The Case Against Education

Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

[Amazon Link]

This is one of those rare non-fiction books with a thesis in which I am in 100% agreement.

For author Bryan Caplan, the education system is an emperor with no clothes. And not only is the emperor merely naked, he's downright ugly, with disfiguring diseases. Also stupid and misguided. He should have no claims on your allegiance.

Education-system apologists point to an obvious fact: people with "more education" wind up with better results in society. Specifically, they make more money. Caplan notes that's so, but disputes the assumed underlying reason for that success. Education does increase one's "human capital", sure, but that's only a part of the story, and a relatively small part at that. A much bigger reason for success is that obtaining a degree is a "signal" to employers of three things: that the degree holder (1) has a certain amount of necessary intelligence; (2) has employment-compatible work habits; (3) exhibits a certain degree of conformity; they followed instructions in school without making much of a fuss, so it's a safe bet they won't rock the boat on the job, either.

Fine, but it gets worse. While it's likely that increased education levels are a good deal for the student, people tend to jump to the "obvious" conclusion that they're good for society as a whole as well.

First off, Caplan points out this is the "fallacy of composition". You can get a better view if you stand up at a concert; but if everyone does that, nobody gets a better view. So it is with education: when employers start looking at a Bachelor's degree to get a job as (say) a cab driver, that's a zero-sum game: the non-degree cab drivers get crowded out.

Not only is the argument fallacious, it's also quantitatively wrong. Caplan works the stats to discover the "social return" to education, and discovers a surprising result: even under generous assumptions, it's negative. In the US, the trillion-or-so dollars fed annually into the gaping maw of education system is worse than wasted. We'd get better results from putting that money toward cancer research, veteran health care, space travel, or even (shocking notion) letting taxpayers keep it and spend it on things they want.

Caplan writes from inside the system; he's an econ prof at George Mason, and, before that, he's had the requisite lifetime experience as a diligent student. He's a whistleblower, and casts a realistic eye over what he's seen: most students are bored, and going through the motions; most teachers are boring and also going through the motions; most "required" courses are required for no good reason, with most of the material soon forgotten, with (mostly) no ill effects.

Caplan tells the story with a moderate amount of cheeky humor. He realizes that (almost certainly) not enough people will buy his thesis to make a difference in policies. But that doesn't mean he isn't completely correct. As near as I can tell, he is. Read the book to see if he doesn't convince you.

Blade Runner 2049

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

To be honest, I'm not sure if I've ever made it through the original Blade Runner without nodding off somewhere or other in the middle. All those dark artsy atmospherics kind of put me to sleep.

And similarly with Blade Runner 2049, I'm sorry to say. First try was a dismal failure, as I cut out about twenty minutes in. Second try was better, I'm pretty sure I only missed a few minutes. Or maybe slightly more than a few minutes. Difficult to tell, really. It's very long (only 17 minutes short of three hours).

Ryan Gosling plays "K"; like Harrison Ford's original Deckard, he's a replicant (sorry, spoiler there for the original) who's tasked with hunting down and (if necessary, and it's always necessary) terminating fugitive replicants.

His latest mission uncovers a decades-old box of bones. They're easy to track down because of a replicant serial number, and—guess what—they are Rachael's. And they can tell she died in childbirth. Oh oh.

So K starts looking for the missing kid, which involves him finding (I'm pretty sure you know this already) Deckard. But the Evil Corporate Forces behind it all have their own plans too, involving (for some hazily-specified reasons) heartless and arbitrary violence.

I liked this mainly for Harrison Ford's performance; I think he should have gotten an Oscar for it. And the great Edward James Olmos comes back as Very Old Gaff, too.

Moral, I think: always make sure your girlfriend is routinely backed up to the cloud.


[Amazon Link]

Should I binge-watch all six seasons of Justified one more time? Yeah, probably not. Instead, I put the Raylan Givens-containing books of Elmore Leonard on my cybernetic to-be-read pile; this is the first.

Summary: Florida bookie Harry Arno has a pretty good, albeit illegal, life. But (bad news) in order to get the goods on his boss, "Jimmy Cap", the Feds have started a rumor that Harry is skimming off Jimmy's cut of the profits. (He is, he readily admits, but not more than anyone else does.)

