisingly chaste group shower organized by soap maker Dr. Bronner’s, when the rains started in Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis in the usually blazing hot Nevada desert where Burning Man takes place every summer.

    Have you ever been pelted from above with Magic Foam and water shooting out of car wash–style cannons while soaping up and rinsing off with a few hundred strangers after five days of sweat, sand, and sunscreen?

    I hadn’t. I’m 60 and a libertarian with a penchant for extreme experiences and mind-expanding chemicals, so you would think I’d have spent half of my life at the 37-year-old psychedelic Brigadoon that is Burning Man—a mystical village that emerges ex nihilo for a week or so in the run up to Labor Day and then disappears, like—well, magic foam. And this summer marked not only my first pelt from Dr. Bronner’s but also my first encounter with El Pulpo Magnifico (a gigantic mechanical fire-breathing octopus) and a tutorial in BDSM (hosted by a winningly low-key New Jersey refugee living in the Bay Area and teaching under the nom de Burn “Bad Boy”).

    And getting engaged (click through) to boot. An eventful few days, and I hope Nick turns out to be as lucky as I was.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:44 AM EDT

The Ethics of Voting

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I've read a few books by Jason Brennan (alumnus of the University Near Here) and enjoyed them: Against Democracy, When All Else Fails, and Cracks in the Ivory Tower (co-written with Phillip Magness). He was also a contributor to the late, great website, Bleeding Heart Libertarians. So when I noticed that this 2011 book was available from the University Near Here library…

It is short but dense. It sets forth (as the title implies) some simple principles you should use in deciding how, or whether, to vote. And fortunately, Brennan lists them:

  1. Citizens do not have a duty to vote. At most, they have duties of beneficence and reciprocity that can be discharged any number of ways besides voting.
  2. In general, voters should vote for things that tend to promote the common good rather than try to promote narrow self-interest at the expense of the common good.
  3. Voters face epistemic requirements. They must be epistemically justified in believing that the candidate or policy they support is likely to promote the common good. Otherwise, they ought to abstain.
  4. Vote buying and selling are sometimes morally permissible, provided these activities do not violate the duties listed here.

Brennan has his philosopher's hat firmly on here. Those are controversial principles, especially the last one, but he makes careful arguments in support, considers objections fairly and (to my mind) completely.

The usual drawback to reading philosophy books applies: you're coming into the middle of a slow-motion, often super-academic, debate. If you're an "let's hear all sides" person… well, you have some more reading to do.

In a final chapter, Brennan examines how voters actually behave compared to the principles he's advocated. Surveys say, unequivocally: not well.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:44 AM EDT

In the Land of Invented Languages

Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language

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I really enjoyed reading Arika Okrent's 2021 book, Highly Irregular, explaining why English is so darn weird. (Short answer: blame geography for making Britain so darn easy for foreigners to invade over the centuries, and impose their linguistic preferences on the inhabitants.)

But all natural languages are somewhat weird, being the emergent product of chaotic efforts to communicate over millennia. As a result, we have: single words with multiple meanings; multiple words meaning the same thing; irregularities in forming plurals and tenses; pronunciations disconnected from spellings; inherent ambiguities; etc. And languages continue to evolve, via arbitrary slang and neologisms.

Which reminds me: I recently streamed a Netflix series, Florida Man. It was pretty good.

Yes, "stream". Let's just add a new meaning onto that word.

It is unsurprising that rational people take a look at this linguistic mess, and say: "I could do better." And, oh boy, did they ever try. In this book's Appendix A, Ms. Okrent lists an even 500 invented languages, dated 1150AD-2007AD. (The book is from 2009 AD.) And she admits leaving out a lot of other attempts; she just decided to cut off the list at 500.

In the main text, she concentrates on a relative handful of biggies: there's John Wilkins' attempt at a "philosophical language" (which I dimly remembered from Neal Stephenson's fictionalization in Quicksilver). There's Esperanto, a language designed to facilitate international communication. Loglan, an effort to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that natural languages influence (or pollute) human cognition. (Robert Heinlein was a fan.) Blissymbolics, a language using pictures. (Not yet in Unicode, else I'd put an example here.)

And, most importantly, Klingon. Ms. Okrent relates the story of that languge's invention. (Whose alphabet is in Unicode.) She travels to a meeting of Klingon speakers, learns enough to ace a test given to measure one's grasp of vocabulary.

Ms. Okrent is a diligent researcher, but also a fun one. Her first effort in exploring Wilkins' philosophical language is to do "what any sensible, mature language scholar would do. I tried to look up the word for 'shit'." With mixed results.

And in looking at "Lojban" (an offshoot of Loglan), she tackles the 600+ pages of its "reference grammar". Which, she points out, "doesn't even include a dictionary."

I read the whole thing—I swear I did. And I'll tell you, not only did I still not speak Lojban, but I started to lose my ability to comprehend English.

The title of the book's Chapter Two is "A History of Failure". And it was the primary lesson for me: efforts to design a rational, logical language that many people would actually use didn't work out. (Arguably, the greatest success in this field is Klingon. And that "works" precisely because it wasn't meant to be logical, rational, etc. It was a labor of love, designed to reflect Klingon sensibilities and culture.)

Being of a libertarian bent, I couldn't help but make a connection to similar socialist/Marxist efforts to mold messy, irrational, societies and economies into efficient, rational Erewhons. Like languages, societies and economies emerge and evolve via the unpredictable and chaotic interplay of individuals. One might be able to make utopia-building efforts work on a small scale, for a short time. But thinking you're gonna run nations, or the world, that way? That's what Hayek called the "fatal conceit."

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:43 AM EDT

No Deviation From Anti-Racism Dogma Allowed!

