Have I Mentioned That I Hate Halloween?

Well, yeah, I guess I have. There is an upside, though, it's a hook for this Bragg/Heaton video: Halloween on Capitol Hill:

The trick-or-treaters descended on Pun Salad Manor last night. No drugs were given out, just Butterfingers, Baby Ruths, Crunches, etc. I swear that next year, I'm going to turn off all the lights, and read my Kindle in the dark.

Also of note:

  • Update: "Patriotism" is no longer the last refuge of a scoundrel. In fact, I think it's moved pretty far up the list. Now, given recent declarations by our Scoundrel-in-Chief, I'm pretty sure claiming an "emergency" has moved into the lead. James Freeman chronicles Biden’s New Power Grab.

    Americans with deep concerns about the mental acuity of President Joe Biden are being asked to believe he is competent and empowered to direct the country’s technological innovation. Mr. Biden is now claiming emergency authority—without any act of Congress—to seize control over the development of artificial intelligence. Conservatives may be angry with Silicon Valley for a host of reasons. But the country and its future prosperity require them to mount a vigorous opposition to this massive transfer of power from private innovators to public bureaucrats.

    As part of the sell to Do Something, Joe was provided a dog-and-pony show, unfortunately without ponies. Freeman quotes from an AP report:

    “He was as impressed and alarmed as anyone,” deputy White House chief of staff Bruce Reed said in an interview. “He saw fake AI images of himself, of his dog. He saw how it can make bad poetry. And he’s seen and heard the incredible and terrifying technology of voice cloning, which can take three seconds of your voice and turn it into an entire fake conversation.”

    Comments Freeman:

    Arguably the greatest scams of our era are the ones perpetrated by Mr. Biden’s political allies, from the Russia collusion hoax to the false dismissals of what turned out to be accurate reporting on Biden family enrichment schemes. Are we likely to get better results now if this technology is directed by consumers and engineers in places like Austin, Texas or by politicians in Washington reacting to their personal experiences with dog portrayals?

    Although, come to think of it, is invoking an "emergency" really a last refuge? "Emergency" seems to be claimed early and often. Maybe I should start making an Official Pun Salad Scoundrel Refuge List.

  • Ho hum, another "emergency". At Cato, Romina Boccia and Dominik Lett ask a burning question. Specifically, a money-burning question: What’s Another $56 Billion in Emergency Spending?.

    The Biden administration is requesting another federal agency‐sized supplemental. This time, it’s $56 billion in new emergency spending for natural disasters, childcare, and high‐speed internet. With deficits in the trillions and interest rates at historic highs, Congress should stop adding fuel to the deficit fire.

    The administration’s latest emergency supplemental would spend more than the Agency for International Development, the Small Business Administration, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) received in individual funding this year. This request also comes on top of the $106 billion in emergency aid for Israel, Ukraine, and other foreign policy issues the administration recently requested. And don’t forget the $16 billion in emergency disaster aid Congress already approved in a short‐term spending extension in late September.

    Boccia and Lett note the fundamental dishonesty of calling many of the items in Biden's laundry list "emergency".

    Example: $180 million for NASA to “begin efforts to safely dispose of the International Space Station.” Are we expected to believe that NASA folks looked around and said "Holy cow! We forgot to figure out how we were going to get rid of this beast!"

  • Apparently never a member of the Boy Scouts. At the Volokh Conspriacy, Josh Blackman quotes Berkeley Law School Dean Edwin Chemerinsky: "Nothing has prepared me for the antisemitism I see on college campuses now".

    On Friday, someone in my school posted on Instagram a picture of me with the caption, "Erwin Chemerinsky has taken an indefinite sabbatical from Berkeley Law to join the I.D.F." Two weeks ago, at a town hall, a student told me that what would make her feel safe in the law school would be "to get rid of the Zionists." I have heard several times that I have been called "part of a Zionist conspiracy," which echoes of antisemitic tropes that have been expressed for centuries.

    Josh chimes in with his own experiences at other citadels of academe.

    But Blogfather Glenn Reynolds' patience is drained. In reply to Chemerinsky, he quotes John McClane: Welcome To The Party, Pal!.

    Obviously, he hasn’t been reading my blog.  Over 20 years ago I was running a series of posts tagged “Berkeley Hatewatch Update,” tracking hateful and antisemitic behavior at UC Berkeley.

    [After excerpting a few examples from Instapundit…]

    So even in Chemerinsky’s own backyard, the signs have been there continuously for basically the entire 21stCentury to date. If Chemerinsky read my blog, he’d have known about happenings there, and elsewhere throughout the higher education world, that apparently are news to him.

    Well, to be fair, deans have more important things to do than read blogs. On the other hand, well, welcome to the party, pal. Pointing out the flourishing, toleration, and even encouragement of antisemitism in the higher education sector has largely been the function of “right wing” outlets. Mainstream and left-wing media (but I repeat myself) have had little desire to air the dirty laundry in public. And, anyway, they’re increasingly staffed with recent graduates from elite schools, steeped in Critical Race Theory, “decolonization” talk, and the like, who see this antisemitism (along with prejudice against Asians and “whiteness”) as natural and laudable, instead of as what it is, which is evil and un-American. The truth is that support for antisemitism and mass murder isn’t an aberration for the far left that dominates American campuses now. As Ilya Somin notes, it’s baked in: “It’s rooted in a long history of defending horrific mass murder and other atrocities.”

    If there's been any upswing in bigotry at the University Near Here, they're doing a pretty good job of keeping it under wraps. On the News page, the top story (as I type) is from two weeks back and the exciting headline is: "UNH Researchers Investigate Climate Tolerant Buckwheat Crop For Future Commercial Use".

  • If it weren't for double standards… Well, you know how the rest of that saying goes. At City Journal, the redoubtable John Tierney looks at the university a mere fifty miles to the south of UNH: Harvard’s Double Standard on Free Speech.

    After Harvard student groups blamed Israel for Hamas’s atrocities, the global backlash was so fierce that the university’s president, Claudine Gay, released a video statement that in some ways proved even more puzzling. “Our university rejects the harassment or intimidation of individuals based on their beliefs,” she said. “And our university embraces a commitment to free expression. That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous.”


    This was news to the scholars with unpopular views at Harvard who have been sanctioned by administrators, boycotted by students, and slandered by the Crimson student newspaper. And it was certainly news to anyone who follows the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s annual analyses of threats to free speech on campus.

    In this year’s FIRE report, Harvard’s speech climate didn’t merely rank dead last among those of the 248 participating colleges. It was also the first school that FIRE has given an “Abysmal” rating for its speech climate, scoring it zero on the 100-point scale (even that was a generous upgrade, as its actual composite score was -10). That dismal distinction made headlines last month across the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia—but not on the Harvard campus. The Crimson didn’t even publish an article in its news section, much less an editorial; Gay didn’t make a statement, either.

    I've noticed a lot of sanctimonious assertions about free expression from people who've never been particular champions of it in the past decade.

  • I noticed this too. At Techdirt, their designated Voice of Sanity, Mike Masnick is perplexed: Google Search Default Payments Seem To Be The Opposite Of What You’d Expect For A Monopoly.

    I have no idea how the current Google antitrust trial will turn out, and frankly, I’m not sure it much matters. I mean, I’m sure it matters for Google, but I don’t see how either outcome will change all that much for anyone else. I have noted, repeatedly, that I’m much more interested in a different Google antitrust trial, regarding how it handles ads. That one strikes me as more akin to a traditional antitrust case, in which it argues that Google used a dominant position in the ads market to be in a position to extract much greater rents from basically everyone.

    That’s the kind of thing you normally see that should raise antitrust concerns: situations where a company leverages a position to extract more money than it would have been able to otherwise in a competitive market.

    And this is why I’m… confused by a lot of people getting really excited about the revelation last week that Google had paid $26.3 billion in 2021 to be the default search engine on Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and in a few other places as well.

    I'm sure it's one of those things Deep Thinkers in the comments have answered. But I suspect if it were Mozilla and Apple paying Google billions for permission to make their search the default, they'd also cite it as evidence of monopoly.

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 6:46 AM EDT

No Hard Feelings

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

After a boring couple hours of sitting by the front door awaiting trick-or-treaters, I was (apparently) in the mood for a dumb sex comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence. She plays Maddie, a Long Islander in desperate financial straits. Her failure to pay property taxes on the house her mother left her causes her car to be impounded, which puts her further behind: she's an Uber driver. (She's also a part-time bartender, catering to the summer tourist trade, but judging by her surly behavior, she's unlikely to get many tips.)

Possible salvation comes in the form of a semi-sleazy online ad: a local couple is concerned that their college-bound son, Percy, is too introverted and unsocial to make a go of it at Princeton, where he's matriculating in a few weeks. They're looking for a young sex worker to "date" Percy. (Yes, apparently they put "date" in quotes like that. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) Even though Maddie is a little older than they want, she seems up for it. She will get a used Buick Regal in return! But a requirement is imposed: Percy must not know what's going on.

This is your go-to movie to see Ms. Lawrence naked, to view her lap-dancing talents (but not at the same time), see her smoking pot, and to hear her use the f-word a lot. Such is the state of romantic comedy these days. Other than all the general smuttiness, the movie follows a pretty standard story arc, and there are no plot twists you won't see coming.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:57 AM EDT

The Lady in the Lake

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another book down on my mini-project to reread Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels. This one was published in 1943, during World War II, and the war gets occasional references in the narration. (And, small spoiler: the war footing turns out to play a role in the book's resolution.)

Marlowe is hired to try to track down Crystal Kingsley by her husband, Derace. The last Derace heard of her was a telegram sent from San Bernardino saying she was divorcing him and marrying her boyfriend, Chris Lavery.

So Marlowe's first stop is Lavery, who claims to have not seen Crystal. But on his way out, Marlowe gets hassled by a bullying cop who seems to think that Marlowe's scoping out the house across the street, site of a previous mysterious death. Weird!

Marlowe follows another lead up to the remote cabin Kingsley owns, up by Little Fawn Lake. He runs into the caretaker, Bill Chess, who says, yeah, Crystal was there, but left. Bill's also bereft at being left by his wife, Muriel, weeks ago. At about the same time Crystal left. While touring the property, Chess and Marlowe notice a submerged corpse. Could it be the titular Lady? Yes! And Chess identifies the bloated body as Muriel.

But that's just victim number one. Marlowe follows the usual convoluted trail in search of Crystal, encountering plenty of colorful characters, only a few of them winding up dead. Another small spoiler: it takes Marlowe a couple pages of dense text at the end to explain all the ins and outs of what really happened and whodunit.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:55 AM EDT

"Evilness" is an Underused Explanation

  • "Depravity" also works for me. Jeff Jacoby looks at a too-common feature of modern discourse: Why they rip down the 'Kidnapped from Israel' fliers.

    A CAT from my neighborhood has gone missing. Her owner has distributed fliers around the area, asking residents to keep an eye out for her. "LOST CAT," it says in big letters beneath a photo of Coco, a beautiful animal with fluffy white fur and blue eyes.

    Whether the fliers will lead to Coco's recovery I don't know. But of one thing I am certain: No one walking through the neighborhood will be grabbing all the posters and stuffing them in the trash. Even people who dislike cats wouldn't be that callous and mean.

    But ever since fliers calling attention to something far more terrible than a missing cat — the plight of the more than 200 hostages abducted from Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7 — began going up on telephone poles, subway walls, utility boxes, and worksite fences in cities around the world, a startling number of people have been eager to tear them down. Individuals have been filmed destroying or defacing the posters in Boston, London, Miami, New York, Melbourne, Philadelphia, Richmond, Ann Arbor, and Los Angeles.

    There is no possible justification for such heartlessness. The whole purpose of the fliers is to heighten awareness of the Israeli (and other) civilians kidnapped by the Hamas terror squads — to put names and faces to the hostages, all with one goal: to bring them back home. How can a project so heartfelt and humane trigger such a poisonous response?

    Jeff says "antisemitism", and that works for me too. But it's just a subclass of a more general phenomenon: people walking around with a nest of hissing snakes inside their skulls.

  • A bit of moral clarity. Karen Townsend notes it at Hot Air: Haley Does What Others Won't as She Slams Trump in Speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Quoting a New York Post story:

    She launched a clear rebuke of Trump recent comments critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not being “not prepared” for the Oct. 7 massacre, comments that appeared to be driven by animosity over his contention that Netanyahu was disloyal to him by congratulating President Biden on his 2020 win.

    Trump also called the fellow anti-Israeli Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah — designated as terrorists by the US — “very smart.” His campaign later clarified that “smart does not equal good.”

    “As president, I will not compliment Hezbollah. Nor will I criticize Israel’s prime minister in the middle of tragedy and war,” Haley vowed. “I will also not compliment Chinese Communist President Xi. Nor will I call North Korea’s Kim Jong Un my friend.”


    “The stakes couldn’t be higher. And given those stakes, we cannot have four years of chaos, vendettas, and drama,” she added in a jab at her old boss.

    I'm somewhat amazed at Trump fans who can't seem to recognize that a guy so obviously driven by a toxic mix of resentment, vanity, and delusion would be a very poor choice for president.

  • A small victory. The Josiah Bartlett Center looks at The Burgess backfire. Background: The Burgess Biopower plant is a wood-burning facility up in Berlin that generated (explensive) electric power that it sold to Eversource, the company providing electrons to many New Hampshire residences (including Pun Salad Manor).

    This meant, more or less, that our electric bills were keeping the plant going.

    The New Hampshire legislature passed a bailout bill, apparently under no pretense that Burgess would ever get off the ratepayer subsidy tit.

    Governor Sununu vetoed, and the legislature failed to override. Other than the economic issues:

    Burgess and its supporters claimed that paying more money for energy produced by burning wood made Granite Staters better off. But increasing numbers of academics who study such things conclude that biomass is not a net benefit for people or the planet.

    A professor at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health wrote last year that “air pollution from burning biomass can cause asthma exacerbations, hospitalizations for heart attack and respiratory disease, birth defects, neurodegenerative diseases and death, among many other health impacts.”

    His research found that “burning biomass in buildings, industry, and power plants leads to more deaths than conventional coal-fired power plants.”

    But the economic issues were also bad (written pre-veto):

    Burning wood is an inefficient and expensive way to generate electricity. Natural gas, more energy dense than wood, is a better fuel source, which is why natural gas accounts for 40% of U.S. electricity generation while biomass accounts for just 1.3%. (Nuclear is also better.)

    Electric utilities generally don’t buy power generated from wood, and most people no longer heat with wood. What to do with low-grade wood products, then? Politicians had an idea. Rig the market to favor this inefficient fuel source (and others).

    It was a simple boondoggle, but an understandable one: Berlin and the surrounding area are in an economic doldrum. The folks up there seem to still be able to afford fentanyl, however.

I Am On Team Shark

Going right to the latest election betting odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 34.6% -0.4%
Joe Biden 33.2% -0.2%
Gavin Newsom 8.4% +1.7%
Nikki Haley 6.2% +1.9%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.6% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 3.0% -0.3%
Ron DeSantis 3.0% -0.7%
Kamala Harris 2.0% -0.1%
Other 6.0% -1.4%

Executive summary: Newsom and Haley are surging, because they are neither Biden nor Trump. But they remain waaay behind. According to the folks wagering their own money.

  • Where the tall corn grows. Rolling Stone reporter Peter Wade covers a Trump speech in beautiful Ottumwa Iowa.

    “Who the hell wants to watch a football game? This is better,” Donald Trump told the crowd at the beginning of his speech in Iowa on Sunday afternoon. What followed was a rambling rant that ran the gamut from a 17-minute ragefest against Ron DeSantis to debating whether he’d rather die by electrocution or by shark to his impending legal issues.

    The context on that electrocution/shark thing is that he imagines himself in a sinking electric-powered boat, but sees a shark off to starboard. A tweeted video is helpfully provided:

    Being Rolling Stone, I'm somewhat surprised they didn't conduct a reader poll. "How would you prefer Trump to join the Choir Invisible? (a) electrocution by boat battery; (b) chomping by shark; (c) both, simultaneously."

    Note: when I say I'm on Team Shark above, that's strictly my own choice of demise. I wish the Donald continued good health, albeit somewhere other than the White House.

  • Searching for a winning campaign message. Noah Rothman reports on a recent televised speech from that very White House: Biden Devotes His Speech on Threats to U.S. Security to How Awful Americans Are.

    The president might have limited his remarks to this stirring call to action. But he did not. Instead, the president veered wildly into a neurotic digression in which he dwelled on the hatreds that supposedly consume Americans in times of trouble — a mindless barbarism that afflicts the American soul, which Biden scorned from his Olympian remove.

    “We have to be honest with ourselves,” the president scoffed. “In recent years, too much hate has been given too much oxygen, fueling racism, a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia right here in America.” The October 7 attacks have intensified those hatreds, Biden warned. He condemned with righteous and justifiable contempt one psychopathic murder of a Muslim child and the stabbing of his mother as well as the climate of fear descending upon America’s Jewish community. “We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism,” Biden said. “We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia.” Hardly controversial stuff there. But what might have been a throat-clearing deviation from the serious business of preserving American hegemony against an axis of revisionist nations consumed much of the rest of the speech.

    Biden urged Americans to resist the “fear and suspicion, anger and rage” to which they so readily succumb in times of insecurity. “When I was in Israel yesterday, I said that when America experienced the hell of 9/11, we felt enraged as well. While we sought and got justice, we made mistakes,” Biden added. “So, I cautioned the government of Israel not to be blinded by rage.” Biden’s preemptive admonition of Israel, advising it to avoid doing things it is already not doing, is repellent enough. The line gives succor to those who retail defamatory allegations against Israel, which serve only to promote the notion that Israel is defending itself with inhumane zeal. But beyond that, Biden’s admonition contains the implication that Americans were similarly blinded by hate after the September 11 attacks. That is slander.

    I can't help but compare with Jimmy Carter's things-are-sure-awful speech back in 1979. Widely known as the "malaise speech", even though he didn't use that word. Which was also pretty bad, full of lousy ideas on how to deal with the "energy crisis". (Turned out the answer was: elect Ronald Reagan.)

    But what Jimmy didn't do was lecture Americans on their proclivities for bigotry and hatred. Let's see if that's a winning tactic for Joe.

  • A reminder of how fast things can change. This article from Morton A. Klein ("National President of the Zionist Organization of America") is dated October 5, just two days before the Hamas barbarity: President Biden’s extraordinary hostility to Israel.

    Let's not be fooled. Extolling "ironclad friendship" between America are simply meaningless and phony words when Biden is enriching the Iranian terror regime with billions of dollars in funds and sanctions relief; pressing Israel to cede her sovereignty and security to a Palestinian terror state on "Auschwitz lines" that would render Israel indefensible; and sending over $1.5 billion to Hamas-allied UNRWA and to the Palestinian regime thereby freeing up funds for the Palestinian Authority to continue paying Arabs lifetime pensions to murder Jews and Americans.

    What follows is many, many, Biden Administration measures that (added up) support Klein's charge. I don't think Joe's going to be chanting "From the river to the sea" anytime soon, though. Well, at least not in public.

  • Who indeed? Jeff Maurer wonders If Not Biden, Who?.

    Count me among those who think that it’s risky for Democrats to go all-in on Joe Biden in 2024. I like Biden, but he’s older than wool underwear, and I worry that he won’t stay cogent through 2029. And polls show that a lot of people have the same concern.

    Biden’s only primary challenger is Marianne Williamson, a woman who seems like she should be running a shop in Portland that sells hemp tampons. That’s not ideal. Some feel that Biden should face a real primary challenge, and others want him to rethink the VP slot given the non-zero chance that he might suddenly disintegrate into nothingness, Obi-Wan Kenobi-style. Of course, the appeal of any possible alternative scenario waxes and wanes based on the “who” in the question “who else?” So, let’s look at who else could conceivably run.

    Click over for Jeff's takes on Gretchen Whitmer, J. B. Pritzker, Jared Polis, Raphael Warnock, and (finally) Gavin Newsom.

    What’s his deal?

    Newsom is in his second term as Governor of California, and has recently begun raising his national profile. He’s made appearances across the country and the world, which is totally something that someone not running for president would do. He has delighted Democrats by picking public fights with Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and the two will debate in November, which is, again, a completely normal act for a person who is not running for president. Newsom has a progressive record on issues like climate change and gun control, but he recently angered progressives by breaking with them on issues relating to transgender rights and homelessness, almost as if to position himself for a national run. But, of course, he’s not running for any nation-wide office, how dare you even suggest such a thing.

    So, I should probably buy “Newsom2024.com”, “Gavin4President.com”, and “GoGavin24.com” so that I can sell them back to him in a month or two, right?

    I would be stunned if he does not already own these addresses.

    And more, if you're not averse to reading an article containing the word "douche-rocket".

A More Eloquent Anti-Halloween Screed

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I meandered yesterday about my disdain for the upcoming festivities. (And also the runup to the festivities, which seems to have been going on for the past three months.) But Barton Swaim, being a professional writer, took to the op-ed page of the WSJ yesterday to express things much better than I: Down With Halloween’s Ironic Death Cult.

I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. In recent years, as celebrations have become darker and more gruesome, I’ve started to dread its onset.

Part of my aversion arises from my own hidebound premodern Calvinist outlook, in which death is no laughing matter and necromancy is forbidden by God (see Deuteronomy 18:9-13). Forgive my Puritan sensibility, but I find the whole spectacle ugly and offensive and vaguely sinister. What sort of “holiday” deliberately terrifies children with images of murder and ruin and treats torture and death as a joke? I look forward to the day when this ironic nonholiday goes the way of Flag Day or Michaelmas.

I am of course speaking only of the way in which All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is celebrated by Americans in the 21st century. I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, when Halloween consisted of trick-or-treating, jack-o’-lanterns, apple-bobbing and maybe a viewing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Halloween has since become a kind of industrial cartoon death cult. Its appurtenances—candy, costumes and yard ornamentation, including giant skeletons and faux cobwebs for the shrubbery—hit the shelves long before summer ends. In early October homes in affluent neighborhoods start competing with each other for the most ghoulish exhibitions—much in the way those in working-class neighborhoods across town will, a month later, vie for the most brightly lit lawn and the most garish nativity scene.

Real life is often dreadful enough without piling on gore and death. Just keep the candy. The good stuff, please. None of that… well, you see the Amazon Product du Jour.

Also of note:

  • A good question. And it's from Mr. Jeff Maurer, who asks: Why Is Homelessness a Municipal Issue?. But first, a thoughtful couple paragraphs about "rights".

    What’s a “right”? After taking umpteen college courses that pondered that question, my position became: Who cares? It barely matters. You can declare rights until you’re blue in the face, but it’s pointless unless you have a way to deliver those rights. To wit: The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is admirably thorough, but it remains inadvisable to walk into a police station in Myanmar and say: “Article 20 of the UDHR gives me a right to peaceful assembly, so where should I hold my ‘The Government Can Suck It’ rally?”

    Is housing a right? Maybe, I don’t know…it doesn’t matter. I’m going to skip the pontifi-bation about whether housing is a right and just say this: Housing is good. It’s in all of our interest for everyone to have a safe place to sleep. A civilized society should strive to make shelter available to all, and the United States — a country so rich that our house pets enjoy a quality of life that a mere century ago was known only to sultans — should be able to make that happen.

    I can only recommend that Jeff read "Two Concepts of Liberty" by Isaiah Berlin. Which (I dimly remember) distinguishes between positive and negative liberty.

    Negative liberty is what we nasty libertarians are for. Leave us alone, as much as possible. Treat us as adults, at least those of us who are adults.

    Positive liberty is that housing stuff. And a host of other goodies. Which a rich country, as Jeff points out, "should" be able to provide.

    But speaking of housing, I was amused by this op-ed in my local paper yesterday. It's from Rebecca Perkins Kwoka and David Watters, and it's a hearty, if unsurprising, endorsement of Democrat Joyce Craig for Governor of New Hampshire.

    Try not to let your forehead hit the keyboard too hard as you read…

    Our state is in urgent need of a leader in the governor’s office who will be a partner for communities across our state. Throughout our work in the legislature, we’ve been proud to achieve significant wins for Granite Staters, but our progress has been slowed by leaders who haven’t understood the urgent needs in housing, education, and community services that our cities and towns face. Joyce Craig is a leader who understands that to grow our economy and help working families, we have to tackle our state’s toughest challenges.

    We hear calls from our constituents and business community that the biggest need is affordable housing. When Mayor Craig took over as mayor of Manchester after a decade of Republican leadership, there was no vision for the development of housing, and economic growth had stalled. After she was first elected in 2017, she got to work right away to put Manchester on the right path — and it’s working.

    OK. How well is it working? A recent article in nhjournal says:

    Manchester has struggled for years with its homeless crisis. In 2021, the city had about 360 unsheltered people, according to the NH Coalition to End Homelessness annual report. According to city officials, that number has jumped to about 540 people this year.

    I think there's room to doubt the Kwoka/Watters sunny optimism.

    But what really stood out: the word "housing" appears in this 462-word column eleven times. Overuse? I think so.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:55 AM EDT


(And I mean that in more ways than one. Specifically, two.)

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I really dislike… no, I hate Halloween.

Have I mentioned that before? Probably.

I can still remember when it was a relatively innocent single evening for kids to go out and ring doorbells for candy, hoping for Reese's, often settling for Butterfingers. These days, it's a Christmas-rivaling month-long celebration of evil supernatural forces and death. Eventually some kids show up at the door of Pun Salad Manor. Some cute, many surly, some way too old to be doing this kind of thing.

Nevertheless, I have a sorta-Halloween-related link from the Federalist: Democrats’ Pro-Crime Policies Turned This Federal Building Into A ‘Haunted House’ Of Horrors. See if you can stifle a scream when you get to the bit I've boldfaced:

President Joe Biden pushed for federal workers to return to their respective offices in August, but hundreds of bureaucrats assigned to work in the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building in downtown San Francisco were told to stay home “for the foreseeable future” to avoid the rising crime, violence, and drugs plaguing the plaza.

“According to its designer, the building was set up to represent ‘the way government should be and how the workplace should be,’” Ernst wrote in a letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Robin Carnahan. “Ironically, the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building is instead a symbol of the way government doesn’t work, with offices and workplaces largely empty due to drug and crime problems resulting from the misguided policies of the state and city governments.”

Also note the misuse of "ironically" in that last sentence. I'm pretty sure I don't find that ironic at all. I would reword: "As many expected, the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building is a symbol of the way government doesn’t work.”

Also of note:

  • As was prophesied in the Old Testament. Andy McCarthy writes on the latest Rule of Law, Arbitrary Division: Two-Tiered Justice: Biden DOJ Protects Dem Congressman Jamaal Bowman over Fire Drill.

