URLs du Jour

2018-07-16

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:29 is a pretty famous one. Evocative imagery:

    29 Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind,
        and the fool will be servant to the wise.

    Famous mostly because of our Amazon Product du Jour. Apparently, that's the original movie poster over there on your right. I don't remember the monkey being in the movie, but it's been a real long time since I watched.

    I also don't know the relevance of the title Inherit the Wind to the subject matter of the play/movie, the Scopes monkey trial.


  • Experiment in multitasking: I've taken up podcast-listening while dog-walking. One of my subscriptions is to Russ Roberts' EconTalk, which I much recommend. The latest episode is based on Russ's Medium essay: The Outrage Epidemic. Couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite:

    The political atmosphere in America seem to have deteriorated a lot in the last few years. A lot of yelling. A lot of arrogance and overconfidence. A lot of trusting of stories that confirm what we already believe as opposed to stories that challenge what we only think we know. And a lot of trusting of stories that are literally not true.

    People don’t just disagree with each other. They can’t imagine how a decent human being could disagree with their view of immigration or the minimum wage or President Trump.

    Russ's podcast is interesting and he's relentlessly fair even when his guests are promoting ludicrous ideas.


  • I'm way too old to develop a new bad/stupid habit, so I'm uninterested in vaping myself. I'm pretty disgusted at the moral panic that's sprung up around it, though. So's John Tierney, writing at City Journal: Juul Madness.

    Tobacco-company stocks have plunged this year—along with cigarette sales—because of a wonderful trend: the percentage of people smoking has fallen to a historic low. For the first time, the smoking rate in America has dropped below 15 percent for adults and 8 percent for high school students. But instead of celebrating this trend, public-health activists are working hard to reverse it.

    They’ve renewed their campaign against the vaping industry and singled out Juul Labs, the maker of an e-cigarette so effective at weaning smokers from their habit that Wall Street analysts are calling it an existential threat to tobacco companies. In just a few years, Juul has taken over more than half the e-cigarette market thanks to its innovative device, which uses replaceable snap-on pods containing a novel liquid called nicotine salt. Because the Juul’s aerosol vapor delivers nicotine more quickly than other vaping devices, it feels more like a tobacco cigarette, so it appeals to smokers who want nicotine’s benefits (of which there are many) without the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke.

    So "public health advocates" are actually working against … public health. Ironic? I'm never sure.


  • Baylen Linnekin brings (more) bad news at Reason: Trump's Tariffs Are Going To Make Your Food More Expensive.

    Food prices are rising. And they're soon likely to soar even more.

    The coming spike, which will hurt millions of Americans, didn't have to be. It's due on the one hand to the Trump administration's plans to impose mind-numbingly stupid tariffs on China and other U.S. trade partners and, on the other hand, by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and others in return.

    Hey, let them eat lobster.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has deep thoughts (at NRO) about a recent sorta-comedy. Specifically, what sort of men become monsters? Stalin at the Movies.

    One possible answer: Those who get the chance.

    For the thoroughgoing materialist (“dialectical and historical materialism,” Stalin called it), none of that should be surprising. If you believe that H. sap. is only time’s favorite monkey — that man is meat — then there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the kind of behavior we’re talking about, and no need to justify it, since there is nobody to justify it to. If you believe that man ought to be better, it implies that he can be better, and that “better” means something. And here materialism fails us, which is why Marxism became an ersatz religion. Christianity is a fortunate religion in the sense that the endless moral failings of its leaders (and followers) keeps illustrating, generation after generation, the fundamental facts of the creed. The creeds based on human perfectibility, which is the romantic notion at the heart of all utopian thinking, have as their main problem the countervailing example of everybody you’ve ever met and ever will.

    As noted yesterday, there's an excellent chance that cheerleaders for secular "enlightenment", like Steven Pinker, will be unhappy with the harvest they're sowing.


  • And a brief, but super-insightful Tweet du Jour from @baseballcrank, aka Dan McLaughlin:

    Exactly.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-15

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:28 is yet another promise/threat aimed at good/bad people:

    28 Those who trust in their riches will fall,
        but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

    On a vaguely related matter: my currency says "In God We Trust", but doesn't that sneakily imply that you're relatively foolish to trust that the currency you have on hand will hold its value?