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Like most of the regular columnists in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, D. Allen Kerr is on the left, but perhaps on the moderate left. Which means that he sometimes offends the easily offended! Case in point was his August 27 op-ed, which is behind the Foster's paywall, but here's the headline:

America is not a racist nation — but it’s not perfect, either

His outrageous heresy was corrected in today's paper, in an LTE from Danielle Hoffman of Kittery, Maine. And, to be clear: Kerr's sin was not in claiming that America was imperfect. It was in claiming that America is not a racist nation:

I was disappointed to read D. Allan Kerr’s most recent opinion piece. Not only by his words, or the piece’s glaring title, which minimizes the experience of countless Black Americans (including some of Mr. Kerr’s own neighbors), but also by the publisher’s decision to post the piece with no counterpoint or editorial notations.

While I truly appreciate Mr. Kerr’s optimism and enthusiasm for history, it is irresponsible to let his words stand without scrutiny of facts. Kerr holds up the existence of a Black president and other office holders to support his assertion that America has eradicated the systemic racism on which it was founded. Yet he ignores the well-documented experiences of regular (non office holding) Black Americans. The conservative commentator Jason Riley wrote in a 2017 opinion piece “The proliferation of black politicians in recent decades — which now includes a twice-elected black president — has done little to narrow racial gaps in employment, income, homeownership, academic achievement and other areas.”

Yes, Ms. Hoffman is put out that the paper failed to offer immediate rebuttal to Kerr's blasphemy. Readers had to wait for a little over a week before being enlightened by Ms. Hoffman's letter! Goodness knows what injustices and aggressions they might have committed in the meantime.

But what I found amusing was that Ms. Hoffman quoted Jason Riley in support of her thesis.

Reader, I'm a minor Riley fan, either favorably mentioning or citing him numerous times over the years (here, here, here, here, here (a report on his book about Thomas Sowell), here, and here). So I'm pretty sure that Ms. Hoffman is (intentionally?) misleading in her snippage of Riley's views. You can read Riley's book (our Amazon Product du Jour), or an excerpt thereof at the Manhattan Institute, Why Obama's Presidency Didn't Lead to Black Progress for fuller context.

Or you can read (or listen to) his Econtalk interview with Russ Roberts, where he directly refutes Ms. Hoffman's argument. A long excerpt:

I learn [from study of Black history] that Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery are not blanket explanations for black outcomes today.

There's no doubt that those events had a profound impact on the black experience in this country. There's no doubt, to me, that discrimination and prejudice and bias can in fact play a role in a minority group's upward mobility. The question is: how big a role is it playing? How much of what is going on today does it explain?

And, I would argue that it explains quite little given the amount of progress that was taking place when you had far more racial discrimination in America than you have today.

A lot of people look at these black crime rates and they say: Poverty. Obviously. Blacks are much poorer than whites on average, and so higher black crime rates make sense. These are desperate people. Which, you know, might sound logical, superficially, until you realize that in the 1930s and '40s and '50s, black people were a lot poorer then they are today and black crime rates were a lot lower than they are today. So, this correlation that is just thrown out there between poverty and crime rates does not hold up to scrutiny.

The poverty rate among black married couples has been in the single digits for more than a quarter century. You know, black people don't become less black after they get married. So, is the poverty rate in America a function of racism, or family formation? Is it a function of the fact you see fewer married couples among blacks?

We don't talk about that. We jump right to the racial explanation or the racist explanation of these outcomes.

And, I think that's a mistake.

Riley has been making this point for years (as has Thomas Sowell). And guess who jumped "right to the racial explanation or the racist explanation"? That's correct: Danielle Hoffman. Guess she should have read beyond that single sentence she quoted.

Also of note:

  • As long as we are citing Jason Riley… Let's take a look at his recent WSJ op-ed: The Racial Achievement Gap and the War on Meritocracy.

    Yes, this is another September “back to school” column. My apologies. But someone needs to keep pointing out that our national debate over which books to allow in classrooms, or how to teach slavery to middle-schoolers, is far less consequential than the continuing inability of most youngsters to read or do math at grade level.

    In Florida, where GOP governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has taken lumps for a couple sentences in a 200-page black-history curriculum, only 39% of Miami-Dade County fourth-graders are proficient in reading, according to a Miami Herald report last year on standardized test results. By eighth grade the number drops to 31%, and math scores are just as bad. Who cares if kids have access to books by Toni Morrison or Jodi Picoult if most of them can’t comprehend the contents?

    These dismal outcomes have persisted nationwide for decades, and the racial achievement gap is even more disturbing. The U.S. Education Department reported last year that in 2022 the average reading score for black fourth-graders in New York on the National Assessment of Educational Progress trailed that of white fourth graders by 29 points. This “performance gap was not significantly different from that in 1998,” the report added.

    The progressive left’s response to these outcomes has been to wage war on meritocracy rather than focus on improving instruction. The goal is to eliminate gifted-and-talented middle-school programs, high-school entrance exams and the use of the SAT in college admissions. One defense of racial preferences in education for black students is that recipients, including those who go into teaching, are more likely to work in low-income minority communities after graduation. That’s true, but is it what economically disadvantaged students really need, more second-rate teachers?

    To keep yelling "racism" is unhelpful. Actually often harmful, unless your goal is mere virtue signalling.

  • We're Number Three! Which is actually kind of impressive. NHJournal reports: UNH 3rd in Free Speech Rankings While Dartmouth Among America's Worst.

    Granite State college students enjoy greater freedom of speech at the University of New Hampshire than their peers at the prestigious Ivy League school, Dartmouth College.

    The annual college rankings released this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, puts UNH third nationally, trailing only Michigan Tech and Auburn.

    Goodness knows I've directed piles of snark toward (my alma mater and longtime employer) the University Near Here. So I will just barely mention that the WSJ's rankings of The 2024 Best Colleges in the U.S.-"2024" being the year and not the number of colleges-has UNH in spot #171 out of 400.

  • If you can hear the dog whistle… then maybe you're a dog. That's the saying anyway. George Case looks at the history of a weird concept: Whistling in the Dark.

