The Undoing Project

A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

[Amazon Link]

A few months ago, I read the wonderful book Thinking, Fast and Slow by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, describing the research that led to his Nobel (in economics). This book, by famous non-fiction author Michael Lewis is the "outside view" of Kahneman's remarkable life and research, and that of his longtime collaborator Aron Tversky. (Kahneman and Tversky are referred to as "Danny" and "Aron" throughout; I'll return the favor by calling Lewis "Mike" here.)

Things are especially compelling in the early going: Danny was born in Tel Aviv in 1934, but spent his early childhood in France. He was Jewish. Friend, you can do the math here: much of his early life was spent close to horrible death. Lewis relates this dark story with many odd and compelling details.

Aron's background was slightly less hectic: he was born, and stayed in what-was-to-become-Israel during WWII. But (here's a story), while training with the Israeli army in the mid-50s, Arib was present when another soldier fainted on top of a bangalore torpedo he had just armed to clear a barbed wire barrier. Against orders, Aron trotted over to the doomed soldier, dragged him away from the torpedo, and fell on top of him before the explosion. Amos got a lifetime supply of shrapnel embedded in his back. And a medal. And advice from Moshe Dayan: "You did a very stupid and brave thing and you won't get away with it again."

Aron died in 1996 of cancer. They don't award the Nobel to dead people, unfortunately.

Anyway: Mike is one of the best at telling these stories that combine personal stories with a lot of geeky detail, in this case psychology. I'd recommend reading this book, before or after Danny's.

What I noticed: Mike notes the career progress of Don Redelmeier, a Candadian doctor who wound up doing some work with Aron. One of Don's insights was spurred by a brain-dead helmetless motorcyclist who'd run into a tree: people were bad at judging risks, "even when their misjudgment might kill them." And there's a small advocacy of mandatory helmet laws.

This is kind of a bugaboo of mine, that misses an important point: people have wildly differing appetites for risk. I'm wary of people who pretend there's a "right" level for acceptable risk, and want to back that up with legislation.

Worse: Danny's two-pack-daily cigarette habit is mentioned, without similar comment. How risky was that? (Note: Danny's still alive and kicking at age 83.)

URLs du Jour

2017-04-25

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…

■ Proverbs 27:20 is insightful:

Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.

Note: Don't show this to a Bible literalist simultaneously with Jesus' sermonic suggestion in Matthew 5:29.

■ My Google LFOD alert was triggered by Kurt Schlicter, writing at Town Hall: Liberals Want To Kill Free Speech, So We Patriots Must Fight Back. Now, be warned, his language is ill-tempered and immoderate, but he's not wrong:

Understand that if America is stupid enough to let liberals take power again, they will persecute and prosecute normal Americans like us who dare to dissent. That’s not a guess or a prediction – that’s a commitment they have made to their fascist followers. They’ve seen what the truth can do to their schemes. After 2016, there’s no way they are going to take a chance on another electoral rejection by us normals, so they don’t even pretend to support free speech anymore. It will be one gender neutral being-one vote, one more time, and then never again.

Kurt relates an impressive history of Democrat chin-pulling about how that whole First Amendment thing might need some fixin', one recent example being Howard Dean's Constitutional legerdemain declaring "hate speech" to be outside the umbrella of protection. Concludes:

That un-American, wannabe fascist Howard Dean need only look at a license plate from neighboring New Hampshire to understand how this is going to end. We’ll either live free or die.

There you go.

■ Another enemy of liberty was given a plum spot in the NYT the other day: Ulrich Baer, "vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University", also multi-thousand-dollar contributor to the Hillary campaign. Philip Greenspun takes on one of America’s greatest minds on display (and I'll quote the whole, priceless, thing):

[Baer's column] is interesting because it shows how one of America’s greatest minds (a professor of comparative literature at NYU who has been selected by peers to be “vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity”) restates the sentence “Everyone who disagrees with me is wrong and I don’t want to hear from them.”

[The sheer length of the piece is fascinating, as though the professor had entered a contest for who could use the most words to restate “Everyone who disagrees with me is wrong and I don’t want to hear from them.”]

Only quibble: neither Baer, nor Howard Dean, are pleading for self-protection against hearing those disagreeable voices. It's not so much "I don't want to hear from them". It's instead: "I don't want anyone to hear from them."

■ Professor Althouse is also (correctly) dismissive. After quoting a paragraph where Baer asserts that freedom of expression "requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters":

I don't think I have ever read 4 consecutive sentences containing as much bad writing and bad thinking. I'm a bit awestruck at the badness. I'm certainly glad that it was published. I was going to criticize it, but I think it speaks for itself. I'll just say thanks for hanging your ideas out where we can see them. I'm moving on, looking for other parameters to examine.

