Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I will requote something that I wrote after reading Bossypants: I love Tina Fey. And when I say "love", I mean in a way that's completely inappropriate, given our age difference, our respective marital statuses, our incompatible social circles, geographical separation, and a host of additional irreconcilable differences.

OK, not so much that I'll be watching her movie Sisters any time soon. But I watched this, and it's good. Unfortunately, it didn't do well in theaters. Ms. Fey shows that she can do more than smart/comic stuff. There are some snappy one-liners, and a couple funny scenes, but it's a realistic look at the war in Afghanistan, and you ain't gonna make a laff riot out of it.

She plays "Kim Baker" (the movie is based on the non-fiction memoir of Kim Barker), an off-air TV newsperson who decides to step up when her network looks for a volunteer to cover the war. She's brave, intelligent, and earns the Grudging Respect of the soldiers with which she's embedded. A Strained Relationship develops with her boyfriend. She has Interesting Interactions with her fellow pressmates, and the locals.

I found it watchable all the way through. And even moving at the end.

It is dedicated to her late father, Donald Fey, a Korea vet and a Goldwater Republican. This is what she wrote about him in Bossypants:

If you're Don Fey, you can't look at Joe Biden and be like, yes, I want to be led by this gentleman with the capped teeth. You're not going to listen to John Kerry pretending to empathize with you about the rising cost of your medications. You certainly aren't interested in the "unresolved father issues" that rendered Bill Clinton unable to keep his fly closed. Don Fey is a grown-ass man! Black people find him stylish!

I think Mr. Fey would be proud of his daughter for this movie. For everything else, too, of course. But also this movie.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-31

■ It had been a rough day of parenting for the Proverbialist when he sat down to write Proverbs 17:21:

21 To have a fool for a child brings grief;
    there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.

Fortunately, this doesn't apply to your humble blogger. My kids might not be as religious as some, but they are nobody's fools.

Or, as I wrote in response to a different tale of parenting woe:


■ Sad news about one of the authors I read, Sue Grafton, who passed away last Thursday.

“She was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows,” her daughter wrote, “and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

That would be Y is for Yesterday, which I read earlier this year. I loved her private-eye hero, Kinsey Millhone, very much. Despite her wordy and sometimes pointless yammering about stuff that didn't matter. She was a fine detective.

It's a funny feeling to be wistful about not knowing how the lives of fictional characters transpired.


■ This is one of those things one does at the end of the year, even despite lack of popular demand. Here are 10 posts that you might have missed from 2017, ones I still kind of like:

It's been a fun year for me. Hope to keep going in 2018.


■ Patterico looks at a recent column by the NYT's "conservative" editorial columnist, Bret Stephens: Why I’m Still a NeverTrumper. Good point here:

As I get older, phrases like “I don’t know” and “I could be wrong” seem more important. When I review the list of Trump accomplishments in one year, I’m disappointed that we still have ObamaCare and a huge debt with no prospect of relief in sight. But I don’t know that Hillary Clinton would have been better, and the list Stephens cites strongly suggests she would not have been. And while I worry about the effect that Trump’s character will have on our culture, the fact remains: I could be wrong about that. Maybe we will bounce back the second he is out of office, and there will be no lasting dent in our culture.

I’d like to gently suggest to Trump supporters that the opposite just might be true. Do you know what damage is caused to the culture by having a serial liar and bully in the White House? Have you seen a normalization of mindless alpha-male silliness since Trump became a candidate? Are you sure that the damage to the Republican party and the country generally is worth the tradeoff for the above-named policy gains?

Could you be wrong?

Confession: I was wrong about Trump's electoral prospects, of course. I think I was also (arguably) wrong, or at least premature, when I accused him of backstabbing on the Export-Import Bank.

Patterico ends his post the way all bloggers should, at least implicitly: But I could be wrong. That's a good New Year Resolution to make.


■ Daniel J. Mitchell speaks truthfully, and I hope the wrong people aren't reading: The IRS Doesn’t Deserve Sympathy and It Doesn’t Deserve a Bigger Budget. Here's an interesting bit he quotes from an October Politico story:

The IRS will pay Equifax $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud under a no-bid contract issued last week, even as lawmakers lash the embattled company about a massive security breach that exposed personal information of as many as 145.5 million Americans.

Um, Equifax?

No, if the IRS is throwing no-bid millions at Equifax, there is little doubt that its budget is too big.


■ Katja Grace wonders: Why did everything take so long?

One of the biggest intuitive mysteries to me is how humanity took so long to do anything.

Humans have been ‘behaviorally modern’ for about 50 thousand years. And apparently didn’t invent, for instance:

And free-market capitalism is only a few hundred years old.

Dumb luck, I suppose.


■ And, speaking of luck, Michael P. Ramriez wishes Good Luck to New Year 2018

Good Luck to New Year 2018

And good luck to you, readers, as well.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-30

Proverbs 17:20 is pretty standard stuff:

20 One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper;
    one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble.

Yeah, but you can still be POTUS.


■ An annual event continues: Dave Barry’s 2017 Year in Review. Sample, in January…

… which begins with the nation still bitterly divided over the 2016 election. On one side are the progressives, who refuse to accept Donald Trump as president, their reasoning being that:

  1. He is Hitler.
  2. He is literally Hitler.
  3. He is LITERALLY WORSE THAN HITLER.

On the other side are the Trump supporters, whose position is:

  1. You lost!
  2. You whiny liberal pukes.
  3. SHUT UP, LOSERS.
So there does not appear to be a lot of common ground between these positions. Nevertheless as the year progresses, the two sides will gradually find a way —call it the open-minded generosity of the American spirit — to loathe each other even more.

Yeah, that's about right.


■ Andrew Klavan honors us with his Predictions For 2018

The Super Bowl will be played between the New England Patriots and some other team. Approximately 76 people will attend the game, but the audience will be boosted by the hundreds who tune in for its live broadcast on Spike TV. The halftime show will feature Chelsea Handler singing her new hit, "Screw You, America, And Your Stinking Flag Too," and will include a massive dance number representing the United States Army's oppression of indigenous peoples around the world. After the Patriots win, NFL executives will hold a meeting to discuss the mysterious decline in their ratings. They will conclude they need more outreach to transgender people.

I'll add a prediction of my own: the Patriots' win will be followed by accusations that they did so by violating some rule of which nobody was previously aware.


■ At NRO, Yuval Levin analyzes Presidential Word Salads. After quoting a 182-word Trumpspeak excerpt from an interview with an NYT reporter, Yuval notes:

After reading this, it is advisable to take a moment to wonder at the absurdity of life, to offer a quiet prayer of thanks for the fact that any of us is still alive, and then to pursue—yet again, and surely not for the last time—that recurring question of our era: What in the world is the president talking about?

It's about health care. And:

  1. Although the President says "I know the details of health care better than most."…
  2. The rest of his answer makes it completely obvious he doesn't know much about the details of health care.


■ At Reason, Veronique de Rugy has unsurprising news: Warren's Regulatory Expansion Is Wrong Answer to Equifax Breach. She has proposed a bill cleverly entitled the "Freedom from Equifax Exploitation Act" (FREE Act, get it?)

The implication is that this incident is unique among all other cybersecurity breaches in that Equifax and the credit industry at large are the source of the problem. The truth is much more mundane. Equifax fell victim to an unpatched vulnerability installed by a contractor, and now a politician is exploiting the issue to increase government control over an industry.

This is not to say that Equifax deserves no blame. Quite the contrary. Not only was its response after the incident widely condemned as ham-fisted but also the vulnerability itself was disclosed months before the attack and should have been patched. But that kind of mistake is quite common, and the FREE Act would do nothing to fix it.

NH's Senator Shaheen is a co-sponsor of this power-grabbing bill.


■ But you know what, Senator Shaheen made the Russians mad, and that raises her score a bit in Pun Salad's eyes. Politico has the story: Senators scrap Russia trip after Kremlin snubs Shaheen.

Two Republican senators have called off a planned trip to Russia after the Kremlin denied a visa to a Democratic colleague, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Shaheen, an outspoken backer of a Russia sanctions bill that Congress approved overwhelmingly earlier this year, had been scheduled to visit Russia along with GOP colleagues Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Barasso of Wyoming. But a Shaheen spokesman said the senator believes the Kremlin has placed her under a travel sanction, prohibiting her visit.

The Russians are scared of Jeanne Shaheen. Wow.


■ The New Hampshire cell of Commie Radio asks and answers the musical question: Why Do All New Hampshire Bars Have To Sell Food?

[…] after Prohibition ended, legislators didn’t want bars or saloons opening up willy-nilly around the state. So, they only gave licenses to restaurants.

Eventually, they made a more relaxed license for places that wanted to serve beer and wine. But if you wanted to serve the hard stuff - you had to to meet the food requirement.

And you still do.

Today, 50 percent of sales has to come from food if you want a full liquor license. Alternatively, your establishment has sell at least $75,000 worth of food every year.

The question is, in a state known for its “Live Free or Die” attitude, how has this law survived for so long?

Indeed. Having state-owned-and-operated liquor stores (which are, with few exceptions, dingy and depressing) in a freedom-loving state is… incongruous.


■ And a New Year-relevant xkcd:

[xkcd on 2018]

Mouseover: "We should really start calculating it earlier, but until the end of December we're always too busy trying to figure out which day Christmas will fall on."

The Wanted

[Amazon Link]

Robert Crais isn't prolific enough for me; it's been two years since his previous novel, The Promise. He's no James Patterson!

Hm, maybe that's for the best.

Anyway: this is billed as "An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel", and that's good enough for me. The concentration is on Elvis, also fine. He is the World's Greatest Detective, after all.

A troubled high school student has suddenly come into possession of a Rolex and lots of cash; his mom asks Elvis to investigate, and the answer comes out quickly enough: he's partnered with two other kids to burgle wealthy peoples' homes all over the LA area.

Apparently, burglary is so easy in Southern California, even amateur high school students can manage to do it without getting caught.

Major complication: the gang apparently stole something that one of their victims wants to get back very badly. So a couple of amoral investigators are also in the mix, trying to track down the burglars with only a grainy security-camera feed to work from.

Oh, and also: they don't want anyone to know they're looking for the burglars, because that could be traced back to their employer; their solution is simple: after they extract whatever information they need from people they interview, they, um, ensure their further silence. Ruthlessly.

I said they were amoral. Fortunately, Elvis figures this out too. But it gets kind of dicey at the end.

Crais remains a master storyteller, and I hope I don't have to wait another two years for the next one.

Joy

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A very good movie, directed and written by David O. Russell, starring Jennifer Lawrence in the eponymous role.

Joy is struggling with her mostly dysfunctional family, and a life that was derailed early by her assumed family obligations, and an unwise marriage choice. Her husband still hangs around, living in her basement, though. Also living with her are her Mom (Virginia Madsen), a voluntarily bed-ridden soap opera addict; Dad (Robert De Niro), a cantankerous oldster; Grandma (Diane Ladd), who plays kind of an encouraging mentor. Throw into the mix Dad's new love, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), who's financially well-off, but …

A happenstance accident gives Joy her big idea: a self-wringing mop with a washable head. She proceeds with single-minded determination to bring it to market. This involves overcoming many obstacles, not the least of which is her financial situation, a disastrous start to a QVC marketing opportunity, shady suppliers. And above all, most of her family and acquaintences are only semi-supportive.

It is intelligent and watchable throughout, and (Hallelujah!) blissfully free of anti-business claptrap. Joy's quest is presented as an honorable manifestation of the American Dream. That's pretty rare these days.

Locke

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

Another movie stuck pretty far down in the Netflix DVD queue for a few years, I decided to bump it up to the top. Eh. I could have done better.

Locke is a guy in a Beemer, hurtling through the English night from Birmingham toward London. During the ride, his life is threatening to fall apart. An assignation from seven months previous is about to deliver a new (but unfortunately premature) bundle of joy into his life. Unfortunately, his wife found out, and she's pissed. He's also fired, due to his absence for a critical part of a construction project, but he keeps in touch with an underling so that things will (hopefully) go smoothly.

The gimmick is that nearly the entire movie is shot in the car, with Locke the only on-screen character, everybody else just voices on the phone. Or in his head.

Tom Hardy, who plays Locke, is a fine actor. But the movie gimmick did not work for me. It didn't make the character particularly sympathetic or his situation interesting. As Mrs. Salad observed: it could have been a radio play.

The Captured Economy

How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality

[Amazon Link]

Looks like this will be my last "serious" book read this year. (I have one on request from UNH Interlibrary Loan, but they won't be back in business until January.) But it's a pretty good one, recommended.

One would think that this book is a big hunk of red meat tossed to the tribal acolytes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Just look at the subtitle: "How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality". The freakin' system is rigged, I tell ya! Buy our book for the deets!

Indeed, it's easy to speculate that the marketing wizards at Oxford University Press may have slyly titled this book to appeal to that crowd. Maybe the authors (Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles) had a hand in that too.

But there's very little left-wing nourishment here. It is self-dubbed (near the end) advocacy of a "liberaltarian" approach to public policy. And the libertarian part of that unholy word means that the book is basically on target when it describes current problems.

Overall: in a number of areas, public policy, laws, and regulations are formulated to work to the advantage of the already well-off, and thereby make them more well-off. In a (hyphenated) word: rent-seeking. I (personally) don't consider to be "increasing inequality" per se to be an important issue; but, yes, this does increase inequality. Even given that apathy, I consider it to be an outrage when there's an overall wealth transfer from the less-well-off upwards, when it's due to the governmental thumb (and an occasional fist) on the scale.

And there's an added factor: Such government efforts also tend to make the overall economy less competitive and less efficient. Which makes us all poorer.

Lindsay and Teles concentrate their fire on four broad areas that demonstrate their thesis: (1) financial regulations; (2) intellectual property (copyrights and patents); (3) occupational licensing (not just the "easy" targets, like cosmetologists, but also the sacred cows: doctors, dentists, lawyers); (4) land use regulation (mainly zoning). The coverage is detailed and you might want to stock up on your blood pressure meds before reading.

Final chapters detail the politics involved in putting these "rigged" policies into place, and some mild pointers for reform.

The book's examples aren't complete (as the authors admit). One of my bêtes noires, the Export-Import Bank, is only mentioned as an aside. Other areas are absent: higher-ed, energy, trade protectionism (other than the intellectual-property regime imposed by "trade agreements"). But perhaps the book concentrates on the areas where the authors could agree completely. (Teles is, I take it, a liberal; Lindsay is more toward the libertarian side.)

A weakness for me was the "what to do about all this" bits. The conservative/libertarian remedy, which can be summarized briefly as "shrink the scope of government regulation" is belittled as a political non-starter. OK, but the Lindsay/Teles proposed fixes seem (to me) to be vague, hand-waving, and not particularly convincing. See what you think.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-29

■ It's time to start looking for (or imagining) Proverbial advice for the upcoming new year. So let's check out Proverbs 17:19:

19 Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin;
    whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.

… so that would be a "no". Good all-weather advice for Donald Trump though.

Oh, wait. Do I love a quarrel? Probably more than I should. Mea Culpa, Proverbialist!


@kevinNR looks at discrimination laws, an upcoming Supreme Court decision, and makes the call: Masterpiece Cakeshop: The Slope Is, in Fact, Slippery. It's a good history of how Government at all levels has slipped its regulatory tentacles into our privates the private sphere.

It is not the case that discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. Telling a black man that he may not work in your bank because he is black is in reality a very different thing from telling a gay couple that you’d be happy to sell them cupcakes or cookies or pecan pies but you do not bake cakes for same-sex weddings — however much the principle of the thing may seem superficially similar. If the public sphere is infinite, then the private sphere does not exist, and neither does private life. Having a bakery with doors open to the public does not make your business, contra Justice Harlan, an agent of the state. A bakery is not the Commerce Department or the local public high school.

Sure, bakery customers may travel there on public roads. But tell me: Isn’t that EPA-regulated air you’re breathing?

The "Justice Harlan" reference is to an 1883 Supreme Court decision striking down the 1876 Civil Rights Act, Harlan dissenting.


■ Pun Salad fave Mitch Daniels writes in the WaPo: Avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science. It’s immoral.

Of the several claims of “anti-science” that clutter our national debates these days, none can be more flagrantly clear than the campaign against modern agricultural technology, most specifically the use of molecular techniques to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here, there are no credibly conflicting studies, no arguments about the validity of computer models, no disruption of an ecosystem nor any adverse human health or even digestive problems, after 5 billion acres have been cultivated cumulatively and trillions of meals consumed.

And yet a concerted, deep-pockets campaign, as relentless as it is baseless, has persuaded a high percentage of Americans and Europeans to avoid GMO products, and to pay premium prices for “non-GMO” or “organic” foods that may in some cases be less safe and less nutritious. Thank goodness the toothpaste makers of the past weren’t cowed so easily; the tubes would have said “No fluoride inside!” and we’d all have many more cavities.


■ The link to Mitch's op-ed via Ron Bailey at Reason who recalls his proposed journal-essay debate with anti-GMO statistician Nassim Taleb. Bailey submitted his initial effort to the the journal, but…

After reading my essay Taleb withdrew from the debate and, for good measure, called me an "idiot."

Ouch. Well, you can read the essay, and Taleb's response, for yourself. For my part: I read a book by Taleb back in 2005. But I wasn't motivated to read anything else, and given what I judge to be dishonesty, bullying, and fundamental cowardice, I won't be reading anything by him in the future.


■ I nearly always restrict myself to quoting only a few paragraphs of linked articles, but I'm quoting the entirety of Greg Mankiw's Quick Quiz:

According to the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, before the recent change in the tax law, taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year were scheduled to pay 19.3 percent of all federal taxes in 2019. What impact does the new tax law have on this percentage?

(a) It falls to 17.8 percent.
(b) It falls to 18.7 percent.
(c) It stays the same.
(d) It rises to 19.8 percent.

Find the answer here

The answer may shock you! Or not.


■ Bryan Caplan deals with arguments that contain the phrase "Only the Rich":

The government gives an excludable good away for free: roads, parks, education, medicine, whatever.  Then some economist advocates privatization of one of these freebies.  Technocrats may offer some technical objections to privatization.  Normal people, however, will respond with a disgusted rhetorical question: "So only the rich should have roads/parks/education/medicine/whatever."

Caplan notes the honest counterargument involves details of costs, benefits, probability, and the like. Are such sober arguments effective against demagoguery? Not as often as we'd like.


Last Modified 2017-12-29 8:20 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2017-12-28

Proverbs 17:18 sets a limit on neighborliness:

18 One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge
    and puts up security for a neighbor.

Well, that depends on the neighbor, I suppose.


■ At Reason, A. Barton Hinkle observes that Universities Are Raising a Generation of Trumplets. And the University Near Here made his list of bad examples!

But when it comes to Orwellian efforts to erase politically incorrect terms, politicians can't hold a candle to the nation's colleges and universities.

Last year Princeton banished the word "man" from the campus lexicon in an effort to be more gender-inclusive.

James Madison University went even further, distributing a list that was seven pages long, rather than seven words. Among the things you should avoid saying at JMU: "I know exactly how you feel," "Love the sinner, hate the sin," calling disabled people "courageous," and calling old people "cute."

The University of Michigan warned students to avoid numerous other words, from "crazy" and "insane" to "gypped" and "illegal alien." A professor at Washington State threatened to flunk students who used the words "male" and "female" or other "racist, sexist, homophobic,transphobic, xenophobic, classist or generally offensive... hateful or oppressive language." (She was later overruled.) Elon University banned "freshman."

