URLs du Jour

2018-09-23

[Amazon Link]

  • The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy is a local think tank focusing on local issues. It believes in "individual freedom and responsibility, limited and accountable government, and an appreciation of the role of the free enterprise system." One minor irritant was its weekly mail, currently being written by Drew Cline. It was routinely informative and insightful and there was no good way to share it.

    Well, good news: they've started putting it on the web, too. (Welcome to 2001, guys!) There's too much to keep up with, but here's a sample, on current efforts to raise NH's minimum wage to $15/hr: The minimum wage is virtue signaling.

    Laws are expressions of moral values. Markets are expressions of economic values (mostly). Even when markets are pushing pay rates higher, people who view the world a certain way find this unacceptable precisely because it does not come from a moral directive.

    For the conspicuously virtuous, everything all the time has to be an expression of moral values. Markets don’t operate that way. They consider tradeoffs, which the conspicuously virtuous rarely do. Everything is black and white, good or bad.

    So even if markets are driving wages higher, society must act collectively to mandate that wages never fall below whatever the virtuous wage floor of the moment is. Refusal to pass such a mandate is considered a society-wide moral failure.

    Or to put it in the contemporary vernacular, minimum wages are virtue signaling.

    And advocates don't particularly care about the people who would lose their jobs (or never be hired in the first place) with an increased minimum wage.


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week is relatively short but also (as usual) insightful: The Zero-Sum Thinking Behind Group Rights. Taking off on this tweet from a semi-famous "comedian":

    I think it's obvious that Whitney Cummings hasn't been scared for six thousand years. Take it, Jonah:

    I find the concept of historic grievances fascinating. There is something very “sticky,” in an evolutionary sense, to the idea of getting payback for the crimes committed against your ancestors. If you find this to be an astonishingly novel insight, here’s a list of history books you should read: all of them.

    The human — never mind the Hebrew — in me can relate to some of this (Damn Jebusites, you haven’t suffered nearly enough!). But a Jew born in, say, 1980 shouldn’t have any hate in his heart for a German born the same year, never mind an Egyptian. A German born four decades after the Holocaust isn’t responsible for the Holocaust any more than an Egyptian today is responsible for Hebrew bondage millennia ago.

    Bottom line: Group rights are dangerous garbage, justifying atrocious and unjust behavior. And for a specific example…


  • Andrew Klavan at the Daily Wire: Due Process Trumps #MeToo.

    So much is disturbing about the Brett Kavanaugh fracas. The cynical political use of a wholly unverifiable charge to tarnish the reputation of an admired and accomplished man is disgusting. The idea that the party that rallied around “Lion of the Senate” Ted Kennedy and alleged rapist Bill Clinton now has the authority to lecture us on how to treat women is galling in its hypocrisy. And, as always, the one-sided and unfair reporting by the mainstream media is not just infuriating but also crippling to our national conversation.

    But for all that, what strikes me as most dangerous about this Democrat-made fiasco is the phenomenon of leftist feminist women using their suddenly sacred feminine sensitivities to try to bully us out of our commitment to due process.

    Or…


  • As Michael Ramirez expresses it pictorially:

    Assault on Justice

    More, and almost certainly worse, tomorrow.

Leonardo da Vinci

[Amazon Link]

I got this book on the recommendation of none other than Bill Gates, who put it on his "5 books worth reading this summer". (And—ha—I finished it yesterday, just a few hours before the Autumnal Equinox.) It's one of those rare occasions where the University Near Here library owns it and it hadn't been checked out until April 2019 by some book-hoarding faculty member.

(Don't get me started… oh, wait, I guess I did start. I'll stop now.)

The book is by Walter Isaacson, previously the author of books on Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. Isaacson is a polished writer of popular non-fiction, and this reads smoothly. Another factor was my near-total ignorance of the details of Leonardo's life. ("He was… Italian, right?") So just about everything was new and interesting to me. The book is lavishly illustrated with color reproductions of a number of Leonardo's paintings, drawings, and excerpts from his notebooks. There's a lot of analysis and interpretation of Leonardo's works. (And, since I'm totally ignorant about such things, they may even be insightful and correct, what do I know?)

What struck me most was the confluence of factors that made Leonardo into the figure we know today. Okay, fine, he was blessed with a high raw intelligence. But other features of his personality played a vital role as well: his curiosity was turned up to eleven; his powers of patient observation were unmatched; he was an utter perfectionist. (One of the things I didn't know: Mona Lisa is, technically, an unfinished painting; Leonardo worked on it for years, and it was in his possession when he died.)

Leonardo was also gay, people of his time were well aware. Also illegitimate, and who knows what role these factors played in his life trajectory?

Also vital were the time and place: Renaissance Italy. Full of prosperous merchants and rulers who had nothing better to do with their wealth than to patronize artistic and engineering genius. Portraits needed painting, churches needed decorating, armies needed innovative weaponry, … Outside of that environment, Leonardo would have become what? A notary, like his dad?

