URLs du Jour

2017-03-27

■ Proverbs has been hit-or-miss lately, either wackily incoherent or devastatingly on-target. Let's see about 28:21:

To show partiality is not good-- yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread.

I am not even sure what that means. The other translations on that page are not much clearer. Maybe something like this:

You might expect fairness from people as a matter of common decency; but, in fact, they'll sell you out, and they'll do it for cheap.

"There, I fixed it."

■ Last week I went on a mini-rant about the UNH/Carsey "study" that purported to show that the public's "concerns about scientists" might "undermine efforts" in public health (specifically Zika). Or, in other words: "those darned science-haters are gonna get us all killed."

Since then, I've been a little more alert for items in the same vein. One candidate is a recent book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Thomas M. Nichols. Here's a bit of the cover blurb:

People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

At Reason, there's a review of the book by Noah Berlatsky: The Limits of Expertise. Berlatsky starts off with a pretty good shot:

Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise. His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it.

Ouch. I'll probably get around to reading Nichols' book, but not without Berlatsky's review at hand.

■ Steve Chapman (also at Reason) answers your unspoken question: Why Trump Can’t Fix Health Care.

Because he's not a dictator? Well, somewhat. The actual problem is, well, you and me. But also: them. As in the American voting public, who want (1) health care, but (2) not to pay for it. But:

You can't have it all. Our aversion to this simple truism has yielded a dubious achievement: Compared with other Western nations, we have more people without insurance, spend far more of our national income on health care and are less happy with our system. That's what you get when you resist fundamental tradeoffs.

Americans who want a solution that has no downside don't really want a solution. Not to worry: They won't get one.

Keep your fingers crossed for a "muddle through" solution. That's probably the best we can hope for.

<voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice>. At Hot Air, Jazz Shaw informs us: AP style guide is updated to normalize “gender” as not being related to sex.

In terms of the Social Justice Warriors and their efforts to discard millennia of science in favor of gender impersonation, the Associated Press has taken a large and alarming step toward the normalization of such thinking. Their stylebook has now been updated with cautions issued to authors about being too old fashioned when referring to men, women and the gender definitions of our species.

The link goes to a Washington Times story.

I'm all for being polite and respectful to people who, for whatever reason, find themselves mentally uncomfortable with their own biology. But when ideologues attempt to leverage that general decency into enforceable dogma…, well you get things like AP Stylebook changes, and worse.

■ And our Tweet du Jour is from California's junior US Senator, Kamala Harris, pointing to her reasons for opposing Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to the Supreme Court:

Hey, I think that's our state's ex-Senator, Kelly Ayotte, over there on the left!

Now, the link goes to Senator Harris's op-ed in the SF Chronicle, and you can go there if you want. But the bottom line, the key phrase she chose to tweet, is that, ohmigod, Gorsuch goes by "legalisms".

Also known as: the law.

I'm relatively sure our own state's senators, being predictable partisan hacks, will oppose Gorsuch. One can only hope that their stated rationales will be as entertaining as Senator Harris's.

URLs du Jour

2017-03-26

■ And we move along today to Proverbs 28:20:

A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

As with many Proverbs, I'm not so sure about that. But this prompted me to revisit what Jim Koch, the Boston Beer Co (Sam Adams) founder said a few years back: Unless you're a sociopath, being happy is better than being rich.

"To me, when you start a business, you should really go for the big prize, which is start a business that is going to make you happy. Getting rich is life's biggest booby prize," Koch told CNBC at the Iconic conference last week in Boston. "People who aren't happy want to be rich. I'd rather be happy."

Now, Jim Koch is rich. Somewhere in the area of billionaire-rich. So I'm not sure about his implied dichotomy. And I'm also not sure that what he learned from beermaking is readily applied to less joyful industries.

But I'd like to believe him. Our Getty image du jour: happy Jim. More power to him.

■ I thought Mark Krikorian's article in the Saturday WSJ was pretty good: The Real Immigration Debate: Whom to Let In and Why. Especially this bit:

If we are ever to have a rational debate about immigration—rather than a screaming match among combatants mostly intent on signaling their own moral virtue or ideological purity—the starting point has to be a candid acknowledgment of our goals and preferences. Politicians and ordinary voters shouldn’t be allowed to get away with saying “Of course there should be limits on immigration, but…” without explaining what they mean.

That would be nice. Start with numbers: how many legal immigrants should be admitted per year. Then we can talk about issues like where they should come from, how skilled they should be, etc.

■ Here's an example, I think, of what Krikorian is talking about. Christopher Freiman at the Niskansen Center writing on The Classical Liberal Case Against Nationalist Immigration Restrictions.

If any part of liberalism needs revitalizing, it’s the case for liberalizing immigration.