At the University of New Hampshire, "American" is "problematic." The University of California system doesn't want people to say that America is a land of opportunity, or that "Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough." Gwinnett College in Georgia shut down student Chike Uzuegbunam's Christian proselytizing because it constituted "fighting words."

Prediction: 2018 will be another year of finding easy targets for ridicule at our nation's institutions of higher education.


■ Ben Shapiro at NRO looks back at the year and find Conservative Policy, Populist Attitude. We were worried that "Trumpism" would triumph over conservatism, but…

And, as it turns out, there was no philosophical Trumpism. It was all a hollow intellectualization of candidate Trump’s contradictory campaign statements; it was an attempt to mold a system of thought around one man’s political impulses.

Thankfully, we were left with conservatism.

President Trump’s governance this year has been more conservative than that of George W. Bush or even Reagan. He has slashed the bureaucracy, cutting regulations at a maniacal clip. He has inserted constitutionalist appellate judges at a historic rate. He’s cut taxes. He’s looked to box in Russia in Ukraine while building up our alliances in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. He’s ended the individual mandate and he’s cut taxes. Trump’s governing philosophy, it turns out, looks almost exactly like Ted Cruz’s.

Even a NeverTrumper like me has to wonder if things would have been any better with Jeb! If Jeb could have beaten Hillary.


■ At Lifezette, Mark Tapscott reports: Watchdog Slams FDA’s Tardy Recalls of Dangerous Foods. In Progressive mythology, the FDA is all that stands between us and vermin-infested foodstuffs. But…

But in too many instances, days go by before FDA officials take action to protect the food supply, according to the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Health and Human Services. The IG reviewed 30 of the more than 1,500 food cases that received FDA attention between 2012 and 2015.

“Recalls were not always initiated promptly because FDA does not have adequate procedures to ensure that firms take prompt and effective action in initiating voluntary food recalls,” the IG said.

Libertarians are often faced with the difficult task of arguing against shining ideals of unflawed saintlike government regulators. And our opponents are unfazed when the regulators' actual behavior is revealed to be far short of that ideal. "Well, they'll do better next time." But they do not.


■ As another example, James Freeman at the [possibly paywalled] WSJ notes the dismal record of the last big push for "infrastructure": He Didn’t Build That

Voters heard a lot about infrastructure from former President Barack Obama, especially when he first took office. Sold as a way to create jobs while making needed transportation improvements and an environmentally sensitive economy, the stimulus plan was drafted in haste by Democrats in Congress and then signed by Mr. Obama on Feb. 17, 2009. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was priced at $787 billion when enacted; the official estimate later soared past $800 billion.

In a 2012 book called “Money Well Spent?,” Michael Grabell of the nonprofit news organization ProPublica noted that only about 10% of the spending, or $80 billion, was devoted to infrastructure—and very little of that total went to critical work. The political necessity to fund the “shovel-ready” projects promised by the president meant that money didn’t go to the bridges most in need of repair but to jobs that could quickly clear the thicket of regulatory permitting. Repaving roads was a typical activity; less than 12% of the infrastructure spending went for work on bridges.

Now—or "real soon now"—Trump will make his Grand Infrastructure Scheme known to us. Safe bet: it will not learn from mistakes.


■ What was the fastest growing state in the past year or so? The Census Bureau knows: Idaho is Nation’s Fastest-Growing State. They offer an embeddable graphic showing population gains and losses by state:

Idaho in Nation's Fastest-Growing State[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

The graphic is a little deceiving. It makes NH and MA look like shining beacons of growth amidst the other New England states. In fact, the actual growth rates for the six states are:

NH0.6%
MA0.5%
ME0.4%
RI0.2%
VT0.0%
CT0.0%

I.e., the Granite State's growth is slightly more than the other states'. The US as a whole (however) managed a 0.7% population growth, so the entire region is underperforming.

Of course, given recent weather, a move to, say, Arizona, is tempting.


■ The Babylon Bee is a great source for fake news not reported elsewhere: Thousands Miraculously Fed At Church Potluck With Just Five Dinner Rolls, Two Tuna Casseroles.

MARIS, KS—Thousands attending an after-church potluck at Grace Baptist Church Sunday were miraculously fed, in spite of only five dinner rolls and two tuna casseroles having been contributed to the event, according to stunned witnesses.

Only two families remembered to bring dishes, despite the event having been advertised for the preceding four Sundays, but the full church membership of 2,000 remembered to show up to eat the food.

Baptists. It figures.


■ And a sage observation from James Taranto is our Tweet du Jour:

An HTML Calendar Generator

Awhile back I replaced the (increasingly unwieldy) monthly archive section over there in the right-hand column with a yearly archive section: one link per year that Pun Salad has been in existence. Each link takes you to a yearly calendar, which, in turn, contains links to the monthly archives (when you click on a month name) or daily posts (when you click on a day). Example output here for 2017.

The code to generate those calendars is embedded in the (very) special purpose CGI script that powers Pun Salad, but I thought the calendar generation code might be of interest to people. So, shorn of all the blog-specific stuff: Perl script here, prettyprinted HTML here.

Notes:

  • The script is run with a single year argument, and produces HTML on standard output.

  • The Perl module Time::Piece does most all of the heavy lifting for the necessary date calculations. It probably breaks down for years far in the past or future; I haven't messed with that too much. I tested that it gives the same calendar for 1901 as the Linux cal command does, so that's good.

  • The HTML::Template module is used to specify the HTML framework for the calendar. Obviously, that's where you might want to customize the appearance. The bare-bones template is here. (The code assumes the template resides in your top-level ~/Templates directory.)

  • The calendar is a table of months; each month is a table of days. This means, of course, that the generator is essentially a four-deep nested loop. Eek! A voice from my old structured programming days said: "you really shouldn't nest loops that deeply". So I broke out the month-generation into a Perl subroutine, and now I feel better about myself.

As usual, this is not earth-shattering code, but I hope someone finds it useful, if only for tutorial purposes.

To The Hilt

[Amazon Link]

In 1998 or so, I tossed all the Dick Francis novels written up till then into my to-be-read system. Nearly twenty years later (whoa), we're reaching the end of that project. My favorite Dick Francis book is Proof, but this may be my second-favorite.

We have a true Dick Francis hero in the protagonist, Alexander Kinloch. He's a long-haired painter, and has ensconced himself up in the remote Scottish highlands hut to do his artistry. (A true Scotsman, he even plays the bagpipes.) But he gets a call from his mother: his stepfather, Ivan, has had a heart attack, and the family business, a brewery, is floundering on the edge of bankruptcy due to embezzlement by a trusted employee. Could Alexander come down and help out?

Well, sure. But no sooner does he accept than he's visited by four thugs, demanding that he cough up… something hidden, but they never say what exactly. This does not stop them from beating Alexander mercilessly and tossing him down a nearby cliff.

Like all good Francis heroes, Al lets us know that he's hurting, but doesn't let that stop him from his obligations. Back in civilization, he's in a complex world of skulduggery and violence. Ivan's biological daughter is suspicious that Al is trying to cut her out of her inheritance; her husband is even more hostile. (One thing about Francis: some of his villains are pretty obvious.) It becomes clear that Ivan is trying to protect a number of his assets from the upcoming, seemingly inevitable, bankruptcy: a horse (of course) and a trophy which he assumes has been given to Al to hide. Oops, it never actually made it to Al. But was that why he was beaten up?

Very complex and twisty, many colorful characters, and (unlike a lot of the novels I've been reading) the book never gave me the feeling it was padded to hit a contract-specified word count.

Life of Crime

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

A Netflix DVD that was in my queue for awhile, bumped up to the top simply because of its longevity. It's OK. But given the Elmore Leonard source material, sort of disappointing.

IMDB plot summary: "Two common criminals get more than they bargained for after kidnapping the wife of a corrupt real-estate developer who shows no interest in paying the $1 million dollar ransom for her safe return." From that, I was expecting some zany hijinks, following in the noble comic tradition of O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief".

But not so much. Jennifer Aniston plays Mickey, the kidnap victim. Tim Robbins is the hubby, who in addition to his real estate fraud, is also cheating on Mickey with Melanie (Isla Fisher). And he sees the kidnapping as a way to avoid a messy divorce.

Things get complicated. There are a lot of supporting characters, contributing their own confusion to the mix. Will Forte plays a hapless Lothario who, trying to weasel his way into Mickey's pants, happens upon the kidnapping. And the crooks' hapless assistant turns out to be a pervy rapist—will Mickey manage to avoid this?

Trivia: It's been a long time since I saw Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, but it turns out that this movie and that one share a number of characters from the Elmore Leonard universe. This movie is based on Leonard's The Switch, while Jackie Brown was based on the book Rum Punch.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-27

RESPONSIBILITY

■ After the brilliance of the previous Proverb, Proverbs 17:17 slips back into fortune-cookie mediocrity. Sad!

17 A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Note the sexist language! What about sisters? (Some translations make it "kinsfolk".)


@JonahNRO asks the musical question: Who Deserves Credit for the Trump Administration’s Accomplishments? Yes, there are some things that have conservatives and (some) libertarians cheering. But:

Aside from the mandatory flattery required of Republican elected officials, there’s remarkably little testimony that Trump has involved himself in the process of governing. Tax reform was carried across the finish line by the GOP congressional leadership. Net neutrality was repealed by independent Republicans at the Federal Communications Commission.

Foreign policy is a more mixed bag. If the president deserves credit for the defeat of Islamic State, it’s because he let “the generals” do their thing. On the other hand, credit (or blame) for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris accord on climate change certainly goes to him.

In general, it seems to me that Trump’s success (such as it is) is less attributable to sudden mastery of the issues than to staying out of the way of rank-and-file Republican policymakers, activists, and bureaucrats.

In a way, Jonah's column is a response to Roger L. Simon's demand for an apology from "remaining NeverTrumpers".


■ At Reason, Jacob Sullum is more critical of Trump's theory of Presidential responsibility. Which is, mainly: The Buck Stops Over There. One of Sullum's examples:

Comey cover. When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May, the White House said he did so at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who argued that Comey deserved to be sacked because he had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly while investigating her email practices as secretary of state. Trump, who had long complained that Comey went too easy on Clinton, later admitted the Rosenstein memo was nothing more than window dressing for a decision he had already made.

And more.


■ But we don't want to be super hard on Trump. The Babylon Bee, for one, is grateful: Nation’s Christians Thank Trump For Allowing First Public Celebration Of Christmas In 8 Years.

The nation’s Christian believers thanked President Donald Trump by the millions Tuesday after he allowed the first public celebration of Christmas in America in since the year Barack Obama took office, with many breaking down in tears due to their great gratitude toward the president.

Yes, it was nice to be able to buy the Baby Jesus stamps for the Christmas cards again. Thanks, Donald!


■ And your Tweet du Jour is a Venn diagram from Mark J. Perry:

Apologies to anyone offended by junk reference.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-26

■ I think Proverbs 17:16 might be one of my favorites:

16 Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom,
    when they are not able to understand it?

I've never seen this Proverb posted on any college faculty office door. Despite its appropriateness. That would be a bold move.


■ A desperate attempt to win the 2017 award for "Stupidest Article Published on the Website of a Broadcast News Organization" is made by Noah Berlatsky, at NBC News: Is the First Amendment too broad? The case for regulating hate speech in America.

Must we defend Nazis?

For many free speech advocates, the answer is not just "yes," but "hell, yes." Nazi ideas are, supposedly, among the most despised ideas in the United States. It's precisely because they are so loathed that Nazis must be vigorously defended, the argument goes. As the executive director of the ACLU said in a recent interview: "If we grant government the ability to deny people protest permits because of what they say or how they say it or what they stand for, that we'll find then that speech in other contexts will be regulated and suppressed."

Berlatsky starts out talking about Nazis, but his first specific example is Milo Yiannopolous. Who, whatever his numerous faults, is not a Nazi.

Eventually, it becomes clear that Berlatsky wants to do … something, it's not clear exactly what, about "hate speech against marginalized communities."

Query: Do "Nazis" make up a "marginalized community"? They certainly get hated a lot. But I think Berlatsky is OK with "hate speech" directed at them. Fine. I hate Nazis too.

Berlatsky (correctly) notes that some speech is unprotected: libel, true threats, etc. But those legal categories are well-defined, and relatively small. Berlatsky wants to open up a wide hole in the protective First Amendment fabric with very vague concepts.

It's shameful that NBC News, an organization that benefits from First Amendment protection, should be associated with degrading such protection for others.


■ An ordinary news article from the [Cedar Rapids/Iowa City IA] Gazette about financial malfeasance at the local U: University of Iowa professor Michael Flatté accused of abusing position, mismanaging funds. Except it contains this fascinating paragraph:

Among the allegations against UI physics professor Michael Flatté is that he spent more than $8,000 in UI resources on robots “to teach classes, supervise assistants, and attend meetings while he was out of the country or attending conferences.”

You can get robots—note the plural—to do all that for $8K?! I am impressed.

Clearly, the University of Iowa, currently in dire financial straits, could save a lot of money by buying more robots to replace faculty, instead of dumping on Prof Flatté!


■ It sounds like an entry in a kid's book series: Albert Einstein and the high school geometry problem.

In early May 1952, 73-year-old Albert Einstein took a break from his three-decade pursuit of a unified field theory to provide a 14-year-old some help with a geometry problem.

The problem is: What is the length of “the common external tangent of two tangent circles of radii 8 inches and 2 inches”? (The answer may surprise you!)

Einstein, cleverly, did not solve the problem for the student. Instead he set up a more general problem (removing the tangency constraint), drew a suggestive diagram, and then threw it back to the 14-year-old. Remarkable.

URLs du Jour

Christmas 2017

■ Let me echo Michael Ramirez's wish:

[The
    First Jedi

I'm not sure the "First Jedi" caption is theologically sound, but no matter.


■ I thought about skipping the Proverb du Jour today, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So here's Proverbs 17:15:

15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
    the Lord detests them both.

OK, so arguably… that kind of sounds like Santa and the whole naughty-or-nice listmaking. Sure.


Politico has an apolitcal article about NORAD’s crazy Santa cause. If that activity has been (heh) flying under your radar, then educate yourself on the history and the elaborate present of "the Pentagon's most elaborate propaganda operation."

Sixty-two years ago…

It all started long ago with a typo in a Sears department store ad: “Hey, Kiddies!" Santa Claus exclaimed. "Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.”

But the number printed in the newspaper in December 1955 had a digit wrong — and was instead the direct line into the secret military nerve center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the Pentagon was on the lookout to prevent nuclear war. The Air Force officer and World War II fighter pilot who took the first call that day for Father Christmas thought it was a crank — and Col. Harry Shoup sternly said so.

“The little kid started crying,” Shoup’s daughter, Terri Van Keuren, recalled in an interview. “So Dad went into his ‘Ho ho ho’ and got the kid’s list.”

I think the military budget needs trimming, but… OK, I'm weak. Cut this program out last.


■ A. Barton Hinkle updates the New York Sun's response to Virginia, who wondered if her little friends' claims about there being no Santa were true. And it is not good news: No, Virginia...

Virginia, your little friends are right. There used to be a Santa Claus, but not anymore.

Oh, he is real, dear girl. He most certainly exists. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. But he has gotten out of the gift-giving game.

It all started a few years ago when agents from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration stormed into his workshop, waving a warrant. An elf disgruntled over Santa’s decision not to stock decaf in the break room had dropped a dime, and when the agents arrived they found more than a dozen violations of federal rules.

Apparently OSHA figured out how to extend its jurisdiction to the North Pole. Sorry kid.


■ Here's xkcd on Santa:

[xkcd on Santa]

Mouseover text: "We've gotten him up to 20% milk and cookies through an aggressive public campaign, but that seems to be his dietary limit. Anything above that and he starts developing nutritional deficiencies."


■ But Christmas is not all about Santa, is it? Rich Lowry writes on Handel's "Messiah": Let Us Sing of Greater Things.

The work is ubiquitous and deserves every bit of its popularity. It is a Christian masterpiece known by everyone, a soaring work of genius that never loses its ability to astonish and inspire, whether at a performance of the New York Philharmonic or at a local church singalong.

After hearing it performed on Christmas Day in 1843, Ralph Waldo Emerson described a common reaction, “I walked in the bright paths of sound, and liked it best when the long continuance of a chorus had made the ear insensible to music, made it as if there was none; then I was quite solitary and at ease in the melodious uproar.”

It's a funny feeling to realize, 174 years later: I have felt just like Emerson, and for the same reason.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-24

■ We keep hoping for a miracle. Specifically, that our mindless clomping through the Book of Proverbs will come up with something Christmas-relevant. We need to scrunch up our eyes a bit today, but let's say Proverbs 17:14 is good advice to anyone likely to attend a Christmas dinner with people who like to bring up politics:

14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
    so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

For some reason, dinner-table political discussion seems to be more common at Thanksgiving than Christmas. Why is that?


■ George F. Will relates how the little folks are standing up to big-union avariciousness and Washington's state government: Public Workers Could Stand to Benefit from Janus v. AFSCME.

It is protected by Washington state’s lopsidedly Democratic political class, which knows who butters its bread. It has been provided with bespoke law, tailored for its comfort. Nevertheless, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been so avaricious in its objectives and so thuggish in its methods that it has been bested by the Freedom Foundation.

This small conservative outfit, which punches above its weight and is led by Tom McCabe, relishes the SEIU’s accusation that it has committed “tortious interference” with “business expectancy.” This melodious legalese means that the Foundation is guilty of informing SEIU members and fee-payers — many of them reluctant participants — of their right not to fill the SEIU’s coffers, from which flow contributions to Democrats.

The dirty-trick details of how SEIU and its buddies in the state government have fought to maintain the cash flow to the union may raise your blood pressure a bit.


■ The Union Leader reports on the botched prosecution of Cliven Bundy: Mistrial for rancher who led land revolt in Nevada in 2014.

A federal judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in the criminal case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and three others for their role in a 2014 armed standoff with U.S. government agents, and rebuked prosecutors for withholding evidence from the defense.

Bundy, two of his sons and another man were charged with 15 counts of conspiracy, assault and other offenses stemming from the confrontation, which galvanized right-wing militia groups challenging federal authority over vast tracts of public lands in the American West.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro told federal prosecutors they had willfully violated evidence rules in failing to turn over pertinent documents to the defense, adding that “the failure is prejudicial” to ensuring a fair trial.

I believe the sole person in jail as a result of the "standoff" remains Rochester, New Hampshire's Jerry DeLemus, 62 years old, serving a six-year sentence at Fort Devens.

I think Jerry's kind of a nut, but President Trump should pardon him. (Previous Pun Salad defense of DeLemus's antics here.)


Michael Ramirez on Project Cassandra:

Should you need to be brought up to speed on the subject matter of the cartoon, see the Politico scoop: The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook.

In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation.

The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

I wonder how many years it will take for an honest assessment of Obama's foreign policy to work its way into general public consciousness? Articles like Politico's will help.


@kevinNR has a Christmas reflection worth reading: ‘He Himself Carried the Fire’.

It was impossible. Mary may have lived in a time before science, before the polite and clinical agents of reason had scrubbed the angels and demons and desert spirits away from all but the dark outer edges of our minds, but she was a woman—she knew where babies came from and how they got made. She knew that she was a virgin and that she had not become a wife to the man to whom she was engaged. She also knew what being pregnant and unmarried was likely to mean to her—socially, religiously, economically, physically—in first-century Palestine.