    Also vaguely related: today's Amazon Product du Jour, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by the late Jean Shepherd.


  • Haven't read Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now yet? Let NRO's Christian Alejandro Gonzalez nudge you over the edge: Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now Is Mostly Right.

    Steven Pinker is a rare type of public intellectual, capable of writing prolifically without sacrificing an iota of scholarly rigor. Meticulously researched, closely argued, and elegantly written, his books are always exemplary pieces of scholarship. Most recently he committed his pen to making the case for Enlightenment values in his boldly titled Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

    Against the Marxist revulsion to the free-enterprise system, for instance, Pinker unabashedly embraces capitalist globalization — and his empirical arguments in favor of it are devastating. With a deluge of charts he shows that 200 years of property protections and international trade have helped create a world that is healthier, wealthier, happier, smarter, safer, more peaceful, and more democratic. Far from bequeathing to us a hellishly unequal dystopia, capitalism over the centuries has diminished life’s brutalities and broadened access to its contentments.

    Christian [appropriately] notes one of Pinker's fudges: his effort to discover/explicate a "secular path to meaning". But to Pinker's credit, his comments on this are right up front: pages 3-4.


  • George F. Will on the National Pastime, arguably fading in popularity among the important demographics: Don’t fix baseball, even if it’s broken.

    It is a prudential axiom: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. This reflects the awareness that things can always be made worse, and it reflects the law of unintended consequences, which is that they often are larger than and contrary to intended ones. As baseball reaches the all-star break amid lamentations about several semi-broken aspects of it, it is time to amend the axiom: Don’t fix it, even if it is broken.

    The itch to fix complex systems often underestimates the ability of markets, broadly understood, to respond and adapt to incentives. So, even if you are an unsatisfactory American — i.e., uninterested in baseball — read on, because the debate about some of the game’s current defects contains lessons about lesser things than baseball, meaning everything else.

    I'm mildly in favor of a pitch clock, which almost happened this year.

    Also: hit batsmen get to fling the ball back at the pitcher. "See how you like it."


  • The Google LFOD Alert rang a lot over the past couple days. For example, a Matt Welch article at Reason: How Elected Libertarians Are Making the World More Free. Specifically, Rochester's Brandon Phinney, Republican turned Officially Libertarian:

    For instance, the Live Free or Die State had on its books for more than a century a prohibition against reusing glass milk-delivery bottles for any other substance besides milk. This bit of dairy industry protectionism wasn't exactly high on inspectors' things-to-fine list, but as Phinney explains, "Anything in a statute that has a financial penalty or a chance to get charged for a crime, it's something that I care about."

    Also: performers drinking alcohol on stage is now legal in NH. Baby steps.


  • Which reminds me: Rep. Phinney gets a solid A on the Americans for Prosperity 2017 Legislative Scorecard. I'm envious. My town's three reps, Roger Berube, Matthew Spencer, and Dale Sprague, got (respectively) F (17%), A (92%), and F (33%). Our senator, David Watters, got an F (0%).

  • The Concord Monitor editoriaized on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, pontificating: A republic’s fate is in the hands of voters. Of course, it all comes down to one thing:

    We won’t hazard a guess as to the odds of a Roe v. Wade reversal but if it happens, barring the nuclear option of a federal ban on abortions, the issue will become a matter for states to decide. If it does, we know this: People who cannot make choices for themselves cannot be governed by New Hampshire’s vaunted “Live Free or Die” motto. Rarely can personal freedom be more at stake than when a woman faces the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy or bear, against her wishes or at risk to her health, a child.

    In Monitor-Land, the baby doesn't get get a choice about "Live Free or Die". The "terminate a pregnancy" euphemism is typically dishonest.


  • Something I didn't notice local newshounds reporting is covered at the Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch:

    The New Hampshire Democrats released a July Fourth tweet quoting the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Notice anything missing there, Declaration fans? Sure you do. And so did the GOP:

    The state’s GOP jumped on the edited quote, noting that “by their Creator” was removed from the original, even though the Dems had enough Twitter characters left to include it. “God is NOT an ellipsis,” the Republican news release was titled.