Also interesting was Leonardo's interactions with other famous folk. He had some dealings with Michaelangelo–they didn't get along. He spent some time in the employ of the notorious Cesare Borgia, a very nasty guy, but that didn't seem to scruple him much. While there, he hung around with Machiavelli, too.

Bottom line: interesting and readable. Somewhat distracting was Isaacson's occasional comparisons of Leonardo with Steve Jobs. (Page 353: "Innovation requires a reality distortion field." Really? I guess, maybe, I wouldn't know.)

URLs du Jour

2018-09-22

[Amazon Link]

  • Bad news: Jonah Goldberg's first draft of Suicide of the West (our Amazon Product du Jour, which you should buy) was too long for the publisher, so he cut out some stuff. Good news (for us): the cut material will be recycled, where possible. Our first example is at Commentary: Socialism Is So Hot Right Now.

    It's very smart, RTWT, here's a sample, on the nailing-jelly-to-a-tree difficulty socialists have in even defining socialism:

    In a piece called “It’s Time to Reclaim ‘Socialism’ from the Dirty-Word Category,” the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Bruenig says, “Clarifying exactly what ‘socialism’ means once and for all likely won’t happen anytime soon.” One common tactic is to point to countries that liberals like and dub them real-world models of socialism. Thus Scandinavian countries with generous social safety nets become the real-world proof that socialism works. Others will just point to government-run programs or institutions—national parks, the VA, whatever—and say “socialism!” (What about Venezuela? “Shut up,” they explain.)

    Corey Robin, in a New York Times op-ed, acknowledges that definitions have always been a burden for American socialists. He notes that the best definition Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, editors of the socialist journal Dissent, could come up with in 1954 was “socialism is the name of our desire.” The “true vision” of socialism, Robin says, is simply “freedom.” Robin objects to the way we must enter the market in order to live—since we need to work if we are to eat. “The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor,” he writes. “It’s that it makes us unfree.” If you can get past the utopianism—where in the world has it ever been true that most people did not need to work in order to live? How do you create a society where work is optional?—there’s much to admire about the honesty of this definition.

    The primary problem, as Jonah develops, is that socialism is all about the feels, no matter how some socialists prattle on about how scientifically objective they're being.


  • At NR, Michael W. Schwartz has an excellent idea: Censure Dianne Feinstein

    Regardless of the fate of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, the Senate should censure the ranking Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein. Her deception and maneuvering, condemned across the political spectrum, seriously interfered with the Senate’s performance of its constitutional duty to review judicial nominations, and unquestionably has brought the Senate into “dishonor and disrepute,” the standard that governs these matters. As a matter of institutional integrity, the Senate cannot let this wrong go unaddressed.

    Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution provides that each House of the Congress may “punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour.” Nine times in American history the Senate has used that power to censure one of its members. Feinstein has richly earned the right to join this inglorious company.

    They did it to Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy, should be a no brainer for Di-Fi.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie writes on Partisan Hackery, Supreme Court Confirmations, and the Decline of Public Trust.

    Virtually everyone acknowledges that given the nature of the accusations and the passage of time it may be impossible to ever know the truth of exactly what happened in that Bethesda bedroom so many years ago. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who basically brought the charges to public view, admits as much. People of good faith can disagree about what should come next. But politics, especially in D.C. and especially when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, are rarely conducted in good faith. An astonishing set of statements makes that clear.

    National Review's Ed Whelan comes in for some well-deserved bashing, as does DiFi (if you needed any additional information about her perfidy).


  • Bryan Caplan weighs in on the latest brouhaha concerning a George Mason University econ prof (Robin Hanson). His message to Robin's critics: You Don't Understand Our Culture. A "for starters" list of ten items on which GMU econ culture differs from "mainstream intellectual culture", I especially liked:

    1. Hyperbole is the worst thing in the universe.  Most problems and effects are marginal.  If you’re really certain that X, you should happily bet at 1000:1 odds.

    That goes into our sub-headline rotation.


  • Kai von Fintel at Language Log is amused by some Massachusetts yard signs for the upcoming election: Nurses say yes and no. Examples:

    [nurses say yes!][nurses say no!]

    The linguistical spin:

    Now, inquiring minds might wonder: what is it, do nurses say yes or do they say no?

    The grammatical construction used by the signs is known in linguistics as a “bare plural”. The plural is “bare” in that it doesn’t come with any determiners or quantifiers (such as “most nurses”, “some nurses”, and so on).

    We pretty much stay out of that state, but we do get their TV commercials. A lot of money is being dropped by both sides. Which means, I assume, that a lot of money is riding, one way or 'tother, on the vote's outcome.

    Which brings me to the essential phony dishonesty of the campaign: neither side bothers to say: "Oh, by the way, this is going to mean more money in my pocket."