    Why isn’t Representative Jamaal Bowman being charged with felony obstruction of Congress?

    On September 30, as congressional Democrats were scrambling to delay a budget vote, the progressive New York Democrat pulled a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building. Though he has claimed it was a mistake, there is convincing evidence that he did this willfully — he well knew it was a fire alarm, he ran to abandon the building, and he never tried to inform Capitol Police of the incident as one would naturally do if it had been an accident. (For more, see Jeff Blehar’s excellent column).

    With great fanfare, it was announced on Wednesday that Bowman was being held “accountable” because he has been charged with the misdemeanor offense of pulling a fire alarm. This sort of “accountability” will come as a surprise to hundreds of people — including former president Donald Trump — whom the Biden Justice Department (and, in Trump’s case, Biden-DOJ-appointed special counsel Jack Smith) have aggressively charged with obstructing Congress in connection with the Capitol riot — the uprising that interrupted the joint January 6, 2020, session held to ratify now-president Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

    It is a travesty of justice that nobody thought of nominating Jamaal for Speaker of the House. To be followed, someday, by the Jamaal Bowman Federal Building in Scarsdale. Which will be empty, because the employees keep pulling the fire alarms.

  • It's beginning to look like Dump on Democrats Day at Pun Salad. Veronique de Rugy sounds puzzled, but she shouldn't be: Democrats Say They're Fighting Inequality. But Many of Their Policies Favor the Rich..

    In the grand ballroom of American politics, Democrats have long waltzed to the melody of progressivism while ridiculing Republicans' preference for outdated tax cut tunes. Ironically, they don't want to pay for their style of big government with higher taxes on ordinary Americans, which their expansionary ambitions would require. Instead, they loudly proclaim that they want to tax the rich. It remains to be seen how true this is.

    Indeed, while Democrats profess their devotion to social justice and fight against income inequality, they often push for policies that favor the rich. Take their nonstop battle over the last five years to ease the tax burden of their high-income constituents.

    The State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap, part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), placed a $10,000 limit on the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted from federal taxable income. This move predominantly affected high earners in high-tax states like New York, California, and many others that are Democratic strongholds.

    Vero provides additional examples: subsidies for the well-off to buy electric vehicles and install solar panels, refusal to reform entitlements, …

  • Diana Ross could have turned this into a number one hit. On the other hand, Jeff Jacoby's talents are not musical, but maybe he could hum it: Say it again, Supremes: Forced union dues in government are illegal. It's about the blatant refusal/evasion of the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which held that workers could not be forced to pay for their union's political activities. But…

    So the court held in 2018. Yet in numerous workplaces to this day, Janus is blatantly disregarded. In a number of states, public sector unions and state governments collude to deny employees their rights. In California, for example, the governor and Legislature enacted a law prohibiting public agencies from communicating with employees about union membership or dues. Under the new law, only union officials could broach that subject with workers. Other states passed similar laws.

    Far from making sure that employees "clearly and affirmatively consent" before union fees are deducted from their pay, these states — under pressure from mobilized unions — deny them any independent workplace source of information about their right to refuse. Often new hires are simply given a dues-withdrawal form to sign along with all the other first-day paperwork. When disgruntled dues-payers later learn of their rights and seek to withdraw their agreement, they are routinely confronted with confusing rules intended to make it almost impossible to stop paying. The Freedom Foundation, a workers' rights education and litigation institute, documents dozens of such cases in a recent Supreme Court filing.

    Sounds as if it should be a 9-0 slam dunk, if it gets that far. Should be.

  • Department of the Completely Obvious. Reason's "News Roundup" from a couple days back was full of interesting stuff, but this little bit halfway down was a gem:

    Scenes from New York

    Regulating skyline views would "guarantee a collective experience, a sense of shared identity and civic meaning, which can bind New Yorkers across generations and centuries," Jorge Otero-Pailos, the director of Columbia's historic preservation program, tells The New York Times.

    The best part is that this is mentioned immediately after a few paragraphs on how unaffordable the city has become. If only we could grasp the connection between the two!

    I have no idea what Jorge's political leanings are, other than he is a New York resident working at Columbia U, favoring increased regulation, so what are the odds?

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:54 AM EDT

Trying to Plug Leaks in the Memory Hole

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Techdirt notes an Orwellian move from an institution you'd least expect… no, wait a minute, you might suspect they'd totally do something like this: NY Times Tried To Block The Internet Archive. Quoting from an Intercept article:

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has long been used to compare webpages as they are updated over time, clearly delineating the differences between two iterations of any given page. Several years ago, the archive added a feature called “Changes” that lets users compare two archived versions of a website from different dates or times on a single display. The tool can be used to uncover changes in news stories that have been made without any accompanying editorial notes, so-called stealth edits.

The Times has, in the past, faced public criticisms over some of its stealth edits. In a notorious 2016 incident, the paper revised an article about then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., so drastically after publication — changing the tone from one of praise to skepticism — that it came in for a round of opprobrium from other outlets as well as the Times’s own public editor. The blogger who first noticed the revisions and set off the firestorm demonstrated the changes by using the Wayback Machine.

I'm not sure about the past tense, that is, the NYT "tried" blocking the IA's web crawler. As I tyoe, their website's robots.txt contains:

	User-agent: ia_archiver
	Disallow: /

It's been a long time since I've fooled with robots.txt, but I think that's a present-tense block.

No, our Amazon Product du Jour has nothing to do with this item, unless you have a very active imagination. I just saw it and chuckled.

Also of note:

  • Our local hospital, in the (unflattering) news. The nearest hospital to Pun Salad Manor is in Dover, New Hampshire: Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, self-described (in their website's <title> element) as "Healthcare with Heart". It's been in the area since 1906, and joined the Big Hospital ranks in 2017 when it affiliated with the Mass General Brigham behemoth.

    So my eyebrows were raised a bit when MGB was mentioned in this Ars Technia story: Nonprofit hospitals skimp on charity while CEOs reap millions, report finds.

    Nonprofit hospitals are under increasing scrutiny for skimping on charity care, relentlessly pursuing payments from low-income patients, and paying executives massive multi-million-dollar salaries—all while earning tax breaks totaling billions.

    Now, I'm not a huge fan of eat-the-rich rhetoric, and even less a BernieBro (the senator is fawningly mentioned in the article), but there's a chart, click to embiggen.

    [well, someone is making money]

    … and my eyebrows were raised even further by that puny 0.414% fraction of MGB's nearly $16 billion-with-a-b revenue spent on charity care. Among the listed "non-profits" that's the second-lowest.

    And as a Massachusetts-based institution, they don't even qualify under NH's "Live Free or Die" motto.

  • Faster, US Conservatives! Kill! Kill! Ready for Yet Another Example of Slashdot bias? Here you go: US Conservatives Are Trying To Kill Government's Top Cyber Security Agency. It's based on a Politico article

    An agency set up under Donald Trump to protect elections and key U.S. infrastructure from foreign hackers is now fighting off increasingly intense threats from hard-right Republicans who argue it’s gone too far and are looking for ways to rein it in.

    These lawmakers insist work by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to combat online disinformation during elections singles out conservative voices and infringes upon free speech rights — an allegation the agency vehemently denies and the Biden administration is contesting in court. The accusations started in the wake of the 2020 election and are ramping up ahead of 2024, with lawmakers now calling for crippling cuts at the agency.

    "Threats"! From the "hard-right"! Eek! (References to the hard right in the Politico article: five.)

    CISA has (indeed) been pushing the envelope on "encouraging" censorship of social media.

    Politico and (implicitly) Slashdot paint a picture of CISA just doin' its main job, which is making sure the bad guys don't take down the Internet, or something. But (plain fact) CISA has had a ton of money dumped on it over the past few years, and it probably needs to be, not killed, but put on a strict diet. (Or, as the Politico article finally gets around to admitting what the actual GOP proposal does: "dramatically slash" their budget.)

    (I'm not proud of pointing you to the inspiration for this item's lead-in.)

  • Kinda today's theme, unfortunately. Jacob Sullum on The Bipartisan Urge to Control Online Speech.

    According to the Biden administration, federal officials who urged social media companies to suppress "misinformation" about COVID-19 and other subjects were merely asking platforms like Facebook and Twitter to enforce their own rules. But according to the social media users whose speech was stifled as a result of that campaign, it crossed the line between permissible government advocacy and censorship by proxy.

    Think you're off the hook, Republicans? Read the whole sad thing.

  • This is pretty neat. Ladies and gentlemen, and those declining to state, I give you: The Techno-Optimist Manifesto. It leads off with Lies:

    We are being lied to.

    We are told that technology takes our jobs, reduces our wages, increases inequality, threatens our health, ruins the environment, degrades our society, corrupts our children, impairs our humanity, threatens our future, and is ever on the verge of ruining everything.

    We are told to be angry, bitter, and resentful about technology.

    We are told to be pessimistic.

    The myth of Prometheus – in various updated forms like Frankenstein, Oppenheimer, and Terminator – haunts our nightmares.

    We are told to denounce our birthright – our intelligence, our control over nature, our ability to build a better world.

    We are told to be miserable about the future.

    And counters with Truth:

    Our civilization was built on technology.

    Our civilization is built on technology.

    Technology is the glory of human ambition and achievement, the spearhead of progress, and the realization of our potential.

    For hundreds of years, we properly glorified this – until recently.

    I am here to bring the good news.

    We can advance to a far superior way of living, and of being.

    We have the tools, the systems, the ideas.

    We have the will.

    It is time, once again, to raise the technology flag.

    It is time to be Techno-Optimists.

    Wishing them well.

  • Insert "Stupid" before "Lawsuit" to improve this NHJournal headline: Formella Targets Meta With Lawsuit Claiming Tech Giant Is Hurting NH Kids.

    New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella is out to stop social media giant Meta, which he says built its empire by targeting children and hurting their mental health.

    “We will not tolerate the pursuit of profit at the expense of the mental health and well-being of New Hampshire’s kids and America’s kids,” Formella said.

    What about the children?! They are the perennial excuse for moral panic and government bullying.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:16 AM EDT

All They Want is Your Clicks

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Alan Jacobs always has intriguing insights, and he's on target about the "respectable" media. We all have heard about the New York Times and other sources of fake news publishing stories based only on Hamas sources. (And if you haven't, read on.) Jacobs observes:

It’s important to remember this: businesses that rely on constant online or televisual engagement — social media platforms, TV news channels, news websites — make bank from our rage. They have every incentive, whether they are aware of it or not, to inflame our passions. (This is why pundits who are always wrong can keep their jobs: they don’t have to be right, they just have to be skilled at stimulating the collective amygdala.) As the intervals of production increase — from hourly to daily to weekly to monthly to annually — the incentives shift away from being merely provocative and towards being more informative. Rage-baiting never disappears altogether, but books aren’t well-suited to it: even the angriest book has to have passages of relative calm, which allows the reader to stop and think — a terrible consequence for the dedicated rage-baiter. 

“We have a responsibility to be informed!” people shout. Well, maybe, though I have in the past made the case for idiocy. But let me waive the point, and say: If you’re reading the news several times a day, you’re not being informed, you’re being stimulated. Try giving yourself a break from it. Look at this stuff at wider intervals, and in between sessions, give yourself time to think and assess.

Jacobs' personal solution: no TV news, no up-to-the-minute news or political websites.

Also of note:

  • Not everyone got the word. Matt Welch explores Who Is—and Isn't—Ready To Change Their Minds About the Gaza Hospital Blast?

    After first the Israeli government and then the United States government issued statements Wednesday, with supporting evidence, that the deadly rocket exploding into the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital parking lot in Gaza on Tuesday did not emanate from Israel, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi gave an expected if telling response.

    "Nobody is buying that narrative in this part of the world," Safadi told NBC. Safadi's predecessor (and also Jordan's former ambassador to Israel), Marwan Muasher, echoed that in an interview with CNN: "The Arab public puts the attack squarely on Israel."

    That's confirmation bias cranked up to 11. But:

    "The only way that people would entertain a different narrative," Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi told NBC, "is if there is an independent international inquiry into the tragedy that has happened with impeccable evidence that it was not Israel."

    Focus for a moment not on Safadi's understandable if currently unfulfillable desire for an independent international inquiry (such inquests being rather hard to pull off when the host government is holding more than 200 people hostage), but rather on the words only, entertain, and impeccable. It is considered to be a reasonable default position that all Muslims in the region believe the hospital bombing was Israeli "genocide" (as labeled by Hamas), a "hideous war crime" (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas), or "the latest example of Israel [being] devoid of the most basic human values" (President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of NATO member Turkey). Only an unattainable standard of evidence could begin to pry open minds currently snapped shut; until then, let those embassies burn.

    Matt notes that "we just don't believe you is among the most potent of overrides when it comes to assessing factual claims." And, of course, the mainstream media makes it pretty easy to say that, given their track record.

  • For one thing, it doesn't own Boardwalk and Park Place. Jeff Jacoby informs the Boston Globe readership: Amazon is huge, but it’s no monopoly. And he's sounding pretty libertarian:

    There is no more powerful monopolist in America today than the US government.

    Examples of Washington’s monopoly power abound. For instance, only the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may print paper currency and only the US Mint may produce coins for use as legal tender. Through the US Postal Service, the federal government has the exclusive right to deliver (and charge for) first-class mail. The granting of patents and trademarks is another area in which the feds have a monopoly. So is the allocation of broadcast frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

    These government monopolies didn’t always exist — the Pony Express was a private company and private banks used to issue their own paper money — but they are now mandated by law and taken for granted by most Americans. So there is a certain irony in the way federal regulators go after successful companies that are not protected from competition and loudly denounce them for exerting monopolistic control — something the government itself gets away with every day.

    He goes on to debunk the FTC's allegations about Amazon.

  • So why is New Hampshire joining the jihad? Mitchell Scacchi points out that The FTC's Amazon lawsuit New Hampshire joined is a mess of bad economics.

    New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has joined 16 other state attorneys general in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) lawsuit alleging that “Amazon is a monopolist” that engages in illegal anti-competitive behavior.

    But a close read of FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan’s suit reveals a confused and ultimately unconvincing case that Amazon a) is a monopoly player and b) has harmed consumers.

    If the FTC prevails in this legal case, it appears likely that consumers and small businesses, including the 4,500 small-to-medium-sized New Hampshire businesses that sell on Amazon and the many thousands of Granite Staters who shop online, will be harmed, not helped.

    Scacchi's article is valuable, like Jacoby's, outlining the lack of merit in the FTC's lawsuit. But I would really like to know why NH joined in this misguided (and, I hope, unsuccessful) effort?

  • Much like Joe himself. Christian Britschgi reviews a recent attempt to drive down the Road to Serfdom: Joe Biden's Plan for 31 Subsidized 'Tech Hubs' Is an Old, Tired Idea That's Doomed To Fail.

    "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" appears to be the idea underlying President Joe Biden's new economic initiative. On Monday, the White House announced the selection of 31 regional "technology hubs" that will spur innovation, manufacturing capacity, and employment with the help of generous federal subsidies.

    Britschgi reviews the sad history of recent similar efforts at "opportunity zones" and "manufacturing hubs", Conclusion:

    It would probably be too much to call Biden's latest gambit crazy, given how previous presidential administrations from both parties have tried similar ideas. Nevertheless, there is a word for trying the same thing that failed over and over again and expecting different results—and it's not smart.

  • An idea with remarkably little going for it. David Friedman wonders: Is There a Right of Self Determination?.

    It is widely believed that there is. I share the underlying moral intuition that people should be free to run their own lives but getting from that to the right of a group to “rule itself” seems to me to confuse a group with an individual. The right of the inhabitants of a territory to set up their own government means the right of some of the inhabitants to set up a government that will rule over all the inhabitants, including the ones that don’t want it. Before independence the inhabitants of the territory were already being ruled — but how free they were before and after independence depends on to what degree their rulers respected their rights not whether they were ruled by people who lived near them or far away.

    In the modern context it is usually assumed that the newly independent government will be a democracy, claimed that that means the people are ruling themselves. Again, that is treating a group as if it was a person. The individual in a democracy, like the individual in a dictatorship, is subject to rules made by other people without his consent. There may be pragmatic arguments in favor of democracy, if only as a way of letting the stronger faction get its way without having to first win a civil war, but I cannot see any moral argument, any reason why having the support of 51% of a group gives you a right to make decisions for the other 49%. And even if one does believe in democracy, in practice the right of self-determination is usually treated as independent of the nature of the government that results. When newly independent countries in the post-war period turned into dictatorships — “one man one vote once” — they remained independent. Their previous ruler didn’t take them back.

    It's an interesting issue, and David has some interesting things to say about it.

Last Modified 2024-06-03 7:12 AM EDT

I'm Basically Libertarian, But …

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Maybe every journalist should be forced to read kevin D. Williamson until they "get it". Specifically, this bit that we quoted last week.

[T]he one almost universally shared assumption of modern diplomatic discourse is that the Palestinian Arabs are something less than whole and complete human beings, that they are not advanced enough to be true moral actors because they do not have the strength of national character to bear the moral weight that falls exclusively upon the shoulders of the Israelis and the peoples of the other liberal democratic states.

That's been bouncing around my head for the past seven days, and it just gets more insightful. It came to mind once again when I read this headline earlier today on the Wall Street Journal website:

World Leaders Press Israel to Minimize Civilian Casualties

Gee, thanks, "World Leaders". You sure did demonstrate KDW's point about "the moral weight that falls exclusively on the shoulders of the Israelis". Are you pressing Hamas about anything? At all?

Or it could be the WSJ headline writer. Who knows where along the line that the "universally shared assumption" was added: that Israel's enemies can't be "pressed", let alone required, to adhere to minimal standards of decent, non-barbarous behavior.

Isn't that actual bigotry, the unspoken axiom that we can't expect those swarthy folks to act like "whole and complete human beings"?

In the paper's defense, the WSJ opinion section has its head together. Today's brings a clear-headed idea from Jerome M. Marcus: Israel Needs Unconditional Surrender From Hamas.

Meanwhile National Review has a Babylon Bee-worthy headline on an article by Becket Adams: The Media Will Never Forgive Israel for Not Bombing That Hospital. (Paywalled and I'm out of gifted links for this month, sorry.)

Few things are as dangerous as the newsroom that wants a story to be true.

An overzealous editor is how the really dangerous stuff gets printed.

The free press is supposed to operate from a set of principles, working within established guardrails to spare readers the publication of false information, including hoaxes and lies that may incite violence or escalate preexisting hostilities. All bets are off, however, when news editors have a deep-seated psychological need for a story to be true. And on this score, American media failed miserably this past week when major outlets falsely reported an Israeli missile strike had hit the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, leveling it completely and killing at least 500 civilians.

The story was suspect from the get-go, considering the sole source of the claim was the Gaza health ministry — in other words, Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that runs Gaza. But this didn’t matter. The U.S. press wanted the story to be true, as evidenced by the indefensibly slipshod and irresponsible coverage that clogged up newsfeeds around the world.

Again we see that double standard at work: "news" is when Israelis are so evil/callous/careless to blow up a hospital.

What, that was a missile fired from Gaza? Never mind, what can you expect from those subhumans? Not news.

Also of note:

  • Truth: Setting people free since 30 AD. OK, maybe Jonah Goldberg might date it a little differently, but he's got interesting things to say about Truth and Power.

    “We are writers and artists who have been to Palestine to participate in the Palestine Festival of Literature.” So begins an “An Open Letter from Participants in the Palestine Festival of Literature” published in the latest edition of The New York Review of Books.

    It continues with the self-anointed self-seriousness that is normally reserved for critical theory syllabi controversies or faculty parking disputes: “We now call for the international community to commit to ending the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza and to finally pursuing a comprehensive and just political solution in Palestine.”

    This made me wonder a few things. First, is there some The Poseur Radical’s Style Guide for Dummies out there that mandates such headline-topic sentence redundancy? 

    Headline: “An Open Letter from the Members of the Lollipop Guild” 

    Lead sentence: “We are members of the Lollipop Guild.”

    Second, do the authors—or anyone else save perhaps some grad student with an unhealthy crush on one of the authors—think that there is a person of any power, influence, or responsibility over any issue relating to Israel, Gaza, or the Middle East who, upon hearing that some past attendees of the Palestine Festival of Literature have announced their demands, will do anything differently? 

    “Prince Bin Salman! Have you heard? They’ve broken their silence!”


    “Look, your excellency,” the Saudi foreign minister said, handing his personal copy of The New York Review of Books to the crown prince.”

    “Finally. This changes everything.”

    That "open letter" is a demonstration of what Orwell said about language: "It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

    Case in point: This sentence:

    On Saturday, after sixteen years of siege, Hamas militants broke out of Gaza.

    is followed immediately by this sentence:

    More than 1,300 Israelis were subsequently killed with over one hundred more taken hostage—some of them friends and family of signatories to this letter.

    The thing I noticed was the quick shift to the passive voice. The forgotten subject: Who did the killing and hostage-taking? Hey, those "militants" vanished pretty quickly.

  • Ayn Rand! Thou shouldst be living at this hour. She would have a few (thousand) choice words to expend on The FTC’s Amazonian Snipe Hunt. But David Gillette and Warren Barge do a pretty good impression of the lady:

    When lockdowns were the order of the American day, we worried. The media highlighted only the worst predictions, and we did not know what would happen next. Whether transitioning from high school to college or returning from spring break, we both had serious concerns about what the future held. But one thing concerned neither of us: receiving online purchases in a timely manner. The reason: Amazon. 

    During those trying times, Amazon scaled up its operations and rose to the challenge, ensuring that consumers could get the products they could no longer find in, or felt unsafe purchasing from, brick-and-mortar stores. In the midst of COVID-19’s first year, Amazon increased its workforce by over a third, hiring 175,000 new warehouse workers and bringing its total employee count to 876,000. Amazon’s earnings soared, but more importantly, the company provided many of us with a semblance of normalcy when it was in very short supply.

    Despite the public’s largely positive perception of Amazon after its adept response, last month, the FTC filed suit against Amazon, asserting that Amazon has “exploited its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them.” 

    People get all misty-eyed about "small" and "local" business. That's fine. But there are a lot of things only an Amazon is flexible and resourceful enough to do. Which is often better than fine.

    And this is the thanks they get: threats and suits from the FTC.

  • [Amazon Link]
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    But who will play him in the movie? Jack Butler reviews Ibram X. Kendi's Total Work of Grift. He starts by referencing the article we blogged about last week:

    Over the weekend, Colorado State University philosophy professor Andre M. Archie argued that the anti-racism agenda of Ibram X. Kendi — briefly: that the many disparities of our systemically racist society are ipso facto proof of discrimination, and the only way to fight bad discrimination is with good discrimination — is a betrayal of the American color-blind vision that alone can save us from endless racial recrimination, and is therefore a dead end. “We cannot afford to go along any further with the anti-racism message,” Archie wrote.

    We may not be able to afford continued endorsement by the commanding heights of our culture of Kendi’s pernicious worldview, as institutions captured by it would persist in an endless bout of self-abnegation. But Kendi himself cannot afford for them not to. Anti-racism may be an intellectually bankrupt dead end for the rest of us, as we would be reduced to crude racial caricatures without individual agency. But for him, it is a crowning achievement for which he has been richly rewarded, and a nigh-artistic accomplishment in grift.

    There are a lot of talented young black comedians out there who could be a convincing IXK. How about Michael Che from SNL?

  • Another bit of wisdom from the always reliable Kevin D. Williamson: Fatigue Is a Political Strategy.

    Do you ever wonder how much fatigue is part of the agenda? 

    If you are in my business, you’re used to hearing the same nonsense talking points day after day from the same people, and you learn to more or less ignore it. It’s part of the job, part of what we get paid to do. But for people who have other kinds of jobs and other kinds of lives, one wonders how many times are they going to respond to nonsense such as, “The economy does better under Democratic presidents!” or “Putin didn’t invade Ukraine when Trump was in office!” and things of that nature. The arguments are silly and meretricious, and the people making the arguments often know they are silly and meretricious. Sometimes, you have to respond to them—sometimes I do, because it is my job—but, sometimes it is a waste of time. 

    Fortunately, I've got plenty of time to waste, Kevin.

Recently on the book blog:

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:18 AM EDT

Fast X

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

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Way back in the mists of misty time, when giants walked the earth, Pun Son and I went to a couple of Fast and Furious movies. We kind of lost interest after two. But in the meantime there have been eight(!) installments in the series. And, I believe it's fair to say, each one piling on the special effects, ludicrous plots, off-the-wall violence, and (above all) elaborate car chase scenes. Ones that make Bullitt and The French Connection look like short hops to the grocery store.

But I was facing a 4.5 hour jetBlue redeye from Los Angeles back to Boston, I wasn't that sleepy, and in the mood for something real dumb after spending the weekend in the company of very smart people. The jetBlue A321 Airbuses have very good seatback entertainment systems, so…

In addition to the bigger budget, the franchise has also accumulated a raft of new continuing characters; I assume this has all been common knowledge to the fans. There's Dom, of course, Vin Diesel, an implacable force of nature, who's developed a human side, gotten a cute son. And Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez. But also appearing (some in bit parts and flashbacks) are Rita Moreno, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Helen Mirren, Brie Larson, Pete Davidson, Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson, and … oh, yeah, everyone's favorite Latin American slimeball villain, Joaquim de Almeida.

And also Jason Momoa, inserted into the series as Dante, son of Joaquim de Almeida, who was … oh, yeah, killed off already in the 2011 movie. But Dante's looking for revenge against Dom and his team, and his family. He is very resourceful, for example, he's able to filch a "neutron mine", a weapon of mass destruction that he plans to threaten Rome with. But that's an early scene.

If you would like to know just how ludicrous this franchise is—hey, I wonder if Ludacris was added to the franchise because the producers liked his name—this Slate article will bring you up to (heh) speed. Explained a lot for me, but literally more than I wanted to know.

Worse: the movie is a setup for a sequel, due out in 2025. I suppose I have to watch it now…

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:51 AM EDT

Radio Life

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I was completely impressed by Derek B. Miller's trio of sorta-mysteries Norwegian by Night, American by Day, and How to Find Your Way in the Dark. Unfortunately, my library doesn't own this one. But the Kindle version was on sale at Amazon for a mere $2.99, so I snapped it up. (It's still a good deal: $5.99.)

