URLs du Jour — 2014-07-29

Various things of recent interest:

  • Is there anything more shallow than an Establishment Republican's devotion to the free market? Case in point is a recent column by New Hampshire's ex-Senator Judd Gregg in The Hill in defense of the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. His lead argument is a pathetic strawman: the "populist right" (in which he apparently lumps people like me) dislikes institutions like the Ex-Im because of our "suspicious nature". We are "conspiratorially-minded", and see such institutions as "conspiratorial" because (among other things) "they are identified with Harvard and other elite eastern institutions."

    We're just a bunch of paranoid loonies, basically. Thanks a lot, Judd.

  • If you read Judd's column and still think he makes a valid argument, might I suggest reading a rebuttal by Veronique de Rugy? She gives Judd credit for honestly recognizing the Ex-Im Bank's essential cronyism. But Judd excuses that by claiming the Bank is (arguably) profitable. Vero rebuts:

    Alas, Gregg thinks that Ex-Im cronyism is okay because it “returns a few billion dollars a year to U.S. taxpayers.” Hm . . . so the unfair treatment of some companies for the benefit of others, along with the market distortions the Bank creates, is just peachy as long as Uncle Sam gets richer on paper? And it’s only Ex-Im advocates like the Chamber of Commerce that claim Ex-Im really is a boon to taxpayers — the Congressional Budget Office projects the bank will yield billions in costs over the next decade.

  • Alas, New Hampshire's sole semi-sane member of Congress, Senator Kelly Ayotte, has gone over to the establishment side on this issue, putting herself in the corporate sack with not only Judd, but also Jeanne Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, and Ann Kuster.

    In (probably) a futile gesture, I've written to Senator Ayotte to ask her to reconsider that.

  • It's not just your Federal-level politicos in bed with corporate behemoths. As this Wired article points out, your local officials are pretty OK with restricting broadband competition in your community, as long as they get their kickbacks and other goodies. Good advice:

    Politically, open access won’t really happen until local governments realize they’ve been thinking too small and too short-term; they’ve become used to thinking of rights-of-way and franchising concessions as revenue streams. But they’re missing the bigger opportunity: promoting broadband as a basic ingredient of economic growth — and growing their tax base.

  • This made me curious about how good old Rollinsford, NH, home to Pun Salad, was viewing its relationship with Comcast, its designated provider. So I found this recent set of recommendations by a local committee. Sample goal:

    Renegotiate the current franchise agreement with Comcast with terms that provide the town with additional advantages, e.g., the delivery of business class internet service to all town buildings.

    I.e. Comcast will pass the charges to its local customers and funnel a part of that cash over to City Hall for high-tech government goodies. Sigh. No sign of thinking outside the box there.

  • By the way, you may have heard that Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett are making a movie about "Rathergate". They are playing (respectively) Dan Rather and Mary Mapes. And the movie is said to be based on Mapes' self-serving reality-challenged memoir of the scandal. (Which most agree was cooked up as a dirty trick to defeat George W. Bush in the 2004 election.)

    If your jaw hasn't hit the floor yet—or even if it has—you might want to check out Megan McArdle's long post on why that's a very bad idea.

    It would be a pity if Hollywood made the same blind mistakes that destroyed several distinguished careers in New York. I know that the film production company for this project is called Mythology Entertainment. That said, the journalists who deserve to have their stories told are the ones who dug into the provenance of these memos and exposed them for what they actually were. If you are going to make a movie, it should honor their fine work, not the errors that made it necessary.

    Maybe there will be a subplot showing Alger Hiss typing the Rathergate memos on his Woodstock typewriter/word processor.

  • You can follow up Megan's masterful take on Rathergate with her hubby's (Peter Suderman) equally masterful analysis of why the D.C. Circuit court ruling in Halbig v. Burwell was correct and deserves to stand. Long but worthwhile, and the conclusion:
    The administration's defenders argue that the law is difficult to interpret, the statutory language is ambiguous, and the legal particulars are difficult to understand. None of this is true.