    Denunciations of “dog-whistle politics” are now a familiar part of contemporary public discourse. The metaphor refers to the high-pitched sound that calls canines but cannot be heard by humans, and it is used to imply that an apparently neutral policy or argument is actually a subtle or coded appeal to the biases of a select audience. Deploying politically coded messages in this way is a serious accusation, evidenced in a sample of recent headlines: “Politicians Should Stop Using Confusion Over Trans Issues as a Dog Whistle for Intolerance” (from the Globe and Mail), “The QAnon Dog Whistle at the SCOTUS Confirmation Hearings” (from the Atlantic), “Aitchison Condemns Lewis’ Nuremberg Email as ‘Dog Whistle’ to COVID Vaccine Critics” (from CTVNews), “Haley Sounds Her Dog Whistles As She Makes a Play for the MAGA Base” (from the Washington Post), “Backlash Against ‘Dog Whistle’ Labour Tweet About Rishi Sunak” (from the Daily Telegraph), et cetera, et cetera.

    The term’s origins are murky, but it made an early appearance in a 1988 remark by Washington Post pollster Richard Morin, who warned that a “dog whistle effect” should be considered in answers to the paper’s surveys when “respondents hear something in the question that researchers do not.” Twelve years later, Australian journalist Tony Wright was among the first to use the term as a reproach, when he wrote about Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose views on immigration and Aboriginal issues were supposedly playing to white nativism:

    I'm pretty sure my dog would ignore a dog whistle, just like he ignores my normal whistle.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:43 AM EDT

Dead Silence

[Amazon Link]
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The Amazon page summarizes the huzzahs:

A Best Book of 2022 by the New York Public Library • One of the Best SFF Books of 2022 (Gizmodo) • One of the Best SF Mysteries of 2022 (CrimeReads) • A GoodReads Choice Award finalist for Best Science Fiction!

And I think I put it on my get-at-library list due to a decent review at the Wall Street Journal last year. (That list is pretty long.)

And yet I didn't care for it at all. Obviously, you may have different results.

The Amazon page goes on to quote the book flap: "Titanic meets Event Horizon in this SF horror novel…"

Reader, it's more like "This SF horror novel is a shameless ripoff of Alien and Aliens": Plucky lady space traveller encounters a dread menace in space, which starts picking off her fellow crew members, which only she escapes by the skin of her teeth. But she is finagled into returning by her Evil Corporation™ employers, and she once again needs to deal with that same dread menace…"

The book is narrated by plucky Ellen Ripley Claire Kovalik, team leader of a small five-person spaceship, the LINA, tasked with repairing communication relays in the far reaches of the solar system. When they pick up a distress call from the Aurora, a luxury spaceliner thought to be irrevocably lost decades ago. The crew decide to rendezvous and board the hulk, only to find the entire crew and passengers long dead, victims of mass homicide and suicide. But! Riches may be had if the LINA's crew can establish their salvage rights to the loot onboard, while preventing the previously-mentioned Evil Corporation™ from screwing them out of it. Then bad things happen.

Along the way, Claire says the f-word a lot.

One major difference between Ripley and Kovalik: Kovalik has some serious mental issues, ones that are completely obvious to her crew, and you would think also to her employers. Was she really the best choice for even a routine repair mission? I wouldn't think so, but I guess it's hard to find good help in the future.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:42 AM EDT

You Can't Handle the Truth

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At least that's the position of the American Lung Association, as Guy Bentley describes: American Lung Association Demands the FDA Mislead the Public About Vaping

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should abandon any efforts to inform the public that vaping is safer than smoking, says the American Lung Association (ALA).

Numerous public surveys show a consistent, widespread misperception that vaping nicotine is just as or more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. The problem is so extensive that correcting these false beliefs forms part of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) 5-year strategic plan.

Writing in the journal Addiction, Brian King, the head of CTP, stated: "Opportunities exist to educate adults who smoke cigarettes about the relative risks of tobacco products." To that end, among the five goals listed as part of CTP's plan is a commitment to inform the public that not all tobacco products are created equally, with cigarettes being the most dangerous and others, such as e-cigarettes, being far less harmful.

A tobacco policy wonk, Dave Dobbins, is quoted: "I think that if you're a public health authority and you're caught not telling the truth, it will have long-term consequences that are with the next time people need information from you that's true and really important, they may not listen to you."

A fine sentiment, but the FDA has a long history of paternalism and political correctness trumping innovation and science. (All links to 2023 Pun Salad posts.)

Also of note:

  • You can't handle the truth, and neither can Nature. Patrick T Brown takes to the pages of the Free Press to get it out there, though: I Left Out the Full Truth to Get My Climate Change Paper Published. After noting the drumbeat of press coverage linking the Maui wildfire to "climate change", full stop:

    I am a climate scientist. And while climate change is an important factor affecting wildfires over many parts of the world, it isn’t close to the only factor that deserves our sole focus.

    So why does the press focus so intently on climate change as the root cause? Perhaps for the same reasons I just did in an academic paper about wildfires in Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious journals: it fits a simple storyline that rewards the person telling it.

    The paper I just published—“Climate warming increases extreme daily wildfire growth risk in California”—focuses exclusively on how climate change has affected extreme wildfire behavior. I knew not to try to quantify key aspects other than climate change in my research because it would dilute the story that prestigious journals like Nature and its rival, Science, want to tell.

    This matters because it is critically important for scientists to be published in high-profile journals; in many ways, they are the gatekeepers for career success in academia. And the editors of these journals have made it abundantly clear, both by what they publish and what they reject, that they want climate papers that support certain preapproved narratives—even when those narratives come at the expense of broader knowledge for society.

    And to repeat the completely obvious point Dave Dobbins made above: every time you're caught fudging the truth, it makes it less likely people will believe you in the future.

    You'd think that might bother the folks running the show at Nature. And Science. And Scientific American.

  • A myth as good as a mile. Continuing with our theme John Tierney writes provocatively on The Misogyny Myth.

    Misogyny is supposedly rampant in modern society, but where, exactly, does it lurk? For decades, researchers have hunted for evidence of overt discrimination against women as well as subtler varieties, like “systemic sexism” or “implicit bias.” But instead of detecting misogyny, they keep spotting something else.