She’d probably witnessed her share of stonings.

Religious people sometimes get a pat on the head from their non-believing friends, who say things like, “All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.” But why would Mary have wished to believe it when the angel Gabriel visited her with that joyous and terrible announcement—“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus; He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High”—when it would have been so much more comforting to believe that she’d simply had a strange dream? “Mary was greatly troubled at his words,” Luke’s gospel says.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. Easy for you to say, Gabriel.

I'm not particularly religious myself, but I know it's far from easy.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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

It's another tale of the Empire versus the Rebellion. Except that the Empire is now called the "First Order" and the Rebellion is now called the "Resistance". For some reason. Anyway, it's pretty clear that just killing off the Emperor 34 years ago was no magic elixir for restoring freedom to the far, far away galaxy.

As we left things, plucky young Rey has tracked down Luke, the Last Jedi, demanding that he return with her to help out against the Dark Side of the Force. He's gotten cranky in his old age, and demurs, but Rey hangs around.

Meanwhile, the ragtag Resistance fleet (they should really use Ω for their symbol) is being pursued by the massive First Order fleet, which is methodically picking off ship after ship; the good-guy population is in serious decline. So the other plot thread involves the increasingly futile efforts of Princess Leia and her retinue (including last-movie heroes Finn and Poe) to stave off destruction long enough to reach safety.

Without spoilers: The overall tone is grim, although there are occasional flashes of humor. Many of the heroic good-guy efforts turn out to be either (a) just delaying the inevitable, or (b) pointlessly misguided. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

It's also very very long.


Last Modified 2017-12-24 4:35 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2017-12-23

■ We take our Proverbs in order, so don't blame us for Proverbs 17:13 not being full of the Christmas spirit:

13 Evil will never leave the house
    of one who pays back evil for good.

Sounds like the premise of countless horror movies. And maybe five good horror movies.


■ Jonah Goldberg's G-File is good as always, but America and the ‘Original Position’ is most notable for its description of John Rawls' classic thought experiment in his Theory of Justice:

Of course, we’re all very lucky, in the broadest sense of the term. As Olivia Newton John might say if she went to grad school, let’s get metaphysical. The late philosopher John Rawls had a thought experiment called “the original position.” The basic idea is to imagine that you are a disembodied soul waiting outside this world in a kind of placeless, meaningless limbo — sort of like a Delaware rest stop. He then asks you to think about what kind of society you would want to be born into. But here’s the catch: You won’t know if you’ll be born rich or poor, smart or dumb, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, never mind if you’ll be able to fit 43 Cheetos in your mouth at one time. You’ll be behind what Rawls called a “veil of ignorance.”

I would recommend this to any college instructor struggling to get his Political Philosophy 101 undergrads to understand what Rawls is saying.


■ I don't think I ever explicitly labeled myself a "NeverTrumper", although I've quoted a lot of them approvingly in the past. I didn't vote for him, and don't plan to do so in the future. Nevertheless, my ears pricked up a bit at Roger L. Simon's demand polite request: Why the Remaining NeverTrumpers Should Apologize Now.

Nevertheless, it is time for the remaining NeverTrumpers to apologize for a reason far more important than self-castigation or merely to make things "right." Donald Trump -- whose initial victory was a shock, even, ironically, to those of us who predicted it -- has compounded that shock by being astoundingly successful in his first year, especially at the conclusion. (He's a quick study, evidently.) More conservative goals have been achieved or put in motion in eleven months than in any time in recent, or even distant, memory. It's an astonishing reversal for our country accompanied by the beginnings of an economic boom.

Even granting all that, my reply is "no thank you." Roger wants a "united front". to fight the (hopefully only) ideological "war".

I think that sort of rhetoric is a poor choice, even when you perceive that it's just turnabout-is-fair-play tactics, making leftists and Progressives play against the same strategies they've been using for years.

We're supposed to be better than that. I may not be better than that, but I at least want to pretend I am.


[Amazon Link]

■ At Reason, Adam Thierer lets us know How to Write a Tech-Panic Manifesto. It's a review of Franklin Foer's member of the genre, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Among many good points:

One reason for the success of big platforms and aggregators is that consumers appreciate not only lower monetary costs but also lower transaction costs. It's simpler to notify your family and friends about a new baby when Facebook puts them all just a click away. Need to sell that old junk in your garage? Craigslist and eBay make that a lot easier, too. And Amazon and Google satisfy your shopping and search needs in a frictionless fashion compared to the past. If Foer has his way and government starts encumbering these activities by undoing efficiency enhancements, consumers aren't likely to be soothed by explanations that diminished choices or higher prices are all for their own good.

It's a tough call on who's worse: Facebook/Google/Amazon/Netflix or folks like Foer. But anyway, thanks to Thierer, I now have one more book on my "don't bother reading" list. (But if you want to read it, you're invited to use my—heh—Amazon link.)


■ It's the time of year for lists! Especially naughty lists, and some people have been very very naughty, as evidenced by Tucker Carlson’s handy list of 100 racist things from 2017. Here's number 10:

And number 11:

You can't win. Don't play.

Testosterone Rex

Myths of Sex, Science, and Society

[Amazon Link]

My book-reading method these days is to read two concurrently: one picked off my own shelves by my book-picking script, the other obtained from the University Near Here Library with my retiree borrowing privileges (either off its shelves or via the efforts of its stellar Interlibrary Loan staff).

This one, by Australian feminist Cordelia Fine, was mainly picked because of the title. I'd read no reviews. It's short and accessibly written. And (good news) although Cordelia Fine self-identifies as a feminist, she's not a particularly strident feminist. She's also kind of funny in spots. Yes, a non-strident feminist with a sense of humor. Apparently, they exist in Australia.

And this book won the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for this year. So it's not awful.

Ms. Fine argues, roughly, against the following hypothesis: Men and women differ not just in their obvious reproductive functions, but also at the neurophysiological level. This difference has its roots in Darwinistic evolutionary processes, which decreed that guys not only must go out and hunt for dinner, but also (uh) download their genes to as many offspring as possible (in competition with the other guys). Meanwhile, the womenfolk stay home and take care of the babies, and know their place.

Therefore, the feminist demands for gender equality are fundamentally misguided and futile, since such inequalities are hardwired into our brains. Women are more risk-averse than men, prefer to take on nurturing roles rather than participate fully in the competitive world of the testosterone-driven marketplace, the modern equivalent of hunting wildebeests out on the African savannah.

Ms. Fine does her best to take this apart. She's helped out by some of the science-popularizers on the other side, who incautiously overstate the evidence, pay attention to only a convenient selection of the research, overgeneralize, and generally dumb things down.

She makes a decent argument (as far as I know) that in some cases, testosterone determinism has its causality backwards. Sexists that we are, we'd like to think that more testosterone chemically drives males to increased risk, innovation, and success. But (at least some research shows) that testosterone levels spike after guys have successfully negotiated, wangled, and out-competed.

She also makes some very good points about risk. Specifically: "risk" is not just one thing. There are physical risks, health risks, financial risks, social risks, sexual risks, … Consider a guy who is risk-averse in one area (no red meat or tobacco for me, thanks) but willing to bet the farm on some long-shot financial venture. Is his testosterone selectively firing, or what? That would be a neat trick for a small molecule.

So Ms. Fine scores a number of points. But even a dilettante like me can note a couple of problems. She argues, correctly, that there's a lot of intra-sexual variation in these sexual differences. Statistical differences between men and women in their behavior and preferences don't say anything about any particular man or woman.

But: yes, we knew that. This is an argument for treating and respecting individuals as individuals, not just as members of their various pigeonholes. Does that mean statistical arguments are invalid? Of course not. Yes, Mary might be taller than Mark. But if you have 100 Marys and 100 Marks, you can safely bet, on average, the Marks will be taller. Fine belabors one bit of obviousness while ignoring the larger, equally obvious, underlying point.

I mentioned that Fine is insightful when she observes that "risk" is not a simple unidimensional thing. However, that insight is thrown out when she starts lecturing on sexual "equality". She seems to think "equality" is "just one thing", rather than a mosaic of different measures and inclinations. She (therefore) overestimates our ability to socially-engineer a sexually-egalitarian society by (for example) cutting down on the gendered marketing of toys to the kiddos.

Also: while I was reading the book, I looked up some science-based criticisms/reviews: here and here and here. You should check them (and their links) out for an alternate argument.

And (it so happens) while reading, I noticed this bit of research out of my alma mater: Testosterone Makes Men Less Likely to Question Their Impulses. (With an illustration: some guy with a tattoo of the molecular structure of testosterone on his arm. No doubt an impulse tat.)

Hotheaded, impulsive men who shoot first and ask questions later are a staple of Westerns and 1970s cop films, but new research shows there might be truth to the trope.

I'm not sure how Ms. Fine would feel about that observation "as a feminist".

URLs du Jour

2017-12-22

■ Will Proverbs 17:12 put us into an appropriate Christmas spirit? Let's see:

12 Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs
    than a fool bent on folly.

Well, no. That's not very Christmaslike. And I could quibble: I've never met a bear robbed of her cubs, but I've heard they can be pretty vindictive. Fools bent on folly are usually not immediately dangerous.

Unless they are "public servants". Then, yes, maybe meeting the bear would be a safer option.


■ David Harsanyi wonders if people are really pissed off about getting their taxes cut. Yeah, me too. Democrats Are Fooling Themselves About Tax Reform’s Unpopularity.

Yes, the tax bill is unpopular. Then again, I’m not sure you’ve noticed, everything Washington tries to do is unpopular. Nothing polls well. Not the president. Not congress. Not Democrats. Not legislation. Not even erstwhile popular-vote winning candidates. Certainly a bill being bombarded with hysterical end-of-world claims rarely debunked by the political media is not going to be popular. Republicans won’t pass anything if they wait around for it to be popular. But, funnily enough, they can be somewhat content knowing that voters will probably like it once they find out what’s in it.

David (I call him David) includes this informative tweet:

So, a related, more interesting, question: Will the American people be upset about being lied to by the media?


■ Not that all is wine and roses. @kevinNR notes that the vegetables are on the plate, and one way or the other, they are going to be eaten. A Dessert-First Tax Bill.

The United States is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory. That does not mean that there is an economic crisis right around the corner, today, tomorrow, or in six months. But if nothing is done, entitlement spending will grow beyond our ability to pay for it, even with substantial future tax increases. Military spending is a heavy contributor to our fiscal burden, too, and it could and should be reduced, but that will first require rethinking our national-security posture and our worldwide military capabilities. For the military, the mission determines the budget, but much of federal spending would be more properly organized the other way around. And as much fun as it is to mock Harry Reid’s federally subsidized cowboy-poetry festivals and the critical national effort to get monkeys high on cocaine, basically all of federal spending goes to a handful of programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national defense, and interest on the debt. Everything else — from the federal highways to staffing the embassies to the FBI — adds up to about 20 cents on the federal spending dollar. If interest rates go up, then debt service could become a radically larger expense — think about an outlay roughly the size of the Department of Defense budget — very quickly.

Another sage observation: "The Growth Fairy will not save us." There's no credible economic model that makes this work out.


■ There's a word that Deirdre Nansen McCloskey dislikes. And, no, it's not moist. No, Deirdre is Against Capitalism.

Capitalism is what the Dutch call a geuzennaam—a word assigned by one's sneering enemies, such as Quaker or Tory or Whig, but later adopted proudly by the victims themselves.

The word is a Marxist coinage. Karl Marx himself never used the word capitalism, but let's not get pedantic: He freely tossed around capitalist to describe the bosses who were busily reinvesting surplus value on top of their original accumulations of capital.

True fact: Capital was around for millennia before "capitalism" came on the stage.

Problem: try to come up with a better single word. I can't.


Michael Ramirez on allegations that the Obama Administration unleashed its spooks to spy on the Trump campaign:

Yes, that's two tweets in a single article. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-21

Proverbs 17:11 isn't fond of evildoers:

11 Evildoers foster rebellion against God;
    the messenger of death will be sent against them.

Well, that's very Old Testamenty.


■ In happier news, it's Winter Solstice at 11:28am (EST) today. But—oops—that's not happier news. Because Dec. 21 will be the worst day of 2017, astrologers say.

But this short, little day with the great many names also may be the worst day of the year, according to astrologers. The reason? Saturn.

Apparently, the sun will appear to pass in front of the constellation Capricorn hours after Saturn does likewise. This will cause both of these orbs to line up for the first time time since 1664, according to London astrologer Neil Spencer, who writes for The (London) Observer but first wrote about the alignment on his blog.

Perhaps worst of all, USA Today reports this in its "tech" section.

Nevertheless, here's wishing you all a very Saturnalian Solstice.


■ We try to avoid ghoulishness here at Pun Salad, but there's some Lessons To Be Learned from the fatal Amtrak accident on the Point Defiance Bypass. First, Holman Jenkins, Jr. in the [probably paywalled] WSJ: Fast Rail Goes Awry in Seattle.

Donald Trump tweeted that Monday’s accident on the same line proved the need for infrastructure investment. Actually, the line was a product of infrastructure investment, part of the high-speed rail package in the 2009 “stimulus” bill. Will the president learn to get the facts before he tweets? Of course he will—when pigs fly.

We've heard Progressives endlessly complain that tax reform, net neutrality repeal, Obamacare repeal, etc., etc. will kill people. But when Your Federal Government actually kills people, there's a kind of hush.


■ At Cato, Randal O'Toole piles on with many (he stops counting at six) Questions to Ask About Amtrak 501. Here's number one:

1. Congress required passenger railroads to install positive train control (PTC) by the end of 2015. Why did the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) give money to the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for a new passenger rail line that would not open until after 2015 when the project didn’t guarantee funding for positive train control?

Answer: The Obama administration wanted to distribute high-speed rail funds to as many states as possible in order to build political backing for the program, so it couldn’t be bothered with positive train control. The tracks the train was on are owned by Sound Transit, which says it is installing PTC, but it won’t be finished until spring. Public releases of WSDOT’s application for funds for this train didn’t mention PTC.

O'Toole makes a good case for phasing out Amtrak. Which won't happen, because Congress loves to play with its full-scale train set.


■ Veronique de Rugy is our go-to gal for Export-Import Bank news, and she notes the sad news we've previously reported: The Cronies Vote Down Scott Garett’s Ex-Im Bank Appointment.

That’s disappointing, because Garrett would have restored some accountability and transparency at the Bank while making sure that companies in countries that weren’t allowed to be sponsored by U.S. taxpayers (think about Boeing selling planes to Iran) weren’t getting Ex-Im loans. Make no mistake, a vote against Garrett signals the power of special interests, lobbyists, and the swamp over politicians, both Republicans and Democrats.

Veronique notes that President Trump could give some teeth to his "drain the swamp" rhetoric by refusing to nominate anyone else, and withdrawing his other candidates for the bank.

Or he could nominate me. I'm retired, and it would be a sacrifice for me to take on the job, and (oh, yeah) I'm totally unqualified. But I'm willing.


■ At Reason, Christian Britschgi also notes the obvious: The Senate's Rejection of Export-Import Bank Critic Shows How Entrenched Crony Capitalism is in Washington.

Since 2015, operations of the Export-Import bank have been largely stalled, as empty board seats have left it without the quorum it needs to approve larger deals. The silver lining to Garrett's rejection is that the Bank will continue to be hobbled in conducting many of its ordinary operations.

The Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee were unanimously opposed to Garrett, including Elizabeth Warren, whose railings against big business and a "rigged" system are thereby shown to be bullshit.


■ And Pastor Hans Fiene, at the Federalist, offers A Sneak Peek At Hallmark’s Next Christmas Movie via a leaked script. Beginning:

[Opening Scene]

I can't wait for next Christmas! And if I lived in Channahon, Illinois I would seriously consider attending Pastor Fiene's church. (Missouri Synod?! Well... maybe even so.)

URLs du Jour

2017-12-20

■ A little humor—at least I choose to see it as humor—from the Proverbialist in Proverbs 17:10:

10 A rebuke impresses a discerning person
    more than a hundred lashes a fool.

I'm pretty sure this observation didn't cause the Ancient Israeli legal system to cease the hundred-lashes punishment. ("He's a fool—it won't help.")


■ We noted Charles C. W. Cooke's observations on the reflexive Trump-hatred exhibited by the WaPo's "conservative" blogger, Jen Rubin, a couple days back. That quickly blew up into a minor finger-pointing firestorm. @JonahNRO makes what would seem to be an uncontroversial observation: Refusing to Be Reflexively Anti-Trump Isn’t Selling Out.

It’s fine to disagree with this position from the pro- or anti-Trump camps. What is unfair is to claim that if you don’t fall in line with one team or another it must be because of corrupt motives, cowardice, or some other mental defect. Indeed, one could argue that it is much more difficult, costly, and risky to not get swept up in either movement.

The comments are … depressing. Many of them show an inability or unwillingness to understand Jonah's argument. But, in doing so, they confirm that argument.


■ Another discussion of the not-quite-passed-yet tax bill from Eric Boehm at Reason: Trump and the NFL Agree: Taxpayers Should Keep Subsidizing Stadiums.

After feuding with the National Football League for months, over everything from how players act during the national anthem to whether the games are violent enough, President Donald Trump appears to agree with the league about at least one thing: Taxpayers should subsidize stadiums.

The Republican-crafted tax reform bill, which is expected to pass both chambers of Congress today, maintains the current federal tax exemption for bonds issued to pay for the construction of stadiums.

An earlier version of the bill, which cleared the House in November, would have done away with that exemption (though public projects such as infrastructure could have been funded with tax-free bonds). The NFL lobbied to kill that change, and the version of the bill that emerged from the conference committee deleted the provision.

To recycle a criticism made here yesterday: this overwhelmingly benefits the already well-off, but the silence from the usual class warriors is predictably deafening.


■ Speaking of the NFL, Gregg Easterbrook's TMQ for the week is up, and even if you're not interested in detailed analysis of the Pats/Steelers and the catch that did not "survive contact with the ground", it's a lot of fun.

Star Wars notes (no spoilers). In The Last Jedi, the plucky rebel space fleet attacks an ultra-enormous Imperial space dreadnaught. The attack is staged by bomber spacecraft that operate like the B-24s and Lancasters of World War II: They fly above the target, then bomb-bay doors open to allow bombs to tumble downward. But there’s no gravity in outer space. The bombs wouldn’t tumble!

What can we do, except regurgitate the headline from the Babylon Bee: Man Complains About Plot Holes In Movie About Space Wizards Fighting With Colored Laser Sticks.


■ The Daily Signal has a New Hampshire focused article, and it's <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">good news, everyone</voice>: New Freedom Caucus Rocks GOP in the Granite State

Eight months ago, David Bates was part of an uprising of conservatives in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives that stalled the state budget process until the legislators could reach a more fiscally responsible standard.

Now Bates, R-Windham, is among several lawmakers in the state’s House Freedom Caucus who are moving from thorn in the leadership’s side to actual leadership during the legislative session that begins in January.

My own representatives are uniformly in the anti-Freedom Caucus (not an actual thing, but might as well be). So I'm cheered by this. Hope it survives the 2018 elections.


■ But there's also bad news for those who despise crony capitalism: Senate Panel Rejects Trump’s EX-IM Bank Leader Nominee.

The Senate Banking Committee has rejected President Donald Trump’s nominee Scott Garrett to run the US Export-Import (EX-IM) Bank after two Republicans defected.

Garrett's sin was refusing to repent his previous heresy:

Garrett would not, however, say he regretted or wished to retract past statements he’d made opposing the bank’s existence. At the time, bank supporters considered Garrett’s unwillingness to do so as a sign he may not be fully committed to his job mandate.

