1917

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Pun Son and I trekked over to the icy wastes of Barrington to view 1917. After a good sleep, various bodily sphincters have finally unclenched. I understand there's an IMAX version; I probably wouldn't have survived that. Yes, it's intense.

IMDB raters have this as #41 on the list of best movies of all time. And (of course) it's been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and nine others.

Set in World War I's trenches, It's the story of two soldiers and their desperate mission to notify a remote regiment that their scheduled attack against a German force is doomed to failure. If they don't get through, 1600 of their countrymen will be slaughtered.

They proceed through different instantiations of hell. All impressively shot. I don't know about Best Picture, but the Oscar for Cinematography should be a lock. (And I say that without having watched the other nominees.)

Only one little quibble: would that have really been the best plan to save the regiment? Just send two random grunts to warn them in the nick of time? Especially since… well, I don't want to spoil anything.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-17

  • Peter Suderman writes at Reason that it's pretty simple: By Withholding Funds to Ukraine, Trump Broke the Law.

    One argument that President Donald Trump's supporters have employed in the impeachment debate is that it was merely a "policy dispute." Yes, Trump held up aid to Ukraine last summer, this line goes, but he did so in pursuit of his agenda in the region. 

    There are several problems with this argument. One is that it has become increasingly clear that the president was pursuing a personal political agenda through his personal lawyer, not a national agenda through the formal diplomatic process. Another problem, arguably more serious, is that even if Trump was pursuing some less blatantly corrupt goal, what he did was still illegal. 

    That is the conclusion reached by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a sharply worded letter released this morning. The letter raises serious questions about whether the Trump administration violated the constitutional separation of powers. 

    That's a point. For a counterpoint…


  • … check out the WSJ's James Freeman, who is dismissive: Trump Receives Another Postcard from the Swamp.

    Traditionally GAO does its best to serve its congressional bosses. This is not a swipe at these particular swamp dwellers. Yes, the current head of GAO was nominated by President Barack Obama after a congressional commission presented a list of candidates. But the Supreme Court has explicitly found that GAO is subservient to the legislative branch. The 1986 decision is called Bowsher v. Synar. GAO staff try their best to satisfy requests from legislators.

    At the urging of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Maryland), GAO now says that Trump administration delays in sending aid to Ukraine were illegal. For people who aren’t students of the Washington bureaucracy, it should be noted that few people consider GAO the authoritative word on legal issues. The Justice Department and ultimately of course the federal courts make the big calls.

    James goes on to note a number of times GAO found the Obama Administration running afoul of the law. (And this doesn't even count Biden's threat to withhold aid to Ukraine aid until a prosecutor was fired.)

    At Instapundit, David Bernstein notes, with respect to one of those GAO findings: "If you can find me a Democratic House member or Senator who denounced Obama for that move, I’ll concede that he is sincerely interested in presidential lawfulness and the separation of powers."

    Let's grant that there's a surfeit of hypocrisy here.


  • One additional source of irritation is spotlighted by Kevin D. Williamson at National Review (an NRPLUS article, and I don't know what that means). Supreme Court’s ‘Endangered' Reputation: Democrat Warnings Entirely Political.

    The Democrats are great defenders of American institutions — provided those institutions serve their interests. In October 2016, the po-faced defenders of all that is good and precious were wearing themselves out demanding that Donald Trump and his supporters make a pledge to “accept the results” of the presidential election, a demand that was predicated on the assumption that Trump was going to lose. After making those demands, the Democrats have spent every single day refusing to accept the results of the 2016 election. They don’t give a fig about the credibility of our electoral processes — they care about winning. The Electoral College, the Senate, the Bill of Rights — when the Constitution itself gets in the way, they are ready and eager to gut it.

    Yesterday, Democrats were willing to slander a Supreme Court nominee, and then to continue slandering him as a justice; today, they are very, very concerned about the delicate reputation of the Supreme Court. Yesterday, Democrats were working to advance a court-packing scheme that would seal and certify the politicization of the Court; today, the Court is so sacrosanct that we must move heaven and earth to fortify its perceived legitimacy. It is difficult to take seriously the notion that they are moved by tender concern for the reputation of an institution that they insist is staffed by political hacks and rapists.

    Did I already mention hypocrisy? Oh, right, I did.


  • In unimpeachable news, Cato's James Knupp and Christopher A. Preble have a suggestion: When Debating Base Closure, Look at the Data. And there's a local connection.