Nationalists on the left and right argue that easing immigration restrictions would make Americans worse off. During the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders criticized open borders as a “right-wing proposal” that would “make everybody in America poorer.” And of course Donald Trump is calling for “an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border” to protect “the jobs, wages and security of the American people.” He has even floated the idea of an “ideological screening test” to ensure that the U.S. only admits those “who share our values and respect our people.” His executive orders banning citizens of six Muslim-majority countries from even setting foot in the U.S. seems to reflect this idea, and have met judicial resistance on the ironic grounds that they violate the values of the American people embodied in the constitutional guarantee of religion liberty.

Yes, fine. Freiman presents a pretty good theoretical free-market case for … well, that's the problem, I can't tell exactly. You'll note that the quote mentions "open borders" (i.e., implying no restrictions whatsoever on immigration) but also "liberalizing immigration" and "easing immigration restrictions" (i.e., implying that limits should still be maintained, just relaxed somewhat). Freiman fails the Krikorian test.

■ Kevin D. Williamson notes a dispiriting and troubling trend, both in the USA and worldwide: more and more people "On the Outside, Looking Out".

We do not have a problem of privation in the United States. Not really. What we have is something related to what Arthur Brooks […] describes as the need for earned success. We are not happy with mere material abundance. We — and not to go all Iron John on you, but I think “we” here applies especially to men — need to feel that we have earned our keep, that we have established a place for ourselves in the world by our labor or by other virtues, especially such masculine virtues as physical courage and endurance. I suspect that is a big part of the reason for the exaggeratedly reverential, practically sacramental attitude we current express toward soldiers, police officers, and firemen. Of course they are brave and deserve our gratitude, but if we had felt the need to ceremonially thank everyone for their service in 1948, we’d never have done anything else with our time. In 2017, there are many more jobs for courtiers than for soldiers, and the virtues earning the highest return are not bravery or toughness but conversational cleverness, skill in social navigation, excellence in bureaucracy, and keenness in finance.

I'd like to be optimistic, but the trends are not good. (But I was around for the 1970s, and the trends were not good then either. We muddled through.)

■ At Reason, Baylen Linnekin reports one small piece of good news: Appeals Court Embraces Free Speech, Rules Skim Milk is ‘Skim Milk'.

The case, Ocheesee Creamery v. Putnam, has its roots in 2012, when Florida's state agriculture department ordered Ocheesee, a small creamery in the state's panhandle, to stop selling its skim milk. The state claimed Ocheesee's skim milk ran afoul of Florida's standard of identity for skim milk, which requires creameries and dairies to add vitamin A to their skim milk.

A glimmer of sanity in an insane world.

URLs du Jour

2017-03-25

■ Proverbs 28:19 rates an A+ on relevance and accuracy:

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.

In related news: Venezuela Food Shortages See Nearly 75 Per Cent Of People Lose Average Of 19 Pounds

Venezuela’s economic crisis has sent many people into poverty — and some have seen dramatic physical effects on their bodies.

An annual survey reported last week on Venezuelan living conditions found nearly 75 per cent of respondents lost an average of 19 pounds unintentionally in the past year.

There seems to be an autoplay video at the link, and it appears that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has not been losing any weight.

■ Jonah Goldberg's G-File is online, and he reports on his Close Encounters with a ‘Living Constitution’.

The unifying theme here is what has been the central premise of progressivism for the last 100 years: It’s about power (See: Progressives & Power). When the Living Constitution yields the desired ends of progressives, the Living Constitution is a vital means. When the Living Constitution is inconvenient to those ends, we must bow down to the immutable and unchanging authority of super, super-duper, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious precedents.

Jonah also refers to the late Joe Sobran's observation: "When people appear to apply a double standard, it means they are actually applying a hidden single standard — one they don’t want to admit."

■ Kevin D. Williamson makes The Case for Petty Partisanship. He offers a number of ways the ostensibly-in-control Republicans can and should defund the left. Example:

Congress should also adopt a general prohibition on distributing federal settlement funds to nonprofit organizations. Billions of dollars in federal settlements have been directed to “non-victim entities” such as the Urban League and La Raza, which are fundamentally political organizations. If Republicans cannot bring themselves to act out of prudence and principle, then they at least ought to have a sense of self-preservation sufficient to stop funding campaigns against themselves.

KDW's suggestions make so much sense that it's difficult to believe the GOP will take them.

■ I bet you're wondering why the GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill is dead. Well, Peter Suderman of Reason is here to tell you: The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal Bill Is Dead Because Trump Doesn’t Understand How Health Policy Works.

