Updating Niemöller

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Hey, that was some eclipse, right? What do you think about that Big Booming Voice threatening America with imminent destruction, unless… Oh, that didn't happen where you were? … What, that was just me hearing it? Never mind.

Anyway, we are still in Pun Salad rerun season. I originally wrote this masterpiece before Trump's inauguration. I've added a few stanzas since.]

In honor of the upcoming Trump Administration, some overly dramatic friends have been posting the famous poem by anti-Nazi German Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Because Trump is Hitler, you see.

But it got me thinking about what a more honest, updated version would look like. And so:

First the FEC came for Citizens United , and I did not speak out—
Because I did not want to defend an anti-Hillary movie.

Then the IRS came for Tea Party groups, and I did not speak out—
Because those teabaggers irritated me.

Then the authorities came for Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, and I did not speak out—
Because he was a convenient scapegoat for Benghazi.

Then the DOJ came for a Fox News correspondent, and I did not speak out—
Because, hey, Fox News.

Then the social network mob came after Brendan Eich, and I did not speak out—
Because I did not agree with him.

Then the HHS came for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a nun.

Then the State of Washington came for a florist, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a florist.

Then Berkeley thugs came for Ann Coulter, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Ann Coulter.

Then Google came for James Damore, and I did not speak out—
Because … well, who wants to get on Google's bad side?

Then Donald Trump got elected, and I'm now really concerned about arbitrary abuses of power—
And all these people are just laughing at me!

Obviously, I could have added more verses. Disclaimer: despite the "then"s, I didn't bother to put things in chronological order.

A Dishonest and Stupid Change

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Hey, how about that eclipse! It's today, right? Pun Salad has nothing to say about that once-in-a-lifetime event except: don't look at the uneclipsed sun with your naked eyeballs. And also: enjoy this crotchety July 2016 response to a silly column from a local retired pol.]

Judd Gregg, one of our state's former Senators, recently took to the op-ed page of my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, to advocate a Big Idea, that will… well, let him tell you:

In the parlance of Congressional budgeting, if you have an idea that scores positively — in other words, if it raises money without raising taxes — you have struck gold.

In the words of Kenny Bania: "That's gold, Jerry! Gold!".

Such an item allows you, should your colleagues accept it, to either reduce the deficit or spend money on some program that has general support but no funds to pay for it.

Expressed another way, if something scores positively, it creates opportunities for action by the Congress. And this is particularly appealing because Congress is generally wedged into a straitjacket of inaction when it comes to new initiatives or reducing the deficit because it has no way to pay for either effort.

The subtext: Judd's ex-colleagues are demonstrably inept at making difficult fiscal choices, and would much prefer to discover a gaggle of gold-egg-laying geese, or maybe lay claim to whatever loose change they can find in the US Capitol seat cushions.

So what's Judd's Big Idea? Sell the Post Office? Terminate the Small Business Administration? Well, sorry. None of that for Judd. Instead, the loose-change thing turns out to be close.

Here is an idea that involves small change but translates into budgeting gold.

It is currency modernization.

Warning to the reader: "Modernization" will turn out to be a marketing euphemism.

Our present currency system is illogical. We produce coins that cost more than they are worth. Yet, at the same time, we rely far more excessively than other industrialized nations on paper currency. We simply have not modernized our approach to managing our currency to catch up with a 21st century market society.

Judd's argument contains a smidgen of fact: it's probably true that pennies and nickels cost more to make than they're worth. (He elides the "to make" part.)

[It's also worth pointing out that penny and nickel face values are still greater their melt-value. When that stops being true, they will immediately vanish from general circulation.]

But in absolute terms, the amounts involved are capital-T Trivial. The GAO estimated (for FY2014) a yearly loss of $91 million for making pennies and nickels. But making dimes and quarters more than made up for that; the US Mint realized a total profit ("seignorage") of $315 million from its overall coin production.

So "we" (actually: the Mint) could at best save about $91 million a year by not producing pennies and nickels. With Your Federal Government spending $3.8 trillion per year, this represents about 13 minutes of spending.

We'll look at the paper currency argument later. Back to Judd:

It is a bit embarrassing to have the world’s largest and most important economy but yet be so far behind our competition in the simple act of managing our physical money.

What can Judd possibly mean here? There's close to zero "competition" for US currency in the domestic economy. (Although that could change.) In recent years, the US dollar has been the most commonly used currency worldwide, the Euro coming in a distant second. It's the most widely held currency, period. It's hard to find any symptoms whatsoever of a "competition" problem.

So there's no need for Judd to be embarrassed. But let him ramble for a while, he'll eventually get around to what he's actually talking about:

On the bright side, some moves are being made toward addressing this problem. If those moves translate into real action, we stand to realize benefits both from making day-to-day economic activity more efficient and rational, and from saving the taxpayers considerable sums.

The Treasury has announced sweeping changes to our paper currency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional audit group, has supported major modernization 10 times in the last 25 years. Most importantly, a group of thoughtful and respected legislators led by Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and John McCain, R-Ariz., and Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., have made fixing our currency system a priority.

They are pushing for a dollar coin to be included in a package of GAO-recommended savings measures with their bill, the United Savings and Accountability Act (USA Act).

Enzi, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has also pushed to make sure that savings generated from this modernization will be able to be scored in the budget process.

Ah, there it is: the dollar coin.

A majority of the American people likes this reasonable approach. Sixty-one percent of Americans support going to a more coin-dominated system when they are told of the savings it would generate.

But in actual fact, US dollar coins have proven to be dreadfully unpopular. "The American people" have had the option to use them, on and off, for decades, and the lack of acceptance has been spectacular. Simply, when given a choice, "the American people" prefer the paper dollar. This strongly suggests that there are hidden costs to dollar coin usage (primarily convenience, I would suspect), and those unremunerated costs would be borne by the citizenry.

Gregg's Big Idea: remove the choice. "We tried to be nice, but you didn't behave as you were supposed to. So now we're going to do this for your own good."

How much would this currency reform save us?

Yeah, how much would it save "us"?

It is estimated that switching from the one-dollar note to a one-dollar coin could save the country up to $13.5 billion. Additional savings could be made from suspending the production of the penny and redesigning the nickel. This is a lot of money that could go to reducing the deficit or to funding programs that have broad bipartisan support.

Note the bullshit signifiers here: "could" and "up to". And (most important) no mention of the timeframe for those savings.

And, in any relevant context, despite Judd's dishonest claims otherwise, it turns out to be not a "lot of money". The recent GAO study is easy to find. They have a more conservative estimate of the savings to the federal government: not $13.5 billion, but ("potentially") $4.4 billion. (I don't know where the $13.5 billion number comes from. I suspect it's fantasy.)

And how long would it take for those "potential" savings to be realized? 30 years.

That averages to about $147 million per year. In the same ballpark as the savings from penny/nickel abolition. And in terms of a $3.8 trillion yearly budget, that works out to about 20 minutes worth of spending.

Also note: it's not as if the government loses money printing dollar bills. That would be hard to do; they take at best a few cents worth of paper, ink, and labor and turn it into something "worth" a dollar by fiat. It's just that they could make more money with coins instead, due to their longer lifespan. (Again: "seignorage", a word worth knowing.)

Canada, our neighbor to the north and a good place to try out ideas like this, has successfully made this switch. Canadians experienced cost savings 10 times higher then their initial estimates.

Judd demonstrates, again, his telling aversion to meaningful numbers. According to the GAO, the Canadian government saved $450 million over 5 years in its switchover. So an average of $90 million/year, about 0.028% of their current yearly spending. Given Canada's smaller budget, that's a slightly bigger deal than we'd see in the US: A whole 2.5 hours out of the year!

In an election year like this, big things are not going to happen in Congress. But positive, incremental initiatives that can help pave the way for broader reforms of budget and governance should be doable.

Actually, big things will never happen in Congress as long as they are distracted by time-wasting penny (heh!)-ante schemes like this.

Currency modernization is an opportunity to get real savings that can be used by this Congress as it wrestles with paying for government and reducing the debt.

As shown above, the savings are at best trivial and the debt will continue growing.

It is a small change, in small change. But it does score positively, so it is actually a fairly big deal for a Congress that urgently needs some change.

Change, change, change. Get it? This clever play on words will no doubt convince dozens.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is probably not a huge deal. I could learn to live without pennies, nickels, and dollar bills. I am simply tired of pols like Judd Gregg making stupid and dishonest arguments for decreasing Americans' currency choices.

Zika (and Carsey) Skepticism

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is running out of euphemisms for "rerun". But enjoy this post from last March. Back with new stuff soon!]

I was moved to comment on this Granite Geek post from David Brooks ("No, the other one") of the Concord Monitor: Mistrust of scientists can hinder fight against Zika, says UNH study. I'll expand on my comment here.

Brooks begins:

As a confirmed skeptic, I agree that it’s a good take to not blanket accept the statements of others but to consider them and weigh evidence when it exists. That is not the same thing as saying “I never believe X, period” – that’s a stupidly superficial response.

Excellent attitude. Except then Brooks immediately proceeds to uncritically echo a new study emitted from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University Near Here.

What do you have to say about that, John Arnold?

Before we look at the study, let's note that the "Carsey School of Public Policy" is hardly an imprimatur of unbiased policy analysis. As we discussed back in November, the school's director, Michael Ettinger, sent (Wikileaked) mail to the Hillary Clinton campaign, offering to "be helpful from my perch" as director, and offered to connect the campaign with the "large population of influential and well-off progressives" in Portsmouth. [I'd speculate Ettinger had his eyes peeled for a plum job in the Hillary Clinton Administration, but such positions turned out to be only available in an alternative-fact universe.]

The Carsey school's benefactor, Marcy Carsey, is a reliably heavy contributor to Democratic Party causes and candidates. As is (to an appropriately smaller dollar figure) one of the study's authors, Lawrence Hamilton. Not that that necessarily means anything with respect to the study itself. But political bias has certainly been known to tilt what researchers, especially in social science, choose to study and the results they expect to get.

Maybe not in this case. But also: maybe.

Now that our skepticism detectors have been calibrated, lets move on to the "new study": The Zika Virus Threat. Subtitle: "How Concerns About Scientists May Undermine Efforts to Combat the Pandemic".

Well, there's another problem right there. A "pandemic" is something pretty dire. And (sure enough) you can find a lot of Google hits claiming that Zika might become a pandemic. They are notably, entirely from 2016. You'll find precious few claiming that Zika was (let alone is) a pandemic. The notable exception is a New England Journal of Medicine article from February 2016 from Drs. Anthony Fauci and David M. Morens of NIH, asserting "pandemic" status for Zika. The Carsey study treats this as definitive, and reflects the current state of affairs. But that's dubious.

Although definitions are fuzzy, the relevant Wikipedia article on Zika deems Zika an epidemic. Which is bad, but not as bad as a pandemic. Even more relevant, in the lead paragraph of the article, these two sentences are adjacent:

In January 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus was likely to spread throughout most of the Americas by the end of the year. In November 2016 WHO announced the end of the Zika epidemic.

Um. It's difficult to read that and avoid thinking that most of the fear-mongering and heavy breathing about Zika was, at best, overblown. And it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in pronouncements from "science".

That's not to say there are no reasons to be concerned and vigilant. Obviously it's a good idea to stomp on Zika until its danger to humans is minimized, assuming that's the most efficient use of scarce epidemiological resources. But how much trust can we put in the Carsey study when the headline recycles the panic-inciting yarns from last year as fact?

Moving on, because it gets worse. The Carsey study is entirely based on an October 2016 Granite State Poll, carried out by the UNH Survey Center. Around the same time, the Survey Center was also doing election polls. Their final polling, published two days before the election, contrasted poorly with reality:

  • In the Presidential race, the Survey Center predicted "51% for Clinton, 40% for Trump, 6% for Johnson, 1% for Stein and 2% for other candidates." The actual percentages were 48/47/4/1. They overestimated Hillary's winning margin by 10 percentage points.

  • In the Senate race, the prediction was "52% for [Democrat] Hassan, 47% for [Republican] Ayotte, and 1% for other candidates". Actual percentages: 48/48/4. An overstatement of the winning margin for the Democrat by 5 percentage points.

  • In the Governor's race, the prediction was "55% for [Democrat] Van Ostern, 44% for [Republican] Sununu, and 2% for other candidates" Actual percentages: 47/49/4, Sununu winning. A 13 percentage point miss here.

So there's every reason to take the roughly-contemporaneous polling here with more than a grain of salt.