    The clearest and most obvious interpretation, and the one that best fits the history, evidence, and context, is that the language of the law means what it unambiguously says, that the legislative incentive for states to comply works broadly like many legislative incentives that preceded it, and that even if members of Congress who didn't read the bill did not understand every detail of the legislatory [sic] they voted for, the wonks who helped draft and conceptualize the law did and said so—and have since reversed themselves because their initial understanding is no longer convenient.

    McArdle and Suderman: that's one impressive family.

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Pathetic Hillary Flacktivism (In My Local Paper)

A recent op-ed in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, impressed me with its sheer vapidity and self-importance. The author, one "Douglas Smith of Durham [NH]" wants us to know how vital he and Hillary Clinton were to enticing foreign visitors to come to the United States to spend money. The author blurb at the bottom of the column describes Smith's recent history as a Federal employee:

He is the former Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he served from October 2009 to November 2013. During his tenure, Assistant Secretary Smith was the DHS representative on the President’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the President’s Export Council, the White House Business Council, and the World Economic Forum Risk Officers Community.

Or: "a political appointee who went to a lot of meetings." He is now "the Executive Vice President of MWW, a public relations firm." (His DHS bio is still online and it's a minor example of the revolving door between business and government.)

The op-ed, as previously indicated, is awful. Executive summary/paraphrase:

"Tourism is good. It helps the economy. Before Hillary and I came, tourism was down, because Bush. Hillary and I brought tourism back. Hillary and I talked to many people. Hillary and I saved America by promoting tourism and stopping terrorism. She's running for President, vote for her."

Yes, it's almost that bad. Smith's actual prose seems to come out of the Soundbyte-2000 political boilerplate generator, which I understand you can get off the discount PC software rack at Staples.

Speaking of Hillary: "This kind of smart, pragmatic leadership is just what Americans want and just what America needs from its leaders."

Speaking of Hillary's deep thinking: "Secretary Clinton understood that there was no need to make a false choice between economic and national security and that we can — and must — have both."

Anyone who writes like that thinks his readers are gullible idiots.

But what about Smith's implication that Hillary (and he) managed to lift foreign tourism out of the toilet where it had languished post-9/11?

Here is a one-page PDF from the "National Travel and Tourism Office", part of the Department of Commerce. There is a small graph, which I snipped:

US Visitors and
Spending 1998-2013

Eyeballing, this says: foreign tourism grew throughout 1998-2013, save for recessions (2000, 2008) and terrorism (2001).

Did Hillary and Smith do anything exceptional for foreign travel during their tenure? Not really.

  • Looking at the 2003-2008 (non-Hillary) period, visitor spending went from $80 billion to $140 billion, which works out to be a tad under 12% growth per annum.

  • The Hillary era saw (in 2009-2013) growth from $120 billion to $180 billion. This comes to a bit under 11% per annum.

I'm sure Hill and Smith went to a lot of meetings and talked to a lot of people and went on a lot of fun junkets, but I don't see any evidence that this had any effect on tourism growth, which is riding a long-term growth trend.

A slightly more interesting question is: what possessed Douglas Smith to write this utterly lame op-ed? I suspect there's an effort by Hillary groupies to embellish her record as Secretary of State. Somehow people may have gotten the impression (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, China, Israel) that her foreign policy ranged from foolhardy to dangerous. Actual accomplishments are hard to find.

By the way: a little Googling finds that Douglas Smith is the son of Marjorie Smith, longtime Durham Democratic pol. (Formerly a state Senator, currently in the House.) Did Doug's mom tell him to write this?

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URLs du Jour — 2014-07-17

Screeching toward the end of the week…

  • NR's Phi Beta Cons blog provides a post headlined "Specializing in Unemployment", noting a higher education trendlet: students searching for, and universities offering, "esoteric and niche fields" of study. Second paragraph:

    Well, [students] won’t have to look far for such programs. From “Adventure Education” to a dual major in “EcoGastronomy”—yes it’s a program for environmentally-friendly eating—the list of highly-specific university programs has been growing in recent years. And while these disciplines may sound innovative and exciting, the reality checks that ivory tower over-specialization bump into may tell the story better.

    I normally wouldn't quote that, but the second link in that paragraph goes back to the University Near Here. (The first link goes to another member of the University System of Near Here, Plymouth State University.)