    Consider a new study that is one of the most sophisticated efforts to analyze implicit bias. Previous researchers typically looked for it by measuring split-second reactions to photos of faces: how long it takes to associate each face with a positive or negative attribute. Some studies reported that whites are quicker to associate black faces with negative attributes, but those experiments often involved small samples of college students. For this study, a team of psychologists led by Paul Connor of Columbia University recruited a nationally representative sample of adults and showed them more than just faces. The participants saw full-body photos of men and women of different races and ages, dressed in outfits ranging from well-tailored suits and blazers to scruffy hoodies, T-shirts, and tank tops.

    Who was biased against whom? The researchers found no consistent patterns by race or by age. The participants were quicker to associate negative attributes with people in scruffier clothes, but that bias was fairly small. Only one strong and consistent bias emerged. Participants in every category—men and women of all races, ages, and social classes—were quicker to associate positive attributes with women and negative attributes with men.

    The participants were guilty not of misogyny but of its opposite: misandry, a bias against men. This study merely measured unconscious reactions, so it doesn’t prove that they’d discriminate against men. The many critics of implicit-bias research maintain that measures of people’s “unconscious racism” bear scant relation to their conscious behavior. But when it comes to detecting misandry, we don’t need to probe the unconscious to find it. There is overwhelming evidence of conscious, blatant, and widespread discrimination against boys and men in modern societies.

    If you haven’t heard of this evidence, it’s because of the well-documented misandrist bias in the public discussion of gender issues. Scholars, journalists, politicians, and activists will lavish attention on a small, badly flawed study if it purports to find bias against women, but they’ll ignore—or work to suppress—the wealth of solid research showing the opposite. Three decades ago, psychologists identified the “women-are-wonderful effect,” based on research showing that both sexes tended to rate women more positively than men. This effect has been confirmed repeatedly—women get higher ratings than men for intelligence as well as competence—and it’s obvious in popular culture.

    Well, at least the research got published before it was ignored.

    And now for something completely different… well, slightly different.

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines definitely applies. David Strom asks (I'm pretty sure rhetorically): Should libraries be "a site for socialist organizing?" Noting this tweet:

    Strom's bottom line:

    Frustrating as it is, the majority of people have yet to grasp how radically different today’s public institutions are from what they were a decade or three ago. Most people think of the FBI as a straight-laced fairly conservative organization, public schools as run by overworked middle-class moms and dads who love kids, and newspapers as being basically fair if tilting leftward.

    That’s why conservatives look like crazed conspiracy theorists to them; it sounds insane when you say “The American Library Association is run by a lesbian Marxist who is using libraries as a place to organize socialists.” It would have sounded insane to me a decade ago.

    But sadly (and scarily) it is true. You don’t have to trust me. Trust the president of the ALA. In the future, she will likely be a bit more circumspect, but no less committed to recruiting the next generation of Marxists.

    And why not? The plan is working.

    I'll admit that since publishing the execrable Anti-Racism Zine a couple years ago, the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library has steered clear (as near as I can tell) from pushing leftist propaganda.

  • An upappetizing recipe. Katherine Mangu-Ward's lead editorial from the current issue of Reason is out from behind the paywall, and it is (as usual) very good: The Sticky Spaghetti School of Constitutional Law.

    "The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it's not likely to pass constitutional muster" is not a sentence you want to hear from a president launching an economywide initiative that will directly impact millions of Americans. Yet President Joe Biden said exactly that in 2021 when he announced plans to continue a Trump-era Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative giving public health bureaucrats control over evictions nationwide.

    The Court was not amused by Biden's brazenness, and—just as it had clearly signaled it would do when it had earlier considered the expiring eviction moratorium—it ruled that it was not, in fact, within the power of the executive to give the CDC control of the contractual arrangements between every American renter and landlord.

    Biden is simply the latest to experiment with an increasingly popular governing philosophy that involves throwing laws and edicts at the wall like so much spaghetti. (As is his wont, Biden diverged from his predecessors primarily by saying the quiet part slightly louder.) This sticky spaghetti system involves knowingly attempting unconstitutional action and then waiting to see just how mad the Supreme Court gets.

    Grounds for impeachment, sez I.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:42 AM EDT

You Want Blame? We Got Plenty to Go Around.

Since it's a day ending in "y", it's pretty easy to find a recent reality-challenging quote (by which I mean a "lie") from the most usual of suspects: Biden boasts about cutting deficit — as it soars

President Biden boasted during a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia on Monday that he cut the federal budget deficit — despite the fact that it’s soaring this year.

“Unlike the last president, in my first two years — all this stuff, guess what? — I cut the deficit $1.7 trillion, cut the debt $1.7 trillion,” the 80-year-old president said, conflating the basic budget terms after he touted new infrastructure spending.

Biden wants to claim responsibility for the FY2021-2022 deficit reduction. I'm rolling my eyes. But will he also claim responsibility for the FY2022-2023 deficit doubling? Given his usual confusion about the difference between "the deficit" and "the debt", it's doubtful that he even understands what's going on.

The usual disclaimer: no money goes out the Treasury door without being approved by Congress. So they deserve to come in for abuse too.

And how did those irresponsible clowns get into those positions of power?

Oh, right. Voters. Democracy.

When we're looking to assign blame for our fiscal mess, when are we going to start pointing fingers back at "us"?

Also of note:

  • And Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. David Strom notes that 1984 came later than expected, but it's here: Rewriting history...it works more often than you think. One of the current examples:

    Further comment from Strom:

    Our MSM pulls this same sort of BS all the time on a range of issues. How many clips of reporters denying that there is a shred of evidence that Joe Biden helped his son engage in influence peddling? The Washington Post’s Philip Bump beclowned himself by claiming (again) that there is zero evidence that Joe Biden had anything to do with Hunter’s business, and when pressed left a podcast in a huff. John wrote about it on Friday.

    Rest assured, though, that Bump will continue pushing the lie, and vast numbers of people will continue to believe it because the alternative is confronting a hard truth. How many TV anchors have repeated the same lie that there is no evidence that Biden was deeply involved in his son’s business?

    Eagerly awaiting journalism to happen. Not counting on it.

  • Once a Presidential contender, now he's just a… Jazz Shaw notes that being gay and charismatic only takes one so far: Pete Buttigieg is just a symptom of a vastly larger crisis.

