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.]