URLs du Jour

2016-12-31

The final UDJ post of the year brings us…

  • Dave Barry's Year in Review, an annual must-read, is available! He makes a point diligent readers have seen here:

    [T]he American people, looking for a leader, ended up with a choice between ointment and suppository. The fall campaign was an unending national nightmare, broadcast relentlessly on cable TV. CNN told us over and over that Donald Trump was a colossally ignorant, narcissistic, out-of-control, sex-predator buffoon; Fox News countered that Hillary Clinton was a greedy, corrupt, coldly calculating liar of massive ambition and minimal accomplishment. And in our hearts we knew the awful truth: They were both right.

    2016: you need to laugh to keep from crying, and Dave's the guy to help you do it..

  • Was the election hacked? Find out the exiting answer from Ricochet's Jon Gabriel: "The Election Was Not Hacked".

    Despite the histrionic claims of the press, the election was not hacked. The Democratic National Committee’s lousy IT security allowed someone to access their emails which were then leaked. Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta fell for an age-old phishing scam that was as believable as getting millions of dollars from a Nigerian prince. Using the spotty media understanding of cybersecurity, they can claim that the DNC and Hillary’s campaign were “hacked,” but the election decisively was not. And the press knows it.

  • Or if you prefer an Iowahawk-style takedown of the hacking claim, the Twitchy folks have gathered his recent tweets on the issue here. Sample:

    Also at the link, for no extra charge: a twelve-tweet thread where a (slightly) more serious Dave explains to an NPR listener what actually transpired.

  • And Philip Greenspun asks a question too few others are: "Why is the U.S. government retaliating against Russia for allegedly poking into a private email server?" Can any New York Times reader clarify that?

  • Ah, well. Enough about "hacking". At the Federalist, Matt Shapiro quantifies the gut feeling anyone who's been following Politifact's fact-checking over the past few years already knows: they're hopelessly biased along partisan lines. But he also notes an interesting twist:

    […] PolitiFact’s analysis of Trump reinforces the idea that the media has called Republicans liars for so long and with such frequency the charge has lost it sting. PolitiFact treated Mitt Romney as a serial liar, fraud, and cheat. They attacked Rubio, Cruz, and Ryan frequently and often unfairly.

    But they treated Trump like they do Democrats: their fact-checking was short, clean, and to the point. It dealt only with the facts at hand and sourced those facts as simply as possible. In short, they treated him like a Democrat who isn’t very careful with the truth.

    I didn't expect that, but Shapiro's analysis is persuasive.

  • Reason's new editor, Katherine Mangu-Ward, is doing a pretty good job so far. Here she notes the problem Democrats are only just now starting to "get": when executive power is stretched for "good", the next guy gets to use that power too:

    Every time Obama made a recess appointment, or issued an executive order on gender-neutral bathrooms, or limited the comment period on a new regulation, or denied a Freedom of Information Act request, or disregarded state marijuana laws and sent in federal law enforcement, or allowed the IRS to investigate his ideological opponents, he made it easier for President Trump to do the same. He knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. Likewise, George W. Bush knew what he was doing when he used the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to launch a protracted, decade-long multinational war, began indefinitely housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, issued signing statements that waved away restrictions on torture, and much more.

    So 2017 will be … interesting. Hope we'll be around to see the whole thing.

Hell or High Water

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

As the Boss said: 57 channels and nothin' on. Except more than 57. Unless you follow college football, and care about whether Florida State beats Michigan. (They did, by one point.)

Or if you haven't already seen "The Trouble With Tribbles" enough already. (I had.)

So: to the Netflix DVDs. We turned off Original Captain Kirk and put on New Captain Kirk. If Chris Pine keeps turning in performances like this, he might convince me he has a pretty good acting range.

Pine and Ben Foster play lowlife bank-robbin' brothers down in Texas (the movie was actually shot in New Mexico). For initially undisclosed reasons, they're taking down branches of the Texas Midland Bank, getting away with relatively modest sums. On their trail is a pair of Texas Rangers, an about-to-retire white grizzly (played by Jeff Bridges) and his ethnic sidekick (played by Gil Birmingham).

About to retire? Oh oh.

The Foster brother is an ex-con, and kind of a loose cannon (like Donald Trump!), prone to impulsive and violent behavior. Pine's character is clearly the level-headed one, and his purpose in the escapade is gradually revealed.

Oh, heck, I'll tell you a little: the tedious plot motivator is that banks are out to screw the little guy, and the only decent way to get out from under is to play a little Robin Hood scenario. Given the facts as they are (eventually) presented, it seems it would have been pretty easy to accomplish the same goal legally. But maybe I missed something.