    It is, perhaps, somewhat ironic that we tackle this subject on Labor Day, an occasion when we ostensibly celebrate those who exert themselves and labor to keep the economic machine of our capitalist democracy grinding onward, allowing citizens to contribute to the general advancement of the country while working toward what was historically considered “the American dream.” Those who toil, raise families, build careers, and hope to pass something on to the next generation were traditionally revered. That lifestyle has always included goals that involved eventual home ownership, but we also developed a culture where personal transportation and mobility were critical, leading to a culture where personal car ownership was among those objectives. But now everything has changed. And there is no better example of this than our supposed Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, adopting a position where Americans should be ushered away from owning their own cars, be they gas-driven or even electric. Everyone should be using public transportation as much as possible. Well… not “everyone,” of course. But most certainly you. (Townhall)

    Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appointed an Obama-era group made up of 24 “leading experts” to advise him on “transportation equity,” claiming the privilege of owning a car ignites “systemic racism” and should be banned because of their negative impact on the environment.

    Members of the Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity include “spatial policy scholar” Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, who says, “All cars are bad” and calls for “zero emission transit.”

    However, she told the Free Beacon that she is not “advocating for a complete erasure” of cars but hopes to convince Buttigieg to re-direct the U.S. from relying on private motor vehicles.

    I have to admit that the "spatial policy scholar" gig sounds pretty sweet.

  • Good news, everyone! The new episodes of Futurama on Hulu vary from "okay" to "great". Yesterday's "Rage Against the Vaccine" was one of the great ones, and (as this recap notes) the targets were:

    global health scares, wonky vaccine mandates, conspiracy theories, new media, and public hysteria

    Something for everyone, in other words. Yes, even in 3023, variants are still a thing, and the latest is "Explovid-23" which is "characterized by light coughing and uncontrollable rage."

    Hey, look at that deficit projection up there again. Who needs a virus to cause uncontrollable rage when we have Twitter?

No, Not Her. Him.

Barry Brownstein reveals a little known Friedrich fact: Hayek Helps Us Understand Why People Are Losing Their Minds

Recently, I saw a decal on a car window with the iconic Smoky the Bear image and the caption: “Only you can prevent communism.”

In humor, there is also truth. Prevent communism, how? The person with the decal, a close friend of my daughter’s, saw her role in preventing communism as continuing to educate herself on why it is an existential threat to humanity. Yet, she is dismayed at how many of her peers have adopted collectivist positions and are unwilling to consider alternatives.

Like her, I know many well-intentioned people who have adopted positions antithetical to liberty and yet are as concerned about human flourishing as you and me. They are not ideologues committed to overthrowing Western civilization, but their adopted mindsets are leading us down a dangerous path.

If it seems that your well-intentioned friends have lost their minds, they have, and you might be in danger of losing yours too.

F. A. Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit helps us understand why. Hayek explained we have confused cause and effect. Reason is not the cause of civilization; reason is a product of civilization.

Note that when Brownstein speaks of "losing one's mind", he's not using it as a euphemism for "going crazy". He's talking about losing your rationality and giving up to the demands of the collective.

Also of note:

  • For an example of that regrettable phenomenon… Andy Kessler warns us: The Climate-Change ‘Emergency’ Is Coming for You. Sounds bad. And his subhed is worse: "We’ve not fully arrived at crazytown. But the urge to curtail individual freedom is visible in countless blueprints for a controlled future."

    Two years ago during Covid lockdowns, I wrote about climate control freaks, facetiously anticipating a future headline: “Bad CO2 Day, Lockdowns Enforced.” A joke that would never happen, right? Well . . .

    Last month President Biden was asked on the Weather Channel if he was ready to declare a national climate emergency and responded, “We’ve already done that.” Asked again if he declared a climate emergency, he said, “Practically speaking, yes.” There is no official emergency, but the president certainly thinks we need one.

    The fawning press gave him a break—he didn’t really mean that, did he? But the notion of a national emergency today isn’t farfetched. The United Nations website blares: “What you need to know about the Climate Emergency.” The European Parliament has declared one. So have hundreds of jurisdictions in at least 39 countries, including the U.K., Canada, Japan and Bangladesh. Climate-activist teenager Greta Thunberg gave away the game in 2019 when she said, “I want you to panic,” and, “I want you to act as if you would in a crisis.” Emergencies are an excuse to do whatever you want.

    And the point of inducing panic? To get you to "lose your mind."

  • It's not just the Stupid Party anymore. As Kevin D. Williamson explains, it's also rapidly becoming The No-Values Party.

    If the Republicans on the Milwaukee debate stage seemed incoherent to you, it is because the Republicans on the Milwaukee debate stage were incoherent. Incoherence is one of the many unhappy side effects a party experiences when it abandons its values.

    Take national security. For more than a half a century, the Republicans were the party associated with a more robust—and more serious—program for national security. Now, they are and they aren’t, and they mostly aren’t. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor and miraculously disappearing Trump challenger, has complained that the Biden administration is too eager to help Ukraine and our European allies repel the Russian invasion that launched the most significant war in Europe since World War II. We have critical defense interests, DeSantis told Tucker Carlson in March, and “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.” He protests that the U.S. government is offering Kyiv a “blank check.”

    DeSantis has reconnected with an ancient stream of Republican isolationism that flares up from time to time, as in Bob Dole’s infamous denunciation of “Democrat wars” in his 1976 vice presidential debate with Walter Mondale. The weird thing is, DeSantis also vowed to invade Mexico on his first day—literally: “I will do it on Day 1,” he pledged at the debate in response to a question about the drug cartels operating in the country. A few bucks to push back Moscow is a bridge too far, but an illegal and unprovoked invasion of our peaceable neighbor to the south is, somehow, obviously the right thing to do.

    KDW's article has a little padlock on it, which I think means you should subscribe if you want to read more. And you should.

  • Another reason commuter rail to New Hampshire is a stupid idea. One we missed last Friday when discussing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joyce Craig's pledge to drop big bucks on extending Boston-centric MBTA commuter rail up to Nashua and Manchester.

