URLs du Jour

2017-05-23

■ We are up to Proverbs 26:27:

27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it;
    if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.

Also known as: what goes around, comes around; a man reaps what he sows; etc. The ancient Israelis knew about karma, man.

■ David French on last night's horror: Manchester: The Chilling Sound of Terror.

There is no reasoning with this hate. There is no “legitimate grievance” with the West that triggers such violence. It is the product of fanatical devotion to the most evil of all causes, a cause that perversely promises paradise for the slaughter of innocents. There is no way for the West to be “good” enough to appease terrorists. There is no policy short of religious conversion that will cause them to relent. The best deterrent to jihad is the obliteration of jihadists. They thrive on victory, not defeat.

Tonight, sadly, they won a victory, and here’s all you need to know to understand the character of our enemies – they relish the sound of young girls’ screams.

How many more wake-up calls will Western Civilization need?

<voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> According to Chris Edwards at Cato: Trump Budget to Cut Federal Pensions.

The Washington Post said [predictably - Ed.], “The thought of Trump’s assault on federal retirement programs becoming law enrages federal employee leaders.” It certainly does. The paper quotes union leaders calling the proposals an “outrageous attack,” “downright mean,” and “beyond insulting.”

On the contrary, trimming the 47 percent advantage in benefits enjoyed by federal workers is a sensible attack on overspending. Furthermore, it is mean and insulting to taxpayers to give gold-plated pensions to workers inside the government bubble, especially since those favored few also have much higher job security than the rest of us.

Somedays, the Trump Administration is a trainwreck, but it occasionally does something good.

■ The College Fix winds up the story of Paul Griffiths, formerly of Duke Divinity School: Professor who called diversity training a ‘waste’ resigns after dean punishes him. Quoting from Griffiths' statement:

It’s over because I recently, and freely, resigned my chair in Catholic Theology at Duke University in response to disciplinary actions initiated by my dean and colleagues. Those disciplinary actions, in turn, were provoked by my words: critical and confrontational words spoken to colleagues in meetings; and hot words written in critique of university policies and practices, in support of particular freedoms of expression and thought, and against legal and disciplinary constraints of those freedoms. My university superiors, the dean and the provost, have been at best lukewarm in their support of these freedoms, preferring to them conciliation and accommodation of their opponents. And so, I reluctantly concluded, the word-struggle, the agony of distinction and argument, the search for clarity by dramatizing and exploring difference—these no longer have the place they once had in the university.

The heretic against the religion of progressivism has been cast out of the temple.

Heat Street's Emily Zanotti reveals: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Under Fire for Not Casting Enough White Dudes.

The series stars  Sonequa Martin-Green as a high-level officer on the ship who has most of the show’s adventures (the captain, a white man, is just there for window dressing). Michelle Yeoh stars as another ship’s captain, who aides Martin-Green, and the two lead a cast of humans and aliens charged with saving the galaxy, before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series.

Well, for one thing: Michelle Yeoh. I hadn't planned on shelling out any money to watch Yet Another Star Trek series, but… Michelle Yeoh. Hm.

Yeah, get over it, fellow white dudes. As Ms Zanotti says: "But, it turns out, not just progressives can be snowflakes."

■ At the Free Beacon, Sonny Bunch does the world a great service by saying what needs to be said: Best Burger Chain? Five Guys, Obviously. Sonny's got opinions:

Obviously, Five Guys is the best. And Five Guys is the best because it has the best array of toppings. But with so many options, how do you know which ones to get to maximize the burger-to-topping ratio without overwhelming the burger itself? Behold, the perfect burger:

Five Guys Cheeseburger, with ketchup, mayo, mustard, pickles, sauteed onions, mushrooms.

That's it. That's the perfect burger. Put nothing else on it (lettuce? gtfo) and leave none of the above off of it (I don't care if you don't like mushrooms, develop your palate you philistine). Don't @ me, I don't care about your garbage opinion.

I'll try that. But… pickles and mushrooms? OK. I usually go for the jalapeños and barbecue sauce, but hey.

Of the top ten list Sonny discusses, we only have three in our area. Seacoast New Hamphire is not a burger hotspot.