Let us do the same…

■ Well, after this one last thing. Wesley J. Smith at NR is also Baer-brutal: NYT Publishes Speech Suppression Advocacy.

I have been thinking for some time that on issues of speech, we are watching a contest between the American Revolution–that guarantees the right to express unpopular social and political views–and the French Revolution that unleashes Jacobins to suppress heterodoxy.

But after reading Uhlrich, I think we face something even more dangerous to liberty: A full-blown Mao-style Cultural Revolution is gestating on college campuses. If we don’t restore American ideals of speech freedom to those “snowflake” enclaves, we could well see a violent avalanche materialize that threatens the peaceability of our broader social discourse.

OK Ann, now we'll move on.

■ Jeremy Samuel Faust at Slate describes The Problem With the March for Science.

[T]he march revealed the glaring dissonance of opposing that trough of ignorance by instead accepting a cringe-worthy hive-mind mentality that celebrates Science as a vague but wonderful entity, what Richard Feynman called “cargo cult science.” There was an uncomfortable dronelike fealty to the concept—an oxymoronic faith that information presented and packaged to us as Science need not be further scrutinized before being smugly celebrated en masse. That is not intellectually rigorous thought—instead, it’s another kind of religion, and it is perhaps as terrifying as the thing it is trying to fight.

As previously noted, local "March for Science" featured speaker was non-scientist Carol Shea-Porter, who urged marchers to "take this country back from people who don’t believe in science".

Emphasis added. CSP's faith-based language demonstrates the nasty phenomenon Faust describes.

■ At Wired, Emma Pierson ("a computer science PhD student") harangues: Hey, Computer Scientists! Stop Hating on the Humanities. What does she mean by that? Well, computer scientists are often less than respectful toward fuzzier disciplines. But that's not all!

The fact that so many computer scientists are ignorant or disdainful of non-technical approaches is worrisome because in my work, I’m constantly confronting questions that can’t be answered with code. When I coded at Coursera, an online education company, I developed an algorithm that would recommend classes to people in part based on their gender. But the company decided not to use it when we discovered it would push women away from computer science classes.

Note: Emma doesn't say whether she implemented a valid algorithm that offered good advice to students. That didn't matter. The important thing was: its results went against ideology. Lest there be any doubt, she doubles down:

It turns out that this effect—where algorithms entrench societal disparities—is one that occurs in domains from criminal justice to credit scoring. This is a difficult dilemma: In criminal justice, for example, you’re confronted with the fact that an algorithm that fulfills basic statistical desiderata is also a lot more likely to rate black defendants as high-risk even when they will not go on to commit another crime.

I think "fulfills basic statistical desiderata" means that the algorithm in question gave an accurate calculation of risk. I have my doubts that "the humanities" will provide any useful insight when deciding which algorithms to ignore when they give answers that collide with "thorny ethical questions".

■ What could go wrong? Former Obama Official Suggests ‘Opposing Viewpoints Button’ for Facebook.

Cass Sunstein, former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, suggested that Facebook experiment with an “opposing viewpoints button” in the website’s newsfeed but cautioned against the company curating content based on policy positions.

Sunstein is (I have to admit) just about the only ex-Obama Administration source from whom I'd seriously consider proposals to modify Facebook's efforts to shield its users from incorrect thought.

Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal: Congressional "Fairness" Reform

Awhile back, this article in Quanta caught my eye: How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering. Specifically, this bit (emphasis added):

Partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge — is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional.

My gut reaction: Unfair?! Hey, I'll tell you about unfair!

I live in New Hampshire Congressional District 1. The November election results were:

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Carol Shea-Porter Democrat 161,828 44.2%
Frank C. Guinta Republican 157,011 42.9%
Shawn O'Connor Independent 34,612 9.4%
Robert Lombardo Libertarian 6,842 1.9%
Brendan Kelly Independent 6.046 1.7%

At least for the purposes of this post, I don't want to get into the details, personalities, and parties of my oddball district. Instead, let's concentrate on fairness, and what it means to have a "representative democracy", at least for the purposes of the US House of Representatives.

To wit: Carol Shea-Porter now sits in the 115th United States Congress, with one whole vote therein. But it's clear from the table: she only "represents" a minority of voters in her district. A large minority, but still.

Specifically: she does not represent me, in any meaningful sense. (I voted Libertarian, if that matters.) I don't bother to write her about my views on the issues, because she doesn't have any interest in representing me. I'm alienated from the political process, and everyone tells me that's a bad thing!

I submit to you, reader, that this is the great unfairness of our current system, far greater than the kvetching about gerrymandering. It's winner-take-all, and everyone else can just go hang.