The bill Trump backed made no attempt to balance either the policy or political interests of the legislators, influence groups, or stakeholders involved. Trump spent the week negotiating changes to the bill, but because he neither cared nor understood what was in it, and what lawmakers wanted from the bill, he couldn't act as an effective negotiator. A handful of last minute updates to the bill intended to pick up holdout votes backfired: One reduced the bill's projected deficit reduction, while another was so imprecisely drafted that it ran the risk of killing the individual insurance market entirely, while leaving the federal government in control of the regulations it was supposedly devolving to states.

Yes, Trump not was ignorant on policy and politics. But let's not forget that he also lacks guiding principles, like a devotion to personal liberty or free markets.

■ And your Tweet du Jour:


Last Modified 2017-03-27 4:45 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-03-24

■ Proverbs 28:18 has some bad news for our politicians:

The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit.

"Giant sinkhole swallows most of Washington DC. God blamed. Film at 11."

■ Don Boudreaux's Quotation of the Day at Cafe Hayek was (for yesterday) a quote from Hayek himself, on the 25th anniversary of his death. Comments Don:

Hayek’s great lesson is that each of us, individually, can know only an infinitesimally small amount of the knowledge the full use of which is required for any great and prosperous civilization to exist – but that, when we engage with each other under the laws of private property, contract, and tort (what Hayek called “the rules of just conduct”), each of us is led by this engagement to combine his or her speck of knowledge with the specks of knowledge of countless others in a way that causes this use of these dispersed bits of knowledge to produce and sustain a great and prosperous civilization.

Which reminds me: Richard Feynman was asked: if all scientific knowledge were somehow destroyed, and only one sentence could be passed on to the "next generation of creatures", what would it be?

Well, you can click on the link to find out. But if the same question were asked about economic knowledge, I think the quoted sentence above would be a pretty good one.

■ Bryan Caplan writes on Good Manners vs. Political Correctness. He's a foe of "political correctness", as are all decent folk. But:

These days, however, I'm also often appalled by the opponents of political correctness. I'm appalled by their innumeracy. In a vast world, daily "newsworthy" outrages show next to nothing about the severity of a problem. I'm appalled by their self-pity. Political correctness is annoying, but the world is packed with far more serious ills. Most of all, though, I'm appalled by their antinomianism, better known as "trolling." Loudly saying disgusting things you probably don't even believe in order to enrage "Social Justice Warriors" further impedes the search for truth - and makes your targets look decent by comparison.

I'm disappointed and (somewhat) surprised by conservatives who think that it's appropriate to emulate the worst tactics of their opponents.

■ Not that it doesn't sometimes work the other way. Katherine Timpf reports on the progressive doin's at Gustavus Adolphus College: College ‘Diversity Council’ Admits to Posting Fake Racist Flyers On Campus. The College Fix has a Facebook post with an example:

Ms. Timpf comments:

Hey, kids? If you want to “help put an end to bias-related incidents that happen on our campus,” how about you address those incidents instead of distracting from them by making up a fake one? Seriously — just what is bringing awareness to a fake issue going to solve? It’s not going to help solve that issue, because — and sorry if I’m blowing your mind here — a problem has to actually exist in order for you to be able to solve it.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has a slightly different take: Torn down ‘Report Illegal Aliens’ posters at Gustavus Adolphus College turn out to be art installation criticizing anti-immigrant attitudes

The posters deployed by activists at Gustavus Adolphus aren’t imaginary or far-fetched; they’re duplicates of earnest posters being propagated at campuses across the country. Similar posters — which, unlike the Gustavus Adolphus posters, included the address of a white supremacist website — were recently removed by police at the University of Maryland. Others have been found at George Washington University.

FIRE goes on to note (however) the irony of Gustavus Adolphus administrators being pleased that (some) students tore down the signs and reported on the "hate speech" of their fellow students.

URLs du Jour

2017-03-23

■ Proverbs 28:17 has an interesting take on self-punishment:

Anyone tormented by the guilt of murder will seek refuge in the grave; let no one hold them back.

I am not sure how well this squares with the story of King David and Uriah the Hittite.

■ Daniel Payne of the Federalist has perhaps the least shocking news of the past few days: Cosmopolitan Doesn’t Understand How The Constitution Works.

Jill Filipovic’s latest essay at Cosmopolitan is like the Lernaean Hydra: it is almost impossible to know where or how to strike it, given its multi-headed absurdities. Every so often—really, quite often—there comes along a piece of political literature that is almost impossible to wrangle. Conceptually, factually, logically, aesthetically—everything about it is a total mess. This is what Filipovic has written and a number of Cosmo editors inexplicably, indefensibly green-lit.

Ms Filipovic's essay is entitled "9 Reasons Constitutional Originalism Is Bullsh*t", asterisk in the original. As the nice Hispanic lady at the health screening told me about my blood pressure: "Ees not good."