    And rightly so. Thought experiment: what was going through the mind of the Genius Democrat who creatively edited this text? Be as charitable as possible.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Our fourth summer blockbuster so far, and I confess that I found it near irresistible. Yes, it's commercial and (on a macro scale) predictable. Don't care in this case. I just love seeing dinosaurs misbehave.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as Owen and Claire. Their relationship is off again, with Claire overseeing the rubble of the previous movie's theme park and Owen off to the wildnerness, building a cabin, trying to forget. But a big problem intrudes: Isla Nublar is a volcanic island, and its pesky volcano threatens to kill everything in the vicinity. (That park was cursed from the get-go, wasn't it?)

Good news! John Hammond's old partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) is filthy rich, and his company is offering to evacuate as many dinosaurs as possible from the island. But, yes, there's bad news: there's an evil greed-fueled plot behind this offer; Owen and Claire quickly find themselves double crossed and in deadly peril. Which sets the stage for the real fun, which is dinosaur-based destruction and carnage.

Claire has a couple of winning assistants, who help out. And there's a kid. There's always at least one kid in these movies. There's a secret behind this kid, however, and I did not see it coming.

Random thought: whoa, Geraldine Chaplin got really wrinkly. But the last thing I saw her in may have been Richard Lester's Three Musketeers movies and that was—eek!—well over 40 years ago.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-14

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:27 is pretty straightforward:

    27 Whoever seeks good finds favor,
        but evil comes to one who searches for it.

    The only problem is the ambiguous pronoun reference for "it", which confused me on first reading: "Seeking good works; but searching for good will get you nothing but trouble."

    I was looking for profundity that wasn't there.


  • I don't usually link to articles like this: Dangerous Pseudo-Science in Cyber Security.

    CrowdStrike is the network security company, that was called by the DNC when it suspected a breach in its network in early May of 2016. CrowdStrike announced that there were at least two breaches by “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries” — Fancy Bear (APT28) and Cozy Bear (APT29). CrowdStrike even suggested that Fancy Bear belongs to GRU (Russian military intelligence) and Cozy Bear belongs to FSB (Federal Security Service, replacement of KGB). The DNC was satisfied with CrowdStrike service and refused to let the FBI examine its servers, surprising even James Comey.  All data and alleged malware samples that were given to the FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, other security companies, and the public came from CrowdStrike. There is something fishy in this, isn’t it? Especially when we learn that

     In my opinion: CrowdStrike is a fraud

    Red centered text in original.

    I have no idea whether CrowdStrike is a fraud or not. Nor whether it's true that they're the sole source for evidence that the Russkies were behind the DNC server hacks. But I'd like to see some further skeptical investigation of that; people seem pretty credulous on the Russia connection.


  • At Reason, Brian Doherty has an article of local interest: Candidate Kicked Out of New Hampshire Libertarian Party Nonetheless on House Primary Ballot as a Libertarian

    Tom Alciere is a former Republican state legislator in New Hampshire who resigned under public pressure in 2001 after he made some public comments supporting the killing of police officers. He ran unsuccessfully for office two more times as a Republican (one time losing to a write-in). This year he appears on a primary ballot for the 2nd District's federal House seat, pursuing the Libertarian Party's nomination.

    The party did its best to prevent that. In 1993, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH) booted Alciere. The party's executive committee renewed its stance against the candidate last month, noting in a resolution that "Alciere has a history of advocating violence" and "refused to take a pledge against violence as a means of obtaining political objectives." (Alciere was also arrested in 2009 for a misdemeanor assault on a 12-year-old female neighbor.)

    I remember Alciere from my Usenet days; then, as now, he was a widely despised loon.

    But (note to self) it's really easy to get on a party's primary ballot: as near as I can tell, all Alciere had to do was fill out a form and write a check for $50.


  • At NRO, Jim "Indispensable" Geraghty is Ending the Week with Hard Truths. Specifically, that for politicians "the reward for telling the truth is insufficient in many cases."