So here's my crackpot notion, which would require some Constitutional tinkering: Any candidate for the US House of Representatives who receives greater than 1% of the popular vote in the general election shall be entitled to a vote in the House equal to the fraction of the vote he or she receives.

So, if the 2016 election had been held under that system, and the same result obtained: instead of Carol Shea-Porter casting 1.00 vote, she would instead be entitled to cast a mere 0.442 votes on the House floor. Guinta would have 0.429 votes. O'Connor, Lombardo, and Kelly would submit 0.094, 0.019, and 0.017 votes respectively.

Let's also assume that Congresscritter salaries are also in proportion to their votes.

Yes, this would greatly expand the size of the House, probably by a factor of between 2 and 3. This is more of an infrastructure issue than anything else, and arrangements could be made for secure remote voting.

Members not happy with their fractional vote and salaries can quit. Or just not show up for work. This isn't Russia, after all. But don't bother wasting the voters' time in the next election.

Advantages:

  • As long as their candidate got above that 1% threshold, people would have someone in office they thought of as "their representative", decreasing political alienation.

  • Conversely, the elected representatives would have a greater incentive to pay attention to (i.e., actually represent) the people who voted for them.

  • Citizens residing in overwhelmingly "blue" or "red" districts are probably marginally discouraged from voting under the current system. Why bother, when the outcome is foreordained? Under this proposal, they'd have more incentive to get to the voting booth. Maybe even more of an incentive to get informed on issues of interest.

  • Gerrymandering becomes much less of an issue (and my guess it would be negligible), since just about everyone gets "represented".

Note: this scheme wouldn't apply to the Presidency. We can only have one President, not (say) a mixture of half-Trump and half-Hillary. (That would be scary, though.)

Nor would it apply well, I think, to the US Senate: Senators represent states, not people.

And I don't have any smart ideas how this would play out in House procedures, like committee assignments and the like. My hand-waving impulse would be to treat a district's representatives as a unit for the purpose of committees. So instead of having Shea-Porter with 1.00 vote in the House Armed Services Committee, it would be (again) Shea-Porter, Guinta, O'Connor,... with 0.442, 0.429, 0.094, ... votes respectively.

The natural question: how would that have worked out in the 2016 election? I found a handy spreadsheet that had election results for all 435 Congressional districts. Unfortunately, it only shows Democrat, Republican, and "Other" percentages, and I'm not sure how accurate it is. (It shows Shea-Porter with 45.8%, Guinta with 44.4%, "Other" with 9.8%, which doesn't exactly match the official totals.) But if we add up the fractions, it's bad news for Republicans. Under the Pun Salad proposal:

Party Vote
Democrat 212.810
Republican 209.439
"Other" 12.736

I.e., the Democrats have a slight edge over Republicans in this alternate-fact universe, but not a majority. (Totals don't quite add to 435.00 because of rounding.)

But I hasten to say: if the election had been held under this scheme, the voting incentives would have looked a lot different, so too the results.

URLs du Jour

2017-04-23

■ Proverbs 27:19 is pretty wise, even by 21st century standards:

As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart.

■ A mere two days ago, NPR assured us that March For Science Organizers Work To Maintain Non-Partisan Position.

A March for Science will be held Saturday in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities in the U.S. Organizers say the march is a non-partisan celebration of science. It's meant to both encourage political leaders to fund science and rely on scientific evidence when making policy decisions. Critics worry the march will turn into an anti-Trump rally and paint scientists as just another interest group.

As it turns out, our local march organizers did not get that memo, as related by our local news source: Hundreds join Occupy NH Seacoast’s March for Science. Our guest speaker was Democrat, my CongressCritter, and general toothache, Carol Shea-Porter, and …

“This is a wonderful showing but we have so many more days before the next election and the election after that where we step forward and take this country back from people who don’t believe in science,” Shea-Porter said as people drove by honking their horns and waving in support of the crowd.

Doesn't exactly say "non-partisan" to me, how about you? I would love to see Carol take a basic scientific literacy test, or as Instapundit suggests, solve a quadratic equation.

An interviewed marcher was less partisan, but…

Chris Schera of Nashua turned out on Earth Day in Portsmouth “because science is important, because science is under fire and people just need to be aware that things are real.”

A bold stand indeed: "things are real". Hey, Chris? What can you tell me about the roots of the equation x2+1=0?

Hint: they're not real!

