URLs du Jour - 2014-10-21

Lots of good URLs today. Click through, Read The Whole Thing, hit back-arrow to come back, lather, rinse, repeat. You won't be sorry.

  • I hardly ever watch TV news, but a combination of factors led me to put on Fox News last night, and so I was treated to the video spectacle of the Keene (NH) Pumpkin Fest Lady Ruth Sterling trying to manhandle freelance reporter Jared Goodell. (Apparently she was objecting to his coverage of the weekend pumpkin rioting.)

    The Free Keene folks have put up a longer clip:

    Reason has more. Notably, Ms. Sterling demands to know if Mr. Goodell is a "Free Stater", apparently considering this a term of opprobrium for people who like the Free State Project. (Yes, even though our state's motto is "Live Free or Die".)

    What's with Keene anyway? It's the town that …

    • gave us State Rep Delmar Burridge, who responded to a constituent's request to favor a marijuana bill by cc:'ing "two members of the Keene Police Department in case you want to change your ways and act legal and save your friends.";

    • gave us State Rep Cynthia Chase who deemed the "Free Staters" to be "the single biggest threat the state is facing today" and encouraged people to let them know they "are not welcome here."

    • contains a local branch of the University System Near Here, Keene State, which sports a red light speech code rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (as does UNH);

    • and of course, their Police Department has a frickin' tank. (I'm not sure if that was called out over the weekend. I think Free Keene would have mentioned it if it had been.)

    Any way we could give Keene to Vermont, perhaps in exchange for two towns to be named later?

  • Jared Goodell (as near as I can tell) is on the fuzzy boundary between "Official Media Journalist" and "Some Dude With A Video Camera". That makes a natural lead-in for Nick Gillespie's interview at Spiked Online, where (among other things) he argues against the distinction.

    ‘In a good way’, [Gillespie tells the interviewer], ‘the press in America is not licensed or regulated, nor does it have to seek certification from the state before it’s allowed to do what it does. I think that’s extremely important because one of the pressing issues in the US, and I think elsewhere, is that the press has a seemingly different relationship to government, to state power, to corporate power, than mere citizens. And a lot of people push this as a positive thing. As a result we have press-shield laws so that reporters won’t be put in jail for refusing to name their sources. They have been given certain exemptions from legal process. And I think that’s very disturbing.’

    And [I'm sure my buddy Nick would agree] it goes the other way too: the Pumpkin Lady should not feel entitled to shove someone around just because he didn't show up in a van with a satellite dish.

  • This NYMag interview with Marc Andreessen is interesting and provocative all the way through. Andreessen identifies himself politically as a "[George] McGovern libertarian" almost guaranteeing that he is going to take a position that will irritate anyone at some point. Here's his response to complaints about the high-tech sector's alleged lack of diversity:

    […] I think the critique that Silicon Valley companies are deliberately, systematically discriminatory is incorrect, and there are two reasons to believe that that’s the case. No. 1, these companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then “white”: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures. To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions. Because of Pakistanis, we’re seeing a higher-than-ever proportion of Muslim employees in a lot of our companies.

    No. 2, our companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent. They’re like lying on the beach gasping because they can’t get enough talented people in for these jobs. The motivation to go find talent wherever it is is unbelievably high.

    According to Wikipedia, Andreesen voted for Obama in 2008, and Romney in 2012. So maybe we could put his politics in the "mugged by reality" category.

  • At Forbes, Rich Karlgaard highlights a recent paper that estimates the effects of US federal regulation to be "negative and substantial", shaving "about two percentage points on average over the period 1949-2005".

    That may not sound like much, but it adds up. For example: "GDP at the end of 2011 would have been $53.9 trillion instead of $15.1 trillion if regulation had remained at its 1949 level."

    Even if you cut the paper's guesstimate of regulation's cost in half, it would still making us significantly poorer, as Karlgaard details:

    • Per capita income would be $101,000, not $54,000.

    • Per capita wealth would be $480,000, not $260,000. It would probably be higher than that, since savings rates might be higher.

    • The U.S. would have no federal, state or municipal debts or deficits.

    • Pensions would be solid. So would Social Security.

    … and more.

    This isn't a particularly new observation. It's been over a century since Hugh Walpole advised: "Don't play for safety. It's the most dangerous thing in the world." In a more modern context, the obsession of minimizing risk at any cost has made us poorer and (hence) less safe.