    Will the voters reward you if you say that our annual deficits and the debt are too high, and that addressing the problem will require cutting spending, raising taxes, or both? No. If you tell them that changing demographics make the entitlement programs unsustainable, and that the only way to avoid a collapse is to reduce benefits, raise taxes, or shift workers to a riskier form of personal investing for retirement, how do they respond?

    Do they sit down, look at the numbers, do the math for themselves, and carefully contemplate which path is least painful for themselves and the country as a whole? Or do they vote for the guy who promises to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts” and who contends he can solve the entire problem just by eliminating “waste and abuse”?

    Ooh, teacher, I know! Pick me!

    We (rightly) criticize Trump for his serial dishonesty. But he's only a very bad example of a very bad trend.


  • You might want to send this article to the next person who's confused on the matter: The [Babylon] Bee Explains: Democratic Socialism.

    How does Democratic Socialism differ from just “Socialism”?

    It has the word “Democratic” in front of it, you see, which means it is achieved by promoting identity politics, stoking class warfare, and cranking that entitlement mentality up to 11, instead of literal violent overthrow of the government. Besides, voting for the government to seize people’s wealth is totally different from the government deciding to do so on their own, right? Err… uh… DID WE MENTION YOU GET FREE STUFF?? Say it with us: Socialism good, Democratic Socialism better!

    I can't argue with that!

What Is Real?

The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics

[Amazon Link]

When I was a mere lad, I was a physics major, which involved taking a few quantum mechanics courses. And from them I learned that at the quantum level, things get weird. It's difficult to pin things down; the mere act of trying to pin things down causes those things to behave differently than they would otherwise.

But (somehow) things remain sane at the macroscopic level. Why is that? Shouldn't they be weird all the way? At what point, precisely, do they stop being weird?

What I learned was the standard "Copenhagen Interpretation" (CI), cooked up at the very beginning of the quantum era by folks like Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Which has had great success in explaining things and allowing the design of multiple goodies in our technological wonderland. But over the years, a (relative) few people have had problems with the CI, even starting with Einstein.

Briefly, the CI says: solve Schrödinger's equation, get a probability distribution, and that's about the best you can do. For example, instead of little ball-like electrons orbiting around an atomic nucleus like beads on wires (as seen in The Big Bang Theory), all you get is a probability cloud: chances are good the electon's here, not very good over there, nearly zero over here.

But the naysayers say: wait a minute. What's really going on? The CI says that's, essentially, a meaningless question; there's no way to know. And yet, there have been efforts over the years to "do better". This book champions the naysayers, essentially arguing that (despite its successes) the CI is the Danish Emperor With No Clothes. The author, Adam Becker, deftly outlines the history, biographies of the various characters involved, and some experiments that folks do that favor alternate interpretations over CI.

So, interesting book. Could have done without the authorial cheerleading. Wherever possible, the motives and psyches of the CI adherents are impugned. (Example: within the space of four pages, Becker tells us three times that Heisenberg was concerned that his theoretical efforts would be "eclipsed" by those of Schrödinger. OK, Adam, we get it. Maybe buy a thesaurus for your next book.)

The main objection to the CI seems to be aesthetic; those of an anti-CI bent really don't want to think like that, preferring to think in terms of electrons really being shiny little balls. Becker argues forcefully that way, but has a hard time getting over the plain fact that the CI works just fine: it comports with experiment, sets the basis for fruitful research. Yes, the future could unseat it, but it will have to be on stronger grounds than provided here.

Blood of Amber

[Amazon Link]

Number 7 of 10 in my attempt to read Roger Zelazny's Amber series. I think this may have been new ground for me—I know I petered out at some point when the books were originally published. Spoilers follow:

Anyway, Merlin has been imprisoned in a crystalline cavern by Luke, a longtime friend on Shadow Earth, only recently revealed to have ulterior motives, and hostile knowledge of Amber. Many adventures unfold, as Merlin manages to escape, thanks to a dimwitted duo happening by his jail. Things get complicated as Merlin travels through Shadow: old familiar places like Amber and Earth, but also new sites like the Keep of the Four Worlds, a handy crossroards that (unfortunately) is under siege, and controlled by unfriendly forces anyway.