I'm a little puzzled by Fuddruckers' omission from the top 10 list. I've not been there a lot (the nearest one to Pun Salad Manor is in frickin' Methuen MA), but my memories are fond.

■ Eric S. Raymond has a project to resurrect ADVENT, the adventure game that we geezers played in the 1970s on the timesharing PDP-10, when and if we could: The Adventure begins again.

Though there’s a C port of the original 1977 game in the BSD game package, and the original FORTRAN sources could be found if you knew where to dig, Crowther & Woods’s final version – Adventure 2.5 from 1995 – has never been packaged for modern systems and distributed under an open-source license.

Until now, that is.

Eric's discussion of the mechanics and esthetics of translating ancient memory-optimized Fortran code into something slightly more modern is excellent reading for software geeks. (As are the comments.)

URLs du Jour

2017-05-22

■ A three-verse day for us. Proverbs 26:24-26 is really down on the Proverbial enemies:

24 Enemies disguise themselves with their lips,
    but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them,
    for seven abominations fill their hearts.
26 Their malice may be concealed by deception,
    but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

Not six or eight abominations, mind you: seven.

■ A disheartening editorial in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, showing just how far left/stupid the paper has moved over the past few years. The editorial demand: Put an end to racism at UNH. This is all stemming out of the Cinco de Mayo brouhaha.

Fortunately, it's awful and nearly self-refuting. Starting with the title: end racism. Seriously? Where's the magic wand to do that, a goal that has never been accomplished by any society, ever?

Let's grant that the editorial starts (as such arguments always do) with Good Intentions. The writer wants students at UNH to respect each other, to be treated as dignified individuals without prejudgment due to their race. (Or, no doubt, any other characteristic in the laundry list: age, sex, color, marital status, physical or mental disability, creed, or national origin.) Fine.

And the editorial is against violence, threats, and vandalism. Also fine. But those things are already well-covered by the law, and the UNH conduct code. So?

Once the editorial goes beyond that, things get problematic. The editorial (vaguely) promotes responses that are (a) disproportionate to the observed offenses at UNH, (b) probably unconstitutional; (c) almost certainly a recipe for further campus strife.

The editorial takes at face value various UNH incidents: the N-word written on a "diversity-themed" bulletin board, scrawled swastikas in a dorm, a rock thrown at a bicycling "student of color". All meant to show that racism is prevalent on campus.

We've noted this before. Such incidents may be perpetrated by bigoted students. But sometimes such incidents are hoaxes. They may be, as with one recent bit of nastiness, "a strategy to draw attention to concerns about the campus climate.”

Nevertheless, the editorial proceeds to demand that UNH "do more": "it needs to be made clear that these acts won’t be tolerated — that students can be expelled for such acts."

Wait a minute, what acts? Exactly. Should a student be expelled for wearing a sombrero on May 5?

That's not too far-fetched. Boston.com reported that students are demanding that the conduct code be amended "to expel students who post 'racially insensitive' content."

Not just "hate speech". Insensitive speech.

And the rhetorical overkill is tremendous: one young lady at a UNH forum, claimed “blackface is a direct death threat."

What can you say, except: No. No, it's not.

Again, I recommend Eugene Volokh, written as a response to a similar editorial in the Washington Post. I was thinking about writing an irate letter to Foster's, but I realized I'd probably just be plagiarizing Volokh.

The Post has long benefited from strong First Amendment protection and has long defended it. It’s a shame that it is affirmatively calling for viewpoint-based speech suppression here.

For my take, please reread that with Foster's substituted for "The Post".

■ On to happier matters, by which I mean the continuing degradation of democratic norms in political debate. David Harsanyi lectures: Putting Country Above Party Works Both Ways. A point we made yesterday:

Now, I realize there is no room for half-measures in this political environment. You must be wholly, 100 percent convinced every day on every topic that Donald Trump is guilty of every act floated by every anonymous source in every publication or you will accused of abetting the coup against the American people.

But it's worth pointing out that Democrats, at least rank-and-file liberals, seem to have convinced themselves that this saga ends with articles of impeachment and removal. Who knows? Maybe they'll be right. But it's not concern-trolling to point out that having this level of certitude about an outcome has the potential to be self-destructive for the country as well.