    Despite years of calls from the Pentagon for a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), Congress has refused to authorize one since 2005. With the Department of Defense running at 22 percent excess capacity and constant calls for more money for operations and modernization, Congress should allow the Pentagon to reallocate funds away from unnecessary bases into more urgent projects. But fears of communities losing their bases and watching their local economies suffer as a result has kept talk of a new BRAC off the table.

    BRAC opponents should take a look at some of the data measuring the economic health of post-BRAC communities. Research shows that while there may be some short-term pain, in the long run most communities rebound -- and oftentimes end up in a much stronger position before. A presentation last year at the Association of Defense Communities’ Base Redevelopment Forum looked at three very different cases: Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1988); Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas (1991); and the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (1991). With both large and small communities represented, the evidence reveals BRAC’s actual effects.

    Our local legislators from both parties are hyper-vigilant against any waste-cutting move that might possibly endanger Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Back in 2017, I looked at PNSY through Bastiat's eyeglasses, and I think it holds up pretty well.


  • The WaPo has a fun interactive article: Which of these 2020 Democrats agrees with you most? You provide your stance on twenty policy issues, and the Post tallies up which candidates took an identical stance.

    You might, correctly, suspect that zero candidates agreed with me on more than a few questions.

    Question 17 got my goat a bit:

    The government should make four years of college ________________ for all families, including the wealthy.

    And your (only) choices were: "free", "debt-free", and "affordable". If you favor government letting colleges and students come to their own mutually-agreeable terms without meddling, you are a non-person on this issue.


  • New Hampshire magazine editor Rick Broussard triggered our LFOD news alert with: Our Declarations of “Zen-dependence”. It's a musing on our state's motto:

    Typically, when people want to define the uniqueness of our state, they go to the most public evidence of it, the one that appears on our license plates and on the signs that greet all visitors: our state motto, “Live Free or Die.”

    Of course, not everyone “gets” Gen. John Stark’s pithy bumper sticker’s worth of wisdom and not everyone appreciates the sentiment. For those still scratching their heads whenever they read it, here’s my take. The message is not that life would not be worth living without freedom. It’s just that there are worse things than being dead. This in turn suggests that there is more to our lives than just living; that we are larger beings than is suggested by our contentious featherless-biped existence on this rough mortal coil. In other words, Gen. Stark’s philosophy goes a bit deeper, perhaps, than some people think. That’s probably why it is still repeated 200 years after the event at which it was originally read as a toast to fellow veterans of the Battle of Bennington, Stark’s last hurrah.

    I'm pretty sure Rick's take is mistaken, sorry. It's not deep, it's simple: your freedom is something worth risking, and even losing, your life.

    He also seems to think LFOD was original with General Stark. I think it's generally (heh) accepted that he cribbed it from French Revolutionaries' Vivre Libre ou Mourir.

    Still, Rick's take is worth reading, if only for the idea that LFOD have a backup slogan: "Be Here Now". Can you imagine the thoughts of an incoming tourist seeing that on a "Welcome to New Hampshire" sign?

    "Be here now? Well, of course I am. Where else could I be?"

The Favourite

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As God is my witness, I thought this was gonna be funnier. I was deceived by the previews, which made it seem like kind of a slapstick hoot. And the IMDB has it as "Biography, Comedy, Drama".

To quote a (different) Brit queen: We were not amused.

Queen Anne is initially under the spell of manipulative Lady Sarah; she's finagled her into supporting a ruinous war with France (for a reason I missed, if it was provided). This goes along with punitive taxes on the populace, which they are pretty irked about.

Along comes Abigail, Sarah's cousin, who's trying to recover after a spell of degrading prostitution. She turns out to be equally as adept at winning the Queen's fancy, especially when she appeals to her, um, baser instincts.

To quote Bugs Bunny: of course you know, this means war.

Sarah and Abigail wage a genteel, and not-so-genteel war on each other. This is set against a backdrop of unending perversion (in this movie, everybody's pretty kinky and degenerate).

Nominated for 10 Oscars, and Olivia Colman won for Best Actress, playing Queen Anne.

Let It Burn

[Amazon Link]

Another book down in my Steve Hamilton catch-up project. This one's from 2013, and it's in his "Alex McKnight" series. Recent entries have strained credulity, as Alex has long wished to stop getting involved in the sorts of scrapes in which crime fiction deals; yet he keeps getting dragged back in to intrigue and danger.