Katy Mixon has a small but important role as a slutty diner waitress. Where had I seen her before? Mostly in ads for her new ABC sitcom, "American Housewife". She's good in this, but not good enough to make me watch something called "American Housewife".

The Infiltrator

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One for the "Wish I liked it better" classification.

Bryan Cranston moves to the other side of the drug war here, playing real-person Robert Mazur, an undercover agent for US Customs and the DEA. He poses as a money launderer, and the movie details how he wormed his way into the workings of the Pablo Escobar drug cartel.

The standard tropes of the genre are here. Mazur feels some pangs of sympathy for the drug lords he's working to imprison. (They are family guys, just like him!) He has a fake wife, which causes issues for his real wife. The criminals are naturally suspicious, and willing to shoot people on the merest suspicion that they're … doing exactly what Mazur is doing.

The movie is set in the 1980's, there's also a (tedious) political angle involving Reagan, the CIA, Contras, "Just Say No", etc. Drug-smuggler-turned-informant-turned-corpse Barry Seal shows up, fictitiously getting murdered in front of Mazur. CIA hit? Maybe!

On the plus side: the great John Leguizamo has a meaty role. Wish the whole movie had been about his character.

URLs du Jour

2016-12-30

Whoa, that's a lot of snow out there. Hope I can find my shovel.

  • Wouldn't it be nice: Abolish the Department of Energy. Stephen Green:

    The Department of Energy was created to solve a problem that didn’t exist and protect us from a threat we didn’t need to worry about — so of course it can never be abolished.

  • Kevin D. Williamson has thoughts on the cult of the US Presidency.

    The idea that a large, complex society enjoying English liberty could long endure without the guiding hand of a priest-king was, in 1776, radical. A few decades later, it became ordinary — Americans could not imagine living any other way. The republican manner of American presidents was pronounced: There is a famous story about President Lincoln’s supposedly receiving a European ambassador who was shocked to see him shining his own shoes. The diplomat said that in Europe, a man of Lincoln’s stature would never shine his own shoes. “Whose shoes would he shine?” Lincoln asked.

    Kevin was optimistic yesterday, today… not so much. Evolutionists would point out that humans lived for many millennia in tribes, where the masses remained servile to their leaders. Are we regressing?

  • See Omri Ceren on John Kerry's pointless, petulant speech on Israel. He notes that the speech seems to have been written in some sort of alternate universe. Example:

    To address concerns that the U.S. abandoned Israel in an unprecedented way by abstaining, Kerry sketched a version of past U.S. diplomacy where the abstention was nothing new. In that alternate timeline, the U.S. would not have made a radical move by reversing past policy, and would be merely upping the volume against Israeli settlements. But that’s not our timeline.

    In our timeline the abstention reversed past U.S. policies on a range of core issue, perhaps nowhere more dramatically than in declaring East Jerusalem occupied Palestinian territory. Kerry said on Wednesday “Now you have heard that some criticize this resolution for calling East Jerusalem occupied territory. But to be clear, there was absolutely nothing new in last week’s resolution on that issue.”

    Clearly untrue, as Ceren points out. Kerry and Obama can't get out of town fast enough.

  • Mark Steyn's post today hits a lot of topics. One more victim of the Carrie Fisher PC cops: ex-husband Paul Simon; Debbie Reynolds; the idiocy of the recent Mann v. Steyn ruling. On the Kerry speech:

    The phrase that struck me that Kerry used: 'America can't stand idly by' - because of these Israeli settlements. 'Stand idly by' has been the Obama modus operandi in that region since he took office. He has stood idly by as half a million people have died in Syria, and Iraq has been swept by ISIS. Millions and millions of people have been set loose across the region, so-called refugees destabilizing American allies in Europe...

    But what really upsets them is Jews living where they would prefer they didn't.

  • Oh, yeah. That whole "Russia hacked our elections thing." Iowahawk says just about all that needs be said:

    The funny thing (in some sense of "funny"): Obama didn't take Russian "hacking" seriously before the election, when action could possibly have been effective at stopping … something or other. His only purpose here is to throw up Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt around the legitimacy of the election and about-to-be-President Trump.

  • This is Pun Salad, so:

    Consumer note: they aren't all gems.


Last Modified 2016-12-30 12:06 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2016-12-29

Looking forward to a "wintry mix" later today, with increasing probability of "heart attack while shoveling" after that. So:

  • Kevin D. Williamson has a slap in the face to all the whiners about 2016: "It Was the Best of Times ".

    Buck up, you pansies: 2016 was the best year in human history, and 2017 almost certainly will be better.