    It's so exciting to have one's employer served up as a Bad Example to a wide readership.

  • It's interesting what you can surmise from the results of Googling a word. For example, when I Google "ecogastronomy", what the results tell me is: "a made-up self-important word that's desperately trying to sell itself to the rest of the world." Most of the top results refer to UNH's program, indicating that the rest of the world may not be that interested.

  • Pun Salad recently examined the decision of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to remove the column of George F. Will, replacing it with that of Michael Gerson. Gerson seems to be trying his best to convince everyone that was a very bad idea, as in this column bemoaning the expansion of legal weed and gambling. And those pesky libertarians are part of the problem!

    The ideological alliance behind these changes is among the strangest in U.S. politics. Libertarians seek to lift governmental restraints on consensual acts. State governments seek sources of revenue without the political inconvenience of requesting broad tax increases. Both find common ground in encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses and addictions of citizens. (And business interests and their lobbyists, of course, find new ways to profit from reliable vices.)

    At best, Gerson has half an idea here: sin taxes bring in revenue that doesn't have to come from the average taxpayer. But the charge that libertarians want to encourage and exploit "the weaknesses and addictions of citizens" is thoughtless and baseless slander.

    I wouldn't have found that on my own, having given up on Gerson long ago. But I do read Jacob Sullum and he offered up a quick rebuttal: "Michael Gerson Explains Why Libertarians Should Want to Ban Everything".

    By Gerson's logic, a true libertarian would want to criminalize as much commercial activity as possible, the better to starve the beast. The less there is to tax, the smaller government will be, so when all peaceful transactions are banned, we will be living in a libertarian paradise.

    A commenter to Sullum ("John") is also good: "Gerson is a curious breed of moron. It is not that there isn't an element of truth to what he says. It is that he takes that element and manages to derive epically stupid claims."

  • MST3K has been gone since 1999, but Michael J Nelson can still make me laugh:

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Geek Seeks iPod Song-Shuffling Nirvana

[Note: out of whack with normal Pun Salad content. Feel free to skip, unless you're interested in the kind of mental aberration that causes people to algorithmize everyday issues.]

Ever since I've had one kind of iPod or another, I've been trying to come up with a good algorithm to govern its music selection. Herewith a description of my latest scheme. It assumes some easily-acquired familiarity with iTunes/iPod operations.

Guiding principles and relevant facts:

  • I prefer a random shuffle of songs. Apple has a "genius" feature that, among other things, will create an "aesthetically coherent" playlist of songs (they say) "will sound great together". I don't care about that.

    In fact, I actively don't want that. I kind of like hearing a sweet Linda Ronstadt tear-jerker immediately followed by an ass-kicker from The Who.

    So shoot me. (Also: yes, I'm old.) But this preference makes things easier.

  • But! I do want to hear certain songs more often than others. For whatever reason. I may simply love the song (e.g., "Bernadette" by the Four Tops) and could listen to it every day for the rest of my life. Or it might be new and fresh, just downloaded/purchased.

    Conversely, I might prefer to hear certain songs less often than others, because they are older or less-loved.

    This preference makes things more difficult.

  • My iTunes song collection is much larger (about 400 GB) than the space available for songs on my primary iPod (an older Nano, about 7.22 GB). So I need to cycle a subset of iTunes library songs onto the iPod when it syncs. It would be nice if songs that have been recently played were replaced with songs not-so-recently played; that way, everything gets heard eventually.

The iPod/iTunes system has a simple way of representing song preference: the rating, which can be 1-5 stars. (Songs can also be unrated.) So let's say I rate all the songs in my library (and, going forward, remember to rate any new incoming songs).

This reduces the problem to: how do I insure higher-rated songs get played more frequently, while still keeping things simple?

Initial vague answer: keep more of my high-rated songs on the iPod than low-rated songs. A simple song shuffle will play the high-rated songs more often, simply because there are more of them.

Duh, right?