I was immediately dismayed. Because it's not a sorta-mystery, it's sorta-SF. And it's one of those dystopic novels where civilization is mostly destroyed, and (bless him) Miller plops you into this nasty world with zero explanation. (I know, that's a standard tactic in this genre.) On the first few pages, terms are dropped into the narrative without explanation: the "Commonwealth", the "Stadium", the "Empty Quarter", the "Gone World". For some reason the sky is a funny color. And Miller's prose is kind of ornate, bordering on pretentioous. ("The horses are relaxed, experienced. They know this route and have not been ridden hard today. The habits of nightfall are familiar: they will be fed soon and afterwards silence will envelope them. Stillness is bred into their line.")

I'm thinking: Paul, this is gonna be a slog.

Ah, but very soon, Miller drops back into his usual strengths: strong characters, desperate situations, captivating story-telling. (And: unexpected and mostly understated humor, in the middle of desperation and horror. Miller is unparalleled at that.) And all is well, reading-wise.

Anyway: we (eventually) get the story of how civilization went down the tubes. And the Good Guys, ensconced in the Commonwealth, living in the Stadium (a literal Olympic stadium that withstood destruction) are hungry to improve mankind's miserable lot, by retrieving pieces of lost civilization. But a tribe of naysayers are threatening that noble project: revealing that ancient knowledge will irrevocably result in making the same grievous errors that caused the death and destruction so long ago. And so, it's war. And (worse) it soon becomes apparent that the Commonwealth is badly underestimating the skills and cleverness of their enemy.

In his (very funny) "Acknowledgements and Denials" afterword, Miller notes his debt to 1959's A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter M. ("no relation") Miller. Hey, I read that way back when, and it's—yes!—still on my shelf. Putting that into by to-be-read pile.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:50 AM EDT

Worst Eye Candy Ever

News on the street (well, from Scott Johnson of Power Line) is that Vivek Ramaswamy is using tactics taken From the Chomsky playbook. (That's Noam himself over there on the big screen.)

I wrote about the monologue that preceded Tucker Carlon’s interview of Vivek the Fake in “Tucker’s tailspin.” Alana Goodman reported on Ramaswamy’s comments to Carlson in the Free Beacon story “Ramaswamy Says GOP ‘Selective Moral Outrage’ on Israel Driven By Money, Lobbying Groups.”

Goodman’s account was cruelly accurate and Ramaswamy threw a fit complete with press release denouncing her. John McCormack reviewed Ramaswamy’s critique in the cruelly accurate NRO/Corner post “what Ramaswamy Said about Israel, Armenia, and ‘Financial and Corrupting Influences’ in U.S. Foreign Policy.” McCormack found that Ramaswamy’s critique of Goodman’s account — how to put it? — lacked merit.

Essentially, Ramaswamy accuses his GOP antagonists of being "selective" in concentrating on Hamas atrocities while ignoring "the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan".

Mea culpa, Vivek. Since 2005, Azerbaijan has not rated a single mention here at Pun Salad. We've twice quoted people (Kevin D. Williamson in 2018 and David Bernstein in January of this year) who used the concept of Armenian Americans as kind of a reductio of what you get when you over-ethincize everything.

Never mind that, though. I always thought Chomsky's go-to argument was: if you go back far enough in history, you can always find that the USA was the Prime Mover for any current-day atrocity. As long as you stop once you find that Original Sin.

Vivek, on the other hand, just seems to be invoking the standard of Jewish campaign money dictating politicians' announced views. Different, but no less despicable, playbook.

Anyway, so how's he doing in The Only Poll That Matters? Or: what are the oddsmakers saying?

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 35.0% +0.6%
Joe Biden 33.4% +0.3%
Gavin Newsom 6.7% +0.2%
Nikki Haley 4.3% +0.4%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.1% -0.2%
Ron DeSantis 3.7% -0.1%
Michelle Obama 3.3% -1.4%
Kamala Harris 2.1% unch
Other 7.4% +0.2%

Go, Nikki!

If you click over to the Lott/Stossel site, Vivek's being given a 1.1% chance of grabbing the Presidency in 2024. Which is slightly better than Elizabeth Warren's odds (0.8%).

Also of note:

  • Let's say something nice about Vivek, though. I'm in agreement with Robby Soave: Vivek Ramaswamy Is Right To Oppose Blacklisting of Anti-Israel Harvard Students.

    Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy harshly criticized Harvard University students who signed a letter placing all blame for the Hamas attacks on Israel itself.

    But he broke with many other conservatives in opposing the blacklisting of all such students, decrying this as a form of cancel culture.

    Here's VR's tweet:

    Click over to read the rest. Charity is a virtue.

    I just got back from "Alumni Weekend" at my alma mater. Even the leftiest of my classmates were wary of cancel culture, saying: "If anyone publicized what I did back when I was a student…"

  • Don't fear the reaper. Rich Lowry notes the basis of Trump foreign policy, then and (possibly) future: Fear the Madman. If the past is any guide:

    The fact that Trump was erratic and took perceived slights so seriously made it difficult to know how he would react to any given provocation. Maybe he’d just bluster. Maybe he’d take it further. But who would want to find out?

    In other words, Trump spoke loudly and carried a stick of indeterminate size, and this was just as good as carrying a big stick.

    Lowry points to another facet of the (relatively) crisis-free years of Trump: our adversaries having "a nagging sense that he might not be bluffing, even if it seemed likely that he was."

  • Adding one to infinity. I hope you're not counting, but America Has A New Reason to Never Trust Joe Biden Again. Georgia Gilholy at 1945:

    Then-Vice President Joe Biden’s Office Exchanged Nearly 20,000 Emails with Hunter’s Investment Firm – A recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has unveiled a significant exchange of emails between then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office and his son Hunter Biden’s investment firm, Rosemont Seneca. The FOIA request revealed a total of 19,335 emails exchanged between the two parties.

    The content of these emails has sparked questions regarding President Biden’s previous claims that he never discussed business matters with his son. Such claims now seem to be outright lies.

    I'm pretty sure readers wouldn't trust either Trump or Biden to tell them the correct time.

  • She says it like it's a bad thing. Ana Marie Cox has always been heavy on snarky insults substituting for argument, but (really) who is this article of hers at The New Republic supposed to be convincing? Nikki Haley Is Masquerading as a Moderate.

    Perhaps Haley’s sneakiest maneuver has been to poke at the easily poked Mike Pence over his stated goal of a national abortion ban. During the August GOP debate, she scolded him over floating the ban as a political promise. “When you’re talking about a federal ban, be honest with the American people,” she said, pointing out that the filibuster threshold means (for now) that such legislation could never pass. Her admonishment, “Do not make women feel like they have to decide on this issue,” sounds almost like advocacy for women, except that she’s hiding the truth: Whether a candidate wants a national abortion ban—regardless of their power to impose it—very much matters when deciding who to support! Yet we have seen a flurry of credulous headlines: her “search of common ground,” she “seeks a New Path on Abortion for G.O.P,” she argues “the need for a broad middle ground.”

    For Ana Marie Cox, the only "moderates" are those who support baby-killing for any reason, or no reason at all, up until the moment of birth. (At birth, some sort of moral magic occurs, making that a heinous crime.)

"All the Way Down"

Also, All the Way Up, and Sideways, Too

I derived considerable pleasure from getting ten more Futurama episodes on the Hulu streaming service. For eye candy, in case you missed it, here's Hulu's "sneak peek" video from the season-ending finale:

That episode's title was "All the Way Down", and I assume it's a reference to the infinite regression implied by the saying "it's turtles all the way down." Which, yes, has its own Wikipedia page, and here's a usage example they snipped from Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

The premise: Professor Farnsworth builds a little animated simulation of the Futurama universe that fits on the Planet Express conference room table. At first it's crude, with blocky simulated characters. But as the Professor brings more computing power to bear, the resolution improves, as does the simulation's realism. Pretty soon, the simulated characters begin to wonder if they are in a simulation. Which of course they are.

The real characters also start wondering whether they're in a simulation. Which of course they aren't. (Oh, wait…)

Everyone starts to wonder about the nature of their reality and how they could tell whether they're simulated or real. "Real" Bender in particular goes into a existential crisis. (The result is that clip's scene.)

My thought while watching: gee, I bet the inspiration for this episode was a college dorm bull session, fueled by beer, weed, and not enough sleep. One of the students: future Futurama writer David X. Cohen. Just a guess.

And my half-"baked" observation: well, of course the "real" Futurama universe is a simulation. Specifically, designed and built by Cohen and everyone else you see as the credits roll. Objecting that the characters have no conciousness or free will? Sorry, kid: many people argue that's true of you as well; your feelings otherwise are just an illusion.

(I should add: I am kidding about being half-baked. Just couldn't resist the pun.)

But we're supposed to wonder if we, you and me, are actually a simulation running on some supercomputer somewhere. Some say yes.

Last Modified 2023-10-24 11:39 AM EDT

AARP Treats Me Like I Was Already Senile

Mrs. Salad, bless her, was a dues-paying member of AARP, and (somehow) I got dragged in too. So I get mail from them. The magazine and newsletter are OK, although I wouldn't pay for them. But—omigod—AARP's "advocacy" mail sets my teeth on edge.

I thought I'd share a recent sample. I scanned the pages, cropped into convenient segments, and I'll intersperse my own comments in between. Click on any image to embiggen. Kind of like a fisking! Enjoy! If you like that sort of thing.

First up:


Yes, we are apparently on a first name basis. Someone even scrawled a personal note to me up there by the letterhead. <sarcasm> I'm totally charmed by such personalization! </sarcasm>

But I'm not in love with the language. As is usual with such tedious blather, it wallows in redundancy. They not only want to "protect" Social Security and Medicare, they want to "protect" and "save" it. Will "saving" do something extra that "protecting" will not? Vice versa? Hard to tell.

More redundancy: that old Congress is not just "deeply divided along partisan lines". It's also "embroiled in political conflict". Chaos and confusion! AARP, aren't those the same thing? My eyes are already getting tired.

Also note the flattery: "You've read the headlines." They think I'm paying attention to important stuff! They think I'm smart!

Well, as it turns out, they don't actually think that. As we will see.

There are nefarious folks at work: "some". They are "considering cuts to Social Security and Medicare". These evildoers are not named. Why not? Because then the recipient of this mail might actually check out what they are actually proposing and see some arguments that AARP might not want them to see.

But leave it at "some", and it's just a scare tactic.

In fact, there are no serious proposals in Congress to "cut" Social Security and Medicare. True enough, once upon a time, in pre-Trump years, Republicans were brave enough to propose fixes and reforms that were quickly labeled "cuts". No longer. From a Brian Riedl article at the Dispatch:

Earlier this year, when the Social Security and Medicare trustees declared their trust funds to be just a decade from insolvency, President Biden and congressional Republicans competed to see which side could most vociferously rule out Social Security and Medicare reforms. Biden’s budget proposed another $2 trillion in spending hikes, and simply chose not to include the cost of trillions of dollars in endorsed tax cut extensions. Republicans offer empty rhetoric about runaway deficits while taking off the table any cuts to two-thirds of all spending (Social Security, Medicare, defense, veterans, and most infrastructure), and proposing new rounds of tax cuts. Donald Trump continues to emphasize that Social Security and Medicare will not be touched in a second presidential term. Even the more fiscally conservative GOP candidates promise no Social Security changes until the 2050s, and produce budget plans that add trillions in deficits.

Politicians are pandering to the large majority of voters who have responded to trillion-dollar deficits by demanding that Congress expand Social Security and Medicare—as well as hike spending on education, broader health care, infrastructure, poverty relief, border security, and child care. And yet polls also show that a strong majority of voters refuse to accept paying even one dollar in new taxes to close the deficit or finance their exorbitant spending demands. To put it gently, these demands are untethered from reality.

With mail like this, AARP is encouraging continued fiscal delusion. They should know better. They probably do know better.


You may want to wait on thanking AARP for those bargains. If you're not persuaded by the general argument that price controls are a bad idea, first read Megan McArdle: Medicare can lower drug prices only by eliminating future medicines. Then move on to Allison Schrager: The Biden administration’s plan to limit Medicare drug prices may cost us all more in the long run.

Hey, but cheer up: you could die before any of that bad stuff happens.


Even though there's no realistic chance for entitlement reform in the near future, AARP considers this a "crucial moment", one that requires me to fork over some dough to them. So they can "act on the interests of Americans 50+". Somehow.

Note the unstated implication: if you are an American 49-, AARP isn't gonna be interested in acting in your interest.

Back in 2010, the Social Security overseers estimated that under then-current law, sometime around 2035, benefits would be cut by about 25%, thanks to drained "reserves".

Well, nothing was done to fix that little problem, thanks to (among others) AARP. And so the latest report moves up that date to 2034 or so. But (hey, good news) they estimate the benefit cut would "only" be about 20%.


AARP, as you see, is a huge advocate for keeping seniors dependent on government, at the expense of the young. They want to cram more goodies into Medicare, even while it is, like Social Security, also going broke. An excerpt from the Cato report on Medicare:

Congress finances Medicare spending by taxing younger workers. The program currently spends roughly $1 trillion per year to subsidize health care for 64 million enrollees who are elderly, are disabled, or who meet other criteria. In dollar terms, Medicare is the largest purchaser of medical care goods and services in the world—in part because it pays excessive prices to health care providers and wastes hundreds of billions of dollars on medical care that provides no value to enrollees.

Perhaps worst of all, Medicare is junk insurance. For more than 50 years, Medicare has had a negative impact on the quality of health care that both enrollees and nonenrollees receive. When researchers complain about fee‐for‐service payment, wasteful care, low‐quality care, harmful care, medical errors, health care fraud, excessive profits, high administrative costs, federal deficits and debt, the time bomb of entitlement spending, special‐interest influence over health care, or the lack of innovation in health care delivery, evidence‐based medicine, electronic medical records, accountable care organizations, telemedicine, or coordinated care—in every case they are complaining about Medicare.

It's popular, though. Gotta admit that. Giving away lots of money with few questions asked is always popular.

Another language gripe with the above: I've been getting Social Security for a few years now, and it's pretty easy to observe that I'm not, despite AARP's phrasing, getting the money I've "earned".

The taxes I paid in while I was working went back out Uncle Stupid's door pretty quickly, sent to people older than me.

And the money I'm getting now is not "earned" by me; it's taxes coming in from younger working people. It's money they earned.

And part of the game since the 1980s is: if I have too much money coming in from other sources in a given year, I have to give some of that Social Security back. Even though I "earned" it.

And those poor saps who die before they got old? That money they "earned" goes… well, to other people. Certainly not their heirs. (There's a survivor's benefit, but again, that has little relation to the taxes paid by the deceased.)


Reader, guess my answer to that question.


I don't want to be accused of selectively quoting AARP, but this is getting real repetitive.


My answer hasn't changed since you asked a couple paragraphs ago, Jo Ann. It's still a "no".

Fun fact: the "sometimes powerless" Jo Ann C. Jenkins makes (according to AARP's 2021 Form 990) $2,575,415 regular salary, with an extra $133,394 "other compensation".

We're almost done! We've finally reached the stuff you're supposed to return!


I figure if AARP knows my name and address, there's no point redacting it from you.

I also assume drawing the little star on the $15 option has been designed by behavioral psychologists to generate the most revenue from the checking accounts of the aged. (I wonder if they bump it up if you're a known sucker?)

Note the "please do not detach" bottom line: it refers to those petitions previously mentioned in the letter. There are three, two for our state's senators, one for my CongressCritter, Chris Pappas. All identical except for the targeted pol. Here's one:


This is the real intelligence-insulting part. AARP will get around to sending this to Senator Jeanne when they feel like it. (I assume they will cash your check much quicker.) You are not encouraged to write Jeanne with your own words; AARP assumes you're too lazy (and probably too unreliable) to do that. Stick to the script, you mindless drone!

And of course that's exactly the message AARP wants to send to Jeanne (and Maggie, and Chris). They will dump the collected petitions on their desks and say: Look at all these mindless drones, who will reliably do whatever we ask, no matter how stupid. You don't want to get on our bad side, do you?

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

Artificial Photosynthesis

A Crackpot Idea That Will Save, Or Destroy, Humanity

I thought I would gather together all the random thoughts I've had on this topic over the years.

Once upon a time, I pulled this pretty little graphic off the web, found by Googling "photosynthesis reaction":


It balances! It's simple! But it's deceptively simple. To find out exactly how deceptive, click on the formula and go to to Wikipedia's article on photosynthesis. Turns out it's complicated!

But let's ignore that for a bit: the idea is that plants pull (1) carbon dioxide from the air, (2) water from the ground, and (3) photons from the sun, producing sugar and oxygen. Neat. This process has been going on for something like 3.5 billion years. It makes life "as we know it" possible.

I started wondering about it as a panacea/doomsday device when I read a fine book by Charles C. Mann, The Wizard and the Prophet. You'll notice that the formula above implies, falsely, that you need six molecules of carbon dioxide and six water molecules to (somehow) smoosh together more or less simultaneously, while being illuminated with those photons, and—ta da!—out comes sugar and oxygen. That's very unlikely, and so like many biochemical processes, it needs to proceed in steps, aided by enzymes. And Mann describes, fascinatingly, the key one:

Rubisco is the essential catalyst for photosynthesis, Like military recruiters who induct volunteers into the army and then return to their work, rubisco molecules take carbon dioxide from the air, insert it into the maelstrom of photosynthesis, then go back for more. The name "rubisco" was coined, jokingly, in 1979, to sound like a breakfast cereal; it is a sorta-kinda acronym for the compound's scientific name, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase. Rubisco's catalytic actions are the limiting step in photosynthesis, which means the rate at which rubisco funtions determines to rate of the entire process. Photosynthesis walks at the rate of rubisco.

Alas, rubisco is, by biological standards, a sluggard, a lazybones, a couch potato. It causes reactions to occur, but very slowly. Whereas typical enzymes catalyze thousands of reactions a second, rubisco deigns to involve itself with just two or three per second. It is onee of the pokiest enzymes known. When Warren Weaver bewailed the inefficiency of photosynthesis, he was unknowingly bewailing the torpor of rubisco. Years ago I talked to biologists about photosynthesis for a magazine article. Not one had a good word to say about rubisco. "Nearly the world's worst, most incompetent enzyme," said one researcher. "Not one of evolution's finer efforts," said another.

Not only is rubisco slow, it is inept. Carbon dioxide (CO2) consists of a carbon atom (C) flanked by two oxygen atoms (O), the whole in a straight line. Oxygen gas (O2) consists of two oxygen atoms. […] Rubisco is constantly searching, so to speak, for a linear molecule with two oxygen atoms on either end. But as much as two out of every five times, rubisco fails to pick up carbon dioxide, fumblingly grabs oxygen instead, and tries to shove the oxygen into a chemical reaction that can't use it. To get rid of the unneeded oxygen, plants have evolved an entire secondary process that pumps it out of the cell and re-primes the rubisco to try again for carbon dioxide.

Mann notes that some botanists considered ways to improve rubisco. Surely some sort of genetic tinkering would give us smarter, faster super-rubisco, contained in plants that would grow faster, need less fertilizer, produce more edibles.

But those efforts have come up empty, thanks to the the extremely unlikely evolutionary process that gave us the green plant life we know today. Read Mann (or Wikipedia) for the details, but it turns out the genetic code responsible for the rubisco molecule is the product of an unholy marriage between ancient protozoans and cyanobacteria. And as a result, it's impossible to use standard processes to improve it.

(If you read Mann's discussion, you'll be impressed at how (again) extremely unlikely this 3.5 billion-year-ago biochemical hack was. And, yet, without it, we wouldn't be here. Ponder, if you will, what this implies for the existence of extraterrestrial life.)

Okay, here's where I go into crackpot hand-waving territory. It's easy to do when your knowledge is superficial, and you don't have to actually do anything.

Those botanists were looking in the context of improved plant growth. Suppose we removed that constraint, and turned our chemical engineering wizardry on the problem divorced from the need to have it occur in plant cells. Perhaps with the help of AI, a smarter and faster catalyst could be designed to carry out the photosynthetic reaction, inside ingeniously-designed plumbing exposed to the air, supplied with water and sunlight! Have the plumbing release the generated oxygen into the atmosphere, and sequester the generated sugar! Or maybe jigger the reaction to produce some other easily-stored hydrocarbon!

And just imagine square miles of this plumbing, efficiently sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere! All day long! Releasing sweet oxygen! And disposing of the "waste" hydrocarbons … um, somehow. Buried in deep, sealed pits, perhaps. ("Over there, next to the radioactive waste, Mel.")

Sorry for all the exclamation points. But, dude, you just solved global warming. Good job. Have a Nobel Prize or two.

There's a possible downside. This essentially gives us a global thermostat. Where to set it? We still need some CO2 in the atmosphere. How much?

I've made this observation before: if your family occasionally bickers about where to set the thermostat in your house, multiply that bickering by 5 billion or so, and give a lot of the participants dangerous weaponry. (See Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Termination Shock for a fictional treatment of this problem.)

As a bonus, however, this would get the climate nannies off our backs. They'd be disappointed that it would no longer be necessary to get to "net zero" carbon emissions. All their coercive schemes, up in (carbon-free) smoke. Yes, we'd have other things to fret about, like…

Well, another scenario: say it turns out that our "super-rubisco" process can be incorporated into plant cells. And say those supercharged plants escape into the wild. For some odd reason, they are not suitable for food. And (oops!) it turns out they are kind of the ultimate invasive species, rapidly crowding out conventional plants.

Darn it! We all eventually starve to death. But on a very green and cool planet.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:39 AM EDT

My AI Wants To Kill Your Mama

A Fisking of Joyce Maynard

I'm breaking out the old fisking template for my response to a recent Facebook rant from Joyce Maynard (pictured).

If you don't know who Joyce Maynard is, you philistine, Wikipedia is your friend. She grew up just down the road a few miles in Durham, New Hampshire, home to the University Near Here. And she's had an interesting life that's provided some fodder for the literary gossip mills. So I tend to pay a little more attention to her than other writers of books I don't read.

The usual rules apply: Her post is reproduced in its entirety on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my remarks are on the right.

I’ve been following, with ever-greater concern, the story of how Artificial Intelligence has slithered into our culture and taken hold. This week brings particularly alarming news.

Joyce (I call her Joyce) is a writer, so note her language, especially "slithered". Communicating that AI is not only smart, it's slimy, sneaky, and snakelike. Real Genesis Chapter 3 stuff. This is the "alarming" language of panic.

If you had told me, fifty years ago, when I published my first book (the year was 1973; I was 19) that the day would come when books might be written by anybody without blood pumping through her veins, or a beating heart, I would have said you were crazy. But that day has come.

I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure that, unlike beating-heart humans, current AI programs do not strike out on their own, spontaneously writing complete books ex nihilo. They need to be prompted. By humans. Maybe that doesn't matter to Joyce Maynard. Call me crazy, but I think it does.

I admit: that could change. AIs could just start writing books on their own someday. I can't imagine why they would, but maybe. In any case, that day has not come.

As an experiment, I logged in at ChatGPT and commanded it thus: "Write the first five pages of a mystery novel in the style of Raymond Chandler."

At least to my easily-impressed eyes, the result was not good. "The night air hung heavy with the stench of secrets, a fog of mysteries that clung to the city like a lover's perfume.…"

Then I asked: "Write the first five pages of a mystery novel in the style of Joyce Maynard."

And the result began: "The small coastal town of Cedar Cove had always been a place where secrets whispered through the salt-kissed breeze and shadows clung to the weathered clapboard houses like old lovers…."

Um. That's harder for me to judge. Fans of Joyce Maynard might like it.

But "Cedar Cove" sounded familiar… googling… yup, that might get you and your LLM provider sued by Debbie Macomber, Andie McDowell, and the Hallmark Channel.

Also, note the commonalities: secrets. They whisper and they smell bad. And there seems to be a lot of clinging. Of things that are like other things. Where those other things are associated with lovers.

But it's still impressive. As that sexist rascal Samuel Johnson said about female preachers: it's "like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

And it's a safe bet AI is only going to get better at it. Only a few years elapsed between a computer being able to play a mediocre game of chess and Deep Blue's beatdown of Garry Kasparov.

But so what?

As many of you may know, the growing sophistication of AI technology now allows for programs designed to replicate the voice, style, sentence structure and vocabulary of known published writers. This week came the news—thanks to research conducted by The Atlantic Magazine—that the books of hundreds, possibly thousands of writers have been scanned for the purpose of feeding the AI database in such a way that it is now possible to replicate a novel by Stephen King, or Michael Chabon, or Louise Erdrich…without any of those writers’ involvement in any way.

Or a novel by Joyce Maynard.

Ah, well. Now we're getting to the real issue: Her ox is being gored!

She's talking about Books3, which made a stir last month. You can read about it at the Atlantic here, here, and (perhaps especially) here. Also see WIRED's take: The Battle Over Books3 Could Change AI Forever.

A search revealed yesterday that seven of my books have been scanned—illegally, without procuring rights—into an AI database for the purpose of creating AI simulations of my voice.

The Authors’ Guild, of which I am a member, is pursuing legal action, as is a consortium of writers.

Books3 contains more than 170,000 books, according to one of those Atlantic articles linked above, so they aren't singling Joyce out, as she implies. But (true enough) lots of her fellow oxen are feeling gored, and they have lawyers.

However, Joyce is simply wrong to imply that this is a settled legal question. See especially that WIRED link above that provides plenty of room for doubt about that. Also of interest is TechDirt editor Mike Masnick's observation: Publishing A Book Means No Longer Having Control Over How Others Feel About It, Or How They’re Inspired By It. And That Includes AI. He finds that many of the authors griping so loudly about this are "very much confused about how copyright law works."

Joyce, does that shoe fit?

Meanwhile, you can google “AI assistance for writers” and find dozens of platforms promising to make it possible for aspiring writers to create books , without the need of all those pesky skills like grammar, sensitivity to style, rhythm, language, tone or an understanding of dialogue. The technology can take care of all that. Leaving patrons of the AI assistance sites free to concern themselves with nothing more than typing in their ideas and no doubt offering up a charge card number.

Joyce, perhaps wisely, veers off the legal issues involved, and goes into … what? The moral issues? Anyhow, she seems upset by people using technology to improve their writing. She's justly proud of her acquired skills in "grammar, sensitivity to style, rhythm, language, tone or an understanding of dialogue".

(She's overly modest, not even mentioning her impeccable spelling and large vocabulary.)

Her attitude seems to be: How dare some semi-literate upstart chick toiling in a dimly-lit basement in her parents' home in Moose Jaw use purchased technology to pretend she's acquired those same skills?

And if, after her technical boost, Ms. Moose Jaw's end result is comparable to Joyce's own work, well… maybe it's time for Joyce to wonder how Garry Kasparov felt when he got beaten by Deep Blue.