Let's look at one of the polling questions:

Do you agree or disagree that scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want? If agree or disagree: Is that strongly or just somewhat?

The results:

Strongly agree 17%
Agree 26%
Neutral/Don't Know 13%
Disagree 20%
Strongly disagree 24%

How did the researchers report this?

Nearly one-half of New Hampshire residents agreed with the statement, “scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want.” These individuals were significantly less likely to trust the CDC as a source of information about Zika.

"Nearly one-half" is actually 43%. "Adjusted findings", indeed.

I think if I were asked this question, I'd respond something like this:

It's not that simple.

Scientists are human beings, and are therefore subject to bias, both conscious and unconscious. They have strong incentives to be seen as "productive", because that is the pathway to their professional success. There might be some saintly automatons out there that rise above these human failings, but it's a sight less than 100%.

So I would have to be a damn fool to think that these factors cannot sometimes cause some scientists to report "answers" that don't reflect reality and can't be reproduced. In fact, there have been studies done that show this is a huge issue in psychological research.

I'm not sure how that extends to other fields, but I'm relatively certain it does. Nor am I sure what you mean when you say "adjust their findings", but I think it skews what gets published.

I wonder how the Survey Center would pigeonhole that response? Probably as "Agree". Shoot me.

The study further concludes:

These results suggest that the erosion of trust in scientists not only affects highly politicized issues but may also undermine efforts to curb the spread of infectious disease and protect public health.

I'm pretty sure the Carsey researchers mean this to imply that the public should be less skeptical of "scientists". I'd argue that it indicates that scientists should make efforts toward being more trustworthy.

UNH Censors Again

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is in "encore presentation" status for a few more days. Until our regularly scheduled programming returns, enjoy last April's tale of thwarted outrage at the University Near Here.]

Or, to quote Buck Murdock: "Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has the story: University of New Hampshire’s removal of anti-sexual harassment exhibit undermines free speech.

FIRE and others are asking questions about the University of New Hampshire’s decision to remove a student-led exhibit criticizing street harassment and allow it to be re-posted only after making changes apparently acceptable to administrators’ tastes about what language is sufficiently inoffensive to be shared on a university campus.

"Street harassment" is a thing now. It refers to guys making sexually suggestive remarks (of varying degrees of offensiveness) to women in public. The exhibit in question (there's a picture of it at the FIRE link) contains somewhere around three dozen examples, all allegedly based on survey results gathered by UNH's Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), where students were invited to submit things they actually heard said to them on the street. The exhibit appeared in the primary hallway of the Memorial Union Building (MUB).

To state the obvious: a college town like Durham is an overflowing petri dish of young-person hormones combined with varying degrees of desperation, insecurity, and general stupidity.

And the latter is enhanced via copious amounts of cheap beer and weed.

And finally, on the "street", especially on Thursday-Saturday nights, an additional factor comes into play: the notion that everyone's on the prowl, "looking for a good time".

So it's not very surprising that "street harassment" happens in Durham. In fact, SHARPP's Director, Amy Culp, is completely believable when she claims that the display was restricted to some of the "milder" comments submitted.

"I understand that some found them to be concerning; however, it’s important to note that these were far less vile than the other list of comments that were reported,” [Culp] said.

The FIRE article is pretty brutal in describing the censorship imposed by UNH Administration. FIRE reports the student newspaper's quote from Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick:

Additionally, open house season for admitted students and their families began last week and, according to Kirkpatrick, some of the “language used on the MUB wall placards was not suitable for young children or for those members of our publics and our campus community who have strong personal convictions that may originate from religious, spiritual or ethnic roots.”

Something FIRE missed in the above is the "open house season" factor. Specifically: prospective college applicants and their families flock to UNH at this time of year, and a lot of them traipse through that MUB hallway.

Now, Dean Kirkpatrick's claimed concern for "young children" etc., is fine, but I can't help but think he had a bigger, unstated, worry: that moms and dads would see the display and think that just maybe they didn't want to plonk their daughter into such a self-admitted sexually-besotted environment. Which, in turn would impact the UNH pocketbook. Can't have that!

Of course, when it comes to the UNH Administration vs. SHARPP, there's a certain "isn't there some way they could both lose" schadenfreude involved. SHARPP has long been a force for stupidity at UNH, subordinating the worthy goal of a less-sexually-toxic environment to the more important goal of tediously hectoring the student body against "sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, able-bodyism, ageism and other oppressions."

The "brains" behind the street harassment display is Jordyn Haime, described as "a freshman journalism major and SHARPP community educator". If you have the time and inclination, you can read her student-newspaper op-eds here and here. She is a living example of George F. Will's aphorism: when colleges and universities "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

But I was struck by this bit in the (sympathetic, of course) Huffington Post story about the controversy:

“I think I started carrying a pocketknife with me when I was 16, I bought myself a can of pepper spray for my 18th birthday, and my mom bought me a new container of mace before I went off to college,” Haime told [the author] via email. “So I think that speaks a lot to what young people are expected to deal with on college campuses or just walking down the street.”

Hey, Jordyn? I'd like to draw your attention to the rules:

The University of New Hampshire is a weapon free campus. This applies to all residence halls and apartments. Weapons include but are not limited to, firearms, simulated firearms, dangerous chemicals, any explosive device, nunchucks, brass knuckles, butterfly knives, paintball guns/equipment and any other materials that can be used to intimidate, threaten or endanger others, are prohibited on campus. Any knife, including a butter knife, used as a weapon shall be considered a violation of this policy.

So you better hope that the dorm cops don't read the HuffPo.

Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal: Congressional "Fairness" Reform

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is in "Greatest Hits" mode for a few days. I'm kind of proud of this crackpot idea from last April. Unfortunately, there's been no interest from anyone who might actually have enough pull to put it on the table for discussion.]

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.

The Seen and Unseen at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is on reruns for a few days. For less time than the TV networks, promise! In the meantime, please enjoy this Bastiat-inspired commentary from last May on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.]

It has been almost a month since this article appeared in local media with the headline "Shipyard accounts for $756 million in economic activity". "Shipyard" is our local Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY), just down the street in Kittery, Maine. And this is an exercise performed annually by the Seacoast Shipyard Association (SSA), an association of "individuals, businesses and communities dedicated to the continued existence of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard".

But the article stuck in my craw a bit, because I've also read the masterful 1850 essay by Frédéric Bastiat "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen". The classic example Bastiat provided was the activities of the "incorrigable son" of James Goodfellow who breaks a pane of glass, giving rise to Goodfellow's fury. But:

If you have been present at this spectacle, certainly you must also have observed that the onlookers, even if there are as many as thirty of them, seem with one accord to offer the unfortunate owner the selfsame consolation: "It's an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?"

Yes, it's good for the glazier, Bastiat admits.

The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

It is a nasty fallacy to stop at considering with "what is seen", because one might conclude that it's "good to break windows." Bastiat demands we consider…

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

So, 167 years later, Bastiat's crowd of onlookers has moved across the ocean, organized itself into the SSA, and aligned itself with complaisant pols. And our Bastiat-ignorant media uncritically showers its customers with its "seen" factoids like …

The shipyard accounted for $756,068,941 in total economic activity in 2016, according to the report. Total civilian payroll of nearly $500 million represents an increase of more than $14 million from 2015, which allowed more than 200 new employees to be hired, according to the report.

That might draw a snort of French contempt-mixed-with-amusement from Bastiat. "Oui! That is what is seen, mes amis! Tell me what is unseen?"

As it happens, Bastiat considers an even more pertinent example in his essay, involving the military. He's no peacenik, but he realizes that defense expenditures are costs, spending money that can't be devoted to other items:

A nation is in the same case as a man. When a man wishes to give himself a satisfaction, he has to see whether it is worth what it costs. For a nation, security is the greatest of blessings. If, to acquire it, a hundred thousand men must be mobilized, and a hundred million francs spent, I have nothing to say. It is an enjoyment bought at the price of a sacrifice.

He offers a concrete example:

A legislator proposes to discharge a hundred thousand men, which will relieve the taxpayers of a hundred million francs in taxes.

Suppose we confine ourselves to replying to him: "These one hundred thousand men and these one hundred million francs are indispensable to our national security. It is a sacrifice; but without this sacrifice France would be torn by internal factions or invaded from without." I have no objection here to this argument, which may be true or false as the case may be, but which theoretically does not constitute any economic heresy. The heresy begins when the sacrifice itself is represented as an advantage, because it brings profit to someone.

The SSA, its co-dependent politicians, and the media don't ignore this heresy. Instead, they embrace it with inane anecdotes like…

Loco Coco’s Tacos on Walker Street in Kittery, Maine, started as a small takeout taco stand in a parking lot.

Over the years more and more Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers grabbed lunch at the stand, providing so much business, Loco Coco’s eventually expanded into the sit-down restaurant it is today, according to Ginny Griffith, a member of the Seacoast Shipyard Association’s board of directors.

“To see what that has turned into from this small business to what it is today is one example of the impact the shipyard has,” Griffith said during the SSA’s annual presentation of its economic impact report.

Yes, PNSY "brings profit to someone". Loco Coco’s Tacos. Duh. Bastiat imagines the SSA representative of his own day:

"Discharge a hundred thousand men! What are you thinking of? What will become of them? What will they live on? On their earnings? But do you not know that there is unemployment everywhere? That all occupations are oversupplied? Do you wish to throw them on the market to increase the competition and to depress wage rates? Just at the moment when it is difficult to earn a meager living, is it not fortunate that the state is giving bread to a hundred thousand individuals? Consider further that the army consumes wine, clothes, and weapons, that it thus spreads business to the factories and the garrison towns, and that it is nothing less than a godsend to its innumerable suppliers. Do you not tremble at the idea of bringing this immense industrial activity to an end?"

As a contemporary of Bastiat's observed: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Again, Bastiat says, consider the unseen:

But here is what you do not see. You do not see that to send home a hundred thousand soldiers is not to do away with a hundred million francs, but to return that money to the taxpayers. You do not see that to throw a hundred thousand workers on the market in this way is to throw in at the same time the hundred million francs destined to pay for their labor; that, as a consequence, the same measure that increases the supply of workers also increases the demand; from which it follows that your lowering of wages is illusory. You do not see that before, as well as after, the demobilization there are a hundred million francs corresponding to the hundred thousand men; that the whole difference consists in this: that before, the country gives the hundred million francs to the hundred thousand men for doing nothing; afterwards, it gives them the money for working. Finally, you do not see that when a taxpayer gives his money, whether to a soldier in exchange for nothing or to a worker in exchange for something, all the more remote consequences of the circulation of this money are the same in both cases: only, in the second case the taxpayer receives something; in the first he receives nothing. Result: a dead loss for the nation.

And he observes [paraphrasing]: if defense spending is by its nature so economically beneficial, why don't we put the entire nation to work in it, and get rid of all these fripperies produced by the private economy?

Our local politicians are huge fans of "what is seen", of course. They vociferously oppose any effort that might consider any base closures whatsoever. PNSY was on the chopping block in 2005, but was saved after intense politicking.

Since then, they've done mostly good work, but a civilian employee managed to destroy a sub there too. That's a "seen" cost, but the SSA doesn't like to mention such things.

Some Book Recs

Pun Salad is going into rerun season for a few days. But before we do that, I thought I'd mention some good non-fiction books I've read over the past few months. You can click on the book image to go to the relevant Amazon page (assuming your ad blocker lets you see them, which it should, they're very tasteful), or click on the title to go to my take on the work.

Usually people do a "Top 10" list. As Nigel Tufnel might say, this one goes to 11. In no particular order:

[Amazon Img] Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. An interesting book by a Nobel Prize winner. Although he's a psychologist, he got the Econ prize. Read the book to find out why.
[Amazon Img] The Undoing ProjectA Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis. Might well be read before or after you read the one above. This is the "outside" view on the research of Kahneman and his late longtime partner, Amos Tversky.
[Amazon Img] The Three Languages of PoliticsTalking Across the Political Divides by Arnold Kling. His simple explanation of why our various political tribes are so mutually incomprehensible, and why that matters.
[Amazon Img] One Nation UndecidedClear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us by Peter H. Schuck. A masterful analysis of five "hard" issues facing America today. Schuck's purpose is to not just provide the facts and arguments behind those issues; he also provides an example of what civilized debate could look like about these issues. But doesn't.
[Amazon Img] Hillbilly ElegyA Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Mr. Vance grew up hillbilly, and provides an unsentimental look about that culture's strengths and flaws. A longtime best-seller, and deservedly so.
[Amazon Img] The Death of ExpertiseThe Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols. A very readable, and a tad cranky, book about the decline in respect for the American Expert. Some wounds are self-inflicted, but not all of them,
[Amazon Img] WonderlandHow Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. A very entertaining and readable book about unexpected connections between yesterday's pursuit of the seemingly frivolous and the shape of the modern world.
[Amazon Img] The Boys in the BoatNine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. Another deserved best-seller. I didn't think a book about young men engaging in competitive rowing could be so captivating. Wrong again.
[Amazon Img] Against Democracy by Jason Brennan. Brennan doesn't quite slay the sacred cow of "democracy", but does a pretty good job of desacralizing it. But if you want an impetus for reading this book, take a cold hard look at the people "we" elected to have power over us.
[Amazon Img] The Secret of Our SuccessHow Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich. A "big idea" book (I've been a sucker for those lately) which examines the concept of "cultural evolution". Or: why didn't humans become tiger chow millions of years ago?