■ Another Gorsuch-related item: the Washington Free Beacon's Chandler Gill is (I hope) well-paid to watch CNN and report on stuff like this: CNN Analyst: Gorsuch ‘Knows so Much More About Everything He’s Being Asked Than the Senators’'

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Tuesday evening that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has a "tremendous advantage" in his confirmation hearing because he "knows so much more about everything he's being asked" than the senators posing him questions.

Well, who can expect senators to know about that Constitutional Law stuff? I mean, it's not as if they took an oath to support and defend… oh, wait a minute.

■ At Reason, A. Barton Hinkle notes that there's no Goldilocks Zone for folks opposed to fiscal sanity: Apparently Tax and Spending Cuts are Either Too Small or Too Big, but Never Just Right. Sample:

The combined budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, complained one critic in Slate, "total under $300 million, which is less than 0.01 percent of the total federal budget." The Washington Post took this tack as well. When White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the administration did not want to ask a coal miner or a single mom to pay for programs on the chopping block, the paper's fact-checker retorted with "A Coal Miner's Plight: Paying for Public Broadcasting Is Less Than a Dollar of His Taxes."

Although some cuts are trivial, others are so major that they condemn us to (as previously noted) "a world where the only infrastructure is megacities connected by Fury Roads".

■ Ben Shapiro, writing at NR: To Promise Free Things Is to Lie. A headline that should be posted above every politician's desk, at eye level.

Democratic politics is riven by a central conflict: the conflict between truth and desire. People generally want things; they want government to give them those things. Conservatives aren’t wrong when they say they can’t compete with Santa Claus — it’s far harder to draw voters to your side by telling them they won’t get something than by telling them that they’ll get real estate on the moon.

Shapiro doesn't exempt Trump and the Republicans. In fact, he specifically goes after them. Good for him.

■ Can't get that song out of your head? USA Today has news you can use: Here's how to get that song out of your head.

A  2016 study found pop songs and some classic rock standards often are big culprits. British researchers found instances of Involuntary Musical Imagery — aka earworms — are produced from songs with easy-to-remember melodies, fast tempos and repetition among other characteristics.  The study found three of the most common earworm-inducing songs were by Lady Gaga, but Katy Perry, Queen, KylIe Minogue and yes, Journey, also made the list.

I do not know any Lady Gaga songs. I'm old. For me, it's pretty much the drum solo from "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", all the time.

■ And this is Pun Salad, so let me try embedding the latest xkcd;

[Color Pattern]

I am also partial to the verse I learned many years ago:

When an eel rushes out,
And he bites off your snout,
That's a Moray

Moan. See you tomorrow.

Zika (and Carsey) Skepticism

I was moved to comment on this Granite Geek post from David Brooks ("No, the other one") of the Concord Monitor: Mistrust of scientists can hinder fight against Zika, says UNH study. I'll expand on my comment here.

Brooks begins:

As a confirmed skeptic, I agree that it’s a good take to not blanket accept the statements of others but to consider them and weigh evidence when it exists. That is not the same thing as saying “I never believe X, period” – that’s a stupidly superficial response.

Excellent attitude. Except then Brooks immediately proceeds to uncritically echo a new study emitted from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University Near Here.

What do you have to say about that, John Arnold?

Before we look at the study, let's note that the "Carsey School of Public Policy" is hardly an imprimatur of unbiased policy analysis. As we discussed back in November, the school's director, Michael Ettinger, sent (Wikileaked) mail to the Hillary Clinton campaign, offering to "be helpful from my perch" as director, and offered to connect the campaign with the "large population of influential and well-off progressives" in Portsmouth. [I'd speculate Ettinger had his eyes peeled for a plum job in the Hillary Clinton Administration, but such positions turned out to be only available in an alternative-fact universe.]

The Carsey school's benefactor, Marcy Carsey, is a reliably heavy contributor to Democratic Party causes and candidates. As is (to an appropriately smaller dollar figure) one of the study's authors, Lawrence Hamilton. Not that that necessarily means anything with respect to the study itself. But political bias has certainly been known to tilt what researchers, especially in social science, choose to study and the results they expect to get.

Maybe not in this case. But also: maybe.

Now that our skepticism detectors have been calibrated, lets move on to the "new study": The Zika Virus Threat. Subtitle: "How Concerns About Scientists May Undermine Efforts to Combat the Pandemic".

Well, there's another problem right there. A "pandemic" is something pretty dire. And (sure enough) you can find a lot of Google hits claiming that Zika might become a pandemic. They are notably, entirely from 2016. You'll find precious few claiming that Zika was (let alone is) a pandemic. The notable exception is a New England Journal of Medicine article from February 2016 from Drs. Anthony Fauci and David M. Morens of NIH, asserting "pandemic" status for Zika. The Carsey study treats this as definitive, and reflects the current state of affairs. But that's dubious.