I am, frankly, not seeing the problem. And I wonder where Joyce draws the line for acceptable tech for writing assistance? Does she use a spell checker? Does she even use a word processor at all, or does she peck at a Smith-Corona, like she did in the 1970s? (Using Wite-Out: another "pesky skill".)

Would she find Grammarly acceptable? (It seems to suggest edits just like a human editor might.)

I do not need to tell you how I feel about this.                                                                  

"But I am going to anyway."

It’s nothing less than the death of art. My parents, who raised my sister and me on the literature of the Western canon, would die, themselves, if they weren’t long dead already.

This, um, seems a little overwrought. And clunky.

But it inspired this post's headline, mutating the title of an old Frank Zappa song.

And that made me wonder: no doubt some smart people are working on the music side of AI. If you fed a "large music model" AI with the works of Frank Zappa, could it produce… new Zappa-like music?

That would no doubt horrify some people. And some other people might say: why didn't you do Bach instead?

But there might be a goodly fraction of folks that might enjoy it, and say: Gee, thanks. I miss Frank, and I'm glad to have this.

What's wrong with that? Honest question: is that somehow awful? Why?

(Disclaimer: I was never a Zappa fan. I was a teenage SF geek, so my fantasy AI would produce, with the kind permission of Isaac Asimov's estate, more robot detective novels. Written in first-person by R. Daneel Olivaw. There would be no clinging or secrets, at least not in the first paragraph.)

There is so much more to be said about all of this, but I’ve got a day filled with writing ahead of me. Real writing. Not typing instructions into an AI site. I’m talking about what I’ve been doing for fifty years now, getting up at five am and putting in long days at my desk, considering every syllable, every sentence, the placement of every comma and period, the sound of the words I choose. ( Reading them out loud , alone at my desk, to hear how they sound.)

Arduous! But not to be confused with coal mining.

And I assume that Joyce, given her techno-aversion, eschews even that typewriter mentioned above, using instead a quill pen and parchment.

There will be those who offer up all kinds of reasons why AI can be a good thing for us all. Have at it. In the world of art and music and literature, it can mean only one thing: The eradication of what is uniquely human in each of us. The death of what is most precious and beautiful, the soul and spirit with which we were born. That is irreplaceable.

I'm not totally unsympathetic. But talk about an "irreplaceable" "soul and spirit" is getting pretty deep into the woo-woo. The big brains have been looking into the mind pretty deeply for years, and have been unable to find any trace of anything besides boring old biochemistry powered by boring old electromagnetism. With a small chance that there might be some quantum coin-flipping in microtubules.

Nevertheless, I believe (seemingly like Joyce) that there is something going on inside us that gives rise to consciousness, actual non-illusory free will, creativity, and all that human stuff that causes us to write Facebook and blog posts.

And I believe this arises as an "emergent property" of a sufficiently complex array of neurochemical processes, no woo-woo involved.

(N.B.: when I say I "believe": that's in the sense that I have zero scientific evidence for that belief, other than my own introspection.)

But another conclusion of that belief is: that free will (with its associated phenomena) can also occur in non-biological "sufficiently complex" computer hardware and software. That hasn't happened yet (I'm pretty sure) but I don't see any reason why it might not happen, and sooner than we might think.

In other words: not the "eradication of what is uniquely human in each of us." Instead, we're going to have "precious and beautiful" company, of our own making. At that point it won't be "artificial" intelligence. It will be the real thing.

That might fill Joyce Maynard with fear and loathing, but … too bad.

OK, so I'm all better now.

Nikki Haley Should Watch This

(So Should You)

That's Pierre Poilievre, member of Canada's Conservative Party, and for the past year, the official "Leader of the Opposition". The interviewer is a guy named Don Urquhart.

And I have no idea what Pierre's other positions are, but this made me want to vote for him.

I also don't know how well it would work down here in the USA. But I say: her handlers should make sure Nikki Haley always has an apple handy to munch on while she's eviscerating a dumb interviewer.

Also of note:

  • I thought it was supposed to be Atlas shrugging. Brian Reidl is unpaywalled at the Dispatch and he bears bad news: Americans Shrug Off Historic Debt Surge.

    While much attention has been (justifiably) focused on the brutal attacks in Israel, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) quietly released some alarming numbers. The budget deficit for the 2023 fiscal year—which concluded September 30—topped a staggering $2 trillion. This not only doubled the 2022 budget deficit, it also became the largest single-year deficit increase in American history, outside of the temporary emergencies of both World Wars, the Great Recession, and the 2020 pandemic.

    In fact—outside of those aforementioned emergencies—this year’s budget deficit is the largest in American history, equaling 7.7 percent of GDP. Those earlier emergency-driven deficits could each be justified as an unavoidable yet temporary one-time cost that a growing economy could absorb gradually. By contrast, today’s structural deficits are substantially more perilous because they are projected to continue growing larger essentially forever. Simply put, never before has Washington run such large deficits during relative peace and prosperity.

    Read the whole thing and learn about impending fiscal doom.

    Also learn about the lassitude of the voting public.

    And also learn about the cowardice of Republicans.

    And the sheer irresponsibility of Democrats.

  • For the woke, even double standards were too constraining. Charles C. W. Cooke observes Progressives & Hamas: The Woke Code of Morality Was All Nonsense.

    For more than a decade now, our universities, our media, our HR departments, and our celebrities have terrorized us with a bunch of vicious dogmas that, it turns out, they never believed in for a moment. In the name of “diversity” and “inclusion” and “equity” and any other abstract concept that might plausibly be recruited to the obscurantists’ side, Americans were asked to subordinate their freedom, their conversations, and their consciences to the personal preferences of a handful of unelected arbiters of taste. And then, one terrible day in October, a real barbarity was staged, and, within a few hours of the rules being applied to its apologists, the whole enterprise was revealed to be a brittle sham. Who among us could have predicted that?

    Lest you worry, that isn’t a serious question. That the Sensitivity-Industrial Complex was nothing more than a front for the advancement of progressivism has been obvious to most thinking people for a long while. That the ruse would be rendered so obvious by a single international monstrosity, however, was not. I had assumed, given the amount of effort that had gone into its construction, that the architects and adherents of Woke America might at least pretend to live by their own entreaties for a while. I was wrong. Instead, they turned on a dime. One day, they were telling people who do not think that women have penises that there remained no place for them in polite society; the next, they were explaining how important it is that college students be able to celebrate genocide in public — and even be reimbursed for it. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so important to “speak out” as it had been before. Overnight, the claim that “all lives matter” became self-evident, instead of a slur. Without warning, the banishment of students who make rhetorical mistakes moved from mandatory to outré. The transformation was remarkable — and complete.

    That's my penultimate "gifted" link for this month. You're welcome.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    Unlike Ann Althouse, I'm choosing to disagree. But she says: I feel compelled to disagree.. And we are both at odds with Robert Sapolsky, who has an interview circling around his new book (AmazonLinkAtYourRight) in the NYT: Robert Sapolsky Doesn’t Believe in Free Will. (But Feel Free to Disagree.) Excerpt:

    To most people, free will means being in charge of our actions. What’s wrong with that outlook?

    It’s a completely useless definition. When most people think they’re discerning free will, what they mean is somebody intended to do what they did: Something has just happened; somebody pulled the trigger. They understood the consequences and knew that alternative behaviors were available.

    But that doesn’t remotely begin to touch it, because you’ve got to ask: Where did that intent come from? That’s what happened a minute before, in the years before, and everything in between.

    For that sort of free will to exist, it would have to function on a biological level completely independently of the history of that organism. You would be able to identify the neurons that caused a particular behavior, and it wouldn’t matter what any other neuron in the brain was doing, what the environment was, what the person’s hormone levels were, what culture they were brought up in. Show me that those neurons would do the exact same thing with all these other things changed, and you’ve proven free will to me.

    So, whether I wore a red or blue shirt today — are you saying I didn’t really choose that?

    Absolutely. It can play out in the seconds before. Studies show that if you’re sitting in a room with a terrible smell, people become more socially conservative. Some of that has to do with genetics: What’s the makeup of their olfactory receptors? With childhood: What conditioning did they have to particular smells? All of that affects the outcome.

    As always, I trot out Sean Carroll's observation on that shirt-choosing thought experiment: Try saying: "Well, I'll just stand here and let the atoms in my body do whatever they were deterministically going to do anyway."

    Wait as long as you need to before you're convinced that that the atoms in your body aren't gonna get that shirt-picking job done for you. Or go to work bare-chested. Your call.

  • I am gobsmacked. I previously recommended Ron Bailey's article from print Reason: Take Nutrition Studies With a Grain of Salt. If you prefer audio instead, it's now a Reason podcast.

    But I wasn't gobsmacked by that. Instead, this, from the linked page:

    This audio was generated using AI trained on the voice of Katherine Mangu-Ward.

    And, reader, it really does sound like her, without actually being her. Impressive!

    I don't know how long this has been going on. But any professional audio narrators out there might want to think about developing other skills.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:49 AM EDT

Or People, Either

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Kevin D. Williamson provides useful (but, sorry, paywalled) observations on those Left Behind by History. You can probably guess the ones he's talking about.

History moves on, and, if you get left behind—it may not be your fault, but it is still your problem. The Israeli forces should be the least of the mortal worries afflicting those Hamas killers—if the Palestinians had any self-respect, it would be them taking the lead in putting an end to the power of these monsters, who are homicidal maniacs when it comes to the Jews but who haven’t done the Palestinians a lick of good, either. But, unhappily, the one almost universally shared assumption of modern diplomatic discourse is that the Palestinian Arabs are something less than whole and complete human beings, that they are not advanced enough to be true moral actors because they do not have the strength of national character to bear the moral weight that falls exclusively upon the shoulders of the Israelis and the peoples of the other liberal democratic states. The Palestinians, according to this line of thought, just bounce around like windup toys, and only the Israelis, the Americans, and the Europeans can be expected to behave like responsible adults. Nobody ever puts it exactly that way, of course, but that’s the upshot. The Palestinians are treated by their so-called advocates and benefactors as though they were a nation of people who have no agency and, hence, no responsibility.

The mystery is why the Palestinians continue to put up with it, and have for so long. They don’t need “days of rage.” They need property rights, free enterprise, the rule of law, and decent government. And nobody would be better pleased to see them have these than the Israelis.

A decent recipe for success. One that's almost certain to not be implemented.

Also of note:

  • A reading assignment for Robert Azzi. I'm still a tad riled by his column printed in my local paper a couple days back. It wasn't worth responding in detail, but here's one of the "facts" he thought relevant to his discussion:

    Hamas came of age in the late-70s. Led by Shaikh Ahmed Yassin it was protected and assisted by the Israeli government, which imagined it as a challenger to the more secular Palestinian forces, Fatah, who were controlled by the Palestinian Authority from Ramallah.

    As Avner Cohen, a former Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza, told the Wall Street Journal in 2009: “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation.”

    You can read the WSJ article to which Azzi refers here. See if you agree with me that Azzi is conveniently ignoring a lot of relevant historical context.

    And you could read David Harsanyi, who has something to say about this particular talking point: Let's Talk About The Idiotic Claim That 'Israel Supported Hamas'.

    One of the most misleading, contextless talking points spread by the pro-Hamas right and left contends that Israel “supported” and “created” the terror organization. It is the political equivalent of condemning someone today for failing to make a citizen’s arrest of O.J. Simpson in 1986.

    The myth was popularized by former Qatari propagandist, now one of MSNBC’s leading terror apologists, Mehdi Hasan. The insinuation, of course, is that Israel bears moral and historical responsibility for the murder of its own citizens. A lot of these same people, no doubt, blamed Americans for creating al Qaeda and thus 9/11. The Hamas claim is even weaker, frankly, considering Israel had no hand in arming any iteration of the terror group.

    Azzi's no idiot. But he is one of those people who, for whatever motivation, as KDW says above, treats Palestinians "as though they were a nation of people who have no agency and, hence, no responsibility."

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    "Don't play for safety. It's the most dangerous thing in the world." That counterintuitive advice is from Sir Hugh Walpole. (Who, somewhat ironically, died after overexerting himself while participating in a 1941 fund-raiser for the British war effort.)

    That quote also led off this 1988 Reason review of Aaron Wildavsky's book Searching for Safety (very expensive Amazon link at your right.) I recall reading the book back then; it was the olden days when the University Near Here bought physical books. Read Walter Olson's review and see if you don't agree that Wildavsky's general observations seem as if he'd written them this year.

    Demonstrating the adage that "the more things change, the more they stay the same", today we're talking about "safety" in the context of AI. And Dean W. Ball channels Wildavsky in his National Review article: 'Safety’ Is Not the Best Standard for Regulating Artificial Intelligence. Noting the recent examples of (um) tasteless images produced miscreants testing Bing Image Creator:

    Obviously, such “art” is juvenile and in poor taste. But it raises, in a relatively low-stakes setting, a broader issue about the nature of AI-safety efforts and, indeed, the nature of safety itself. As AI becomes more powerful, individuals will be able to wield it with increasing precision — just as Adobe Photoshop has more options than Microsoft Paint. As that happens, it will become harder to make systems “safe” according to the term’s broad definition encouraged by the media, academia, and many AI firms. The more precisely the AI can be controlled, the more precisely clever users will be able to find ways around content-moderation rules designed to prevent the production of content that offends liberal sensibilities.

    Even if it were possible to make a highly advanced AI system safe, according to this broad understanding of safety, it is not clear that such a system would be desirable. The work-arounds used by internet trolls to generate the images described above are ways of manipulating the system. But consider which system sounds more troubling: one that can be manipulated to generate content that some will find offensive, or one that can peer into its users’ psyches, understand their true motivations, and decide whether it wishes to comply? The former is an extension — albeit a supremely capable one — of the digital tools we have been using for decades now. The latter is reminiscent of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. If such a system were even possible, it is far from clear that it would be a good creation — particularly if it were created simply to prevent people from being offended on the internet.

    The next time you hear people demand that AI be made "safe", throw some Walpole, Wildavsky and Bell at them.

  • None dare call it corruption. Mark Mix notes some (sadly) unsurprising news: Biden Cements UAW Support with Taxpayer Billions.

    In a blatantly political and legally questionable move in August, the Biden Energy Department announced that, regarding its $12 billion in grants and loans for companies transitioning to electric-vehicle (EV) manufacturing, it would “prioritize” those that corral their employees into unions. On September 26, CNN reported that this handout emerged shortly after a “personal audience” between [UAW president Shawn] Fain and Biden.

    CNN’s Kayla Tausche went on to quote an unnamed UAW source who confirmed that the $12 billion payoff would, in the reporter’s words, “go a long way in helping to secure the union’s endorsement of Biden.” A second anonymous UAW source was directly quoted regarding the payoff: “This isn’t enough to get an endorsement, but it gets us a significant part of the way there.”

    Fox News reports that UAW Prez Shawn Fain (1) has been spotted wearing an "Eat the Rich" t-shirt; (2) makes somewhere around $350K/year, maybe more.

    Eat the rich? Advice for Shawn: google the word "autosarcophagy".

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:49 AM EDT

Festivus Comes Early


As Frank Costanza famously said: "I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you're gonna hear about it!"

No, I have zero problems with you, dear readers. My problems are with…

Well, first, Robert Azzi, who had his usual boilerplate Israel-hating column in my local Sunday paper yesterday (archived here) only slightly modified to account for recent Palestinian atrocities. Sample paragraph where he acknowledges simple reality:

Hamas has committed unimaginable crimes on humanity, war crimes that must outrage all peoples without exception even as one might wage anti-colonial actions and struggles. There is no justification or excuse for Hamas’ barbaric and murderous acts; they are clear violations of international law and must be condemned.

Ah, but can you guess the very next word?

However murderous Hamas’ acts, they neither justify Israel’s systemic violations of international law and conventions nor justify revenge or acts against humanity by invading and leveling Gaza in a way that will “reverberate for generations.”

At heart, Azzi is only truly critical of one side, Israel, for daring to defend itself against "barbaric and murderous acts". He knows Israel's true goal, seemingly only revealed by accident:

Peace isn’t something simply to be desired. It follows from justice. Without justice there can be no peace. Without truth there can be no justice, and today’s truth is that Netanyahu will try to cynically manipulate the aftermath of Hamas’ brutality and indiscriminate killing to try to derail Palestinian reconciliation and further his intention to further disenfranchise Palestinians and to annex all occupied Palestinian land into the State of Israel.

Indeed, just last month at the United Nations, Netanyahu made clear such intentions by showcasing a series of maps, including one that had erased the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza; it was all Israel, from the Jordan to the Sea.

You may not have heard about that map, but (true enough) a lot of the Usual Suspects freaked out about it.

But nobody seems to be claiming that it reflects actual Israeli policy. And Azzi doesn't mention the clearly stated Palestinian slogan "from the river to the sea", pointing to their ultimate goal: destruction of the Jewish state.

As always, Azzi's "both sides-ism" involves selective blindness, and only makes moral demands of one side, Israel.

Ah, but it's not just my local paper trafficking in that sort of thing. Despicable behavior has not been reported at the University Near Here, thank goodness. However, our state has not been totally spared. Instapundit links to a report from Dartmouth, where the kids are trying to outdo Harvard in losing respectability for their institutions. From the student newspaper, a statement from the "Palestine Solidarity Coalition":

The root cause of this violence is apartheid, the institutionalized system of oppression and domination by one ethnic group over another.

Ackshually, I think the root cause of the violence is people wanting to murder the Jews. A little problem they've been trying to deal with for many centuries.

One of the signatories of the Dartmouth letter is one "Roan V. Wade" (real name?), identified as "an organizer with Sunrise Movement at Dartmouth." Instapundit quotes from her wonderful website:

Art has always been a way for me to have a voice, a way of silently shouting my beliefs, a way of seizing space, a way of fighting those who have attempted to strip me of my voice. I view art as a means of communicating the revolution, raising class consciousness, and increasing awareness of intersectional struggles for our collective liberation. My work feeds the flames of revolution whether through creating art directly intended as a form of protest, or by using my own experiences with queer youth homelessness, housing and food insecurity, homophobia, sexism, and sexual harassment and violence to highlight that the personal is political. In these dystopian times, everything is political, including all my work.

The strung-together progressive clichés speak for themselves, as does the quality of her art, also available at that website.

The Daily Mail reports that the pro-barbarian side is also well-represented down in Amherst: Chilling moment pro-Palestine U.Mass students surround reporter, demand to know her ETHNICITY and threaten her with lawyers for covering their protest.

Pro-Palestine college activists harassed a journalist covering their protest and allegedly demanded to know her ethnicity as tensions on US campuses continue to escalate in the wake of the Middle East conflict.

Kassy Dillon, a video journalist with Fox News, said she was targeted after leaving an anti-Israel protest at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus.

'As I was leaving, two guys kept asking me my ethnicity,' she tweeted on Thursday. 'When I got into my car, I was approached by a group of the protesters demanding to know my address and phone number.'

But it's not just our institutions of higher education. At the WSJ, Allysia Finley writes about the rot elsewhere: ‘Our Enemies Are the CEOs . . . Our Comrades Are in Gaza’.

Liberals and conservatives alike roundly admonished Donald Trump in 2017, when he blamed “both sides” for violence at a Charlottesville, Va., protest over the removal of a Confederate statute.

“President Trump’s remarks yesterday were reprehensible,” Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry wrote in a statement. “He doubled down on blaming ‘both sides’ for the hatred, bigotry and violence” rather than stand up to “the white supremacists and their racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ views.”

Six years later, Ms. Henry and others on the left are equivocating and blaming both sides for Hamas’s terrorist war against Israel. “The violence in Israel and Palestine is unconscionable,” Ms. Henry tweeted on Oct. 10. “@SEIU stands with all who are suffering, while strongly condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia & hate in all forms.”

Mr. Trump’s opponents accused him of empowering neo-Nazis, but Hamas’s jihad against Israel has exposed that the fiercest anti-Semites are on the left. Perhaps that’s because left-wing activists view Israel’s economic prosperity and Gaza’s poverty through an anticapitalist lens, which holds that all wealth is generated from exploitation.

Finley's headline quote is from "Kooper Caraway, executive director of the SEIU Connecticut State Council". Her bottom line that applies generally to the folks highlighted in this section: "Their obsession with grievance and ideology leads them to rationalize the worst of humanity."

Also of note:

  • This shouldn't be hard. I'm using one of my precious National Review gift links for this article from Andre M. Archie, associate professor of ancient Greek philosophy at Colorado State University: Kendi-ism Is a Dead End. Let’s Return to Color-Blindness

    To be color-blind is to be guided by the moral belief that the mere possession of hereditary qualities, such as race, should not confer moral merit by one’s possession or nonpossession of them. Instead, moral merit can be, and should be, conferred on an individual’s actions, because actions reveal one’s character. It’s incumbent on all Americans to embrace the color-blind approach to race relations before the comfortable racism in the guise of anti-racism seeps even further into the body politic, permanently dividing America against itself. The term comfortable racism describes an environment we are slowly growing accustomed to. It results from the combination of middle-class exhaustion with the topic of race and the ideology of anti-racism. Comfortable racism is an ideology of “separate but equal” by choice. It’s where our society is heading if the value and necessity of color-blindness aren’t taken seriously.

    It should be obvious by now that the Kendi/DiAngelo/etc. "anti-racist" advocacy hasn't moved us anywhere near a better society. Time to go back to treating people as individuals, not "judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

  • WIRED is awful. Popping up in my newsfeed the other day: A Note From WIRED Leadership.

    Editor’s Note 10/6/2023: After careful review of the op-ed, "How Google Alters Search Queries to Get at Your Wallet," and relevant material provided to us following its publication, WIRED editorial leadership has determined that the story does not meet our editorial standards. It has been removed.

    Well, inquiring minds want to know what the story was. And it's easy enough to find, via Hacker News. The article is by Megan Gray, and the lead paragraph is:

    Recently, a startling piece of information came to light in the ongoing antitrust case against Google. During one employee’s testimony, a key exhibit momentarily flashed on a projector. In the mostly closed trial, spectators like myself have only a few seconds to scribble down the contents of exhibits shown during public questioning. Thus far, witnesses had dropped breadcrumbs hinting at the extent of Google’s drive to boost profits: a highly confidential effort called Project Mercury, urgent missives to “shake the sofa cushions” to generate more advertising revenue on the search engine results page (SERP), distressed emails about the sustained decline in the ad-triggering searches that generate most of Google’s money, recollections of how the executive team has long insisted that obscene corporate profit equals consumer good. Now, the projector screen showed an internal Google slide about changes to its search algorithm.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, Gray got it wrong. As one of the Hacker News commenters points out: "The author appears to have gotten the slide exactly backwards."

    The commenter also points out that Grey was once "a former Duck Duck Go executive" and an FTC lawyer, where she battled Google no end.

    Another commenter notes WIRED's belated recognition "that the story does not meet our editorial standards." And says: maybe a better time to apply those "editorial standards" would have been before they published the article.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:30 AM EDT

The Anti-Communist Manifesto

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I saw it on the "New Non-Fiction" table at the Portsmouth Public Library. The title certainly appealed. How bad could it be?

Reader, it could be very bad. With two and a half months left, this book is pretty much a lock for Pun Salad's "Worst Non-Fiction Book Read in 2023".

I was reminded of that insightful line in George Orwell's classic 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language":

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

The author, Jesse Kelly, similarly drains the word "communism" of all meaning. He uses it to signify anything he doesn't like.

Now much of what Kelly says isn't that objectionable. Marxism is junk, both sociologically and economically. Marxism put into practice, i.e., Communism, is a disaster for the citizenry, full of misery, oppression, war, and murder. American universities tilt wildly to the left, to their own detriment, and ours. Tearing down American history into simplistic fables of racism, sexism, rapacious businesses, etc. is despicable. BLM and Antifa are evil grifters. And so on.

But you can learn about that anywhere else. (And I recommend you do.)

One amusing (well, sort of amusing) feature is Kelly's near-complete lack of introspection or self-doubt. He can observe (for example) that in Weimar Germany, communist militants "used the term fascist to describe pretty much anyone with who they disagreed." Exactly what Orwell said! But…geez…has Kelly looked critically at his own use of "communist"?

Also on a more serious note, Kelly cheers on "cancel culture" as long as it's being used by the right people against the wrong people. He's a big fan of Ron DeSantis's use of governmental power against the Disney Corporation, because they took a political stand he disagreed with. They were being disloyal to the state! Must be punished!

It's become tiresome to read about the rise of illiberal tactics on both sides of the political debate. The "war" is no longer about reducing the power of the state to oppress the citizenry; it's about grabbing onto the power of the state so you can go after the Other Side. This is a negative-sum game in both the short and long runs. Kelly wants to play that game badly.

The style is grating, all the way through. He has a radio show, and a lot of the stuff here "reads" like lightly-edited spoken rant-monologues. You are never more than a few paragraphs away from wild overstatement. Picked at random from the gun control chapter: "The appetite of the communist will not be satisfied until civilian ownership of firearms is a thing of the past and Americans are at the complete mercy of the government.") He's also a practioner of what Jon Steward made famous: the “clown nose on, clown nose off” approach to commentary. Except the nose-on jokes seem to mostly involve observing that a lot of feminists are fat and ugly.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:48 AM EDT

Their Eyes Were Watching God

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I was prompted to put this Zora Neale Hurston book on my get-at-library list after reading this article at Reason by Damon Root last year: Zora Neale Hurston’s Inconvenient Individualism. If you're interested, John McWhorter's 2011 take is also expectedly good: Zora Neale Hurston Was a Conservative. Confession: I like both those things!

But enough about the politics, what about the book? Published in 1937, it's the rocky odyssey of Janie Crawford, as she navigates through her young life and three marriages. (I might have missed something, but I'm not sure she bothered to get a divorce from Husband One before taking up with Husband Two.) It's set in 1920s Florida, and it's a—no pun intended—colorful tale of black folks navigating in a Jim Crow world. And they did a decent job of it.

Janie is abandoned by her mother, and raised by her grandma. Who notices her eventual budding interest in men, and responds by arranging a loveless marriage to a much older farmer. Janie is neglected and abused, and is therefore easy pickings for Jody, a very glib go-getter, who takes her to the black township of Eatonville (an actual place with a fascinating history, where Hurston grew up). Jody soon becomes a relatively wealthy shopowner, and mayor of the town. But he disrespects Janie. Who eventually commits the unforgivable sin of disrespecting him back, in public. Which winds up seemingly killing him. Janie's left with a fortune.

But she's still easy pickings for the fast-talking, guitar-playing, dice-throwing "Tea Cake". He sweeps her off her feet, taking her (and her money) off to the swampy Everglades. Their wedded bliss is soon interrupted by a massive hurricane. Their efforts to escape the storm seem successful, but Tea Cake is… well, no spoilers, but there's some courtroom drama as Janie goes on trial for murder.