Guess what? I found this one more believable!

Back in the day, Alex was a Detroit cop, and found himself involved in a gruesome murder. Thanks in part to his good cop skills, they nabbed a suspect, got a confession, and the city went on its slow pathway to hell, while Alex eventually retired to Michigan's scenic Upper Peninsula. But he gets a phone call from his old Sergeant (also now retired): the guy's getting out of jail.

This causes Alex to relate how the case went down back then, and (of course) there's a niggling little detail: they might have accused and convicted the wrong guy.

Kept me guessing (incorrectly) until the end. And a great page-turner.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-16

  • At National Review, David Harsanyi notes a specific example of a more general problem: Democrats’ Economic Doomsaying Doesn’t Match Reality.

    In the last debate, Tom Steyer claimed that “90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years.” Politicians have been peddling the “wage stagnation” myth for a decade now. The notion that Americans make no more than their grandparents conveniently ignores a big expansion of employee-based benefits, increased efficiency, and technological advances that have, by any genuine real-world measure, vastly improved the economic life of the average American.

    Yet, in last night’s debate, Biden again asserted, to applause, that the middle class was “being clobbered” and “killed.” (The middle class is actually quite alive. It isn’t losing ground to poverty. It has been losing ground to the upper-middle class for 40 years, however.)

    RTWT, but I'll just point out that Steyer is peddling a statistical fallacy, treating a dynamic population as static.

    To use a less-charged example: if you track the average height of trees in a forest over 40 years, it might not change significantly. But then would you conclude that no tree had grown in that forest for 40 years?

    Duh.

    Of course, we'd prefer that average wages grow over time. But it's a mistake to say that people don't get raises. They do.


  • Trump promised to drain the swamp. But he's missed a particularly foul, mosquito-infested corner, according to Veronique de Rugy: Social Engineering Run Amok in the Department of Labor. Looking at the department's $400 million vendetta against Oracle:

    To prove its discrimination claim, [ Labor's "Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs" (OFCCP)] relies entirely on a statistical analysis that fails to reflect the labor market's great complexity. For instance, the government uses crude controls for employee education and experience, both of which have a large impact on compensation. For education, OFCCP considers only an employee's degree level but not whether the degree is actually relevant to the job performed. As for experience, it considers only the employee's age and time at Oracle, omitting both length at the current position — which is where the most useful experience is gained — and the relevance of prior work. OFCCP, in other words, thinks that any employees of the same age and with the same tenure with their current employer possess the same experience.

    OFCCP's analysis also treats employees with the same job title as similarly situated, creating more grounds for discrimination claims. However, a software engineer working on databases does very different work than one who develops artificial intelligence. Yet if the worker in the higher-demand field, who can therefore demand higher pay, happens to be Caucasian or male, while the other is female or a minority, then the government concludes the pay disparity is due to discrimination by Oracle.

    I guess the Department of Labor figures that if they can't sue somebody for big bucks, people might conclude that they're not earning their keep.


  • Karen Townsend at Hot Air notes the latest outrage: Space Force Bible critics condemn "unadulterated Christian privilege".

    A religious freedom group is condemning the blessing of a King James Bible last Sunday in a ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral. The Bible was used to swear in the commanders of the Space Force. Some are criticizing the ceremony as a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Further key detail: "The Bible will be taken into space."

    Ah, but the "religious freedom group" was turning over rhetorical tables in the temple:

    The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy, dominance, triumphalism and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday’s ‘blessing’, at the Washington National Cathedral, of a sectarian Christian bible which will apparently ‘be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch (ie. The United States Space Force).” MRFF noted with additional disgust and disdain the willing and all-too visible participation of a senior USAF officer, in formal uniform, during the travesty of this sectarian ceremony which tragically validates the villainy of unadulterated Christian privilege at DoD and its subordinate military branches. For the record, military commanders are NOT ever “sworn in” to their positions let alone with the usage of a Christian bible or other book of faith. And especially not in 2020!!

    Two exclamation points, baby. They're really irked about this.

    Although I think the real source of their worries is that Bibles in space might be used to impose Christianity on heathen Klingons and Romulans.


  • A Wired article brings (probably unintentional) amusement: Chris Evans Goes to Washington. Yes, that's Captain America.