GE and Boeing were opposed to Garrett, and GOP senators Rounds (South Dakota) and Scott (South Carolina) joined with all Democrats to dance to their tune. (Note: The linked article claims Rubio voted to reject Garrett, but he's not even on the Banking Committee.)

But there's a pony: without a leader, Ex-Im can't

URLs du Jour

2017-12-19

No Escape.  a DSCN0417

Proverbs 17:9 is a little tough to parse…

9 Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
    but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

… but, in essence, I think it expresses the notion "We'll let this slide this one time, buddy… What, again?!"

In that, it's a very Old Testament thing. Compare and contrast with Luke 17:4:

4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

That's Jesus for you. A forgiving guy. Usually.


■ We might wish that "tax reform" would sweep away vast numbers of social-engineering gimmicks in the tax code, but alas (as related by Christian Britschgi at Reason), the Final GOP Tax Bill Retains Tax Credits for Wind Energy, Electric Cars.

It's hard as hell to get rid of a government handout once it's been established. The beneficiaries, concentrated and organized, will fight tooth and nail to keep any program that lines their pockets. The mass of taxpayers, by contrast, have little incentive to go to war over a few dollars off their paycheck.

Consider the congressional Republicans' tax bill. The final version of the legislation retains tax credit programs for electric car buyers and renewable energy producers.

These programs overwhelmingly benefit the already well-off, but the silence from the usual class warriors is predictably deafening.


■ At NRO, Kat Timpf observes: Apparently, ‘Centrist Privilege’ Is a Thing Now.

“Liberals and progressives can be quick to call attention to many privileges, but one that often goes unrecognized is centrist privilege,” Matthew Q. Joy writes in a piece titled “Centrism is a privilege” for [Chapman University's] official newspaper, The Panther.

“In a political environment that receives criticism for polarization, it has become almost honorable to self-describe as a ‘moderate’ or a ‘centrist,’” Joy continues. “While there is value in recognizing opposing viewpoints and reaching compromises, the Republican Party has become too conservative for this to be possible.”

According to Joy, “liberals who follow the moderate, compromising path — as opposed to holding steadfast progressive values — quietly benefit from the struggles of countless Americans:”

“Centrism is as vile as right-wing conservatism, but it contains the additional atrocity of having no social consequences for holding views that leave fellow Americans at a disadvantage. This creates a type of privilege. . . . Just as progressives denounce white privilege, it is time to denounce centrist privilege.”

"Vile" indeed. Your call on whether to be amused or depressed by Mr. Joy's ideological stylings.

As Martha and the Vandellas noted nearly 53 years ago: you've got "Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide".


■ In a refreshing change of pace from the usual higher-ed censorship, Cornhusker U has martyred a local left-winger. But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is on the case: FIRE asks University of Nebraska-Lincoln to reinstate graduate student. What happened?

Members of the UNL chapter of Turning Point USA were recruiting for their group outside of the so-called “free speech zone” and were approached by a UNL employee who threatened to call police on the group unless they moved to the free speech zone. The employee also said that students were not allowed to hand out “propaganda.” UNL officials later clarified that UNL does not maintain an official “free speech zone.”

After a few hours of tabling, counterprotesters amassed near the TPUSA chapter’s recruitment event. One of those counterprotesters was Courtney Lawton, a graduate student in UNL’s English Department. Video of the interactions between the counterprotesters and TPUSA students emerged in which Lawton can be seen calling a member of the TPUSA student chapter a “neo-fascist” and alleging the student intended to “destroy public schools, public universities,” and “hates DACA kids.” Lawton showed her middle finger while holding a sign that read “Just say No! to Neo-Fascism.” Lawton also called a TPUSA student a “Becky,” a word some view as a derogatory name for white women. After video of the encounter was made public, UNL removed Lawton from her teaching position and reassigned her to a non-teaching role.

Not just reassigned, but "released from employment completely" come June. The matter has also claimed the jobs of two public relations people.

FIRE has been accused of being in the tank for right-wingers, but it really does support free expression on all sides.


■ The Babylon Bee reports: Man Complains About Plot Holes In Movie About Space Wizards Fighting With Colored Laser Sticks.

SANTA ROSA, CA—In a 4,000 word blog post published in the early morning hours after his first viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, local grown man Kyle Marion reportedly complained about plot holes in the film about space wizards fighting with colored laser sticks, reports confirmed Monday.

“How did the bombs drop out of the bomber doors and fall toward the Dreadnaught if there’s no gravity in space? It just doesn’t make any sense,” Marion wrote of the film that featured good and evil space magicians fighting with their minds. “If Disney thinks they can get away with this kind of stuff, they’ve got another thing coming.”

Observation: Avoiding Last Jedi spoilers while web-surfing is as tricky as Han Solo dodging asteroids while being pursued by Tie fighters in The Empire Strikes Back.


Last Modified 2017-12-19 11:08 AM EST

Shoot to Thrill

[Amazon Link]

Another tale in the Minneapolis-based "Monkeewrench" series, co-written by a mother-daughter team pseudonymicized as "P. J. Tracy". Bottom line: Not bad, but just OK.

The premise is that videos of actual grisly murders are being posted on the book's equivalent of violence-porn YouTube. Amidst all the fake grisly murders. The Monkeewrench team is called in to write software to pull out the reals from the fakes. Things get a little more urgent when the death of a local transvestite, initially thought to be an accidental drowning, turns out to have been one of those video homicides.

And, more intriguing, Monkeewrench discovers that the murders have been pre-announced via anonymized cryptic bulletin-board messages. Is this the work of a serial killer? Or a loose association of random sickos? If the latter, who's pulling the strings?

It's a page-turner, true enough. And it has its share of good writing and sympathetic characters. But the plot comes off (to me, anyhow) as unbelievably contrived. And it also seems padded, in that irritating "we have to get the word count up to the number specified in our publishing contract" way. A lot of dialog that's just meandering chit-chat, not revealing anything about the characters or advancing the plot.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-18

Simon Cameron

Proverbs 17:8 looks into the minds of bribe-givers:

8 A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it;
    they think success will come at every turn.

Well, maybe. But that brings to mind the classic quote from mid-19th century Republican pol Simon Cameron (our pic du jour): "An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought."

Cameron's Wikipedia entry does not mention that quote, but there is this entertaining anecdote [links/citation removed]:

Cameron was nominated for President, but gave his support to Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican National Convention. Lincoln, as part of a political bargain, named Cameron Secretary of War. Because of allegations of corruption and lax management, he was forced to resign early in 1862. His corruption was so notorious that a Pennsylvania congressman, Thaddeus Stevens, when discussing Cameron's honesty with Lincoln, told Lincoln that "I don't think that he would steal a red hot stove." When Cameron demanded Stevens retract this statement, Stevens told Lincoln "I believe I told you he would not steal a red-hot stove. I will now take that back."

Were pols really so much more clever with insults back then?


■ Pun Salad likes Jonathan Haidt, and a version of his "Wriston Lecture" to the Manhattan Institute is now online: The Age of Outrage. (Pun Salad previously quoted a portion of the lecture behind the WSJ paywall.)

I’d like you to consider an idea that I’ll call “the fine-tuned liberal democracy.” It begins by looking backward a few million generations and tracing our ancestry, from tree-dwelling apes to land-dwelling apes, to upright-walking apes, whose hands were freed up for tool use, to larger-brained hominids who made weapons as well as tools, and then finally to homo sapiens, who painted cave walls and painted their faces and danced around campfires and worshipped gods and murdered each other in large numbers.

When we look back at the ways our ancestors lived, there’s no getting around it: we are tribal primates. We are exquisitely designed and adapted by evolution for life in small societies with intense, animistic religion and violent intergroup conflict over territory. We love tribal living so much that we invented sports, fraternities, street gangs, fan clubs, and tattoos. Tribalism is in our hearts and minds. We’ll never stamp it out entirely, but we can minimize its effects because we are a behaviorally flexible species. We can live in many different ways, from egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups of 50 individuals to feudal hierarchies binding together millions. And in the last two centuries, a lot of us have lived in large, multi-ethnic secular liberal democracies. So clearly that is possible. But how much margin of error do we have in such societies?

Well, nobody knows for sure. Haidt gives a number of reasons for pessimism. And I'd quibble with some of his details. But his lecture is very much worth your time.


■ An Onion-style headline from the Babylon Bee caught my eye: ‘Internet Service Providers Should Not Be Able To Decide What People Can See Online,’ Says Man Who Decides What People Can See Online. That would be…

Tech titan Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, came out strongly against the repeal of net neutrality Friday, calling the rollback of the Obama-era regulation an “injustice.”

“Internet Service Providers should not be able to decide what people can see online,” the man who decides what two billion people can see online every day said in a Facebook video that was placed in front of the precise amount of people he wished. “It’s a violation of a free and open internet.”

“Furthermore, ISPs should not be able to charge more for certain content,” Zuckerberg intoned, though part of his $523 billion company’s revenue comes from throttling the reach of publishers’ content unless the publisher pays Facebook to show their content to people who signed up to see it anyway.

The Babylon Bee bills itself as "Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire", and I think I will check it out.


National Review's Charles C. W. Cooke notices a problem with the Washington Post's allegedly-conservative voices: Jennifer Rubin Is Everything She Hates about Trump Worshippers. As just one example:

If Trump is indeed a tyrant, he is a tyrant of the mind. And how potent is the control he exerts over Rubin’s. So sharp and so sudden are her reversals as to make effective parody impossible. When President Obama agreed to the Paris Climate Accord, Rubin left her readers under no illusions as to the scale of her disapproval. The deal, she proposed, was “ephemeral,” “a piece of paper,” “a group wish,” a “nonsense” that would achieve “nothing.” That the U.S. had been made a party to a covenant so “devoid of substance,” she added, illustrated the “fantasy world” in which the Obama administration lived, and was reflective of Obama’s preference for “phony accomplishments,” his tendency to distract, and his base’s craven willingness to eat up any “bill of goods” they were served. At least it did until President Trump took America out of it, at which point adhering to the position she had theretofore held became a “senseless act,” a “political act,” “a dog whistle to the far right,” and “a snub to ‘elites’” that had been calibrated to please the “climate-change denial, right-wing base that revels in scientific illiteracy” (a base that presumably enjoyed Rubin’s blog until January 20th, 2017). To abandon the “ephemeral” “piece of paper,” Rubin submitted, would “materially damage our credibility and our persuasiveness” and represent conduct unbecoming of “the leader of the free world.” One is left wondering how, exactly, any president is supposed to please her.

I think the answer to that last bit is "Be named Mitt Romney."

I used to read Ms. Rubin's blog, but tuned out due to a combination of her shrill content-free invective and the painfulness of the WaPo paywall.


■ Justice Don Willett has been confirmed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (on a shamefully partisan 50-47 Senate vote). That's great news, and, even better, he's tweeting again. And reminds me that I missed the 244th anniversary of…

URLs du Jour

2017-12-17

Proverbs 17:7 is all about the lips, again:

7 Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool—
    how much worse lying lips to a ruler!

But enough about President Trump…


■ It's Christmas season, and @kevinNR urges us to Just Say ‘Yes’ to Prosperity. RTWT, but I really like his bottom line:

Years ago, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, some newly liberated East Germans were discussing the changes that had taken place with the end of Communism. What stood out for them? Oranges. Suddenly, they could buy oranges whenever they wanted, because there were oranges in the stores to buy. Previously, they could get oranges only at Christmas. In that sense, it’s always Christmas for us, and it always has been. Whether it always will be is up to us.

I'm not a shopper, but find myself grinning like a fool when I go into stores these days. Not just at the oranges.


■ George F. Will wants to tell you a story about washing machines: Whirlpool has Washington in a spin cycle.

A household appliance will be the next stepping-stone on America’s path to restored greatness. The government is poised to punish many Americans, in the name of protecting a few of them, because, in the government’s opinion, too many of them are choosing to buy foreign-made washing machines for no better reason than that the buyers think they are better. If you are wondering why the government is squandering its dwindling prestige by having opinions about such things, you have not been paying attention to Whirlpool’s demonstration that it is more adept at manipulating Washington than it is at making washing machines.

In 2006, when Whirlpool was paying $1.7 billion to buy its largest competitor, Maytag, federal regulators fretted that this would give the company too much market power. Whirlpool said: Fear not, competition from foreign manufacturers such as South Korea’s Samsung and LG will keep us sharp and benefit American consumers. Now, however, Whirlpool, which is weary of competition, has persuaded the U.S. International Trade Commission to rule that Samsung and LG should be reproached for what, 11 years ago, Whirlpool said it welcomed: competition.

Factoid mentioned in Will's column, from the WSJ: in the past decade, Whirlpool's market share has remained relatively steady at 35%, But Samsung's has gone from nearly zero to 19%; LG has about 15%.

Mere words are inadequate to express my utter contempt for companies like Whirlpool.


Reason's Peter Suderman has a heavy-breathing-free description of the FCC's action on "Net Neutrality", if you're still interested: The FCC Just Voted to Roll Back Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules.

The Obama-era rules focused the FCC's regulatory authority on ISPs over other types of internet companies. Although the net neutrality debate is often framed as one that pits consumers versus large internet providers, it can also be understood as a regulatory tug-of-war between two types of companies on the web. Many of the largest internet content companies — so called "edge providers" like Google, Facebook, and Netflix have supported net neutrality in recent years. Recently, however, Netflix, has backed away from its previous support for net neutrality, having made a number of private connection deals that make net neutrality less useful to its business model. "Where net neutrality is really important is the Netflix of 10 years ago," CEO Reed Hastings said in May. "It's not our primary battle at this point."

The shift in strategy is telling: Netflix favored net neutrality rules as a way to preserve a business advantage. As it has grown, it no longer needs that advantage. The debate over net neutrality was always, in part, a tug-of-war over regulatory advantage between tech industry giants. Today, the FCC took steps to stay out of the fight — and remain a neutral regulator over the net.

As a Netflix customer, I'm not happy that it ran to the Federal Government to get favorable regulation to implement its business model. But I am happy that they figured out how to make their service work without that.


■ Macroeconomist Scott Sumner describes Three big natural experiments contained in the tax reform package:

Experiment #1. Does the powerful real estate lobby have enough political power to prevent Congress from taking away the mortgage interest deduction from the vast majority of taxpayers? Most people previously assumed the answer was yes. But today we found out the answer is no. Under the new tax bill very few taxpayers will deduct mortgage interest.

Experiment #2. Does the mortgage interest deduction play a big role in supporting the price of residential real estate? I suspect the answer is no, but we'll know for sure within a few months.

Experiment #3. Do state income tax rate differentials play a big role in interstate migration? I've argued that state income taxes play a bigger role than many progressives assume, but the effect seems to be declining over time as the younger generation cares more about non-material amenities, rather than material goods like a big house and an expensive car.

He also has Good/Bad/Neutral lists about the various provisions.


■ And it's been a while since we had an embedded RamirezToon. Here's a good one:

Pies and Lies

Back story, if you need it, here.


Last Modified 2017-12-17 9:08 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2017-12-16

Proverbs 17:6 is straightforward:

6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
    and parents are the pride of their children.

Pun Salad Fact Check: True.


■ Thanks to 19th Century American legislation, the Mississippi River is safe from the Viking menace! As reported by Scott Shackford at Reason: There Will Be No Viking Longboats Cruising the Mississippi, Thanks to Hard-Headed U.S. Protectionism.

There are 2,000 ports across the world where cruise ships dock for passengers to embark on fabulous getaways. Only 30 of them are in North America.

The market won't likely be calling for more docks in the United States anytime soon. Switzerland-based Viking Cruises, which wanted to build and send small cruise ships up the Mississippi River, leaving new tourism dollars for river towns in its wake, is backing off its plan.

We are being "protected" by the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, which forbids foreign ownership of ships transporting passengers between American ports. So if you've wondered why those river cruises you see advertised on PBS are always on European rivers, that's why.


■ And it's not as if we're being protected from truly pernicious Scandinavian cultural influence. But fortunately, one of the worst may be fading away. At the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Lileks asks: Have we lost our love for lutefisk?

Let’s remind ourselves what lutefisk is. Most recipes involve cod soaked in lye, but there are alternatives:

A) Sunfish soaked in turpentine.
B) Crappies soaked in Listerine.
C) Fish sticks soaked in bleach.

Disclaimer: Even with my Norwegian heritage, I've never had any lutefisk-love to lose. Had it at Grandma's once, in the late 1950s. The most accurate description: Fish-flavored Jell-O. I don't need to do it again.


■ At NRO, David French notes what should be obvious: Constant Hysterics Damage Our Democracy.

Late last night, while reading a stream of apocalyptic rhetoric about the repeal of net neutrality and the “end of the internet as we know it,” I reached the shattering conclusion that one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies was wrong. The movie is the 2004 Brad Bird masterpiece, The Incredibles. The line comes from the villain, Syndrome, who outlines his plan to make “everyone super,” because when “everyone is super [he chuckles maliciously] no one will be.”

It’s a great line, and it seems to convey an important truth. When you make everyone or everything “the best” or “the greatest” or “special,” then you inevitably end up devaluing the superlative. When everyone gets a trophy, trophies matter less. The same truth applies equally in reverse. Not everything is “the worst” or an “emergency,” and when we pretend otherwise, it turns out that nothing is believed to be. That’s the essence of “crying wolf.”

Except in politics. In politics, when everything’s a crisis, it turns out that EVERYTHING’S A CRISIS!

At my age, I can't be in a constant state of ideological agitation. It's getting really tough to tease out the issues over which I should be going batshit insane.


■ For example, you might think this would be an issue going batshit insane over: Google Is Using Its Immense Power To Censor Content That Doesn’t Fit Its Political Goals. It's from the Daily Caller, a conservative site not on my usual web crawling map, but:

The Daily Caller released a funny video Tuesday of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defending the commission’s upcoming net neutrality rollback. Through Wednesday and Thursday, liberals and others who dislike Pai’s political position lost their minds. And by Friday morning, Google, one of the most powerful companies on the planet, had censored the video based on a bogus claim from a politically motivated man.

It took seven crucial hours and the full force of our news site to push Google and YouTube to reverse this political censorship. We were able to prevail because of the sizable contacts and resources of TheDC. An average citizen showcasing a political viewpoint Google and the left disagreed with would almost certainly have had a far more difficult — and fruitless — time fighting back.

Google is a private company and can run its business the way it wants. And I'm a "customer" for a number of its products and services.

But when their thumb-on-the-scale Progressivism leaks out into censorship and biased search results, that's far more concerning than "Net Neutrality" regulation going away.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-15

gloat

■ Well, now that the FCC HAS DESTROYED THE INTERNET, you're probably not reading this, and I probably haven't published it. Or something.

Seriously. Get a grip, people.


■ We know that the Proverbialist despises mockers, and he displays that once again in Proverbs 17:5; but he goes after gloaters too:

5 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
    whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

I, for one, will not give up my right to say "I told you so." If that brings divine punishment, so be it.


American Consequences' P. J. O'Rourke turns his eye onto American Consumer Trends. One of the things we're buying: calories. And…

How did Americans get so huge? Rhetorical question. Drive down any commercial strip. Where there was a diner, a White Castle, and a truck stop there is now…

Cowabunga Burger… Fatty Fries… Chunk-Up Chicken… Cheesy Chef… Gobble King… Beef Blimp… Taco Dump… Double-Butt Pizza…

Americans not only look gross but they dress the part. We’ve become a nation of immense 9-year-olds dressed for all occasions in T-shirts, shorts, and Tevas. Or, sometimes, just to change things up, pajama pants, sports bras, and wife-beater shirts.