One of the barriers to enjoying the book was its unapologetic and relentless use of black dialect. ("What dat ole forty year ole 'oman doin' wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal?") Note: Hurston was a trained anthropologist and it's a safe bet this is accurate and honest.

And I couldn't help but notice a precursor to modern "Yo mama's so fat" jokes: the "Yo mule's so skinny" jokes (Chapter 6).

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:47 AM EDT

Another Weasel Word For "Lie"…

… helpfully translated at Twitchy: Another 'embellishment' from President Biden: this time he's lying about his support of gay marriage. Sample rebuttal tweet:

Were Trump's lies ever described as gingerly by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler as this, from August:

But throughout his career — most famously in his first presidential campaign, in the 1988 election cycle — Biden’s propensity to exaggerate or embellish tales about his life led to doubts about his truthfulness.

Ya think, Glenn?

Anyway, it's Sunday, so it's time to look at the oddsmakers:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 34.4% -0.2%
Joe Biden 33.1% +0.3%
Gavin Newsom 6.5% +0.1%
Michelle Obama 4.7% -0.6%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.3% unch
Nikki Haley 3.9% +0.6%
Ron DeSantis 3.8% +0.4%
Kamala Harris 2.1% ---
Other 7.2% -2.7%

Well, Kamala's back in the table, surpassing our 2% inclusion threshold.

I can imagine a track announcer calling this horse race: "Bone Spurs is holding onto a slim lead, but Wheezy is making a strong charge. Snake Oil is far behind, with Ma Belle, Famous Dad, Underestimated, and Overrated well back in the pack. Word Salad brings up the rear, with a really poor performance."

Also of note:

  • Turn off the burner. Time was unkind to this article from Portsmouth NH-based Caroline McCaughey in the New York Sun: As RFK Jr. Readies an Announcement Monday, Speculation Is Simmering Over Whether He Could Find a Path Forward Via the Libertarian Party. There's plenty of cold water to be sprinkled:

    Mr. Kennedy is adept at appealing to libertarian crowds, promising to pardon Julian Assange and saying he won’t take people’s guns away. His platform, though, is not libertarian. He may be anti-interventionist and anti-war, advocating for “unwinding empire” and for withdrawing “our troops and nuclear-capable missiles from Russia’s borders.” He might be for pushback against big tech censorship and vaccine mandates in a way that aligns with the Libertarian Party.

    Mr. Kennedy’s economic and environmental policies, though, do not. Mr. Kennedy supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and recently proposed locking home mortgage rates at three percent with tax-free bonds to “make home ownership affordable” — both policies the Libertarian Party rejects.

    Mr. Kennedy has also railed against free trade, which is a foundational principle of libertarianism. He supports a ban on fracking and has equivocated on nuclear energy, while the Libertarian Party’s platform says its members “oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.”

    Mr. Kennedy says he is “not going to take people’s guns away,” but he’s also said he would support a bipartisan assault weapons ban. The latter statement riled many Libertarians.

    And this small-l libertarian is pretty riled too. (For that matter, I think his foreign policy is full of shit and would be a recipe for quick disaster.)

  • Post-announcement analysis from Michael Graham at NHJournal: RFK Jr. To Run for POTUS as an Independent. The amusing bit is how quickly our local Dems can turn on ya:

    When Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. came to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in March, state Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley was there to greet him in the front row, along with state Senate Democratic leader Donna Soucy and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro. RFK, Jr. even gave them all a shoutout from on stage.

    But when Kennedy stood before thousands of supporters on the lawn of Independence Hall in Philadelphia Monday to announce he was running for president as an independent, Buckley’s attitude was very different.

    “Let’s be clear: RFK, Jr. was never running as a Democrat,” Buckley posted on social media.

    <sarcasm> I'm tremendously excited! </sarcasm> To have yet another candidate on the November ballot that I wouldn't vote for in a million ye—no, make that a billion years.

  • I wouldn't want to belong to a cult that would have me for a member. Especially not the one Patterico's JVW calls the Sad Cult of RFK Jr. A report at the Spectator is extensively quoted:

    Had you blindfolded me yesterday morning, led me to the front lawn of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, removed my blinder and asked me to guess where we were, I would have said, “A James Taylor benefit concert for NPR.”

    In the crowd on this sunny fall day was a heavy contingent of the boomer delegation, of various stripes and checks. There were even some traditional tweed, and, with blazers out in full force, on both men and women, paired mostly with denim — though late-season red chinos and season-rushing corduroys were on display, too — and invariably some statement eyewear, leather dress shoes, and baseball caps keeping flowy silver hair tamed and sun-spotted skin safe. It was plain from their collective style that this group was at least self-aware. Their well-thought-out attire was meant to send a message: they are (average age sixty-seven and a half) intentional. Deliberate. Outside thinkers. Borderline intellectuals… but still also down to hang as one of the gang! Sure, their designer jeans cost more than the average American’s monthly car payment, but they’re still jeans! Blue-collar workwear! And yes, Vassar College costs $63,000 a year, but the fact that the Brewer field hockey ball cap is faded offsets that.

    Perhaps the most telling observation: "Someone near the front of the crowd held up a sign that said it all: ‘I want Camelot’".

    If you have no idea what that means, congratulations on your youth. But be aware that someday the youngsters will undoubtedly be making fun of your age cohort.

  • And now our usual plug for our favorite candidate. George Will has some advice for one of the more obscure Republican candidates: Tim Scott, please drop out, urge others to follow and unite behind Haley.

    There is national incredulity, exhaustion, embarrassment, disgust and fatalism about the political parties’ inability to generate palatable presidential choices. Tim Scott could alter this with a trifecta of statesmanlike acts: withdrawing from the competition for the Republican presidential nomination, challenging others to do likewise and exhorting them to join him in supporting Nikki Haley.

    This is the South Carolina senator’s choice: He can acknowledge that his energetic campaigning has failed to enkindle sufficient enthusiasm and depart as he campaigned, cheerfully. Or he can try to become someone whom, to his credit, he has no aptitude for being — another peddler of synthetic anger, stoking today’s rage culture.

    Of Scott we may say what Sam Rayburn, Democratic House speaker for 17 years, reportedly said of Dwight D. Eisenhower when in 1948 Democrats contemplated giving Ike their presidential nomination: “Good man but wrong business.” Actually, Ike was, like Scott, a good man and, as Scott someday could be, a fine president. Scott is not, however, the man for this season.

    By catalyzing a coalescence around Haley, Scott could transform the nation’s political mood. As long as the Republican race pits Donald Trump against a cluster of lagging pursuers, the nominating electorate cannot ponder a binary choice. When, however, it is Trump against one experienced, polished, steely and unintimidated adversary, voters can internalize this exhilarating reality: There is a choice suitable for a great nation.

    GFW makes me wish I was running for President, so I could drop out and endorse Nikki.

    And I love the disclosure that (I assume) GFW added to the top of the column:

    Disclosure: The columnist’s wife, Mari Will, an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), disagrees with this column.

    I hope their love survives.

Last Modified 2023-10-15 3:55 PM EDT

Knowing When to "Remain SIlent"

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Jerry Coyne is all over the response from American university administrators to the Hamas atrocity. He is a big fan of the "Kalven Report", a 1967 document issued at the University of Chicago. It's short, barely over two pages. Universities, as institutions, should avoid taking "collective action on the issues of the day"; to do so imposes an Official University Position that stifles independent thought.

A pretty good idea from 56 years ago. What the heck happened? Jerry reproduces a letter from Brian Leiter defending the Kalven Report.

I find it baffling that anyone would want to hear from a college president or senior administrator about any domestic or international issue (“Here’s What Colleges Are, and Aren’t, Saying About the Israel-Hamas War,The Chronicle, October 10). Administrators should be seen and not heard, unless they are speaking about college business. That is one of the ways in which the Kalven Report proposes to secure a wide open space for members of the college community to express their views, without fear that they are running afoul of institutional orthodoxy.

You again quote Brian Rosenberg, a visiting professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and president emeritus of Macalester College, who claims that, “You cannot escape politics.” This statement doesn’t become less idiotic the more times it is quoted. If a college president remains silent about a political controversy and focuses on administering his or her college and its core functions of teaching and research, then he or she has indeed “escaped politics” in the only sense that matters in this context. If, instead, the president uses the bully pulpit to pontificate about politics, then he or she has injected politics and the pall of orthodoxy into the institution. That is exactly what the Kalven Report wants to avoid.

I've been giving the University Near Here some grief over the past few days for not coming up with any sort of official response to the atrocities perpetrated on Israel. Especially when the UNH President and Provost found it necessary to pontificate after the death of George Floyd back in 2020, stating "We cannot remain silent in the face of the trauma that these events inflict…".

Well, this time, they find it pretty easy to remain silent.

And (I have to admit) that might be a pretty good idea. Unless you're Ben Sasse.

Also of note:

  • Crazy idea: Let's keep the mess out of New Hampshire. The Antiplanner discusses how Massachusetts is handling mass transit: Fixing MBTA’s Financial Mess.

    Boston’s transit agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA or T for short), appears to be on the verge of collapse. Eight years ago, it reported a $7.3 billion repair backlog, which has probably grown since then. As I read its 2022 financial statement, it also has $5.4 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities.

    State officials have known about the T’s serious maintenance and safety problems at least since 2009, when an outside report commissioned by the governor found that it had a $3 billion maintenance backlog and wasn’t even spending enough on maintenance to keep that backlog from growing further (which is why it grew to $7.3 billion six years later). This was creating serious safety problems, the report charged, finding that the agency’s maintenance program was addressing only about 10 percent of the system’s most serious safety issues.

    I noted in a comment that up here in New Hampshire, gubernatorial candidate Joyce Craig is vowing "to bring MBTA commuter rail to Nashua and Manchester." A helpful commenter replied to me pointing out this LTE in the Union Leader, which begins:

    According to the latest official estimates, commuter rail would cost $782 million to build — more than triple the 2014 estimate — but it would be used by only 1,644 round-trip passengers a day. The other 99.99 percent of us would have no use for the train, but we would be paying to operate and maintain it at the rate of $17 million a year ($46,600 per day)!

    Also in the comments, a news story from just a few weeks ago: Frustration Growing With MBTA And Its "Unusual" Issues.

    MBTA officials shed little new light Thursday on the "unusual" rail problems that have slowed the nearly brand-new Green Line Extension almost to a halt, while a growing tide of public frustration is taking aim at Gov. Maura Healey and her hand-picked deputies.

    Portions of the Green Line Extension's Medford and Union Square branches cannot safely operate above 3 mph because the tracks now appear slightly too narrow for normal operations, General Manager Phil Eng told agency overseers at a public meeting.

    Yeah, it's a great idea to bring those choo-choos up here.

    (Should I have used a <sarcasm> tag there? Oh, well, too late now.)

  • Good advice. And it's from Ron Bailey in Reason: Take Nutrition Studies With a Grain of Salt.

    Comb through enough nutrition research, and you can find a study confirming or rebutting nearly every belief you may hold about how specific nutrients affect your health. "Meat Increases Heart Risks, Latest Study Concludes," reported The New York Times in 2020. A year earlier, the Times ran this headline: "Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice."

    And that's just one example of the "everything we told you a few years back was wrong" school of nutritional advice. Bailey's bottom line:

    So enjoy the pleasures of drink and of the table in moderation, while keeping in mind English poet Alexander Pope's astute observation: "What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn't much better than tedious disease."

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:47 AM EDT

Calling It What It Is

[Evil] Bari Weiss writes on Campus Cowardice and Where the Buck Stops. After she recounts recent episodes of university faculty, students, and staff getting in big trouble for various heresies:

None of these people actually did anything wrong. But according to the prevailing ideology that rules American college campuses, violent acts include “misgendering” and “harmful language,” and so these acts must be condemned publicly in the strongest possible terms, the perpetrators punished.

When it comes to the mass slaughter of Jews in Israel by a genocidal terrorist organization, however, such condemnations and consequences are curiously absent.

Contrast what colleges will tolerate with what they won’t. Microaggressions are met with moral condemnation. Meanwhile, campuses will tolerate—even glorify—the wanton murder of Jews—actual violence. Indulge in this at UCLA and you can get extra credit.

She points to the solution offered by the chair of UPenn's Wharton School's Board of Overseers, Mark Rowan: University Donors, Close Your Checkbooks.

Also of note:

  • All you need is a little moral clarity and a lot of courage. At the NR Corner: [University of Florida] President, Ben Sasse, Shows All Other Universities How to Write Public Statements.

    I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism. This shouldn’t be hard. Sadly, too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to “provide context” and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother. In other grotesque cases, they express simple support for the terrorists.

    This thinking isn’t just wrong, it’s sickening. It’s dehumanizing. It is beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans. I am thankful to say I haven’t seen examples of that here at UF, either from our faculty or our student body.

    James Dean, current president of the University Near Here, should go ahead and plagiarize Sasse's straightforward statement.

  • Moving on… Martin Gurri writes On Having Children. He's for it, and looks with dismay at recent "hedonistic" trends pointing to a "barren world".

    Sporadic attempts have been made to understand what life will look like under the conditions of a population crash: see, for example, “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline,” or alternately, “Decline and Prosper!: Changing Global Birth Rates and the Advantages of Fewer Children.” These are futile exercises. We have never been there before. While we can guess where most of the pieces will be positioned at the start, we have no clue how the game will play out. All that follows, therefore, is speculation — and from where I stand, speculatively, things look grim.

    For instance, the welfare state requires an endless supply of young people to produce more, consume more, and generate ever more taxes for bureaucrats to distribute. A prolonged shortage of young bodies will stress the social safety net to the breaking point. Expensive retirement and health insurance schemes are likely to collapse. The marginal will slip into poverty — the poor will grow desperate — but government will lack the funds to do much about it. The political consequences are unfathomable. My guess is that crime and turbulence will be a constant background noise but not revolution, since the minimum levels of testosterone needed for that kind of venture will be lacking.

    For the record, I just finished a book, Fewer, Richer, Greener by Laurence B. Siegel that's considerably more optimistic about the "fewer" part.

  • Cheer up! Matthew Yglesias says The "Deaths of Despair" narrative is wrong.

    Over the past few years, Anne Case and Angus Deaton have unleashed upon the world a powerful meme that seems to link together America’s troublingly bad life expectancy outcomes with a number of salient social and political trends like the unexpected rise of Donald Trump.

    Their “deaths of despair” narrative linking declining life expectancy to populist-right politics and to profound social and economic decay has proven to be extremely powerful. But their analysis suffers from fundamental statistical flaws that critics have been pointing out for years and that Case and Deaton just keep blustering through as if the objections don’t matter. Beyond that, they are operating within the confines of a construct — “despair” — that has little evidentiary basis. The rise in deaths of despair turns out to overwhelmingly be a rise in opioid overdoses. This increase is not happening in European countries that have not only been buffeted by the same broad economic trends as the United States, but are also seeing the rise of right-populist backlash politics.

    The obvious explanation is that the US and Europe have very different laws governing pharmaceutical marketing.

    Well, I'm skeptical about that "obvious explanation", but there's a wealth of data and it's sliced-and-diced in different ways. It's an interesting take.

    Yglesias notes (1) the "bottom tenth is doing badly". And also (2) that a lot of those "despair" deaths involve tobacco and heroin.

    My question: why is it those poor people seem to have enough money to buy cigarettes and heroin?

  • Consequences will be minimal. I don't know how this is being spun by the mainstream Fauci-is-God folks, but Jon Miltimore thinks this is pretty damning: NIH's Letter to Wuhan Lab Confirms Rand Paul Was Right and Fauci Was Wrong about Gain-of-Function.

    In the summer of 2021 , Americans saw something unusual: Dr. Anthony Fauci on tilt.

    "Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially," said the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director. “I totally resent the lie you are now propagating.”

    "Officially." How does that differ from, y'know, just saying it? Well, never mind. Miltimore displays this tweet:

    As someone is wont to say: "Big, if true." And as near as I can tell, it's being ignored by everyone.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:31 AM EDT

True Dat

We've had plenty of confirmation over the past few days of both ends of Sowell's observation (click thereon for the whole thing): (a) the inherent cussedness of humans and (b) the left's desperate avoidance to face that fact.

Which brings us to this perceptive tweet from a UC Davis physicist (it's long, click through to RTWT):

This makes me wonder what twists of fate made the University Near Here wind up with Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on its physics faculty instead of Inna Vishik.

Jerry Coyne has more—much more—on the disparate reactions to evil seen in academe: How uber-Woke colleges respond publicly to the horrific slaughter, rape, and kidnapping by Hamas.

Now that the horrors committed by Hamas in Israel are being revealed in detail, colleges and universities are issuing statements about the Israel/Palestine war. As I adhere to the University of Chicago’s Kalven Principles of institutional neutrality, I don’t think any such statements should take sides, even though I think that there’s a clear right-and-wrong wrong here: Hamas perpetrated sickening butchery and invaded Israel, and Israel is simply responding in self defense. (It’s morally obtuse to recite a list of Israel’s supposed oppression of Palestine when condemning such barbarity.)

Nevertheless, universities should not, I think, say anything like that so long as they’ve adopted the principle of institutional neutrality embodied in Kalven. The principle is there to avoid chilling speech by avoiding institutional statements, and of course there are those, misguided as they are, who think that Israel got what was coming to it. Their speech should not be chilled or suppressed because the University has taken sides. It should not take sides.


If a school doesn’t have a policy of institutional neutrality, and has in the past issued statements taking sides on political, ideological, or moral issues (e.g.. George Floyd’s murder, the Capitol insurrection), then it is more or less obliged to say something about Israel and Palestine, and at the very least condemn Hamas. For all moral and rational people must condemn Hamas, and, at the same time, avoid the reprehensible tactic of equating what Hamas did with Israel’s supposed aparthid-ish oppression of Gaza, or of calling Israel an “apartheid state” that had this butchery coming to it because of its “colonialism.”  There are other times when you can express such opinions. But I have not seen any letters to a college from its administration that said the right thing. (I’ve omitted several others in this post.)

Professor Coyne has examples, but observations like his, and Professor Vishik's, made me check out the University Near Here for any official reaction.

UNH's George Floyd response is very easy to find, from co-authors James Dean (UNH's President) and Wayne Jones (Provost), dated June 4, 2020: Call for Focus on Core Values in Wake of George Floyd's Death. [Emphasis added.]

Dear UNH Community,

Like virtually all Americans, we reacted with horror at the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This was particularly painful coming on the heels of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. While the circumstances of these deaths were different, they all underscore the risks to black people interacting with police or simply going about their daily lives (as was demonstrated vividly by what happened to Christian Cooper in New York City). It is beyond belief that more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, nearly 30 years after Rodney King’s beating, six years after the shooting of Michael Brown and the choking death of Eric Garner, tragedies like this continue to occur. It is clear that, as former President Obama said in a recent statement, "If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must do better." Our hearts go out to our African American students, faculty, staff and alumni who are particularly affected by these events.


We cannot remain silent in the face of the trauma that these events inflict on marginalized communities across the country.[…]

But as for the Hamas atrocities, "we" apparently can remain silent. There's nothing I can find on the UNH website about it. Why not?

Also of note:

  • Analogies: they are a lot like analogies. Arnold Kling draws a few between The Current War and WWII. With special relevance to the above discussion:

    It is fair to equate Hamas and other opponents of the Israeli occupation to Nazis. We in America like to think of the occupation as referring only to Israel’s control over territories it won in the 1967 war. But to the anti-Zionists, every inch of Israel’s territory is the occupation. They obfuscate this for Western consumption, but to themselves they say “From the Jordan River to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

    Rob Henderson, in an unintentionally well-timed post, discussed the problem of evil.

    Many people view the crimes of Nazi Germany, Maoist China, the Soviet Union, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia through the eyes of the victims.

    But to understand evil, it would be wise to view it through the eyes of the perpetrators.

    Had you or I been an ordinary German, Chinese, Russian, or Cambodian person living under those regimes, we would in all likelihood not have resisted. We would have been supporters, either actively or passively.

    …In real life, violent groups seldom put evil-sounding words in their name. They might even give themselves a nice-sounding name like “anti-evil.”

    And evil acts are often performed by people who think they are doing something good.

    …Most people who hurt others do not regard their actions as evil. They might acknowledge that they have harmed or exploited someone. But they will usually say their action was justified or that the victim deserved to be treated that way.

    Many academics academics who have analyzed the moral psychology of the Nazis have pointed out that they felt justified in their behavior. They thought that they were cleansing the world of the threat to humanity posed by the Jews. Historians note that Nazi ideology strongly appealed to Arabs who resented the presence of Jews in the decades prior to the declaration of a Jewish state in Palestine.

    Henderson emphasizes that none of us is immune from the possibility that we might engage in evil that we believe is justified. Those of us with a conservative outlook believe that it is the restraints provided by tradition and social institutions to keep us from turning toward evil impulses. Ideologies that call for the destruction of traditions and institutions are especially prone to engaging in mass murder. Think of Communism and all of its relatives.

    I don't want to go overboard here, but prior to "destruction of traditions and institutions", you have ongoing drumbeats telling you those institutions and traditions are irredeemably racist, homophobic, oppressive, … you name it.

  • Not as funny as usual. Jeff Maurer describes, usefully: How to Use the Massacre in Israel to Your Political Advantage.

    It’s only natural to witness the horrific events in Israel this week and think: “How can I use this tragedy to nudge my political hobby horse forward a fraction of an inch?” Sadly, the connection between foreign disasters and domestic squabbles is not always clear; not all foreigners recognize that everything is ultimately about America, and American politics, specifically. As part of I Might Be Wrong’s longstanding mission to indulge and develop our readers’ worst impulses, we present this guide to making the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Israel and Gaza work to your personal benefit.

    TIP 1: Just keep talking about the thing you were already talking about.

    USEFUL FOR: Political commentators with brain lock, cable news producers who have already finished 90 percent of a segment and don’t want to start from scratch.

    If you think about it, don’t recent events PROVE the point you were just making??? Why, yes…yes they do! While the connection between pre and post-October 7 events might not be apparent at first, second, or even twentieth glance, with enough determination and abuse of words like “similar” and “related” so egregious that it borders on sadism, a person can link any topic from a week ago to late-breaking news. Here, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin attempts exactly that:

    The truly superior part of that tweet is the “How about this?” preface. Rarely do pundits say outright: “I’m just spitballing here. Does this play? You tell me — I definitely don’t know.” I welcome a norm in which pundits begin tweets with phrases like “Let’s throw this in the oven and see if it bakes” or “Will this dog hunt, or am I talking out of my ass here?” Though — as you can see by the more than ten thousand replies to Rubin’s tweet — her “How about this?” was met with a response that can be paraphrased thusly:

    … and you can click over for the response. And for more tips.

Maybe Not the Root of All Evil, But a Lot of It


Another day with a lot of terror-related stuff. Sorry. We are usually guided by the Way of Elvis: don't be disgusted, try to be amused. That's impossible today, and probably for the near future. Above the fold:

  • It's a war against you and me. Kevin D. Williamson can be relied on to savage the sloppy language used to obfuscate. Today he writes about The War on Thinking.

    Jonah Goldberg once suggested that we live under a “tyranny of clichés.” That is nowhere more true than in Israel and at no time more true than when Israel is under attack, as is currently the case. Watch for the flags of two perennial offenders: the adjective “proportionate” and the verb “escalate.”

    The first cliché that usually comes into play in times such as these is the demand that Israel forgo any “disproportionate response.” NPR: “Egypt warns Israel not to take disproportionate action against Palestinians.” U.N. human-rights commissioner Volker Türk warns “all parties” against actions that would cause “disproportionate death and injury of civilians.” The cheap moral equivalency of the U.N. grandee is really something: Imagine the denunciations that would—rightly!—rain down upon Israel if they carried out a response that was even merely proportionate in terms of death and injury to civilians, a tit-for-tat operation going door-to-door and murdering innocents, kidnapping children, etc. The fact that a perfectly proportionate attack would constitute a gross crime against humanity tells us a great deal about the character of the combatants here. In a similar vein, the European Council on Foreign Relations warns Israel against “a full ground invasion and disproportionate attacks against Palestinian civilians,” again, as though the Israelis were engaged in the same kind of ISIS-style brutality as the Palestinians.

    Irish politician Thomas Byrne says the Israeli response “has to be proportionate. They cannot just go in and do the same thing,” as though for the Israelis to “just go in and do the same thing”—massacring civilians at a music festival and carrying out a campaign of door-to-door murder—were something the Israelis would even consider, rather than an act of savagery that is, in this conflict, reserved to one side. Some variation of the word “proportionate” appears no fewer than seven times, including in the headline, of the Irish Times’ writeup of Byrne’s remarks. The foreign ministry of Qatar sniffs that Israel is using the attack as an “excuse to launch a disproportionate war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” Those crafty Jews—always getting themselves murdered as an excuse to get what they want. On and on you can go, without even drilling all the way down to the idiot children at Columbia or in the Democratic House caucus.

    I see no padlock on the article, so click and read for more about "proportionate" and what the big brains are saying about "escalation". Conveniently, the demand is that "significant moral burdens fall only on Jews and never on Arabs."

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines does not apply to Philip Greenspun's article, which asks: Are American taxpayers the biggest funders of Hamas?.

    “Trump’s Claim that U.S. Taxpayer Money Funded Hamas Attacks Is False” (New York Times, October 8). If the NYT says that something is “false” and Trump is involved, perhaps it is worth investigating..

    Although we say that we don’t like Hamas, they are the legitimate government of millions of Palestinians and have more popular support than Joe Biden does among Americans (AP: “The poll found that 53% of Palestinians believe Hamas is ‘most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people,’ while only 14% prefer Abbas’ secular Fatah party.”)

    The most expensive services provided by the U.S. government to residents of the U.S. are, in Gaza, paid for by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), established in 1949. UNRWA pays for health care, schools, food, etc. for as many Palestinians as want them (fueled by these unlimited resources, Gaza has one of the world’s highest rates of population growth and, thus, there are more customers every day).

    … and the largest donor to UNRWA is Uncle Stupid.

    Trump, of course, wasn't talking about that. He was talking about the $6 billion "unfrozen" assets the Biden Administration released to Iran in exchange for hostages. Which is supposed to be used solely for "humanitarian purposes."

    But the NYT article admits, at bottom: "Money is fungible."

  • Fun with fungability. Jerry Coyne points out Another reason why Palestine is largely responsible for its own plight: its leaders get rich taking money from the people.