The linked post has an inexplicable slam at Mr. Craig Kimbrel. I assume he must have had a poor outing at the time of writing. I apologize.

[Amazon Img] Unwanted AdvancesSexual Paranoia Comes to Campus by Laura Kipnis. A clearly-written take on the epidemic of kangraroo courts in our nation's colleges and universities, adjudicating and punishing alleged sex-related misbehavior with little respect for due process, or, too often, truth.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-15

Mission plan

■ Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Proverbs 21:5:

5 The plans of the diligent lead to profit
    as surely as haste leads to poverty.

… or "How to Get Rich the Bible Way".


■ Patterico points out the devious scheme of Economic Trumpism: Kurt Schlichter’s Plan to Regulate Google Into Submission.

At Townhall.com, Kurt Schlichter has a piece titled Conservatives Must Regulate Google And All of Silicon Valley Into Submission. The piece captures the spirit of Trumpism admirably, by turning a company’s ability to engage in free enterprise into a privilege that can and should be withheld when the company does something to tick off someone in power.

There's a possibility that Schlichter's is a satirical "modest proposal". But even if so, it's too similar to what I've seen here and there over the past few years from some ostensibly conservative minds, roughly: "let's play as dirty as the left does."

That's not a path to anything worth winning.


■ John Daniel Davidson writes at the Federalist: Charlottesville Was A Fight Between The Tribal Right And Tribal Left, Intended To Polarize America.

Let’s get something out of the way: Charlottesville is not about Confederate statues or Robert E. Lee or the Civil War or American history. What happened on Friday night and Saturday is about power, specifically about forcing the great mass of Americans to choose sides in a zero-sum clash between contemporary American versions of Weimar gangs.

The moral is the same as with Patterico's Schlicter rebuttal: whether violence is involved or not, don't choose sides in a game of loser vs. loser.


■ Let me also embed a recent Facebook post from …

O'Neil is another sense-maker.


■ My Google LFOD alert clanged for a recent op-ed in my local paper: Jeff Chidester on the Very Man Himself, Gen. Stark’s legend of American heroism.

A casual look at history confirms that Gen. Stark most likely was not the first person to use the term “Live Free or Die,” but that doesn’t matter. By most accounts, the addition to that phrase (“Death is not the worst of evils”) was original to Stark. Stark never claimed to be the author of “Live free or die,” which was offered as a written toast in honor of the men who fought at the Battle of Bennington. Stark knew the patriots who fought alongside him Aug. 16, 1777, earned every one of those words. Live free or die is more than just a state motto; it is a eulogy, a testament to those that believed in the promise of this country that they were willing to lay down their lives for an ideal greater than themselves.

Something to be forgotten at our peril.


■ But on a more modern note, a Vermont paper bemoans a troublesome trend: For Some, Seat Belt Use Not Clicking.

With 80 percent of drivers and passengers using their seat belts, Vermont was 10 percentage points below the national average. Georgia ranked No. 1 at 97.2 percent.

Care to guess which state brought up the rear, at 70.2 percent? Yes, the Live Free or Die state, and it’s probably no coincidence that New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t require adults to buckle up and it ranks last in seat belt use.

I, for one, want to see draconian legislation mandating crash helmets for vehicle drivers. If it saves just one life, wouldn't that be worth it?

For the record, it's hard to see the lack of a mandatory seat belt law making a huge difference in people being killed. Some 2015 stats, copied from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • The US as a whole experienced 10.8 auto-accident fatalities per 100,000 population, and 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

  • New Hampshire fell below that average: 8.6 deaths per 100,000 population, 0.87 per 100 million miles.

  • Vermont, with its mandatory seat belt laws: 9.1 deaths per 100,000 population (slightly above NH), 0.78 per 100 million miles (slightly below NH).

  • Amusingly, Massachusetts sort of defies its stereotype of the Mecca of bad drivers: 4.5 deaths per 100,000 population, 0.52 deaths per 100 million miles.

We also have pull-off state liquor stores on our Interstates.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-14

Haughty Monkey

■ Does Proverbs 21:4 say anything of relevance to our troubled times?

4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart—
    the unplowed field of the wicked—produce sin.

Well … maybe. I'm stuck on whatever the Proverbialist is trying to evoke with the "unplowed field of the wicked" imagery.

Our Flickr embed du jour: a haughty monkey. No doubt pondering an unplowed field of the wicked.


■ Roger L. Simon asks the musical question: Is Charlottesville What's Really Going On in the USA? Spoiler: not really.

[…] For the next week or two -- assuming we're not at war with North Korea -- we will hear non-stop geschreiing from our media about what a racist nation we are, how we have to come together, rend our shirts, investigate this and that and endlessly discuss how bad we are until we're finally forgiven at some undetermined point in an ever vanishing future that seems never to arrive.

Don't play that game. What happened in Charlottesville isn't us. It's just a small group of real bad people. Indict them, convict them, and lock them up for a long as possible. The rest of us should move on. We have a lot better things to do.

Can't wait until the next atrocity causes people to … continue to behave exactly the same way they always have.


■ At Power Line, Scott Johnson writes on the Evil Losers on Parade.

What a sickening display of racism, anti-Semitism and all the rest the “white nationalists” served up in their demonstration over the decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. According to the New York Times, the planned rally was promoted as “Unite the Right,” attracting groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and movement leaders like David Duke and Richard Spencer.

One would only hope these folks could somehow drown in the poison in their hearts.


■ Jay Nordlinger, an extraordinarily decent fellow, writes at NR About Yesterday, and Today (and Tomorrow). And he notes what a lot of ostensible conservatives shy away from: President Trump's lack of "truth, decency, and honor."

When pro-Trump conservatives asked other conservatives to look away from the question of truth, decency, and honor, they asked a lot — more than they might have known. It was too much to ask, too much to accept.

If I had my way, the Republican party — starting with Trump — and the conservative movement would tell the alt-Right, or whatever it should be called, to take their frog and their torches and their buzzwords — “globalist” and all the rest – and stuff it.

I think that, if conservatism gets associated in the public mind with nationalism, populism, demagoguery, grievance, race-consciousness, and tribalism, we are cooked. And the country too.

Call that "moral preening" if you like. But consider why you need to need to resort to that: could it be that you're unwilling to look honestly at Trump's deeply flawed character?


■ At Reason, Cathy Young scores An Interview With James Damore. Example:

CY: A lot of the criticism has focused on charges that you were essentially telling the women in tech jobs at Google they're not as good or well-suited to those jobs as the men. What's your response?

JD: The purpose of my document was mainly to discuss the ideological echo chamber. As for the gender things, I was trying to explain why we might not expect 50/50 representation in tech largely due to differing interests, and I don't say anything about individual women, especially those in tech.

Damore sounds pretty reasonable. Google should be ashamed.


■ Mark Steyn's Song of the Week Wichita Lineman, and it's a glorious yarn with Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb, and others. (And a side appearance by Frank Sinatra, asking "Who's that faggot on guitar?" He'd find out.)

[…] in theory it should have been a tough sell: "I've got this song about an employee of the electric company..." Yet, unbeknown to Webb, [Glen Campbell's producer and arranger] Al De Lory's uncle was an actual lineman for the county, in California, in Kern County. "As soon as I heard that opening line," De Lory recalled, "I could visualize my uncle up a pole in the middle of nowhere." What do they think about, those guys up on those poles? Love? Dinner? Hunting season? "I wanted it to be about an ordinary fellow," said Jimmy Webb. "Billy Joel came pretty close one time when he said 'Wichita Lineman' is 'a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.' That got to me; it actually brought tears to my eyes. I had never really told anybody how close to the truth that was.

Also mentioned: Carol Kaye's extraordinary opening bass line.

Kong: Skull Island

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

I dearly love King Kong movies, but this one … eh.

After a small opening scene set at the end of WWII, we jump forward to 1973, as American troops pull out of Vietnam. That leaves warriors like Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) sad. Fortunately, he and his troops are roped into a mad scheme hatched by Bill Randa (John Goodman): to explore Skull Island, which has only now been discovered by satellite photos.

Of course, we have a general idea of what they'll find. Along for the ride are hero James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and heroine Fay Wray Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Humor, sort of, is provided by the survivor from that WW2 scene, played semi-crazed by John C. Reilly.

Acting is pretty good, as you might expect with that cast. Special effects are fine, but (honestly) we're used to that by now. There are numerous shout-outs to Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Apocalypse Now. These come off as pretentious. Other than that, the script goes through the motions. Spoiler: they don't get Kong off the island, so there's no New York climax with planes and skyscrapers, and only a few characters escape with their lives. There's some effort to be imaginative with the carnage; the best scenes involve Kong fighting off the invading helicopters.

A post-credits scene sets up the patient audience for what comes next. Hint: starts with "God", ends with "Zilla".

Bottom line: I prefer Peter Jackson's version.

Unwanted Advances

Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus

[Amazon Link]

Not that it matters, but Pun Salad was on-hand when the Obama Administration issued its famous/infamous Title IX "Dear Colleague" letter back in 2011, announced by VP Biden himself in the Memorial Union Building at the University Near Here. Looking back at what I wrote that day, I seem to have been mostly accurate ("aggrieved parties will have significantly more avenues to pursue their gripes"), but woefully blind at predicting what would come in the following years. This book by Laura Kipnis (a professor in the Department of Radio/TV/Film at Northwestern University) is a handy, microscopic, look at the (predictable? regrettable? tragicomic? outrageous?) results as it played out at Northwestern and elswhere.

What's the best adjective to use to describe the process by which universities adjudicate and punish accusations of sexual misbehavior among their employees and students? Kafkaesque? Orwellian? McCarthyite? (Maybe "Kipnitian" will take hold.) Which historical trials offer the best parallels? Salem witches? Spanish Inquisition?

Professor Kipnis bills herself (on page one) as a "left-wing feminist", but defies that stereotype forming in your head by having a sense of humor (or it could be irony—as she says, also on page one, she likes irony). Whatever, she writes clearly and honestly about her observations, and there's very little ideology, other than her clear devotion to truth, rights, and justice. (That sounds corny. It's not meant to be.)

One of her primary observations: feminism used to be, and still claims to be, about female equality, that claims of delicate femininity needing special protections are bunkum. Yet, this feminism was "hijacked by melodrama" in higher ed; there, women are seen as helpless waifs in the sway of powerful males. Often they don't see themselves as victims until weeks, months, even years later! When it's been explained to them.

Kipnis tells the story of Philosophy prof Peter Ludlow, under fire from two accusers (both pseudonymous in the book). She was Ludlow's "faculty support person" at Northwestern's conclave. At first, she thought Ludlow probably was guilty, or at least guilty enough to be shitcanned; she came around to think that charges were unmerited. Yet, Ludlow resigned his position before Northwestern could fire him. Kipnis demolishes the charges against Ludlow in both cases; they were based on contestable (and sometimes changing) stories; they were often contradicted by the concurrent actions of the accusers. What Ludlow had was lousy judgment, in the sense of Algren's Third Rule of Life: "Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own."

Kipnis had her own woes. She wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe". Which echoed a lot of themes in this book but—oops—caused Title IX complaints to be brought up against her. Chilling effect, you see. And (surprise, surprise) this very book has generated its own lawsuit, from the graduate student pseudonymed "Nola Hartley" therein. Here's hoping Professor Kipnis comes out alive and well on the other end.

Finally, I very much appreciated Professor Kipnis's reaction to being lectured on "confidentiality" and "conduct befitting a professor". It's about the same as I had when I (and other UNH employees) were "asked" by our superiors to sign a public document averring to “Never commit, condone, nor remain silent about violence against women.”