To firm this up, let's do some simple math. Let pn be the probability of playing a song with an n-star rating. So we have:

p5 + p4 + p3 + p2 + p1 = 1

And the "play higher-rated songs more frequently" implies that:

p5 > p4 > p3 > p2 > p1

The values I'm using are

( p5, p4, p3, p2, p1 ) = ( 13, 415, 15, 215, 115 )

Those numbers are arbitrary and could change (within the above constraints), but (modulo randomness) they say: out of a shuffle of 15 songs, it's expected 5 songs will be 5-star, 4 will be 4-star, 3 will be 3-star, 2 will be 2-star, and 1 will be 1-star. (This seems to work for me in practice.)

[Aside, added a couple of days later: it's an arithmetic progression, where each rating-star increases the play probability by a fixed amount. One could also imagine a geometric progression, where the play probability gets increased by a fixed factor. For example, if we wanted each rating star to double the play probability, we'd have:

( p5, p4, p3, p2, p1 ) = ( 1631, 831, 431, 231, 131 )

Nothing magic about that either. It's all about what produces a mix that "sounds right" to you. End of aside. On with the show:]

How do we make that happen? Surprisingly easy!

I created 5 smart playlists: "Nano1", "Nano2", …, "Nano5", one for each rating. The math described above enters when we define each list:

Suppose we want to store a total of N songs on the iPod. (For my Nano, a conservative choice for N is 900.) Simply populate each playlist with songs having the corresponding n-star Rating, but limit it to N * pn items.

Consider "Nano3": the p3 probability is 15, so the playlist should be limited to

900 * 15 = 180 items.

And that translates into the smart playlist definition:

smart playlist nano3

The "least recently played" criterion is not that important (at least not to me), but it insures that the songs in the library will get sync'ed out to the iPod sooner than they might if we were to rely on a random selection.

To keep things uncluttered, I put these five playlists into a Playlist Folder named "Nano".

And finally (finally!), I plugged in my Nano, and specified that it should sync from the aforementioned "Nano" folder. Looks like this: NanoSync spec

All done!

Going forward: if I happen to notice that a certain song isn't getting played enough, or getting played too often, it's easy to raise/lower its rating to increase/decrease the probability it will get played. And if I decide I don't want my iPod to play a song ever again, I can de-rate it (or more drastically, delete it.)

I'm not sure whether I should be admired or pitied, but I'm happy with the setup, and maybe someone out there with the same geeky compulsion will find inspiration here.

PS: this was inspired by Jamie Zawinski's (apparently failing) efforts to come up with an iTunes playlist solution to match his desires. Fortunately, my desires were far less complex than his. And I recognized I could satisfy them even with iTunes doing (as Jamie puts it) "the stupidest possible thing."

Last Modified 2014-07-18 8:36 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2014-07-14

With the heat index sneaking toward 90°…

  • I mentioned previously that I was of mixed feelings about immigration policy, but leaning negative toward the current "comprehensive" proposals. That said, Kevin D. Williamson seems to have a very sensible take on things, as he usually does. A key point:

    Where the national government acts to establish rules and standards for immigration, it must first establish the controlling criterion, answering the question of what it intends to accomplish through its immigration policies. While some governments may be liberal in the sense that Robert Frost understood the term — too broadminded to take their own side in a fight — the government of the United States is generally expected to act in the interest of the people of the United States. Sometimes it engages in humanitarian efforts in service to a consistently ungrateful world, but its controlling principle is the national interest of the United States.

    This is number two of seven points, and they all seem unassailable. Check it out.

  • A. Barton Hinkle advises a cooling off:

    Reaction to Supreme Court decisions generally falls into two camps: (a) The court wisely followed the Constitution, legal precedent, first principles, logic, and sensible jurisprudence, or (b) WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!

    Reaction B was on full view after the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court held that some companies could cite religious objections to avoid complying with a federal contraception mandate. The New Yorker offered a typically measured and thoughtful response: “When the Taliban Meets Hobby Lobby,” which was based on the extremely realistic premise that the Taliban would move to the U.S., set up a closely held corporation, and then file suit to avoid having to pay insurance coverage for polio vaccinations.

    Don't freak out, he advises. But when does that ever stop people from freaking out?

  • Dave Barry reveals (in the WSJ) why "Gloria" is, well…

    I think one of the greatest works of music ever written—and I include Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in this category—is Van Morrison's "Gloria."