    Chris Evans, back home after a grueling production schedule, relaxes into his couch, feet propped up on the coffee table. Over the past year and a half, the actor has tried on one identity after another: the shaggy-haired Israeli spy, the clean-shaven playboy, and, in his Broadway debut, the Manhattan beat cop with a Burt Reynolds ’stache. Now, though, he just looks like Chris Evans—trim beard, monster biceps, angelic complexion. So it’s a surprise when he brings up the nightmares. “I sleep, like, an hour a night,” he says. “I’m in a panic.”

    The panic began, as panics so often do these days, in Washington, DC. Early last February, Evans visited the capital to pitch lawmakers on a new civic engagement project. He arrived just hours before Donald Trump would deliver his second State of the Union address, in which he called on Congress to “bridge old divisions” and “reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution.” (Earlier, at a private luncheon, Trump referred to Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, as a “nasty son of a bitch.”) Evans is no fan of the president, whom he has publicly called a “moron,” a “dunce,” and a “meatball.” But bridging divisions? Putting an end to the American body politic’s clammy night sweats? These were goals he could get behind.

    Yes, when you're looking to "bridge old divisions", someone who's called Trump a “moron,” a “dunce,” and a “meatball” is just the guy to tell you how to do it.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for a Concord Monitor article: Vape shop owners oppose New Hampshire flavor ban proposal. But before we get to the motto invocation…

    The Trump administration announced this month that it will prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes favored by high school and middle school students. But menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market, and the targeted flavor ban entirely exempts large, tank-based vaping devices, which are primarily sold in vape shops that cater to adult smokers.

    Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, wants New Hampshire to go further and ban the sale of all flavored vaping products, except tobacco flavors. A former surgeon, he cast the bill as a move to stem a public health crisis, and said the benefits of preventing teens from vaping outweighs the benefit to adults who use the products for smoking cessation.

    Yes, you read that correctly: the representative from Freedom wants to ban stuff. But LFOD comes in later…

    Steve Kaltsis pulled out two bottles and showed them to lawmakers, including one liquid flavored like a sweet breakfast cereal.

    “I’m 34 years old. Cap’n Crunchberries and pineapple grapefruit, these two things are keeping me off cigarettes,” said Kaltsis, who said he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years before taking up vaping five years ago. He opened a vape shop in Pelham in November after sales dropped from $1,800 to $150 per day at his store in Dracut, Mass., where the governor announced a four-month moratorium on the sale of vaping products in September.

    “Anything that is opposing adults getting their hands on these flavors that help them quit would be a tragedy for the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “Just look what it did to Massachusetts. Look what it did to me.”

    “ ‘Live Free or Die,’ ” Kaltsis continued, invoking New Hampshire’s state motto. “I was kinda hoping I could stick with that.”

    A number of us were kinda hoping we could stick with that, Steve.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-15

  • I kvetch about Wired's tired, tedious politcs a lot, but occasionally they get things right, as in this article from Brian Barrett. The 'Jeopardy!: Greatest of All Time' Tournament Is a Singular Event. (Written before last night's finale.)

    Not to get sentimental, but that future will be markedly different in more ways than just strategy. Alex Trebek has hosted the show since 1984. He’s now 79, fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer since early 2019. He says he has no immediate plans to step down, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll have an opportunity to take the podium in such grand fashion—primetime, to an audience of millions, guiding contestants that by now “feel like family”—before he settles into a well-deserved retirement.

    It’s not just Trebek, though. Harry Friedman has produced both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune for a quarter of a century. He’ll leave both shows when his contract runs out in March. Trebek has been the face and heart of Jeopardy!, but Friedman has spent the last 25 years as the connective tissue, making critical changes—lifting the five-game cap, increasing clue values—while keeping the show true to its original vision. Friedman is producing the GOAT tournament, and came up with its format. You’ll never see him onscreen, but you’re watching a legend go out on top.

    I was impressed at how easily James, Ken, and Brad got along, dropping small gags into the proceedings, while obviously playing to win. I was worried whether I could take a straight hour of Jeopardy! but it was easy.


  • Declan Garvey writes at the Dispatch: Justin Amash Has a Decision to Make. Specifically, whether to run for President as an independent. Or maybe as a capital-L Libertarian.