Professor Kipnis's response is one I didn't myself have the guts to make at the time: "Kiss my ass."

The Burning Room

[Amazon Link]

Yes, another masterful page-turner from Michael Connelly, chronicling the latest exploits of LAPD Detective Harry Bosch. Or, more accurately, then-latest. Two have come out since, and another is in the pipe for October of this year.

Harry is on the cold case detail ("Open-Unsolved Unit"), looking to solve long-past crimes. A victim of a seemingly-random shooting ten years back was slowly and agonizingly poisoned by the slug in his spine. Now he's died, and the bullet is pried out to reveal … a thread of new evidence!

Bosch has a new partner, too. Due to LAPD social-engineering politics, it's a young Hispanic woman, Lucia Soto, with no detecting experience. Bosch is skeptical, even more so when Lucia seems to have her own secret agenda. Never mind, it turns out that she is, to a first approximation, very Bosch-like in her interests and obsessions. Amusing bit: there's an unstated competition between Bosch and Soto as to who can get into the squad room first in the morning. Slight spoiler: It turns out this book has two cold cases, and Bosch and Soto cut some corners in order to work on both.

Another not-so-slight spoiler: the book ends with both cases "solved" but very little justice meted out. And there's kind of a cliffhanger as far as Harry's future detecting career goes. But: it's hardly a spoiler to know that there at least three more Bosch books after this, so it's safe to assume things work out somehow.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-13

Sacrifice

Proverbs 21:3 claims to know the mind of the Lord:

3 To do what is right and just
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

I suppose that's good news for people who prefer not to sacrifice. Just do what's right and just. Didn't anyone tell Jesus this?


■ At NR, Michael Brendan Dougherty points out the disparity in Trump's condemnations. Specifically, when it comes to the Charlottesville slimeballs, Trump should have said the same thing he said about the Ariana Grande terrorists: These Guys Are Losers Too.

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.” An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.

To use a phrase from a few years past: too many times, Trump is stuck on stupid.


■ Not that "stuck on stupid" is a criticism confined to Trump. Keith Ellison Saying Kim Is “More Responsible” Than Trump Is Part Of A Disturbing Pattern Of Moral Equivalence. Ellison is a solid Democrat, US House member from Minnesota, Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee. And he said:

North Korea is a serious thing. You have [President Trump] making bellicose threats against somebody else who has very little to lose over there.

Kim Jong-un, the world always thought he was not a responsible leader, well he’s acting more responsible than [President Trump] is.

Ellison has since "retracted" this statement. Take it away, Patterico:

Even if we’re just talking rhetoric, Ellison is full of it. You don’t have to agree with Trump’s rhetoric (I don’t) to recognize that Kim’s rhetoric is far less responsible. At Hot Air, the always thorough John Sexton gives several examples of Kim’s explicit threats of aggressive nuclear first strikes against the United States. The threats have been going on for years, and most sentient beings are familiar with them.

But to me, the outrageousness of Ellison’s statement goes deeper than a mere comparison of the rhetoric.Look: Trump may display all of the Seven Deadly Sins. He may be a personally awful human being all the way around. (OK, forget “may.” He does, and he is.) But Kim is evil. His regime is evil. He starves his people, runs secretive prison camps for political opponents, and engages in murder, rape, and torture as a matter of government policy. There is zero free press. The entire nation is one giant personality cult. As cultish as some Trumpers can be, there is no comparison between the two countries. Anyone who says there is — or that Trump is worse — is giving aid and comfort to one of the most purely malevolent regimes on the planet.

Our "leaders" are not to be looked up to.


■ Arnold Kling asks the musical question: Is the economy illegible? For example, is it possible to aggregate fundamentally different "goods and services" and disparate labors of "workers" (L) to come up with an economy's "total output" (Y)? Especially when making comparisons over time?

Once you look at differences across decades, adjusting for price changes becomes important but impossible. For example, Bret Swanson says that the computing power in his iPhone would have cost $12 million in 1991. If for the purpose of comparing Y/L today to Y/L in 1991 you valued every iPhone at $12 million, you would report an enormous increase in real GDP and hence in productivity.

"Important but impossible." Hm. Kling, as always, gives even us non-econ-profs something to munch on thoughtfully.


■ Ah, the Google LFOD alert rang for this Chicago Tribune editorial: Illinois' abortion notification law harms free speech. At issue is the Illinois law that requires doctors who decline to perform abortions must, on request, provide patients referrals or information on where to get an abortion.

One essential component of freedom of speech is the freedom not to speak. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students could not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1977, it said the state of New Hampshire could not require motorists to display its "Live Free or Die" motto on their license plates. The First Amendment, it said in that case, protects the right of all people "to refuse to foster ... an idea they find morally objectionable."

Observation: There are a lot of license plate holders on sale whose upper frame is big enough to obliterate LFOD.


■ And LFOD sprang up again in a publication called the Daily Meal: Adventure Travel for Women: Spend the Weekend With REI Outessa. It's straining a bit to call this "news" or "journalism", but:

If you’re an adventurous woman who likes to try new things and step out of your comfort zone — or if you want to be that kind of gal — then REI Outessa is for you. This weekend-long women-only trip will expose you to new activities and sports. Are you new to trail running? Have you always wanted to attempt rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding? Maybe you’d like to brush up on your backpacking and outdoor survival skills or learn how to wield a Leather(wo)man tool? REI Outessa has brought in the best guides and adventure women — seriously, they’re incredibly supportive, understanding and knowledgeable — to lead you through these exhilarating experiences that you can take at your own pace and skill level.

That's the kind of gritty outdoorsmanship you just don't get from Field & Stream! But where's LFOD? Ah, there 'tis:

Whether you’re a mom traveling with your daughter, a newly divorced woman traveling solo, a young twenty-something between careers, a wild, live-free-or-die adventurer, or a cancer survivor with a new lease on life, you will get something out of a weekend spent in the outdoors.

Note: if you are a wild live-free-or-die adventurer in New Hampshire, you'll have to drive down to Reading MA for the nearest REI store. (Real New Englanders, of course, just go to L. L. Bean.) But one of the "Outessa" events is in Waterville Valley in September, and it's a mere $799 per person for the event, plus $199 to reserve your own tent spot. (Pricier options are sold out as I type.) Hope you have some money left over from your treatments, cancer survivor!


■ From Mental Floss, one for the "What Would We Do Without Experts" category: Experts Say Trying to Force Yourself to Be Happy Doesn't Work. Or perhaps it's the "News You Can Use" category:

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that people who accept their difficult emotions are better off in the long run than those who try to force their way into a better mood.

Gosh, psychology sure has made a lot of progress over the centuries. Glad they finally got around to checking that out.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-12

goolag

■ Reader, I invite you to ponder Proverbs 21:2:

2 A person may think their own ways are right,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.

No, I'm not sure what that means either. Something like: You might think you're right, but the Lord might think you're wrong?


■ Peter Suderman revisits a subject we'd all probably like to forget: Why Republicans Didn't Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Based off this TrumpTweet:

Suderman's response:

It's a fair question. Part of the answer is that elected Republicans failed for years to seriously engage with the question of how to replace the health care law they campaigned so adamantly against. But it's also an exercise in calculated blame shifting, one that demonstrates how little the president understands about the policy process. In other words, it's the entire party's fault.

Let us not forget to blame irresponsible voters, who continue to demand that Other People's Money be used to pay for things they think they have a "right" to.


■ Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week is Nork Agonistes. Some fun with the WSJ reporting "what happens to markets in the event of an all-out nuclear war."

From the article in the Wall Street Journal, not The Onion: “Strategists at Nordea Markets estimate that in the unlikely event of ‘a potentially uncontained military conflict’ in which global superpowers like China and Russia get involved, the European Central Bank would have to implement ‘highly dovish forward guidance’ and the yield curve would likely flatten due to weaker risk appetite.”

Oh, well, as long as the ECB will be issuing “highly dovish forward guidance” as the rest of us drink glowing puddle water and fight over rat meat, what is there to worry about?

He has more serious thoughts as well, assessing Kim Jong Un's options and rationality.


■ And (sorry) back to Google's Ideological Echo Chamber, from the man himself, James Damore: Why I Was Fired by Google

I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

And, of course, the word "heresy" appears, because it's accurate. There's a nice picture of Damore with a "Goolag" t-shirt. (Which is also our image du jour, which is not new: it's from 2006.)


■ And we rarely link to Instapundit here, because so many of his posts are simply pointers to elsewhere. But there's a longish post from Ed Driscoll on (there's that meme again) the Google Archipelago.

[…] the world's biggest search engine is well on its way to becoming The Google Archipelago. In an article Orwellianly titled “Internal Messages Show Some Googlers Supported Fired Engineer’s Manifesto” (heaven Lenin forefend — root out the hoarders and wreckers!) in Wired, which began as a libertarian-leaning publication before being purchased by the lefties at Condé Nast, the writer quotes from an anonymous Google employee. “‘Let's take a step back,’ the Googler wrote, ‘and look at what is actually making everyone in Google upset on this thread and in general since the start of the 2016 election season.’ He went on to describe how the apparent uniformity of thought at Google led people like Damore to feel ‘like they are being forcibly dragged into [sic] ideological indoctrination chamber,’” including these passages that sound like mash notes smuggled out of the Ministry of Truth:

As the Instaguy his own self might say: Read The Whole Thing.


■ And, yes, they went there: Yale Covers Up Gun in Stone Carving of Puritan, Indian.

Yale University has covered up a musket on a stone carving depicting a hostile interaction between a Puritan settler and an American Indian, leaving the latter’s bow and arrow uncovered.

Pictures at the link, and I'm not sure how they justified leaving the bow and arrow uncovered. But I'll try to pay attention long enough to find…zzzzz


■ And, finally VA Viper celebration of all things Schrödinger, including the Box, on the 230th anniversary of his birth. Long on jokes. For example, stop me if you've heard this, Schrödinger is pulled over by a cop:

The cop insists on searching the car […] and then asks Schrödinger, "Do you know you have a dead cat in the trunk?",

Schrödinger replies, "Well, now I do."

Where is PETA when you need them?

URLs du Jour

2017-08-11

Fire Island Pines Spray Weekend - Spray
Party 10; Iman Water Spray

■ We start a new Proverbial chapter today, continuing to move (unaccountably, sorry) backward in the book. Anyway, here is Proverbs 21:1:

1 In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water
    that he channels toward all who please him.

I'm sure that metaphorical image was a lot less comical in arid ancient Israel than it sounds today.


■ Someday we will Move On from the Great Googly Moogly Diversity Dustup, but today is not that day. David Harsanyi notes the destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it mentality involved: Stifling Diversity to Protect Diversity.

By firing the Google-memo author, the company confirms his thesis. Most of the mainstream media refer to the former Google engineer’s leaked internal memo as the “anti-diversity memo.” The technology website Recode calls it “sexist.” And Google fired James Damore for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” But in reality, the problem isn’t diversity; it’s that a senior software engineer admitted, perhaps unwittingly, to pondering three of the most scandalous thought crimes of contemporary American society.

Those thought crimes are: (1) Advocating true meritocracy rather than pigeonholing people by race, sex, ethnicity, etc.; (2) Saying ideological diversity is important; (3) Alleging men and women differ in their talents, interests, and goals.


■ At Reason, Nick Gillespie bares what sounds like it could be an uncomfortable truth: The Google Memo Exposes a Libertarian Blindspot When It Comes To Power. Well, to those libertarians who say (paraphrasing) "Who cares what the private company Google does? Libertarianism is all about coercion by governments."

The Google Memo controversy reveals the limitations of such narrow or "thin" libertarianism. Political correctness—which is both the enforcement of an orthodox set of beliefs and the legitimization of any criticism of those beliefs—is an attitude that is hardly limited only to state capitols, state agencies, and state universities. It exists everywhere in our lives and should be battled wherever we encounter it since it undermines free-thinking and free expression, the very hallmarks of a libertarian society. We have not just a right to criticize the actions of private actors but arguably a responsibility to do so, even if there is no public policy change being called for (Google should be allowed to fire whomever it wants, though its grounds for doing so are fair game for public discussion). Libertarianism is ultimately grounded not in anything like knowable, objective, scientific truths, but in epistemological humility built on (per Hayek and other unacknowledged postmodernists) a recognition of the limits of human understanding and that centralization of power leads to bad results. That is, because we don't know objective truths, we need to have an open exchange of ideas and innovation that allows us to gain more knowledge and understanding even if we never quite get to truth with a capital T. At the same time, we need to allow as many "experiments in living" (to use John Stuart Mill's phrase) as possible both out of respect for others' right to choose the life they want and to gain more knowledge of what works and what doesn't. Political correctness is not simply an attack a given set of current beliefs, it is an attack on the process by which we become smarter and more humane. That's exactly why it's so pernicious and destructive.