    Oh, I know, the presidential election was a fiasco, but the republic will endure. And it was a tough year for beloved celebrities: David Bowie became a very handsome corpse at the age of 69 (liver cancer), Prince became a very small one at the age of 57 (fentanyl overdose), and Carrie Fisher checked out at the age of 60 (killed by complications resulting from a terminal case of being Carrie Fisher). And, 2016 being 2016, Americans took to social media to document the flimsiest of connections to these famous figures, raptly engaged in the characteristic pursuit of our time: making everything about us.

    TV viewers of a Certain Age know what to say to that sort of slap in the face: "Thanks, I needed that." Others should Google.

    (Do they still make Mennen Skin Bracer? Ah, yes, they do.)

  • Mr. Williamson risks falling afoul of the Carrie Fisher PC cops above. I note they've already claimed two victims, accused and convicted of the crime of Insufficiently Correct tweets: Steve Martin and Cinnabon.

    I can't help but think Ms. Fisher would have been fine with both perpetrators. (Come on: "you'll always have the best buns in the galaxy"? How can you not smile, at the very least?)

  • Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School, and he carries out on a daunting task: "America’s Nuclear Response Procedure Explained, Using GIFs From ‘Friends’"

    Unexcerptable. Just click over. One can only hope that President-Elect Trump pays attention to this lecture.

  • The New York Times gets off its usual message, with Deirdre McCloskey's column: "Growth, Not Forced Equality, Saves the Poor"

    We had better focus directly on the equality that we actually want and can achieve, which is equality of social dignity and equality before the law. Liberal equality, as against the socialist equality of enforced redistribution, eliminates the worst of poverty. It has done so spectacularly in Britain and Singapore and Botswana. More needs to be done, yes. Namely, more growth, which is sensitive to environmental limits and will require a proliferation of rich engineers. Let them have their money from devising carbon-fixing techniques and new sources of energy. It will enrich all of us.

    These facts are well-known to anyone who takes the time to notice them. One can only wonder whether the Social Justice Warriors are motivated more by their envy of the rich than their desire to help the poor. I'd like to think charitably of them at this time of year, but …


Last Modified 2016-12-29 11:37 AM EST

Rogue One

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

Getting one thing out of the way: They should have spent a lot more time and money on the last-scene character CGI; it's deep in the uncanny valley. (No spoilers on who that character is, but fans should be able to guess.)

On the other hand, the character CGI that everyone knows about, Grand Moff Tarkin, is pretty darn good. Although maybe because Peter Cushing looked pretty uncanny in the first place.

Other than that: it's a straightforward yarn about the events leading up to the very first Star Wars movie. If you didn't memorize the text crawl in that one: "… Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet." Here we get to know the spies, the genesis and details of that mission.

The reluctant protagonist is Jyn Erso; at a young age her father was dragooned into the rewarding field of Death Star design by the slimy Orson Krennic. Jyn grows up keeping her head down, but the Rebel Alliance finds her, and none too gently uses her as a tool to track down her dad, so he can be assassinated.

But things don't go quite as planned, and the assassination mission turns into the plan-stealing mission. We know how it turns out, but don't know the details.

The movie is a warts-and-all picture of the Rebels: the ostensible mission leader, Andor, murders an informant near the beginning of the flick to avoid compromise. (Arguably worse than Han shooting first, right?) And there's a lot of friction in the Alliance between peaceniks, surrender monkeys, militants, and warmongers. The Empire has some of that too, as we know from other movies: Tarkin and Krennic clearly despise each other, and claw for the favor of their superiors.

People who have panned this movie have a point: The Magnificent Seven (at least the Yul Brynner version) showed how to make a movie about a ragtag team fighting evildoers against the odds. Rogue One doesn't compare well on that score: characters are undeveloped, and the underlying "moral complexity" is, at its heart, brattish.

But that's easy to ignore when you just want to be a kid again. On that basis, I had a good time.


Last Modified 2016-12-29 9:26 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2016-12-28

Going to see Rogue One, finally, this afternoon! My report will appear on the movie page at some point.

  • Speaking of Star Wars: Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself, passed away yesterday at the relatively young age of 60. James Lileks has the words:

    Fisher’s Princess Leia did not invent an archetype and change the way we would see women in sci-fi; she manifested something the geeks and nerds had wanted to see. Now, you can call them out for being slobbering Cheeto-fingered dorks whose fantasy objects were just as objectified and unrealistic as the hapless maidens of 40s pulp sci-fi, but it was an improvement, and nothing ever gets perfect right away.

    Mr. Lileks finds her most interesting in the first movie. I'll respectfully disagree: like most people, I think The Empire Strikes Back was (and remains) the strongest movie in the franchise, and she is absolutely stunning in it.

    What sticks in my mind is just one small line from Leia, delivered in close-up:

    "We've got to go back."

    I'm sure my fellow Cheeto-fingered dorks will place it. A few seconds encapsulating steely determination, impossible courage, and character revelation. And, oh yeah, the turning point of the entire movie, pulling a critical victory out of the ashes of defeat.