    Three weeks from the first votes of the 2020 election, the presidential race seems—finally—to be taking shape. Republicans, having blocked any serious attempts at a primary challenge, will field a candidate who brings passionate support from the hard-core GOP base, grudging acceptance from other Republicans, and intense opposition from everyone else. Democrats will likely field either a flawed candidate from the center—more accurately, the center-left—or an avowed leftist, maybe even an avowed socialist. 

    There are millions of moments, and billions of decisions, that will ultimately determine the next president and the next four years of the American experiment. But few will be as consequential as the decision now looming before a reserved, quirky, classical liberal from south central Michigan. 

    It would be nice to have someone to vote for in November.


  • Mark J. Perry of AEI calls it his Chart of the day… or century?.

    [Price Changes]

    It should go without saying which components Your Federal Government has been most insistent on making "affordable" for that time period.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie invites you to Gaze Upon the Worst Anti-Vaping Poster Ever and Despair. And via the magic of Twitter embedding…

    This is not simply wrong, it's unbelievably wrong, for all sorts of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. For starters, the death rate of jumping out of airplanes without parachutes is 100 percent (the odd Vesna Vulović story notwithstanding). For vaping, not so much. In fact, even New Jersey's official site for anti-vaping propaganda admits that there is only a single confirmed case of a Garden State vaper—out of what must be hundreds of thousands if not millions of users—dying from illness related to electronic cigarettes. The site also links approvingly to an article from last October that notes there are at least two "vaping epidemics" at play. The first, writes Cristine Delnevo of Rutgers, "is the outbreak of more than 1,000 vaping-associated lung injuries nationwide, which appears linked to vaping THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, and has caused more than 25 deaths, includng one in New Jersey. Separately, there is the skyrocketing rate of nicotine vaping among youth, with its risk of long-term addiction." For what it's worth, neither of the vaping devices pictured above are the sort that use the black-market THC cartridges that have been most plausibly linked to most serious illnesses, let alone deaths.

    But when you're dealing with propaganda, it's best not to get too lost in the weeds (perhaps especially when the propaganda is somehow related to weed). When targets of such communications realize they're being lied to, they tend to tune out all the information from official sources because they know it's not really unbiased, scientific, or seeking the truth.

    For seemingly the millionth time: I don't vape, and I don't advocate that people take it up. But I can't help but feel disgusted and angry about the media and politicians flat lying about the issue.


  • And one for you coders of a certain age out there, a Medium essay from Sedat Kapanoglu, Ex-Engineer at Microsoft Windows Core OS Division: How is computer programming different today than 20 years ago?. Short answer: very. But here are a few of his bullet points I really liked:

    • Since we have much faster CPUs now, numerical calculations are done in Python which is much slower than Fortran. So numerical calculations basically take the same amount of time as they did 20 years ago.

    • Unit testing has emerged as a hype and like every useful thing, its benefits were overestimated and it has inevitably turned into a religion.

    • You are not officially considered a programmer anymore until you attend a $2K conference and share a selfie from there.

    I attended a lunch with my old team yesterday, and one of the new faces said he'd been working with my code. He didn't kill me, so I'm happy.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-14

  • Daniel J. Mitchell says: Some Folks on the Left Are Honest…but Very Wrong.

    As part of my collection of honest leftists, I have a bunch of columns highlighting how some advocates of big government (including, to their credit, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang) don’t hide from reality.

    I’m unalterably opposed to their policies, but at least they openly admit that huge tax increases on ordinary people are needed in order to finance a European-style welfare state.

    Daniel adds the authors of this WaPo column to the august list.

    They enthusiastically endorse the model seen in other countries (stop me if you've heard this):

    1. The government takes a lot more of your money.
    2. They give some of it back to you in "free" stuff.
    3. They make you believe they've done you a favor.


  • At a site named Credit Takeoff, Mike Pearson has a cool visualization of 30 Years Of America's Wealthiest People. Let's see if I can't embed it:

    Keep an eye out for Jeff Bezos.


  • The lost verse of John Lennon's "Imagine", as writen by libertarian Max Gulker: What If There Was No Legal Smoking Age?. Sample:

    Just like any age, 21 is arbitrary. At some point, without an all-out war on tobacco, we must allow people to make potentially life-threatening choices. And that’s where Smith’s framework most importantly informs this debate. Individuals and their friends and families, older siblings and mentors all have just a little bit of knowledge about what makes sense for any given person. 