    Well, it's unclear "the people" ever had its hands on the money in the first place. But never mind that:

    While I’m by no means an uncritical worshiper of the Israeli government, neither will I blame the war and its carnage on Israel’s “apartheid” policies. If there is an apartheid state among the two, it’s surely Palestine, which won’t allow Jews to live there (in contrast, I was just in Israel and saw that Jerusalem was full of Arabs mingling freely with Jews), won’t allow Jews to walk the streets, oppresses women, and criminalizes gays, apostates, and infidels. How is that not an apartheid state?

    See Kevin's article linked above, Jerry. The rule is: Significant moral burdens fall only on Jews and never on Arabs.

    But on to the main charge:

    Those who blame the problems of Gaza on Israel not only neglect the diversion of humanitarian funds by Palestinians into terrorism, but the fact that corruption is so rife that the higher-ups in Hamas, Fatah, and even Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA, are billionaires or millionaires. These leaders have simply diverted money meant to go to poor Palestinians into their own bank accounts.

    Jerry provides links to standard credible news sources that point out the larceny over the years.

Also of note:

  • Let's talk about some legal larceny right here in the good old USA. There's plenty, but Jonathan A. Lesser concentrates on The Offshore-Wind Boondoggle.

    Like the proverbial skunk at a garden party, reality has disrupted the offshore-wind fantasy. After announcing a potential $2.3 billion write-down on its U.S. offshore-wind projects, Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper said that it was “inevitable” that consumers would need to pay more for renewable energy, since offshore wind “faces cost increases in orders of magnitude.”

    Nipper’s confession makes a jarring contrast with claims made about offshore wind’s costs only a few years ago. In 2017, Michael Liebrich told BloombergNEF that green-energy costs were at a “tipping point” and had fallen below those of fossil fuels as technology “slash[ed] the costs” of offshore wind and solar. “One of the reasons those offshore wind costs have come down to be competitive without subsidies,” Liebrich said, “is because these turbines are absolute monsters.”

    Even before supply-chain woes, crippling inflation, and inevitably higher interest rates intervened, the promise of rapidly declining costs driven by ever-larger turbines was always a delusion. In Europe, as University of Edinburgh economist Gordon Hughes documents, wind energy’s capital costs have risen over time, and newer and larger offshore wind turbines have regularly broken down.

    The general rule is: when Uncle Stupid starts dropping tons of money from the Federal Helicopter, there will be plenty of well-connected boondogglers waiting below with their wheelbarrows.

  • Let's pause the calls for an AI "pause". Scott Alexander has (thank goodness) amusing observations about the Big Brains focusing their Natural Intelligence on the AI menace. Pause For Thought: The AI Pause Debate.

    Last month, Ben West of the Center for Effective Altruism hosted a debate among long-termists, forecasters, and x-risk activists about pausing AI.

    Everyone involved thought AI was dangerous and might even destroy the world, so you might expect a pause - maybe even a full stop - would be a no-brainer. It wasn’t. Participants couldn’t agree on basics of what they meant by “pause”, whether it was possible, or whether it would make things better or worse.

    There was at least some agreement on what a successful pause would have to entail. Participating governments would ban “frontier AI models”, for example models using more training compute than GPT-4. Smaller models, or novel uses of new models would be fine, or else face an FDA-like regulatory agency. States would enforce the ban against domestic companies by monitoring high-performance microchips; they would enforce it against non-participating governments by banning export of such chips, plus the usual diplomatic levers for enforcing treaties (eg nuclear nonproliferation).

    Scott does a philosopher's job of distinguishing between differing varieties of "pausing", and finds problems with each.

  • Don't misread this headline. Chris Stirewalt is not echoing the cliché you might have heard at Freshman Orientation: What You Get Out of College Is Who You Put Into It. He starts out by illuminating an interesting fallacy, and if you don't laugh out loud when reading the second sentence of his first paragraph, I don't even know why you are reading this blog:

    Americans who drive Volvos live far longer than those who drive most other cars. Who knew that driving a vehicle that looks like a child’s drawing of a car might save your life?

    A Volvo might be good in a crash, but so would a lot of other cars. A Toyota or a Kia might do just as well or better. The life expectancy of Volvo divers isn’t about what’s in them, but rather who

    Women, particularly affluent women, buy Volvos. And rich women live longer than anybody else in our society. On the road, where men account for three quarters of all traffic fatalities, and off, women as a group outlive men by an average of six years. And rich people outlive poor people by an even greater margin, almost 16 years at the extremes.

    So, if you want to have the best chance to live to a ripe old age, don’t buy a Volvo. Be a rich woman. Which might be very challenging for many Americans …

    Eventually, Chris makes his point about college, but the path he takes to get there is illuminated by (unpaywalled!) insight.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:33 AM EDT

It's a Funny Old World

No, Wait, It's Not Funny At All

[Amazon Link]
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Jim Geraghty notes that We Are Up against an Axis of the Devils. It's a depressing look at how money flows between and among murderous regimes around the world. Okay, we know that Iran funds Hamas and assists in plotting their terror. But:

China is Iran’s largest trading partner; by itself, that’s not surprising as it was our largest trading partner for a long stretch until Mexico overtook it last month. But Chinese government policies help keep the Iranian economy afloat and minimize the impact of sanctions. China is importing more and more Iranian oil, sending it through Malaysia. The two countries are expanding their military cooperation, and the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian navies conducted joint drills in the Gulf of Oman in March.

Russia and Iran have never been closer; the Russian war effort runs on Iranian-manufactured drones, which gives Tehran more cash to send to its multiple terrorist groups surrounding Israel. As the European Council on Foreign Relations summarized, “Tehran’s military contribution to Russia’s war effort has made an enormous difference to Russia’s ability to persevere in a difficult conflict. Iran, once a secondary player, is now one of Russia’s most significant collaborators in the war in Ukraine.”

Much more at the link, of course, and it seems to be unpaywalled. There's also this interesting observation about Twitter's censorship standards:

In what must have been my most-viewed tweet in a long while, I observed that the decision-making and standards over at Twitter/X make no sense. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei is allowed to cheer on “the cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the Resistance forces throughout the region,” while you or I can get our accounts suspended for much more minor and less consequential violations of the (vague) terms of service. A short while after I posted that, Twitter/X added to the Ayatollah’s tweet, “This Post violated the X Rules. However, X has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Post to remain accessible.”

I get the logic — if the supreme ruler of Iran is calling for genocide, that’s news, and there’s value in showcasing just how evil and ruthless the Iranian regime is. But this means Twitter has one, much lower, standard for Iranian rulers and what they’re allowed to post, and another, much higher, standard for what you or I are allowed to post. The most evil bastards on the planet enjoy greater freedom of speech on that platform than you or I do.

Is that irony? I can never tell.

Also of note:

  • A euphemism for murder and terror. Peter Savodnik looks at the gore behind "fancy-sounding academic jargon": This Is What ‘Decolonization’ Looks Like.

    On Saturday, as the raping and murdering and kidnapping were happening in Israel, Najma Sharif, a writer for Soho House magazine and Teen Vogue, posted on X: “What did y’all think decolonization meant? vibes? papers? essays? losers.”

    So far, Sharif’s post has been liked 100,000 times and reposted nearly 23,000 times—by, among others, The Washington Post’s global opinions editor, Karen Attiah.

    The point was: Don’t be squeamish. Never mind the Jewish girl being pulled by her hair with blood streaming between her legs. Never mind the women being raped beside the corpses of their friends at a music festival. Never mind the children and babies snatched from their parents.

    If you can’t handle it, if you condemn it without a preamble or equivocation, you’re an apologist for the Zionist colonizers.

    Teen Vogue. Good God.

    Savodnik also reports on the latest from the "progressive" left:

    “And as you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters,” a speaker at a Democratic Socialists of America rally in New York proclaimed to whoops and laughter. (DSA members include representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.)

    And we've already discussed that statement from Harvard students. Larry Summers (a past president of Harvard) is disgusted, not so much with the students, but with the current Harvard administration:

    His entire thread is worth your while, and should have decent people at Harvard squirming. (There must be a few of them left, right?)

  • How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? Kevin D. Williamson should set this to a catchy tune: How to Solve a Problem Like the Problem Solvers Caucus.

    I get why Republicans in the so-called Problem Solvers’ Caucus are big mad at the Democratic caucus members who did not cross party lines to keep Kevin McCarthy from being deposed as speaker of the House by self-serving beady-eyed cretin Rep. Matt Gaetz. Gaetz, as it turned out, had only a handful of Republicans on his side: Of the 216 votes to give McCarthy the boot, only eight came from Republicans, while the remaining 200-odd votes came from Democrats—a very strange way of punishing McCarthy for being too bipartisan, which is what he notionally stood accused of. Gaetz and his brand of performative nonsense politics is a problem that could have been, if not solved, then very much improved by responding to his imbecility with a crushing political rejection. Instead, Democrats gave him a bare victory, ensuring that the problem gets worse rather than better.

    Some “problem solvers.”

    Not that there weren’t good reasons for Democrats to vote against McCarthy. For one thing, there isn’t any pressing reason for Democrats to vote for any Republican for speaker. For another thing, McCarthy has done more than enough to create the very perverse political incentives that brought him down. McCarthy’s individual demerits as speaker—his championing of Donald Trump’s stolen-election nonsense, his hamstringing the January 6 investigation, his elevation of cranks and bigots such as Marjorie Taylor Greene—are surely enough that any self-respecting Republican (if we could imagine the existence of such a creature) would think twice about voting for him for speaker in normal circumstances. Kevin McCarthy is not a victim of the destructive and moronized politics of our era—he is one of the principal architects of those destructive and moronized politics, a leading destroyer and moronizer. If there had been some way for both McCarthy and Gaetz to lose at the same time, that would have been a better outcome—decent people could have just stood on the sideline and cheered for collateral damage.

    But, if you are going to call yourselves a “Problem Solvers’ Caucus” and talk a good game about putting pragmatism over partisanship, then you have to do that from time to time. You cannot promise to put pragmatism over partisanship only when it doesn’t help the other party.

    Just a reminder, if you needed one: my very own CongressCritter, Chris Pappas, is a member of the "Problem Solvers' Caucus". (Would someone solve my problem? It's the fact that Chris Pappas represents me in Congress.)

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    It's a poser. At the College Fix, Daniel Nuccio shares the good news: Scholars to study why $365M DEI investment into STEM failed to diversify engineering.

    Or: "Gosh, we put piles of money into this end, and we got the same old bunch of white males coming out the other end! That wasn't supposed to happen!"

    The National Science Foundation has tapped a set of scholars to study one of its programs that funneled $365 million into diversifying STEM, but appears to have had little effect in the field of engineering.

    The $300,000 grant doled out by the National Science Foundation will investigate factors influencing Broadening Participation Initiatives, or BPIs, which aim to increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM.

    The grant was recently awarded to the University at Buffalo’s Matilde Sánchez-Peña, an assistant professor of engineering education.

    One can only hope that, with that $300K, Professor Sánchez-Peña might pick up a copy of Human Diversity by Charles Murray. (Professor, using the Amazon link at your right will only set you back $12.99 for the Kindle version.) Therein, she might find a pretty simple explanation, offered as the third of ten "propositions" supported by ample evidence:

    On average, women worldwide are more attracted to vocations centered on people and men to vocations centered on things.

    I'm guessing, however, that comes out the other end of Professor Sánchez-Peña's well-funded research will be "We shoulda spent more money on those BPIs."

  • He's not a lumberjack, and that's OK too. James Lileks interviews Michael Palin for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and it's pretty wonderful. And (speaking as someone whose parents grew up only about 33 crow-flies miles from Austin, Minnesota), I especially liked this:

    Say you were going to meet Monty Python's Michael Palin for dinner. What would you bring him?

    I did. And I brought a can of Spam.

    Some English friends of mine know Palin, my favorite member of the brilliant British comedy troupe. When I learned he had a book coming out, I asked if they could arrange a dinner party where I could meet him. It wasn't a potluck, but I couldn't arrive empty-handed. What could I offer?

    Spam, of course, is Minnesota's innovation in the inscrutable-dense-meat category. Spam, thanks to a sketch by Monty Python, is also the word for undesired emails. Palin, as a member of Python, was part of the original skit.

    Mr. Palin's new book is not at all zany: it's the story of his Great-Uncle Harry, who died at the Somme in 1916.

    And since it's my blog, here's one of his bits that had me gasping for breath on the floor:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:46 AM EDT

Still Standing

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The Free Press has a helpful FAQ, providing Everything You Need to Know. Sample, with a description of American culpability:

If Joe Biden strongly supports Israel, as he says, why did he send $16 billion to Iran? Help square that for me.

When he was Obama’s vice president, Biden was a central progenitor of the Iran Deal, which he then solidified as the cornerstone of his own administration’s Middle East policy.

By allying the U.S. with Tehran, the Iran Deal created a deadly embrace between the United States and a terror state run by corrupt medieval clerics who keep power through violence against their own people and by promoting terror and chaos abroad. As a self-proclaimed “revolutionary regime,” Iran explicitly aims to set not just Israel, but the entire region, on fire.

Giving the Iranians the backing of the U.S. was a recipe for chaos and a green light for terror throughout the region, which is exactly what has happened since Obama announced his deal. Funding Iranian terror, to the tune of $16 billion that the Biden administration sent to Iran in recent weeks, is an act of criminal negligence. As a result, it is fair to say that America has Israeli blood on its hands, too.

Repeat that: America has Israeli blood on its hands.

A good fraction of that blood was shed at the "Supernova" rave, where the BBC reports 260 bodies recovered. Detail of the horror:

"It was a massacre," said Yaniv, an emergency medic who was called out to the party. He told public broadcaster Kan News: "I've never seen anything like it in my life. It was a planned ambush. As people came out of the emergency exits, squads of terrorists were waiting for them there and just started picking them off.

It's deeply sobering to see how many Americans are just fine with that sort of thing, including some of the Best and the Brightest down in Cambridge: Harvard student organizations claim Israel ‘entirely responsible’ for Gaza attacks

Shortly after the attacks, Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups released its statement signed by 27 different organizations that blamed Israel entirely for the attacks and voiced support for Palestinians in Gaza.

"We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence," the statement began.

Probably not all Harvard students feel that way.

Also of note:

  • The "adults were back in charge." That's what sycophantic Chris Cilliza said at CNN back in 2021 after a Biden/Putin meeting. How's that working out? Here's Eli Lake at the Free Press describing Delusion in the White House. Bloodshed in Israel..

    Since taking office, the Biden administration has taken numerous steps to relieve pressure on Hamas and its international patrons as a means of restoring U.S. foreign policy to the way it was under Barack Obama, complete with a resurrected Iran nuclear deal.

    Until last week, the Biden administration considered its approach to the region a success. Speaking at an Atlantic magazine event on September 8, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan boasted, “The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.”

    After this weekend, the administration’s Middle East strategy is in tatters. And the self-delusion among our foreign policy establishment is at the root of the problem.

    Lake notes the embarrassing dispatch from the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem which urged "all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks. Terror and violence solve nothing." (This dispatch was memory-holed shortly afterward.)

    Oh, yeah? I'm pretty sure violence "solved" that little Nazi problem we had back in the 1940s. I'm hoping for a similar eventual result here.

  • Amtrak could tell you, but they'd have to kill you. Randal O'Toole noticed some big black bars in a recent Inspector General report on 19th-century technology: Amtrak’s Acela Is Redacted.

    Delays and cost overruns are plaguing the new trains Amtrak is counting on to replacing its aging fleet of semi-high-speed Acela trains, according to a new report from Amtrak’s own inspector general. One of the reasons for the delays is that 34 cars that the manufacturer tried to deliver to Amtrak were returned as defective.

    How much are the cost overruns? We don’t know because the number was redacted from the report. How long are the delays? At least three years but we don’t know exactly because the number was redacted from the report. The report even redacts the name of the manufacturer, even though it is well known to be Alstom. “Certain information in this report has been redacted due to its sensitive nature,” says the report cover.

    But what they don't censor is bad enough:

    Amtrak should be completely privatized. Randal used to cover this beat for Cato, but that torch has been passed to Chris Edwards. An excerpt from his most recent update on the issue:

    Congress should consider privatizing Amtrak as a way to improve performance, reduce costs, and spur innovation. A private company would have more incentive and flexibility to prune excess workers, to base worker pay on performance, and to end inflexible union rules.

    A private Amtrak could also close the routes that lose the most money. Passenger rail makes sense in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, but that corridor accounts for fewer than 500 miles within the current 21,000-mile system. Other corridors may make sense within a lower‐cost privatized system, but that would be for a private entrepreneurial Amtrak to find out. By closing the least successful routes, Amtrak could shift investment and maintenance spending to high‐demand routes and improve service.

    Probably won't happen, given Congressional obsession with choo-choos.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    Naomi Watts could not be reached for comment. Tyler Cowen reads a lot, and his latest report is pretty funny, reporting on the latest from Naomi Klein, Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World. (Amazon link at right. No, your right,)

    Have you ever been confused by Naomi Klein vs. Naomi Wolf? Intellectually they are both pretty crazy. And they are both named Naomi. Some might think they bear some resemblance to each other. Well, here is a whole book on that confusion! And it is written by Naomi Klein. How much insight and self-awareness can one intellectually crazy person have about being confused for another intellectually crazy person? Quite a bit, it turns out. Recommended, though with the provision that I understand you never felt you needed to read a whole book about such a topic.

    The description on the Amazon page does not contradict Tyler's "crazy":

    What if you woke up one morning and found you’d acquired another self—a double who was almost you and yet not you at all? What if that double shared many of your preoccupations but, in a twisted, upside-down way, furthered the very causes you’d devoted your life to fighting against?

    Not long ago, the celebrated activist and public intellectual Naomi Klein had just such an experience—she was confronted with a doppelganger whose views she found abhorrent but whose name and public persona were sufficiently similar to her own that many people got confused about who was who. Destabilized, she lost her bearings, until she began to understand the experience as one manifestation of a strangeness many of us have come to know but struggle to define: AI-generated text is blurring the line between genuine and spurious communication; New Age wellness entrepreneurs turned anti-vaxxers are scrambling familiar political allegiances of left and right; and liberal democracies are teetering on the edge of absurdist authoritarianism, even as the oceans rise. Under such conditions, reality itself seems to have become unmoored. Is there a cure for our moment of collective vertigo?

    I know, right? For decades, I've been confused with this guy.

    Past Pun Salad looks at Naomi Klein's deranged ravings: here, here, here, here, and here.

    I don't think Naomi Wolf has been mentioned once in this blog's 6798 days (A "long-standing tradition of existence," Dean Wormer.) But, yeah, she's a nutter.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:59 AM EDT

Tickle Me Kamala

You might think this Granite Grok headline is exaggerated: One of the "Sounds" Kamala Makes When You Yank Her Pull-String.

Oh, but it's not. This is from April, but…

I watched the whole thing, and I suggest … that you don't bother. It's the same phrase over and over, with only occasional, minor, uninteresting variations: "what can be, unburdened by what has been".

To reuse a tired, but accurate, cliché: it's "a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like".

Even worse: her hand motions that usually accompany the oh-so-profound words.

"What can be": upward gesture with right hand.

"What has been": dismissive gesture down to the left.

Message: Good stuff is up there in government-provided heaven. Old stuff (free markets, individualism, liberty) deservedly buried over there under the ash heap of history.

In short, an over-rehearsed, scripted performance bit. She sometimes gets lazy, though, forgetting to adequately comma-pause between "what can be" and "unburdened". Which shifts the intended meaning somewhat. "What can be unburdened?"

[A version of this commentary also left as a comment at Granite Grok.]

On a related note, also from the Kamala-watchers at RNC research: (and appropriately headlined RedState: People Wonder if Kamala Harris Was High After Hysterical Laughing Fit)

I can't help but wonder: how many people at RNC Research do this, and how good is the pay? Is there an OSHA warning? Watching Kamala speak has been known to turn people's brains to mush.

On to this week's betting odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 34.6% -0.6%
Joe Biden 32.8% +1.4%
Gavin Newsom 6.4% -0.9%
Michelle Obama 5.3% +0.5%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.3% -0.4%
Ron DeSantis 3.4% +0.1%
Nikki Haley 3.3% +0.2%
Other 9.9% +4.3%

Summary: Vivek Fever has apparently run its course, as he's dipped below our arbitrary 2% inclusion threshold. And so has Kamala; those grim scenarios involving Biden incapacity (the kind you can't ignore) allowing the empty pantsuit to step up to the throne are seemingly seen as less likely.

Also of note:

  • Another useful headline template: "Biden is Lying About    noun phrase   ". Andrew McCarthy fills it in: Biden Is Lying about the Border Wall.

    Record numbers of illegal aliens continue to pour into the United States at the invitation of President Biden’s no-enforcement border policies. The administration is thus feeling the heat from blue-state and big-city Democrats on whom it had never dawned that preening as a “sanctuary” would require, you know, actually providing sanctuary. Their education, health-care, social-welfare, and law-enforcement resources are grossly inadequate to deal with the resulting crisis. It is that political reality, and nothing else, that has forced Biden’s grudging concession to the need for border-wall construction.

    Naturally, reality is not welcomed by the Democrats’ transnational-progressive base, which does not believe the United States should have borders or be a nation, and which is used to having its way with our senescent chief executive. (See, e.g., Biden’s joining hard leftists Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Justin Trudeau, respectively the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Canada, in the “Declaration of North America,” which, among other post-sovereign tripe, celebrates how “North America” has now “welcomed record numbers of migrants and refugees from the Western Hemisphere under new and expanded labor and humanitarian programs.”)

    The Left is in revolt over Biden’s sudden conversion to border-wall construction. So, as is wont to happen on those rare occasions when reality intrudes on utopia, Biden is lying. While seeking credit from the country at large for building some (but not nearly enough) border barrier, Biden is telling his base that he had no choice.

    “The money was appropriated for the border wall,” he mewled at the White House on Thursday. He really, really tried to get Congress to redirect it, but those bad Republicans wouldn’t hear of it. This from the same man who continues to try to cancel student loans that Congress has not authorized him to cancel, even after the Supreme Court (in June’s Biden v. Nebraska decision) ruled that doing so violates the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.

    That's a "gifted" link, so read on for the details on Biden's bullshit.

  • In local news… USA Today reports on the mood of the Republican electorate: New Hampshire debate watchers have a message for Chris Christie: Get off the island.

    New Hampshire voters have a blunt message for Chris Christie.

    Get off the island.

    In an exclusive USA TODAY/Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll in New Hampshire, 41% of likely Republican primary voters who watched last week's debate cited the former New Jersey governor as the winner, or rather loser, in a question of which of the seven participants should drop out of the presidential race first.

    This is in keeping with thew stupid question Dana Perino posed at the debate:

    Dana Perino (01:56:24): And welcome back to the final minutes. I could go another hour, but we only have a few minutes. And candidates, it’s now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former President Donald Trump wins the nomination. None of you have indicated that you’re dropping out. So which one of you on stage tonight should be voted off the island? Please use your marker to write your choice on the notepad in front of you, 15 seconds starting now. Of the people on the stage-

    Nikki Haley (01:56:56): Are you serious?

    Dana Perino (01:56:57): Who should be v-

    Ron DeSantis (01:56:57): I’ll decline to do that with all due respect.

    Dana Perino (01:56:58): I’m absolutely serious.

    Ron DeSantis (01:57:00): I mean, we’re here, we’re happy to debate. I think that that’s disrespectful to my fellow competitors.

    Vivek Ramaswamy (01:57:16): I’m not doing it. [inaudible 01:57:17]

    Dana Perino (01:57:16): Nobody wants to participate.

    Ron DeSantis (01:57:16): Let’s do some questions. Let’s talk about the future of the country. [inaudible 01:57:17].

    Vivek Ramaswamy (01:57:16): I want to be clear-

    Dana Perino (01:57:16): Let me ask you this-

    About a minute later, Christie said he'd vote Trump off the island.

  • More local notes… from the NHJournal Iowa Dems Bow to DNC, Abandon Hope for FITN 'Mail-In' Caucus. Which means:

    Relax, Granite State poll workers: There won’t be a Christmas presidential primary — at least not this year.

    After months of waging a losing battle against President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the hapless Iowa Democratic Party has abandoned all hope of holding onto its place at the front of the presidential nomination calendar.

    "Hapless", I like that. Totally without hap. I also like the commentary of Jim Geraghty who describes the details (and I've bolded the bit I chuckled at):

    But the Iowa Democratic Caucus has earned particular scorn, as its organizers suffered one of the great “you had one job!” moments of all time and failed to count the votes on caucus night in 2020. It took three days for the state party to tabulate the results, which used to be available the night of the caucus, live, on television, late in the evening, in the era before the internet. The caucuses were held Monday evening; by Wednesday afternoon, not only could the state party not provide the full results or say when it would be able provide full results, it also could not explain why it could not provide full results. It was the biggest embarrassment in the presidential-nomination process for any state in modern history.

    The Democratic National Committee, justifiably irate, punished Iowa and kicked it toward the back of the line. Iowa Democrats, wholly embracing the party’s philosophy that no one should ever be held accountable for anything, decided earlier this year that they would ignore the DNC’s punishment, go rogue, and have a mail-in primary in January that aligns with their regular caucus meetings.

    I have a number of relatives in that fine state (sister, brother-in-law, nephew, a few cousins) and I'm pretty sure some of them are still hanging on to their D registrations. I won't bring this up at the next reunion.

    Also amusing is Ann Althouse who is intrigued by the concept of Going Rogue.

    But here's to you, Iowa, for giving up your place in the grand tradition. It was institutionalized racism, and you knew it. Now, back to the farm or whatever it is you do over there. Our years of caring about you (and your damned ethanol) are over... or, oh, no, there are still those miserable Republicans tromping about in that heartland of yours.

    Meanwhile, New Hampshire clings to what's left of its once-proud first-in-the-nation tradition, which is so little that to adhere to it is — as Politico has it — to deserve to be called "rogue."

    The good news for our local TV stations, radio stations, lodging and dining providers: they're comin'. With money.

    The bad news for my mail carrier: a few more months of bringing me slick crap that just goes right into the shredder, unread.

Last Modified 2023-10-08 6:16 PM EDT

Our Regular Sunday Feature Seems Pointless and Stupid …

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… when recent news reveals the barbarism that we'd like to pretend isn't there. Or at least can be negotiated with. As usual, someone else says it better than I can, specifically Bari Weiss, who has a warning:

You are about to withstand a barrage of lies about the war that broke out today in Israel.

Some of those lies will be explicit. Some of them will be lies of omission. Others will be lies of obfuscation. Or lies of minimization. Lies told by people who are simply too afraid to look at such an ugly, barbarous reality. And lies told by people whose true beliefs are too ugly to quite say aloud. Turn on cable news and you can hear some of them right now.