  • It's hard to work up much sympathy for the New York Times, but it's difficult not to be amused: Their NYT Obituaries Twitter account posted a "brass-bikini Leia" pic on one of their Carrie Fisher obit tweets. Emily Zanotti at Heat Street looks at the eminently-predictable ensuing outrage. Feminists have never cared for the skimpy slave-girl outfit. But:

    But while Carrie Fisher wasn’t thrilled with the costume (as she told Daisy Ridley, when the latter was cast as the lead in the Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens), she was strictly opposed to banning it, telling the Wall Street Journal that the costume had purpose, and that it represented a seminal moment in the character’s story.

    So there.

  • Jonah Goldberg asks: "Does a Never Trumper Need to Be Forgiven?". As a never-Trumper myself, I was interested. To quote Roger Daltrey: "I don't need to be forgiven." Because: it's only teenage wasteland.

    Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah. Obviously, Jonah was wrong (as was I) about Trump's electoral chances. And he is encouraged (as am I) by some of his cabinet picks. But:

    What I have chiefly in mind is that rich nexus of unrestrained ego, impoverished impulse control, and contempt for policy due diligence. I firmly and passionately believe that character is destiny. From his reported refusal to accept daily intelligence briefings to his freelancing every issue under the sun on Twitter — including, most recently, nuclear-arms policy — Trump’s blasé attitude troubles me deeply, just as it did during the campaign.

    How bad could it get? Enough so that I looked up the origin of the phrase "loose cannon". Turns out, it's Victor Hugo! Translated from the French:

    The carronade, hurled forward by the pitching, dashed into this knot of men, and crushed four at the first blow; then, flung back and shot out anew by the rolling, it cut in two a fifth poor fellow... The enormous cannon was left alone. She was given up to herself. She was her own mistress, and mistress of the vessel. She could do what she willed with both.

    Yeah, maybe that bad, or worse.

  • See if you can read Kevin D. Williamson on the "chopped-cheese sandwich" without wondering: where could I get one of those? I couldn't. But anyway, it's a kind of cheese-steak sub except with hamburger. And it's controversial! Having been invented in Harlem, but recently marketed by Whole Foods! Cultural appropriation!

    Chopped-cheese fetishism is an extension of bodega fetishism (my local place in the Bronx was run by two very rage-y Egyptians who were always screaming at somebody on the phone in Arabic and hence was known as the “Bodega al-Qaeda”) which is itself only a sub-current of the worst and phoniest of all New York pretensions, i.e., complaining about how nice the city became once Rudy Giuliani put his boot on the neck of the squeegee man and all his little criminal friends. You hear this all the time, upscale Manhattanites who have never been so much as downwind of a mugging talking about how they miss the old days when Times Square was full of hookers and porn shops and the city was so much more “vibrant” and nobody wanted to live there.

    Yeah, fine, Kevin. But where can I get one up here in New Hampshire?

  • But speaking of cultural appropriation. My high school classmate Steve Lustgarten became a movie guy, and spent Christmas in China, negotiating a film deal. He reports on Facebook:

    I urged Steve to complain. No word yet on whether he's been sent to the bamboo Gulag as a result.


Last Modified 2016-12-28 10:12 AM EST

Shelley's Heart

[Amazon Link]

Another pick off National Review's 2010 Conservative Lit 101 list.

Charles McCarry wrote this back in 1995, and it's set in the early 21st Century USA. It's billed as a "thriller" right there on the front cover, but there's not much of the usual mayhem typical of the genre. Yes, there's a grisly murder on page 48, but it's pretty much forgotten until the climax about 500 pages (!) later. Other than that, it's conspiratorial skullduggery as a radical plot is afoot to seize the Presidency is afoot.

So it's a political thriller, reminiscent of good old Allen Drury, and the prime plot mover is the apparent theft of the recent Presidential election, accomplished by hacking of the computerized voting results in a few key states. The official loser decides to challenge the result on the eve of the Inauguration, throwing Washington into chaos. (Coincidence: I was reading this concurrently with the IRL headlines about recounts in states Hillary lost and dark allegations about "hacking".)

McCarry's other prognostications about our time are entertainingly off. Ganymede is being colonized! But when someone wants to slip computer information to a confidante, the preferred medium is … a diskette.

And one of the plot points is an alleged Presidential order to assassinate a loony Arab leader who's gotten hold of a couple of nukes. This is seen as a bad, unacceptable thing, grounds for impeachment. From the post-9/11 viewpoint, where a President can order a drone strike on an (admittedly nasty) American citizen without any legal niceties involved, and everyone goes ho-hum, that's a little dissonant.