■ Oh well, let's get away from destroying Science and work on the Arts and Humanities. At NR, Deroy Murdock encourages us to draw the Curtains for NEA and NEH. His advice to the nay-sayers:

The Left should stop whining about the NEA and NEH and, instead, do something productive: They should fight for President Trump’s tax-cut plan. If Congress snaps out of its permanent vacation and puts Trump’s tax proposal on his desk for signature, Hollywood and Broadway artists and executives would see their top rate sliced from 39.5 percent to 35 percent. Major media companies such as Time Warner and NBCUniversal would see their corporate taxes MOABed from 35 percent to 20 or, even better, 15 percent. When wealthy show people pass away, their death taxes would have plunged from as much as 40 percent to 0 percent. Trump’s tax system would liberate billions or even trillions of dollars that could be donated to and invested in a new generation of American artistic masterpieces, honorable mentions, and beloved near-misses.

Among many other examples, Murdock notes that Orson Welles didn't need an NEA grant to make Citizen Kane.

■ My LFOD Google alert was triggered by a letter in Pravda on the Merrimack, aka the Concord Monitor, from Bill Walker: My Turn: Marijuana reform sabotaged in state Senate.

There is no way to have a world without drugs; there are still drugs in our prisons. There are only two real choices in drug policy. One is the path of personal freedom, which results in harm reduction, easy access to treatment, safe drugs and no drug cartels. The other is Prohibition, with all the cost, corruption and death. We can have a Live Free or Die New Hampshire, or we can keep paying taxes for our New Deal drug bureaucracy and admit that we aren’t as free as Massachusetts or Vermont.

Bill blames, convincingly, Republican Jeb Bradley.

■ Rod Dreher notes (however) that Vermont's Middlebury College is hardly a bastion of liberty. Instead, he describes Middlebury’s Obscene Cowardice. He quotes (in full) the craven statement of Bertram Johnson, chair of Middlebury's Political Science department, and comments:

This capitulation to the ideological thugs who attacked Murray and others on Middlebury’s campus deserves wide denunciation. A professor from the man’s own department was physically assaulted by these goons, and sent to the hospital — and nobody has been held accountable for any of this by Middlebury. As a scholar and as an American, Bert Johnson, the poli sci department head, should be ashamed of himself. He has shown himself to be a lickspittle to the campus left, and will be treated exactly that way by the radicals he is helping to empower.

If only those earnest marchers-for-science were one-tenth as concerned about the often-violent suppression of free expression on college campuses…

■ OK, one more NR piece, this one from KDW. He writes on Little Creep. In case you don't get the reference, and KDW doesn't explain it: there's the Big Creep, from whence we got Mrs. Creep, and…

Chelsea Clinton, most recently lionized on the cover of Vanity Fair, is a 37-year-old multi-millionaire who has never uttered an interesting word about any subject at any time during the course of her life. Judging from the evidence of her public statements, she has never had an original thought — it isn’t clear that she has had a thought at all. In tribute to her parents, she was given a series of lucrative sinecures, producing a smattering of sophomoric videos for NBC at a salary of $600,000 a year. She later went more formally into the family business, leaving her fake job at NBC for a fake job in her parents’ fake charity. She gave interviews about how she just couldn’t get interested in money and bought a $10 million Manhattan apartment that stretches for the better part of a city block.

KDW is wickedly and hilariously on-target.

URLs du Jour

2017-04-22

■ I wonder if Proverbs 27:18 will have any relevance to Earth Day? Let's call it up and see:

The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit, and whoever protects their master will be honored.

Sort of. I suppose. Because of the figs.

The thing that sticks out for me is the "their", presumably to avoid the sexist construction seen in more accurate translations. (E.g., KJV: "he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.")

■ At Reason, Ronald Bailey writes on the Scientists’ March on Washington. Asking: Do researchers risk becoming just another leftwing interest group?

The mission statement proclaims that the marchers "unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest." Setting aside the fact that the march was conceived in the immediate wake of the decidedly partisan and specifically anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, how credible are these claims to non-partisanship?

My answer: not very. Bailey worries, understandably, that the general public's (currently relatively high) respect for "science" will degrade if it comes to be perceived as just another tedious progressive special interest group.

■ On the same topic, Wired answers a question you were probably not asking: Why Memphis Has Two Marches for Science. To a first approximation: one's for scientists, the other for activists. They couldn't resolve their squabbles about whose hand would be on the tiller:

The tension in Memphis parallels debates in the larger scientific community over the March for Science, and the relationship between science and politics. After many revisions of its mission statement, the national March for Science now explicitly describes itself as a political movement—and more than that, that it’s officially about diversity in science. But some scientists in Memphis, along with many others nationwide, want to keep the movement’s focus on improving public understanding of science and underlining the importance of funding for research. They wanted to avoid associations with a political movement—and even more emphatically, partisan politics.