    The brilliance of this song is evident from the opening lyrics:

    "Like to tell you 'bout my baby, you know she comes around;

    Just about 5 feet 4, from her head to the ground."

    Right away, you know exactly what this song is about. It's about a woman who is approximately 5 feet, 4 inches, measured vertically, as opposed to horizontally. So you can assume she is reasonably fit.

    Musicologists, take note.

    Also, I should add that today's Getty illustration is one of the top results when you search for "Gloria" there. So it's not just gratuitous beauty, and she looks like she could be about 5 feet 4 from her head to the ground. [I may have to peruse the picture further to be really confident about that.]

  • Dave also accepted a suggestion I sent him with gracious credit.

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A man wearing a cowboy hat and a dress was arrested in Salina, Kansas, after leading police on a strange high-speed pursuit on Saturday.

    The perpetrator is from New Hampshire, and you know how we get a little wild when we're out of town.

Last Modified 2014-07-29 6:41 PM EDT
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Worthless Immigration Poll (and Why Jennifer Rubin Irritates Me At Times)

I have a weak, leaning negative, opinion on immigration "reform". People I like are on both sides. Mostly they have decent arguments.

But the pro-"reform" side is getting desperate, seeing their "comprehensive" legislation going nowhere, and desperate people make progressively poorer arguments.

Case in point is a recent "Right Turn" blog post from Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's designated right-winger. The title: "Immigration polling tells Congress to act". All it's missing is an exclamation point. Act, Congress, act!

Jennifer's post presents the results of a recent poll carried out by Harper Polling, sponsored by groups who would like the stalemated legislation passed: Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE), the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. Compare with PNAE's press release, which has links to the detailed poll results (to which I refer below). Jennifer echoes this consortium's talking points with zero skepticism. Skepticism is certainly warranted by a poll that just happens to support the legislative goals of its sponsors. (And, not coincidentally, coincides with Jennifer's own preferences.)

Jennifer also flings drive-by spitball insults at the opponents of the legislation: they are "loud but in the distinct minority". Their worries that Obama can't be trusted to implement and enforce the border security measures mandated in the bill? That's an "excuse for not acting" and it "is not fooling anyone." Her clear implication is that the other side is acting in bad faith, and rudely to boot.

Jennifer finds one poll result portentious:

The survey of likely voters finds, for example, that the vast majority of voters believe the system is in need of fixing.  86% of Republicans believe Congress should take action to fix the immigration system. 79% of Independents agree.

One of the least meaningful polling questions ever is to ask the respondents whether something obviously dysfunctional should be "fixed". And make no mistake: the question generating the response that so impresses Jennifer was just that vague:

When thinking of the issue of immigration, do you believe the United States immigration system is functioning the way it should or is in need of fixing?

Arrgh. Again, who is against something being "fixed"? The amazing thing is the 7% of respondents who said the system is "functioning the way it should". (Another 8% were "not sure".)

But it is fallacious to imagine that the pro-fix "vast" majority even agree on what needs to be "fixed" in immigration policy, let alone what tactics should be adopted to "fix" it. The poll implies a false near-unanimity where none exists.

(Similarly for "reform", which the poll asks about too. Unsurprisingly, everyone's for "reform". Because doesn't reform, by definition, "fix" things?)


As for the substance of reform the so-called principles set out by House leadership — secure our borders, expand visas for high-skill workers and farm workers, provide an employer verification program, allow DREAMers to earn citizenship, and provide visas to live and work here legally to undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who pay penalties and back taxes – get support from 60 percent of voters.

Sorry, Jennifer, but that's at best an arguable conclusion. Here's the actual poll question:

Would you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that secures our borders, expands visas for high-skill workers and farm workers, provides an employer verification program, allows young persons brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents an opportunity to earn citizenship, and provides visas to live and work here legally to undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who pay penalties and back taxes?

The options are: Strongly support; Somewhat support; Somewhat opppose; Strongly oppose; and Not sure. What I noticed (and PNAE/Jennifer did not mention): Only 32% of the respondents picked "Strongly support".

So, suppose you only strongly support securing our (manifestly insecure) borders, and don't care about or oppose that other stuff? Is it plausible that you might average things out and pick "Somewhat support" from that list of options? I think so.