  • And finally, a small humblebrag, somewhat outside the normal blog subject area: throwing caution to the winds, I recently installed the Fedora 21 Alpha Linux release on my home workstation.

    All went basically OK until they issued a 3.17 kernel update from the initial version 3.16. And my wireless card stopped working.

    Booting back to the 3.16 kernel got things working again. Still, wtf? I finally screwed up the courage to submit a bug report. And (good news) smarter people than I found and fixed the bug, and the fix will make it into Beta.

    So if you run Fedora 21 Beta, and use a wireless card with a Broadcom 4318 chipset, and it works, you can thank… well, you can mostly thank those good folks who maintain the Fedora kernel. But at least I kicked off the process.

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To See What Is Right, and Not To Do It, Is Want Of Courage Or Of Principle.

I read about this in a recent issue of National Review, but here's a straight news story:

The University of Chicago has suspended negotiations to renew its agreement to host a Confucius Institute after objecting to an unflattering article that appeared in the Chinese press. The decision follows a petition, signed by more than 100 faculty members this spring, calling for the closure of the institute. The petition raised concerns that in hosting the Chinese government-funded center for research and language teaching, Chicago was ceding control over faculty hiring, course content, and programming to Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing, which is also known as Hanban.

Since then, Penn State has dumped its Confucius Institute program. The American Association of University Professors has recommended "universities cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes unless the agreement between the university and Hanban is renegotiated". I'm slightly amazed that I find myself linking to an article in The Nation subheadlined:

Confucius Institutes censor political discussions and restrain the free exchange of ideas. Why, then, do American universities sponsor them?

But (as indicated above) it's not just left-wing AAUP/Nation types sounding the alarm. The "This Week" blurb in National Review cheering the Chicago decision, was even more straightforward: "Confucius Institutes are learning centers that are funded, staffed, and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party." (Yes, that's a bad thing.)

It's an unusual issue that unites National Review and The Nation.

Why am I interested? Because the University Near Here has a Confucius Institute too. I've heard nary a peep, pro or con, about it. We lead a sheltered life.

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Trophy Hunt

[Amazon Link]

This fourth entry in the Joe Pickett series is another well-written page-turner. (Read mostly on the iPad Kindle app so maybe I should have said: "well-written screen-swipe gesturer".)

While fishing with his daughters, game warden Joe makes a grisly discovery: a dead moose, seemingly mutilated with extreme care and expertise. An atmosphere of dread hangs over the scene

Maybe it's aliens, and the Joe Pickett series is about to take a turn into 1930's style science fiction? Not really.

But the mutilated corpses continue to pile up, including a couple of humans, and that broadens the investigation beyond Joe's employer, Wyoming Game & Fish. Joe's old nemesis, the corrupt Sheriff Barnum, is brought in, as is the FBI agent from the previous book, who also dislikes Joe.

Joe has no special expertise in detective work, but he's dogged, diligent, and motivated. There are a lot of twists and a semi-ambiguous ending that flirts with semi-supernatural James Lee Burke-style explication.

C.J. Box (once again) brings Joe's family into the mix, and does a fine job of giving Joe's wife and daughters unique and interesting character traits. From the past entries in the series, we know that Box isn't shy about visiting danger and tragedy upon the Picketts. This makes reading Box an excercise in trepidation. We're pretty sure Joe's going to make it to the end, but who knows about anyone else?

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Muppets Most Wanted

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A nice little Muppets movie. Lots of cameos.

The plot kicks off at the end of the previous movie; the Muppets reunited after many years. (As Kermit would say: Yaayyyy!) But what do they do next? Instead of following Kermit's wise counsel to take it slow and hone their craft, the rest of the gang gets taken in by the shrewd conniving "Dominic Badguy" (Ricky Gervais) and go on a world tour.

But—little do they suspect—Dominic is the co-conspirator of Constantine, the most dangerous frog in the world, recently escaped from a Siberian gulag. (Apparently they still have those.) Constantine bears a close resemblance to Kermit, and before you can say "I bet I know what's going to happen next", Constantine has taken Kermit's place and Kermit has been hauled off to Siberia by Gulag warden "Nadya" (Tina Fey).

So while Dominic and Constantine use the Muppet tour as cover for a series of brazen heists, Kermit attempts to deal with his new life as a Zek. (His fellow inmates include Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, Tom Hiddleston; Stanley Tucci plays a guard.) As you might expect, hijinks ensue.