A number of new characters (or are they new?), shifting alliances, and a usual display of spectacular magic. The climax finds Merlin (once again) seemingly trapped, but in a world that will be familiar to Lewis Carroll fans.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:26 demonstrates that the Proverbialist was far from a laissez-faire capitalist:

    26 People curse the one who hoards grain,
        but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

    A "hoarder" is someone who is guessing about the economic future differently than you.


  • Wired magazine is part of the Condé Nast family, and often makes me grit my teeth at its dogged leftism. But every so often an article comes along…

    Daniel Duane has an article in the current issue: How the Startup Mentality Failed Kids in San Francisco. That's not entirely accurate; you can read the article yourself to find out what the actual "mentaility" involved was.

    Duane is one of the classic examples of a "liberal mugged by reality" when it came time for his own daughter to enroll in middle school, and one of her options was:

    Willie Brown Middle School was the most expensive new public school in San Francisco history. It cost $54 million to build and equip, and opened less than two years earlier. It was located less than a mile from my house, in the city’s Bayview district, where a lot of the city’s public housing sits and 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. This new school was to be focused on science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM, for short. There were laboratories for robotics and digital media, Apple TVs for every classroom, and Google Chromebooks for students. A “cafetorium” offered sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, flatscreen menu displays, and free breakfast and lunch. An on-campus wellness center was to provide free dentistry, optometry, and medical care to all students. Publicity materials promised that “every student will begin the sixth grade enrolled in a STEM lab that will teach him or her coding, robotics, graphic/website design, and foundations of mechanical engineering.” The district had created a rigorous new curriculum around what it called “design thinking” and a “one-to-one tech model,” with 80-minute class periods that would allow for immersion in complex subjects.

    And then… it all fell apart. Nearly from Day One.


  • At Cato, Colin Grabow rebuts a recent opinion piece from Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro: Navarro Misses the Boat on the Jones Act.

    In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece White House economic advisor Peter Navarro hailed the christening of a new transport ship in the nearby Philly Shipyard as evidence of the “United States commercial shipbuilding industry’s rebirth.” As is typical of Navarro’s pronouncements, the reality is almost the exact opposite. In fact, a closer examination of the ship’s construction reveals it to be symptomatic not of a rebirth, but of the industry’s long downward slide.

    Named after the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, Navarro describes the 850-foot Aloha-class vessel as “massive” and notes that it is “the largest container ship ever built in the United States.” This, however, is somewhat akin to the tallest Liliputian. Although perhaps remarkble in a domestic context, by international standards the ship is a relative pipsqueak. Triple-E class ships produced by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering for Maersk Line, for example, are over 1,300 feet in length. While the Inouye’s cargo capacity is listed at 3,600 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, roughly equivalent to a standardized shipping container), the Triple-E class can handle 18,000.

    "Misses the boat", heh! See what he did there? Also at Cato: The Jones Act: A Burden America Can No Longer Bear, by Grabow and two co-authors.


  • Matt Welch is dissatisfied with the behavior of a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan: 'Constitutional Conservatives' Lose Interest in Holding Trump Accountable. While Jordan has had a record of calling out executive misbehavior pre-January 2017…

    So how did Jordan react to the May 2017 appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI's ongoing investigation into the Russia-related activities of President Donald Trump? "Well, I'm—you know, look, I guess I'll keep an open mind," were the congressman's first recorded public words. That mind has been closing ever since.

    Five weeks later, Jordan and Meadows were already co-authoring op-eds saying it was "time to investigate the investigators" because Mueller's team leaned too Democratic. One month after that, Jordan signed onto an official request for a second special counsel, this one focusing on potential crimes by Hillary Clinton. The congressman is a permanent fixture on cable news, hyping the latest soon-to-be-forgotten Mueller-probe controversy and issuing grave condemnations against any official seemingly caught in a lie.

    Except Donald Trump.

    For the recond, I think it's pretty clear that the recent allegations about Jordan about his decades-ago Ohio State wrestling coach era are politically-motivated slime-throwing. But Matt's correct that the real scandal is hypocrisy.