The clothes are revealing, but in no erotic sense. What’s revealed is big, hairy legs and vast ass tattoos.

"Ass tattoos." Heh.


■ Daniel J. Mitchell is Grading the House-Senate Republican Tax Plan. Spoiler: his grade on the current proposal is B. But:

Aficianados of “public choice” are painfully aware that politicians and interest groups are depressingly clever about preserving their goodies. So while it seems like tax reform is going to happen, it’s not a done deal. When dealing with Washington, it’s wise to assume the worst.

So I am "cautiously pessimistic".


■ If you are a political journalist, and you've been wondering who to blame for your sinking credibility, David Harsanyi has your answer right here: Political Journalists Have Themselves to Blame for Sinking Credibility. After listing four "big scoops" that turned out to be… wrong:

Forget your routine bias. These were four bombshells disseminated to millions of Americans by breathless anchors, pundits and analysts, all of whom are feeding frenzied expectations about Trump-Russia collusion that have now been internalized by many as indisputable truths. All four pieces, incidentally, are useless without their central faulty claims. Yet there they sit. And these are only four of dozens of other stories that have fizzled over the year.

If we are to accept the special pleadings of journalists, we have to believe these were all honest mistakes. They may be. But a person might then ask: Why is it that every one of the dozens of honest mistakes is prejudiced in the very same way? Why hasn't there been a single major honest mistake that diminishes the Trump-Russia collusion story? Why is there never an honest mistake that indicts Democrats?

Even my beloved WSJ is mentioned. Oh, well, I'll just skip to the editorial pages a little faster.


■ I try to avoid obvious clickbait, but occasionally a headline just works. So it is with Wired: The Alabama Senate Election Was Decided 100 Million Years Ago. What?

They say victory has a hundred fathers, and Doug Jones' upset win in the Alabama Senate race Tuesday night is no exception. Maybe it was the mounting accusations of child molestation facing Republican opponent Roy Moore that sealed Jones' victory. Maybe this was just the latest swell in the blue wave that washed over Virginia last month. Maybe it was the work of a small, but mighty, group of Jones volunteers who ran an expansive ground game.

Or maybe, it was the ground itself—the literal soil underneath voters' feet, which was once submerged underwater, leaving behind a uniquely fertile strip of land on which human beings committed unthinkable atrocities, the effects of which are still being felt today.

If only Roy Moore had taken geology in college!


■ A bit of good news from the Fraser Institute, brought to us via my Google LFOD news alert: New Hampshire leads U.S. in economic freedom three years running.

For the third year in a row, New Hampshire—the Live Free or Die state—has the highest level of economic freedom among all U.S. states, finds a new report released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

At the bottom: New York and California.


■ Also in the LFOD news is a Techdirt article: Bogus Wiretap Charges Brought Against Man Who Recorded Cops Costs NH Taxpayers $275,000

One of those things I thought would have gone out of vogue is apparently still in style in New Hampshire. The number of bullshit wiretap prosecutions brought against people recording cops has dropped precipitously over the past half-decade as courts have found use of wiretap statutes in this fashion unconstitutional, but over in the Live Free or Die state, the statute lives freely and dies even harder.

Your tax dollars at work, Mancunians.

Rights Angles

[Amazon Link]

Back in the previous century, I bought, and read, a book plugged at Reason: Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community by Loren Lomasky, then at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota. It was a strong defense/explication of the underpinnings of classical liberalism and (so-called) "natural" individual human rights. Lomasky's insight was was that humans are project pursuers as part of their core natures; when the state proposes to override such (presumably peaceful) pursuits in order that the individual serve instead some collective goal, it violates some of the person's moral space. Which is wrong.

I was convinced. But the world, unfortunately, was not. (Lomasky, by the way, does not love the term "classical liberalism", with its connotation of old ideas fixed in amber; he'd prefer a term that reflects something more dynamic. He has a point, but "classical liberalism" seems to be the best label we have.)

Anyway, Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community was back when Reason, and I, were more concerned with political philosophy. This 2016 book, Rights Angles, is a collection of fifteen scholarly papers Lomasky published between 1983 and 2011 on various topics in political philosophy, still circling around the core of classical liberalism. There's also a leadoff new essay with an overview of the current state of affairs. It will run you a cool $43.99 at Amazon; fortunately, the University Near Here Library got a copy.

Speaking from my vantage point (strictly a philosophical dilettante, and even that may be an overestimate): The essays are of varying degrees of difficulty, depending on one's familiarity with the field. I'd recommend at least a nodding acquaintance with the major works of John Rawls (A Theory of Justice) and Robert Nozick (Anarchy, State, and Utopia. But even then, some I just bounced off. (But, honest, Professor Lomasky, I looked at every page.)

I learned a word: optimific. No, you go look it up. I had to.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-14

Proverbs 17:4 appears to be Blaming the Victim:

4 A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;
    a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.

Hey, Proverbialist, it's not my fault that I believed all that stuff I heard from …

Well, you can finish that sentence yourself. In so many ways.


■ The Skeptical Libertarian, Daniel Bier, asks and answers: Is Climate Change Killing Coffee? Not So Far. It's a short review of actual data (with graphs!), in response to Yet Another Article predicting Imminent Caffeine Armageddon. Bottom line:

I’m not playing Pollyanna to Cassandra here. I’m not saying climate change is a good thing. I’m not even saying that climate change won’t present challenges for coffee farmers in the future — as long as global and regional climates are changing, of course industries will have to adapt.

But it’s ridiculous to go around prophesying the imminent doom of an industry (based on papers written by non-economists and non-specialists) without even attempting to square that prediction with the observable reality of that sector.

And the reality is this: the coffee industry (as shown by prices, production, and yield rates) is quite healthy. If you think it’s actually on its deathbed, you have to explain why that data doesn’t matter and what everyone with a financial stake in it is missing. It’s bad journalism to report on the demise of coffee without even mentioning that production and yields are at all time highs — and coffee futures prices aren’t.

If you think Bier is wrong, he offers to bet.


■ Big trouble over in Hooksett, as reported in the Daily Signal: College Republicans Say Conservative Speaker Was Treated ‘Unfairly’ at Southern New Hampshire University.

Conservative activist Matt Walsh came to Southern New Hampshire University at the request of the SNHU College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, but Walsh and College Republicans believe his speech was not treated fairly.

It's a script we've seen elsewhere: advertising posters torn down, people reserving "tickets" for an event they had no intention of attending, interested students not allowed access because they couldn't get tickets.


■ At AEI, Michael R. Strain writes a manifesto for A Limited, Energetic Government. He bills it as "an alternative to both Trump and Sanders." Sounds good! And his vision seems solid:

It’s a society in which free markets reward individual initiative, public policy advances opportunity and empowers people to earn their own success, and dynamism and energy characterize our economic lives. It’s a society that demands personal responsibility, self-reliance, and self-discipline, but also recognizes human imperfection and uncertainty and therefore allows no one to fall too far. And it’s a society in which the “mediating institutions” between citizen and government, most especially the family, are strong and vibrant, and in which social trust is high and bonds of solidarity are strong.

Only problem: solid opposition from Democrats, and unprincipled spinelessness from Republicans.

Well, I guess that's two problems. But you know what I mean.


■ What would happen if you put an AI to work writing a novel based on a corpus of famous best-sellers? Fortunately, that burning question has now been answered; you would get Chapter 13 of Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.


Mental Floss will tell you The Most (and Least) Expensive States for Staying Warm This Winter. (It's based on a Wallet Hub article from July.)

Michigan, which ranks 33rd overall, outdoes every other state in the natural gas department with an average bill of $60 a month. Alaska is close behind with $59, followed by Rhode Island With $58.

People living in Maine prefer oil to heat their homes, spending $84 a month on the fuel source. All six New England states—Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—occupy the top six spots in this category.

New Hampshire is #9 in overall energy cost, #5 on monthly home heating-oil cost.

2018-05-22 UPDATE: A gentleman wrote in from a company called "Choose Energy", its mission to "change energy consumers' lives for the better by providing education and tools, empowering people to take control of their choices in a confounding multibillion-dollar industry." He notes the Wallet Hub data is old, and recommends you go to this frequently-updated page for comparing state average electric rates.

As I type: among the 50 states, New Hampshire is #6 for high residential electric rates, a dizzying 19.84 cents/kWh. New England dominates the top 10 for electricity expense: MA is #2, RI #3, CT #4, VT #9, and ME #10.

Thanks to "James G" at Choose Energy for the pointer.


■ NHPR notes that the ACLU has pointed out something that we shouldn't need the ACLU to point out: Border Patrol Checkpoints On I-93 Violated N.H. Constitution

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU-NH, says those stops, and the use of drug-sniffing dogs, violated the New Hampshire Constitution because there was no warrant or reasonable suspicion.

“Border Patrol simply used these dog sniff searches on everyone that went through the checkpoint, and that’s violative of New Hampshire constitution, which is more protective of privacy than even the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution,” he said.

During the multi-day checkpoints, Bissonette believes that hundreds and possibly thousands of individuals were subjected to illegal searches by the dogs.

“So we just think this is incredibly problematic, and hardly consistent with New Hampshire’s ‘Live Free or Die’ approach to these issues.”

This story brought to you by my Google News Alert for LFOD invocations.


■ Also triggering the LFOD alarm bell comes all the way from Colorado, in a publication called the Mountain-Ear Newspaper. (Mounain-Ear. Get it?) Stage Stop fair welcomes locals

Derik Stevens, of Ward, brought in his hand made fur hats, saying this was his first time at the Fair. Derik was featured on the National Geographic series, “Live Free or Die,” representing the Mountain Man.

Derik's unusual name allows us further Google research, and brings up this story from 2007:

Ward's self-proclaimed "Giant Killer Blacksmith" — and "undefeated champion" of the mountain town's daylong slugfest, "Hammertime" — has been ordered by a Boulder judge to give up his weapons.

Derik Leif Stevens, 36, who makes battle axes and spears for a living, is slated to begin serving a Boulder County Jail weekend work-crew sentence today after pleading guilty last week to felony menacing. Stevens also was sentenced to four years of probation by Boulder County District Judge D.D. Mallard and cannot posses any weapons during that time.

The LFOD spirit is strong with Derik, and if that involves having a certain number of felony menacing convictions on your rap sheet, so be it.


Last Modified 2018-05-22 5:29 PM EDT

MLK@UNH 2018: Going Into Stealth Mode

The Dream of Martin Luther King,
Jr.

[Update: This article turned out to be premature. More on what's going on at UNH for MLK here]

For many years, the University Near Here has conducted a "celebration" of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. It was kind of a big deal: invited speakers, book signings, candlelight marches, church services (aka "spiritual celebrations").

This coming year, things will be different. The announcement of the "16th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Summit" is remarkable in its reticence about what will actually happen.

There's a "theme": "Race, Sexuality and Romantic Identity, Ability". (OK, so that's maybe three themes.)

The description, in its entirety:

Named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the MLK Summit is a two and a half day social justice development institute that allows students to build identity competencies and to expand their understanding of community activism.

This retreat is FREE and open to all** full-time undergraduates and graduate students who are interested in gaining a better understanding of diversity and working toward social justice on the UNH campus and beyond!

The MLK Summit is an excellent opportunity for students to create a greater sense of community and explore critical issues related to social inequity in a challenging environment that promotes growth, reflection, community building, and honest dialogue.

The usual activist windbaggery and jargon, of course. But no specifics, no lists of speakers or events, not even locations. Why, it's almost as if they don't want people to know what's going on!

And, unlike previous years, the public ain't invited to anything. Just full-time students, thanks very much. And it's not as if they can just show up either.

Because, this year, you have to fill out an application if you want your identity competencies built or your understanding of community activism expanded. It's a "competitive[!] and formal process", kid. Even though we said it's "open to all full-time undergraduates and graduate students", that may not include you, sorry.

I just got to the first page. In order to get beyond that, I would have had to lie. Chuckled at this, though:

Pronouns:*
They, Them, Theirs
She, Her, Hers
He, Him, His
Ze, Hir, Hirs
I use my name as my pronoun
My pronouns are not listed

… but they don't ask you to pigeonhole yourself otherwise. Except sneakily:

Please Attach a Photo of Yourself (Preferably a larger file)

Even though they say "please", the picture appears to be required. Leading one to suspect that they may not be judging applicants by the content of their character.

So, an awful lot of hoops the kiddos must jump through in order to attend. Couple this with the shying-away about what's actually gonna happen at the summit, and… it's almost as if they don't want people to show up.

Past Pun Salad MLK@UNH coverage: 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017. We skipped reporting the 2008 and 2016 events, because they were boring.

Finally, I can't help but notice that most, if not all, records of UNH's previous MLK celebrations are now 404-memory-holed. Out of embarrassment? But if you really want to check out the differences between this year's non-event and previous years, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is your friend. For example, here's 2009, the year of Angela Davis.


Last Modified 2018-01-15 1:49 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2017-12-13

Proverbs 17:3 is a pretty good metaphor, the kind of thing we tune in to Proverbs to hear:

3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart.

That doesn't sound like a lot of fun, but … point taken.


■ Who can Republicans blame for Senator-elect Doug Jones? Jordan Gehrke at the Federalist has a plausible answer: Mitch McConnell Is The Reason Doug Jones Is A Senator. Because, to start, McConnell backed Luther Strange. But…

Strange was a flawed candidate from the jump. The circumstances around his appointment by scandal-ridden Governor Robert Bentley were sketchy at best, and rightly or wrongly, voters just never trusted him.

Looking back, an establishment candidate like Strange, beset by issues surrounding his appointment was never going to win a runoff in an anti-establishment state like Alabama–certainly not in the year after Donald Trump was elected.

Judge Roy Moore soon entered the race, followed by Mo Brooks, a conservative congressman from northern Alabama with a very solid voting record. A member of the House Freedom Caucus in the mold of Jeff Sessions, Brooks resonated with conservative grassroots. […]

Determined to keep a Freedom Caucus member out of the Senate, McConnell and [his PAC] swung into action with a little over a month to go, spending over four million dollars carpet-bombing Mo Brooks.  They told everyone who would listen that they were going to destroy Brooks. They even hired consultants for a potential primary challenger in his house seat, just to intimidate him.

… and Brooks came in third in the primary, leaving Strange and Moore to compete in a runoff, which Moore won handily. And then…


@kevinNR tells us about The Politics of Humiliation. Long and insightful, and here's the bottom line:

There is a better way to go about organizing the country than bonk-you-on-the-head tribalism, but it requires a measure of maturity and forbearance that we do not seem to be able to muster just now. The founding generation had Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Adams. We have Trump, Moore, Schumer, Pelosi. If the Almighty had wanted to teach us not to put our trust in princes, He could hardly have done any better. But this is our doing. We have this situation because we choose to have it, because we put our faith in naked political power and therefore choose to elevate the worst and ugliest among us. This is all on us.

Agreed, as long as the "us" is understood to mean "not me".


■ Two ex-profs involved in the Evergreen College insanity earlier this year, Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, look at how leftist intolerance is killing higher education. Again, the bottom line:

For today’s social justice warriors, only one narrative shall be allowed. It is unquestionable. Those who dissent are guilty. The “equity and inclusion” movement, cloaked in words that sound benevolent and honorable, is a bludgeon. To the outside world, Evergreen’s implosion looked like a student-motivated response to conditions on the inside. But the terrible conditions don’t really exist, and the real power dynamics, between administrators and faculty, were obscured by a narrative constructed to make resistance impossible.

The script [followed by the SJWs] showed up at our public, liberal arts college, and we, the evolutionary biologists, are now gone. It showed up at Duke Divinity School, and Paul Griffiths, a Catholic theologian, has resigned after being vilified for questioning training in racial equity. His words are to the point: “Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.”

Coming to a University Near Here? I guess we'll see.


■ Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback is no fan of NFL Commissioner Roger "Five-Year, $200 Million Contract" Goodell.

The big implication of the new contract is that Goodell’s mega-payday should draw attention to the very subsidies the owners don’t want talked about. Stadium construction and operating subsidies, plus tax exemptions—most NFL teams don’t pay property taxes on their stadia or practice facilities, or pay trivial amounts compared to similar businesses—represent around $2 billion per year diverted from typical taxpayers to the mega-rich pashas of the NFL. That means about 15 percent of the NFL’s current roughly $14 billion a year in revenue is public subsidy.

The true number may be far larger. U.S. law allows images taken in public stadia to be copyrighted. All but a few of the NFL’s stadia are either mostly paid for by the public—the next Super Bowl, in Minneapolis, will occur on a field mostly financed by Minnesota taxpayers—or are entirely publicly owned. Yet the NFL copyrights the images from these fields; television licensing of the copyrights brings in far more revenue than ticket sales. If the ability to copyright games played in publicly financed facilities were viewed as a subsidy to the NFL’s landed-aristocracy class—and it should be—as much as 90 percent of the league’s revenues would be seen as gifts from the working class to the aristocratic class.

But if we stick with the most-conservative view of 15 percent of NFL revenue coming from average people, that suggests Roger Goodell’s new deal will allow him to stuff about $30 million in taxpayer funds into his pockets. American households with a current median income of $59,000 will be taxed so that Goodell receives $30 million for his Park Avenue luxury suite, his Versailles-sized vacation home in Scarborough, Maine, his personal private jet, and other perks.

Ouch. Here's what I didn't know: Roger is the son of onetime NY Senator Charles "Chuck" Goodell. Easterbrook liked Chuck a lot more than Roger. I remember mainly that Chuck came in third place in the 1970 NY Senate election, losing to James L. Buckley, WFB's brother.


■ Via Cato, the Daily Caller's Richard Pollock describes How The Republican Senate Saved The ‘Death Tax’.

The Senate tax reform bill does not repeal the “death” estate tax conservatives have long opposed, apparently because of at least three Republican senators. The three are among many who have received donations from insurance companies benefiting from the tax.

The House fully repealed the “death tax,” but Senate Republicans did not include a repeal in their version of the bill. Republican Sens. John McCain, Susan Collins and Mike Rounds, who are the only three Republican senators on-record opposing repeal, could be held responsible if the estate tax is not repealed in the final bill. The two chambers are now in the process of reconciling for final passage.

The article notes that it's not the rich plutocrats that are most active in lobbying against death tax repeal. It's the companies most involved in helping the rich plutocrats avoid the death tax. If the death tax goes away, so does a lot of the money they make off it.

Strangely, Democrats, usually insurance-company-bashers, are silent on this.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-12

Proverbs 17:2 gets further into familial dysfunction:

2 A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son
    and will share the inheritance as one of the family.

It sounds as if the Proverbialist has been watching the recent season of Gotham. Man, that young Bruce Wayne seems to be kind of a dick. Here's hoping that turns out to be an elaborate con when episodes resume.


■ The cover story in the current issue of Reason by Katherine Mangu-Ward is an excellent summary of where we are: facing The End of Free Speech. For most of 2017, Republicans (correctly) deplored college shout-downs of conservative/libertarian speakers. But…

But as the weather cooled, the GOP revealed its true colors. Led by an increasingly vehement and erratic President Donald Trump, the same party that was poised to die on the hill of free speech when it was being threatened by angry progressives was suddenly ready to eliminate First Amendment rights on the football field, revoke citizenship for flag burning, pull broadcast licenses over bad comedy sketches, and expand libel laws to take down annoying members of the media. There are greater threats to speech, it turns out, than a bunch of angry co-eds.