■ David French wrote an article about Chelsea-used-to-be-Bradley Manning, and was attacked. But not on the substance of the article, but… Chelsea Manning and the Problem with Pronouns. Yes, David referred to Manning as a "he".

Immediately I was deluged with passionate but reasonable tweets explaining to me exactly what was wrong with my pronoun usage. No, wait. That was in a parallel universe. Here in the real world, I received a series of tweets you can’t post on a family website. In the real world, I was called a transphobe, “America’s worst person,” and many other names simply because I wouldn’t identify Manning as a woman.

I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing people have in mind when they demand that people be expelled for "insensitivity".

In the secular faith of the illiberal Left, pronoun mandates have become the equivalent of blasphemy codes. On this most contentious of issues, one must use approved language and protect the most delicate of sensibilities. It’s bad enough to see this mindset work itself through Twitter or in shouted arguments on the quad. When it makes its way into law, then intolerance moves from irritation into censorship. It’s identity politics as oppression, and it’s infecting American debate. May it not corrupt American law.

Interesting times, aren't they?


Last Modified 2017-05-22 11:22 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-05-21

■ Proverbs 26:23 gets into film noir territory:

Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware
    are fervent lips with an evil heart.

I saw that movie! Barbara Stanwyk was in it, I think. Or maybe Gloria Grahame.

■ Since we discussed this dreadful story previously, an update is in order: Feminist Journal That Apologized for Article About Rachel Dolezal Now Apologizes for Apologizing.

The article in question, by an assistant philosophy professor at Rhodes College, looked at society’s level of acceptance for Caitlyn Jenner vs. Rachel Dolezal. She questioned why we’re Ok with Jenner self-identifying as a woman, but not OK with Dolezal thinking she’s black. Rebecca Tuvel, the author, argued her case for “transracialism.”

They seem confused about this stuff.

Reason puts a recent print interview with a great Granite State resident online: P.J. O'Rourke: Things Are Going to Be Fine. Famously, P. J. voted for Hillary. Why not Gary Johnson, P. J.?

He just ran a terrible campaign. There were so many moments, it seemed to me, over this campaign cycle that lasted for two years, when libertarian stuff could catch fire, and it didn't. I had some hope for [Kentucky Sen.] Rand Paul, but Rand is unfortunately burdened by intellect. You ask Rand a question and you get the whole answer. While that's great for an interview, it's not great on the stump. You don't get the joke that you got from Reagan. You don't get the thing boiled down.

More at the link, of course.

■ Is escalating hyperbolic political passion turning us into a banana republic? KDW@NR runs down the ominous parallels: Six Days in May.

The doings in Washington have a distinctly tropical feel to them, and it isn’t global warming. Republicans who rallied to Trump are now learning that it is very difficult to steer the ship of state with one middle finger. American institutions are very robust, and this moment’s banana-republic stuff probably can be digested, provided there is not too much more of it. But there is no sign that Democrats will be satisfied with paralyzing the administration — at the grassroots, it is plain they will be satisfied with nothing less than driving him from office, and maybe not even with that.

But that is not how constitutional, democratic republics work.

It behooves all of us to think what we can do to keep the country from sliding off the rails.

■ Glenn Greenwald isn't a common reference here, but here you go: Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Base Not to Expect Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion.

The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.

This isn't concern-trolling. I don't care much if the Democrats self-destruct, I just don't want them to take the country along with them.

URLs du Jour

2017-05-20

■ Proverbs 26:22 seems to have mixed feelings about gossip:

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

Some translations, like King James, say "wounds" instead of anything about morsels. So there seems to be some confusion there. Best ignore this proverb.

■ My Google LFOD alert was triggered by (of all things) this article in the Buenos Aires Herald (yes, that's Argentina) by Edgardo Zablotsky: Learn free or die. It's a discussion of school choice initiatives in the US, and…

New Hampshire may soon be the next state to establish a universal right to freedom of education. The Senate opened up this possibility by passing a universal ESA bill that would give parents who withdraw their kids from public schools 90 percent of funds of their child’s per-pupil state allocation. Legislation is now facing resistance in the GOP-controlled House. If Republicans don’t lose their nerve, they would be fortifying the state’s motto to “Live free or die” by embracing the freedom to learn.