  • Jonah Goldberg writes at NRO: Business Insider Surrenders to the Social-Justice Warriors

    Business Insider ran a column defending actress Scarlett Johansson from fierce criticism for her decision to play a transgender man in a forthcoming film called Rub and Tug. The writer, Daniella Greenbaum, took the apparently outrageous position that actors can pretend to be people they are not. Or, as Greenbaum put it, “Scarlett Johansson is the latest target of the social-justice warrior mob. The actress is being chastised for, well, acting.”

    Ironically, Greenbaum’s column rendered this claim outdated, because by writing that, Greenbaum herself became an even more recent victim of the social-justice-warrior mob. In response to complaints, internal and external, Business Insider pulled the column from its website and invented some new editorial standards to justify the decision.

    Ms. Greenbaum has since quit the publication. Readers should be on notice that anything they read from Business Insider has been sent through the SJW filter. Ironically, as CNN reports, the term "social justice warrior" is now also banned at Business Insider.


  • But that's not the only trouble brewing for Miss Scarlett, as the Babylon Bee reports: Scarlett Johansson Under Fire For Agreeing To Play Giant Sandworm In Upcoming ‘Dune’ Adaptation

    Scarlett Johansson has come under withering criticism after agreeing to play the giant sandworm, Shai-hulud, in Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

    Johansson is signed on to provide the motion-capture footage and guttural roars for artists to generate CGI of the legendary desert worm. Critics claim that by agreeing to portray a character other than a white, cisgendered female, Johansson is ignoring the life experiences and struggles of other genders, races, and species of colossal desert-dwelling worm creatures living on the planet Arrakis.

    Not that it matters, but how come they remake Dune over and over, but not The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, ever?

    Amazon Product du Jour is Sandworms of Dune which Amazon claims is Book Number—whoa!—Nineteen in the "Dune Universe". I gave up decades ago, partway into number three.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-12

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:25 is a sweet paean to altruism:

    25 A generous person will prosper;
        whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

    Ayn Rand might disagree, but that's OK.


  • At Cato, Terence Kealey has the musical question du jour: Why Does the Federal Government Issue Damaging Dietary Guidelines?

    It's a long, sad history of Your Federal Government bumbling and fumbling as it took over the role of Food Nanny. Key quote:

    In fact, the federal government may be institutionally incapable of providing wise dietary advice, as Thomas Jefferson warned us in his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia: “Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.”

    The government is "supposed" to ensure the safety of our food. Except, as the news often informs us, they haven't managed to get that right yet. Maybe fire the nannies, in order to get a few more cops?


  • Lest you worry that the lefties are the only people looking to shut down expression they don't like on college campuses, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) will reassure you that it can be a bipartisan effort: Kansas officials demand University of Kansas remove American flag artwork.

    A controversy is brewing over a flag being flown at the University of Kansas as part of a nationwide public art series. The series, called “Pledges of Allegiance,” is a project of the New York-based arts nonprofit Creative Time, displaying a rotation of flags addressing a variety of themes and topics by artists from around the world. While the series consists of 16 artworks, the ire is focused on one in particular: “Untitled (Flag 2)” by artist Josephine Meckseper. Meckseper describes the work as “a collage of an American flag and one of my dripped paintings which resembles the contours of the United States.”

    Today, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded KU remove the artwork.

    Ms. Meckseper's artwork isn't my cup of tea. In fact I find it talent-free. Other flags at the site linked above are of varying quality and stridency.

    The site's Project Support page lists a number of sponsors, at least a couple seemingly supported by New York taxpayers. Were I a New York taxpayer, I might be pretty steamed at that.

    But (unlike the grandstanding Kansas pols), I'm content to leave it there.


  • At NRO, Kevin D. Williamson has Ten Thoughts on Judicial Activism. Let's look at … number six!

    1. Which brings us to the question of what judicial activism actually is. Properly understood, the question of whether there should be a legal right to abortion is separate from the question of whether there actually is a legal right to abortion in the text of the Constitution. It is fanciful to believe that there was in fact a constitutional right to abortion lurking in the document for nearly 200 years, unnoticed by the men who wrote and ratified it, and then discovered by Justice Blackmun et al. Judicial activism is what happens when judges abuse the power entrusted to them, choosing to act as politicians making policy rather than as judges upholding the law even when they wish the law were other than what it is.