    First, Google "Boston office vacancy rate". You'll see a lot of results, and they are uniformly gloomy.

    From April: 'Still More Pain In Front Of Us' As Boston Office Vacancy Hits New Highs.

    From January: Could Boston face an ‘urban doom loop’?

    Also from January: Boston commercial vacancies at their highest in over a decade.

    And it appears they are giving up hope for a miraculous comeback. From last month: Boston has launched a pilot program to convert unused office space into housing. Yes, in true Massachusetts fashion, they have a corporate welfare "program" of offering tax abatements to developers who will "convert" according to whatever the planners demand.

    Because they're great at deciding that.

    But the relevance to NH commuter rail is obvious: you're designing an inflexible, expensive system to take people to a place fewer and fewer people want to commute to.

    Note that the MBTA and its apologists try to put a smiley face on this. Here (from June) you'll read that MBTA commuter rail has reached (finally) "80 percent of pre-pandemic levels".

    But another way to say that is: down, 20%, probably forever. Have the hucksters pushing for a New Hampshire extension taken that into account for their rosy scenario? Wanna bet?

Nikki, Don't Lose That Number


As I type, the election punters are saying (with their own money):

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 35.8% unch
Donald Trump 28.0% +0.3%
Gavin Newsom 5.6% unch
Ron DeSantis 5.5% unch
Michelle Obama 4.0% +0.8%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.6% -1.0%
Vivek Ramaswamy 3.6% -1.2%
Nikki Haley 3.3% +0.9%
Kamala Harris 2.1% -0.1%
Other 8.5% +0.3%

It's been a pretty quiet week odds-wise. The bettors seem to be increasing their hopes that Michelle Obama will come to the rescue and prevent another Biden-Trump rematch. And can anyone deny that she'd be a formidable candidate if she chose to run?

But "Other" continues to be a strong contender.

Also of note:

  • What's that song again? Oh, right. It's "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club. 'Twas a big hit back 40 years ago, kids. And Vivek might consider it for his campaign song.

    Max Burns takes a look at Vivek Ramaswamy’s no good, very bad week. Example:

    On Monday night, Ramaswamy sat down for what should have been a softball interview with Fox’s most outspokenly conservative anchor, Sean Hannity. The conversation quickly derailed when Hannity called out Ramaswamy for misrepresenting his position on ending aid to Israel.

    When Ramaswamy claimed Hannity was misquoting him, the anchor doubled down, offering to read Ramaswamy’s exact quote to the audience. Hannity’s unexpected jab sent Ramaswamy into a cascade of stutters and stumbles — and revealed how much of Ramaswamy’s campaign strategy depends on doing interviews with reporters who won’t challenge his ideas.

    He comes and goes, he comes and goes.

  • Maybe that book was written by some other guy named Vivek Ramaswamy. CNN reports a bit of cognitive dissonance: Ramaswamy makes two false claims about what he wrote in his own book

    Over a span of four days, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy made two different false claims about what he wrote in his own 2022 book.

    At the first Republican presidential debate last Wednesday, Ramaswamy claimed rival candidate Chris Christie was not telling the truth when Christie said Ramaswamy had said “much different things” about former President Donald Trump in the book than the glowing assessment he was offering at the debate. But Christie was correct. Ramaswamy’s book, “Nation of Victims,” contains sharp criticism of Trump as well as some praise.

    Then, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Ramaswamy delivered another falsehood while trying to deflect moderator Chuck Todd’s questioning about the book’s pointed rejection of Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was “stolen.”

    Ramaswamy claimed that, if Todd had actually read “Nation of Victims,” he would have seen that, in the very same chapter as the criticism of Trump’s claims about the 2020 election, Ramaswamy had written about how “big tech” had interfered in that election by suppressing a late-campaign story related to Hunter Biden’s laptop. Ramaswamy said “about 20 pages” of the book were devoted to that subject, which he said he had also brought up in his 2021 book “Woke, Inc.”

    Ramaswamy was wrong again.

    Not bad for CNN. But that's a low bar. To their credit, they did notice (because everyone else was noticing): Biden tells three false personal anecdotes in economic speech.

    But theit "fact check" page reveals the double standard we discussed a couple days ago. From the headlines:

    …debunking Trump's dishonest attacks…
    …27 Donald Trump elecion lies…
    …10 of the lies Trump used…
    …Trump lies again…
    …21 Donald Trump election lies…
    …Trump tells another election lie…
    …Trump's blizzard of dishonesty…

    Well, you get the point. Will CNN (etc.) ever get around to calling Biden a liar? Breath-holding is not recommended.

  • What "transparency problem"? I can see right through him. C.J. Ciaramella seems to think it's an issue, though: Joe Biden's Email Aliases Are a Potentially Serious Transparency Problem.

    The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has more than 5,000 potential emails from three aliases President Joe Biden used while serving in the Obama administration, according to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed Monday.

    The New York Post first reported in 2021 that Biden used at least three pseudonyms—"Robin Ware," "Robert L. Peters," and "JRB Ware"—on emails that mixed family and government business. The aliases were reportedly discovered in emails found on Hunter Biden's infamous laptop.

    C.J. goes through the sordid history of government officials hiding behind email aliases. And of course, Hillary's homebrew server.

  • They are "furious", because it will be obvious he's doing what Joe and Kamala can't. I have no idea how reliable the Townhall "Tipsheet" is, but this is too good to check: Biden, Harris Aides Furious That Newsom Plans to Debate DeSantis: 'Disrespectful'

    Aides to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are reportedly less than thrilled that Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) plans to debate his rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).

    As rumors swirl that Newsom is next in line to replace Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee, several Biden staffers view the governor as a nuisance.

    "It's disrespectful," an outside Harris adviser said, according to a report from NBC News. “Joe Biden is running with Kamala Harris. That's the Democratic ticket.”

    FYI, Politico reports that the negotiations about that debate have "reached an impasse". DeSantis wants a live audience, Newsom does not.