Enter Raylan. He and Harry have a history: Harry escaped his clutches once before, when Raylan trusted him a tad too much while going for ice cream. So … Harry immediately does it again, fleeing to Italy under Raylan's nose.

Which raises Raylan's hackles, so he's off to Italy, on his own time to track Harry down. Because Jimmy Cap's minions are after Harry as well, and they're just looking to do him in.

There are an assortment of supporting characters, all richly developed. Leonard was a master of "show, don't tell", so we get to know everyone through their conversations (often loopy) and their actions (sometimes surprising).

For a fan of the TV series, it's fun to recognize the bits and pieces of the book that got transmogrified. A book showdown scene in Italy between Raylan and some mafiosos moved to the Mexican border on TV, with different mafiosos and slightly different results. Tommy Bucks, who was in Season One, Episode One, Scene One of the TV show, appears here too as a Givens antagonist. Without spoilers, the outcome is similar, but the circumstances differ significantly.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • We start a new Proverbial chapter today with Proverbs 14:1:

    1The wise woman builds her house,
        but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

    I think there's something metaphorical going on here, but never mind that. I think this is the first Proverb we've covered that talks specifically about women. Or even acknowledges the notion that they can be as wise/foolish as men.

    The suggested Amazon link… well, we try to keep things PG-13 here, but I could not resist.

  • Jonah Goldberg writes at Commentary on Karl Marx’s Jew-Hating Conspiracy Theory. But not just that. Jonah treads some Deirdre McCloskey ground:

    From the time of antiquity until the Enlightenment, trade and the pursuit of wealth were considered sinful. “In the city that is most finely governed,” Aristotle wrote, “the citizens should not live a vulgar or a merchant’s way of life, for this sort of way of life is ignoble and contrary to virtue.” In Plato’s vision of an ideal society (the Republic) the ruling “guardians” would own no property to avoid tearing “the city in pieces by differing about ‘mine’ and ‘not mine.’” He added that “all that relates to retail trade, and merchandise, and the keeping of taverns, is denounced and numbered among dishonourable things.” Only noncitizens would be allowed to indulge in commerce. A citizen who defies the natural order and becomes a merchant should be thrown in jail for “shaming his family.”

    As history ground on, anti-commerce became linked with anti-Semitism. (Jonah notes the Jew-hatred of Martin Luther; even as a mostly-technical Lutheran, I'm feeling some shame about that.) But mostly he notes the anti-Semitic roots of Marxism: "The atheist son of a Jewish convert to Lutheranism and the grandson of a rabbi, Karl Marx hated capitalism in no small part because he hated Jews."

  • The Google LFOD Alert rang for a Seton Hall University page, written by one Steven Kairys M. D.: Medicare, Medicaid and the Rising Tide of Health Care Costs: Will We Ever Get It Right? What's the problem? Well, LFOD is the problem:

    Root causes of our national polarization are not obtuse. We are a country that prides itself on personal freedom and independence: the New Hampshire Live Free or Die morality; the American mythos that the rare stories of people making it out of desolation are the normative path for anyone with the will and energy to follow; the moral failures of those left behind. This is the American Myth embedded into every controversy about rights and privileges.

    These American Myth success stories are more persuasive in our national debate on benefits and entitlements than all the data and studies that continue to pile up to refute the Myth-- especially for the population of swing voters who are themselves poor and hanging on – who believe that it is all "those others" that abuse the system and take away dollars and services that should be aimed at the more deserving.

    Kairys sets up his "myth" strawman, but embraces a bigger myth on his own: as Bastiat put it: "The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else."

  • An editorial in the Caledonian Record (a paper serving northeastern Vermont and northern New Hampshire) notes some bad press for our state: In N.H., Shots In The Dark.

    When grading the “Live Free or Die State,” the Center for Public Integrity most recently gave New Hampshire an “F” on Public Access to Information; Political Financing; Electoral Oversight; Judicial Accountability; and Ethics Enforcement. N.H. gets a “D-” for Legislative Accountability; Lobbying Disclosures; and State Civil Service Management. It scores a “D” for Procurement; a “C-” for State Pension Fund Management; and a “C” for Internal Auditing and Executive Accountability.