So there's inner turmoil on primary goals: should it be about (a) using the veneer of "science" to push a lefty agenda, or (b) keeping the taxpayer money flowing. I'm kind of a science fanboy myself, but I can't help but find myself with a can't they both lose attitude.

■ Here in Seacoast NH, it's all about progressive activism, baby. The march in Portsmouth is being brought to you by …

Nope, nothing partisan to see here! Move along!

■ At NR, Robert Atkinson writes In Defense of Robots. It's a refreshing analysis of, and rebuttal to, increasingly popular neo-Luddism, the fear that technological progress will leave millions, if not billions, of people without jobs. Bottom line:

If the elites really want to help low-wage workers, they can start by once again becoming full-throated advocates of technology-led automation and productivity growth, coupled with stricter limits on low-skilled immigration and better labor-market-adjustment policies for workers displaced by productivity improvements. That, rather than robophobia, will help everyone get ahead.

■ An amusing prayer from a source you might not expect, T. A. Frank, writing in Vanity Fair: Please, God, Stop Chelsea Clinton from Whatever She Is Doing.

Amid investigations into Russian election interference, perhaps we ought to consider whether the Kremlin, to hurt Democrats, helped put Chelsea Clinton on the cover of Variety. Or maybe superstition explains it. Like tribesmen laying out a sacrifice to placate King Kong, news outlets continue to make offerings to the Clinton gods. In The New York Times alone, Chelsea has starred in multiple features over the past few months: for her tweeting (it’s become “feisty”), for her upcoming book (to be titled She Persisted), and her reading habits (she says she has an “embarrassingly large” collection of books on her Kindle). With Chelsea’s 2015 book, It’s Your World, now out in paperback, the puff pieces in other outlets—Elle, People, etc.—are too numerous to count.

Usually I only excerpt one paragraph per article, but this is too good to miss:

Chelsea, people were quietly starting to observe, had a tendency to talk a lot, and at length, not least about Chelsea. But you couldn’t interrupt, not even if you’re on TV at NBC, where she was earning $600,000 a year at the time. “When you are with Chelsea, you really need to allow her to finish,” Jay Kernis, one of Clinton’s segment producers at NBC, told Vogue. “She’s not used to being interrupted that way.”

The entitlement-force is strong with this one.

■ Econ prof and overall smart guy Tyler Cowen: 'Fight Inequality!' Is a Poor Rallying Cry. Among the counterintuitive gems:

A recent research paper, by Graham Wright of Brandeis University, found that polled attitudes about economic inequality don’t correlate very well with the desire for government to address it. There is even partial evidence, once controls are introduced into the statistics, that talk of inequality reduces the support for doing something about it. So, if you are a conservative, the next time you get upset about that Paul Krugman column, keep in mind he might just be, unintentionally, working for you.

One can only hope.

■ Space.com relates a geeky lecture at NYC's Museum of Mathematics: Star Trek: The Math of Khan given by James Grime. Among the thorny questions considered: was wearing a red shirt on the Enterprise really a death sentence?

That claim, in fact, is false — more "redshirts" died on-screen than any other crew type (10 gold-shirted, which are command personnel; eight blue-shirted, who are scientists; and 25 red-shirted, Grime said), but that calculation fails to take into account that there are far more redshirts on the ship to start with than any other crew type.

Also considered: how many times did Captain Kirk talk computers to death? The answer may surprise you!


Last Modified 2017-04-23 6:33 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-04-21

■ I think I know what Proverbs 27:17 is trying to say:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

"Ouch, that hurts!"

■ The Pats went to the White House the other day. Well, many of them. Those who abstained for political reasons were huzzahed in the progressive media. But Heat Street's Stephen Miller invites us to a Flashback: When Boston Bruin Snubbed Obama at White House, Media Reaction Was Very Different. The Bruin was Tim Thomas, and he made this statement:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

And he was roundly pummeled for it, by worthies at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and (of course) the Boston Globe. Goes without saying that the Trump-boycotting Pats are being treated differently.

■ That wasn't the only bit of media bias evident in the reporting of the Pats' White House visit. Since tweets are easy to embed:

Bwhahaha! Stupid Trump! Football players hate him! Not like wonderful Obama!

The Pats quickly sacked the NYT

Which led to this mea culpa from the responsible NYT editor:

Translation: I couldn't get away with inserting my obvious bias into the news…this time.

All via Allahpundit at Hot Air: Fake news: When the New England Patriots fact-checked the New York Times; Update: “I’m an idiot,” says Times editor.

■ We don't often link to the New York Daily News, but their Page Six item is pretty funny: Hillary camp scrambling to find out who leaked embarrassing info. The scramble is (once again) over that book, Shattered.