A valid point.


■ For those arguing about the actual claims made James Damore's Diversity Memo (and, once again, the memo's title is "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber", not "Google Should Be a He-Man Woman-Haters Club") Sean Stevens and Jonathan Haidt cast a dispassionate eye on the evidence: What Does the Research Say About Gender Differences?

Our verdict on Damore’s memo: Damore is correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google. Even if we set aside all questions about the origins of these differences, the fact remains that there are gender differences in a variety of traits, and especially in interest/enjoyment (rather than ability) in the adult population from which Google and all other tech firms recruit.

Note the careful distinction between "interest/enjoyment" and "ability".


■ And finally, our Google (yes, we still use Google) LFOD alert was triggered by the Connecticut Post article by "humor columnist Jim Shea": Time for a dress code for politicians.

Seems some women were not allowed in the U.S. House chamber and the Speaker’s lobby — the private hallway connected to the chamber — because they were wearing sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes. The decision to bar them entry was made by a House official called the sergeant-at-arms. Who knew the duties of the sergeant-at-arms were to be taken so literally?

Does the House also have: A sergeant-at-legs? A sergeant-at-necks? A sergeant-at-hairdos? Obviously, it must have a sergeant-at-toes. What about a sergeant-at-cleavage, although someone with that responsibility would probably be called an inspector.

Okay, that's not bad. For Connecticut. But what about LFOD? Ah, there it is:

What about sleeveless suits, or shirts unbuttoned to reveal hirsute chests? (If male cleavage is allowed, it would, obviously, call for a sergeant-at-gold chains.)

With all the exposed skin the patriotic tattoo — the eagle, the flag, the USA logo — would surely follow. And let us not forget the slogans: E Pluribus Unum, Don’t Tread on Me, Live Free or Die (or in the case of tax-allergic New Hampshire legislators, Live For Free or Die).

Oh, man: a cheap shot at "tax-allergic New Hampshire legislators". As if our legislators were continually frustrating the aching will of the electorate for increased taxes.

Of course, Connecticut is in a sound fiscal position to criticize … Oh, wait.

Connecticut, the richest state in the nation, has racked up $74 billion in debt. Its finances have more in common with Puerto Rico than Massachusetts, as the home of America’s financial wizards struggles to pay off its massive obligations big as the bills come due on decades of mismanagement.

If only they'd had a better dress code!

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

[Amazon Link]

I've shied away from some of Neal Stephenson's later co-written works. But peeking at the first few pages at Barnes & Noble hooked me… so I went home and bought the book from Amazon. (No brainer: $35 list price vs. $21 at Amazon.) Mr. Stephenson's co-writer is Nicole Galland, and they make a mighty team.

Genre pigeon-holers will have a tough time. There's plenty of hard SF, time-travel implemented via ingenious gadgetry based on Schrödinger's famous box; but (oops) the gadgets only work with the cooperation of actual witches, which makes it kinda fantasy; and there's plenty of historical-fiction-style derring-do; and there's Tom Clancy-style military intrigue. And…

This is kind of neat: the primary protagonists, Melisande Stokes (newly-minted linguistics Ph.D. and Harvard instructor) and Tristan Lyons (DARPA guy) actually "meet cute". So, yes, there's kind of a strong romantic-comedy thread here too.

And also actual comedy. The whole book is pretty funny (you kind of have to ignore the wholesale slaughter at a suburban Boston Walmart, but…) and there are common outbreaks of hilarity.

And page 164 has a surprise I probably should have seen coming.

In short, highly recommended, especially for Stephenson fans and everyone else too.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-10

Rainbow

■ We wind up Proverbs 22 today with verse 29

29 Do you see someone skilled in their work?
    They will serve before kings;
    they will not serve before officials of low rank.

Well, there you go. I pity those poor officials of low rank, having to put up with unskilled labor!

It brought to mind the only bit of the I Ching I know:

The great prince issues commands,
Founds states, vests families with fiefs.
Inferior people should not be employed.

… thanks to Firesign Theatre.

■ I should note that yesterday, we made fun of Lady Googlers staying home from work in response to the publicized "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber" memo. Ann Althouse plausibly argues that the NPR-reported story could be fake news. I've added an update to yesterday's post. Yes, a little voice was telling me that story was "too good to check", but I ignored it.

<voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> The Babylon Bee reports: New Google Technology Autocorrects Users’ Thoughts.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—At a special press conference held at the technology giant’s sprawling campus Tuesday, Google engineers revealed exciting new technology that autocorrects any errant thoughts its users are having, replacing them with positions approved by the company.

I already feel less errant.

■ On a slightly more serious note, the Federalist's Robert Tracinski asks: Okay, Google: How Do You Prepare A Country For Totalitarianism?

For others, even to ask what’s wrong with the memo is sexist: “To go through the emotional, and physical, labor of explaining the misguided memo would only be to validate it, and opens the door further for somebody else to raise the same ‘arguments’ later.” It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the dissenter, or what your own views are. To even want to discuss the issue, to even want to ask for reasons, makes you a wicked dissenter, too.

Among the amusements in Tracinski's article, a Tweeter's reaction to the Memo of Doom is quoted: (1) "if I worked there I would just walk to his desk and beat the shit out of him"; (2) musing about "fascists" and "fascism". I wonder if he/she took his/her brown shirt off between (1) and (2)?

■ Well, enough about Google's Brave Fight Against Heresy. The country's still on the fast track to fiscal doom, and, at Reason, Veronique de Rugy observes: Spending Caps Are Low-Hanging Fruit in the Fight Against Debt.

Another debt ceiling fight is just around the corner. The government's borrowing limit will need to be raised yet again by the end of September to avoid default. Indications suggest that there will be enough support between Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass a "clean" increase, meaning no spending limits or cuts will be attached. However, this fiscal status quo is absolutely unacceptable, especially because it would be easy to take a small step toward much-needed fiscal discipline.

Yes, "clean" is a dirty word in this context.

■ And our Google LFOD alert was rung up with the NH1 story: Confederate flags, 'Black Flies Matter' shirts leave some NH county fairgoers disgusted. Yes, both were on sale at the Cheshire Fair.

For the record, I find a "Black Flies Matter" T-shirt slightly amusing, Confederate flags to be an abomination. But a Facebook poster made the inevitable connection:

"This is NH go ahead and display the confederate (sic) flag. We embrace the veterans of the civil war (sic) and respect the history behind it. Also we are the live free or die state. So keep living free," AJ Evarts wrote in his 5-star review.

Here's the thing, AJ: if you're saying people should be free to buy and sell just about anything they want, fine. But it would be nice if you realized that LFOD and the Confederate Flag symbolize two mutually incompatible viewpoints.

■ Another LFOD invocation in this Union Leader column from Bill Walker: Tax marijuana, not entrepreneurs. He observes that "Organized crime went into recession after Prohibition, but they got their bailout when in 1937, FDR signed an anti-marijuana law." [Link added.] So…

FDR’s nanny-state approach to drugs has never worked well anywhere, least of all here. How could it? New Hampshire was never about trying to build a nanny state. We were, and are, about Live Free or Die.

Legalize and tax marijuana. Cut taxes on our businesses. Bring the best jobs to New Hampshire.

Bill makes a lot of sense.

■ And from all the way in LA, LFOD makes an appearance in Broadway World: Fringe Hit TRANSMISSION Gets Award and Extension.

"Transmission" is billed as a "One-Tran Show".

In Transmission, Trinity is on a mission to love and accept herself. The only problem is that she has a penis, and everyone thinks she's a boy. Aided by her Tranny Godmother Madonna, her alter ego LaJina Jones, Punany Poet and her secret lover codenamed "James Franco," Trinity comes to accept her transgender reality and is faced with a choice: Live free or die. Taking a ride on the trans-train unmasks a universal commonality: Each of us is struggling to transition from a life of self-doubt and condemnation, to one of internal happiness and peace.

Ticket prices are not free, but a low, low $15. In Hollywood, that's a steal.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-09

Campbell, Glen - Gentle on My Mind
2000

Proverbs 22:28 is… what, again with the boundary stones?

28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
    set up by your ancestors.

Sigh. We did this already.

■ Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell went together like bacon and eggs. (And there's a cliché Jimmy would never be caught writing.) I've been a fan of both guys for decades. Both have had their personal and professional ups and downs, both eventually triumphed over demons.

Jimmy recalls the first time he met Glen, the first words Glen spoke were… "When you gonna get a haircut?" This was after Glen had the massive success singing Jimmy's "Wichita Lineman".

Let me share Jimmy's moving tribute to his friend. It's long (click through for the whole thing), but moving.

■ But other than that, it's back to Google's burn-the-heretic stupidity. We are a little National Review-heavy today, let's start with Rich Lowry, who examines The ‘Anti-Diversity Screed’ That Wasn’t.

The first thing to know about the instantly infamous “anti-diversity screed” written by an anonymous Google software engineer is that it isn’t anti-diversity or a screed.

The loaded description, widely used in the press and on social media, is symptomatic of the pearl-clutching over the memo, which questions the premises and effectiveness of Google’s diversity policies.

We'll have more on the "loaded description" below. Lowry should call it out for what it is: a lie.

■ Also at NR, Michael Brendan Dougherty notes how the criticism of the memo resembles the worst caricatures of holy rollers looking to strike down the satanic influencers lest they corrupt other minds. Google Receives 95 Theses of Diversity and Inclusion

Like many religious idols, the new gods are available for the crassest kind of religious manipulation. Adherents say that these values are not only good but also that they bring grace and success to all endeavors. They can be shoehorned into a kind of prosperity Gospel. You shouldn’t just pursue them because they are good, but because they will do good for you.

Nobody expects the … well, no, I guess everybody should expect the Diversity Inquisition.

■ In case you missed one or two, Bre Payton at the Federalist can help you out: Here Are All The Media Outlets Blatantly Lying About The Google Memo. (Et tu, Forbes?) Here's Ms Payton's response to Time's headline calling the document an "Anti-Diversity Tirade".

To anyone who’s actually read the memo, it’s clear a “tirade” is the least accurate way to describe it. It’s calm, it’s rational, and not at all angry or rant-like. Just because someone says something that doesn’t fit a certain political agenda doesn’t mean it’s a “tirade.”

The late Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian, had an essay titled "The Answering of Kautski". It springs from this Lenin quote:

Why should we bother to reply to Kautski? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There's no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautski is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything.

Mitchell was writing about American educationism, but it's not hard at all to make the translation to this situation.

■ We linked yesterday to Gizmodo's version of (what it called) the "Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed". But what they claimed was "full" was actually edited to remove "two charts and several hyperlinks". So you'll want to go to a more honest site to read "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber".

The "charts" do a good job of illustrating what the author's talking about, and belies those (like CNN) who claim that the author believes "women aren't biologically fit for tech jobs".

■ And, finally, we're back to NR for @kevinNR's take, which goes where you might not expect: See a Little Light

The Google situation is a particularly maddening example of a strange modern phenomenon — the vulnerable person who is so exquisitely sensitive that he can act simultaneously as hostage and hostage-taker. One Google apologist noted that some of the firm’s employees were so distraught by . . . the discussion of opinions at variance with their own . . . that they stayed home from work. Those kinds of shrill theatrics used to be called “hysteria,” but we’ve all been taught that that is a horribly sexist word, which means that we’ll need a new word to describe women who are so emotionally incontinent that they become non-functional human beings when it is suggested that they are emotionally less continent than maybe they could be.

Ironically, Google cited “perpetuating gender stereotypes” as the reason for the author's firing. So all those ladies who couldn't bear to go into work and retired to their fainting couches because of their memo-induced emotional turmoil—they're not perpetuating gender stereotypes?

[Update: Ann Althouse plausibly argues that the NPR-reported story about lady Googlers staying home could be fake news.]

■ OK, enough Google. Let's turn to a real outrage, as described by Reason's Eric Boehm: The Price of Protectionism: More Expensive Beer.

Protectionist trade policies being considered in Washington could increase the cost of aluminum. American breweries say that means you'll end up paying more for a can of beer.