    To be fair, even though the Center for Public Integrity's state rankings (last performed in 2015) give NH a D- overall grade for Integrity, they are a tough grader; their highest grade was a C (for Alaska). California and Connecticut got C-'s; everyone else was D+ or below. Didn't they ever hear of grading on a curve?

  • They even invoke LFOD down in Pennsylvania. The (Ardmore PA) Main Line Times reports on: Hundreds of students from Main Line schools take part in walkouts against gun violence.

    Noting that some of the students were carrying a “Live free or die” banner, a reporter asked if some held differing opinions about gun control. [Lower Merion High School Superintendent Robert] Copeland agreed that some do but said discussions on the issue have been civil.

    Although the reporter quoted liberally from the gun-grabbing students and their enablers, he couldn't be bothered to actually interview anyone with "differing opinions".

  • The Hill reports: High cigarette taxes have led to thriving black market across America. And of course…

    Cigarettes are also smuggled out of states, particularly when their neighbors have a much higher excise tax. The opportunity is large, not only for individuals trying to save a buck by crossing into another taxing jurisdiction, but also for organized crime cells seeking to make thousands of dollars. The top outbound smuggling state in this year’s study is New Hampshire, at 85 percent. For every 100 cigarettes consumed in the Live Free or Die State, another 85 are smuggled elsewhere, probably to neighboring states.

    The authors of the underlying research, Michael D. LaFaive and Todd Nesbit, are affiliated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market advocacy group. So they tend to see the neighboring states' high taxes as the problem, not NH's relatively low one.

  • And whether you view this xkcd cartoon with a chuckle or a shudder, depends, I guess:

    [xkcd on
    the Robot Future]

    Randall Munroe's mouseover text: "I mean, we already live in a world of flying robots killing people. I don't worry about how powerful the machines are, I worry about who the machines give power to."

    Will Randall follow through on this train of thought and go full libertarian? Doubtful, but we'll see.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Appears to me that Proverbs 15:33 is really two unrelated Proverbs. Can you see any way to relate the first line to the second?

    33 Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord,
        and humility comes before honor.

    "… except in the dictionary! Ha!" [Waits for bolt of lightning to strike.]

  • Depressed? No? Well, here's something to bring you down, from Rachel Boward at the Federalist: The Next Big Republican Spending Bill Is Packed With Liberal Priorities.

    Republicans may have majorities in the House and Senate, but the only group they seem to care about pleasing are the Democrat minorities. As the next funding deadline approaches, Republicans in Congress are working on a $1.3 trillion spending bill that includes all kinds of provisions that fly in the face of campaign promises, principles, and even their party’s platform.

    Readers, beware: Rachel has compiled a very long list. Among the items is one we've followed on and off over the past few years:

    Restoration of the Export-Import Bank

    The fate of the Ex-Im Bank has been a rare win for conservatives who fought Obama tooth and nail over bank’s corporate welfare. By keeping the bank devoid of the quorum necessary to make million-dollar loans to huge corporations like Boeing, Caterpillar and the like, conservatives have managed to keep the bank’s cronyism largely at bay. Enter the Republican majorities, who are reportedly planning to pass a provision lowering the quorum requirements for the bank to approve loans. Looks like Iran may get those taxpayer funded Boeing jets after all.

    Well, that sucks.

    My problem: who do I gripe to about this? Both my state's senators and my congresscritter are Democrats. They'll just cackle at me.

    I could write to the national GOP and threaten to withhold my heretofore generous contributions. Problem: my contribution to GOP has been $0.00 for a long time. (Wait! Did I contribute to the Rand Paul campaign? Maybe! Oh, wait, that's probably a negative for the rest of the party.)

  • Another item on Rachel's list is also criticized in the WSJ editorial (and perhaps paywalled) page: The GOP’s Internet Tax.

    Republicans have spent the last year cutting taxes and regulations, which hasn’t been easy. But now some Members of Congress want to blunt their handiwork by passing an online sales tax. Yes, they actually believe this would be good policy and politics.

    A large faction of House Republicans are pressing GOP leaders to attach legislation to the omnibus spending bill that would let states collect sales tax from remote online retailers. South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem’s legislation, which has 50 co-sponsors, would let some 12,000 jurisdictions conscript out-of-state retailers into collecting sales and use taxes from their customers. A bipartisan companion bill in the Senate has 27 co-sponsors.