A more meaningful result would have been obtained if the pollsters asked a series of questions about the support/opposition for each individual element of the so-called comprehensive reform. I suspect the support for "secure our borders" would be vastly higher than for the other measures. And I further suspect that's precisely why the pro-"reform" group didn't pose the questions that way: they knew they wouldn't get the answers they wanted.

Jennifer/PNAE's purpose, of course, is to convey a sense of panicked urgency among House Republicans to push the legislation through ASAP. So the funny thing is the response to the poll question they are not publicizing:

Which of the following issues is most important in deciding how you will vote for Congress this year: The Economy, Jobs, Spending, Obamacare, Immigration, National Security, Taxes, or Moral issues like abortion and gay marriage?

"Immigration" is such an important issue, it came in at a solid fifth place:

[poll results 1]

OK, so people are really concerned with other stuff. But surely if we ask them:

And, what is the NEXT most important issue to you?

… we'll find that more people will mention immigration, right?

Well, no. Still in fifth place:

[poll results 2]

So (executive summary) 84% of the likely-voter poll respondents did not rank immigration in their top two issues in judging how to vote for Congress in the upcoming election. You wouldn't expect supporters of immigration legislation to promote that result, and they don't. And neither does Jennifer Rubin.

[Note: I posted a comment on Jennifer's blog, but it got flooded out quickly by an array of commenters that hate Republicans and/or Jennifer. So you get my revised and extended comments here instead, sorry.]

Last Modified 2014-07-13 5:21 AM EDT
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Seth v. Supremes

Little did anyone realize the impact of a simple Tweet:

Shortly after Rogen's analysis appeared, Chief Justice John Roberts called an emergency Supreme Court session to consider its merits. Within eight minutes, the justices decided unanimously to reverse its ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Speaking for the nine Justices, Roberts explained: "Mr. Rogen has devised a powerful and yet simple test for legal analysis: it should not be legal to be an asshole, and all you need to determine this is not to be an asshole yourself."

"This will eliminate a lot of painstaking work in sifting through the Constitution, enacted legislation, and mountains of judicial precedents, " Roberts said. "Frankly, all that work was getting to be pretty tedious. Some nights I even took documents home to study in my office. I could have been watching Superbad instead."

Justice Samuel Alito, author of the original court opinion, was contrite. "You know, I went to Yale Law School; I was on the Court of Appeals for 15 years; I've been a Supreme Court justice since 2006. And I swear I worked really hard writing that 49-page decision."

"But I totally missed the 'assholes' factor that Seth Rogen pointed out," Alito continued. "To be fair, it didn't come up in the arguments on either side. But if it's that obvious to a pot-addled Canadian high school dropout, it really seems like something we should have noticed ourselves."

"Mea Culpa," Alito concluded, lapsing into legalese.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author of the dissenting opinion in Hobby Lobby, was also nonplussed. "OK, so I only went to Columbia Law School, not fancy-shmancy Yale. OK, so I only wrote a 35-page dissent, not 49. But I checked, and the word "asshole" isn't in my opinion at all. It was my job to notice things like that, and I just totally blew it."

"It's no excuse," Justice Ginsburg added, "But it's probably because I don't smoke nearly as much marijuana as Seth Rogen does. I'll try to up my game next term."

The assembled justices also decided that, beginning next term, all attorneys appearing before the Court would need to certify that they had viewed and enjoyed (at minimum) the Rogen films You, Me and Dupree, Drillbit Taylor, The Guilt Trip, Observe and Report, and The Green Hornet.

"Otherwise," Justice Elena Kagan pointed out, "How can we be sure you're not an asshole?"

Last Modified 2014-07-05 10:42 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2014-06-26

Mostly light fare today, but first:

  • Readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—there must be dozens of them—will no longer need to avert their eyes from words written by George F. Will, lest they become upset by, y'know, words. Their protector is editor Tony Messenger, who announced last week that Will's columns would be replaced with those of Michael Gerson.

    Will's sin, according to Messenger, was in writing an "offensive and inaccurate" column earlier this month about the hysterical moral panic surrounding college campus sexual assaults. You can read it here.

