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.

Ayn Rand Was Right About …

Well, Not Everthhing, But She Was Right About This

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

Here is Ayn Rand on the antitrust laws:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also of note:

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

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

    [Day 4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    For the record, my stats as of today:


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

Recently on the book blog:

[Amazon Img]

The Second Murderer

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also of note:

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

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

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

    Meanwhile, House Democrats are passing the popcorn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And after many, many people are quoted:

    Sununu did not respond to a request for comment.

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

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

Recently on the movie blog:

[Amazon Img]

Last Modified 2023-09-29 7:13 AM EDT

The Big Bus

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

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

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

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

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

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

Starring Lina Khan as Ursula

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

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

So let's get to it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Frankly, Pat Carroll had Lina beat.

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

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

    Sue the bastards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because It Upsets the Woke Narrative

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

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

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

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

And you won't believe what happened next!

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

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

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

Also of note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Modified 2023-09-27 3:57 PM EDT

Retro Pols

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also of note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel-Good Headline of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

Their strategy? Betting big against Khan.

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

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

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

Also of note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Well, do we?

Hobson's Choice Is No Choice At All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also of note:

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

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

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

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

    Yes: a dim view through a cloudy window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Modified 2023-09-24 10:33 AM EDT