Republicans losing their nerve is a pretty safe bet, but we'll see.

■ What could possibly get Grandma Clinton in trouble? Let's find out: Hillary Clinton in Trouble for Using Fake ‘African Proverb’ on Her New Website.

Hillary Clinton says her newly launched political group Onward Together takes its name from an old African proverb that’s displayed prominently on the group’s site: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I wonder if there isn't some guy in a basement somewhere making up these treacly aphorisms and attributing them to some ancient culture (African, Indian, Chinese, whatever) or or revered American statesman (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, …).

But anyway, it's nice to have a phony hit on Hillary again. Brings back memories of the campaign. Good times.

■ KDW@NR takes the occasion of depraved MSNBC mutterings in the wake of pedestrians' deaths in MYC to look at how "we" handle drunk drivers in the US of A: Sobering Success. As a Schrödinger-cat libertarian, this paragraph leapt out at me:

Libertarians may wish to avert their gaze, but prohibition played a big role in [preventing a significant number of traffic deaths]. As NIH runs the numbers, the single policy change that had the most significant effect was raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. Some of you will remember that the states did this under duress, with Washington threatening to withhold highway funds from non-compliers under the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. The federal law did not call for a ban on alcohol consumption by those under 21, but only on sales. This had the effect of moving teenage drinking from bars and restaurants to house parties and other settings where young drinkers might be less likely to drive — and where arranging for alcohol to be served required some organization and forethought, qualities not generally associated with the general run of 19-year-olds.

It's an interesting question: what role should the government play in reducing risk to the citizenry via its coercive functions? It's easy to make fun of the "if it saves just one life" nanny-statists, but KDW is highlighting a policy that seems to save about 1000 deaths per year. Is that a high enough number for you?

■ Whatever Trump's misdeeds, takeover of the FCC by Ajit Pai has brought cheer to the hearts of all. At PowerLine, Scott Johnson summarizes the Life of Pai.

As a conservative Republican of libertarian stripe, Pai forcefully opposed the FCC takeover. See Tim Heffernan’s 2015 National Review article “Ajit Pai’s fight for Internet freedom.” My daughter Eliana had more background on Pai’s struggle at the FCC in the 2014 NRO column “Ajit Pai’s next move” (quotable quote: “It’s hard to think of any regulated utility in our economy that’s cutting edge”).

As a bonus, Mr. Pai reads "mean tweets" in a video.

■ A thoughtful article at the Tech Liberation Front from Adam Thierer: Does “Permissionless Innovation” Even Mean Anything?. Thierer has long been seen as advocating permissionless innovation, so that's kind of an interesting title. He thinks we may be headed toward a "soft law" compromise course between "permissionless innovation" and its nemesis, the "precautionary principle". (Characterized: Don't do anything unless it can be proved that it won't have negative effects.)

Much as Churchill said of democracy being “the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” I think we are well on our way to a world in which soft law is the worst form of technological governance except for all those others that have been tried before.

Hey, maybe! Thierer has certainly thought about this more seriously and deeper than I have.


Last Modified 2017-05-20 11:18 AM EDT

Mickey Kaus's Most Important Chart, More Data

This was inspired by Mickey Kaus's Kausfiles recent post The Most Important Chart, which included a graph showing relative changes to "real hourly wages" since 1973, based on education level. The data was credited to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

I griped (somewhat) in a comment at Kausfiles because the chart's newest data was from 2005, over a decade old.

I googled around a bit, and discovered that EPI had more recent data online here. After some moaning and groaning with Google Docs spreadsheets …

Here is EPI's raw data, "average hourly wages of workers disaggregated by the highest level of education attained" (2016 dollars).

As noted above, Mickey's chart is "normalized" to track changes relative to 1973 wage levels. Here's that chart (1973 = $100):


Last Modified 2017-05-19 6:35 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-05-18

■ Rolling the dice on Proverbs 26:21. C'mon, baby:

As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

So true! In related news, today's Getty image is a reconstruction of the Oval Office meeting between President Trump and James Comey.