So let’s get some facts straight.

Israel was attacked last night. It was attacked by Hamas terrorists who streamed over the border from Gaza. They came on foot and on motorbikes. They came by truck and by car and by paraglider. They came to Israel to murder and maim and mutilate anyone they could find. And that is what they did.

It is impossible to know the numbers of the dead or the missing or the injured.

The official numbers as of this writing: 300 Israelis dead; 1,590 wounded. And dozens—maybe many more—taken hostage into Gaza. They include women, elders, and children.

Some of those lies are described by The Times of Israel:

Pro-Palestinian, student and Muslim activist groups in the US backed Hamas’s terror offensive against Israel and condemned the Jewish state on Saturday, after terrorists from Gaza murdered hundreds of Israelis, sowing havoc across much of the country and prompting retaliatory IDF strikes.

A number of the groups also announced rallies in support of the Hamas attack, which saw terrorists infiltrate Israel in a surprise assault, slaughter civilians and soldiers, abduct captives and rain rockets on Israeli cities.

The US Council of Muslim Organizations, an umbrella group, said, “The recent unprovoked and continuous attacks by Israel on Palestinian towns, cities, and refugee camps have resulted in tragic loss of Palestinian lives.”

I'm pretty sure the US Council of Muslim Organizations has a faulty understanding of what "unprovoked" means. (A fuller description of their statement here.)

I'll (probably) pull myself together for the usual light-hearted look at the presidential campaign later today. Until then: if you pray, pray for Israel, Israeli dead and wounded, and Israeli hostages.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:44 AM EDT

I'm No Trump Fan, But…

We really dodged a bullet back in 2016:

[Sigh. I used to be able to center-align embedded tweets. I assume Elon broke this.]

[Update 2023-10-11: Ah, it works again. Thanks, Elon!]

Commentary from James Freeman on The Totalitarian Heart of Hillary Clinton:

Some Republicans might regret voting for Donald Trump in 2016, but Hillary Clinton continues to ensure that most of them won’t. The first of two consecutive U.S. presidential election losers to refuse to accept the results, Mrs. Clinton has found more to deplore about American voters. She’s also giving all American voters new reason to be grateful that they never entrusted her with executive authority.

Well, maybe she was drunk. Or maybe it's a deeper problem, as implied by the rhetorical question asked by Matt Taibbi: Have They Gone Mad?.

Hillary Clinton last night on CNN said of Trump supporters, “You know, maybe there needs to be a formal deprogramming of the cult members.” This among other things came in the context of a report in Newsweek to the effect that the federal government, and the FBI in particular, has “quietly created a new category of extremists that it seeks to track and counter: Donald Trump’s army of MAGA followers.”

That seems… like a lot of people? In addition to the obvious observation that people like Hillary seem increasingly unmoored from reality, as well as wilfully deaf to the political consequences of their words — Maybe we need to formally deprogram you makes the “Basket of Deplorables” episode seem like a Valentine’s Day card — someone should point out that a month ago, on September 8th, Joe Biden renewed the original State of Emergency issued three days after 9/11 by George W. Bush. We spent the last 22 years giving presidents the ability to surveil, isolate, and detain even American citizens. Fortunately we’ll never regret those decisions!

What impolitic comment is next? “We have enough railway capacity for the job”? “Welcome, future deprogrammed!” banners above the entrances to decommissioned military bases? These people are truly Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and this would be funny, if Hillary Clinton’s mouth were not such an accurate weathervane for establishment thinking.

We keep adding lines to that Niemöller poem, don't we? "Then they came for the MAGA Republicans / And I did not speak out / Because I hate those guys"

Also of note:

  • Impressed? Don't be. The National Review editorialists do a reality check: Biden Builds a Wall to Hide His Immigration Failure.

    On his first day as president, Joe Biden said that building a wall wasn’t “a serious policy solution.” Just six weeks ago, the government was selling off materials for wall-building that had been canceled by this administration. But today, the White House is singing a different tune.

    Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the administration was going to waive dozens of federal laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, that prevent the government from building a wall at the Rio Grande, citing an “acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas.”

    This project inspired screaming headlines. But dig down a little deeper, and the joke becomes obvious. The Biden White House plans to build only 20 miles of wall.

    "Ay dios mío. ¿Veinte millas? ¡Me rindo!"

  • You know what they say about the Road to Serfdom. As David Henderson says, it's Paved With Unintended Consequences. His first example:

    We need to distinguish between unintended and unpredicted consequences. Many unintended consequences can be easily predicted. Others might not be. An example of an unintended consequence that I never would have predicted, and that the highly paid “experts” at the Food and Drug Administration didn’t predict, came about because of an FDA regulation that, on its face, looked reasonable. The regulation was an FDA mandate that food containing sesame be labeled as such. Almost instantly, food producers predicted the consequences and acted accordingly.

    Mandates typically carry penalties for non-compliers and the sesame mandate was no exception. Many food producers reacted by adding sesame to products that previously contained none and noted that on the label. Why? In a December 21, 2022, news item, appropriately titled “New label law has unintended effect: Sesame in more foods,” Associated Press reporter Jonel Aleccia explained:

    Food industry experts said the requirements are so stringent that many manufacturers, especially bakers, find it simpler and less expensive to add sesame to a product—and to label it—than to try to keep it away from other foods or equipment with sesame.

    As a result, several companies—including national restaurant chains like Olive Garden, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-A and bread makers that stock grocery shelves and serve schools—are adding sesame to products that didn’t have it before. While the practice is legal, consumers and advocates say it violates the spirit of the law aimed at making foods safer for people with allergies.

    People don’t typically get charged with violating the “spirit of the law.” They get charged with violating the law. The unintended and awful result is that many people who are allergic to sesame now have a tougher time avoiding foods that contain it.

    Henderson provides more examples at the link. "Consequences" include lives lost.

  • "Revisionism" is a polite way of spelling "lies". Liz Wolfe underplays Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Revisionism.

    This week, President Joe Biden announced he would cancel an additional $9 billion in student loan debt. This consists of "$5.2 billion in additional debt relief for 53,000 borrowers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs," per a White House statement, "$2.8 billion in new debt relief for nearly 51,000 borrowers through fixes to income-driven repayment," and "$1.2 billion for nearly 22,000 borrowers who have a total or permanent disability."

    In June, the Supreme Court struck down his earlier plan to void $400 billion worth of student debt for some 43 million borrowers: $10,000 in debt (or $20,000 in debt for those who received Pell grants) for individuals making under $125,000 and households making under $250,000.

    "The money was literally about to go out the door, but Republican elected officials and special interests stepped up and sued us," Biden commented Wednesday. "The Supreme Court sided with them, snatching from the hands of millions of Americans thousands of dollars in student debt relief that was about to change their lives."

    This is some wild revisionist history (special interests?) that attempts to obscure the unconstitutionality of his actions. The Supreme Court ruled that Biden's attempt to push student loan forgiveness through via the HEROES Act—which gave the Education Department the power to modify repayments of loans for people who "suffered direct economic hardship as a direct result of a war or other military operation or national emergency"—was not legal; citing COVID-19 as the qualifying "national emergency" did not fly, and such loan forgiveness would need to be passed through Congress, not unilaterally carried out by the executive.

    Outside of the constitutional violation, there's something especially Biden-slimy about touting the beneficiaries of "forgiveness" while ignoring the suckers who are footing the bill.

  • Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit reading Commentary. David Zucker writes there about the latest fashionable trend: Destroying Comedy.

    Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Airplane!, the comedy I wrote and directed with my brother Jerry and our friend Jim Abrahams. Just before the world shut down, Paramount held a screening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, followed by a Q&A in which an audience member asked a question we never used to receive: “Could you make Airplane! today?” My response: “Of course, we could. Just without the jokes.”

    Although people tell me that they love Airplane! and it seems to be included on just about every Top Five movie-comedy list, there was talk at Paramount of withholding the rerelease over feared backlash for scenes that today would be deemed “insensitive.” I’m referring to scenes like the one in which two black characters speak entirely in a jive dialect so unintelligible that it has to be subtitled. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me, “You couldn’t do that scene today.” But I always wonder, why not? Half the gags in that joke were aimed at white people, given that the translation for “Shit” is “Golly!”—and the whole gag is topped off by the whitest lady on the planet, the actress who played the mom on Leave It to Beaver, translating.

    Forty years?! Ye gods, I'm old.

    Anyway, Zucker's in a position to know why they don't make 'em like that any more, so check him out.

    (And, for the record, I didn't stop reading Commentary this week. I'd love to read Commentary every week. But, geez, it's really expensive, well-paywalled, and …)

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-22 8:58 AM EDT

The Menace from Earth

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another book down on my reread-Heinlein project. Seven to go! This one is a collection of short stories from the 1940s and 50s. Many of them feature death and decrepitude, so be warned.

My copy: a falling-apart 50¢ Signet paperback missing the back cover. Can't remember where or when I got it.

I enjoyed the title story the most. Narrated by Holly, a plucky teenage inhabitant of the moon (think "Podkayne of Luna"), the "menace" is in the form of Ariel, a beautiful tourist from Earth who wants to see the sights. Holly acts as her guide for a while, but her friend Jeff gets kind of starry-eyed and quickly takes over. (Holly vehemently denies that she's jealous, but c'mon.) Holly finds herself back on duty when Ariel wants to don strap-on wings and try flying in the huge lava cave that acts as an air reservoir for the lunar city. Holly's an expert flier herself. The details of this popular recreational activity are meticulously described and (for all I know) might actually be practical someday. (There are lava tubes, so couldn't a lava cavern be possible?)

The remaining stories are less fun. Perhaps some spoilers ahead:

"The Year of the Jackpot" — an offbeat statistician collects disparate bits of data that seem to predict imminent societal breakdown and chaos. Fortunately he finds a girlfriend. They "meet cute": she's a victim of one of those mass-insanity trends, compelled (somehow) to disrobe in public. Unfortunately, he remains unaware of a Very Important Trend until the very last few pages.

"By His Bootstraps" — Graduate student Bob is trying to finish his thesis about the impossibility of time travel, when… he's abducted by a mysterious-but-somehow-familiar stranger, gets fed into a time portal, transported into the far future, where he meets a different mysterious stranger, and … well, I liked "—All You Zombies—' better.

"Columbus Was a Dope" — two barflies argue about the merits of an upcoming attempt to send a spaceship to Proxima Centauri. The setting of their argument is only revealed at the end!

"Sky Lift" — an emergency trip delivering medical supplies to Pluto is only possible by a "torch ship", and it can only arrive in time if it accelerates at 3.5 Gs. Which is harmful to one's health, specifically the ship's two-man crew.

"Goldfish Bowl" — Mysterious waterspouts and fireballs near Hawaii are investigated. Not successfully.

"Project Nightmare" — A team of psychics has amazing powers. Which comes in handy when it turns out the Commies have planted nuclear bombs in dozens of American cities. Things work out well, except for… well, sorry Cleveland.

"Water Is for Washing" — A tale of disaster survival, when a businessman traveling in California's Imperial Valley (below sea level) experiences an earthquake which causes a biblical flood. Fun fact: Heinlein was pissed that his magazine editors (Argosy) trimmed the final two paragraphs from the published story. Wish I could read them!

Last Modified 2024-01-10 6:27 AM EDT

Somewhat Disrespectful to Clowns

[Clowning Around]

I know some people are afraid of clowns, but, really, aren't those folks in D. C. much more likely to screw up your life?

Also of note:

  • Charlie Cooke was much too kind. Specifically, when he asserted, back in July, Joe Biden Is an Asshole. According to this Judicial Watch story, about the alleged misbehavior of First Dog, Commander:

    The dog reportedly has been removed from the White House after its most recent attack on a Secret Service agent and other White House staff. According to a Judicial Watch source, President Biden has mistreated his dogs. Judicial Watch has learned he has punched and kicked his dogs.

    That's textbook lede-burying right there, Judicial Watch.

    Their source is anonymous, so use as many grains of salt as you like.

    Matt Boi of the unfailingly obsequious Washington Post bends over backward to absolve Commander's owner, asserting: "I’ve always found President Biden to be a deeply compassionate person (the polar opposite of his predecessor), and I’m sure this extends to his pets." But:

    All that said, if Commander were your dog or mine, and he had a habit of clamping down on police officers or mail carriers, how many attacks do you suppose it would have taken before the dog was removed from our custody? Two, maybe three? The answer is definitely not 11.

    And what do you think would happen to our dog then? Would he be sent to one of our various other homes to live out his days chasing defenseless squirrels? No. In most places, after multiple “biting incidents,” he’d probably be euthanized. You’d have to make up some story for the kids about a farm where all the dogs frolic and Taylor Swift comes to visit.

    Sure. At least there have been no assertions that Biden eats dogs, unlike a previous White House occupant.

  • It's a recyclable box, too. Satya Marar and Rishab Sardana take to Discourse to comment on the FTC's latest caper: Putting Amazon in a Box. After recounting the facts of the lawsuit against the company:

    The problem with the lawsuit isn’t just that it’s likely to waste taxpayer resources on claims and theories of consumer harm that will be difficult to prove in court, as has been the case with a string of recent losses for the FTC. It’s that many of the practices the FTC is singling out as anti-competitive are the very ones that benefit consumers and retailers by enabling the features they seek in a digital marketplace. These include the one-stop aggregation of competitively priced products from a range of sellers, a reputable and efficient logistics division that relies on large product volumes to keep costs down, and a huge pool of users whose feedback and shopping patterns help refine seller offerings.

    The bottom line is that Amazon is a highly efficient, vertically integrated entity whose foray into overlapping business lines—offering a digital marketplace for retailers, its own competing retail products for customers, and a homegrown logistics division for both customers and retailers—creates synergies that have generated immense value for consumers.

    It would be nice if other big retailers pursued similar strategies to generate "immense value" for their customers. But—guess what?—the FTC is saying, essentially, "don't you dare."

  • That which we call a ban by any other name would smell just as bad. Sorry, couldn't resist making the Shakespearian reference, inspired by Dan McLaughlin's headline: What's a Ban? What's Not a Ban?.

    Progressive and liberal media narratives have no consistent definition.

    Consider book bans. The “conservative states are banning books” panic conveniently forgets the endless progressive efforts to get books unpublished, banned from marketplaces, rewritten, or removed from curricula. But set that aside: a major source for claims about books being banned is PEN America’s reporting and statistics on book bans. The problem, as Abigail Anthony explains, is that many of the so-called “banned” books are only banned in the sense that “access to a book is restricted or diminished,” including situations in which “a book that was previously available to all now requires parental permission, or is restricted to a higher grade level than educators initially determined.”

    In other words: It’s a “ban” to decide that a book is not appropriate for all ages, even if the book is universally available for age-appropriate readers, and even if this amounts to little more than moving a book to a different shelf within the same school library. Even more incoherently, it’s a “ban” to take a book that was already age- or grade-restricted and change the range to a higher age or grade. If you take the uber-libertarian view that even sexually explicit books and books with nudity and graphic violence should be available to all ages, then these books were already “banned” under PEN America’s definition — how can changing that restriction be a new ban?

    Dan (I call him Dan) notes that the b-word is linguistically powerful, which speaks well of the libertarian instincts of Americans. But note: "We’re endlessly told that nobody wants to ban guns, even when Democrats propose taking the best-selling guns in the country off the market."

    By the way, on my recent trip to Portsmouth Public Library I noticed their "Banned Books" display. And featured up front and center was Gender Queer, that and the other books on display kinda self-contradicting about "banned".

    Can you find When Harry Became Sally at Portsmouth Public Library? Nope. By which I mean, "Of course not." And it's still banned from Amazon. And you won't see it on anyone's "banned books" list.

  • Because it gives the state more power, always assumed to be a good idea. That is, I think, the most accurate answer to Daniel Lyons' question: Why Resurrect Net Neutrality?.

    Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried…”

    Justice Scalia’s memorable lament about resurrecting bad policies came to mind last week as the specter of net neutrality returned to haunt the tech policy community. After three years of quietly effective telecom regulation, the Federal Communications Commission has roared back to life with a new Democratic majority and an obsession to reimpose 2015’s Title II order on broadband providers. Back then, the AEI Tech Policy blog argued that these rules were, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, harmful to consumers and innovation. America’s experience since then has vindicated the decision to repeal net neutrality, leading one to wonder why this has become the Commission’s most pressing concern.

    In some ways, the net neutrality movement has strayed from its roots. When Professor Tim Wu first coined the phrase, he was concerned in part that without a neutrality principle, broadband providers would block disfavored speech online. But this commitment to an open exchange of ideas seems to be memory-holed now that the same administration pushing net neutrality is accused of coercing platforms to remove disfavored content from their sites.

    Lyons says: "Net neutrality was always a solution in search of a problem." But I'm pretty sure Washington sees the "problem" as "government having too little control over the Internet." In which case, net neutrality is a very good solution.

  • But it was lost on a lonely highway. Veronique de Rugy points out: 'Good Government' Is a Two-Way Street.

    You've undoubtedly noticed how up-in-arms everyone becomes when the government is on the verge of shutting down. I've also noticed that the people who most loudly express their horror at the notion of a partial government closure seem totally comfortable with the fiscal wall we are barreling into. That wall is being built, brick by brick, by two political parties that are unwilling to end Washington's spending debauchery.

    This isn't to deny that some people would have been hurt by the recently averted shutdown (which, by the way, would not have made our debt smaller). It's a call for consistency from anyone putting their good-government sensibilities on display.

    Those sounding the loudest alarms last week are largely silent on the countless occasions when Congress ignores its own budgetary rules. They are rarely outraged when the government is financed with legislation that only expands the balance sheet regardless of whether the money is well spent. All that seems to matter is that government is metaphorically funded, since it usually means growing deficits and explosive debt.

    Headline reference explained here. No, don't ask, I don't know what it means. Vero actually does a better job than the song does in maintaining the metaphor, saying: "the real 'crisis' is apparently that someone is trying to slam on the brakes — not that there's a fiscal wall looming ahead."

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:38 AM EDT

Problem Solved!

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
I guess the big story over the past few days was the defenestration of Kevin McCarthy. Following my usual Elvis Costello strategy (don't be disgusted, try to be amused) I'm not that interested in making an enthusiastic attack on one side or the other.

But on the other hand, there were slightly amusing meta-issues, as described by Ed Morrissey. Frog meets scorpion: House Republicans threaten to quit Problem Solvers Caucus after McCarthy ouster. Why? Because my very own CongressCritter, Chris Pappas, is a member of that worthless caucus. Assuming you're up on the Scorpion/Frog Fable:

House Republicans partnered with Democrats to form the “Problem Solvers Caucus” (PSC) in January 2017, as a counter to the supposedly extreme-MAGA agenda of Donald Trump. For the most part, the Problem Solvers offered nothing much but cheap virtue-signaling by its members over the last six-plus years. The conceit played well in the competitive districts its members represented, but the caucus has never produced any successful legislation. It exists to fluff itself and to vaguely scold everyone else on the benefits of bipartisanship and defense of institutions.

And Democrats kept scolding on that point, right up until the point that every last PSC Democrat voted to oust a sitting Speaker for partisan purposes. Suddenly, the Republicans in the caucus are shocked, shocked — no, wait, wrong analogy — are surprised to find out that the scorpion they’ve carried on their backs acts like a scorpion:

GOP members in the group are furious at their Democratic colleagues who voted to remove McCarthy. The Republicans say he was punished for “doing the right thing” after advancing a stopgap funding bill on a bipartisan basis.

Frustrated members said that Democrats in the group, which is aimed at finding bipartisan solutions, sparked chaos for political gain despite many Republicans in the group having faced primaries for crossing the aisle and taking difficult votes.

A draft letter obtained by Axios took aim at Democrats for siding with “Gaetz and a single digit number of chaos agents in the Republican Conference.”

“It is unfortunate, for America and the institution of Congress, that Democrats in PSC chose not to risk the smallest amount of political capital or show the minimal courage necessary to merely vote against the Motion to Vacate. Instead, they voted for the chaos and now hope to benefit politically from it,” the draft memo said.

Under other circumstances, this would be hilarious. What exactly did these geniuses think would happen, especially after six years of posing without a single substantive accomplishment? The PSC was nothing more than a PR move by savvy Democrats intended to split the Republican caucus, paint the rest of the GOP as “extreme MAGA” by comparison, and if possible slow down or stop progress on the GOP’s agenda. During the Biden era, the PSC did little or nothing to restrain the sharp left turn taken by Joe Biden.

"Under other circumstances, this would be hilarious." Ed, some of us think it's pretty hilarious under these circumstances.

Also of note:

  • There was no Plan B. There was no Plan A either. Paula Bolyard says, convincingly: I Don't Think the House Fight Worked Out the Way Matt Gaetz Thought It Would.

    Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) successfully led a coup against now-former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday. He managed to eke out a “win” by rallying the entire Democratic caucus and eight Republicans to oust him. It’s the first time that has happened in U.S. history.

    And it’s a total clown show.

    Not only does it distract from the already tense budget negotiations, but it makes a laughingstock of the GOP—and the U.S.—and gives Democrats even more leverage to push through their radical policies.

    "Clown show." "Laughingstock." What's not to like?

    Oh yeah: radical policies. That is a downside. Thanks, Matt!

  • Using small words that Lina Khan understand. Sorry for that bad pun, but it's the first thing coming to mind while reading Jessica Melugin's explanation of Why the FTC’s Antitrust Case against Amazon Misses the Mark. She makes a point we've made here before: Amazon is only a "monopolist" if you dubiously define its market narrowly enough so that only Amazon fits.

    Incorrectly defining the market and failing to prove that Amazon is a monopolist lays bare that the specific “crimes” the FTC charges Amazon with committing are nothing more than business practices consumers and third-party sellers are free to reject by taking their business elsewhere. If fees are too high for the likes of sellers or lowest-price contracts are objectionable, they are free to sell elsewhere. If ads appearing in search results displease consumers, they can shop elsewhere. These arrangements are voluntary and, absent consumer harm that has not been demonstrated, it is not a matter in which the government needs to meddle.

    In order to gore its preferred ox, the FTC is ignoring the realities of today’s retail world in asserting that Amazon is a monopolist. Amazon is only a monopolist of Amazon. That’s not illegal, that’s just running a business. The FTC’s case against Amazon is a waste of taxpayer money, but consumers will pay the price if it’s successful.

    And (to repeat) New Hampshire is joining in on this folly that (if successful) will only hurt Amazon's customers. I sent this to Governor Sununu:

    I'm extremely disappointed that New Hampshire is one of only 17 states joining in the Biden Administration's FTC suit against Amazon. It is essentially an arbitrary attack against a company whose "crime" is simply being successful. It is a mockery of the rule of law. Why is the state spending time and (taxpayer) money on this?

    There, that'll show 'em.

  • Repeal the Jones Act. George Will goes nautical: Ahoy! It’s crony capitalism sailing in and out of U.S. ports. Some history, as only GFW can do it:

    Wesley Jones, a Republican U.S. senator from Washington, 1909-1932, should be canonized as the patron saint of industrial policy. His contribution to such mischief, which is enjoying a rebirth of respectability, is in its second century of doing damage.

    His advocacy of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, included the usual cant about serving national security and the public interest generally. The act began, however, as garden-variety political parochialism. It survives because it is defended by the “reliance interests” — industries tethered to government favoritism — that industrial policy, a.k.a. protectionism or crony capitalism, invariably produces.

    Industrial policy involves government supplanting society’s myriad private collaborations — i.e., market transactions — to allocate resources and opportunities as government thinks best. Such policy empowers government, which is politics in every fiber of its being, to supplant markets in shaping the future, deciding which industries and products should prosper. Jones wanted Washington state’s shipping industry to prosper, with the help of the other Washington. He particularly wanted to protect his state’s shippers from foreign competition serving ports in Alaska — over Alaska’s strenuous objections.

    Cato and the Mercatus Center have been longtime critics of the Jones Act provisions as well. Will notes the U.S. Maritime Administration's reaction to such criticism: “Charge all past and present members of the Cato and Mercatus Institutes with treason.”

    That's a crime punishable by death.

  • It's funny because it's true. And also funny because it's funny. David Strom notes some consternation when some people took the gender ideologues at their word: All's fair in the alphabet wars.

    A major tech job fair for women (AnitaB) was flooded with biological men, and lots of people were angry about it.

    I don’t understand why. The conference opened itself up to “nonbinary” participants. And given the current definitional confusion, how can we possibly know who is really a man, a woman, or a non-binary person anyway?


Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 6:59 AM EDT

Fewer, Richer, Greener

Prospects for Humanity in an Age of Abundance

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I'm pretty sure I put this book on my get-at-library list thanks to this Reason plug from Ron Bailey back in 2019. (The list is slow and occasionally leaky, but eventually…) The author, Laurence B. Siegel, is currently affiliated with the CFA Institute Research Foundation; it is devilishly difficult to find what "CFA" stands for, but I think it's "Chartered Financial Analyst".

Siegel is a qualified optimist; he sees a rosy future ahead for the world, if we don't screw it up. The book is © 2020; things seem to have gotten somewhat less rosy in the interim, but we are talking long-term trends. Still…

Siegel and I share a number of reliable sources: e.g., Matt Ridley, Deirdre McCloskey, Steven Pinker, … And even quotes from a Robert B. Parker novel on page 323! While not overtly political, he's very much a "three cheers for free-market capitalism" kind of guy. Well, maybe 2.7 cheers; he notes that unrestrained businessfolk will tend to exploit negative externalities, if allowed.

The book is very wide-ranging and eclectic. The "fewer" in the title refers to population: Siegel notes that the "population bomb", so popular a doomsday scenario just a few decades ago, has been defused in the developed world; and there's no reason to assume this won't eventually envelop the entire world. Unlike some, Siegel sees this demographic shift as a favorable trend. (He goes into quite a bit of detail on sensible retirement planning in such a scenario, one of his fortes.)

He goes on to explain the "richer, greener" part: essentially, there's no reason to suspect that continued growth and innovation won't eventually benefit everyone; it's a positive-sum game. And richer societies can afford to invest in environmental protection. And, unless the naysayers have their way, nuclear power can easily help us wean off of fossil fuel use. He is very entertaining describing the "ecomodernist" vision.

There's a neat picture of the Boston Treepod proposal, which seemed to be a big thing back in 2011, and then … as near as I can tell, nothing since. It's a variation of my own semi-crackpot Idea That Could Save Everything: artificial photosynthesis, pulling CO2 out of the air, combining with water and sunlight, producing oxygen and carbohydrate. Except doing it scalably and far more efficiently than natural photosynthesis, i.e. plants. Siegel, bless him, comes closer to describing my vision that I've seen elsewhere.