    This doesn't directly impact New Hampshire residents, although it's a kick in the teeth for any and all less-than-Amazon-sized businesses with nationwide retail sales.

  • At NR, Jonah Goldberg notes the announced retirement of Arthur Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute: The Coming End of an Era.

    Arthur Brooks is a strange creature by Washington standards. Heck he’s a strange creature by bipedal standards. A former French horn player who decided to be an egghead late in life, he is a unique mix of Catholic piety, data obsession, sartorial connoisseurism, physical fitness, old-soul wisdom and basic decency. He reminds me of William F. Buckley in several ways. But at the top of the list: He shares Bill’s commitment to good manners, and, for a guy who seemingly knows everything, he is remarkably interested in the opinions of others. (The Arthur you hear in this podcast I did with him is the Arthur I know).

    Waaay back in 2014 I heard him speak at the NH Freedom Summit; he had the most compelling talk of the day, and that was from a list of speakers that included four then-sitting senators, three congresscritters, an ex-governor, a talk-show host, and … oh yeah, Donald Trump.

    A profoundly decent human being, a true mensch. I wish him well in his future endeavors.

  • Blogger Bruce McQuain observes gun-grabbers' exploitation of the kiddos, and is in agreement with Megan Fox that it resembles the Lord of the Flies reunion tour.

    That characterization struck me for some reason. Lord of the Flies, as I remember it, was all about tribalism. In the case of the kids in the book, it was a reversion to primitive tribalism (even though we recognize that in their former more modern school life, they were members of tribes of sort as well).

    In this case, the tribe in question is the left and they’ve stolen the conch shell and have exploited the anti-gun sentiments of these kids mercilessly. And to their detriment too, I believe. These teens quickly went from “authentic” in their rage and angst to obviously coached and spouting left-wing anti-gun talking points. Whatever [cachet] they owned by being at the scene of the murders and surviving it was quickly squandered by the obvious source of their talking points and the broadening of their protest to anything conservative.

    And Democrat operatives and MSM coverage (but I repeat myself) fall over themselves with paeans to this clown show.

  • But the big news of the day has to be… Democrats Announce All 2020 Candidates Will Forego Armed Security To Protest Gun Violence.

    Democratic National Committee spokesperson Michael Tyler announced Thursday that all candidates who run in the 2020 presidential election as Democrats will completely forego armed security for the entirety of their campaigns, in a clear and bold stance against gun violence in America.

    “We’ve talked to all possible candidates and everyone has agreed. Gun violence is a huge issue in our country, and guns are the problem. So whoever runs for president as a Democrat in 2020—be it Bernie, Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Jerry Brown, and/or whoever else throws their hat in the ring—they will steadfastly refuse to employ security teams who carry scary firearms.”

    Yes, in case you haven't already guessed: the Babylon Bee.

  • Janice Brown announces: Cow Hampshire is 12. No excerpts (Janet disapproves of them) but I encourage you to check it out.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Listening obediently to disciplinarians is a prominent theme in Proverbs, and Proverbs 15:32 hits that baby one more time:

    32 Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
        but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.

    For correction-heeding, I suggest large quantities of BIC Wite-Out, our Amazon Product du Jour.

  • An amusing column from A. Barton Hinkle, reproduced at Reason: A Consumer Report on Donald Trump. Sample:

    Driving and Handling

    On the highway, the Trump's performance is much the same as it is around town: loud, clumsy, and frequently disconcerting. Handling is extremely awkward; the Trump is prone to swerve suddenly to the left or right, and at times even our professional drivers were unable to control it. This certainly makes the Trump brand exciting — something many people are drawn to — but it can become tiresome quickly.

    Over smooth pavement, the Trump can be temperamental; over uneven ground it behaves even worse, reacting volcanically to the slightest bump in the road, and it has been known to throw passengers out of its cabinet at unexpected moments. Braking is erratic; at times the Trump will screech to a sudden stop all by itself, while at other times it is impossible to stop even when heading for the edge of a cliff.