    I hate to say it, but I'm with Newsom there.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:00 PM EDT

Good Advice: Get Sane

John Hinderaker notes the latest findings from Real Science: Knowledge Is Sanity (quoting a tweet from Bjørn Lomborg):

John comments:

That makes sense, obviously. We might say that it is one instance of a broader proposition: the more one knows about any subject, the less likely one is to swallow liberal propaganda on that issue.

I no longer consider "liberal" to be an accurate or useful slur, but otherwise on target.

Also of note:

  • Speaking of propaganda… John Sexton reads the NYT op-ed page so you don't have to. Farhad Manjoo writes a story about the Kia Boys without mentioning the Kia Boys.

    Executive summary: anyone with a USB cable can steal an (unpatched) Kia or Hyundai. That knowledge is easily available. Some blame TikTok for providing instructional videos, but Manjoo blames the manufacturer, Hyundai Motor Group. And (as Sexton's headline notes) Manjoo's missing something:

    Not mentioned at all in these paragraphs or anywhere else in his column are the car thieves. All of the fault is placed on inanimate objects, i.e. the “theft-prone cars.” No responsibility is placed on the people driving this trend. This strikes me as pretty perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with progressive thinking on crime.

    I think there’s a pretty clear reason why he’s leaving out the people responsible. Because the “Kia Boys,” as they’ve been described, are young teens, often black, who are stealing cars for fun and for social media cred. Contrary to what Manjoo claims, TikTok isn’t just providing dry information on how to steal the cars, it’s the platform where the “Kia Challenge” went viral. It’s where thieves post highlights of their joyrides in stolen cars to impress other kids.

    Also piling on Manjoo: Zach Kessel at National Review: Progressives Blame Hyundai and Kia for Rash of Car Thefts. A number of "blue" cities have filed lawsuits against Hyundai. But:

    Manjoo considers a recent focus on TikTok as a platform on which would-be car thieves can view hotwiring tutorials to be a case of misplaced blame. A number of New York Democrats have criticized the social-media app for its lack of content moderation, effectively accusing TikTok of being an accessory to vehicle theft. But Manjoo says “it’s Kia and Hyundai, not TikTok, that sold theft-prone cars.”

    He’s got a point — but there’s something important being left out of the equation here: The people who steal cars (even those without proper safeguards) willingly make the decision to steal them. The intense scrutiny of Hyundai and Kia is a flailing attempt by those on the left to avoid blaming the criminals themselves.

    One lawsuit is especially rich, given the mayor who filed it. Brandon Johnson, the arch-progressive mayor of Chicago, said “the failure of Kia and Hyundai to install basic auto-theft prevention technology in these models is sheer negligence, and as a result, a citywide and nationwide crime spree around automobile theft has been unfolding right before our eyes.”

    Maybe we should take his words seriously. After all, Johnson does know a lot about negligence. In April of this year, several hundred teenagers cut loose on the streets of Chicago, smashing windows, vandalizing cars, and committing acts of assault and robbery. At a press conference following the violent outburst, Johnson excused the behavior, saying the rioters were young, and young people sometimes “make silly decisions.” That’s true, but most teenage mistakes don’t involve two people being shot. The mayor argued that “demonizing children is wrong,” and “we have to keep them safe as well.” At a certain point, though, the rioters’ safety is in their own hands.

    Note the similarity with the leftist nattering about "gun violence", neatly leaving the perpetrators out of the narrative. As Kessel says, it's all a part of the "progressive desire to absolve criminals of responsibility for their actions".

  • Ever wondered if Biden's pricey industrial policy agenda will stop stagnation? Well, bunkie, Ron Bailey has the answer for you: Biden's Pricey Industrial Policy Agenda Won't Stop Stagnation

    President Joe Biden is making a "big bet on place-based industrial policy," writes Brookings Institution senior fellow Mark Muro. Muro and his colleagues argue that the initiative aims to address the fact that "many of the nation's towns and regions struggle under the weight of economic stagnation and social decline."

    The size of the bet is around $80 billion in various industrial subsidies. It is unlikely to pay off as advertised.

    These direct subsidies contrast with earlier federal place-based economic development programs, which chiefly used tax credits to encourage investment in poor urban neighborhoods and rural regions. Most research on those programs—which include New Markets Tax Credits (created by President Bill Clinton), Empowerment Zones (George W. Bush), and Opportunity Zones (Donald Trump)—indicates that they have had a negligible impact.

    Bailey quotes from a June Biden speech:

    Well, I believe that every American willing to work hard should be able to get a job no matter where they are — in the heartland, in small towns, in every part of this country — to raise their kids on a good paycheck and keep their roots where they grew up. That’s Bidenomics.

    Boy, that's pretty much a guarantee of stagnation: "Wherever you are, just stay put, and the federal government will drop money (obtained from someone else, don't worry) on the right people to ensure you'll get paid."

    Amazingly, in that same speech, Biden derided what he called "trickle-down". Showing a remarkable lack of self-awareness.

  • Walt wouldn't have done this. The Guardian describes The great cancellation: why megabucks TV shows are vanishing without a trace.

    Two years ago, Nautilus was big news. A vast, expensive Disney+ prequel to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Nautilus promised to tell the early story of Captain Nemo as he embarked on an epic submarine adventure, seeking revenge on his former captors the East India Company. A colossal replica submarine was built. Several soundstages on Australia’s Gold Coast were given over to it. Hundreds of crew members were hired alongside hundreds of extras. Filming took almost a year. The Queensland government claimed that the series would inject A$96m into the local economy. It looked certain to be a hit; an exciting new big-budget spectacle, underpinned with contemporary themes, based on a legendary piece of intellectual property. Nautilus couldn’t go wrong.

    Except nobody is going to see Nautilus because, even though it has already been made, Disney+ has decided not to stream it. Clearly, this is unusual. The television industry has a long history of dropping previously announced shows for a variety of reasons – 2004’s animated Popetown was canned by the BBC after complaints from Catholics, 2017’s The Cops was axed after reports of creator Louis CK’s sexual misconduct came to light, and 2021’s Ultimate Slip ’N Slide was cancelled after the crew all came down with a highly infectious variant of explosive diarrhoea that can be spread through tainted water. But Disney+ has a different reason for getting rid of Nautilus: it was axed as a cost-cutting exercise.