    It would be neat if Brett Kavanaugh were to lecture any querulous senators this way. But that's why it's gonna be Justice Kavanaugh and not Justice Williamson. senators.


  • Veronique de Rugy looks at the emperor and claims that he's got his free-trade garments on. Veronique says, nope, he's naked: On Trade, Trump Is Who He Claims to Be.

    Nothing in what the president has ever said suggests that he's anything but a diehard mercantilist. Yes, it's true that he complains loudly of the treatment of U.S. exporters abroad—treatment he no doubt wants to change. It's also true that he has endorsed dropping all tariffs around the world to zero.

    But even these seemingly free-trade stances stem from fundamentally protectionist beliefs: First, that if there were no tariffs, U.S. exports would rise dramatically and surpass imports, shrinking the dreaded trade deficit. And second, that exports are great and imports are bad. In other words, America wins with low imports and high exports.

    He is wrong on all counts. If the U.S. trade deficit were to ever disappear, America's economic health would take a turn for the worse. As long as the United States is growing and remains an attractive place to invest, we will continue to run a trade deficit with the rest of the world.

    Which brings us to…


  • Mark J. Perry identifies the latest casualty in Trump's War on Laundry.

    Hey, folks! Your tax cut was nice, wasn't it? Too bad that it got eaten up when you bought that washing machine.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-11

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:24 follows the "good guys win/bad guys lose" formula, but at least is worded entertainingly:

    24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
        another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

    Hey, it sounds like the Paradox of Thrift! But… no, it's probably not. The Proverbialist was no Keynesian.


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi cuts through the Kavanaugh hype: Democrats Don’t Fear Brett Kavanaugh, They Fear The Constitution.

    The other day Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in Israel to receive an award for her commitment to tikkun olam (“to heal the world” in Hebrew,) a spiritual concept that progressive Jews have long distorted so that their malleable religious views could better align with leftist orthodoxy. It’s the sort of convenient philosophy that allows traditions to be subsumed by the vagaries of contemporary politics.

    So it is with an increasing number of Democrats and the Constitution: a document they seem believe must bend to the will of their policy preferences rather than preserve legal continuity, limited government, individual liberty, or enlightenment ideals.

    Sure, some of the anger aimed Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is partisan bluster meant to placate the activist base. Still, most Democrats were going to get hysterical about any pick, because any conservative pick was going to take the Constitution far too literally for their liking. For those who rely on the administrative state and coercion as a policy tool — forcing people to join political organizations, forcing them to support abortion, forcing them to subsidize socially progressive sacraments, forcing them to create products that undermine their faith, and so on — that’s a big problem.

    I fully expect our state's Senators to emit more than their fair share of partisan bluster over the coming weeks.


  • Going against the Progressive flow, Jacob Sullum notes that Brett Kavanaugh is Another Surprisingly Subversive Justice.

    Upon being nominated to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh said he had "witnessed firsthand" Donald Trump's "appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary." That claim raised some eyebrows, given the president's tendency to question the authority of judges who reach conclusions he does not like.

    Kavanaugh, by contrast, clearly understands the importance of an independent judiciary as a check on the other branches of government. His readiness to perform that function as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is reassuring, especially since the man who picked him for the Supreme Court seems to know little and care less about the legal principles that protect liberty and thwart tyranny.

    Slam Trump all you want—I've certainly done my share of that—but he's kept his campaign promises on judicial appointments.


  • But you may ask yourself: Will Brett Kavanaugh protect Donald Trump? Fortunately, David French has an answer for you: No, Brett Kavanaugh Won’t ‘Protect’ Donald Trump. The alleged smoking gun trumpeted by Kavanaugh-bashers is a Minnesota Law Review article that argued that Presidents should be immune from criminal prosecution and investigation while in office, and suggested Congress might want to legislate to that effect.

    Study Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence for any length of time, and you’ll note that he’s not a devotee of the presidency. He’s a devotee of the Constitution, and the Constitution separates powers between the three branches of government. In this case, the Constitution gives the power to Congress to protect the president — it doesn’t insulate the president from criminal investigation and prosecution by its own terms. Otherwise, why suggest legislation?