One source said, “The knives are out to find the people who spoke about the campaign to the authors of this book. Dennis [Cheng, the campaign's finance director] has been texting prominent campaign staffers, asking who talked. He’s on a witch hunt to find out who talked to save their own skin, throwing Hillary and her campaign manager Robby Mook under the bus.”

Emphasis added. Dennis, if you're hunting for a witch, I have a candidate in mind.

But: knives out to find a witch who threw people under a bus. That's lively writing right there.

■ And finally, news you can use: How to Survive the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Over the course of about 90 minutes, the skies will darken along a 70 mile-wide (113 kilometers) path from Oregon to South Carolina as the moon's shadow moves across the country from the northwest to the southeast. [Total Solar Eclipse 2017: Path, Viewing Maps and Photo Guide]

I think that will be something to see.

Chasing Midnight

[Amazon Link]

This is (according to Amazon) number 19 in the Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series. And—sorry, Randy—I didn't care for it much. In which I seem to agree with a lot of Amazon reviewers, many of them claiming to have been (like me) longtime fans. The 1-star reviews are (as I type) the most common (27%) with only 24% giving it 5 stars.

Ah, well. I'll continue reading the series. Because that's the way I roll. There must be some name for this mental illness quirk, if you know it could you tell me? Maybe it's the sunk cost fallacy?

Anyway: Doc and Tomlinson find themselves on a Gulf Coast island, amidst a conclave of Beluga caviar moguls, environmental activists, and assorted hangers-on. They have odd names: "Odus", "Kahn", "Kazlov", "Umkeo". And (right from the get-go) things go poorly: the island's power is cut, communications with the outside world are jammed, and people start shooting. At Doc, of course. There's a lot of dodging, bobbing, and weaving. Dire threats are issued.

Part of the problem is that White continues a writing device that he's used in the past: start the book in the middle of action (presumably to grab your attention), then introduce the setting and the characters in flashbacks. This didn't work for me.

And I kept reading to the end, but I have to confess: I could barely tell the characters apart, could not figure out their motivations, and I didn't care about the caviar plot driver enough to make sense out of it,

URLs du Jour

2017-04-20

■ We're gonna do a twofer today, for reasons that will become obvious. Proverbs 27:15-16:

A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;
restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.

The Proverbalist speaks to us over the millennia, and we respond: I hear you, my brother.

Ladies, feel free to substitute appropriately for your situation. That works, too.

I question the wisdom of whoever decided to break that up into two verses, however.

■ Yesterday, we linked to KDW, who asked whether Trump's "Buy American" policy was "cynical or ignorant". David Harsanyi (in the Federalist) points out that, in any case, Trump’s ‘Buy American. Hire American’ Policy Is Dangerous Nonsense.

“We don’t have a level playing field for our workers,” Donald Trump told a group of workers in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Tuesday. Truth is, if we ever leveled the playing field with countries like Mexico and China, the average American worker would be making $3 an hour and spending their pittance on third-world health care and decrepit housing. Please don’t level the playing field, thank you very much.

And then there's …

■ … the estimable Ben Shapiro at NR offers an alternate (but not contradictory) view: Trump’s ‘Hire American, Buy American’ Is Redistribution by Another Name.

This week, President Trump reiterated his commitment to his “hire American, buy American” program — a supposedly crucial element in his “economic nationalist” program. The notion here is threefold: American companies should be forced to hire American labor; government contracts should go to American companies; American producers should be protected from domestic competition by revoking or altering international trade agreements.

All three of these policies have a long, ingloriously stupid history.

Why, yes they do.

■ Unfortunately, politics is more tribal than rational. At Reason, A. Barton Hinkle notes: In Trump Era, Many Political Activists Follow Their Leader, Not Their Principles. And the results can be surprising and depressing:

Even political identity itself is undergoing a shift. The Atlantic reports on recent findings by two political scientists examining the views of the conservative base. Grassroots activists now judge senators with very conservative voting records—such as Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska—as moderate, while deeming others with moderate records more conservative.

The researchers posit that this is because Flake and Sasse have sharply criticized Trump—never mind that Trump himself deviates from traditional conservatism on a whole host of issues, from free trade to eminent domain.

There's also the "enemy of my enemy" factor, which notes that Trump is pissing off the right—by which I mean left—people, and picks sides that way. I confess, I'm probably not immune to that myself.

But I would question the "In the Trump Era" qualification. This predates Trump, doesn't it? Or is it worse now?