■ At NR, Ben Shapiro clarifies: Trump Isn’t Playing 8-D Chess. Looking at recent developments:

Trump failed miserably on all fronts — not because of his political principles, which were never philosophically conservative, but because Trump is a deeply flawed man, and thus an even more flawed leader. His obsession with others’ perceptions led him to fire FBI director James Comey — who should have been fired, by all rights, months ago — for the sin of failing to respect Trump’s bizarre theories about Obama-era “wiretapping.” Meanwhile, in an act of extreme arrogance, Trump appeared on national television and proceeded to destroy the supposed rationales for the Comey firing. His pathological insecurities then led him to tweet about “tapes” of Comey, which he then refused to allow his communications team to sweep under the rug.

Yes, Hillary could have arguably been worse. That argument is wearing thin, not even four months in.

■ But impeachment? Nick Gillespie (at Reason) is dismissive: All This Impeachment Talk Is Pure Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Donald Trump, the most-unlikely and least-liked president in the history of the United States, had barely celebrated his first 100 days when calls for his impeachment started flying faster than Anthony Weiner dick pics at a Girl Scout cookout. For the good of democracy, don't you see, the Republicans must not only be kicked to the curb in the 2018 midterms, but the president himself must be thrown into the street, just like he once tried to evict that old lady from her house in Atlantic City!

Good luck with that, Democrats.

■ Moving on to less political, but more interesting, affairs: Tyler Cowan has a brief blurb about a new book from Ben Blatt, Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve. For example comparing authors' Number of -ly adverbs per 10,000 words (Hemingway: 80; E L James: 155).

In the novel The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien used the word “she” only once.  In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, however, she relative to he is used 79% of the time, the highest ratio of the classics surveyed.  Female authors are very strongly represented on that side of the curve, let me tell you.  And male authors do the “he” far more, in relative terms, than female authors do the “she.”

Definitely going into my things-to-read list.

■ A good one from Michael P. Ramirez:

Speaking of Obstruction of Justice

All true! Life is unfair.

■ And James Lileks has this YouTube video in his Bleat today, animation from a Utah high-schooler. Watch, you won't be sorry.


Last Modified 2017-05-19 6:36 AM EDT

The Cake and the Rain

A Memoir

[Amazon Link]

I have been a Jimmy Webb fanboy for about 50 years, ever since I noticed that those sweet Glen Campbell songs ("Wichita Lineman", "Galveston", …) and a lot of songs off the Johnny Rivers "Rewind" album, and … whoa, Richard Harris's "Macarthur Park" were all written by the same guy.

So over the years, I've bought his albums, I've bought albums from artists who recorded his songs (Art Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, even Michael Feinstein, etc.). I've seen him in concert three or four times (I lose track). At one of those concerts, I even got his signature on a poster off his "Archive" 5-CD set.

I used to be kind of bashful about this, but the hell with it. "I celebrate the guy's entire catalog."

Well, actually, that's not true. There are some clinkers. But every songwriter has those.

In his concerts, Jimmy is quite the engaging raconteur, telling yarns about his encounters with Sinatra, Richard Harris, the city of Galveston, etc. He also displays this talent in a lot of documentaries: I'll Be Me (about Glen Campbell); Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?), The Wrecking Crew, etc. You can kind of think of this memoir as an version of those anecdotes, much expanded and R-rated. The book only covers his early life, up to 1973 or so. A hint is dropped at the end that there may be another tome in the pipeline.

I've been reading numerous memoirs from artists I've enjoyed over the years. Mostly musicians: Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Donald Fagen, Willie Nelson, and more. Looking for insights into the creative process, but about the only common threads I can discern: (1) mild mental illness; (2) substance abuse, usually illicit and multiple; (3) violation of one or more of the seven deadly sins. Jimmy's no exception; in his case, the most noticeable sins are lust, gluttony, and pride. He loves the ladies, including those married to other people. There are hilarious/horrible tales of drug use, including an episode at the end of the book (co-starring Harry Nilsson and John Lennon) that nearly kills him. And his tales invariably seem to involve dangerous levels of irresponsibility, stupidity, and (often) wretched excess.

It's not all glibly sordid, however. Jimmy tells some genuinely moving stories about his mom and dad, and his passion for gliding.