In a letter to the president sent last week, some of the country's most prominent breweries, soda companies, and aluminum can manufacturers said they are worried about new tariffs on aluminum imports reportedly being considered by the White House. "Import restrictions or tariffs" on the types of aluminum alloys used to make cans "will add hundreds of millions in costs for companies in the food and beverage industry and will detrimentally affect over 82,000 American manufacturing jobs in industries that rely on these products," the CEOs wrote.

Ha! I buy my beer in bottles, bitch!

But (looking around the kitchen) yeah, there's a lot of aluminum here. Don't be stupid, Trump.


Last Modified 2017-08-10 6:08 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-08-08

burn witch burn

■ As financial advice goes, Proverbs 22:26-27 is pretty timeless:

26 Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge
    or puts up security for debts;
27 if you lack the means to pay,
    your very bed will be snatched from under you.

I don't claim to be a Proverbial scholar but: I've noticed that it warns against borrowing (another example here) without warning against lending. Takes two to tango, amirite?

■ Well, that escalated quickly. The author of that document questioning the biases and assumptions behind Google's "diversity" efforts has been identified and fired.

From the document:

Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

Congratulations to Google for confirming that it brooks no public dissent from its official ideology.

■ A pre-firing column from David Harsanyi at the Federalist: Google Engineer Writes Common-Sense Memo About Workplace Diversity, PC Mob Erupts.

In reality, the problem is that a senior software engineer, perhaps unwittingly, admitted to pondering three of the most scandalous thought-crimes of contemporary American society.

The first was to propose that a meritocracy might be hea[l]thier for a company than bean-counting race, ethnicity, and sex. The second is pointing that ideological diversity matters. The third, and most grievous of all the wrongthinks, is suggesting that men and women are, in general, physiologically and psychologically different from each other, and thus they tend to excel at different things.

In the Progressive mind, such heresy must be rooted out and punished. And was.

■ At NRO, Jason Richwine catalogs the many, uh, diverse ways Progressive Officialdom weasel-words its "support" for free expression: ‘We Support Free Speech, But . . .’ It's not always "but"; sometimes it's "however", or "at the same time". Richwine's conclusion:

It would be more accurate and honest for these organizations to simply declare, “We do not believe in free speech, period.” So why don’t they? Well, they strongly support accuracy and honesty, but …

You see what he did there?

■ Immigration issues are officially Open Questions here at Pun Salad. As I've said before, my politics are Schrödinger's-Catlike, between libertarian and conservative; on immigration, I haven't opened the box to see where I come out.

But Sheldon Richman makes a libertarian case for just opening the borders wide to whoever wants to come: Immigration and Social Engineering.

Immigration brings out the social engineers and central planners across the political establishment. We see this clearly in the debate over Donald Trump’s support for legislation that would cut legal immigration in half while tilting it toward well-educated English-speakers and against low-skilled non-English-speakers.

Even establishment opponents of Trump’s position believe “we” must update the immigration system to better serve “the economy.” But they disagree on particulars. Trumpsters think the economy needs only scientists and inventors (preferably future Nobel Prize winners, I suppose), while Republican and Democratic anti-Trumpsters counter that the economy also needs some unskilled workers to pick crops in the hot sun and do menial work in luxury resorts, which Americans apparently don’t want to do.

Although Richman does a good job of cutting the Gordian knot of immigration policy, I can't help but think that it just might be a little more complicated than he presents. I recommend that interested folks read the "Immigration" chapter in Peter Schuck's recent book One Nation Undecided. (And then read the other chapters. It's a really good book.)

■ Another Pun Salad Open Question is whether there are too damn many Generals in the White House, as Tom Nichols claims. David French takes counterpoint: In Defense of Trump’s Generals

I’m going to have to disagree with a number of people I respect. It’s good, for this time, that American generals John Kelly, James Mattis, and H. R. McMaster are together working at the apex of American civilian government. It’s good, for this time, that these same men are operating as a check on the most erratic and ill-informed president in modern American history, and maybe ever.

That's certainly a valid concern.

■ The Club For Growth, in league with some other conservative/libertarian groups pens a letter to Senator Michael Crapo, who chairs the relevant committee overlooking the Export-Import Bank.

[…W]e write to strongly denounce the special interest business groups that are urging the White House to drop the appointment of Scott Garrett as the next president of the Export-Import Bank.

It is beyond audacious that the recipients of the Bank’s subsidies believe that they, not the President, can select the person to run the very agency that will hand the goodies out to them. This is regulatory capture at its worst.

This is not an Open Question at Pun Salad. If the Export-Import Bank can't just die, best to have a reformer at the helm.

■ And our Tweet du Jour is a clever (well,… half-clever) retort to Donald Trump, that my Google LFOD alert triggered on:

That's a pretty good photoshopping. I didn't do near as well when I tried it.

One Nation Undecided

Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us

[Amazon Link]

Can't say enough good things about this book. The author, Peter H. Schuck, is a Yale Law prof and a self-described "militant moderate". You might think: "Oh oh. Another mealy-mouthed 'no labels' tergiversator." You'd be wrong about that.

Instead, Prof Shuck speaks to his reader as a "serious well-educated voter". (Flattery will get you, if not everywhere, at least somewhere.) His method is to examine five "hard" issues confronting modern America: (1) poverty; (2) immigration; (3) campaign finance; (4) affirmative action; and (5) religious exemption from secular public policies. For each issue, he presents a dense array of facts. He considers arguments made on both (or, more accurately, all) sides. And he does so with scrupulous fairness, avoiding partisan spin or ideology-based conjecture. Or, in his own words: "reasoned, empirically informed, normatively open-minded analysis."

As you might expect from a Lawprof, the legal issues are carefully dissected and examined (especially on the last three issues). Prof Schuck does a fine job explaining such matters to the legal ignoramus lay reader.

Yes, he does, on occasion, reveal his own opinions on these issues. He does so in a tentative your-mileage-may-differ manner to which it's impossible to take offense.

If I had one quibble—it's actually more of a regret—it's that the book is so timely, a snapshot of where each of these issues stood at the time of writing, circa late 2016. But the facts surrounding these hard issues will undoubtedly evolve and shift. I found myself wishing that the book could (somehow) evolve and shift with them. But no, there it sits, in cold type on dead trees.

But the important thing is that Prof Schuck's method is all too rare. He's not looking for victory. Instead, he's looking for objective improvement: repairing obvious flaws via narrowing "the range of disagreement." Partisans consider compromise a dirty word; he does not. The book's final word:

The only alternative to compromise, after all, is some form of coercion that threatens the perceived legitimacy of the victors and leaves the defeated bitter, vengeful, and determined to undermine the victorious party and policy. Sound familiar?

Yes, it does.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-07

no horn blowing

Proverbs 22:24-25 is pretty good advice on avoiding the short-fused:

24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
    do not associate with one easily angered,
25 or you may learn their ways
    and get yourself ensnared.

These days, Pun Salad is more likely to be Disgusted than Angered. Hopefully that passes Proverbial muster.

(Until recently, Pun Salad tried to follow the Elvis Costello rule: "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused". But that seems to get harder day by day.)

■ At the NRO Corner, Robert VerBruggen points out A Google Employee’s Awesome ‘Anti-Diversity Screed’.

But it’s not anti-diversity, and it’s not a screed. It’s written calmly and reasonably well, and it makes entirely legitimate points.

And that's correct. The "anti-diversity screed" label is applied by the tech sites Gizmodo (where you can read the document in question) and Engadget (where you can't). But is "anti-diversity" really a fair or accurate label to stick on a document that claims right at the top

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.

No, of course not. The author is making his dissent against Progressive ideology, not "diversity". And, as you can expect, the response has been torrid. As in "burn the witch" torrid. The Engadget article, for example, claims the document is "evidence that a toxic culture still exists within tech companies." And reduces the author to a knuckle-dragging caricature. For example:

He contended that women had low representation in software engineering due to biological differences (because they prefer people more than things, he claims), and said that the company should drop attempts to include different cultures and genders to instead focus on accommodating conservative social views.

But what the author actually says isn't that controversial, and is carefully stated, for example::

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Gizmodo also quotes the response of Danielle Brown, who is Google's "Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance". Here's the meaningless deference to free expression:

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.

Reader, I suspect you can guess the very next word.

But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

The author is a brave soul, and Google may well prove his point about its "intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology."

■ Speaking of heretics, your Tweet du Jour is from Charles Murray, featuring a long quote from Niall Ferguson:

Dunkirk

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

[That's not a movie image. Amazon doesn't have one, as I type. I'll fix it someday.]

So anyway: Pun Son and I went down to Newington to check out this critical favorite. I was … not that impressed.

The story (as you've probably heard) is Christopher Nolan's take on the miraculous extraction of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from the French beaches off Dunkirk. His method is to follow three stories: a not-particularly-brave British soldier trying to get off the beach; a very brave British civilian taking his boat across the channel; an equally brave RAF fighter pilot doing his best to shoot down German planes bombing and strafing the good guys.

There is some timeline trickery: for example, we see scenes of a sinking boat in the channel before we see how its hapless passengers got on board. But other than that Nolanesque touch, it's a straightforward story of bravery and cowardice in the face of horror.

But… well maybe it was because we saw it in an RPX theater, but the bass was boosted up so high that I had difficulties at times hearing the dialog. (The thick Brit accents might have been a factor too.) And—not to sound racist or anything—all those British soldiers kind of look alike. Which ones are we supposed to keep track of, again?

And, all in all, there's not a lot of reason to get involved with any of these characters, with the exception of the determined civilian boat captain.

I kept looking at the actor playing one of the British officers—I've seen him before, where? Ah, IMDB has the answer: he played Jarvis in the late lamented TV show, Agent Carter. He's OK here too.


Last Modified 2017-08-07 9:29 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2017-08-06

Quiz Whizz: Favor to the
Needy

Proverbs 22:22-23 encourages its audience to play nice, or else:

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
    and do not crush the needy in court,
23 for the Lord will take up their case
    and will exact life for life.

I am not sure how that divine retribution worked out in practice. And how much needy-crushing could there have been in ancient Israel? I guess there was enough for the Proverbialist to demand it cease.

■ Because of course she does: Chelsea Clinton Wants Films to Be Rated on Whether or Not They 'Defy Gender Stereotypes'.

In June, the film rating non-profit Common Sense Media (CSM) announced it would develop a system to rate films on the basis of whether or not they "defy gender stereotypes" and offer "progressive depictions of gender roles."

… and Chelsea gave this effort a thumbs up. Silly Chelsea!

OK, I've looked at the Common Sense Media website and even a right-wing troglodyte like me is having a difficult time getting mad at it.

Yes, they analyze films according to their relentlessly Progressive creed. For example, Dunkirk, probably the most critic-praised movie in the current theatrical crop, gets a measly three stars out of five. Why? Because gender stereotypes were not sufficiently defied?

But they do like some good movies.

■ We noted yesterday about the stupid invocation of "blood and soil" by ostensible libertarians. Jay Nordlinger of NR works a similar theme, musing on recent appearances of "America First", "enemies of the people", and more: ‘Cosmopolitan’ and Other ‘Old-Person Slurs’.

Now we get to “cosmopolitan.” That one, too, has long been stigmatized: It was deployed in smelly, demeaning ways. “Rootless cosmopolitan” was a popular Stalinist phrase. Woe to you if you were tagged with it.

And now it's deployed by Trump advisor Stephen Miller, which leads to articles like this.

Or, hey, maybe he was talking about the womans' magazine?

■ Our Google LFOD alert has been ringing off the hook recently. (Now there's a phrase that young people will need to have explained to them.) Example One is a tedious New York Daily News: New Hampshire demands apology from Trump after President called the state a ‘drug-infested den’.

Trump sparked the ire of the “Live Free or Die” state after a transcript of a conversation he had with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was published by The Washington Post.

Well, he "sparked the ire" of some Democrats; they're the only ones the NYDN sees fit to quote.

Fact Check: Trump was telling the undiplomatically-worded truth.

■ Example Two is from NH1 News. Oh-oh: NH residents concerned about inspection sticker changes.

The New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles announced on Tuesday that inspection stickers will be moving from just below the rearview mirror, to the lower driver's side of the windshield.

Yeah. Right next to the dump sticker. So what's the LFOD angle?

Some, in the 'Live Free or Die' spirit of New Hampshire, suggested that it was time for inspection stickers to stop being a requirement.

There are eleven states that don't require safety or emissions inspections. (NH requires both, annually.) I wonder if there's any correlation between safety inspections and actual safety, i.e., fatality rates? That would be a pretty easy thing to research.