There's some funny stuff, and (darn it) I like these guys. So, while it lacks the inspired lunacy of Jim Henson, I still had a decent time.

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URLs du Jour — 2014-10-16

  • Reason is an equal-opportunity offender when it comes to the major political parties:

    I hear you saying: only four each? It's a graphic, so they probably had space limitations.

  • But it's not just the Dems and Reps. Ellen Carmichael notes the "Freedom Socialist Party" in Seattle, which supports a $15/hour minimum wage, is looking for a Web Content Manager, and offering… $13/hour.

  • You might be surprised at the tastelessness of some of the Getty Images you get when searching for "shit". Today's embedded image is one of the less objectionable.

  • Kevin Williamson has an unusually good knack of piercing through delusion, euphemism, and cant. A recent example is his brief refutation of an assertion in a Slate review of a pro-abortion book. The reviewer, Hannah Rosin, notes only 7-20% of Americans want to "totally ban abortion", so why is it still an issue politicians tiptoe around?

    The number of people who wish to ban abortion in all instances is not small; it amounts to, as Rosin notes, about one in five Americans. The flip-side proposition is held by about one in four Americans — until you start talking specifics, in which case it falls down to about one in ten. The majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in some cases, but they also support significant restrictions beyond those currently enacted in law. The actual “absolutism” — the unrestricted abortion license through the third trimester — is in fact a distinctly minority inclination, held by about 10 percent of the population.

    Read the whole thing. It's short.

  • Your Tweet du Jour:

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URLs du Jour — 2014-10-15

  • At Reason, Robby Soave analyzes Ezra Klein's advocacy of California's "Yes Means Yes" law. (Which is also being proposed in New Hampshire.)

    One hint that it's worth analysis: Klein says it's "a terrible law, and I completely support it." Wha?

    So there's obviously some politician's fallacy at work between young Ezra's ears. ("We must do something; this is something; therefore we must do this.")

    But more important is young Ezra's reliance on panic-inducing, yet dubious, evidence for the fallacy's major premise. Wny must something be done? Because "one in five women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault while in college". Comments Robby:

    […], the 1-in-5 statistic is hotly contested, as Klein surely knows. (See The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow and American Enterprise Institute's Christina Hoff Sommers for thorough debunking.) That statistic was produced by a survey of just two colleges; the survey had a high non-response rate, and critics contend that victims of sexual assault were more likely to respond in the first place, skewing the results. The 1-in-5 statistic is also out of whack with national figures: just 1.3 in 1,000 people age 12 and up are victims of sexual assault nationwide, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Why, one might suspect that the actual purpose of "Yes Means Yes" is not to make women safer. Maybe it's simply to increase government power?

    Or it could be the "progressive" side of "boob bait for the bubbas", Daniel Moynihan's term for demagogic legislation designed to jerk the knees of low-information voters?

    Hey, no reason it can't be both!

    [Also see Taranto's Best of the Web Today if you can.]

  • In related news, 28 members of the Harvard Law School Faculty issued a statement about Harvard's new sexual harassment policy:

    As teachers responsible for educating our students about due process of law, the substantive law governing discrimination and violence, appropriate administrative decision-making, and the rule of law generally, we find the new sexual harassment policy inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach. We also find the process by which this policy was decided and imposed on all parts of the university inconsistent with the finest traditions of Harvard University, of faculty governance, and of academic freedom.

    Very bad. And it's coming to an institution of higher education near you.

  • Today's embedded Getty image, by the way, is one of the results when you search their site for "yes means yes". I don't know what the connection is, but I couldn't resist. Sorry.

  • Numerous people are pointing out the subpoenas issued by the City of Houston Texas to a number of conservative Houston preachers, demanding (among other things) transcripts of any sermons given referring to (among other things) the city's mayor. Conservatives are upset about a recent ordinance that prohibits public businesses from denying "transgendered" customers access to the restroom corresponding to their transgender.

    Matt K. Lewis asks the relevant question: shouldn't liberals defend religious liberty?

    Could it be that all this talk about tolerating diverse viewpoints and opinions was merely a political tactic employed by the left — just so long as their viewpoints were out of political power and out of touch with mainstream opinion?

    Yes, it could. Matt also wonders where the heck the ACLU is.

  • Glenn Kessler awards a coveted Four Pinocchios to the claim that we'd have an Ebola vaccine now if it weren't for those pesky Republicans.