I was a little bemused to discover the book was number 8 in the "Paul Christopher" series. Usually, I hate reading book N in a series when I haven't read books 1 .. N-1. It's OK, the book works fine as a standalone, although there are a lot of references to previous events which I imagine are described in the previous entries. Slight spoiler: Paul Christopher never actually shows up, but his daughter does.


Last Modified 2016-12-28 6:45 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2016-12-27

In that weird hiatus week between Christmas and New Years Day, the Internet continues to serve up its mixture of wisdom, humor, and irritation:

  • Speaking of wisdom: after decades of providing it, Thomas Sowell is retiring from writing his column. His farewell columns are here and here. From the latter:

    You cannot live a long life without having been forced to change your mind many times about people and things — including, in some cases, your whole view of the world. Those who glorify the young today do them a great disservice, when this sends inexperienced young people out into the world cocksure about things on which they have barely scratched the surface.

    As Yeats put it:

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  • One of my post-election navel-gazing insights was: "Schadenfreude is overrated as a pleasure." I'm glad to find Bryan Caplan making a somewhat similar observation:

    Since the election, several people have privately asked me, "Well, whatever you think about Trump, don't you at least enjoy the attendant outrage of the left? At least that must make you happy, right?"

    In my misanthropic youth, the answer would have been a resounding yes. But in all honesty, I put away such childishness years ago. I have a rich, full life that affords me ample opportunities for pure joy. I have no need to seek out joy sullied by anger. And again in all honesty, I wish everyone else felt as I do. Living through this disgraceful election, and then seeing partisan pundits double down on their disgraceful behavior afterwards, just discourages me. This is especially true when I'm sympathetic to the conclusions of practitioners of the disgraceful behavior. Reasonable, fair-minded disagreement gives me hope; unreasonable, unfair agreement just creeps me out.

    I've never been too impressed with "our side" consciously adopting the slimy and dishonest tactics of "their side." Yes, I can see it's fun; it might even be effective in the short term. I don't think it's a good long-term strategy for the health of the Republic. If you care about that sort of thing.

  • One of my too-hopeful predictions about the election was that sensible people would be revolted by the obvious character flaws and unacceptable policies of both Trump and Hillary and turn en masse to the Libertarian Johnson/Weld ticket. Didn't happen. Matt Welch shares his thoughts on that at Reason:

    The unprecedentedly bizarre presidential election we have just survived taught us many unpleasant lessons. Among the most startling was the extent to which, even in a year dominated by voter revulsion at the two leading candidates, the two-party mindset nonetheless continued to maintain a powerful magnetic pull on the actions and reactions of so many people.

    Matt's thoughts on the "ghost architecture" of the two-party system are important and insightful.

  • Well at least some of Trump's cabinet picks are good, right? Well, at least better than Hillary's would have been?

    Sure, but that's a low bar.

    Example: at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff does a pretty good job of convincing me that Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions is not a racist. But the WSJ notes his dreadfulness on the issue of asset forfeiture:

    The all-too-common practice allows law enforcement to take private property without due process and has become a cash cow for state and local police and prosecutors. Under a federal program called “equitable sharing,” local law enforcement can team up with federal authorities to seize property in exchange for 80% of the proceeds.

    Sessions is fine with that. For me, the only point in its favor was that it propelled a number of decent plot threads on Justified.

  • The Washington Free Beacon nominates its "2016 Man of the Year":

    George Alexander Louis Mountbatten-Windsor is many things: a lineal descendent of Queen Victoria and a future successor of King Richard the Lionheart; a trend-setting international fashion icon; the inspiration for a series of commemorative coins from the British, Australian, and Canadian Royal Mints; the namesake of a bilby born in 2014 at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney; an ordinary three-year-old boy whose interests include playing with toy trains and rocking horses—but he is also something more: a stiff-upper-lipped Englishman with the courage to defy vainglorious liberal ninnies where lesser fellows 20 times his age would simply bend the knee.

    He'll probably turn into a twit soon enough, like Grandpa Prince Charles. Until then, we'll take our manliness where we can find it.

  • I have no idea whether this is fake news or not [UPDATE: it was], but I would really like it to be true: "Bill Murray Had This to Say About Rochester, New Hampshire Residents"

    During a radio interview this morning, Hollywood actor Bill Murray took a moment to praise Rochester, New Hampshire residents who had helped him with a mechanical issue with his rental car as he passed through the city recently […]

    Corroborating detail: Bill describes being taken to "the finest dining spot in Rochester", Wild Willy's. Which is an actual place in Rochester, and it's great, although its competitors might demur about it being the finest.


Last Modified 2017-01-07 6:37 AM EST

Why I Hate Apple

OK, sorry about that headline. I don't hate Apple. As Yoda said: "Hate leads to suffering."