    The process of discovering each individual’s best balance between instant gratification and health risks down the road is messy. [Adam] Smith’s critics, as they do in his economics treatise, falsely assume he ascribes super human rationality to his subjects. That only came later when future generations tried to fully mathematize the work of the classical economists.

    There is no magic bullet. Whether government-mandated or left in the hands of individuals, tobacco use will lead some to tragic consequences. Kids will get cigarettes either way, and adults will try and fail to stop. In this scenario of no good choices, the course that encourages responsibility and humanity seems like something we might want to try.

    The result of treating adults as irresponsible children… is a country where adults act like irresponsible children.


  • And in other sad news, the Daily Wire reports: Sir Patrick Stewart Says New 'Star Trek' Series Will Take On Trump, Brexit.

    The new “Star Trek” series starring Sir Patrick Stewart isn’t being explicitly billed as “woke,” but it seems the series’ star, who will reprise his role as the legendary Enterprise captain, Jean-Luc Picard, believes “Star Trek: Picard” will have a message for anti-immigrant leaders and global isolationists.

    I guess this is good news: no temptation whatsoever to watch this tedious exercise.


  • And the Supreme Court passed up a chance … Female nipples a no-show in Live Free or Die New Hampshire.

    The Supreme Court said Monday that it will not take up a challenge to a New Hampshire city ordinance banning women from appearing topless in public.

    So much for the New Hampshire "Live Free or Die" battle cry. Lawmakers want female breasts kept tied up, locked away and covered up.

    The refusal to hear the case left in place a 2019 ruling by New Hampshire's top court which supported convictions levied on Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro for violation of nudity laws after all three women bared their breasts four years ago.

    We will just have to be satisfied with taping over the state motto on our license plates, as long as we meet the state's dress code while doing so.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-13

  • Cafe Hayek's Quotation of the Day... is from the late James Buchanan:

    Both our fiscal and our monetary structures are currently in disarray. And, as members of the body politic, we are behaving irresponsibly in our unwillingness to look at, analyze, and ultimately to support structural reforms that offer the only prospects for permanent improvement. We have allowed a quasi-independent monetary authority to accidentally attain a monopoly over fiat money issue without effective political control…. Alongside this random-walk monetary authority, we have a fiscal structure from which almost all pretense of balancing off the costs of taxes against the benefits of spending have been removed. The problem is not, however, with irresponsible political leaders, in either the executive or legislative branch of government. The problem is that the rules of the game are such as to make fiscal responsibility and fiscal prudence beyond the limits of the politically feasible. Constituents enjoy the benefits of public spending; they do not enjoy paying taxes. The politics of the [government budget] deficit is a simple as that.

    That's from 2000. If anything, the situation has gotten worse since then. Click through for the proprietor's comments.


  • Cato has issued its latest Human Freedom Index.

    Good news for Americans: we are freer than about 147 countries.

    Bad news for Americans: we're only #15, meaning 14 countries are freer than we.

    Our biggest shortcoming is on "Rule of Law" issues, notably criminal justice.


  • And then there are scofflaws. Specifically, as Michael Huemer notes, Outlaw Universities.

    Probably everyone in the academy knows that affirmative action is widely practiced: racial minorities (except Asians) and women are commonly given preference in hiring and admission decisions at American universities. I would guess, however, that some academics — and many more non-academics — are unaware that typical university hiring practices are blatantly illegal. So I’m going to talk about that for a while, in case you find that interesting.

    Job advertisements commonly say things like that the university rejects discrimination, supports equal employment opportunity, and considers all applicants “without regard to” race, sex, religion, etc. What they actually mean by this is that they only discriminate in certain specific ways. E.g., they don’t discriminate against blacks or Hispanics, but only against whites and Asians. They don’t discriminate against women, only against men. And so on. (This sounds to me like a rather Orwellian use of “equal opportunity”. But what do I know? I’m just some crazy libertarian philosopher.)

    If you click through, you'll find a particularly damning table from UC Berkeley's own website, showing how the winnowing process for faculty positions clearly, disproportionately, knocks out Whites, Asians, and males.

    If someone set up an institution of higher education that was honestly color-blind and sex-blind, they'd have a pretty good candidate pool to pick from. But I wonder if they'd get accreditation.