■ Huzzah! Andrew Klavan is Back from Vacation. And he summarizes what he gathers has been happening in his absence, for example:

After a poison gas attack in Syria, Ivanka Trump apparently got very upset and demanded that Daddy bomb someone right this minute. President Trump, who can never deny his daughter anything because she’s just so hot, unleashed a devastating aerial attack on either Syria or Iraq or Steve Bannon, he always gets those three confused. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un responded, for some reason, by detonating a nuclear device that blew him into the kitchen pantry where he spent the next three days eating a particularly succulent Jop-chae Pork with potato noodles.

Yes, that's the way I remember it too.

URLs du Jour

2017-04-19

■ Ah, now this is a good one. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Proverbs 27:14:

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.

Wise and funny is our Proverbian.

■ In my college days, I remember being amused by the National Lampoon cover that posed the question: "Pornography: Threat or Menace?". According to Wikipedia, this was a steal from the Harvard Lampoon, and it's been widely imitated/adapted since. Including, now, by KDW@NR: The ‘Buy American’ Order: Cynical or Ignorant?

Trump, who is surrounded by people who fancy themselves “nationalists” (in the cause of what nation, it is not entirely clear), is wading deep into an ancient puddle of stupidity most recently explored by Barack Obama (remember his “nationalist” moment, which lasted for about a month in 2011?) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the woman who (accidentally) did more than anyone other than Kellyanne Conway and Hillary Rodham Clinton to put Trump in the White House. To call it “economic nationalism” would be too grand: It is merely a very narrow form of special-interest politics consisting of backdoor handouts to favored corporate interests.

With Trump, "whatever gets me the most applause" seems to be the way to bet.

■ My politics are catlike, by which I mean Schrödinger's cat. It's about 50/50 between "conservative" and "libertarian", and in the cases where that makes a difference, even I don't know until I open the box where things are going to wind up. A good test today is deciding which is more convincing:

  • This fawning Daily Signal piece about a recent speech by the Department of Homeland Security chief: Top 5 Reasons John Kelly Is Right for Homeland Security.

    No one is more mission-oriented than a Marine and DHS is a department with a serious mission. Running it calls for a plain-spoken, nonpartisan leader who puts the security of Americans above the political squabbles of the day.

  • Or this critical shot at Reason: DHS Head to America: Shut Up, Be Terrified, and Do What You’re Told.

    Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly has heard all of that criticism from Americans who are upset at the way his employees treat them and other people, and he has a response for all of you ingrates: Shut up.

Today, I'm coming up… libertarian.

■ Caitlin Flanagan writes in the Atlantic about How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump. Caitlin's no Trumpster, but she's pretty dead-on concerning normal-people perceptions of what passes for political-themed "comedy" these days.

Though aimed at blue-state sophisticates, these shows are an unintended but powerful form of propaganda for conservatives. When Republicans see these harsh jokes—which echo down through the morning news shows and the chattering day’s worth of viral clips, along with those of Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers—they don’t just see a handful of comics mocking them. They see HBO, Comedy Central, TBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC. In other words, they see exactly what Donald Trump has taught them: that the entire media landscape loathes them, their values, their family, and their religion. It is hardly a reach for them to further imagine that the legitimate news shows on these channels are run by similarly partisan players—nor is it at all illogical. No wonder so many of Trump’s followers are inclined to believe only the things that he or his spokespeople tell them directly—everyone else on the tube thinks they’re a bunch of trailer-park, Oxy-snorting half-wits who divide their time between retweeting Alex Jones fantasies and ironing their Klan hoods.

Or just a basket of deplorables.

■ That book about the Clinton campaign (Shattered) is out, and I probably won't read it, but some of the reviews are entertaining. An interesting nugget from the WSJ review: How Hillary Lost the White House:

For those few unhappy addicts who wish to relive the 2016 presidential campaign so soon, “Shattered” offers a number of gratifying revelations. Among them: Mrs. Clinton’s tinkering with a certain computer server. Not that server—a different one. After losing to Mr. Obama in the protracted 2008 primary, she was convinced that she had lost because some staffers—she wasn’t sure who—had been disloyal. So she “instructed a trusted aide to access the campaign’s server and download the [email] messages sent and received by top staffers.” This tells us, first, that Mrs. Clinton possesses an almost Nixonian paranoia about treachery and, second, that her use of a private email server at the State Department was never the naive “mistake” she pretended it was. In fact, she didn’t want anyone reading her emails the way she was reading those of her 2008 staffers.

Big Sister was watching.

<voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> Heat Street informs us that Weirdly Sexual Bernie Sanders Coloring Books Are Now for Sale [Amazon Link]

According to its Amazon description, the book features “over 20 pages of exquisitely muscular Bernie Sanders drawings for you to color and enjoy… however you so choose, you naughty thing, you.”