As noted, I would have liked to read a little more about his creative process, but there's not a lot of insight here. There is (on the other hand) a lot about the mechanics of songwriting: what songs are offered to who, the logistics of putting together recordings or concerts, dealing with disappointing reviews/sales, and so on.

True fact: "Macarthur Park" was originally offered to The Association, and they turned it down! Surely the course of world history was altered, the planet wobbled in its orbit, and empires fell because of that decision.

URLs du Jour

2017-05-17

■ If you squint up your eyes a bit, you can see relevance to recent headlines in Proverbs 26:20

Without wood a fire goes out;
    without a gossip a quarrel dies down.

Pardon the Getty illustration; it's sexist, ageist, and probably problematic in other ways I can't discern.

■ My Google LFOD alert was triggered by a letter to the Concord Monitor, a shockingly sensible response to the recent legislative "investigations" into online comments by state reps Sherry Frost and Robert Fisher. (Briefly, Fisher, a Republican, is accused of being a troglodyte misogynist; Frost, a Democrat, is accused of being a potty-mouthed man-hater.) Letter-writer Jon Meyer states, simply: Legislature should not act as the thought police.

This is wrong. The New Hampshire Legislature should not be in the business of investigating or judging the social media of state representatives, particularly when that expression is not part of their legislative duties. The Legislature is not the thought police.

At the intersection of free speech and live free or die is the right to express oneself, even if the opinions are extreme or offensive, feminist or anti-feminist. And that right is not lost by being elected as a legislator.

Ah, bingo. Let Fisher's and Frost's respective constituents decide whether they should be in the legislature.

■ At College Fix, Daniel Payne demands: Enough with the hate crime hoaxes.

But it is on college campuses that the hate crime hoax seems to find the most purchase. By now we are familiar with the cycle: a racist note or a hateful flier or a KKK hood or something else is discovered on campus, invariably by a student who also happens to be an outspoken progressive activist on campus. Word spreads; the college administration pledges to get to the bottom of things; students assemble, march, often issue a set of demands, vow to extinguish the (racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic) climate on campus. Soon enough somebody starts asking questions, and within a few days or even a few hours the entire hoax falls apart. Then everything calms down until the next offensive thing is discovered.

Administrators should stop acting like scared puppies every time activists cite conveniently anonymous incidents as leverage for their stupid demands. E. g.:

Some University of New Hampshire students say the school has failed to address currents of racism on campus and are demanding that it double the number of students and faculty of color, offer diversity training for all staff and amend the student conduct code to expel students who post “racially insensitive” content.

Required reading for anyone spouting that last bit of nonsense: Eugene Volokh.

■ At the Niskansen Center, Jacob T. Levy suggests we not take The Shortcut to Serfdom. I assume readers will get the Hayek reference.

A deceptive, ruthless, nationalist executive, unconstrained by either traditional rules of law or by parliamentary or legislative oversight, choosing particular firms and industries for favor and disfavor, seeking to undo the international system of trade: this is very much the shape of the rising populist and nationalist authoritarianism in the world, from Turkey to Hungary to the United States. Hayek’s warning is that the good intentions of the democratic left can lead to bad results like that. To embrace those results for the sake of keeping the democratic left at bay is to dishonor the warning, not to heed it. This is true even if the lawless nationalist authoritarian promises a few pro-market victories on policies or personnel: some deregulation here, a tax cut there, a couple of undersecretaries.

Shortcut to reading Levy: I don't think that Hayek would have liked Trump; you shouldn't either.

■ KDW@NR offers helpful advice: How to Read the Newspaper.

What is happening right now is not salubrious skepticism but a kind of mass hysteria, millions of heads plunging with struthioniform insistence into the same sand, as though insisting that reality is something other than what it is, or merely averting our gaze, would somehow alter the truth. Something has changed radically with remarkable speed. Not long ago, when I would inform someone that they had passed along an Internet hoax or erroneous claim (writers on public affairs spend a fair amount of their correspondence thus engaged) the response would be a sheepish “oops.” About once a week, someone will inform me that Hillary Rodham Clinton was disbarred for misconduct (she wasn’t) or that Barack Obama’s mother-in-law is receiving a six-figure federal pension for having babysat his children (she isn’t) or some other such nonsense, and then cry “fake news!” when corrected. The irony is that they have fallen for fake news, and retreat into “fake news!” when their gullibility is shown.