Although definitions are fuzzy, the relevant Wikipedia article on Zika deems Zika an epidemic. Which is bad, but not as bad as a pandemic. Even more relevant, in the lead paragraph of the article, these two sentences are adjacent:

In January 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus was likely to spread throughout most of the Americas by the end of the year. In November 2016 WHO announced the end of the Zika epidemic.

Um. It's difficult to read that and avoid thinking that most of the fear-mongering and heavy breathing about Zika was, at best, overblown. And it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in pronouncements from "science".

That's not to say there are no reasons to be concerned and vigilant. Obviously it's a good idea to stomp on Zika until its danger to humans is minimized, assuming that's the most efficient use of scarce epidemiological resources. But how much trust can we put in the Carsey study when the headline recycles the panic-inciting yarns from last year as fact?

Moving on, because it gets worse. The Carsey study is entirely based on an October 2016 Granite State Poll, carried out by the UNH Survey Center. Around the same time, the Survey Center was also doing election polls. Their final polling, published two days before the election, contrasted poorly with reality:

  • In the Presidential race, the Survey Center predicted "51% for Clinton, 40% for Trump, 6% for Johnson, 1% for Stein and 2% for other candidates." The actual percentages were 48/47/4/1. They overestimated Hillary's winning margin by 10 percentage points.

  • In the Senate race, the prediction was "52% for [Democrat] Hassan, 47% for [Republican] Ayotte, and 1% for other candidates". Actual percentages: 48/48/4. An overstatement of the winning margin for the Democrat by 5 percentage points.

  • In the Governor's race, the prediction was "55% for [Democrat] Van Ostern, 44% for [Republican] Sununu, and 2% for other candidates" Actual percentages: 47/49/4, Sununu winning. A 13 percentage point miss here.

So there's every reason to take the roughly-contemporaneous polling here with more than a grain of salt.

Let's look at one of the polling questions:

Do you agree or disagree that scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want? If agree or disagree: Is that strongly or just somewhat?

The results:

Strongly agree 17%
Agree 26%
Neutral/Don't Know 13%
Disagree 20%
Strongly disagree 24%

How did the researchers report this?

Nearly one-half of New Hampshire residents agreed with the statement, “scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want.” These individuals were significantly less likely to trust the CDC as a source of information about Zika.

"Nearly one-half" is actually 43%. "Adjusted findings", indeed.

I think if I were asked this question, I'd respond something like this:

It's not that simple.

Scientists are human beings, and are therefore subject to bias, both conscious and unconscious. They have strong incentives to be seen as "productive", because that is the pathway to their professional success. There might be some saintly automatons out there that rise above these human failings, but it's a sight less than 100%.

So I would have to be a damn fool to think that these factors cannot sometimes cause some scientists to report "answers" that don't reflect reality and can't be reproduced. In fact, there have been studies done that show this is a huge issue in psychological research.

I'm not sure how that extends to other fields, but I'm relatively certain it does. Nor am I sure what you mean when you say "adjust their findings", but I think it skews what gets published.

I wonder how the Survey Center would pigeonhole that response? Probably as "Agree". Shoot me.

The study further concludes:

These results suggest that the erosion of trust in scientists not only affects highly politicized issues but may also undermine efforts to curb the spread of infectious disease and protect public health.

I'm pretty sure the Carsey researchers mean this to imply that the public should be less skeptical of "scientists". I'd argue that it indicates that scientists should make efforts toward being more trustworthy.

URLs du Jour

2017-03-21

■ What do you have for us today, Proverbs? What's that? 28:16?

A tyrannical ruler practices extortion, but one who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long reign.

Fine by me.

■ For some reason, I was irked by the reported comments of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the Gorsuch nomination: Feinstein: Constitution A 'Living Document;' 'Originalism... Very Troubling'. Apparently an accurate quote:

I firmly believe the American Constitution is a living document intended to evolve as our country evolves.

I (on the other hand) firmly believe (like Jonah Goldberg) that the only good Constitution is a dead Constitution. But we know that argument, and we expect DiFi to be on the other side. What really irked me was what she said next:

In 1789, the population of the United States was under four million. Today, we're 325 million and growing. At the time of our founding, African-Americans were enslaved. It was not so long after women had been burned at the stake for witchcraft, and the idea of an automobile, let alone the internet, was unfathomable.

OK, we know about slavery. But burning women at the stake for witchcraft?

The last time that happened in America was… well, never.

And the last American executions for witchcraft were in 1692. To say, as DiFi does, that the Constitution was written "not so long after" this is roughly like saying "Donald Trump became President not so long after the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees."