    Well, I'm pissed. I have real fond memories of James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, and that big-ass squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Nautilus sounds like a movie I would have streamed on day one.

Last Modified 2023-09-02 12:53 PM EDT

They Want Choo-Choos!

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Granite Staters, if you needed a reason to vote against gubernatorial candidate Joyce Craig, Michael Graham gives you a big one: Craig Backs $800M Rail Plan, Says Young Granite Staters 'Don't Even Want' Cars. She wants a new and expensive commuter rail line up to Nashua and Manchester, and in the event she becomes Governor, she's promising to make it happen!

And (indeed) part of her argument (disclosed to a local TV station) is:

“We also know that young people want to be in New Hampshire, and a lot of the young people don’t even want a vehicle,” Craig said. “So, they are getting by with bikes and walking and public transportation that’s really lacking in this state.”

Um. Well. Certainly many "young people want" stuff. Preferably "free", but will grudgingly accept "heavily taxpayer subsidized".

Craig also said there would be provision of "jobs" and "economic development". The usual argument: after government takes your money, spends it on stuff, eventually some of that will trickle back down to you. Maybe. If government thinks you deserve it. (Doesn't that yarn deserve the derisive label of "trickle-down economics"?)

Graham (and GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte) concentrate on Craig's dubious assertion about the "young people" who "don't even want a vehicle." But what really needs to be brought to the discussion is commuter rail's long history of underestimating costs and overestimating benefits.

In addition, the proposed line links up with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Which has its own set of problems. See this Quora response from earlier this year to the query "What are some of the reasons why the MBTA is so expensive and unreliable?" Hey, only four are listed: aging infrastructure, insufficient funding, labor costs, complex governance structure, and inefficient operations. The responder says "Addressing these issues will require a concerted effort by government agencies, private contractors, and other stakeholders to improve the system's overall efficiency and reliability." Maybe (at least) wait until they do that? Don't hold your breath, though.

Also of note:

  • I'll take "Things that won't happen" for 200, Mayim. Mark Hemingway has a demand! Specifically: If The Media Insisted On Calling Trump A Liar, That Standard Must Be Applied To Biden’s Corruption Lies. He provides numerous examples of the MSM drumbeat: Trump lies a lot.

    Which might be overstated in many cases, but very often true, as Hemingway admits. But whatabout:

    Time and again, the default assumption for Trump is corrupt motives, where Biden gets the benefit of the doubt to an absurd degree. The idea that it was necessary to call Trump a liar in no way precludes doing the same to Biden who is a world-class liar in his own right. However, if the press were to take the most obvious reading of Biden’s motives, they would have to conclude that the man is a corrupt and brazen liar. They would have to, according to the new rulebook, “move closer to being oppositional.” But that’s not going to happen because political reporters are not a particularly consistent or principled bunch.

    Of course, the problem with Biden’s lying goes well beyond the issues of foreign corruption; the issue of character and personal flaws was one that was frequently hung around Trump’s neck. Again, I fail to see how Biden faces a different standard. His issues with lying might be the worst of any politician of the modern era. He was caught extensively plagiarizing in law school, and he probably never should have been given a degree, but if you ask Biden, he “went to law school on a full academic scholarship,” he “ended up in the top half” of his law school class, and “graduated with three degrees from undergraduate school.” None of that is true. His first presidential campaign was derailed when he plagiarized a speech from a British politician, and it made him a national laughingstock.

    Typical softsoaping from Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post: Biden loves to retell certain stories. Some aren’t credible.

    "Aren't credible." Gee, ya think?

    Kessler discusses a number of Biden's repeated tall tales. But the only time "lie" appears is:

    Contemporary news reports on the house fire do not match his telling of it, fanning criticism that he had lied to a vulnerable audience.

    "I'm not calling him a liar, but critics said he lied this once."

  • "So, Lone Starr, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb." Yes, that's a Spaceballs quote. But that's what came to mind reading Daniel Henninger's WSJ column: The Stupid Party vs. the Evil Party

    Which would you rather be right now, the stupid party or the evil party? My money says the evil party will find a way out of the Biden-Trump dilemma.

    Put it this way: The party that nominates someone other than these two will win the decisive votes of independents, and the election. The Republicans look locked into their forget-the-independents choice. I don’t think the Democrats are.

    It is difficult to disagree with the assumption that the multiple prosecutions are ensuring Mr. Trump’s nomination. Virtually every event related to the four indictments ratchets up the Republican rage meter another several points for the former president. You knew that Trump mug shot was worth millions the moment you saw it. So too U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s decision to plop down the Trump trial in Washington on March 4, hours before the Super Tuesday primary. Her explanation: “My primary concern here is the interest of justice and that I’ve balanced the defendant’s right to adequately prepare.” Uh-huh.

    I really have to watch Spaceballs again. "What's the matter, Colonel Sandurz? CHICKEN?"

  • "Democracy" has always meant this, peasant. Matt Taibbi continues his series on words that have journeyed "meaningful to meaningless" This episode looks at "Democracy".

    Whatever we are and Russia is not. Stops at nothing to defend itself, boldly casting norms aside to preserve norms. Contact Aurum Speakers Bureau to hear Anne Applebaum speak on its behalf. Synonymous with the “rules-based international order,” even though the “international order” views attachment to democratic sovereignty as nationalism. Is already “on the ballot,” and a t-shirt, for 2024. Paradoxically those who cast ballots for “democracy” are more inclined to wonder lately if there is too much of it here. Incidentally whether or not there is too much democracy at home may be discussed, but whether there is too little in places like Ukraine may not. The modern term democracy promotion, which even the Brookings Institute says may “rely on cooperation with undemocratic governments” and has connotations of regime change, is a near-perfect antonym of the term it replaced, now in disrepute: self-determination.

    You may not agree with everything Taibbi claims, I don't, but he's got a definite point.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:41 AM EDT