Amazon link over there on your right. Usually those Amazon click-ads are pretty tasteful. My apologies for this one.

■ Should President Trump walk away from the "Paris Climate Treaty"? Nay, saith Joseph Bast of the Heartland Institute: President Trump Should Run, Not Walk, Away From The Paris Climate Treaty. One reason:

If President Trump does not withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Treaty and, even better, from the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], then the leaders of other countries will use the treaties as a huge stick with which to beat U.S. consumers and producers. American independence and prosperity—and greatness—will be impossible. The American people, and the middle class in particular, will once again have been betrayed by the political class in Washington DC.

Technically, I don't think it's a "treaty", since it wasn't submitted to the Senate, let alone ratified.


Last Modified 2017-04-19 11:29 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-04-18

Consumer note: The dog and I went for a walk in Vaughn Woods State Park yesterday. At $1 for a non-Maine senior, it was a bargain.

■ Proverbs Chapter 27 has been hit-or-miss. And mostly miss lately. Come on, 27:13:

Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if it is done for an outsider.

If you're like me, your immediate reaction is: Huh?

But I think this is a continuation of 27:12, encouraging you to be prudent, especially when others are imprudent.

I note that other translations make that "outsider", variously, "an adultress", "a strange woman", "a wayward woman", "an immoral woman". I fear that our default translation (New International Version) may have been bowdlerized against sexism.

■ Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis has appeared here on occasion as a victim of campus moral panic. She self-identifies as a "left-wing feminist", but that doesn't mean she can't see the elephant in the room. An excerpt from her new book appears at Reason: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus

I'm all for feelings. I'm a standard-issue female, after all. But this cult of feeling has an authoritarian underbelly: Feelings can't be questioned or probed, even while furnishing the rationale for sweeping new policies, which can't be questioned or probed either. The result is that higher education has been so radically transformed that the place is almost unrecognizable.

■ By the way, a recent report at NPR's WBUR (Boston) affiliate covering Prof Kipnis's talk at Wellesley described her as a "provocateur". Implication: she's looking to stir up trouble!

Another reason to defund NPR.

■ The College Fix notes another sad story reflecting the prevailing Marcusian ideology on campus: Black students condemn ‘truth’ as invention of white people, want conservatives expelled. Their issue was with the president of Pomona College, David Oxtoby, who dared suggest the college's mission was "founded upon the discovery of truth". Nuh-uh, said the students:

The idea that there is a single truth--’the Truth’--is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.

As Orwell noted: "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool." And the kiddos writing such foolishness didn't come up with it on their own; they had to be carefully taught.

■ The Daily Signal tries to be optimistic: Conservative Says Trump’s Export-Import Bank Nominations Could Bring in Era of Reforms. The nominations of two former GOP Congresscritters, one of whom was an ardent foe of Ex-Im, is the pony in the midst of all the horseshit for some:

“Having worked with both of these gentlemen so closely on the Financial Services Committee, I am hopeful they will safeguard taxpayer dollars and put an end to the bank’s well-documented management failures,” [Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb] Hensarling, R-Texas, said in a statement. “With Ex-Im so captured by special interests, the president was right to choose principled leaders like these to safeguard the agency against further mission creep, fraud, waste, and abuse.”

We'll see. But I fear…

■ … that the truth (sorry, Pomona undergrads!) might be more accurately reflected by KDW@NR, in his missive to Trump supporters: Ya Got Took.

No fighting China on currency, no wall, no NATO reform. Add a few more items to the list: Janet Yellen was definitely out before she wasn’t; our relationship with Russia was “great” during the campaign but today is a “horrible relationship” that is “at an all-time low” (he may not know about the Cuban missile crisis); the president could not make war on Syria without congressional approval (“big mistake if he does not!”) until he could. The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land. Steve Bannon of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs, Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs, and Dina Powell of Goldman Sachs are firmly ensconced in their various roles throughout the Trump administration. The alt-right basement-dwellers and sundry knuckleheads beamed that Trump was going to be a “nationalist,” and that he would give the boot to coastal elitists, moderates, and Ivy League snoots. In reality, Trump is a New York Democrat who is being advised by other New York Democrats — Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner prominent among them — who are more or less the sort of people who brought you the Obama and Clinton administrations: business-friendly corporate Democrats, people who think of themselves as post-ideological pragmatists, consensus progressives who are much more interested in opening up backdoor channels to Planned Parenthood than they are in the priorities of people they consider nothing more than a bunch of snake-handling rustics and talk-radio listeners stockpiling gold coins and freeze-dried ice cream in their basements. Trump was a Clinton donor and a Chuck Schumer donor, and he is acting like one.

Whew! (Note: some of those Trump-reversals were actually good news.)