    Which reminds me of why I'm so unconcerned about Russians buying "fake" political Facebook ads: they couldn't possibly be any less honest than the ones we Americans come up with on our own.


  • I'm old enough to remember when Science was pretty staid, failing to resort to clickbait headlines. Those times are gone, as its website discusses a paper that proposes a "Minimal Turing Test" consisting of… Want to convince someone that you’re human? This one word could do the trick.

    Suppose you and a humanoid robot stood before a judge who planned to kill the nonhuman. What would you say to prove you’re the real deal?

    Researchers asked 1000 online participants to imagine that scenario. Volunteers came up with words like “love,” “mercy,” and “banana”—perhaps thinking that a machine wouldn’t have use for such verbiage. The scientists then paired the most popular words together and asked 2000 online participants to guess which of the two came from a human and which from a robot (even though they both came from humans).

    That's two paragraphs from the magazine's three-paragraph blurb, so you'll have to click over to know what that word is.

    (Of course, now the AIs know that secret word, …)

URLs du Jour

2018-09-21

[Amazon Link]

Boy, this Kavanaugh drama is a giant weather balloon being inflated in the too-small space of punditry: everything else is getting squeezed out.

Worse yet, all the takes are pretty much the same (and pretty much predictable).

So we'll point to a couple of those that seem least tribal, and then scout around for something else of interest… anything else of interest. Please.

  • At Reason, Robby Soave has a balanced take: From 'Believe All Victims' to 'Who Cares If It’s True,' the Brett Kavanaugh Accusation Has Produced Shameful Certainty.

    Right now, no one can say for sure that Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford at a house party 35 years ago. But neither should anyone be certain it didn't happen.

    A lot of people nevertheless seem completely convinced, one way or the other. Quite coincidentally, their conviction that Kavanaugh has been slandered, or that Kavanaugh is a sexual predator, seems to line up perfectly with whether they oppose or support Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. If you like the guy, you know he's innocent, or that it doesn't matter. If you fear he will provide a decisive vote against abortion rights, you know he's guilty. Fence sitters are betraying women everywhere, according to the left, or are letting the Democrats pull off a con, according to the right.

    Upfront, I'll admit I'm in Robby's "he's been slandered" camp. But I'm not "shamefully certain" about that. It's just the way I'd bet. If I were betting. Which I am not.


  • Baseball Crank Dan McLaughlin, at National Review, has a characteristically thoughtful take: In Evaluating Credibility, the Signs Point in Brett Kavanaugh’s Favor.

    It’s always a good idea, in politics, to evaluate accusations against your friends as if they were made against your enemies, and to evaluate accusations against your enemies as if they were made against your friends. That doesn’t mean you never give your friends some benefit of the doubt, but it does mean you should have some general principles and guideposts for making sense of charges and counter-charges that don’t change based on the R or D after the names. Or better still, ask, “How would I evaluate an explosive allegation if I had no dog in the fight?” Try doing that with the allegation by Palo Alto University psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that Judge Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high-school party in or about 1982, when Kavanaugh was 17 and Ford was 15.

    There are two unfair and irrational ways to look at this allegation. One, of course, is simply to decide that because you already opposed or supported Kavanaugh, that should determine whether you think the charge is true (or useful). That’s the partisan route, and it treats individuals caught up in political fights as fungible and disposable parts.

    What I think, if you care: it's a similar trajectory to the Rolling Stone "A Rape on Campus" story. A small yarn, told initially to a small circle, meant to garner sympathetic attention. Then expanding into public view, and the fabricator can't back down, may even have talked herself into believing it.

    Just a guess. Could be wrong.


  • At the Atlantic, Bianca Bosker writes on The Nastiest Feud in Science. Woah, that's a high bar to clear! Is it climate change? Something to do with transgenderism?

    Nope. It's dinosaur extinction! The spat pits most paleontologists against a 73-year-old Princeton prof, Gerta Keller. She thinks the dinosaurs were wiped out by volcanic eruptions, while most others think it was an asteroid hitting the Yucatan peninsula.

    While the majority of her peers embraced the Chicxulub asteroid as the cause of the extinction, Keller remained a maligned and, until recently, lonely voice contesting it. She argues that the mass extinction was caused not by a wrong-place-wrong-time asteroid collision but by a series of colossal volcanic eruptions in a part of western India known as the Deccan Traps—a theory that was first proposed in 1978 and then abandoned by all but a small number of scientists. Her research, undertaken with specialists around the world and featured in leading scientific journals, has forced other scientists to take a second look at their data. “Gerta uncovered many things through the years that just don’t sit with the nice, simple impact story that Alvarez put together,” Andrew Kerr, a geochemist at Cardiff University, told me. “She’s made people think about a previously near-uniformly accepted model.”