Autoblog provides Example Three, with IIHS seat belt survey: We're bad about buckling up in the backseat. How can we remedy this dreadful situation? I bet you can see this coming:

Laws also were a popular suggestion, with 73 percent of people saying if the driver could be pulled over for a rear seat belt infraction, they would wear the belts more often. And 60 percent said if they knew there was a law, they would change their habits. For reference, there are front seat belt laws in Washington, D.C., and 49 of 50 states (New Hampshire doesn't require belts. We guess that wouldn't fit with the state's "Live Free or Die" motto). For rear seat belts, there are laws in only 29 states and D.C.

For all our law-free recklessness, NH isn't that dangerous a place to drive according to this list. (Safest is … Massachusetts?! Their methodology may be suspect.)

■ And Example Four from NH Business Review, which doesn't discuss dying via drug overdose or car accident: Independent spirit breeds co-ops in NH.

It’s a ‘live free or die’ state, a state that values independence and entrepreneurs,” said CCA Global President Howard Brodsky. “People are looking for scale and resources that they can’t get elsewhere, but don’t want to give up their identity.”

True Fact: True Value Hardware is a co-op. I didn't know that.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-05

Attention

■ Chapter 22 of Proverbs gets wordy with a multi-verse "Saying" in Proverbs 22:17-21

17 Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise;
    apply your heart to what I teach,
18 for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
    and have all of them ready on your lips.
19 So that your trust may be in the Lord,
    I teach you today, even you.
20 Have I not written thirty sayings for you,
    sayings of counsel and knowledge,
21 teaching you to be honest and to speak the truth,
    so that you bring back truthful reports
    to those you serve?

Given our oddball coverage of Proverbs, we've already seen 24 of the Sayings.

But the Proverbialist is pretty annoying here, isn't he? Can't he just let his insight and wisdom speak for itself?

I might write a Proverb to that effect.

■ A pretty obscure literary pun in the headline of @kevinNR's article: From Ritual to Bromance. It's a musing about how useful "toughness" is in political leadership. Spoiler: not very, and to think so is misguided.

The United States of America is a big, diverse, complex modern country with big, diverse, complex modern problems. The most significant of those problems are never going to be “solved” because they are not subject to final resolution. The fundamental problem with health care, for example, is that Americans’ expectations about the level of care they ought to be receiving are misaligned with their willingness to pay for that care. This misalignment is made worse by the legacy of nearly a century’s worth of prior attempts at imposing “solutions” to this problem on the nation, its government, and the economy. You don’t “solve” a problem like that. You try to manage it intelligently. There is no “solution” to the problems of Islamic terrorism, the social disruption associated with new modes of economic production at home and abroad, Chinese nationalism, global warming, crime, drug abuse, or HIV. To the extent that there is something approaching a solution to some social problems, those solutions do not look very much like a man in a suit signing a bill in the Rose Garden: They look a lot more like the worldwide campaign against polio which, the admirable efforts of the Rotarians notwithstanding, remains incomplete decades into the effort and after billions of dollars spent on it.

“Get tough on polio”? Grow up.

I will try to resist typing "Grow up" in response to the seemingly endless outpouring of progressive claptrap from (some of) my Facebook friends. Because I like (all of) my Facebook friends.

■ Jacob Sullum at Reason relays unsurprising news: Researchers Highlight the Government's Complicity in Heroin Deaths.

The increased prevalence of fentanyl in black-market heroin has magnified the danger. "Heroin fluctuation in purity is a known overdose risk," write University of British Columbia internist Nadia Fairbairn and her co-authors in an article about naloxone, "and the presence of illicit synthetic opioids contaminating the heroin supply has led to a particularly erratic 'street dope' market that multiplies this risk. People who use heroin are potentially exposed to large variations in drug potency depending on the extent of adulteration with synthetic opioids, thus increasing overdose risk."

As Beletsky and Davis note, "These increases in harm were as predictable as they are disastrous." In fact, they say, "The iatrogenic risk to the health of people who use drugs was not just foreseeable, but in some cases directly foreseen by policymakers." They quote Carrie DeLone, Pennsylvania's former physician general, who recently confessed that "we knew that this was going to be an issue, that we were going to push addicts in a direction that was going to be more deadly." Her justification: "You have to start somewhere."

See above: Dr. DeLone no doubt prided herself on "getting tough" with heroin users.

■ At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Steve Horwitz writes on The Rhetoric of Libertarians and the Unfortunate Appeal to the Alt-Right. He discusses the talk "For a New Libertarian" from Jeff Deist, president of the "Mises Institute". Deist argues that the libertarian problem is "appearing hostile to family, to religion, to tradition, to culture, and to civic or social institution — in other words, hostile to civil society itself." And then goes off the rails with:

In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

Horvitz comments:

For those who know something about the history of the 20th century, the invocation of “blood and soil” as something that libertarians should recognize as a valid concern and should appeal to should be chilling. That phrase, which has a history going back at least to the 19th century, was central to the Nazi movement and was at the core of their justification for eliminating those people who did not have connections to the German homeland. It remains a watchword of the nastiest elements on the right, as a quick visit to bloodandsoil.org will demonstrate, if your stomach can handle it. That phrase, whatever Deist’s intent, would be very attractive to many among the alt-right, including neo-Nazis and other racists and anti-Semites. One click on the Blood and Soil website above will make that appeal abundantly clear.

That's a good point. But Deist also makes some points that are Not Wrong, so this is one of those times where I'm not sure where my Schrödinger Cat-like political philosophy comes out.

But in the meantime, everyone who wants to be taken seriously should just stay away from Nazi slogans, OK?

■ Via Granite Geek, a NH Tech Hub story about New Hampshire’s First Retail Store Accepting Cryptocurrency Exclusively. That is the Free State Bitcoin Shoppe just down the street in Portsmouth.

When asked about if many customers had known about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency Steven explained “So far the positive reception has exceeded my expectations! There have been a good number of foreign and local Bitcoin users who were astounded to discover a Bitcoin-Only shop in Portsmouth and buy real-life gifts with crypto currency. A handful of tourists and locals were pleased by our science-themed shirts but were frustrated they couldn’t buy them since they didn’t have Bitcoin to spend. While a few have never heard of Bitcoin, the majority of people coming through the store day-to-day know about it and want to learn more, or impress their friends with their knowledge of the superior money.”

I will have to check this out.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-04

Freedom

■ Hey, did the Proverbialist toss the papyrus to Bernie Sanders for Proverbs 22:16?

16 One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
    and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.

It seems like good advice, though, especially that last part.

■ I don't know if it made much of a splash outside the Granite State, but this is what we especially noticed in the leaked transcript of Trump's January call to the president of Mexico: "I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den." The link goes to Prof Althouse, who derides "the level of Democratic Party media savvy, trying to foment outrage" via (her example) this tweet:

Ann comments:

Yes, it's pretty. They've got that fall foliage, so how could they — why would they? — use drugs?

This outrage is particularly phony coming from NH Democrats, who are just now trashing the six-month old Trump administration, while the problem did nothing but grow during 8 years of President Obama and 12 years of NH governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, all of whom were asleep at the switch.

■ At the Federalist, Tom Nichols knows what is not good: It’s Not Good To See So Many Generals In The White House.

[…] the problem is that the public’s eagerness to see a general impose order on the White House—with the president’s blessing, no less—represents a potentially dangerous bargain that at least some Americans seem willing to forge with serving and retired members of the U.S. military: we will accept dysfunction in the Oval Office, it seems, so long as there are enough generals ensconced around it as insurance against disaster.

By all accounts the generals in question (Kelly, McMaster, Mattis) are fine folk. But military folk mixed up in political positions is symbolically bad.

■ This is Pun Salad, so every now and then we have to point out a little groan-inducing wordplay. And today, Mark Steyn provides it with his commentary on the kerfuffle between CNN's Jim Acosta and Trump advisor Stephen Miller: Bad Poems Make Verse Law. Mark notes this USNews description of the Emma Lazarus verse:

The White House advisor appeared to distance himself from the 1883 "huddled masses" poem inscribed at the base of the landmark, chiding reporter Jim Acosta. Miller's remarks shocked many, even as supporters argue the symbolic poem technically isn't US law.

[Emph. added] Technically? Technically!?

Yes, it's true: this poem "technically isn't US law". It's not statute law, or even statue law. When Shelley said "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world", he didn't intend for you to take it literally, as apparently half the population of America now does. And, if we have to have poems as law, let's start with Shelley's and work our way down - way down - to Emma Lazarus.

Ms Lazarus (it turns out) was a Georgist, an adherent of everyone's favorite late-19th century crackpot idea. In fact, she wrote another poem said to have been inspired by George's tome Progress and Poverty, in the New York Times on October 2, 1881.

Oh splendid age when Science lights her lamp
At the brief lightning's momentary flame.
Fixing it steadfast as a star, man's name
Upon the very brow of heaven to stamp,
Launched on a ship whose iron-cuirassed sides
Mock storm and wave. Humanity sails free;
Gayly upon a vast untraveled sea,
O'er pathless wastes, to ports undreamed she rides.
Richer than Cleopatra's barge of gold,
This vessel, manned by demi-gods, with freight
Of priceless marvels. But where yawns the hold
In that deep, reeking hell, what slaves be they
Who feed the ravenous monster, pant and sweat,
Nor know if overhead reign night and day?

More huddled masses. Emma was into them.

■ Another day, another Inspector General reporting sheer incompetence, this time at the Department of the Interior: Government Has No Clue How Much Land It Bought With $815 Million. From the report:

As such, [the Interior Department] is unable to identify how much grant money has been used to purchase land, how much land has been purchased and whether that land is being used for its intended purpose. Without an adequate process in place to monitor funds used to purchase land, [the department] is potentially exposed to significant risk of wasted funds.

But I'm sure they'll do a much better job when they take over health insurance.

■ At Reason, David Harsanyi advocates: Get Government out of the College Discrimination Business.

According to The New York Times, the civil rights division of the Trump administration's Justice Department is going to ramp up investigating and sue universities over affirmative-action admissions policies deemed discriminatory against "white applicants."

Incidentally, nothing in the story backs up the Times' assertion that "white applicants" will be afforded a special place in these suits. Now, I get the perfunctory need to render everything a clear-cut racial crisis. But not only are Asian students disproportionately hurt by these policies—white women also happen to benefit from affirmative action programs.The reaction was predictable. When your ideology demands you bean-count human beings by their color, it's probably difficult to understand that individuals, whatever their race, can be hurt by discriminatory policies—even a white male.

While the University Near Here (and associated public colleges) are legally prohibited from using preferences "based on race, sex, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation", it still has something called the Affirmative Action and Equity Office. Which (I guess) is relegated to pointing out stuff like the U's Consensual Amorous Relationship Policy. It's a laff riot:

This policy provides guidelines specifically designed to prevent conflicts of interest that can occur when two members of the UNH community whose institutional roles place them in an uneven power dynamic engage in a consensual amorous relationship. The institutional interest in establishing clear standards of professional conduct for these types of relationships is clear. Such relationships create the opportunity for abuse of power and/or bias in the exercise of professional judgment.

The romantic comedy script writes itself. Uneven Power Dynamic, starring Paul Rudd and Katherine Heigl!

■ Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah: @kevinNR also has thoughts on the issue: Campus Racial Preferences, Again.

With the advent of a renewed federal interest in the use of racial criteria in college admissions — the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions intends to launch new investigations into the question — we arrive, or re-arrive, at what is now a very familiar debate. Those who argue that the policies of our public institutions should be racially neutral have the better end of the argument, and always have. But conservatives should spare a moment to give some consideration to the merits — which are real but not dispositive — of the other side of the argument.

It's a good summary, and points out the folly involved:

There is some relief to be found in specificity. Even if we were to take to heart arguments based on “social justice,” the use of racial preferences in college admissions could probably be safely set aside as an instrument of such justice, because it does very little for people who are in fact marginalized. The people who are genuinely suffering in our society are not, for the most part, right on the cusp of being accepted to a top-tier undergraduate program or professional school. The elite obsession with admissions policies at what are, after all, mostly elite institutions is omphaloskepsis-as-policy: The genuinely downtrodden are not applying to study at Haverford College. Upper West Side progressives care a great deal about the admissions rules at Columbia but have relatively little to say about the dropout rate for black men in New York City’s public schools. If “social justice” is to be found in some part in institutional reform, then the institutions that ought to be on our radar are public schools, not Ivy League universities.