But I think backwards Yoda had it. Because I've been suffering with Apple's iTunes and my old iPod. And that suffering is leading to…

Anyway: for the last few months, everytime I try to sync my iPod, this little irritating box shows up:

Could not back up iPod...

Which would be fine if I wasn't also looking at this bit of information on the underlying window:

never been backed up...

Consider this a Festivus-style airing-of-grievance: Apple, don't even try to be "helpful" in advising me to delete a backup that has never been made. How about a more honest message:

"Gosh, something went wrong, we're just guessing about the underlying problem, we don't make enough money off this product to actually assist you in fixing it with an accurate error message."

URLs du Jour

Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas, readers. No, that's not my dog. But he looks like my dog, and Getty takes a far better picture than I would.

On to the show:

  • Virginia Postrel has some tough but on-target seasonal advice: "Merry Christmas. Don't Be Stupid." On people taking offense at the wording of an honest cheerful greeting:

    Whether you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays,” I’ll happily accept your good wishes. Because interpreting the more inclusive “Happy holidays” as a “war on Christmas” is both stupid and rude.

  • Obama's on his way out the door, but took time to deliver a final petulant slap to Israel, with the US's abstention at the UN on an Israel-condemning resolution, reversing decades of policy. Instapundit has a roundup of reactions. So does Ann Althouse (some overlapping). I'm on board with Charles Krauthammer:

    In 2012, running for re-election, Obama spoke at the meeting of AIPAC, the big Jewish lobby. He said, “Is there any doubt that I have Israel’s back?” That’s why he didn’t want do it while he was in office. That’s why he didn’t want to do it in 2016 so it would injure Hillary and show to particularly American Jews, who tend to be Democratic, that it was all a farce. He does it on the way out, and that’s part of why it’s so disgraceful. He didn’t even — he hid it until there would be no consequence. Now he is out the door and the damage is done for years. That resolution cannot be undone.

    So: not only petulant, but also qualifying for Profiles in Cowardice. A book someone should write.

  • But the Israel thing wasn't the only craven thing the Obama Administration was up to. David Harsanyi notes the legerdemain involved in the "permanent" ban on oil drilling that they somehow just noticed was a vital thing that had to be done right now:

    […] Obama's latest executive move, banning offshore drilling in large areas of the Atlantic and Arctic waters, folds neatly into six years of executive control. The ban hinges on a provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a law designed to protect marine sanctuaries. "The seldom used measure" explains NBC News, "allows the executive to permanently freeze offshore drilling in specified regions.

    And unlike the First, Second, Fifth or Tenth Amendments of the Constitution, which Democrats have treated as mere suggestions over the past eight years, a provision from 1953 is eternal and nonnegotiable according to the administration—like a commandment transmitted from the heavens. Well, that is unless Republicans pass another law or amend the existing one, right?

    We're about to endure (probably) years of Democrat griping about Trump's arrogant and dangerous use of executive power. And (also probably) they will have a valid point. But those complaints will be easy to dismiss when they've been silent about stuff like this.

  • If you've been wondering what Rick Perry, Trump's cabinet pick for the Energy Department could do to prevent future Solyndras, you might want to check out "What Rick Perry Could Do to Prevent Future Solyndras" from Nicolas Loris at the Daily Signal. At issue is the department's "loan guarantee program.

    The Department of Energy’s loan program is a double-edged sword for the American economy. Either the government subsidizes likely-to-fail projects, thus throwing away taxpayer dollars, or they provide corporate welfare, keeping politically favored activities alive while diminishing the innovative role of the entrepreneur and private investment. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

    Or there's always Plan A, as Senator Rand Paul implies in one of his Festivus Airing of Grievances:

    (Check the link for more of Senator Paul's grievances.)

  • OK, so it's probably too late for you to go shopping for the libertarian in your life, but enjoy this hilarity from ReasonTV anyway: The Libertarian Holiday Gift Guide!

  • And finally, from the great Michael Ramirez:

URLs du Jour

2016-12-24

Happy Christmas Eve to all. Here are some links I've enjoyed recently. As usual, "read the whole thing" is implied.

  • The Cato Institute filed one of the more hilarious amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court recently, in the matter of Lee v. Tam, on whether disparagement of "persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols" can be a basis for denial of a trademark application. "Lee" is Michele Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). "Tam" is Simon Shiao Tam, "founder of the world's first and only all-Asian American dance-rock band, The Slants". And the issue is whether "The Slants" should be a trademarkable name, because disparagement.