Yes, he said "struthioniform". He went there.

(OK, I looked it up. And I'll probably steal it over the coming months.)

■ At Reason, Christian "five consecutive consonants in my last name" Britschgi bemoans: Washington Post Ed. Board Says Life Insurance Regulations Would Cut Down on Child Homicides. The WaPo went for the scary headline, and Britschgi asks: really? Numerous examples are offered, but:

The Post fails to mention that each of the crimes they describe involves the fraudulent bypassing of regulations already on the books. Murderers, in the business of fraud and deception, are more than likely to be undeterred by additional regulation.

The WaPo's argument has—I guess this isn't surprising—a lot of parallels to the gun debate; both seem to be based in the ever-naïve faith that magic regulations will stop evil people from committing evil acts.

Wonderland

How Play Made the Modern World

[Amazon Link]

Steven Johnson is a gifted writer of history, with a real knack for pulling together oddball yarns from various sources, making unexpected connections, and drawing surprising conclusions. I was inspired to read his latest book by a glowing review from Virginia Postrel in Reason.

Not that I'm a Steven Johnson fanboy. The last book I read by him was back in 2005 and I was less than impressed. But this one is better.

It is wide-ranging, but the overall theme is expressed by the subtitle: a lot of what we see around us today, the technological miracles, unimaginable prosperity, and ongoing breakneck innovation, has its roots not in sober and dismal business backrooms, but in "play": people not searching for better ways to deliver the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter, but instead coming up with entertainments, luxuries, fripperies, pleasures, and general fun.

Johnson devotes a chapter to a subtopic: fashion/shopping; music; spicy food; illusion; games; and various forms of "public space" (e.g., saloons and coffeehouses). In each he relates various examples of how the craving for enjoyment, rather than more serious topics, drove innovation, trade, and breathtaking social change.

A particularly telling anecdote from chapter one tells the story of how ingenious mechanisms to simulate human movement had their origins in current-day Iraq (which, in turn, had swiped a lot of their inspriration from the inventions of Ancient Greece). A thousand years later, this resulted in mechanical dolls (close to robots), one of which is a lady who is programmed to walk across a room. Years later, the inventor takes an eight-year-old boy up to his attic for the still-functional Walker.

And that boy was Charles Babbage.

Good story, and the book is packed with them. And play-inspired events interact in unexpected ways. Example: Combine (1) the field of probability, birthed by gamblers looking to gain an edge on their opponents and (2) the coffeehouse, a wildly popular "public space" caused by the unexpected pleasures of tasty drinkable caffeine. The result: the first modern insurance company, Lloyds of London, born out of the realization that you could make a business out of betting on the likelihood of ill fortune.

Not that it's perfect, there are a lot of blind spots. Johnson talks about the drives at the dawn of modern capitalism, but doesn't mention Deirdre McCloskey. There are nods toward the concepts of cultural evolution, but I've read a lot about that recently from Matt Ridley, Kevin Laland, and Joseph Henrich; I didn't notice any citations of them in Wonderland. His discussion of how "open spaces" (fueled by booze and, often, illicit sex) could have used a nod to Thaddeus Russell. Also MIA: Virginia Postrel. There's no excuse.

URLs du Jour

2017-05-16

■ A two-verser today, because one verse cannot hold the truths expressed in Proverbs 26:18-19:

18 Like a maniac shooting
    flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbor
    and says, “I was only joking!”

I love the imagery, the overblown simile, and the realization that yes, they had those guys too, back in Ancient Israel.

Also reminds me of the great Venezuelan nightclub comedian Fericito:

■ Rich Lowry has a pretty good clickbait headline for his column: The Worst Word in American Politics. Spoiler: it's "rigged". And it's an excellent worst-word contender.

It is a word of grievance and conspiracy. It is a word of institutional distrust. It is a word of larger forces beyond our control taking advantage of us. It is a word that says, “We wuz robbed — and we will make the bastards pay.”

In short, it is the perfect term for a fevered era in our national life.