James Damore is not mentioned, but I suppose Katherine only had so many column-inches.


■ At NRO, Robert VerBruggen considers Google, Facebook, Amazon: Our Digital Overlords.

[…] there are real monopolies in this country, and three of them — Alphabet (i.e., Google), Amazon, and Facebook — control much of our online life. They are already showing anti-competitive tendencies, as well as censoring speech, and yet there is no perfect response to such practices. These firms could do great damage if left unchecked — but then again, their market dominance might not be as secure as it seems.

It’s not time to smash these companies to pieces. But it just might be time to rein in some of their most egregious practices.

Democrats, usually the first to rail against monopolies, are kind of quiet about the big three. Gee, I wonder if that's because they're reliably in Democrat pockets?


■ Chris Edwards of Cato debunks the "giveaway to the rich" propaganda that opponents of tax legislation are flinging around. In fact, Edwards claims, Senate Tax Bill Increases Progressivity.

Without any tax cut, the top quintile will pay 67.0 percent of all federal taxes in 2019, and the top 1 percent will pay 26.7 percent. Since the tax cut shares for those groups are less than that, the cuts will make federal taxation more progressive. If the Senate bill were passed, the top quintile of higher earners would pay an even larger share of the overall federal tax burden. That would undercut the growth potential of tax reform and make our excessively progressive tax code even more so.

And that's not a good thing, in Edwards' eyes, nor in Pun Salad's.


■ Pun Salad is a Frederic Bastiat fanboy, so is AEI's Mark J. Perry. And Mark contributes The Candlemakers’ Petition: Revised and modernized for today’s climate of rising trade protectionism. It's a letter to President Trump from "the American Lighting Association, US light bulb manufacturers, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers." Sample:

Simply put, the American lighting industry is suffering from the damaging competition of a foreign rival whose conditions are so far superior to our own for producing light that it is flooding the American market with light at an incredibly low, unfair price. That is, this foreign producer is “dumping” light into the US economy to our great disadvantage. The moment the foreign rival appears, our sales of lighting fixtures drop precipitously, all cost-conscious American consumers turn to him, and an important segment of American industry is reduced to economic stagnation, with the accompanying loss of American jobs and the impoverishment of our country.

… and I bet you can guess the nature of that menacing foreign—nay, extraterrestrial—rival.

But if you can't, here's a Tweeted hint from Mark:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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

A very pleasant surprise. Netflix's guess was that I would like it. I was dubious, because it seemed like a too-obvious effort to squeeze some more dollars out of Harry Potter's fan club. But—ha!—it turned out to be a movie with an interesting story, sympathetic characters, a daft sense of humor, and imaginative visuals. Go figure.

Of course, it's the first of five projected movies. Those could be worse. We'll see.

It's set in the Harry Potter universe, but in the 1920's and in New York City. Our hero, Newt Scaramander, arrives from England with a case full of magical animals, and promptly loses control of one of them—a cute little guy, who loves to filch shiny objects: coins, jewelry, etc.. Newt's efforts to retrieve the little dickens causes a certain amount of hilarious mayhem; he attracts the attention of the American magical community, and also acquires a non-magical sidekick, Jacob Kowalski, an agreeable schlub who has dreams of opening a bakery.

Unfortunately, Newt gets tangled up in the conflict between the American magical bureaucracy (MACUSA), a disgraced magical investigator, an evil wizard (pre-Voldemort), and a know-nothing "New Salem" church group, looking to burn the witches. Uh-oh!

Especially good was Dan Fogler, the guy playing Jacob. Deserved an Oscar, he did.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-11

■ We begin a new chapter today, with Proverbs 17:1:

17 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
    than a house full of feasting, with strife.

"If you folks will excuse me, I'll be down in the basement while you work this out. I'll just take this dry crust here. Oh, and also this bottle of wine."


@kevinNR asks Where’s the Omelet?

[…] “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways,” Marx said, highlighting the inevitable rift between the intellectuals and the bomb-throwers. “The point, however, is to change it.” The Western world was at one point quite full of apologists for the purges and brutalities of Joseph Stalin, with our Communists and fellow-travelers — just “liberals in a hurry,” they said they were — justifying what ended up being 100 million deaths as the brush-clearing necessary before laying the foundations of utopia. The inevitable cliché, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” was answered with characteristic economy by George Orwell: “Where’s the omelet?”

Republicans ought to be asking themselves the same question.

My friend (and boss) Rich Lowry recently argued that the Trump administration has proved so far surprisingly successful from the point of view of conventional Republican priorities — there’s more to the Trump record, he said, than Neil Gorsuch. And that’s true enough: Scott Pruitt at the EPA has done useful and important things, as has Betsy DeVos at Education. But that’s a side of hash browns, not an omelet. Health care remains unreformed, the tax bill is an incoherent mess, the border remains unsecured, there has been no significant reform of economic policy, and we have in fact moved in the direction opposite from fiscal sanity, etc. President Trump announced that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem . . . and then immediately signed a waiver, as he predecessors had, adding an Augustinian “but not yet” to the end of his declaration. That was a classic Trump move: The Trump administration is a show about nothing.

I'm slightly happier about Trump than is Kevin. But that's me. I'm a happy guy.


■ At Reason, Veronique de Rugy notes: The Annual Federal Spending Frenzy Is a Terrible Year-End Tradition

What do you do if you wind up with a little extra money in your household budget at the end of the year?

Perhaps you pay down your credit card debt or save it for an earlier retirement. Maybe you replace old appliances or go on a much-needed but unplanned vacation. One thing is clear: Because you're spending your own cash, you make sure to get as much out of it as possible.

You might expect our tax dollars to be treated the same way. You would be mistaken. The end of the fiscal year—September 30—triggers a spending frenzy in Washington, where the driving order isn't "do something worthwhile" but rather "make sure nothing is left." Because agencies can't carry over any part of their operating budgets into the next fiscal year, politicians and bureaucrats spend to the last dime, knowing that leftover resources will be returned to the Department of the Treasury. They also worry Congress will reward frugal agencies with cuts to their future allotments.

I wish I could say it was different at the University Near Here. It was not. Perverse incentives—they're not just for perverts any more!


■ Everyone in the world is pointing to this, and why should Pun Salad differ? Lara Witt instructs all who would listen: 10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask On a First Date.

As a queer femme of color, I keep close relationships with people who go beyond allyship; they’re true accomplices in the fight against white supremacy, queerphobia, and misogyny. If you’re not going to support marginalized folks, then we can’t be friends, let alone date. The personal is political.

Beyond the lovely cushioning, happiness and support that we receive from our platonic relationships (which are, in all honesty, soul-feeding and essential), feminists also date! But there are questions we have to ask before we get close to someone.

Lordy, "in all honesty", it's awful. And funny.

Here's deal-breaking question number 7: "Do you think capitalism is exploitative?"

"No, Lara, I don't. What you call "capitalism" has been the driving force for lifting billions of people out of miserable poverty. It's a good thing. Would you like to throw your drink in my face now, or wait until after the appetizer?"

The bio-blurb at the bottom of the article says Lara's work "has been featured in Teen Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, BUST Magazine, ELLE and more." Which just goes to show how much trouble we're in: Lara, and people like Lara, are being Taken Seriously.


■ Down in da Bronx,
Just up from the Zoo,
There's trouble a-brewin'
At Fordham U:

Campus coffee shop evicts College Republicans from 'safe space'

Members of the Fordham University College Republicans were asked to leave an on-campus coffee shop because their MAGA hats apparently violated the shop’s “safe space policy.”

I could comment, but I would not do better than Treacher's Tweet du Jour:

URLs du Jour

2017-12-10

Proverbs 18:24 speaks on friends, unreliable and otherwise:

24 One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

I would wager that I could find out my unreliable friends pretty quickly by posting a lot of political stuff on Facebook.


■ Jillian Kay Melchior writes at the [probably paywalled] WSJ on Lorde of the Flies: Why College Students Reject Reason. I must admit I was unaware of…

The experience of being an outsider is central to the poetry of Audre Lorde. So it’s curious that Lorde, who died in 1992, has posthumously become the ultimate insider on American campuses, providing an ideological foundation for today’s social-justice warriors.

It’s hard to overstate Lorde’s influence. Each spring, Tulane hosts a “diversity and inclusion” event called Audre Lorde Days. The Ford Foundation’s president, Darren Walker, quoted Lorde in his 2017 commencement address at Oberlin, describing her as “one of my sheroes.” The University of Utah has an Audre Lorde Student Lounge, as well as LORDE Scholars, an acronym for Leaders of Resilience, Diversity and Excellence. The University of Cincinnati hosts an Audre Lorde Lecture Series each semester and is working on the Audre Lorde Social Justice Living-LearningCo mmunity, which will offer “gender inclusive” housing, activities, collective projects and a supplemental curriculum. The university’s LGBTQ Center director even has a tattoo of a Lorde quote on her arm.

It's not a pretty picture. But it caused me to google "Audre Lorde" at the University Near Here: 46 hits. The links do not disconfirm Ms. Melchior's thesis. For example, the English 609 syllabus from Reginald A. Wilburn contains:

Drawing upon Audre Lorde's “Uses and the Power of the Erotic,” I classify my teaching pedagogy as an “erotic pedagogy of liberation.” This philosophy is rooted in feminist pedagogy and (1) challenges students to recognize and affirm the power of their individual critical voices; (2) subordinates the “banking concept” of education in favor of privileging students' life experiences, ways of knowing, and areas of expertise/specialization as testing grounds for their interpretations of literation and culture; (3) emphasizes the vital significance of "oppositional consciousness," (especially in terms of race, class, gender, and sexuality), in any and all responsible assessments of literature, culture, and critical reflection; and (4) promotes what I call "thinking readers" and "thinking writers." You may expect to be challenged on the philosophical content of your ideas by me as well as your peers. Such challenges will never resort to personal attack or insult but will always endeavor to advance critical thinking from multiple perspectives

Any questions? Ah, you there in the back. What, you ask, is "oppositonal consciousness"? Well, according to that link, it is "an empowering mental state that prepares members of an oppressed group to undermine, reform, or overthrow a dominant system."

Sheesh. So have fun storming the castle, kids.


■ Returning to Earth: Matt Welch writes in Reason about Why Jeff Flake Matters.

"These are challenging times," Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) said with a little self-effacing chuckle. "The definition of what it means to be conservative has shifted dramatically over the last year or so."

We were at that most oxymoronic of Washington, D.C., events—a libertarian fundraiser for a major-party elected official. There are only about five people I'd consider doing this for, I have heard almost verbatim from hosts at two separate such gatherings in the grim political year of 2017. Los cincos amigos: Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah); Reps. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R–Ky.); and Flake.

Flake is leaving the Senate at the end of his term, due to his massive unpopularity with Arizonans.


[Amazon Link] David Bentley Hart reviews the latest book from Daniel Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back. The review's title is The Illusionist. David's not a huge Dennett fan. Discussing Dennett's notions of consciousness:

The entire notion of consciousness as an illusion is, of course, rather silly. Dennett has been making the argument for most of his career, and it is just abrasively counterintuitive enough to create the strong suspicion in many that it must be more philosophically cogent than it seems, because surely no one would say such a thing if there were not some subtle and penetrating truth hidden behind its apparent absurdity. But there is none. The simple truth of the matter is that Dennett is a fanatic: He believes so fiercely in the unique authority and absolutely comprehensive competency of the third-person scientific perspective that he is willing to deny not only the analytic authority, but also the actual existence, of the first-person vantage. At the very least, though, he is an intellectually consistent fanatic, inasmuch as he correctly grasps (as many other physical reductionists do not) that consciousness really is irreconcilable with a coherent metaphysical naturalism. Since, however, the position he champions is inherently ridiculous, the only way that he can argue on its behalf is by relentlessly, and in as many ways as possible, changing the subject whenever the obvious objections are raised.

Brutal.

I read a Dennett book back in 2003, and it did not make me a fan. I have one of his books on my shelf (Consciousness Explained), but I'm not sure if I'll get to it.


■ At the NRO Corner, Veronique de Rugy writes About That Tuition-Waiver Deduction for Graduate Students.

I was on PBS the other night to talk about the House and Senate versions of the tax plan. At some point, we started talking about how the House reform plan treats graduate-student tuition waivers as taxable income. In response to the other guest on the show saying that it was malicious, I pointed out that a tuition waiver was indeed income. Based on the response I received from listeners, you would have believed that I had just endorsed torturing kittens.

Yet notwithstanding all the articles and commentaries about supposed cruelty to grad students, the House Republican plan is based on conventional tax analysis. Simply stated, tuition forgiveness in exchange for work is indeed a form of income even if no money technically changes hands. So the “exclusion” currently in the law is a loophole. Saying this doesn’t mean that grad students would feel no pain or wouldn’t have to pay higher taxes — even though with the doubling of the standard deduction and lower tax rates, it may not be as bad as what people fear. By the way, lost in the drama is the fact that outright scholarships would remain tax free. In other words, don’t be surprised if universities re-categorize tuition waivers as scholarships if that part of the House plan is in the final bill. Voila!

Both our state's senators (Jeanne and Maggie) have tweeted sob stories about poor UNH grad students who may be exposed to the reality of income taxation at an earlier age than they would ordinarily expect.


■ Which brings us to our Tweet du Jour. Non-political:

We didn't get that much, but enough to make me fire up the snow thrower for the first time this season. If you hear swearing coming from the direction of Rollinsford, NH, it's probably me.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-09

Proverbs 18:23 returns to the class-warfare rhetoric previously seen in Chapter 18:

23 The poor plead for mercy,
    but the rich answer harshly.

To see what Science says on this topic, a 2009 article from Scientific American: "Rudeness is for the Rich: Wealthy People Make Poor Conversational Partners". Which is probably also ideologically-biased nonsense ("…recent study conducted by University of California, Berkeley psychologists…"). But we link, you decide.


■ I liked this article from Shikha Dalmia at Reason: U.S.A, U.S.A., U.S.A.

Ever since President Trump sauntered into the White House, America's image—or "brand," in marketing parlance—has taken a beating. This month, a Nation Brand Index poll of public opinion in 50 countries found that the "Trump effect" had caused America's reputation to drop from first to sixth place in world rankings on a whole host of metrics, such as its attractiveness as a tourist, business, and work destination. This is in keeping with the March U.S. News & World Report "best country" rankings, based on a poll of business leaders and other "informed elites" around the world, in which the U.S. fell several notches.

But fear not. America will overcome this loss of respect. American greatness doesn't stem from its politics or its political leaders so they can't tarnish it much either, not even Trump. What has made America great is that it has set the standards of excellence in literally every human endeavor for the last 150 years.

Hm. Maybe, maybe not. I'm getting increasingly curmudgeonly as I get on in years—and I started out curmudgeonly, compared to my age cohort—but if you need some optimism about the future, check out Shikha.


■ Will we be returning to sexual sanity any time soon? Probably not, because one of the questions we'll have to answer on the way there is David French's [NRO]: Can We Be Honest About Men?

Here’s a simple reality — large numbers of men enter high-status professions (such as entertainment and politics) in part or even primarily to gain access to beautiful women. Large numbers of men achieve wealth in part or even primarily to gain access to beautiful women. Large numbers of men who enter high-status professions or gain wealth for good and virtuous reasons soon become corrupted by access to beautiful women. As we’ve learned, some men even become so-called “male feminists” primarily to gain the trust of beautiful women.

Not true of everyone, of course. But, statistically speaking, not something you would want to bet against.


■ Also noting the ongoing moral panic is Claire Berlinski at the American Interest: The Warlock Hunt

The things men and women naturally do—flirt, play, lewdly joke, desire, seduce, tease—now become harassment only by virtue of the words that follow the description of the act, one of the generic form: “I froze. I was terrified.” It doesn’t matter how the man felt about it. The onus to understand the interaction and its emotional subtleties falls entirely on him. But why? Perhaps she should have understood his behavior to be harmless—clumsy, sweet but misdirected, maladroit, or tacky—but lacking in malice sufficient to cost him such arduous punishment?

In recent weeks, I’ve acquired new powers. I have cast my mind over the ways I could use them. I could now, on a whim, destroy the career of an Oxford don who at a drunken Christmas party danced with me, grabbed a handful of my bum, and slurred, “I’ve been dying to do this to Berlinski all term!” That is precisely what happened. I am telling the truth. I will be believed—as I should be.

But here is the thing. I did not freeze, nor was I terrified. I was amused and flattered and thought little of it. I knew full well he’d been dying to do that. Our tutorials—which took place one-on-one, with no chaperones—were livelier intellectually for that sublimated undercurrent. He was an Oxford don and so had power over me, sensu strictu. I was a 20-year-old undergraduate. But I also had power over him—power sufficient to cause a venerable don to make a perfect fool of himself at a Christmas party. Unsurprisingly, I loved having that power. But now I have too much power. I have the power to destroy someone whose tutorials were invaluable to me and shaped my entire intellectual life much for the better. This is a power I do not want and should not have.

Another lonely voice. We're featuring them today, because…


PJMedia's Andrew Klavan lets us know: I'm Done With the Sex Scandals. (Specifically: "I" here is "Andrew Klavan". Not Pun Salad. Pun Salad does not make promises that Pun Salad is not certain Pun Salad will keep.)

I'm pretty much done with the sex scandals. They were fun, but they're just going to have to carry on without me. If someone broke the law and you can prove it, prosecute him. If someone violated the rules of his organization, eject him. Other than that, if women have forgotten the fine art of slapping a man in the face, there's not a whole hell of a lot society can do for them. You keep silent for forty years and then ruin a man's career with an unprovable allegation — and that makes you a hero? Not to me.

Also a fine, but apparently lost, art: kneeing a guy in the nards.


■ Bad news, everyone. Hot Air quotes Science: Humans Have Reached The Peak Of Our Lifespan, Height, And Physical Fitness. Well, crap.

“These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical, and scientific progress,” said Jean-François Toussaint, a physiologist at Paris Descartes University, France, in a press release. “This suggests that modern societies have allowed our species to reach its limits.”

But at least we're getting smarter, right? Right?


■ Well, maybe not. Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution notes current research on that: The Flynn effect in reverse does the rot start at the top?

The IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered. Losses in Nordic nations after 1995 average at 6.85 IQ points when projected over thirty years. On Piagetian tests, Britain shows decimation among high scorers on three tests and overall losses on one. The US sustained its historic gain (0.3 points per year) through 2014. The Netherlands shows no change in preschoolers, mild losses at high school, and possible gains by adults. Australia and France offer weak evidence of losses at school and by adults respectively. German speakers show verbal gains and spatial losses among adults. South Korea, a latecomer to industrialization, is gaining at twice the historic US rate.

Maybe smart people are getting the heck out of the Nordic nations. I know I would.


■ Mr. Lileks takes A look at failed Minnesota utopias – and one that worked.

If you had to come up with a name for a new city that enticed people to pack up their lives and head off to Utopia, what would you choose?

Perhaps MXC wouldn’t top your list.

But that’s what they called it. The MXC (Minnesota Experimental City) was supposed to be the shining city of the future, a model for humanity, a masterpiece of technological ingenuity — and only half an hour north of Aitkin, Minn. The price: a cool $10 billion, in 1967 dollars. Population: a quarter-million. Completion date: 1984.

And it happened... not. MXC was the "brainchild of Athelstan Spilhaus". When I read that, I went all Obi-Wan and mused: "Athelstan Spilhaus. Now, that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time."