    Obama’s Republican predecessor oversaw big increases in public-health sector spending, and both Democrats and Republicans in recent years have broadly supported efforts to rein in federal spending. Sequestration resulted from a bipartisan agreement. In some years, Congress has allocated more money for NIH and CDC than the Obama administration requested. Meanwhile, contrary to the suggestion of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] ad, there never was a specific vote on funding to prevent Ebola.

    Related is Michelle Malkin's column at NR, concentrating on the CDC, perhaps best summarized in the subtitle: "What does $7 billion buy us? A power-hungry busybody brigade of politicized blame-mongers."

    Kessler points out that the CDC also gets about $4 billion in mandatory fees.

    Also, they were totally worthless against the Walking Dead.

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URLs du Jour — 2014-10-13

  • Nick Gillespie does a fine job of shooting down a developing attack on the GOP. A group deploying ads in states with close electoral races is unsubtly titled "Republican Cuts Kill", blaming GOP efforts to constrain Federal spending (weak as they are) for lack of an Ebola vaccine. A desperate, dishonest, despicable charge.

    I can understand why Democrats are trying to turn the Ebola outbreak here and abroad into a campaign issue. But that sort of gambit is more likely to draw attention to the failure and incompetency of public health bureaucrats here and abroad. That's probably not good for Democrats, given that the[y] run the White House and the agencies in question.

    An article of faith in the Progressive religion is that all major problems can be "solved" by putting more money and power in government hands. Which leads to the obvious logical corollaries:

    • When problems occur, it's because government didn't have enough money and power.

    • Anyone not in favor of giving the government more money and power is a vile—nay, heretical—person, in favor of problems.

    QED, in the Progressive mindset.

  • Kevin D. Williamson reviews Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, as recently performed in Central Park. Sample:

    To say that The Winter’s Tale is the worst thing I ever have seen staged would be an understatement. It represents nothing less than the complete abandonment of artistic and intellectual standards—to say nothing of self-respect—and what may as well be the last word in the degradation of theater and its reduction into a branch of politics. Every professional involved with this supine display of sycophancy should, after a thorough examination of conscience, go into retirement, or else be forcibly driven to it. No reputation should survive.

    I encourage you to read the entire review, because it is a hoot. Big Bird shows up.

  • Ever wonder what it's like to carry your Nobel Prize through airport security? Yeah, probably not, but you can nevertheless find out the answer in "What It’s Like to Carry Your Nobel Prize through Airport Security".

    The punchline comes at the end of the article, and I won't spoil it.

  • And your tweet du jour:

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Jeanne Shaheen, Corporate Welfare Queen

[A letter sent to my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat.]

A recent letter in Foster's by Sean O’Kane sings the praises of the "Travel Promotion Act" (TPA). He lauds Senator Jeanne Shaheen for supporting it, and excoriates then-Senator Scott Brown for voting against it back in 2010. Mr. O'Kane's cheerleading for the TPA should not go unchallenged.

The TPA subsidizes the private tourism industry by imposing a new "Mickey Mouse tax" on some foreign visitors to the US. It's not surprising that the tourism industry, at least the part of it that's politically well-connected, is largely in favor of this handout. (The major driving force behind the bill was Nevada Senator Harry Reid, with the enthusiastic backing of Vegas casinos, the Disney Corporation, etc.) The hand-waving assurances that the benefits will eventually "trickle down" to the rest of us are dubious at best.

Is the TPA, as claimed, vital to the American tourism industry? This doesn't pass a simple credibility check: TPA has only existed for a few years, and somehow the tourism industry managed to get along without it for the previous couple of centuries.

If travel promotion has the massive benefits that Mr. O'Kane alleges, certainly it could and should be carried by out by the private tourism industry itself. The Federal Government has no magical powers in this field, other than extracting extra fees from foreign travelers and funneling the money to the TPA slush fund. The "success" of the TPA will simply lead to more and more industries lining up to get their similar government largesse.

O'Kane paints the opposition to TPA as the product of scary "far-right, extreme political organizations". These organizations are easy enough to track down, and include the Heritage Foundation and the Club For Growth. Mud-slinging labels aside, there's nothing particularly scary about them, except that they consistently oppose corporate welfare programs like TPA. Apparently that's a right-wing position these days.