    Acceleration is another matter: The 2018 model, like earlier versions, can go from zero to 60 in under two seconds — shockingly fast for such a heavy vehicle. The FlexFuel system can run on both normal fare and fast food (although it will not accept ethanol blends). Despite claims of having the strongest powertrain in its class, however, our Trump felt underpowered and lacking in traction when we took it around D.C.

    Hinkle has been underappreciated at Pun Salad so far. I'll try to do better.

  • Jennfier Kabbany of the College Fix writes on the new anti-oppression guide posted by the Boston institution I always call "Simmons Beautyrest® College": Saying ‘God bless you’ after sneeze listed as microaggression on college’s anti-oppression guide.

    Suffice to say, it's the usual higher-ed explication of the prevailing Progressive pigeonholing theology. But I hadn't seen this before:

    The guide’s authors explain that they replaced the typical suffix “phobia,” such as Islamophobia, with the term “misia,” because the term “phobia” is offensive to people with phobias.

    “So when we use terms like ‘homophobia,’ we are equating bigotry with a mental health disorder,” the guide states. “Misia (pronounced ‘miz-eeya’) comes from the Greek word for hate or hatred.”

    I'll give them points for (at least trying to) patch up a glaring intellectual contradiction:

    1. A "phobia" implies a mental illness.

    2. But one of the guiding ideas behind "mental illness" is to remove responsibility from its sufferers. It's not your fault if you're sick!

    3. And fault is the major thing Progressives want to assign to the people they see as their oppressors. How can you name, blame, and shame someone who's suffering from a disease?

    So I would expect that "misia" may be a suffix coming soon to a University Near You (although I don't see it yet at the University Near Here).

    Kat Timpf also comments on the guide here.

  • Instead of learning about π yesterday, a bunch of schoolkids "walked out" in support of … something about guns. It didn't make a lot of sense, but was heavy on the feels. At the Federalist, Robert Tracinski explains: The National School Walkout Sums Up Our Middle School Politics.

    The National School Walkout perfectly sums up politics in 2018. It makes total sense to draft school kids as political activists, because all of our politics is already just an inflated version of middle school.

    The most striking fact about this walkout is how it became effectively a school sponsored political event in many areas. Actually, that’s only the second most striking fact. The most striking fact is that it was the brainchild of the Women’s March, an organization founded and still run by fangirls of a rabid anti-Semite. So naturally their initiatives are embraced by the nation’s teachers. I’m glad everybody got the memo about not tolerating bigots.

    Apparently the feelings-based rhetoric favored by your local fifth-graders feeds into the highest reaches of our government, as in this tweet from our state's senior senator:

    Twitter is a write-only media for Senator Jeanne, so replies are pointless and stupid. I made one anyway:

    Politicians are supposed to be smarter than a fifth-grader. Aren't they?

URLs du Jour

π Day 2018

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 15:31 is another fortune cookie:

    31 Whoever heeds life-giving correction
        will be at home among the wise.

    And perhaps they will give you Σ π. Ha!

  • The WaPo's Elizabeth Bruenig has made some noise lately advocating for socialism. Steven Horwitz takes her as seriously as possible, and imagines What a Good-Faith Discussion of Socialism Might Really Look Like. He quotes Breunig:

    [C]apitalism…encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual.

    Horwitz's rebuttal:

    It takes some chutzpah to define capitalism that way then complain your critics are arguing in bad faith, given what a bad-faith explanation of capitalism that is. I could spend this whole space picking apart that definition claim by claim, especially its ignorance about the nature of exchange. It might be easier to ask folks who have lived under nominally socialist regimes whether that paragraph better describes their lives under socialism or capitalism. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, not the latter.

    Bruenig's problem, Horwitz argues, is that she defines socialism in terms of its goals, not its structure. That's not enough.

  • But we have enough real-life instances of "democratic" socialistic policies here in the US already. At Cato, Chris Edwards describes Federal Fuel Foolishness

    The federal government imposes a mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline. This “Renewable Fuel Standard” harms consumers, damages the economy, and produces negative environmental effects. The mandate has also spawned a bureaucratic trading system in ethanol credits, which the Wall Street Journal reports is bankrupting a refinery in Pennsylvania.

    The rubber hits the road with that “10% Ethanol” sticker you see on the pump when you fill your tank. The sticker signifies that the government is imposing a foolish policy on the nation at the behest of a handful of selfish senators, who are bucking the interests of America’s 220 million motorists.