    Considering Messenger's assertion that the column was "offensive and inaccurate": that's at least half right: undoubtedly some people were offended, because some people are always deeply offended by anything clashing with their theology.

    But inaccurate? Fortunately Hugh Hewitt (HH) was able to press Messenger (TM) on that point. And:

    HH: […] so you are agreeing there is no place where a factual inaccuracy exists in Mr. Will’s column?

    TM: To the best of my knowledge, no, there is not, and we did not correct one.

    Uh huh. So forget about that "inaccurate" charge. Oops. It's Messenger's perfect right to publish whatever slate of columnists he desires, but he's either lying or inexcusably careless in explaining his reasoning.

    Like Messenger, many others on the left jumped to misinterpret Will's column. As always, it's hard to estimate how many did so in bad faith, and how many did so out of careless stupidity. But the media was soon filled with (yes) inaccurate characterizations of Will's column. Andrew Klavan (rtwt), like me, leans toward the least charitable explanation: the accusations are fundamentally dishonest and craven.

    These people know most people won’t read Will’s column for themselves. They know their characterizations will get more play in the leftist media than Will’s actual words. They know they can distort and lie about Will and some of it will stick.

    A not-unrelated factoid, reported by Chris Cillizza at the WaPo: "Trust in the media -- TV newspapers and online -- is at record low levels." There's a reason for that, Chris.

  • Michael Gerson, by the way, has been a near-nonentity during Pun Salad's 9.3-year lifetime; thanks to grep, I can tell you his name shows up here (1) in 2007, appearing in a Peggy Noonan column, which pointed out Gerson's, and others, unhinged vitriolic rhetoric about opponents of then-President Dubya's immigration bill; and (2) in 2010, appearing in a Don Boudreaux post noting Gerson's hypocrisy in decrying "nanny statism" while supporting the War on Drugs.

    So: two mentions, neither positive. My impression: Uninteresting on his own, but sometimes people make interesting observations about how wrong he is.

    Good luck with Mr. Gerson, St. Louis.

  • Suppose you wanted to drive through all 48 contiguous US States? What's the best route? One answer (from 2012) is here.

    I wouldn't ordinarily mention it, but if you decide to do that, the route will take you within a mile of Pun Salad Manor. So let me know when you are about to leave South Berwick, Maine; I'll come by and wave at you as you head toward Dover, NH on Portland Ave.

  • The Skeptical Libertarian invites you to play "Deepak Chopra or Random Gibberish? Trick Question." He pairs computer-generated random sentences against actual Chopra quotes; can you distinguish which is the product of a biological mind? A well-paid biological mind?

  • Eric Raymond has been reviewing some recent sci-fi novels. He pulls no punches on Unexpected Alliances: Book Two of the United League of Planets by M.R. LaScola.

    Here’s a clue: if you see nothing wrong with a near-future first-contact scene in which the commander of an armada of 30,000 starships many light years from Earth introduces herself as Nancy Hartley from the planet Ultron, you shouldn’t be writing SF.

    "Any relation to Bob and Emily Hartley, from Chicago, Planet Earth?"

Last Modified 2014-06-27 1:38 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2014-06-20


So in the past few days and weeks:

  • We've learned that the Internal Revenue Service is either inexcusably incompetent or dangerously lawless.

    Or both. "Both" is a real possibility.

    But (a) Democrats are using that as an excuse to give the IRS more money; and (b) (worse) you still have to pay your taxes.

    I liked this bit transcribed from a Congressional hearing today:

    “You are the IRS,” [Congressman Paul] Ryan told IRS commissioner John Koskinen. “You can reach into the lives of hardworking taxpayers, and with a phone call or an e-mail or a letter you can turn their lives upside down. You ask the taxpayers to hand us seven years of their personal tax information in case they’re audited, and you can’t keep six months’ worth of employee e-mails?”

  • You may have heard about Amazon's hardnosed negotiations with Hachette, a publishing company. A lot of people have gone over-the-top about this, casting Amazon as the mustache-twirling villain in a moral melodrama. (Example: Stephen Colbert, whose—tsk!—ox is being gored.)