    Keller’s resistance has put her at the core of one of the most rancorous and longest-running controversies in science. “It’s like the Thirty Years’ War,” says Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Impacters’ case-closed confidence belies decades of vicious infighting, with the two sides trading accusations of slander, sabotage, threats, discrimination, spurious data, and attempts to torpedo careers. “I’ve never come across anything that’s been so acrimonious,” Kerr says. “I’m almost speechless because of it.” Keller keeps a running list of insults that other scientists have hurled at her, either behind her back or to her face. She says she’s been called a “bitch” and “the most dangerous woman in the world,” who “should be stoned and burned at the stake.”

    I am pretty sure there's credible evidence that Brett Kavanaugh killed all the dinosaurs. I'm not willing to testify to that before the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, unless I get assurances of fair and safe treatment.


  • Katherine Timpf points out an unintentionally funny column in the Dartmouth student newspaper by Steven Chun: The Problem with ‘Problematic’

    “Yeah, I can’t believe they did that. It’s so…”

    There’s a pause before it comes, an interminable breath where the speaker contemplates the identification of the issue at hand. Then it gushes forth, bringing relief from weltschmerz.

    “…problematic.”

    That pause is everything. It is the start of a long and difficult process of reckoning with exactly why something about the world is wrong. The word problematic cuts that process short and gives people a way out, easing the burden of identifying exactly what about the state of the word gives people unease.

    Steven's implicit assumption is that every perceived violation of PC rules ("racism, sexism, ableism, twisted power dynamics, ignorance, discrimination, injustice and the intersection of every one of those evils") simply must be broken down and analyzed into its component pieces. Every time, and as soon and completely as possible.

    Like there's a shortage of tedious discussion of "oppressive" language and actions on the Dartmouth campus these days? If Steven's demands were taken at face value, would anybody be talking about anything else at all?

    Anyway, Steven wants more. Humor him, please.


URLs du Jour

2018-09-20

[Amazon Link]

  • The WSJ editorialists write sagely on Politicizing the FBI. Probably paywalled, but an excerpt:

    Under the Constitution, the Senate is the ultimate judge of the fitness of a nominee appointed by the President. In this case Senators must assess whether they think Ms. Ford’s allegations are credible enough to disqualify Judge Kavanaugh. The Senate can’t abdicate that task to the FBI, much less order an executive branch agency to do its own advising and consenting.

    Chairman Chuck Grassley has established a process under which the Senators and their staff can ask the two parties directly about the events, judge their credibility, and then decide how to vote. This is the essence of political accountability.

    Both my state's senators have already announced their plans to vote no on Kavanaugh's confirmation. That doesn't stop them from demanding that the Senate outsource its judgment to the FBI.


  • At NR, David French has a modest proposal: Make Sex Crimes Criminal Again.

    But here’s the strange thing. Even as the culture began to wake up to the sheer scale of the problem, important institutions responded by essentially decriminalizing crime. We took some of the worst crimes in the criminal-justice system — not just rape but also sexual assault — and urged women to avoid the law entirely. From campus to the workplace to the military, institutions constructed parallel tracks of “adjudication” of terrible allegations — imposing consequences without due process while also contributing to a culture of impunity for the worst predators.

    Whether you’re a college student, a young accountant, or a corporal in the Marine Corps, turning to law enforcement has often become the last resort in the process of addressing sexual assault. You can now make confidential reports, start confidential processes, and impose confidential punishments that don’t look much like justice at all.

    Colleges (especially) have not demonstrated that their methods of handling sexual assault work better, in any sense, than those of the legal system.

    And what did we expect? Any "system" involving flawed humans is going to be imperfect and deliver the occasional miscarriage. But, given the choice between (a) a system has been developed over centuries of trial and error, with participants experienced in the details of investigation; and (b) a system imposed top-down with ideological biases and vague and inconsistent procedues, carried out in secret… I know which way I'd bet.


  • Steve MacDonald at Granite Grok notes a Union Leader story: Southern New Hampshire University Wants Campus Groups’ Social Media Passwords.

    The lead in today’s Manchester Union Leader is SNHU requires all clubs to reveal passwords. That sounds Orwellian.

    SNHU says it is to protect the continuity of the communities. There are a number of approved campus groups that have languished since the page administrators have graduated. By collecting the login credentials they can ensure that new admins have access to keep the groups updated. And this sounds reasonable until you get to this bit.

    Oh oh. What's the bit? Well, SNHU spokesdroid Lauren Keane left the door open to using the credentials to "remediate posts that are deemed to contain discriminatory, obscene, unlawful, threatening, harassing, or defamatory language, images, and video."

    Yeah. The College Republicans are (especially) skeptical about SNHU administrators using the shared credentials for censorship/monitoring purposes.

    Commenters at Granite Grok maintain that SNHU routinely engages in blatant viewpoint discrimination when it comes to political groups. I submitted a comment to the effect that such was blatantly unconstitutional, and provided a pointer to the relevant Foundation for Individual Rights in Education page.