In its brief life, the TPA has behaved poorly, even by government standards. A report authored by Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint found a "history of questionable expenditures, lavish spending, inappropriate lobbying activity and corporate cronyism" at the "Brand USA" corporation established by the TPA legislation. A lavish party held at the British Maritime Museum for "560 VIP guests" cost hundreds of thousands; a luxury-suite bash at a Washington Nationals ballgame cost thousands more. (I wasn't invited, were you?) In order to extract "matching funds" from the US Treasury, board members charged their "volunteer" time ($258 per hour), first-class airplane fares, private car services, and more. Even though the TPA legislation banned lobbying activities by Brand USA, the corporation went ahead and bought themselves a Patton Boggs lobbyist anyway.

Unsurprisingly, the Brand USA Board of Directors was found to be stuffed with "heavy contributors to President Obama and Democratic campaigns."

There are more direct ways the Federal Government could promote tourism to the US, mainly by getting out of the way: making visa and customs processes easier, consistent with maintaining security requirements. This would, however, not be something that allows politicians to easily dole out Federal goodies to their corporate buddies/contributors. If Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen are truly on opposite sides of this issue, it's a good reason to vote for Brown.

Last Modified 2014-10-13 12:18 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2014-10-10

  • Must read for all Chandlerphiles: "Philip Marlowe Attends a Court-Mandated Women’s Studies Workshop"

    The air in Silver Lake was a fresh as a drunkard’s breath on Sunday morning. I drove until I found the place, a YMCA with a façade that had last been scrubbed during the Eisenhower administration. I parked next to a green sedan with a COEXIST sticker on the bumper. Yeah, this was the place.

  • I am fully prepared to believe that Gwyneth Paltrow is the greatest actress alive. Because I've seen her play movie characters with intelligence and wit. Yet, it's increasingly clear that the space between her ears is mostly twigs, bits of string, and loose screws.

    On Thursday, Oscar winning Actress Gwyneth Paltrow concluded her introductory remarks about President Obama at a star studded fundraiser held in the backyard of her upscale Brentwood home in Los Angeles, saying that she was turning the microphone over to him because “you’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly.”

    Paltrow’s adoration of the President was palpable, according to a press pool report. She told Obama that “I am one of your biggest fans, if not the biggest… It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man all of the power that he needs to pass the things that he needs to pass” she said.

  • Reason's five most anti-libertarian TV shows ever!:

    … includes two of my favorites (I'll let you guess which ones), but I can see their point even there.

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A Long Walk Up the Waterslide

[Amazon Link]

This is (so far) the penultimate book in Don Winslow's Neal Carey series. My take on the previous entries in the series: here, here, and here. They're all fine reading; although seemingly out of print, they're available and inexpensive for Kindle.

In this installment, Neal is living in Austin, Nevada with the local schoolmarm, with whom he became enraptured in the previous book. He's on a well-deserved hiatus from doing odd (but always dangerous) jobs for Friends of the Family, a mysterious Rhode Island bank that caters to its ultrarich clientele. Neal's mentor, the one-armed Joe Graham, appears with an (apparently) non-dangerous but extremely odd job: the family-oriented broadcasting empire of Jack Landis and wife Candy is threatened by the accusations of trashy bimbo Polly Paget. She claims that, after a sordid affair with Jack, she tried to break up with him and was raped. (Think: Jim Bakker, Tammy Faye, and Jessica Hahn.)

Landis's partner, who is a client of Friends, sees Polly as a lever to take control of the lucrative Landis empire. Only problem is that Polly's heavy New Jersey diction and her scrambled bimbo brain make her completely non-credible. So she's gone into hiding, and Neal's task is to be Henry Higgins: smooth off Polly's rough edges and get her ready for a media circus.

But there are a couple problems there too: the minor one is that a sleazy skin-mag publisher wants Polly to appear in his publication en déshabillé (as one of the characters puts it) and hires a has-been alcoholic detective to track her down. The major problem: mobster Joey Beans wants Polly dead (for initially unexplained reasons) and hires a mysterious assassin nicknamed "Overtime" to do the deed.

All these people find it ridiculously easy to track down Polly in Austin, and Neal's job suddenly gets a lot more complex and dangerous.

This is a much lighter entry in the series than its predecessors. Winslow shows that he can be the equal of Carl Hiaasen or the late Donald Westlake in the hard-boiled comic crime fiction sub-genre; it's laugh-out-loud, read-to-your-wife hilarious in spots.

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