URLs du Jour

2018-01-24

■ Oh, gosh, this is getting painful. Proverbs 16:15 is another ain't-kings-great epigram:

15 When a king’s face brightens, it means life;
    his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.

Just embarrassing. Please stop, Proverbialist.


■ At the Federalist, David Harsany offers: Here’s A Crazy Theory: Maybe Americans Just Want A Rational Immigration Policy.

Maybe, once you brush aside the emotionalism and moralizing of Democrats, more voters than we think are uneasy about the lawlessness that is inherent in our immigration non-policy. Maybe the liberal’s own absolutist position on the issue isn’t a winner. Politically speaking, Democrats have gone from advocating America welcome immigrants who embrace American values and follow our laws to arguing that every person in the entire world has an inherent right to come to the United States — legally or illegally — without any preconditions and without any concerns and without any consequences. “Comprehensive immigration reform,” once a batch of wide-ranging ideas about effective immigration, temporary worker permits and enforcement, including funding for a “wall,” has now become euphemism for legalization.

It's frustrating that the rational debate on the issue gets lost amidst all the posturing and sob stories.


■ What does documentary The Final Year, about the last year of the Obama Administration's foreign policy, reveal? Kyle Smith will tell you: The Final Year Reveals the Obama Administration’s Naïvety and Arrogance. Excerpt:

The Obama foreign-policy masters see their three accomplishments as the Paris Climate Accord, the opening to Cuba, and the Iran deal. Given that the former wasn’t presented to Congress for approval, was nonbinding, and was later dumped by President Trump, while the other two amounted to making concessions to American foes in exchange for virtually nothing, this is a bit like bragging that you suckered the Franklin Mint into giving up a souvenir Elvis plate for only $34.95. But to understand why Rhodes and Obama are so pleased with their foreign policy, you have to understand the way they think. The documentary is revealing about that.

Also featured: UN Ambassador Samantha Power's election-night party "with the world’s 37 female ambassadors to toast the inevitable Hillary Clinton landslide." So: to naïvety and arrogance, add misplaced certainty.


■ At the Washington Examiner, Timothy P. Carney recounts The decline and fall of General Electric, the poster child of Obamanomics.

Sometimes we look back a decade or so and reconsider our word choice. For instance, I used to call General Electric — with its heavy lobbying, its intimate ties to the White House, all its bets on green energy, on embryonic stem cells, on Obamacare, on industrial policy — the “for-profit arm of the Obama administration.”

Those words were ill-chosen. Specifically, in describing GE, it was a mistake to use the word “profit.”

No company has spent as much on U.S. lobbying since 2000 as General Electric. And no component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average has performed worse since 2000 than General Electric.

The neighboring city of Somersworth was home to a GE plant employing 2400 people; it has been sold to Aclara, and the most recent news I could find places its workforce at 200.


■ But after Obama's economic blunders, Trump is on his way to make his own. The WSJ [paywalled, probably] editorializes: Trump Starts His Trade War.

Can Donald Trump stand prosperity? Fresh from a government shutdown victory and with the U.S. economy on a roll, the President decided on Tuesday to kick off his long-promised war on imports—and American consumers. This isn’t likely to go the way Mr. Trump imagines.

“Our action today helps to create jobs in America for Americans,” Mr. Trump declared as he imposed tariffs on solar cells and washing machines. “You’re going to have a lot of plants built in the United States that were thinking of coming, but they would never have come unless we did this.”

The scary part is he really seems to believe this. And toward that end he imposed a new 30% tariff on crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and solar modules to benefit two bankrupt companies, and a new 20%-50% tariff on washing machines to benefit Whirlpool Corp. The tariffs will hurt many more companies and people, and that’s before other countries retaliate.

It's kind of amusing to see my lefty Facebook friends bemoan this. Would (say) Bernie Sanders have been less protectionist?

Despicable Me 3

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

I enjoyed the previous two Despicable movies. I liked the Minions standalone movie just fine. But… I dunno… this one left me kind of cold, wishing I hadn't bothered. There are occasional chuckles, but overall, meh.

Anyway: the refored despicable Gru is assigned to thwart the evil schemes of Balthazar Bratt, a child star from decades past who's decided to continue his bratful ways by (what else) a life of spectacular high-tech crime. Gru fails, is fired, and gets sad. But he discovers he has a long-lost brother, "Dru", who is an unreformed villain. And… zzzz.

Yes, cute kids. Minions. Some clever sight gags. Something seems missing, though, and what's left is the usual transparent motive: a by-the-numbers sequel whose sole cynical purpose is to shake some dollars out of the wallets of fans of the previous entries in the series.

WTF?!

An Economic Tour of the Weird

[Amazon Link]

Never have I experienced such a mismatch between a book's presentation and content. As you can tell from the title, the tone is jocular. It's clearly meant to grab the casual reader. There are praising quotes on the back cover from Tim Harford, Steven D. Levitt, Steven E. Landsburg, and Andrie Sleifer, and I've heard of three of those guys. The author, Peter Leeson, is a Professor of Economics and Law at George Mason.

And although the book's subtitle is "An Economic Tour of the Weird", it's a very specific subset of weirdness: offbeat methods and customs in various societies and cultures, usually methods of legal dispute resolution. The author's unusual approach is to pretend he's a tour guide in a museum of oddities. Complete with a diverse group of attendees, who act as foils for his exposition. (E.g.: A woman who looks like Janeane Garafolo; a guy with a glass eye; a priest; a conventional economist he calls "Dr. Spock"). They leave comment cards at the end. The text is filled with personal anecdotes and jokes.

But shorn of all the frippery, the book is an examination of seemingly irrational legal customs, showing that they make a certain kind of rational sense, given the time, place, and underlying beliefs of the culture. For example, the notion of "ordeals", where a defendant whose guilt or innocence could not be established was required to perform a risky feat. For example: plucking a ring or stone out of a vat of boiling water. If wounds show three days later, you're guilty.

How could that be rational? No spoilers, but that chapter was adapted into a Reason article here.

Other topics: wife sales, suing vermin for damages, physical duels, gypsy taboos, cursing as a legal punishment, divination.

I'm sorry to say that, minus all Leeson's bells and whistles, I did not find the underlying topics that interesting. But I am neither a lawyer nor an economist.