    There's very good commentary on that from Nick Gillespie at the Daily Beast. Opening paragraph:

    Can you believe those…those…those…sons of bitches at Amazon? After launching almost 20 years ago and making virtually every book—new, used, dead-tree, electronic, audio, and I’m guessing any day now, olfactory—available to everyone in America at good-to-great prices, the company’s true character now stands revealed. It’s not pretty, folks. Despite a huge market share, Amazon apparently still wants books, especially the e-books that everyone agrees are the future of the medium, to be cheaper than what publishers and big-name authors want you to pay for them.

    RTWT. Disclaimer/Humblebrag: I've been an Amazon customer since November 1995 (their online store had only opened a few months previous), so I may be a bit sentimentally biased.

  • Outrageous on a smaller scale is the controversy over "The Hillary Tapes", kicked off when the Washington Free Beacon obtained and published a recording of Hillary Clinton's recollections of defending an "alleged" child rapist back in the mid-70s.

    You can decide on your own what the story says about Clinton's character. For me, the interesting thing is the demand by University of Arkansas Dean of Libraries Carolyn Henderson Allen to get the Washington Free Beacon to take down the audio it obtained through the "You of A" library. Dean Allen also put the WFB reporter on "double super-secret probation", barring her from further research there.

    Yes, attempted censorship of inconvenient truths. By a University administrator/librarian. (Who is also, by the way, a donor to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.)

    Is that irony? I can never tell.

    Anyway Matthew Continetti of the WFB has the story, and the attached letters from Dean Allen and the response from the WFB's lawyer are not to be missed.

  • I thought, by the way, that the marketing slogan currently used by the University Near Here ("Where education is more than a matter of degree") was lame and meaningless. But I hereby swallow my provincial pride and admit that the University of Arkansas' "The YOU of A" slogan makes UNH's look clever and insightful.

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Offend a Commie? No Prom For You!

Goddess of Democracy DC defy censorship.JPG

As viewers of The Big Bang Theory know, Newton Massachusetts is most famous for being the thing Fig Newtons are named after. (Not Isaac Newton.) But now Newton has a new claim to fame: punishing a kid, one Henry DeGroot, whose vile sin was expressing anti-government sentiments.

Times change. Back in 1763, Boston's Faneuil Hall was dubbed the "cradle of liberty" based on anti-government words spoken by James Otis there. But that was 10 or so miles away from Newton, and 250 years ago, and things are way different now. Faneuil Hall might still be the cradle of liberty, but Newton is where liberty grew up to be insulted and abused.

Anyway, about Henry: his sin was doing this in China, where he was visiting as part of a study abroad program run by Newton North High School. When he was asked to write his e-mail address in the Chinese students' notebooks:

“Democracy is for cool kids,” he recalls writing. “Don’t believe the lies your school and government tell you,” said another message, and “It’s right to rebel.”

Oops! James Otis would have patted him on the back, but not Chinese school officials. Right up front, Henry was whacked for a five-hour detention. And things did not improve when he got back to the Land of the Free. Newton school officials, allegedly Americans themselves, banned him from the prom.


Newton school officials say he violated semester abroad rules, embarrassed the principal of the Chinese school that was hosting Newton students, and showed so much disrespect for the Chinese that the longstanding relationship with the school may be harmed.

Here's what I really doubt: that there were any "semester abroad" rules that said anything close to: "While in China, don't write anything that will irk or embarrass Chinese officials." My guess is the rules are vague enough to allow arbitrary punishment of any behavior that sufficiently irritates the tinpot administrators of Newton North.

Specifically, Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman is quoted:

“We certainly want our students to be thoughtful and critical thinkers,” said Fleishman. “We encourage that, and we pride ourselves on giving students that opportunity. But this is not about free speech.”

Not passing the giggle test there, Superindendent Fleishman! "This is not about free speech. This is about violating our rules that disallow you from expressing your opinions freely! A different thing altogether!"

Also irritating: the hand-wringing that DeGroot's actions might cause the "longstanding relationship" between Newton North and the Chinese school to "be harmed."

Please. Yes, even hinting at the truth about the brutally repressive and corrupt Chinese government might irk the authorities. Since when should anyone with a decent respect for liberty worry about that? Why aren't Newton North administators ashamed of a program that requires participants to be silent about that?

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