    It sounds as if the SNHU Young Republicans are starting to get a clue about this, however. What college administrators are really averse to is bad publicity, like the Union Leader story.


  • At Reason, Veronique "Intrepid" de Rugy summarizes a recent Cato study: State Migration Increasingly Driven by Taxes.

    That new study on Tax Reform and Interstate Migration is from Chris Edwards, a tax expert at the Cato Institute. Using 2016 data from the Internal Revenue Service, he finds that 578,269 people moved, on net, from the 25 highest-tax states to the 25 lowest-tax states. That's a loss of $33 billion in aggregate income for these vacated states. In that year, 24 of the 25 highest-tax states suffered from net out-migration. The only high-tax state that saw in-migration was Maine.

    No matter how one views and dissects the data, Edwards shows that state tax levels and net migration flows are highly correlated. The relationship is even more pronounced with households headed by a person age 65 or older and households with income higher than $200,000. It might not come as a surprise that some of the states both seniors and high earners are leaving are Alaska, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The top 12 destinations for these taxpayers are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

    The PDF Cato study is here. Low-tax New Hampshire, like Maine, is a slight in-migration state.


  • And (as a one-time data cruncher) I got a chuckle out of xkcd's Curve-Fitting Methods and the Messages They Send:

    [Curve Fitting]

    Mouseover: "Cauchy-Lorentz: "Something alarmingly mathematical is happening, and you should probably pause to Google my name and check what field I originally worked in.""

URLs du Jour

2018-09-19

[Amazon Link]

I've felt a great need to skip over reading any article that mentions … you know … that guy. Or that lady. Or those senators. So for today at least, a K-free zone.

  • Imagine a machine that reliably churns out ever more elaborate justifications for politicians' fiscal irresponsibility. It's fueled by voter gullibility. And Michael Tanner discusses its latest output: Congress Finds a New Excuse to Avoid Balancing America’s Books.

    In April of this year, the Congressional Budget Office warned that we were on track to return to trillion-dollar budget deficits by 2020. That warning turns out to have understated the problem: The latest estimates suggest we will now reach the dubious trillion-dollar milestone this coming fiscal year, and the deficit for the current year is now expected to be close to $900 billion, $222 billion more than last year. Our current $21 trillion national debt will likely top $30 trillion by 2025.

    Democrats were quick to blame last year’s Republican tax cuts for exacerbating the deficit, but tax revenues, fed by increased economic growth, are actually up one percent over this time last year. The real culprit is spending, which increased by 7 percent from last year, the largest year-over-year increase since 2009.

    That's an interesting bunch of numbers, but Tanner's actual target is the latest stupid economic theory: "Modern Monetary Theory". He's not a fan.


  • My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, is in full moral panic mode this morning over… well, the headline is Stealthy Danger of Teen Vaping. Aieee! (The online version's headline is slightly less alarmist: "Youth 2 Youth targets danger of teen vaping".)

    "Youth 2 Youth" being the local high school organization that earnest upwardly mobile students join to burnish their résumés for their college applications.

    Opening para:

    When the head of the Food and Drug Administration recently called the underage use of e-cigarettes an “epidemic,” it was not breaking news to members of Dover Youth 2 Youth. The local group has long warned fellow students, teachers, administrators and elected officials of that epidemic they see first hand.

    And the rest of the article meekly goes along with the alarmism of the FDA and, of course, The Children.

    Leave it to Reason's Jacob Sullum to bring some facts to the party with respect to the "epidemic": New E-Cigarette Restrictions Could Be Lethal.

    [FDA Chief] Gottlieb is responding to "an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers," which he erroneously equates with an "epidemic of addiction" and even "a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine." According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), the share of high school students who reported vaping during the previous month peaked at 16 percent in 2015, fell to about 11 percent in 2016 and remained roughly the same last year.

    The percentage of teenagers who vape often enough to become addicted to nicotine is much smaller. In the 2015 NYTS, for example, just 2.5 percent of high school students (16 percent of "current" users) reported vaping on 20 or more days in the previous month, and almost all of them were current or former smokers.

    Today's Amazon Product du Jour is a real-life panic button ("with screaming effect"). If only newspaper reporters and bluenose students would just use this instead…


  • An unusually honest admission, reported by Recode: Twitter is so liberal that its conservative employees ‘don’t feel safe to express their opinions,’ says CEO Jack Dorsey.

    “We have a lot of conservative-leaning folks in the company as well, and to be honest, they don’t feel safe to express their opinions at the company,” Dorsey said. “They do feel silenced by just the general swirl of what they perceive to be the broader percentage of leanings within the company, and I don’t think that’s fair or right.”

    Dorsey also explained why he brought up Twitter’s left-leaning employee bias to begin with.

    “I think it’s more and more important to at least clarify what our own bias leans towards, and just express it,” he added. “I’d rather know what someone biases to rather than try to interpret through their actions.”