    Those senators are Republicans from Iowa and Nebraska; so much for the GOP being a reliable friend of capitalism. From the linked WSJ article:

    The core problem is that the federal government has distorted the energy market by using subsidies and mandates to support biofuels. The solution is to end this political favoritism. But if the Trump Administration lacks the political fortitude to stand up to the ethanol lobby, at least it can limit the most destructive effects. When policy is this bad, almost anything is an improvement over the status quo.

    The "almost anything" advocated by the WSJ writer: the EPA should grant waivers to independent oil refiners who can't meet the biofuel mandates.

  • Hillary Clinton made news again by revealing her deep contempt for the folks that voted against her. Michael Brendan Dougherty writes at NR about Hillary’s Bitter Clinging. Quoting HRC:

    I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. . . . So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, “Make America Great Again,” was looking backwards. You know: “You didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women, you know, getting jobs, you don’t want to, you know, see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are, whatever your problem is, I’m going to solve it.”

    Yes, of course she was speaking in India. Note the pandering.

    Dougherty comments:

    Although she is not running anymore, Clinton’s comments are in some ways worse than Obama’s ["bitter clingers" comments]. He attributed the bitterness in “small towns in the Midwest” to the policy failures and false promises of the Clinton and Bush years. He prefaced the remark by saying, “Each successive administration has said somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.”

    Clinton’s remarks manage to combine self-pity with contempt. They are unhelpful to Democrats trying to get elected. And they articulate what is becoming the central myth of the liberal elite: We are beautiful and successful because we’re morally superior. Clinton’s remarks connect the expanding GDP of her constituents to their commitment to diversity, and the economic trouble of the red states to their supposed opposition to “women having jobs” and civil rights.

    How do Progressive Democrats reconcile their inequality blather with their "hey, rich people vote for us" blather?

  • We're looking forward to a day of strident moral posturing about gun-grabbing. At Reason, J. D. Tuccille isn't having it: Your Right to Free Speech, Like My Right to Self-Defense, Isn’t Open to Debate.

    Today, some students, teachers, and other Americans who share their views are walking out of classes across the country to call for limits on the right of free assembly. Wait, strike that. They're walking out of classes to call for further restrictions on protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Nope, that's not it either. Wait, I have it: they're protesting for greater regulation of self-defense rights. Yup, there we go.

    Of course, they're exercising their free speech rights in the process, and that's as it should be (although at least some of the kids have been conscripted into exercising somebody else's free speech rights by school officials who expect that their charges will adhere to officially endorsed positions). After all, the exercise of individual rights shouldn't be subject to popular opinion or debate.

    If Progressives get their legislative druthers, their War on Guns will make the War on Drugs look like a minor skirmish.

Black Panther

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

So we went to see a theater movie, one that pretty much everyone else in America has seen by now: Black Panther. There was a surprisingly decent crowd in the theater for a 12:50pm Monday showing.

The hero, of course, is T'Challa, in line to ascend to the throne of the Kingdom of Wakanda with the blowing-up death of his father in the last Captain America movie. Wakanda is trying to keep secret its vast riches and technical prowess, a result of its sitting on a vast amount of vibranium, the major ingredient in Cap's shield. It turns out it's a major source of technological mumbo-jumbo as well.

But there are problems, because the bad guys are figuring out the vibranium stuff, too, notably "Ulysses Klaue", who masterminds the theft of an invaluable vibranium weapon from a British museum. He is assisted by "Erik Killmonger", who (it turns out) has reasons of his own for wanting to torment T'Challa and Wakanda.

So: a rich story, very good acting, very very good special effects. I'm pretty immune to the hoopla about finally having a superhero of African descent. (Hey, we're all of African descent, kids.)

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

Looking forward to another nor'easter today. Accuweather predicts 12 to 24 inches of global warming. And the Red Sox home opener is 23 days away; hope they can get the snow off the field by then.

  • Proverbs 15:30 is surprisingly upbeat:

    30 Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart,
        and good news gives health to the bones.

    I'm not going to argue with that. Although I would also recommend calcium, vitamin D, and physical activity.

  • At Cato, Jeffrey A. Singer notes the obvious: The War on Opioids Has Become a War on Patients.