■ Megan McArdle asks and answers: Does the U.S. Overpay for Health Care? Not Really. And there's a Babe Ruth connection:

As with many political memes, its usefulness to policy wonks is inversely proportional to the weight that its casual proponents place on it. As stated, this meme is true enough: America does have higher health-care costs than anywhere else, and we do indeed have shorter life expectancies than some nations. But of course people are not introducing these facts as a fun bit of trivia, like “Babe Ruth used to wear a cabbage leaf under his baseball cap to keep cool.” What they are actually interested in communicating is the implication that America could switch to a single-payer health-care system and thereby enjoy longer life expectancies at lower cost. And that implication is considerably more dubious.

It's a good article to keep in your mental hip pocket when some tedious lefty trots out this tired meme.

■ Also offering a useful remedy to economic nonsense is (no surprise) Kevin D. Williamson at National Review: The Social Machine.

American factories are one of the wonders of the world, and, in spite of what President Donald Trump, Senator Bernie Sanders, and other lightly informed populists claim, they are humming. U.S. manufacturing output is about 68 percent higher today in real terms (meaning inflation-adjusted terms) than it was before NAFTA was enacted; manufacturing output is about double in real terms what it was in the 1980s and more than three times what it was in the 1950s. As our factories grow more efficient, output per man-hour has grown, too, which is what troubles the populists and demagogues: Our factories employ a much smaller share of the U.S. work force than they once did.

Also Star Trek and Pappy Van Winkle references. And one more quote: "The great sources of friction in our public life right now have to do mainly with a few areas in which abundance has not been allowed to emerge." You know what those are.

■ The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports depressing but unsurprising news: In anti-intellectual email, Wellesley profs call engaging with controversial arguments an imposition on students.

While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.”

This was apparently triggered by the appearance of Northwestern University Prof. Laura Kipnis who spoke at Wellesley for their (I am not making this up) "Censorship Awareness Week".

Prof Kipnis's reaction is quoted at the link. Priceless:

“I’m going to go further and say — as someone who’s been teaching for a long time, and wants to see my students able to function in the world post-graduation — that protecting students from the ‘distress’ of someone’s ideas isn’t education, it’s a $67,000 babysitting bill.”

■ Ann Althouse has your word for the day, and that word is "Opsimath". A state I aspire to.

URLs du Jour

2017-03-20

■ Pun Salad delivers your Proverb du Jour, 28:15:

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a helpless people.

Our Getty image today: not Donald J. Trump.

■ Trump doesn't resemble a roaring lion or a charging bear, and Kyle Smith at the NYPost argues Trump’s first two months prove he’s anything but a fascist. Because, this little thing called the Constitution. Kyle has a longer memory than your average progressive:

Remember when The New Yorker was running “Our Broken Constitution” (Dec. 9, 2013) and saying, “The compromises, misjudgments and failures of the men in Philadelphia haunt us still today.”? Remember “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution”? (New York Times op-ed, Dec. 30, 2012) and “Let’s Stop Pretending the Constitution is Sacred” (Salon, Jan. 4, 2011)?

Yes, that was back when progressives were cheering for Executive Overreach; the Presidency was in their hands, and they imagined it would be so forever.

■ Peter Suderman at Reason discovers that Republicans Are Trying to Embrace Obamacare’s Ideas Without Embracing Obamacare. And he adds: "It Won't Work."

Suderman looks, specifically, at the Rube Goldberg way the GOP plan tries to backdoor-mandate "coverage". He argues, convincingly, that the result will be worse than the Obamacare status quo, quite a feat.

The core problem for Republicans, and for the House health care bill, is that they are trying to replicate Obamacare's basic structure in a form that is somehow not Obamacare. It is not the same exact plan, but like Obamacare it relies on a system of insurance market subsidies and regulations, along with financial penalties for those who don't stay covered.

Obamacare was already a politically compromised piece of legislation with serious flaws and real uncertainty about its long-term stability. Republicans have decided to use an unstable version of its already-kludgy policy scheme for the individual market as a foundation for their own plan, buying into its essential ideas even as they claim to reject them.

As a geek, I approve Suderman's correct use of "kludgy".

■ Kevin D. Williamson reflects on Daniel Hannan's remarks at the recent "Ideas Summit" put on by the National Review Institute, and says some perceptive things about democracy, populism, and liberty: The Anglo-Americans.