    Hey, tell me about it, Jack. I used to work at a local university!


  • And finally, our Google LFOD alert rang for (of all things) an online story from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: From Afghan Refugee To U.S. Political Hopeful.

    "Live free or die" is the official motto of the U.S. state of New Hampshire.

    It's a mantra that resonates deeply with Safiya Wazir, an Afghan refugee who fled Taliban rule in the 1990s, resettled with her family in neighboring Uzbekistan, and is now a U.S. citizen vying to make political history in her adopted state.

    The 27-year-old won the Democratic Party primary for a seat in the state legislature on September 11, and should she defeat Republican Dennis Soucy in the November general election, she would become the first former refugee to hold public office in New Hampshire.

    Safiya defeated fellow Democratic four-term incumbent Dick Patten, who has said he'll vote for Dennis Soucy in November.

    Unfortunately, there's no indication that Safiya is a small-government advocate. She "campaigned for expanded health care and paid parental leave, and fought for more funding for childhood education."

Gilda

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A deeply weird 1946 movie with Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Netflix's AI thought I would like it slightly better than I did.

Ne'er-do-well smalltime gambler Johnny (Mr. Ford) is about to be mugged and probably killed in an Buenos Aires back alley, when he's saved by tungsten tycoon/casino owner Ballin Mundson (played by George Macready). I don't think a reason was given for Mundson to be on the scene; even less explicable is what happens next: he invites Johnny to his casino, and after some gay repartee, hires him to do some vaguely-described duties.

The relationship between Mundson and Johnny is tense, and it doesn't get any better when Mundson returns from a brief trip with a new wife: Gilda, played by Ms. Hayworth. Gilda and Johnny are hostile toward each other from the get-go, and, as it turns out, there's a very good reason for that… But that's enough plot description.

Let it be said that there's enough dysfunction in the triangular relationship between Johnny, Gilda, and Mundson to send a marriage therapist into a different line of work. Mundson's tungsten machinations turn out to be a source of dangerous intrigue as well. Rita Hayworth sings and dances. Everybody smokes and drinks way too much.

Oh, and the ending is … well, it's damned odd, given all the ominous foreshadowing.

URLs du Jour

2018-09-18

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson marks the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Peace Accords by offering his solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: The Bob Newhart Peace Plan.

    There’s a Bob Newhart sketch you probably know: A woman walks into a therapist’s office and says that her life is being spoiled because she spends all of her time obsessing over the fearful possibility that she will be buried alive in a box. His advice:

    Stop it!”

    I recommend clicking through to YouTube if you haven't seen it. Anyway, on to KDW's point, and he does have one:

    A peace plan isn’t peace. Peace negotiations aren’t peace. Nobel Peace Prizes aren’t peace, either, though they were handed out after Oslo.

    Peace is peace.

    And war is war: There were 169 Palestinian suicide attacks between 1993 and 2016, targeting shopping malls, bus depots, the streets of downtown Jerusalem. In 2014 alone, there were 4,500 rocket and mortar attacks on Israelis. The Palestinians still proudly celebrate their stunning military victory over a pregnant woman, seven children, and five other civilians eating pizza at the Battle of Sbarro. There is constant violence on the Gaza border, and balloons and kites now are used to deliver incendiary devices into Israeli cities. There are practically no diplomatic relationships between the Israeli government and the Palestinian government, partly because the Palestinians have two competing governments run by two competing terrorist organizations: Fatah in the West bank and Hamas in Gaza. The United States government has announced that it will cease funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), and an Israeli newspaper reported that the Trump administration, through Jared Kushner and his representative Jason Greenblatt, had offered the Palestinians $5 billion to come to the negotiating table again — a claim Greenblatt denies. President Trump has suggested that he’ll rely on financial leverage to motivated the Palestinians, telling reporters: “I’d say, ‘You’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.’”

    Another deal. One cannot fault the administration for trying. What else is there to do?

    If only Secretary of State Bob Newhart were here to offer the Palestinians some sound advice: "Stop it.

    As a longtime Newhart fan, I can only second this motion.


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi's article may have the most blindingly obvious headline ever: Democrats Have Made Sure That Brett Kavanaugh Will Never Get A Fair Hearing.

    Without the emergence of new evidence, we will never know if Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh is true or not. And there’s nothing Kavanaugh can do or say that will clear his name. If you’re a man, a single uncorroborated account that dates back to 1982 is all your political critics need to accuse you of attempted rape.

    There is also no possible outcome in which Democrats will concede Kavanaugh’s innocence, or even concede that we can’t really know what transpired on that night 36 years ago. Republicans can accede to as many hearings as Democrats demand, and it won’t alter any of the liberal rhetoric or perceptions of partisans. Republicans could put Kavanaugh’s classmates under oath and have them deny that anything inappropriate or criminal occurred that night, and it will not matter. It will not matter if 65 women come forward and attest to Kavanaugh’s sterling character — in fact, for Democrats, it’s merely confirmation that the judge is covering something up. It doesn’t make any difference that, as far as we now know, there’s no pattern of bad behavior from Kavanaugh into adulthood (unlike say, Roy Moore or Bill Clinton).