    Cato's brief is in support of Tam; one of the contributors is P. J. O'Rourke. To pick a paragraph at random:

    Finally, band names are also chosen to convey valuable information about the music the band plays. It should come as no surprise that the Queers are not a Lawrence Welk cover band, the Revolting Cocks are not a string quartet, Dying Fetus does not play jazz standards, and Gay Witch Abortion would never open for Paul Anka. Similarly, The Slants have chosen a name that, through its insouciance, expresses something about their music—and the government’s jejeune label of “disparaging” fails to capture the many levels of communication inherent in that name.

    The key question, as posed by Cato: "Does the government get to decide what’s a slur?" It's hard to see how anyone could answer "yes" after reading the brief. But then again, I'm not a Supreme Court Justice.

  • Reason magazine was, and is, understandably critical of Donald Trump. But John Stossel likes some of Trump's cabinet picks. And gets off this instant-classic:

    A Washington Post headline: "Ayn Rand acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists." This is absurd. Trump likes capitalism, but he's no objectivist. Objectivists have firm principles.

    I anticipate we'll see plenty of examples of unprincipledness in the coming year.

  • Jay Nordlinger is a tireless advocate for victims of totalitarian tyranny. In "The Art of the Kowtow" he reminds us:

    Norway and China have restored normal relations. Beijing cut off such relations in 2010, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a leading Chinese dissident. The ruling Communists arrested Liu in 2008 and have imprisoned him ever since. They are also keeping Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, under a brutal house arrest.

    I'm told my ancestral heritage is 100% Norwegian, but now and then I'm reminded why it was such a good idea for my ancestors to get the hell out of there.

The Servile Mind

How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life

[Amazon Link]

One of those "I wish I was smarter, to understand it better" books. But it's also one of those "I wish it was better" books. I believe I put this on the TBR pile a few years back, perhaps due to this National Review review. Or maybe this one at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The latter calls the book "clear and incisive". I disagree: I thought it was turgid, rambling, and a tad cranky. I'm willing to believe that I'm wrong, though. In any case, thanks be to the Interlibrary Loan folks at the library at the University Near Here for arranging a copy be shipped up from Boston U.

The author, Kenneth Minogue, died in 2013. This 2010 book was his last. (He was in his 80s, so perhaps I was uncharitable about deeming him cranky—once you hit 80, you're entitled to be as cranky as you want.)

Minogue's argument is not so much with "democracy" per se as implied by the book's subtitle. Instead it's a subtler argument about the Western democratic states falling into a "politico-moral" mindset. Governments have moved away from viewing themselves as protectors of individual freedoms, and toward implementing a moral crusade for social justice. At first glance, this is admirable: Minogue admits that the movement, in its opposition to poverty, bigotry, war, ignorance, and oppression, occupies the "moral high ground".

But the cost is high: when individuals under such states are enlisted in these crusades, their own personal projects are deprioritized. Shifts in language encourage individuals to take less responsibility for their own lives—why should you, when the state's project is to view you as (potential) oppressed victim in need of rescue? Hence, "democracy" becomes not a servant of the sovereign people, but the (hopefully benign) master of a servile collective.

I don't want to be overly critical: the book has valuable insights and pithy observations scattered throughout. (Longtime fans of National Review will welcome his discussion, around page 268, of Eric Voegelin's concept of "immanentizing the eschaton".)

But, on the other hand, Minogue's style can throw up speed bumps to understanding his argument. For example, around page 70, we have his description of Lockean rights: they "express a ludic conception of how people live". At which point I needed to hustle to the Google to find out what "ludic" meant. And as it turned out, the word didn't add that much to the discussion.

Remember

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

Finally got around to watching a Netflix disk we've had sitting around the house since early October. (Savvy consumer: shake your heads and sorrowfully note that we're not getting our money's worth out of our Netflix DVD plan when we're this poky about watching stuff they've sent.)

But Remember is a intensely watchable movie, starring Christopher Plummer as Zev, living in an Assisted Care facility, in the middle stages of dementia. He wakes up calling for his wife, having forgot that she passed away a week ago.

Zev's friend Max (Martin Landau) gently reminds him of a promise he made: once Ruth died, Zev would go on a little mission out in the big wide world. Max provides Zev with a wad of Benjamins and a detailed letter describing, step by step, what Zev is to do. We're kept mostly in the dark, however: the nature of Zev's quest is revealed mostly in his actions. (Bruno Ganz, the actor who played Hitler in Downfall, appears. Hint, hint.)

They really have lax security at that Assisted Care place, though. Tsk!

The movie is full of suspense and Shocking Plot Twists, expertly acted by all involved. It's always nice to see Dean Norris, Hank Schrader himself; does he play a good guy here? At first, it seems that way!

Illiberal Reformers

Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era

[Amazon Link]

A rare occurrence: the University Near Here actually owned a recent non-fiction title that I wanted to read. I didn't have to bug the Interlibrary Loan people. Good for them.