But what's the one that worked? The answer may surprise you! Or not, if you're a Minneapolitan.


@JonahNRO's G-File this week is Against One-Thingism. But what I want to quote is this, about the next Senator from the great State of Alabama:

You can forget the sexual allegations against Moore — though you can be sure no one else will, because the Democrats and the media will be reminding voters about it constantly. Forget the fact that Moore is a grifter and huckster who claims America is evil and had 9/11 coming but that we were great when slavery was legal. Put aside all the arguments about how “we” need his vote or that Republicans shouldn’t unilaterally disarm.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike — even if he votes in partisan lockstep with the Trump agenda. The mere act of him voting for good legislation will make it harder for some senators to vote for it. Moore will say stupid, offensive, and bigoted things — and every Republican, starting with Trump himself, will be asked to respond.

And the only defense will be "whataboutism."

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

[Amazon Link]

A Harry Bosch novel with a large dose of Bosch's half-brother, Mickey Haller. As always, Michael Connelly grabs my attention and doesn't let go until the very last page. Can't say enough good things about him.

Here, Harry has obtained his private investigator license, so he's joining the ranks of Marlowe, Archer, Cole, and Millhone, going down the mean streets, the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world. Even the book's title sounds one that Chandler might have used. And the initial premise recalls The Big Sleep: Bosch is summoned to the mansion of an aged tycoon! His gig is slightly different, though: the tycoon has a long-lost biological son, product of a late-1940's dalliance with a Mexican girl. Sensing his mortality, the tycoon now wishes to make things right, as best he can, by hiring Harry to locate the kid. And Harry is warned that people who would prefer that the heir not be found might resort to some nasty behavior to obstruct him.

That's one plot thread. In the other, Harry is volunteering his detective services to the city of San Fernando PD. San Fernando is a mere 2.37 square miles in area, completely surrounded by Los Angeles, mostly Hispanic population. Harry has linked together previously-unconnected rape cases to discover their common perpetrator, who the cops have dubbed the "Screen Cutter". The villain seems confident in his ability to perform his crime without getting caught. Which, of course, puts Harry's teeth on edge.

Technically, Harry's not supposed to use SFPD resources in his private investigation. Of course, he does anyway.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-08

Euphemism

■ Pun Salad housekeeping update: I've changed the "Archive" section over there on your right. It used to be a table of monthly links, each taking you to the posts made in the specified month. After nearly 13 years of blogging, it had expanded into around 150 links, and looked a little unwieldly.

So now, it's just a yearly list; clicking a year should take you to a calendar page for that year. From there you can either click a month (which will get you to the posts for that month), or a day (which—duh—will get you to the posts for that day.

I'm not sure if anyone will find it useful, but I think it looks a little better. Most importantly, I had some fun coding it all up.

And now on with our regularly scheduled programming…


■ After a couple nonsense verses, the Proverbialist returns to form with the straightforward Proverbs 18:22:

22 He who finds a wife finds what is good
    and receives favor from the Lord.

Fact check: True. (At least with implicit appropriate disclaimers to satisfy religious skeptics.)


■ At Cato, an encouraging title on a post by Alex Nowrasteh: The Use of Euphemisms in Political Debate.

Political debate in the modern world is impossible without memorizing a list of euphemisms, and there is no shortage of public opprobrium for those who talk about certain topics without using them.  In addition to the many euphemisms that are accepted by virtually everybody, the political left has its own set of euphemisms associated with political correctness, while the political right has its own set linked to patriotic correctness.  Euphemisms tend to serve as signals of political-tribal membership, but also as means to convince ambivalent voters to support one policy or the other.  Violating the other political tribe’s euphemisms can even help a candidate get elected President.  This post explores why people use euphemisms in political debate and whether that effort is worthwhile.

It's a good look at a couple of mechanisms: (1) the "euphemism treadmill" whereby words/phrases introduced to replace offensive terms, over time become offensive themselves; (2) the "cacophemism cliff" where more-offensive words and phrases are introduced to replace relatively innocuous ones, but then become (relatively) inoffensive themselves.

Note: The discussion uses immigration terminology for an example, and reflects Nowrasteh's own biases on that issue. That's regrettable, because the topic is important and could use an even-handed treatment.


■ Matt Welch, at Reason, is euphemism-free: Who's Ready for Some Trillion-Dollar Republican Deficits?

That's what the grumps over at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) are saying today. "By our estimate, a combination of tax cuts, sequester relief, and other changes would increase deficits to $1.05 trillion by 2019 and $1.1 trillion by 2020," the CRFB found (emphases in original). "Tax cuts and sequester relief alone would be enough to bring back trillion-dollar deficits by 2019, and tax cuts by themselves would bring them back by 2020."

Well, euphemism-free until he quotes someone else. "Sequester relief" means: undoing the legislation that mandates that government spending grow less rapidly than it would otherwise. [And—sigh—often that less-rapid growth gets inaccurately cacophemized as "spending cuts".]


[Amazon Link] Bryan Caplan has a new book coming out, and it's excerpted at the Atlantic: The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone. Sample:

I’m cynical about students. The vast majority are philistines. I’m cynical about teachers. The vast majority are uninspiring. I’m cynical about “deciders”—the school officials who control what students study. The vast majority think they’ve done their job as long as students comply.

Those who search their memory will find noble exceptions to these sad rules. I have known plenty of eager students and passionate educators, and a few wise deciders. Still, my 40 years in the education industry leave no doubt that they are hopelessly outnumbered. Meritorious education survives but does not thrive.

Much more at the link. I plan on getting my hands on this book.


@JonahNRO is no Trumpkin, but he can recognize when Trump gets one right: Trump Puts Fact Ahead of Fiction in Israel.

Consider President Trump’s momentous (though for now mostly symbolic) announcement that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Before you can debate whether this was a good move, you must acknowledge one glaring fact that the chatterers want to ignore or downplay: It’s true. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, convenes there. Israelis call it their capital for the same reason they claim two plus two equals four. It’s just true.

What makes the decision controversial is that everyone had agreed to pretend it wasn’t the capital in order to protect “the peace process.”

Talking about euphemisms, "peace process" is right up there. Who could be against it?!


■ But as Power Line's John Hinderaker notes: The “Peace Process” Ended Long Ago. That hasn't stopped the drumbeat from the Usual Media Suspects (Al-Jazeera, CBS, CNN, Time, …) to bemoan that Trump has killed it. I, like John, favor the 1000-word response from Michael P. Ramirez:

U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel


■ Good advice from Megan McArdle about "whataboutism": Don't Tune Out 'What About?' Bottom line:

Which ought to be, not “Who’s worse?” but “How can we make society better?” That will not be accomplished by deflecting accusations into an inquiry into the behavior of the accuser -- but nor will it be accomplished by allowing flagrant hypocrisy to pass unremarked. Allowing brazen hypocrites to demand social sanction (but only for others) does not uphold important principles; it destroys them. Both sides come to view principles merely as useful weapons -- and soon, they find that they are not useful even as weapons. As economist Garett Jones recently told me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right … but three wrongs make a social norm.” And “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a principle that any decent society should endorse.

… but, increasingly, that seems to be the prevailing mode of discourse these days.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-07

boston boston terrier

■ Like yesterday, Proverbs 18:21 takes us into some weird oral metaphor.

21 The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Alternative translations (again) stretch beyond the literal text. Semi-plausibly: "Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose."


■ Writing at City Journal, Steven Malanga proposes the death penalty for a repeat offender: Let’s Kill the CDBG. That's the Community Development Block Grant program; Trump's defunding proposal gave rise to outraged cries from Usual Suspects.

The overheated rhetoric came in defense of one of the nation’s most wasteful and ineffective domestic-spending programs. Conceived in the early 1970s as a way to give local officials a say in how federal poverty aid gets doled out, the CDBG has sent some $150 billion to impoverished neighborhoods in Baltimore, Buffalo, Newark, and other struggling cities, with little or nothing positive to show for it. Worse, the CDBG has created a local patronage racket, funding politically connected nonprofits that do little to spur economic development. And to build further support, Congress extended CDBG funding to wealthier areas, so that grants now help build tennis courts and swimming pools in neighborhoods with above-average incomes.

It's a good test to test the shallowness of your local Progressive pol's pledge to support "what works". CDBG's have never been shown to work.


■ Cue the outrage! Jeff Jacoby writes on The blessings of climate change.

Shifts in climate are like shifts in the economy: They invariably spell good news for some and bad news for others. Falling interest rates are a blessing to homebuyers but a curse to savers; a strong dollar helps consumers buying imports but hinders exporters selling abroad. In the same way, changes in climate generate winners and losers. Some of global warming's effects will be disagreeable; others will be very welcome.

Worldwide, cold kills 20 times as many people as heat, so a warming planet will save lives. A plethora of data confirms the greater deadliness of cold weather, even in countries with very different climate patterns. One study of mortality rates, for example, found that deaths from cold outnumbered those from heat by a ratio of 33-to-2 in Australia, and 61-to-3 in Britain. Of 2,000 weather-related deaths in America tallied by the Centers for Disease Control, 63 percent were caused by excessive cold vs. 31 percent caused by excessive heat.

I've made this point before, but: think about the strife caused by the thermostat settings in your own home (ahem, generally between the bill-payers and the non-payers).

Once we get a handle on the global thermostat—and we will—multiply that strife by a few billionfold.


■ Jim Geraghty recalls the politicking behind the US "promise" to move its embassy in Israel to … Next Year in Jerusalem — Wait, No, They Might Really Mean It This Time! Going back a quarter-century…

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton criticized George H. W. Bush for keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and pledged to move it. And then he didn’t. Again in 2000, Clinton declared, “I have always wanted to move our Embassy to west Jerusalem. We have a designated site there. I have not done so because I didn’t want to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair and lasting peace for Israelis and for Palestinians. But in light of what has happened, I’ve taken that decision under review, and I’ll make a decision sometime between now and the end of the year on that.”

His presidency ended without a move.

People talk about the loss of a "bargaining chip" in "negotiations". Left out, but understood: that bargaining chip is only useful against Israel.


Bloomberg's Michael R. Strain has a modest request: Can We Please Stop Hyping Death and Taxes? Based on a WaPo essay from Larry Summers headlined "Yes, the Senate GOP tax plan would cause ‘thousands’ to die".

This argument is overblown. It implies that the goal of public policy should be to reduce the number of preventable deaths to something as close to zero as possible. But of course this isn’t the case. More than 30,000 people die every year in car accidents. Each of these deaths is a tragedy, and in the truest sense, every life has inestimable value. But our fallen world has finite resources, and as a society we have decided that some deaths are an acceptable trade-off for the benefits of allowing vehicles to travel faster than 20 miles per hour. A similar argument could be made for policies surrounding homicides, foreign conflicts and a host of other issues.

I'm pretty sure a 20 mph speed limit would still kill some folks. Better to make everyone (drivers, passengers, luckless pedestrians) wear protective helmets.


■ James Freeman [in the probably-paywalled WSJ] also notes the carnage claims: People Will Die! Holes are plausibly poked in that argument. But bottom line:

“Wealthier nations are healthier nations,” reported a 1996 study in the Journal of Human Resources. Researchers found that life expectancy sharply increases and infant mortality sharply decreases along with gains in per capita income. Wealth is such a powerful factor in public health that study authors reported that in a single year, more than “half a million child deaths in the developing world” were attributable to the poor economic performance of the previous decade.

Much other research has reached similar conclusions, but Mr. Summers should find this study particularly compelling. After all, he helped write it.

Markets continue to signal that the pending tax reform will make the United States wealthier, which should be very good for our health.

I hope you also get to read the poem at the end of Freeman's column. (I'm out of fair-use points.)


■ And good old xkcd:

[Self-Driving Car Milestones]

Mouseover text: "I'm working on a car capable of evaluating arbitrarily complex boolean expressions on "honk if [...]" bumper stickers and responding accordingly."

URLs du Jour

2017-12-06

■ I'm trying very hard (and mostly failing) to make sense of Proverbs 18:20:

20 From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled;
    with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied.

This is the default New International Version translation. The other translations are all over the map, including some that stretch mightily for a moral lesson ("You will have to live with the consequences of everything you say.")

Ah well, tomorrow is another Proverb.


@JonahNRO offers handy guidelines: How to Tell When Deficits are Bad.

If you’re a normal person who pays attention to politics, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Washington can’t decide whether deficits are bad or not. Well, I have one easy trick that will help you make sense of it all.

In Washington, when you hear people complain that this or that piece of legislation will “explode” the deficit, what they are really telling you is that they don’t like the legislation.

I guess that's just one guideline. But an accurate one.


■ Also at NRO, Michael "Boom Boom" Cannon notes some seriously amusing Overheated Rhetoric on Tax Reform. And a little splash of math, so pay attention:

Start with the debt. It is wonderful that Democrats, who previously considered the national debt somewhere below lawn mold on their list of priorities, have now been reborn as deficit hawks. And there is reason to be concerned that the tax bill will add to the debt. But to keep things in perspective: Under current law, the federal government is expected to collect $43 trillion in taxes over the next ten years, while spending $53 trillion. That will increase the national debt to $30 trillion by 2028. If this tax bill passes, the federal government will collect $42 trillion in taxes over the next ten years, while spending $53 trillion. That will increase the national debt to $31 trillion by 2028.

To summarize:

  • National Debt in 2028 under current law: $30 trillion.

  • National Debt in 2028 if tax bill passes: $31 trillion.


■ Greg Mankiw looks at the blog of a once-respectable economist and says: Paul Krugman...Sigh. Among the flaws:

Paul seems to take the position that unless you agree with him about the tax bill, you are unprincipled. In the world as I see it, reasonable people can disagree, and progress is best made when people do not question the moral rectitude of others simply because they hold different opinions.

That's a refreshingly fuddy-duddy opinion, Greg. Long-term punditry trends indicate it's not a popular position to take.

[Of course, when we question the moral rectitude of Roy Moore, we are … just questioning his moral rectitude.]


■ At the Daily Signal, Nicholas Loris explains Why Congress Should Ditch the Renewable Fuel Standard. But first he makes a general point:

Politicians don’t have a crystal ball that can predict the future of energy prices, energy supplies, or demand for electricity and gasoline.

But they pretend to, and that’s a problem. It leads to market-distorting policies that harm Americans as consumers and taxpayers.

Loris shows that the 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard was justified on grounds that shortly proved incorrect. (Harry Reid: "We can’t produce our way out of the problems we have with oil." Oops. Turns out we could.) And the prediction that USA-produced renewables would make up an increasing fraction of our fuel needs was illusory.

And yet, despite failed predictions and false justifications, the Standard lives! Why? Because … well, you know why. Rent-seekers found their rents.

But draw a broader lesson: are those national debt predictions predicated on the behavior of the entire economy likely to be any more accurate?


■ Thanks to Language Log, I learned about Belgian whistles:

The Language Logger says "googling the phrase is not recommended…" I did it anyway, and … yes, googling the phrase is not recommended.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-05

Proverbs 18:19 reminds us that family squabbles are the worst.

19 A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city;
    disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.

It leads one to think that all did not go well at the Proverbialist's Hanukkah dinner. His brother Ishmael showed up with a "Make Israel Great Again" cap. That disturbed Aunt Rachel, who launched into advocacy of single-payer delousing. The kids started flinging latkes at each other. The men retreated to another room to drink sweet wine and complain that televised football would not be invented for millennia.


■ The "individual mandate" on its last legs, so the long and thoughtful article from @KevinNR on getting back to (as he puts it) "square one on health care": The Private Option.

On health care, [transitioning to a better system] means creating the conditions under which experimentation can happen and new solutions can emerge. That’ll be a lot easier to do, and our reforms will prove more enduring, if we can address the other side’s fundamental concerns, which begins with understanding what they really are — which begins with taking them seriously. Who knows? Maybe some of them will even repay the favor. But even if they don’t, somebody has to be the adult in the room and take responsibility. There isn’t really another choice — it’s not like there’s a policy vacuum for health care. Either conservatives will show some real leadership in the service of good policies, or we’ll have to resign ourselves to enduring bad ones, far worse probably than those created by the Affordable Care Act. “We have the best health-care system in the world!” wasn’t an answer in 2009, and “I still hate Obamacare” isn’t going to be an answer in 2018. We have examples of better approaches all around us. We’ll see if Washington has the inclination to learn from them and synthesize something we can all live with, and maybe even be proud of.

It's an interesting take, check it out. As if I needed to tell you that.


■ At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey looks at a superficially attractive proposal for CongressCritters: Perverse Incentive: Pay Your Own Sexual-Harassment Settlements.

OK, I admit that I love that "Perverse Incentive" headline. Let's get to it:

More problematic is the incentive structure this sets up for recruiting candidates. How many Mr. Smiths and Ms. Smiths would want To Go To Washington if their modest means could put them in danger of financial ruin with a single complaint? How would a middle-class soccer mom recruited in a suburban district raise $50,000 to fund a settlement that may or may not have been justified? That kind of risk will discourage the kind of people who truly represent the majority of Americans and recruitment for Congress even more in the direction of the independently wealthy who can afford the risk. It’s a dangerous distortion of the risk-reward ratio for candidate recruitment, which is already skewing too far in that direction with the current regime of campaign finance laws. And what will happen in Capitol Hill offices when we start electing people with even greater senses of personal entitlement?

I don't know. Publications have libel insurance, right? How hard would it be to for incoming reps to insure against this sort of thing?


■ Scott Sumner writes on Misconceptions about taxes. It's surprisingly short!

I recall once chatting with my wife about our flexible benefits plan, which causes her lots of aggravation. She was surprised to hear me say I wish they would abolish it, as in her view we "benefit" from the program. Let me use an analogy to explain exactly how we "benefit" from this tax break.

Imagine a government that took 10% of each person's income, and put in in a wooden box. The box was placed at the end of a 10-mile gravel road. Each citizen was given a knife, and told then could crawl on their hands and knees down the road, and then use the knife to cut a hole in the box, and retrieve their money.

Now let's view these two policies in isolation. There is the 10% tax on income, and the "knife, gravel road and box program." Considered in isolation, we clearly benefit from the knife, gravel road and box program, as we are free to either try to get our money back, or not. That's more options than if the program didn't exist. I'm sufficiently lacking in self-respect to actually crawl down the road, knife in hand, to get back 10% of my income. Thus it seems like I'd be worse off if they eliminated the knife, gravel road, and box program. That's the sense in which my wife thought we benefited from the flexible benefits tax break.

Sumner has a refreshing take on consumption vs. income taxation.


■ At Reason, Ira Stoll views the tax news, and his verdict is: the Tax Bill Mixes Very Encouraging Developments With Very Disappointing Ones.

There's an element of the whole thing that reminds me of the home renovation horror story about the guy who starts out replacing a doormat and winds up having to redo the entire kitchen—what project managers call "scope creep." The Republicans set out to lower the corporate tax rate. Once they did that, then rates for businesses organized in other ways looked low, so they had to lower those, too. And once that was done, budget rules meant they had to "recover" the "lost revenue" somehow, with a variety of minor adjustments, even tax increases. Together, those add up to lots of work for lobbyists and accountants. They can be revisited in coming years as a way to milk campaign contributions out of the interested parties.

I think the bill is a narrow win, assuming that whatever comes out of the Senate/House negotiation is roughly similar. But—I think I've said this before—using tax policy to reward "good behavior" via hundreds of complex schemes of credits and deductions is fundamentally misguided.