  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Well, according to James Pethokoukis at AEI, it's Time to reset the Doomsday Clock of ‘late capitalism’. Much like the famous "Doomsday Clock", capitalism's time is always about to run out:

    It’s always quite late, apparently. The sun is always setting. German economist Werner Sombart coined the phrase in the early 20th century, and European socialists popularized it during the Great Depression when it probably seemed about 30 seconds to midnight for capitalism. But things were darkest before the dawn. Capitalism survived, flourished, and spread across the globe. And even small doses generated near wondrous improvement.

    Yet we remain stuck and suffering in late capitalism, according to progressives and socialists. And unlike with the Doomsday Clock, the end only approaches, never recedes. Here’s a handy definition from Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic: “‘Late capitalism,’ in its current usage, is a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality and super-powered corporations and shrinking middle class.” So Jeff Bezos and that $375 “eco-friendly” silver straw from Tiffany’s, basically.

    Well, maybe this time they'll be right. I know which way I'm betting, though. With my own money.


  • From the current print Reason, Jacob Sullum describes How Truth Became a Casualty of the War on Smoking, a review of two books on the history of the anti-smoking movement.

    That trend [of hyping anti-smoking "findings"] also disturbs Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking activist and former [Stanton Glantz, a co-founder of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights] protégé who nowadays regularly criticizes the alarmist claims and ad hominem reasoning of his erstwhile allies. Siegel is especially dismayed by the anti-smoking movement's irrational resistance to e-cigarettes as a harm-reducing alternative to conventional, combustible cigarettes.

    "Driven by an almost puritanical inability to accept the fact that a person could obtain pleasure from nicotine without it killing them," Siegel says in a blog post that [one of the reviewed authors] quotes, "we have made the demonization of vaping the solitary goal of the movement, at the direct expense of what I always believed was our primary goal: to make smoking history." For dissidents like Siegel, it's clear that vaping—which is indisputably far less dangerous than smoking—should be embraced as a public health boon by people who say they want to reduce the death and disease caused by cigarettes.

    There's zero scientific reason to impose the same public restrictions on vaping as on tobacco products. Yet, when the moral panic level is set to 11…

Holiday

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

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn! Directed by George Cukor! For what more could you ask?

And about ten minutes into it… "Did we see this before?" "It seems kind of familiar…"

I don't find it in my movie list, though. And I've been pretty diligent about keeping it complete. So it must have been pre-2004. But consumer note: I remember watching Bringing Up Baby; this one isn't super-memorable.

Anyway: Cary plays Johnny Case, who (as it happens) has just returned from Lake Placid, where he met the love of his life, Julia Seton (not Katherine Hepburn, Doris Nolan). To his eventual consternation, he discovers that, whoa, Julia's rich. As in falling-in-the-ditch rich! (I don't know what that means, but Mom used to say that.) Julia's dad, a scion of finance, is overbearing. Her brother's a drunkard. And sister Linda—ah, there's Katherine Hepburn—is "eccentric", meaning she's more fun than anyone else in the family.

There are some rough spots to overcome: Dad's skeptical, since Johnny's background is lower working class, for example. But he's a hard worker, put himself through Harvard, and has a talent for business. So eventually it's assumed he'll take his place in the Seton empire, and become heir to the throne.

But the plot-driving conflict is this: Johnny has different plans for his life. He wants to make a little money, then take off and have some fun. Then come back to work when the money runs out, then take off again. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

This is obviously unacceptable!

So yeah, the movie is mainly about Rich People Problems. How did this go over in 1938, anyway? Were people flocking to the theaters to watch Rich People Problems?

Or did people flock to the theater because they wanted to see how Cary Grant winds up with Katherine Hepburn? (Spoiler: he does.)

Vicious Circle

[Amazon Link]

Continuing my project of catching up with my C. J. Box reading. This one's from 2017, so only three years behind!

Consumer note one: you can save a lot of money by waiting to buy. C. J. sells a lot of books, but they eventually wind up on the Barnes and Noble remainder table.

Consumer note two: this (#17 in the Joe Pickett series) should probably not be the first C. J. Box book you read. It depends heavily on events described in Endangered (#15 in the series).

Specifically, the surviving members of the Cates family are out for revenge here. The sociopathic Dallas has been released from the slammer after less than two years; he had a knack for avoiding evil deeds that could easily be proved.

And it seems he's got things working the same way here: having picked up some homicidal friends in the pen, they work to bedevil Joe Pickett and his family. Every decent person wants to see Dallas back behind bars. And one law enforcement official, not Joe, seems to want that a little too much. Which comes back to bite everyone in the ass.