    And what of the other claims that Kavanaugh has been, as Garrett Epps claims in The Atlantic, “deeply shaped by the needs and mores of the executive branch”? They collapse under scrutiny as well. For example, Epps in two paragraphs explains that Kavanaugh “incline[s] toward the ‘unitary executive’ view of presidential power, which holds that Congress cannot set up federal agencies that are not under the direction and control of the president,” but Kavanaugh has also attacked the Chevron doctrine, a judicial rule that has mandated judicial deference to executive-agency interpretations of governing law.

    Of course, as David goes on to say, undoing Chevron deference would decrease arbitrary executive power. Epps misses this.


  • Let's see, we've killed off Han… and Luke… and not sure what's going to happen with Leia… who else is there? Ah! The Hollywood Reporter reports: Billy Dee Williams Reprising Role as Lando Calrissian.

    Billy Dee Williams is returning to a galaxy far, far away.

    The actor, who famously played the galactic gambler Lando Calrissian, will reprise the role for Star Wars: Episode IX, the next Star Wars installment from Lucasfilm.

    Given the current filmmakers' predilections for killing off the old characters we love, I would advise Billy Dee against relying on further appearances.

Sapiens

A Brief History of Humankind

[Amazon Link]

I had high hopes for this book, based on … I'm not sure what, exactly. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, is a history prof at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The subtitle, "A Brief History of Humankind", led me to think it might be a… well, a history book, hopefully full of "big ideas", a genre I'm kind of a sucker for. In addition, it's glitzy, with many color illustrations.

But as it turns out the subtitle is misleading. Yes, there's some history here. But …

The book is organized around four "revolutions". The first, the "Cognitive Revolution", occurred around 70K years back, when Homo Sapiens developed "imagination". This caused our ancestors to develop language, culture, and migrate out of East Africa to (eventually) the four corners of the earth.

Second revolution was "Agricultural", the transformation from hunter/gatherer societies to farming, about 10K years ago. Harari notes that this was, in many ways, a downgrade in terms of diet, life expectancy, and freedom. (Agricultural societies arguably needed "protection", and agricultural products were easy sources of protection money, often euphemized as "taxes".)

Third revolution: unification. Various far-flung empires sprang up, absorbing previously-independent cultures into their overweening grasp. Harari refrains (mostly) from moral judgmentalism here, noting that this revolution, as the others he details, was more or less inevitable.

Finally: the scientific revolution, only a few hundred years old, in which we live today, and for the foreseeable future.

All that's fine, I suppose. But I was expecting more facts and stories from a self-described "history" book. Instead, I got a lot of pontificating about the Meaning Of It All. I found Harari's "big ideas" to be simplistic, delivered with smugness. For example, he takes apart the most famous sentence in the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The first paragraph of Harari's "translation into biological terms":

According to the science of biology, people were not 'created'. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal’. The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are ‘equal’? Evolution is based on difference, not on equality. Every person carries a somewhat different genetic code, and is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities that carry with them different chances of survival. ‘Created equal’ should therefore be translated into ‘evolved differently’.

And so on. We are more or less invited to chuckle at the efforts of Jefferson et al. Har, them guys back then sure were stupid.

Harari's reductionism tears down a lot of the "myths" surrounding us. He's not shy about dragging in his own myths, however. (Don't get him started about poor treatment of farm animals!)

It's not all bad. Harari is on-target when he notes the silliness of arguments about "cultural appropriation": when Culture A steals things from Culture B, it's almost always something Culture B had previously grabbed from Cultures C, D, E, … And his discussion of possible futures for Homo Sapiens is pretty interesting.

All in all, I'm in agreement with the WSJ review by Charles C. Mann:

There’s a whiff of dorm-room bull sessions about the author’s stimulating but often unsourced assertions. Or perhaps I should use a more contemporary simile: “Sapiens” reminded me occasionally of a discussions on Reddit, where users sound off about supposed iron laws of history. This book is what these Reddit threads would be like if they were written not by adolescent autodidacts but by learned academics with impish senses of humor.

I previously had put Harari's second book, Homo Deus on my to-be-read list. After reading Sapiens, I took it off. Your mileage may vary, of course.