Siegel's style is informal, chatty, and discursive; the book often wanders in unexpected directions and interesting asides. Recommended!

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:42 AM EDT

It Could Be Worse.

As I type, the <title> tag on Eliot Cohen's Atlantic article is The Big Lie About Taiwan. And the actual headline is "Telling the Truth About Taiwan".

For some 50 years, American policy toward Taiwan has been based on the assertion that people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits believe that they are part of the same country and merely dispute who should run it and precisely how and when the island and the continent should be reunified. It is a falsehood so widely stated and so often repeated that officials sometimes forget that it is simply untrue. Indeed, they—and other members of the foreign-policy establishment—get anxious if you call it a lie.

It may have been a necessary lie when the United States recognized the People’s Republic of China, although it is more likely that the United States got snookered by Chinese diplomats in the mid-1970s, when they needed us far more than we needed them. It may even be necessary now, but a lie it remains. Acknowledging this fact is not merely a matter of intellectual hygiene but an imperative if we are to prevent China from attempting to gobble up this island nation of 24 million, thereby unhinging the international order in Asia and beyond.

Our state's great motto makes an eventual appearance:

In this case, 50 years of being told, in effect, to sit in a corner and not disturb the grown-ups has made Taiwan more difficult for the United States to defend, and less able to defend itself. Because of Taiwan’s military isolation, its armed forces are literally insular, inexperienced, and deprived of all the benefits that countries like South Korea or Japan get from regular, routine training and operation with the U.S. armed forces. Because the United States, in a superfluity of cleverness and caution, continues to refuse to say whether it would fight for Taiwan, the Taiwanese themselves are not sure that they would adopt the New Hampshire motto “Live free or die.” And honestly, who can blame them?

Cohen notes that fifty years of dishonesty has resulted (inevitably) into incoherent policy. Pun Salad knows nothing of foreign policy, but knows (as does Cohen) that letting Communist thugs take over a small island would have dire consequences, and just not for the people living on Taiwan.

Also of note:

  • Regulation for regulation's sake. The FCC, founded in an era when Americans admired the regulatory policies of Mussolini et al, is struggling to justify its continued existence. Will Rinehart looks at its latest effort: New Net Neutrality Rules Could Threaten Popular Services. After recounting the on-again, off-again recent history:

    A lot has happened since then. Since we last had this debate, Mark Zuckerberg went in front of Congress for the first time, the Cambridge Analytica story broke, we had the COVID shutdowns and the switch to online life, there was a riot at the Capitol, the Parler app was booted by its infrastructure providers, and we learned about the government's involvement in taking down lab-leak posts.

    The law has changed and markets have changed, and yet the arguments for and against net neutrality have largely remained the same. Then as now, the strongest argument against the rules is that it puts services that people love under FCC scrutiny.

    These new rules could, for example, put T-Mobile's Binge On package on the chopping block. This deal exempts YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Sling, ESPN, SHOWTIME, Starz, and other content from counting toward the data cap on all T-Mobile phone plans. The FCC never liked this plan and might go after it again.

    If you're a statist, there's only one answer to the question "Do we need to grant the state more power?" And that is: "Of course we do."

  • But statists come in all colors, like red. Jacob Sullum's column at creators.com has, as usual, one of those never-ending headlines: Defenders of the Florida and Texas Social Media Laws Contradict Themselves: If Facebook et al. Are Pushing a 'Radical Leftist Narrative,' Why Don't They Have a Constitutional Right to Do That?.

    Social media companies argue that their content moderation decisions are a form of editorial discretion protected by the First Amendment. Conservative critics of those companies reject that argument, even as they complain that the platforms' decisions reflect a progressive agenda.

    That contradiction is at the heart of two cases that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear, which involve constitutional challenges to state laws that aim to correct the bias that Republicans perceive. Although supporters of those laws claim they are defending freedom of speech, that argument hinges on a dangerous conflation of state and private action.

    Seems like a slam-dunk to me.

  • Good idea, Nikki. Well it was only a few days ago that I tut-tutted about Nikki Haley's advocacy of repealing the Federal tax on gasoline and diesel. I linked to an an article at AEI: The Gas Tax Should Not Be Eliminated.

    Well, maybe I was wrong. Because, at Cato, Adam N. Michel and Chris Edwards write that Nikki Haley Is Right: Repeal the Federal Gas Tax.

    Federal gas tax revenues go into the Highway Trust Fund and then are dished out to the states to use on highway and transit projects. However, since 98 percent of the nation’s streets and highways are owned by state and local governments, it would be simpler and more efficient if those governments were responsible for the funding. Having the federal government raise the funds and then return the funds to the states with regulations attached is unnecessarily bureaucratic.

    States have the best information to determine their local infrastructure needs. States that want to improve their highways can increase their own state‐​level gas taxes, sales taxes, or user charges. Or they can issue debt or pursue full or partial privatization. The states have all the necessary fiscal tools to tackle their own infrastructure challenges.

    I have to admit this makes a lot of sense. The round trip our tax money takes from our wallets to Washington, D.C., and then back to our localities (with plenty of strings attached and bureaucrats employed on its way) is something I've deplored in other areas.

    As if you need me to tell you: read both AEI and Cato and make up your own mind.

A Mockery of a Sham

Jerry Coyne is not happy with the evolution of an organization that at least used to pretend to have principles: Head of the ACLU makes a mockery of free speech at a Princeton orientation event designed to promote free speech. Jerry quotes an article from National Review (which means we don't have to use up a gifted link):

On August 29, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke alongside Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber at a mandatory freshman-orientation event ostensibly meant to highlight the university’s commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom. More than 1,000 Princeton freshmen were required to attend this event as a part of their regular sequence of orientation activities; I was there as an undergraduate academic adviser for freshmen and out of my own personal curiosity.

In a word, the event’s content was an embarrassment. A new class of Princeton students were subject to an hour-long, highly ideological exhortation by Romero, who repeatedly urged them to embrace progressive ideas and badly misrepresented the importance of free speech by rooting its value in its ability to advance socially progressive causes.

Today’s enemies of free speech and civil liberties, Romero told Princeton freshmen, are those who deny the “right to gender-affirming health care,” those “attacking critical race theory,” and proponents of Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law. According to Romero, these are the real “freedom-of-expression issues” of our day — the work of right-wing villains who want our society to “go back to the medieval period.”

Jerry adds on his own: "As for the ACLU, I can’t speak frankly about what I think about it given that this is a family-friendly website. I’ll just note that I want nothing to do with it except to call it out when it keeps getting woker and woker."

Also of note:

  • Good legal advice: Don't try this with your own bank. Kevin D. Williamson discusses one of the legal issues plaguing Subprime Donny.

    Some things in finance are very difficult to explain. Others aren’t. What Donald Trump did wrong in defrauding banks is one of the easy ones to explain. 

    Trump’s defense is, basically, something like this: “Sure, I lied about my assets, but everybody does it, and the banks got paid back—so, nobody got hurt.” That is, of course, nonsense, and the court is right to judge it to be such. 

    As everybody with a credit card or a mortgage knows, you pay less for loans and other financial services the better your credit standing is. Trump defrauded several lenders by lying on loan paperwork about the value of his assets and, in doing so, cheated those institutions and their shareholders out of the additional income they would have had if they had charged Trump a rate appropriate to his actual financial situation. If Trump had gone into a car dealership and signed paperwork to buy a Honda Civic and then drove off in a Mercedes S-Class, it wouldn’t be a defense to say that he made all the payments on the Civic, so nobody got hurt. His fraud was in using deceit to pay for a lower-priced product when he was receiving one that should have been more expensive. 

    It's got one of those Dispatch padlocks, which (as usual) is a broad hint that you should subscribe. Even if you hate everyone else over there, KDW is worth the price of admission all on his lonesome.

  • Your MAGA's so dumb, she makes Kamala sound like Einstein. John Hinderaker looks at the evolution of an acronym: Who’s Your MAGA?.

    Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was a slogan of genius. While his supporters (and most Americans) instantly knew what it meant, Democrats hated it. They didn’t know whether to respond, “America is still great,” or “America was never great,” which is what most of them believe. It was a painful dilemma.

    But times have changed. Now Democrats embrace Trump’s slogan, or at least its acronym. They constantly refer derisively to “MAGA Republicans.” A Google search for “MAGA Republicans” returns over 58 million hits. One could cite countless examples, but let’s take Joe Biden talking earlier today:

    “I think that this is the last gasp or maybe the first big gasp of the MAGA Republicans. And I think Trump has concluded that he has to win,” Biden told ProPublica in an interview released Sunday. […]

    “I worry because I know that if the other team of MAGA Republicans win, they don’t want to pull the rule of law, they want to get rid of the FBI,” Biden said.

    Fun fact: Back in the 1960's, former FBI guy W. Cleon Skousen published The Naked Communist discussing the "communist plot to overcome and control all of the world's governments". For some reason the "Marxists Internet Archive" has Skousen's list of 45 "current Communist goals", with number 35 being:

    Discredit and eventually dismantle the FBI.

    Nowdays, the FBI is doing a pretty good job of discrediting itself. Maybe it's been infiltrated?

  • In case you were wondering… Megan McArdle crunches the numbers and, nope: Obamacare has been unable to save money on U.S. health care.

    Given the high cost of the U.S. health-care system, it’s natural to assume there must be some easy way to make sizable cuts. After all, in 2022, the United States spent 16.6 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, while the next-highest spender, Germany, spent only 12.7 percent, according to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It’s not as if Germans are dying in the streets for lack of care, so it seems obvious that we could cut at least one-quarter of our spending to no ill effect.

    As the Affordable Care Act took shape almost 15 years ago, its architects started looking for those savings in earnest, pursuing various theories about where they might be found. Somewhat skeptically, I started calling this the hunt for a “magic pot of money” that could be surgically excised without making anyone worse off.

    All these years later, we still haven’t found the magic money pot.

    So Obamacare was sold on a pack of lies (e.g., "If you like your plan…") and worthless promises. And yet, it's sticking around. Because lying works. (Unless you're Donald Trump lying to people lending you money.)

  • You're gonna have to embiggen that dictionary. GeekPress notes that it's now legal to use in Scrabble a couple New Dictionary Words.

    padawan noun, informal : a young person especially when regarded as naïve, inexperienced, etc.

    cromulent adjective, informal + humorous : acceptable, satisfactory

    and 688 others.

    But, yeah, "cromulent" is now officially a perfectly cromulent word.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:01 AM EDT

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

One of my interests is peering into the debate about "free will". Determinists maintain it's an illusion; I'm fond of thinking that it's real. I want to ask the determinists: Hey, if free will is an illusion, I wonder, what about consciousness? Is that an illusion too? (And—just maybe—is "illusion" really the most appropriate word to apply to these phenomena?)

So I picked up this book from Portsmouth Public Library. It's by neuroscientist Patrick House, and I think I was expecting a rather straightforward description of the current state of brain research and how it applies to either the illusion or reality of consciousness. What it is (however) is a kind of science-based prose-poetry. The title is an homage to Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, a book about translating a single poem from ancient China.

As a result:

What we call "thinking", thus is manipulation of practice gestures, where gestures are thoughts derived from learning loops and conscious thoughts can be manipulated as inputs to a radio broadcast, a network of causes and effects, a collapse of quantum uncertainty, or a lie.

That's some pretty writing. To be honest, I'm on the fence about whether it's tremendously insightful or gussied-up bullshit. I think I would have to meditate carefully over each paragraph and sentence of the book to be sure. Might take years. For better or worse, not gonna happen.

Each of the "nineteen ways" has its own chapter, with semi-whimsical titles. Clear favorite: "An Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Quantum-Dot-Like Non-Machiney". Which discusses microtubules as a possible location of free will. (And if you are too young to get that reference, here you go.)

But there is a lot of interesting material here, and I recommend the book to anyone interested, even those with less patience than I. House keeps returning to a 1998 Nature paper where open-brain surgery was performed on epilepsy patient "Anna". She remained conscious throughout the procedure, and the surgeons/researchers discovered that they could make her laugh by electrically stimulating a small region of her brain. And this wasn't a knee-jerk reflex; Anna reported that it was accompanied by a (as near as she could tell) genuine mirthful feeling. When asked why she was laughing, she made up reasons. (E.g., "The horse [a picture she could see] is funny.") The paper is an appendix in the book.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:42 AM EDT

The Kind Worth Saving

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

My bad: having been favorably impressed with two previous books by New England-based author Peter Swanson (here, here), I picked his newest one off the shelves of the Portsmouth Public Library. Without checking the Amazon page first, which would have told me that it's a sequel to his 2015 novel, The Kind Worth Killing.

Oh dear. Will this work out? Or will this be like reading The Two Towers before The Fellowship of the Ring? Nevertheless, I bravely muddled through. I made it OK, but I'd really suggest you read the Killing one first.

The main protagonist, Henry Kimball, is a private eye. (He has an unusual career path: ex-high school English teacher, ex-Boston cop, occasional poet specializing in rhythm-lacking limericks. He's hired by Joan, one of his ex-students, to investigate whether her husband is cheating on her. Pretty standard setup, although Kimball thinks there might be something else going on, and he engages in some pretty unprofessional behavior, but then… bodies. And some other bodies in flashback. It's a very dark tale that weaves in unexpected directions.

Minor gripelet:

[Click for small spoiler] Swanson gives two different characters the same first name, and it's not immediately clear that they are different characters. I thought that was a novelist no-no. But maybe it was intentional.

As a bonus for us New Englanders, a portion of the book is set in "Kennewick", a fictional Maine town based on near-to-me York. (Although, as Swanson charitably points out, York has "a lot less murders".)

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:42 AM EDT

It's Banned Book Week

So I'm recycling this irritating meme that (I'm sad to say) that some people I love are pushing around:

[self praising bullshit]

If you would like to see what I wrote a few weeks ago on this, have at it. (And remind yourself of the deep irony of using a Dr. Seuss character as an anti-"banner".)

But I liked Abigail Anthony's take on the issue, and I'll spend one of my five NR "gifted" links on it: There Is No Book Ban-demic

PEN America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting free expression, recently released an annual report documenting “3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles” in public schools across the United States during the 2022–2023 academic year. The report says that 88 percent of book bans occurred in Republican states, and “over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida.”

The problem is that PEN America uses a ludicrously tendentious definition of a "book ban". Ms. Anthony ably dissects it. Her sensible bottom line:

The relevant question is not precisely how many books are banned. Instead, the question is what materials should be available to students. We can — and should — have respectful debates about what content is appropriate for what ages. But PEN America isn’t interested in those debates. The organization tailors its methodology to produce misleading statistics in the service of disparaging Republicans, while misrepresenting the books in question to frame their objectionable content as unremarkably generic.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Not that it matters, but PEN America lists exactly one "ban" in the great state of New Hampshire: Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy by Kelly Jensen, Amazon image link at your right, standard disclaimers apply. This was "banned" at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

Bodies aren't simply biological. They are radical tools. They are physical and political. They impact our mental well-being as much as they impact our social roles.

Body Talk delves into what it means to operate a body within a twenty-first century Western world, and offers but one perspective among many others around the world and throughout history. This book goes beyond puberty and beyond body confidence to bare it all.

Radical! Impact! Physical and political!

I'm not a book banner, my gut reaction when reading and typing in that excerpt is something along the lines of Oh, shut up. I have to ask: was this claptrap really the best choice on which to spend the library budget for the middle-schoolers of Wilton and Lyndeborough?

Also of note:

  • Help! I've been polarized! Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes a skeptical look at a belief that's quickly become accepted as gospel: Do Social Media Algorithms Polarize Us? Maybe Not.. (From print Reason, out from behind the paywall.)

    A safer, saner social media world is possible, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen told members of Congress in 2021. Instead, she said, leaders at the social media company chose engagement over democracy, using algorithms that kept people glued to the site but also angry, anxious, and ill-informed.

    Haugen's diagnosis of the cause of our current political dysfunction (social media algorithms) and cure ("get rid of the engagement-based ranking" of content and return to displaying posts in simple chronological order) has become dogma for many politicians, members of the press, and would-be change-makers. Doing away with algorithms would also halt hate speech and misinformation, these groups insist.

    But more and more research is casting doubt on such claims. The latest comes from a collaboration between academics and Facebook parent company Meta, who set out to explore the impact of algorithms in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

    The comments are a sewer, but I got a chuckle out of: "Don’t forget Russia buying up all those ads so we elected literal Hitler. That had to have had an impact."

  • It can't happen here, except that it did. While the librarians are wailing about "banned books", Jay Bhattacharya tells us of his experiences dealing with some actual banners: American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’.

    Though it is hard to hear, the sad fact is that we are living in a time and in a society where there is once again a need for scientists to pass around their ideas secretly to one another so as to avoid censorship, smearing, and defamation by government authorities in the name of science.

    I say this from first-hand experience. During the pandemic, the U.S. government violated my free speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s COVID policies.

    American government officials, working in concert with big tech companies, defamed and suppressed me and my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies – criticism that has been proven prescient. While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is a documented fact, and one recently confirmed by a federal circuit court.

    We don't have to send dissident scientists to the Gulag Archipelago any more. We just make sure nobody can hear them.

    I'm thinking maybe that the folks at PEN America do not give a rat's ass about that. (I could be wrong. Haven't checked. Let me know if I am.)

  • And it got pretty warm indeed. Continuing in that vein, Matt Taibbi observes: Anthony Fauci Was America's Warmup Dictator. I do not have a subscription to his substack, Racket News, but the paragraph I can see is pretty damning:

    Exposés in Public and Racket this week showed Anthony Fauci engaged in the bureaucratic version of witness tampering, using a dubious “Proximal Origin” paper he helped engineer to divert attention from the possibility that Covid-19, too, was a viral Frankenstein’s monster. Apart from a few conservative outlets, no one picked up the story. How screwed up is the U.S. right now? The nation’s top medical official for years worked in public and private to stifle investigation of our worst health crisis, which increasingly looks like a unparalleled man-made catastrophe. He’s going to skate on it, because upper-class America is now so deep into mass mental illness that it’s more likely to make a sex symbol of corruption than punish it.

    And the subhed is pretty good too: "He institutionalized the purposeful lie, suppressed critics, mastered emergency politics, even sold himself as a sex symbol. Anthony Fauci gave the next monster a playbook."

  • "I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook!" Jonah Goldberg with a non-paywalled G-File asks: Who Wants to Buy a Monorail?. It's pretty good takedown of utopianism, as manifested in…

    Barack Obama and his supporters sold soft utopianism with a lot of strong utopian rhetoric. There was a lot of talk about oceans receding, “fundamental transformation,” fixing our souls, and we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. He even promised that we could create a Kingdom (of heaven) here on earth. I don’t need to rehash all the messiah talk about, and by, Obama—though there was a lot of it—because it was mostly that, talk.

    But his policies were suffused with all manner of soft-utopianism. “There will always be people in this country who say that we’ve got to choose between clean air, clean water and growing the economy, between doing right by the environment and putting people back to work,” Obama declared in 2012. “I’m here to tell you that is a false choice.”

    Now to be fair to Obama, he’s hardly the only politician to use this rhetorical framing. Bill Clinton (and Hillary) did it all the time. George W. Bush, too. The problem with the “false choice” framing is that it’s a false … framing. It dismisses the conventional choice of “either/or” and cheerily insists a “both/and” is possible. And it’s true, both/ands are perfectly possible. And they’re often desirable. Not always, but sure.

    The utopianism comes in when you say—or think or let others think—that there are no trade-offs in such choices. There are always trade offs. Always. Not seeing them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means you’re not looking hard enough.

    Coincidentally, I saw an example of utopianism on Twitter:

    Yes, "state rep". A woman with political power. In New Hampshire.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:37 AM EDT

Overstated. But Still …

[Mourning] Nobody offered to pay me a lot of money to watch last week's debate, so I didn't. But I heard about Nikki Haley's zinger to Vivek Ramaswamy:

″Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” the former South Carolina governor snapped at her primary debate opponent on Wednesday night.

I can't help but think Ronnie would have grinned a bit, shook his head, and said "Well, I've talked about the Eleventh Commandment in the past, Nikki, but that's pretty good."

So let's take a look at the latest odds in the betting market:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 35.2% +3.0%
Joe Biden 31.4% -0.5%
Gavin Newsom 7.3% +0.7%
Michelle Obama 4.8% +0.3%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.7% +0.2%
Ron DeSantis 3.3% -0.4%
Nikki Haley 3.1% -0.3%
Kamala Harris 2.5% -0.3%
Vivek Ramaswamy 2.1% -1.5%
Other 5.6% -1.2%

Reading those entrails, here's what the bettors seem to be saying to…

  • Trump: "You're smart to not debate."
  • Biden: "People are beginning to notice you're old and corrupt."
  • Newsom: "Hey, maybe voters will want the US to be like California."
  • Michelle: "Please save us from these losers."
  • RFKJr: "Nobody cares that you're running as an independent."
  • DeSantis: "Your flailing for a working message is getting pretty transparent."
  • Nikki: "You're gonna have to get better zingers."
  • Kamala: "It's a long shot, but Joe is old and corrupt."
  • Vivek: "Every time we hear you, we feel a little bit dumber."
  • "Other": "It's looking like you're not gonna show up."

Also of note:

  • And, as previously mentioned, old and corrupt. Charles C. W. Cooke points out that Joe Biden Is a Dud.

    Unless my political antennae have been rendered permanently defective by the sweltering Florida sun, I seem finally to be detecting some grudging acceptance from America’s steadfastly obstinate press corps that, in spite of the herculean effort to prop him up in which its members have engaged, a supermajority of voters in these United States still thinks that President Joe Biden is a lemon. Perhaps this acknowledgment is the result of the sheer scale of the polling evidence that is now before everyone’s eyes. Maybe it is the product of the healing passage of time. Plausibly it has been driven by the fear that, if Biden continues unchecked, Donald Trump will return to the White House. Who knows? What matters more is that, at long last, the realization has arrived that Americans do not like their president and that there is little point in denying it.

    Insofar as it goes, this development represents progress. But, until the media come to understand the obvious reasons that have caused Americans to dislike Joe Biden, it will remain lost at sea. Day in, day out, I read the coverage of this presidency, and day in, day out, I encounter a journalistic cadre that believes that voters are being monstrously unfair in their evaluations. Invariably, the question that underpins any critical discussion of this president is “why?” — a question that is usually asked with a disbelieving scoff. Why does he have persistently low approval ratings? Why don’t people like “Bidenomics”? Why is good ol’ Joe considered untrustworthy? Why does the electorate think he’s too old? Usually, these questions are answered with excuses: Actually, It’s the fault of the presidency itself, or of “both sides” journalism, or of the lies of Fox News and of the Republican Party! Actually, the economy is good! Actually, this White House has achieved a lot! Actually, there’s no evidence of wrongdoing — and have you seen how much Biden loves his son?

    Well, I have a simpler explanation for President Biden’s predicament — and, if I may say so myself, it is one that dovetails nicely with his polling: Joe Biden is unpopular because Joe Biden is terrible at being president of the United States.

    That's a NR-"gifted" link, so enjoy the whole thing.

  • Not a new song by Pink Floyd. Nick Catoggio looks at what Trump has been saying of late and says his supporters are Uncomfortably Numb. One of the Donald's posts on "Truth Social" quoted by Catoggio:

    They are almost all dishonest and corrupt, but Comcast, with its one-side and vicious coverage by NBC NEWS, and in particular MSNBC, often and correctly referred to as MSDNC (Democrat National Committee!), should be investigated for its “Country Threatening Treason.” Their endless coverage of the now fully debunked SCAM known as Russia, Russia, Russia, and much else, is one big Campaign Contribution to the Radical Left Democrat Party. I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events. Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!

    I guess Trump's gonna be ignoring the First Amendment even more than Biden is. Swell. And this is just one of his incoherent semi-literate rants.

    Unquoted by Catoggio is Trump's recent spiel in a Michigan factory, as described by Jim Geraghty:

    One of the many reasons Trump is bad for conservatives, bad for the GOP, and bad for the county is that he will just grab onto the worst ideas of the opposition if he thinks it will help him win at that particular moment. There was a little-noticed promise in Trump’s speech in Detroit Wednesday:

    “I’m here tonight to lay out a vision for a revival of economic nationalism,” Trump said. “The Wall Street predators, the Chinese cheaters and the corrupt politicians have hurt you. I will make you better. For years, foreign nations have looted and plundered your hopes, your dreams and your heritage, and now they’re going to pay for what they have stolen and what they have done to you, my friends.”

    He added: “We’re going to take their money. We’re going to take their factories. We’re going to rebuild the industrial bedrock of this country.”

    A campaign spokesman did not immediately clarify what Trump meant by taking “their” money and factories. [Emphasis added.]

    Over in that other Washington publication I write for, I noted that apparently, “The only way Trump can really fight the threat of socialism in America is by having the federal government seize the factories of the private sector and take over the management of them. That’ll show those commies!”

    Yeah. One of the more rabid posters at the (vastly more popular) blog Granite Grok is fond of calling Democrats Communists. The next time he does that, I'm gonna point out that Trump has been saying some pretty Classic Commie stuff himself.

  • Dumb idea, Nikki. She recently proposed repealing the Federal tax on gasoline (18.4 ¢/gallon) and diesel (24.4 ¢/gallon). AEI's Kyle Pomerleau says nay: The Gas Tax Should Not Be Eliminated.

    Eliminating the gas and diesel tax would be unfair. Gas and diesel taxes are classic “user charges:” taxes or fees that individuals or businesses pay related to a benefit they receive from the government. The purchase of gasoline and diesel roughly corresponds to the use of roads and highways. Eliminating these taxes and replacing them with general funds would shift the cost of road and highway spending onto all taxpayers, regardless of road use.

    It's regrettable that Nikki's pandering like this.

  • "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore…" Well, you know the rest of the Politician's Syllogism. An example that manages to be even less logical than usual comes from Vivek Ramaswamy: Ban Teens From Social Media, Because Fentanyl.

    During Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, Vivek Ramaswamy described a meeting with the parents of Sebastian Kidd, an Iowa teenager who died in July 2021 after consuming fentanyl disguised as Percocet that he "bought…on Snapchat." As is often the case with Ramaswamy's comments, his take on Sebastian's death was a mixture of sense and nonsense.

    The sense was Ramaswamy's recognition that substance abuse cannot be explained in purely pharmacological terms. The nonsense was his reflexive endorsement of the war on drugs, which is responsible for the circumstances that led to Sebastian's death.

    Yes: every time I hear him, I feel a little bit dumber.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:35 AM EDT