But there was much that was said, honestly and in good faith, that left me increasingly convinced that the current expression of populism — Trump populism, in short — is simply incompatible with a politics based on property rights, individual liberty, and the traditional moral and social order and the hierarchies that sustain it. There is more to conservatism than free trade, but the argument for free trade contains within it practically the whole of conservative economic thinking and a great deal of conservative thinking beyond economics: facing reality, making choices, enduring the consequences, accepting tradeoffs, accepting responsibility. The right to trade is implicit in the right to own (and hence to control) property. A right to trade that exists at the sufferance of the sovereign is not an unalienable right with which we are endowed by our Creator. It is something else, and something less.

KDW's positions (which, 99.9% of the time, I share) are not "on the table" at this time. It's not quite accurate to say they're "unpopular", I think. It's more like they're being resolutely ignored by people who should know better.

■ Your Tweet du Jour:

■ And your Toon du Jour:

A Bad Plan Rots From The Head Down

URLs du Jour

2017-03-19

■ Proverbs 28:14 provides advice:

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

This is the New International Version. A number of other translations make that last word "calamity". Don't you prefer that?

■ At NR, Walter Olson finds another example of MSM fake news: Outrage on Wheels.

It made for great copy — irresistibly clickable and compulsively shareable. “Trump’s Budget Would Kill a Program That Feeds 2.4 Million Senior Citizens,” blared Time’s headline. “Trump Proposed Budget Eliminates Funds for Meals on Wheels,” claimed The Hill, in a piece that got 26,000 shares.

But it was false. And it wouldn’t have taken long for reporters to find and provide some needed context to the relationship between federal block grant programs, specifically Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and the popular Meals on Wheels program.

You might think the MSM would start worrying when the default sensible attitude toward their stories is skepticism-verging-on-disbelief.

■ At the WSJ, Tunku Varadarajan interviews Thomas Sowell: The Education of an American Sage. I especially liked this anecdote, from Mr. Sowell's early years in Harlem, up from dirt-poor North Carolina:

A family friend called Eddie—a boy roughly Mr. Sowell’s age—had taken it upon himself to help the callow little Southerner navigate his new metropolitan minefields. “I was assigned to a junior high school in a really very bad part of Harlem, and Eddie told me, ‘You don’t have to go there. You can ask to be sent to a different school.’ That’s what he’d done. And then I followed him to Stuyvesant”—a selective high school for smart kids. “He led me. If you take Eddie out of my life, there’s virtually no way I could have followed the same path that I did.”

This resonates with me. I'd always been "kinda" good at school, but fate dropped me at Lewis and Clark Junior High School in Omaha for 7th and 8th grades. The school had a high proportion of Jewish kids—I remember being surprised on the first Rosh Hashanah when about 60% of my classmates didn't show up—and it seemed that just about every one of them was smarter than I. That certainly prompted me to up my academic game a few notches. Like Sowell, my path would have been far different otherwise.

■ My LFOD Google Alert was triggered by a wonderful article about the coiner of that hallowed motto by Janice Webster Brown in New Hampshire magazine: John Stark: A Hero for His Time and Ours.

“Live free or die,” our dire ultimatum of a motto, is used so often these days that it’s nearly meaningless. We apply it to everything, with varying degrees of jocularity — no state income tax? Live free or die. Fireworks shops on backroads and liquor stores on highways? Live free or die. Today, the word hero is also tossed around with little regard to its actual meaning. Tom Brady and David Ortiz are New England sports gods, but heroes? Sorry, not even close. Heroism is putting your life on the line for a cause or for the sake of others. Around 200 years ago, when General John Stark wrote “live free or die,” he meant exactly what it said. And he lived his life accordingly.

Janice writes on Granite State history and genealogy at her Cow Hampshire blog, highly recommended.

■ Cold-hearted Virginia Postrel sheds no tears over the Death of the Shoe Salesman, Finally.

Macy’s recently said it would convert more shoe departments to an “open sell” format, where customers serve themselves from stacks of boxes. J.C. Penney is experimenting with the format. It’s the way sales have long worked at stores like DSW and TJX Co.’s Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx.

Bonus—if that's the word—Al Bundy clip at the link. (I never thought that guy was funny. Jay Pritchett is hilarious, though.)

■ At Minding the Campus, John Leo wonders: Crime But No Punishment at Middlebury?

Two weeks have passed since a student mob shouted down visiting lecturer Charles Murray at Middlebury College, injured a professor, and jumped up and down on Murray’s car. But college President Laurie Patton still hasn’t acted to deal with any of the perpetrators. The action necessary was laid out clearly and forcefully by Rod Dreher in the American Conservative: “Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. “

I'm not holding my breath. The University Near Here (in cooperation with Durham cops) did a better job with its Super Bowl vandals. But places like Middlebury seem hopeless. I'll let you know if future events prove me wrong, or right.

■ At HeatStreet, Ian Miles Cheong notes: Amy Schumer Blames Trump and the ‘Alt-Right’ for Bad Reviews.