Published earlier this year, Illiberal Reformers is a scholarly critical look at the roots of the US Progressive movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. The author, Thomas Leonard, is a lecturer at the Department of Economics at Princeton. He covers much the same ground as Jonah Goldberg did in Liberal Fascism, but (as far as I can tell from the reviews at Amazon) to much greater mainstream respectability. (See Jonah's comments on that.)

Leonard acknowledges the "good work" accomplished by those early Progressives: workplace reforms, safer food, women's suffrage, trust-busting, etc.) We might differ, of course, on how much of that progress would have occurred anyway, as a result of increased prosperity.

But—and this is a huge but—these early reformers were also endowed with massive amounts of hubris about their abilities to reshape American society, and the American economy, more to their liking. They weren't socialists, by and large. But they were united in their arrogant contempt for laissez-faire free-market economics specifically, and individualism (generally); they simply knew that their conscious "reality-based" designs and plans would produce superior results. Why wait for Adam Smith's magic Invisible Hand to produce results when you can grab control of the state, and directly use its Visible Fist to get the superior outcomes you desire? Why not push people around in the name of the collective good-as-you-see-it.

This required, naturally, a national government endowing itself with vast new powers, damned be the Constitutional niceties. Woodrow Wilson is one of those damners, quoted as arguing that the Constitution and its government be viewed as a living thing, evolving via Darwinist processes, rather than the old constraining fuddy-duddy Newtonian rules envisioned by the Founders.

This alludes to another feature of the early Progressives: they were devotees of the junk science of the day. The poor understanding of evolution combined with unsophisticated economics resulted in "scientific" racism and an obsession with all things eugenic. This manifested itself in all sorts of nasty policies: racial segregation, stupid immigration restrictions, minimum wage laws designed to keep the "unfit" out of the workplace, etc. While the Progressive movement was fine with women getting to vote, they were largely opposed to their presence in the workplace: a functioning family had the father earning a "living wage", while the little lady stayed home, baked, and tended the kiddos.

Now: Progressivism was far from a uniform movement. For example, not all Progressives championed Prohibition—but a lot did. And Progressives were not the only racists in the American tent—but they were clearly on the wrong side, and their shimmering belief in their own moral rectitude makes it somehow unforgivable.

Leonard is obviously interested in promoting his thesis, but he does this effectively by quoting the Progressives' own self-incriminating words, with only a gloss of his own interpretations. Irony: Leonard teaches at current-day Princeton, but one of his main victims is a previous President of Princeton, the aforementioned Woodrow Wilson.

If I had one complaint about Leonard's approach, it's that he doesn't go far enough. It's to easy for modern Progressives to scoff: well, except for all that early eugenic stuff, our movement was just fine. I have high hopes for his future work, though: see, for example, his review of Nudge by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, taking on the paternalistic conceit of two modern Progressives.


Last Modified 2016-12-04 5:31 PM EST

Nine Princes in Amber

[Amazon Link]

I've recently finished up two reading projects (John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels). So what better to do than embark on another one: Roger Zelazny's Amber novels. The first five "Corwin Cycle" books were written between 1970 and 1978; I remember gobbling those up as they appeared as paperbacks. Zelazny followed up in 1985-1991 with five books in the "Merlin Cycle"; I don't remember how many of those I read. He passed away in 1995.

Sobering thought: given my age, and all the other stuff in my to-be-read lists, I may not finish this project. Call it hopeful optimism that I'm even starting.

This first book starts out normally enough: Corwin, our hero, awakens in a private hospital out of a drug-induced stupor. He has a nasty case of amnesia, all he can remember is being in a car accident. But his injuries seem to have healed remarkably well. After some violence and fast-talking, he escapes and heads to the home of the woman who apparently was responsible for keeping him sedated. Who turns out to be his double-dealing sister.

Corwin slowly gets up to speed on the true nature of his predicament: he's on "our" Earth, but that's only a shadow of the True Earth, which holds glorious Amber. And he's not some ordinary schmoe, but a prince. (There a number of other princes, for a total of … oh, I don't know, somewhere in the high single digits.) Also, princesses. All sons and daughters of Oberon, the long-missing King of Amber.

Corwin discovers that his exile on our Earth is a plot by brother Eric to grab Amber's throne. What follows is Corwin's efforts to return to Amber through the Shadows, thwart Eric, and sit on the throne himself.

This involves massive violence involving the inhabitants of various Shadow worlds. When you're a prince, these short-lived creatures—remember, you and I are examples—are pretty much cannon fodder whose lives are cheap when expended in a quest for power. (It's never clear exactly what's so damn cool about being in charge in Amber. It's just something princes think they're entitled to do.)

A fun read, and a neat ending though.