    Will things get worse, civilized-discourse-wise? I think so. What's to stop it?


  • The Minuteman, Tom Maguire, is (as always) Fair and Balanced: The Kavanaugh Train Wreck.

    Kavanaugh is in line for a lifetime appointment. Given the stature of the position and the seriousness of the charge, if the case against him weighed in at, e.g., 40% probability, that might be reasonable grounds to move him aside.

    ON the other hand, it is deeply troubling to think we will reward Sen. Feinstein for this cheap political stunt, which showed contempt for the confirmation process, her Senate colleagues, and the public. The cost of rewarding terrible behavior ought to be factored into the final assessment. Again, as an example, if there is only a 40% chance that Kavanugh is guilty as charged AND we are rewarding deplorable behavior, maybe we should put him on the court in an attempt to preserve respect for the process. Maybe. Politically challenging, obviously.

    Put it another way - if Sen. Feinstein and Prof. Blasey had come forward in July we would have a bit more confidence that taking them seriously would not undermine our current system. But now? What's next? Will future hearings be six months of shadow boxing with the final punches only thrown after the hearing's end? How is that helpful to an already badly broken system?

    Eesh. A commenter makes an interesting point:

    It seems to me that every picture I have seen of Kavanaugh since this smear broke is a picture intentionally chosen to show him confused, tongue-tied, worried, rattled and befuddled---to show him as a grimacing, unhappy man who should not be believed and does not deserve the benefit of the doubt of being believed.

    I note that the NYT has a "helpful" article from—guess who?—Anita Hill: How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right. Subhed: "The Senate Judiciary Committee has a chance to do better by the country than it did nearly three decades ago."

    Pass. Hard pass.

  • The Free Beacon notes the latest important research being funded by Joe and Jane Taxpayer: Feds Spend $1,009,762 Training ‘Social Justice’ Math Teachers.

    The National Science Foundation is spending over $1 million to train two-dozen "social justice" math teachers in Philadelphia.

    The Drexel University project will promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) high school curriculums that are "steeped in the context of social justice."

    I am not holding my breath to hear whether STEM teachers "steeped in the context of social justice" will do a better job than unsteeped teachers. I somehow doubt whether that hypothesis will be rigorously tested.


  • If you Twitter, can I recommend that you follow Titania McGrath? She's consistently delightful. Sample:

    Hypothesis: Iowahawk has a fake account.

Please Stand By

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

IMDB genericizes this as Comedy/Drama, which I guess is accurate enough. Netflix's rating algorithm also thought I'd like it, and it was also accurate.

Wendy, played by Dakota Fanning, is autistic. Although I'm not a doctor, I'd say she's a low-functioning autistic. She lives in a San Francisco group home, where she gets supported by sympathetic Scottie (Toni Collette). Her sister Audrey (Alice Eve) has placed her there, worried about whether her autism might bring harm to infant daughter Ruby.

But Wendy (like many autistics) has an unexpected gift. She's a good writer. And a Trekkie. And when Paramount offers a contest to write a script for the next Star Trek movie, she's all over it like a tribble on quadrotriticale.

Unfortunately, she lets things go right up until the deadline. And due to unforeseen circumstance, she realizes that the script can't reach Paramount via mail on time. And so she sets out on an Unauthorized Autistic Odyssey to Hollywood, where she can drop off the massive script in person.

Needless to say, things don't go smoothly.

A few random thoughts:

  • We don't get the entire plot of Wendy's script, but from the quoted snippets, I would totally go see the Star Trek movie based thereupon.

  • For those of us used to seeing Dakota Fanning back when she was a child actress, … well, she's all grown up now, playing big-girl roles.

  • It would be easy to make a "problematic" movie with autism as a plot device, but it seems to me that Wendy's disability was treated with sympathy and respect. I haven't researched to find if it angered activists, though. Because I don't care.

  • The movie relies on a lictor ex machina, in the person of Patton Oswalt, who just happens to be… nope, that would be a unnecessary spoiler.

In short, a good watchable movie.

URLs du Jour

2018-09-17

  • Justice Don Willett, the guy Trump should have nominated to the Supreme Court, wishes us all a Happy Constitution Day, if You Can Keep It. Serious stuff, which you should read, assuming you can evade the paywall, with a cute story buried in the middle:

    Let me introduce you to a tenacious Texan with a Mensa-level civics IQ named Gregory Watson.

    In 1982 Mr. Watson wrote a paper as a University of Texas sophomore arguing that one of Madison’s proposed amendments to the Constitution was still eligible for ratification. The proposal barred Congress from raising its salary midterm; it set no ratification deadline. Unconvinced, Mr. Watson’s professor awarded him a C.