■ And a handy reminder, also at Reason, from J.D. Tucille: Don’t Register Anything.

If we needed yet another demonstration that getting yourself on the government's radar is just a bad idea, Hawaii handed it to us in spades last week. That's when we learned that the Honolulu Police Department was putting the screws to people so honest—and trusting—as to comply with state laws requiring registration of certain goods and activities. They shouldn't have been so honest and trusting.

Like too many jurisdictions, Hawaii requires gun owners to register their firearms. Also like an excess of other control-freaky places, the state requires medical marijuana users to register themselves with the state Department of Health. As it turns out, those who dutifully abide by both requirements find themselves in trouble. Hawaii may allow the use of marijuana for medicinal uses, and even require registration of its users, but the state continues to regard the practice as a violation of federal law. As a result, Honolulu residents who legally complied with requirements that they enter themselves in both registries have received threatening letters signed by officials including Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard.

Five-O is comin' for your guns, pothead.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-04

Kathryn Harris Portrayal of Harriet
Tubman

Proverbs 18:18 gives a whole new meaning to the term "holy rollers".

18 Casting the lot settles disputes
    and keeps strong opponents apart.

Gambling is wrong, of course, unless you're using it to decide a legal matter.


■ At Reason, Sheldon Richman discusses Libertarians and the Authoritarian Right. As in: keep away, you creepy authoritarian rightists.

I am mystified by the claim that the long-standing libertarian critique of democracy furnishes aid and comfort to conservatives who display a taste for populist authoritarianism. Let me say at the outset that the libertarian critique has nothing to offer those who would impose legal or social disabilities on racial, ethnic, religious, and other minorities. If white supremacists see something helpful here, they are mere opportunists who would find something helpful to their cause in anything they looked at.

Right off the top we may ask where is this right-wing antipathy to democracy. On the contrary, I see a right-wing embrace of democracy even in the age of Trump. (Rush Limbaugh has long called himself the "doctor of democracy.") Which branch of government have conservatives of all stripes railed against most vigorously for decades? It's the judiciary, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. And what have the courts done to make conservatives so angry? They have invalidated actions of legislators—the supposed elected representatives of the people.

Frédéric Bastiat is mentioned, and I will summarize: it is sloppy thinking and delusion that the magic word "democracy" grants the collective the right to initiate coercive force.


■ Today's example of that general principle: Jeff Jacoby on What the Constitution says about cakes and compelled speech. The Constitution says: you can't be compelled to display "Live Free or Die" on your license plate. A kid can't be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But …

But is refusing to create a custom-designed wedding cake, a skeptic might ask, really comparable to not saluting the flag? After all, the latter is an explicit demonstration of political loyalty; the cake is just — dessert.

Yet by that logic, a painting is just décor. A song is just entertainment. Calligraphy is just fancy lettering.

That's a dangerous argument — dangerous to the liberty of mind and conscience that the First Amendment shields. One of the many friend-of-the-court briefs filed in this case was submitted by 479 creative professionals representing all 50 states; the group comprises musicians, florists, videographers, ceramic artists, calligraphers, graphic designers, cartoonists, sculptors, and painters. Their brief urges the high court to defend the First Amendment rights of "artistic expression — regardless of the medium employed." They make a vital point: Viewpoints and messages can be expressed in many forms, and the Bill of Rights protects them all.

Take that, George F. Will.


■ At NRO, Jay Cost advocates Taming the Imperial Presidency.

I have a new ritual on Sunday mornings. I wake up, get my coffee, fire up Twitter, and check in on the mental health of the pundit class. More often than not, President Donald Trump has tweeted something that outrages a whole mess of people, and the fallout can last for hours on end.

Part of me is amused by this. It is pretty clear that one of the purposes of Trump’s Twitter feed is to drive people crazy, and for the life of me, I don’t know why people rush to take the bait. They seem to go out of their way to do so, as well — taking him literally or figuratively, depending on what gins up the outrage.

Funny as this can be sometimes, I’m mostly angry over the whole spectacle. This is no way to run a republic. The executive office has become too ornamented, too powerful above the rest of us. The president is far too able to dominate our political discourse, not to mention the mental health of the nation, for his own purposes. Trump did not create this anti-republican monstrosity, but he is making use of it — apparently for the glorification of his own ego.

If Trumpian antics can restore vigor to the checks-and-balances system, that would be a more sizeable contribution to the Republic than nominating Gorsuch. And it would be unintentional!


■ Our Google LFOD alert sends us to the wilds of downstate Illinois, where Kathryn Harris [is] known for portrayals of Harriet Tubman. Now retired from her post of library services director at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Ms. Harris has been role-playing Harriet Tubman for 21 years to various groups in Illinois and across the nation. And here's where LFOD comes in:

Anyone escaping slavery or helping others do so was risking their life and limb. “If you were an escaping slave and happened to get caught, whether you were with Harriet or on your own, the best way to keep you from running is to chop your feet off. And there are stories of people who had their feet chopped off. Harriet carried a pistol in her satchel. If you were with her and thought you were too cold or too scared or you wanted to go back, she would pull it out and say, ‘Live free or die.’ She never had to kill anyone, but she probably did a whole bunch of intimidating. Because if you turned back, then the railroad was no longer secret. If you get caught, you’re going to get whipped and your master is going to ask you: ‘Where have you been? Where is Harriet? And how many people are with her?’”

From here on, I will picture the Underground Railroad locomotive with a New Hampshire license plate.

Our pic du jour is Ms. Harris as Ms. Tubman. You don't want to mess with either one.

URLs du Jour

2017-12-03

■ Taken literally, Proverbs 18:17 seems trivially obvious:

17 In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
    until someone comes forward and cross-examines.

Generally speaking (however) this fits in with what I've mentioned here before: on issues where I have an open mind, I tend to agree with the plausible article I've read most recently. Until the next plausible article comes along; then I agree with that.


■ For example, I was all ready to enjoy the likelihood of tax reform legislation making it through the Congressional digestive tract, before I read @kevinNR's The Downward Spiral. What's that, you ask?

The downward spiral here isn’t tracing the decline of the Republican party but the descent of Congress, which, from the Affordable Care Act to the new tax-cut bill, has shown itself incapable of proceeding according to regular order, of conducting its business in a fashion befitting the legislature of the most powerful nation in the history of human affairs, and of forging bipartisan compromises — which are desirable not because bipartisanship and compromise are virtuous but because achieving broad political buy-in is the only way to produce stable and long-lasting policy settlements. The Affordable Care Act began coming undone the second it was signed; this tax plan, created in much the same way, may very well suffer the same fate. Whatever the corporate tax rate is when Trump signs the tax bill, it is unlikely that it will stay there for very long if Democrats come back into the majority in Congress. And who believes that Republican congressional majorities are destined to be eternal?

The Republicans are very lucky that the only practical alternative to them at the moment is the Democrats. The Democrats are lucky in precisely the same way.

A whipsawing tax landscape is not what the country needs.


■ As another example, I was pretty well convinced that a baker [e.g., Jack Phillips, proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop] should not be compelled to produce a concoction [e.g., a cake] celebrating activity [e.g., gay marriage] cutting against his religious beliefs. Until I read George F. Will's column contending otherwise.

The First Amendment speaks of speech; its presence in a political document establishes its core purpose as the protection of speech intended for public persuasion. The amendment has, however, been rightly construed broadly to protect many expressive activities. Many, but there must be limits.

Phillips was neither asked nor required to attend, let alone participate in, the wedding. Same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado, so Craig and Mullins were to be married in Massachusetts. The cake was for a subsequent reception in Denver. But even if the cake were to have been consumed at a wedding, Phillips’ creation of the cake before the ceremony would not have constituted participation in any meaningful sense.

I'm actually not convinced by Will's argument, but you may be, so check it out. You need a pretty strong argument to compel people to act against their druthers, and I'm just not seeing it here.


■ Back to the tax stuff, though. Daniel J. Mitchell makes another plea for restoring fiscal sanity: Balancing the Budget Should Be Very Easy, Regardless of the GOP’s Tiny (and Temporary) Tax Cut.

Chris Edwards put together a very helpful chart showing federal taxes and revenues as a share of economic output. As you can see, America’s real fiscal problem is government spending. The tax cut being considered on Capitol Hill only causes a small – and completely temporary – drop in revenues.

[JCT Chart]

[That's an embed from Cato, so I have no idea how long it's going to work.]


■ At Hot Air, Jazz Shaw asks the musical question: I Think We Can All Get Behind A Randy Quaid Vs Bernie Sanders Senate Race, No?

The star who made his mark in films such as Brokeback Mountain, Kingpin, The Last Detail, Vacation and, of course, Independence Day, let people know that powerful individuals are looking at him for a Senate run. As with all things in the post-2016 era, the announcement came on Twitter. And the prospect is so exciting that there’s already a rumored reality television series in the works which would cover the race step by step.

Click on over if you need any reminder of how insane Randy Quaid is. But he'd be running against Bernie, who's also insane (albeit with more "socially respectable" symptoms). It's difficult to disagree with Jazz when he says "The Sanders – Quaid general election contest in Vermont may not be the race we need. But it’s most certainly the race we deserve."


■ And you'll want to visit the newest innovation in randomized text generation, the Celebrity Perv Apology Generator. Here's what I got:

As a person who was born in an era before women were “people,” my actions do not align with my values, nor represent who I am as a person. I imagined that any woman would have been thrilled to see a tiny penis peeking out from below my pasty, middle-aged paunch like the head of a geriatric albino turtle moments from death, and of course now I realize my behavior was wrong. In conclusion, I will do my best to learn from this situation, without reading anything or listening to anyone’s perspective other than my own.

Apologies to those I have offended by using the word "penis".

Just kidding. I don't care if you're offended. If you were, grow up.


Last Modified 2017-12-03 6:09 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2017-12-02

Proverbs 18:16 could have been written by Senator Robert Menendez:

16 A gift opens the way
    and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.

… said every corrupt politician ever.


■ Robert Tracinski, writing at the Federalist, wonders: What If You Can’t Normalize Donald Trump — Because He’s Already Normal? "Normalization" is kind of a recent thing, an asymmetrically deployed weapon:

But most of the campaign against “normalizing” is about normalizing Trump. Jimmy Fallon got in trouble for “normalizing” Trump during the election. People have published agonized thinkpieces about it. Even the New York Times, now in trouble for normalizing, has fretted about normalization. The upshot of it all is that apparently we need to stay outraged. All the time. About everything. At the maximum level.

This serves an obvious goal of maintaining partisan discipline. The charge of “normalizing” is a guard against anyone in the Democratic Party apparatus or in the mainstream media—but I repeat myself—accepting Trump’s legitimacy as president on even the smallest of issues. We’re at the point where White House Christmas displays are now treated like a partisan litmus test. You are required to hate them, because they are associated with Trump.

Trump is a horrible liar, in at least two senses of "horrible": not only (1) that he lies a lot, but also (2) he's very bad at it. Most pols are "better", but only in sense (2).


■ At Reason, David Harsanyi offers journalistic advice: Newspapers Shouldn't Act Like Super PACs.

This week, The New York Times editorial board took over the paper's opinion section Twitter account, which has 650,000 followers, "to urge the Senate to reject a tax bill that hurts the middle class & the nation's fiscal health." To facilitate this, it tweeted out the phone number of moderate Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins and implored its followers to call her and demand that she vote against the GOP's bill. In others words, the board was indistinguishable from any of the well-funded partisan groups it whines about in editorials all the time.

Perhaps I'm overlooking some instance of similar politicking, but I don't think I've ever seen a major newspaper engage in that kind of partisan activism—not even on an editorial page. The Times editorial board isn't merely contending, "Boy, that Republican bill is going to kill children!" It's imploring people on social media—most of whom don't even subscribe to the paper or live in Maine—to inundate a senator with calls in order to sink a reform bill it dislikes. (It's worth pointing out that most of the hyperbolic contentions The Times make regarding the bill are either untrue or misleading, but that's another story.)

I think the NYT position on Citizens United is now: "It's awful that private citizens have the same right to weigh in on politics in the same way that we do."


@JonahNRO also has advice for us: Don’t Choose the Lesser of Two Evils.

We have been drenched in “whataboutism” and hypocrisy-policing for a while now. But it’s mutating into something different. People are just inventing standards on the fly. Watching people slap together rationalizations to explain why their pervert or cad shouldn’t be held to the same standard as our pervert or cad is exhausting. At times, it’s like listening John Candy explain why he should get the top bunk or Captain Kirk teaching the mob how to play Fizzbin.

Best practice for blog bloviators: don't join a tribe.

Forward the Foundation

[Amazon Link]

Here endeth a reading project I undertook back in 2004 (pre-blog!): reading all of Isaac Asimov's solo science-fiction novels. This involved a lot of re-reading, but that's OK. I had not previously read Forward the Foundation, though. Bottom line: it is surprisingly good.

I say "surprisingly" because I've never been a huge fan of Asimov's fiction style: which (back in 2005, and probably many times since) I've characterized as "advances the plot mainly via conversations between characters; very little 'action'." That's considerably less true here. And the conversations are less stilted.

This was Asimov's last novel, posthumously published in 1992. Appropriately, the structure is similar to 1950's Foundation: essentially, four novellas, each set years apart; the time covered is from the end of Prelude to Foundation to just before Foundation. The overarching theme is Seldon's struggle to develop his study of "psychohistory" into a tool that can be used mitigate the inevitable fall of the Galactic Empire, shortening the subsequent barbarous interregnum from 30 millennia to just one.

There was a lot of nostalgia for me. Remember, I read (and re-read) the original Foundation Trilogy when I was an easily-impressed youngster, as well as the Robot yarns. I'm not ashamed of my happiness at seeing old fictional friend R. Daneel Olivaw one last time. And I got a certain frisson from the passage where Seldon learns of an uninhabited "suitable world" at the edge of the galaxy, visited only by unmanned probes: "Those who sent out the probes named it Terminus, an archaic word meaning 'the end of the line'."

Amusing turnabout for fans who recall the Salvor Hardin quote from Foundation: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Oft tediously deployed by pacifists. Here, Seldon's bacon is saved numerous times by timely violence. Maybe an Asimovian attitude shift there.

This book is also notable for the pervasive grim theme of loss and mortality. Seldon says goodbye to a lot of characters here, and is very lonely at the end. I'm no shrink, but I guess Asimov knew he wasn't long for the world himself while he was writing the book (he contracted HIV

URLs du Jour

2017-12-01

Hello, December!

Proverbs 18:15 is an anatomy lesson for learning:

15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
    for the ears of the wise seek it out.

And the eyes of the wise peruse the writings of the prudent. Which brings us to:


@kevinNR writes sagaciously Of Presidents and Economies:

The belief that GDP growth or this month’s jobs report provides a meaningful judgment on the performance of the president isn’t economics — it’s superstition. It is the modern version of the ancient belief that a crop failure means that the king has displeased the rain god or the wheat goddess. It is a primitive disposition from which we should liberate ourselves — and could, if we were willing to do the hard work of citizenship rather than take our ease in lazy partisanship.

I suppose, arguably, that Trump could have put the economy into the ditch. I'm glad he hasn't, at least not yet. He hasn't done anything for the long-term outlook, though. Which is terrible.


■ Also at NRO, David French has a reasonable request: Stop Misrepresenting Masterpiece Cakeshop. The specific example dissected: a recent op-ed by Jennifer Finney Boylan in the NYT, which accusing the cakeshop owner, Jack Phillips, of "discriminating against a protected class."

Here’s the problem. If a writer squarely addresses the argument that Phillips actually makes, then she will soon run head-on to a sobering constitutional reality. Sexual revolutionaries are asking the Court to overturn generations of constitutional precedent to allow the state to compel American citizens to advance ideas they find reprehensible.

Boylan claims that Phillips is seeking special religious exemptions. To the contrary, sexual revolutionaries are seeking exemptions from the Constitution. They believe that same-sex marriage is so precious that even artists can be conscripted into the ceremony — despite their deeply held beliefs. They believe that the cost of entering the marketplace is not just the loss of your distinct artistic voice but the commandeering of that voice by your ideological foes to advance their ideological interests.

Progressives love to push people around who don't agree with them. Or get the state to do it.


■ That (at least) was an op-ed. But the NYT doesn't have any problem with sloppy thinking in its ostensible "news" articles either. Jacob Sullum at Reason takes 'em to school: Declining to Bake a Gay Wedding Cake Is Not the Same As Banning Gay Marriage.

Next Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which poses the question of whether the government violates a baker's right to freedom of speech when it compels him to produce a cake for a gay wedding despite his religious objections to same-sex marriage. Like most (all?) libertarians, I think this sort of coercion is wrong, although I'm not sure the relevant right is freedom of speech. The principle also could be described as freedom of religion or freedom of conscience. At bottom, as Scott Shackford has observed, the dispute is about freedom of association and freedom of contract. But one thing should be clear: It is the government, at the behest of an aggrieved gay couple, that is initiating the use of force. It is the baker, Jack Phillips, who is asking to be left alone. The question is whether he has a right to expect that—or, to put it another way, whether the government's use of force is justified.

If you click over to read the article (as you should) you might notice Pun Salad as a contributor to Reason's yearly webathon on their donation widget at the top of the page. (Even though I am now one of the ElderlyOnAFixedIncome.) I encourage you to consider doing the same.


[Amazon Link] ■ At the [probably paywalled] WSJ Roger Kimball asks the musical question: If We Love Democracy, Why Does ‘Populism’ Get Such a Bad Rap?

It is curious how certain words accumulate a nimbus of positive associations, while others, semantically just as innocuous, wind up shrouded in bad feelings. Consider the different careers of the terms “democracy” and “populism.”

To modern ears, “democracy” is a eulogistic word. It produces pleasant vibrations. People feel good about themselves when they use it. “Populism,” just the opposite.

I recall feeling the same way (a long time ago) about Marx's use of "exploitation", when it turned out to mean "paying people market wages". So that's a bad thing?

Anyway, I've put Kimball's new book, Vox Populi, on my things-to-read list.


■ My Google LFOD alert was triggered by Paula Werme's letter in the Concord Monitor, complaining of an Unconstitutional search.

I received the following letter from the town of Boscawen: “The town of Boscawen has contracted Avitar Associates of New England to conduct a data verification process. . . . At this time, Avitar is scheduling appointments for interior (house) inspections. . . . Please call during the times specified below to set up an appointment to view the interior of your property.”

It is a very cleverly worded letter designed to get you to “call for an appointment” – i.e. consent – to an outrageous unconstitutional search of your entire home. Apparently, this company is in business solely to violate my constitutional rights and the rights of fellow citizens. Apparently Boscawen is also not the only town in New Hampshire to use this firm to violate home-owner rights, as someone told me that these interior inspections are common in her town.

Has the Fourth Amendment been suspended? Does the town up my assessment based on my refusal to have anyone enter my home? How much am I paying in taxes to have this agent of the town enter various homes for purposes of “assessment” in violation of homeowners’ Fourth Amendment rights? We are in the Live Free or Die state. Taxpayers everywhere need to pressure towns to stop outrageous and invasive “interior inspections.”

We fought a war over this. Have some respect for those who died for these principles.

Unfortunately, LFOD doesn't apply to NH property taxes, at least not presently. The Institute of Justice tried to fix this back in 2004, and the sad result is described here. (Painful section heading: "New Hampshire: Live Free or Die Except When the Government Wants Into Your Home")


■ Last but not least, our Michael P. Ramirez cartoon du jour:

Matt Lauer lines up

[Click over for an unclipped version.]