I can think of phrases I despise: "asking the rich to pay their fair share"; "health care is a right". But as single words, I'm not coming up with anything better than "rigged".

■ The latest kerfuffle, as reported by Reason's Robby Soave: Report: Trump Gave Russian Ambassador 'Highly Classified Information' About ISIS. Who knows?

Many will no doubt interpret this revelation as yet more evidence that Trump is at best a Russian stooge, and at worst, a willing participant in a vast conspiracy orchestrated by Moscow. An independent investigation, which Reps. Justin Amash and Eric Swalwell have called for, still seems like the best way to resolve the question. In the meantime, gross incompetence and stupidity, exacerbated by a sociopathic need to make inappropriate boasts (the best intelligence, everyone says so), still seem like the most logical explanations. One might have expected that in the wake of the Access Hollywood tapes, Trump had learned his lesson about making rash statements to random public figures, but apparently not. Or maybe the lesson he learned was that he truly can get away with anything.

Jonah Goldberg notes the denials coming from the Administration, and sugggests: Trust But Verify.

I don’t know if the Washington Post story is accurate, but I do think its entirely plausible. Put aside whether the story is properly sourced and all that. When you heard the news, did you think it could be true?

If your answer is yes, think about that for a moment. That right there is a problem.

In my case, my answer was yes.

■ For some reason, I was thinking about Sophia Wilansky this morning. If you don't remember who Sophia Wilansky is, perhaps this recent article from the left-wing Jewish site Forward will jog your memory: The Jewish Lessons We Can Learn From This Young DAPL Protestor.

On Sunday evening, May 21, The Shalom Center will honor Sophia Wilansky, an extraordinarily heroic young activist who was acting on the best of Jewish tradition and values as a Water Protector at Standing Rock when she was cruelly wounded — her left arm shattered — by the militarized police.

Right. The young lady was badly injured during pipeline protests in October 2016 when … well, something nearly blew her arm off. Her side said "something" was a concussion grenade thrown by law enforcement; the Other side said, I'm pretty sure it wasn't and speculated about propane canisters being rigged improvised as anti-cop weaponry.

Well, this is pretty easy to clear up, right? I mean, this is an era of ubiquitous video. Well, a grand jury has been convened, and Wilansky's side is curiously reluctant to come forward with any solid evidence: Dakota pipeline protester will defy grand jury to “keep his dignity”. Jazz Shaw quotes the LA Times:

Steve Martinez, 42, a pipeline protester from Williston, N.D., has been ordered to testify regarding the arm injury of Sophia Wilansky, 21, of New York, according to his attorney, Ralph Hurvitz. Protesters maintain she was injured by a grenade thrown by police, but authorities say she was hurt by a small propane tank that protesters rigged to explode…

Martinez had been scheduled to testify before the grand jury Wednesday, but Hurvitz said the matter was delayed to Feb. 1. Martinez made a statement outside the courthouse, saying he would refuse to cooperate and was prepared to go to jail if found in contempt of court.

“Losing my freedom is a small price to pay for keeping my dignity and standing up for what’s right,” he said.

Jazz Shaw is skeptical, and so am I.

■ I rarely blog about sports, and I detest the intersection of sports and politics. But I like Jason Gay of the WSJ, and he writes on a lousy sports city, asking for a "little love": Winning? Not Much in Washington, D.C.

I know: it’s hard. No matter what your politics are, it’s difficult to see the daily goings-on inside the nation’s capital as anything other than a third-rate reality show, thick with cowards, liars and ninnies. Yes: I said “ninnies.” When Washington’s ineptitude isn’t busy dimming our faith in democracy it’s ruining human civility, public dialogue, newspaper comments sections, and of course, social media, where half of everyone’s friends have been turned into insufferable, frothing polemicists. Remember the old days, when people logged onto social media to post pictures of stray dogs, beach vacations, and 1-year-olds face-planting into birthday cakes? Opening Twitter or Facebook in 2017 is like letting a colony of vampire bats into your house—vampire bats who have watched too much terrible cable news.

Jason's occasion for writing (yesterday) was the game-7 NBA conference semi-final showdown between the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics. It was not good for the Wizards.


Last Modified 2017-05-16 10:31 AM EDT