Amy Schumer’s latest foray into comedy, a Netflix standup special titled ‘The Leather Special’, has failed to gain her many new fans, as bored viewers inundated it with thousands of bad reviews. Her fans really hate it, and they’ve been keen to voice their dislike. But Schumer blames those bad reviews on the “alt-right.” She also believes that Trump is out to get her.

For the record (not that it matters):

  1. I watched a couple episodes of Amy Schumer's skit show on Comedy Central, and thought she was funny and talented.
  2. Her politics are regrettable, but if I relentlessly boycotted every celebrity progressive, I'd find my viewing choices severely limited.
  3. I have no special problems with dirty female comedy. For example, I find Iliza Shlesinger's Neflix shows to be perceptive, hilarious, but undeniably filthy.
  4. But I watched the Schumer show mentioned above, and it was amazingly unfunny. I mean, I sat there for an hour without a chuckle or smile.
  5. Well, except for maybe ten minutes or so, because I nodded off a couple times. Because in addition to not being funny, it was also tediously boring.
  6. Readers will know that I'm neither "alt-right" nor a Trumpkin, just a guy who's relatively easy to amuse.

Sorry, Amy. To channel my inner Homer:

■ And finally—you might have wondered if I would ever get around to this—Dan McLaughlin, the Baseball Crank, saith RIP Chuck Berry, The Founding Father of Rock. You will find many obits and tributes to Mr. Berry, but I am pretty sure you will find none with as many YouTube clips of artists covering "Johnny B. Goode". Yes, even Michael J. Fox. Two, in fact.

More MSM News Fakery

Not the most earth-shattering story you'll hear about today, but illustrative.

As part of a "Friends of Ireland" luncheon the other day, President Trump made the following reference:

As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of that proverb -- and this is a good one, this is one I like; I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it -- “Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue. But never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.” We know that, politically speaking. A lot of us know that, we know it well. (Applause.) It’s a great phrase.

Legions of Trump-hating fact-checkers jumped to their Interweb terminals! And so we started seeing stories like [NBC News] Did Trump’s Irish Proverb Come From a Nigerian Muslim Poet?

But as viewers were quick to point out after Trump's meeting with [Ireland's Minister for Defence Taoiseach Enda] Kenny aired on MSNBC, a Google search for the proverb quickly leads to a longer poem posted online in January 2013 by a Nigerian Muslim bank manager named Albasheer Adam Alhassan.

Trump quoting a Nigerian Muslim as if he were Irish! LOL!

And … this is CNN: Trump's 'Irish proverb' appears to be a Nigerian poem

A few people sleuthing for the proverb online posted links to Alhassan's poem, which includes a similar stanza. His poem is featured on PoemHunter, a website that collects famous poems, as well as verses submitted by users. Alhassan submitted his poem in January 2013.

And even the Washington Post:

Across social media, many pointed out that a poem by Nigerian poet Albashir Adam Alhassan includes a similar stanza.

… and embedded a tweet for "proof":

But wait a minute. Doesn't this just scream "too good to check"?

Exactly. Local researcher Janice Webster Brown (no Trumpkin, she) actually did some research on the quote. And she took issue with (especially) CNN on Facebook:

She snipped out the 1936 occurrence:

I will only quibble with her "CNN is silly" comment. In fact, CNN is lazy, sloppy, and malicious. As are NBC, the Washington Post, and the many others jumping on this yarn with glee.

Even the left-leaning Politifact's skeptical Spidey-sense was triggered, although (predictably) they posed it as a Trump-debunk: Donald Trump's St. Patrick's Day 'Irish proverb' was probably not Irish

During the annual meeting between American and Irish leaders, Trump recited an Irish proverb that he said he’s "heard for many years."

"Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you," Trump said.

But the "Irish proverb" might not actually be Irish.

Well… nice try, Politifact. You might expect that Trump might quote an Irish proverb at the Irish-heavy gathering. You might plausibly suspect that Trump thought he was quoting an Irish proverb.

But in fact, (as the linked transcript and the video they provide show) Trump did not claim the proverb was Irish. Politifact was wrong to put "Irish proverb" in quotes they way they did, as if they were quoting something Trump said.

That's the bad news for Politifact. The good news is they go even farther in debunking the "Nigerian Muslim" provenance. They dig out another "poet" claiming the phrase ("JoAnne Tuttle, a Texas woman who included the poem, dated Feb. 9, 2003, in a collection titled Crystal Inspirations: Poems by JoAnne Tuttle").

And they dig out another 1936 source: a "1936 volume of the International Stereotypers' and Electrotypers' Union Journal." (Can't tell whether this is credited to Levi Furbush, or someone else.)

Bottom line: don't trust 'em.