     Fueled by righteous indignation, Mr. Watson spent the next decade writing letters, bending ears and twisting arms in state capitals from sea to shining sea. And in 1992 the 27th Amendment was ratified—203 years after Congress proposed it.

    Gregory Watson got a bad grade. So he amended the Constitution. All it took was aptitude and attitude. (In 2017 the university officially changed Mr. Watson’s grade from C to A-plus.)

    You know that scene in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen's character debunks some loudmouth pontificating on Marshall McLuhan by dragging in Marshall McLuhan himself as an authority?

    This is much better.


  • Jonah Goldberg's recent G-File brings the bad news: The Government Can’t Love You. Well, bad news to those who thought otherwise.

    Even now, you can hear the growing clamor for the government to take control of Facebook or Google because the libruls there don’t like us. I’m open to sensible regulation, and if more is needed, fine. But if the idea that bringing these businesses under the control of the state — make them utilities! — is merely economically and philosophically blinkered if Republicans are in office, it becomes an incandescent bonfire of insipidity when you realize that one day — perhaps one day soon — progressives will take charge. Thinking that the same people who favor silencing speech, spiking politically incorrect science, and using the government to punish institutions that are non-compliant with the progressive agenda (I’m looking at you wedding-cake bakers, birth-control-eschewing octogenarian nuns, and Catholic adoption agencies) would shirk from using these shiny toys for their own ends is absurd.

    Moreover, as we learned — or should have learned — under Wilson and FDR, when the government “reins in” business, businesses often grab the reins of government. U.S. Steel, AT&T, and other corporate behemoths welcomed regulation precisely because they understood that the government was uniquely equipped to protect them from competition. Cartelized social media wouldn’t become friendlier to conservatives; social media would then have men with badges and guns to enforce their hostility to conservatives.

    Disclaimer: Jonah's post is a rebuttal to a disparaging review (or, as Jonah puts it, a "review") of his book The Suicide of the West. Even if you're uninterested in that debate, Jonah makes good points, as above, that stand on their own.


  • Over at Reason, Nick Gillespie debunks an advocacy piece from a magazine that used to be interested in straight news reporting: Are Teachers Really 'Not Paid for the Work [They] Do'? Time Says Yes, Reality Begs To Differ. The Time piece features Kentucky teacher Hope Brown, who sells blood plasma and works two extra jobs to make ends meet. It is based on a report "from the progressive Economic Policy Institute on what [authors] Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel call "the teacher pay penalty" or "the percent by which public school teachers are paid less than comparable workers."

    You can read the study here. Allegretto and Mishel argue that teacher demonstrations and shortages around the country are driven by the fact that educators in K-12 public schools are making less money compared to other college graduates and "professionals" over the past several decades. "The teacher wage penalty was 1.8 percent in 1994, grew to 4.3 percent in 1996, and reached a record 18.7 percent in 2017," they write. According to their analysis, the "penalty" shrinks to 11.1 percent when you add in total compensation.

    Their agenda is straightforward: They think teachers should be paid more, both in absolute terms and relative to other workers with college degrees or professional status. They have amassed a number of statistics from credible sources which show that inflation-adjusted teacher wages have in fact been flat for about the past 20 years.

    I don't agree with Allegretto and Mishel that average teacher pay should be increased and I don't buy into their framework of a teacher "pay penalty." But that's besides the point that the Time story constitutes something akin to journalistic malpractice by suggesting that teachers such as Brown, who are pulling down salaries in the mid-50s, are being forced to sell bodily fluids to make ends meet. Indeed, according to Time's sister publication, Money, the median household income in Kentucky is $45,215, meaning that Brown is making about $10,000 more than half of all other households in the Bluegrass State.

    I like teachers just fine. But there's no reason to pay them above market wages. As long as you have qualified people willing to do the job…

    It also makes me want to do some analysis on the money management strategies of the Hope Brown household. She's making $55K/yr, she's got two other jobs, she's got a working husband, Kentucky has a low cost of living…. You don't need to be Suze Orman to suspect that maybe there's some wastage going on, or some major part of the picture we aren't being told about.


  • The folks running Our World In Data have constructed The map we need if we want to think about how global living conditions are changing. A deceptively simple idea: it adjusts each country's area by the size of its population. A very scaled-down version:

    [World Population Cartogram]

    If you're like me (and you are, aren't you?) your first thought was: "Hey, where's Russia?". Answer: we didn't think it would be that dinky. The cartographers' explanation:

    The area of Russia takes up 11% of the world’s land and the gigantic country borders both Norway and North Korea. But Russia is home to only less than 2% of the world population and is therefore shrunken in this cartogram to the size of Bangladesh, a country that is smaller than Florida.

    Fun and insightful to look at, as are many entries at that site. Check it out.


Last Modified 2018-09-17 1:07 PM EDT