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

■ And Lileks is on fire today with an R-rated Bleat, full of the f-word, because he's tired of lazy writers using it to pump up their stupid clickbait headlines.

Buzzfeed abounds with these people - young, presumably educated, full of brittle snark and conspicuous insecurities, constantly quizzing each other about which Harry Potter Punctuation Mark they are (you could be a comma tbh) or whether their score on this test shows they are a true 90s Disney Princess or the rest of the meaningless exercises in emotional onanism they perform nine times an hour to fill up the day.

We all have our bubbles, I suppose. But Lileks has identified a particularly sad one.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-03

FIGURE 10.4 Discipline-Skill
Grid

Proverbs 22:15 reminds us just how pro-corporal punishment those ancient Israelis were:

15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.

Some translations (the more literal ones, I would guess) use "boy" instead of "child".

I just imagine the Rod hanging in the corner of the ancient Israeli breakfast nook, with the label: "The FollyWhacker".

■ At the WSJ, William A. Galston has a question: Can the ‘Problem Solvers’ Fix ObamaCare? Mr. Galston is all moony-eyed over Senator John McCain's vote against the Obamacare "skinny" repeal and accompanying speech. But this caught my eye:

As Mr. McCain spoke, the “Problem Solvers”—a 43-member House caucus split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and originally launched by No Labels, of which I am a co-founder—were working to meet his challenge. The group’s leaders, Reps. Tom Reed (R., N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.), announced their results earlier this week. The proposal is aimed at stabilizing the deteriorating individual health-insurance market and creating clarity for consumers as quickly as possible. The deadline for submitting coverage plans and premiums for 2018 comes in two weeks.

"Problem Solvers"? It occurred to me that the "No Labels" group should change its name to "OK, Maybe Just This One Label". [I submitted a small LTE to this effect, I'll let you know if it goes through.]

If you can get to it through the WSJ paywall, Mr. Galston's article is full of euphemisms, evasions, and misdirections. One small example from the above excerpt: it's an insult to actual markets to call the individual health-insurance mess a "market".

And "stabilizing the deteriorating individual health-insurance market and creating clarity for consumers as quickly as possible" is No Labels-ese for "funneling billions more taxpayer dollars to health insurance companies".

■ The WSJ editorial board is considerably less taken with the pleas to The Coming ObamaCare Bailout. The editorial will bring you up to speed, if necessary, on How We Got Here. And makes a sensible suggestion:

Republicans put themselves in this political box by failing to reform ObamaCare on their terms. They shouldn’t compound the rout by flipping their convictions on the power of the purse or surrendering wholesale to Democrats and insurers. They need to demand that “bipartisan” means both sides get something.

I am not optimistic that Republicans are smart enough to take this advice.

■ At Reason, Veronique de Rugy notes the GOP's small-government rhetoric vanishes like the summer dew when they've actually been handed the reins of power: Oops, Republicans Did It Again

For all of the GOP's deriding of Democrats over the years for being "tax-and-spenders," the sad reality is Republicans are on their way to earning the same label. We might only be six months into the return of Republican rule, but it's already looking as if this second go-round of Republican control in Washington this century could end up being as disastrous—if not more—than the first one. But as the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I don't intend to be fooled twice, and I hope I'm not alone.

She's not alone. There are at least two of us.

■ Our fifth item (and the second rhetorical question of the day) is from John Fonte and Mike Gonzalez at the Daily Signal: Should Left-Wing Activists Like Linda Sarsour Be Allowed to Divide America Through the Census? (Spoiler: their answer is "no".)

Somewhere in the bowels of the Office of Management and Budget sit two proposals on how to rewrite the 2020 census—and force America further down the road of identity politics and cultural Marxism. Busy political appointees should reject them. In fact, they should rethink the entire paradigm of dividing the country into artificial groups.

At issue is the creation of of yet another Official Government Census Pigeonhole:

This new and completely artificial (hence unscientific) “race-ethnicity” will be called MENA (Middle East and North Africa). It will include Americans descended from such disparate racial groups as Persians, Arabs, Turks, Lebanese, and Somalis and Sudanese from sub-Saharan Africa. It will include, of course, many Muslim Americans and Middle Eastern Christians.

It's a dreadful idea, but understandable: it's the first step in becoming a Victimized Class. Which doesn't help the Class much, but is a great lever for activists to gain power and privilege. (This topic has occasionaly appeared on Pun Salad's Radar Screen of Irritation here, here, here, here, here, and here. Wow, that's a lot.)

■ And our Google LFOD alert fired on this news story out of Exeter: Gov. Sununu praises American Independence Museum. The occasion was a visit to the museum, housed in what was the Governor's Mansion in the late 1700s. The Gov had remarks, and they sound like a stream-of-consciousness speechlet assembled from snippets he has on autoplay/shuffle in his cranial iPod:

“We really try to put an emphasis on cultural resources,” Sununu said. “We’ve put our cultural and natural resources together. I’m a big believer in the term we use ‘the creative economy.’ It’s everything from artisans to our natural resources to the culture and rich history we have, and selling that. That’s our asset. That’s one of the things that makes New Hampshire so special. By going out and promoting it and selling it and letting people know things like this are right here in our backyard, it’s just a way to drive tourism, drive dollars into the economy and make an appreciation for what makes the ‘live free or die’ state so special.”

LFOD gets third place billing behind tourism and dollars? C'mon Chris!

URLs du Jour

2017-08-02

Adultery Inc

■ What you got for us today, Proverbs 22:14?

14 The mouth of an adulterous woman is a deep pit;
    a man who is under the Lord’s wrath falls into it.

We try to keep this blog PG-13, but when the Good Book goes R, what are you gonna do?

I hear you out there: But it takes two to tango! There is not much even the diligently non-sexist Bible translations can do with this verse.

NR's Victor Davis Hanson explores the history of Chief Executive nuttiness (here and abroad) in Trump — And the Use and Abuse of Madness.

Occasionally insanity, real or feigned, has its political advantages — largely because of its ancillary traits of unpredictability and an aura of immunity from appeals to reason, sobriety, and moderation.

Rogues often try to appear as crazy as mad hatters — sometimes defined by issuing threats, throwing temper tantrums, saying outrageous things, dressing weirdly, or acting peculiarly.

I thought VDH's essay was going to be about the recent brouhaha about the American Psychiatric Association's removing the "Goldwater Rule", prohibiting its members from public speculation on the mental problems of prominent non-patients. (which it didn't do).

But no. VDH says that loose-cannon behavior can be useful, when used sparingly.

■ Peter Suderman is a reliable go-to for health policy analysis. He's got good news and bad news at Reason: By Propping Up Obamacare With Illegal Payments, Trump Is Eroding the Rule of Law.

For a prime example of how the poorly conceived policy of Obamacare interacts with the Trump administration's disregard for the rule of law, look no further than the debate over the health law's subsidy payments to health insurance companies.

Over the last several months, as Republicans have struggled with legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Trump has repeatedly warned that the health care law is already failing. If Congress did nothing, he said last week, he would let it "implode." That may sound passive, but coming from Trump, it was an active threat to hasten the law's demise.

Bottom line: Trump should just cease the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies for insurance companies, because Congress has refused to appropriate money for them.

■ The other Obama-designed illegal bailout Trump threatens to stop is analyzed by Phil Kerpen at the Federalist: Trump Should End Obama’s Bailout of Congress’s Health Care. He reviews the sordid history; there's no question that Trump can undo the Obama skulduggery that saved Congresscritters from having to buy health insurance on the exchanges with no taxpayer subsidies.

If Congress thinks Trump is in the wrong to end their sweetheart deal, they can always vote their taxpayer-funded employer contribution back into effect—and face the political consequences.

Again, Trump is using this as a bargaining chip. He shouldn't. Just do it, Mr. President.

■ Arizona Senator Jeff Flake pens a mea culpa at Politico: My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump. Well, it's actually more of a wea culpa, because there's a lot of "we"s involved:

Who could blame the people who felt abandoned and ignored by the major parties for reaching in despair for a candidate who offered oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions and managed to entertain them in the process? With hindsight, it is clear that we all but ensured the rise of Donald Trump.

Flake's directs friendly fire upon his own party. Which is somewhat deserved. It's an excerpt from his new book Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle. (Alternate title: I'm Gonna Run Against Trump in 2020.)

■ And your Tweet du Jour:

URLs du Jour

2017-08-01

LAZINESS

What does the fox say? Never mind that, Proverbs 22:13 knows what the sluggard says:

13 The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!
    I’ll be killed in the public square!”

Did that happen in ancient Israel? I suppose it must have, in order to make the sluggard's excuse even semi-credible.

I note that Proverbs 26:13 is a repeat of this. Generally, Proverbs is laden with insults aimed at the sluggard.

Today, of course, the sluggard simply says: "I'm not lazy! I'm just differently motivated! Also, there might be a lion outside."

■ President Trump has promised/threatened:

If you'd like to see how Politifact gingerly handled this tweet, see here for the insurance companies; see here for Congress. And then, for some actual facts, see Josh Blackman at NRO: President Trump Must End Illegal Obamacare Payments to Congress and Insurers. Blackman goes through the tangled, sordid, history of both bailouts (and, yes, Politifact, that's a perfectly fine label for them); essentially, Trump is threatening to undo the skulduggery of the Obama Administration.

Halting the illegal payments to insurers and Congress would go a long way to repair these breaches in our separation of powers. But here’s another negotiation tactic: Don’t rescind the payments immediately. Announce they will be repealed on January 1, 2018. A deadline may provide the nudge needed for Congress to reach consensus on health-care reform and prove that our checks and balances still work.

I don't see the value in the "negotiating tactic" Blackman recommends—just do it, Trump!—but I am not a negotiator.

■ There's a nasty smear being flung at school-choice advocates: that they're secret advocates of school racial segregation. And that mud was recently flung by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. At City Journal, Larry "No Relation" Sand tackles Randi Goliath.

Weingarten engaged in a telling Twitter exchange with her nemesis, Education secretary Betsy DeVos. “@BetsyDeVosED says public $ should invest in indiv students,” Weingarten wrote. “NO we should invest in a system of great public schools for all kids.” DeVos fired back: “They have made clear that they care more about a system—one that was created in the 1800s—than about individual students. They are saying that education is not an investment in individual students. They are totally wrong.” Weingarten and her cronies are more interested in keeping the government-union duopoly in place than in educating children. Protecting the system takes priority.

Education is one of those issues on which I'm a libertarian radical: there should be a wall of separation between school and state. Similar to the wall of separation between church and state, and for exactly the same reasons.

■ In fact, this smear is looking like a coordinated attack. A New York Times op-ed from one Katherine Stewart was ominously titled What the ‘Government Schools’ Critics Really Mean. There's "a much older, darker heritage"! Aiee!

At Reason, Jesse Walker chides Ms. Stewart: Sloppy History in The New York Times. No excerpt (RTWT), but here's a spoiler: The phrase was used in 1858 by abolitionist Garrit Smith.

You know, I'm old enough to remember when it was us right-wingers who saw Commies under every bed. Today, the lefties are seeing John C. Calhoun there. (Also left as a comment at Reason.)

■ Y'know, I don't hate income inequalty per se, but you might. And if so, you should check out J. D. Tuccille at Reason: Hate Income Inequality? Blame Intrusive Government Policies

Still, the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor is a preoccupation in many circles—particularly among people who favor activist government economic policies to rectify the situation. So it's interesting when the Federal Reserve Bank's Barnett adds that "One factor contributing to this trend is the increase in involuntary part-time workers," and then reports that employers tell researchers they've turned to hiring part-time workers instead of full-timers because of the costs associated with employee benefits, health care, workers' compensation insurance, and minimum wage hikes.

Keep that in mind when the advocates for the next government-mandated "benefit" (e.g., "Universal paid family leave") come a-knockin'.

■ Crockett Johnson's Harold books were some of my favorites to read the kiddos, back when they would sit still for that sort of thing. But, since I am a near-total illiterate in some areas, I was surprised to hear about the Mathematical Paintings of Crockett Johnson

Inspired by the allure of the space age, many Americans of the 1960s took great interest in mathematics and science. One of them was the cartoonist, book illustrator, and children’s author David Crockett Johnson. From 1965 until his death in 1975 Crockett Johnson painted over 100 works relating to mathematics and mathematical physics. Of these paintings, eighty are found in the collections of the National Museum of American History. We present them her[e], with related diagrams from the artist’s library and papers.

Harold does not appear, which is kind of a shame.