    As Anne Fuqua recently pointed out in the Washington Post, non-medical drug users accessing heroin and fentanyl in the underground drug market are not the only victims in the opioid crisis. Many patients whose only relief from a life sentence of torturing pain are also victims. That is because policymakers continue to base their strategies on the misguided and simplistic notion that the opioid overdose crisis impacting the US, Canada, and Europe, is tied to doctors prescribing opioids to their patients in pain.

    Data point: just last night our local TV station reported on the sentencing of Rekha Luther, convicted of bringing fentanyl and steroids to her workplace, Pembroke Academy, where she was Dean, back in 2016. (She got three months in jail.) And of course:

    She told the court that she got hooked on opioids the way many people do, with prescription painkillers.

    I am skeptical about that. Ms. Luther's then-fiancé, Jonathan Pesa, reportedly died of a drug overdose in 2015.

  • At NR, Jim Geraghty provides Ten Reasons We Can’t, and Shouldn’t, Be Nordic. What, only ten?

    Spoiler alert: the big reason is that our government is largely dysfunctional:

    A lot of progressives seem to think that conservatives distrust the government because of some esoteric philosophical theory, or because we had some weird dream involving Ayn Rand. In reality, it’s because we’ve been told to trust the government before — and we’ve gotten burned, time and time again.

    Government doesn’t louse up everything, but it sure louses up a lot of what it promises to deliver: from the Big Dig to; from letting veterans die waiting for health care to failing to prioritize the levees around New Orleans and funding other projects instead; from 9/11 to the failure to see the housing bubble that precipitated the Great Recession; from misconduct in the Secret Service to the IRS targeting conservative groups; from lavish conferences at the General Services Administration to the Solyndra grants; from the runaway costs of California’s high-speed-rail project to Operation Fast and Furious; from the OPM breach to giving Hezbollah a pass on trafficking cocaine.

    The federal government has an abysmal record of abusing the public’s trust, finances, and its own authority. Now some people want it to take on a bigger role? If you want to enact a massive overhaul of America’s economy and government to redistribute wealth, you first have to demonstrate that you can accomplish something smaller, like ensuring every veteran gets adequate care. Until then, if you want to live like a Norwegian, buy a plane ticket.

    That's an impressive list, and I'm sure anyone who's been paying attention for the past few decades could add a number of items to it.

  • Jake Rossen of Mental Floss answers the burning question you didn't realize you needed to ask: What is the Riot Act, and Why Don't I Want It Read to Me?

    The idiom, which has been in use for centuries, is generally thought to mean the admonishment of a person or persons who have committed an error in judgment. But the origin of the term "riot act" concerns a very particular wrongdoing—an unlawful public assembly that peace officers of the 16th century fought with a pre-written warning to disperse or face serious repercussions. Like death.

    Fortunately, the phrase has gotten a lot less literal in the intervening centuries.

  • But there's good news from the Bablyon Bee: Harvard Now Offering Four-Year Degree In Feeling Oppressed.

    Responding to consumer demand, Ivy League bellwether Harvard University announced Monday its new four-year Bachelor’s degree in Feeling Oppressed.

     “For those lucky enough to be able to afford the quarter-million-dollar cost of attending our prestigious school, we are offering a comprehensive program that will prepare you for a lifetime of convincing yourself that you are a perpetual victim and nothing that happens in your life is your own fault,” Harvard president Drew Faust announced in an afternoon press conference.

    Well, that's good, that they're making that official.

Bad Moms

[0.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Mrs. Salad pick. She said a lot of the women in her Facebook milieu, mostly ex-students, loved it. I tremble for the future of our country, also their families. It was awful.

Mila Kunis is the protagonist, Amy, Bad Mom Prime. She is every cliché in the book: time-stressed, overworked, underpaid, on the hairy edge of a nervous breakdown. And, oh yeah, her slimy husband is cyber-cheating on her.

So she tosses him out of the house, and takes up with two other Bad Moms, meek Kiki (Kristen Bell) and earthy Carla (Kathryn Hahn). They band together to find their liberation, which involves a lot of gutter language and alcohol abuse.

I'm not kidding about the gutter language, it's at Tarantino levels. If that's what floats your boat, go for it. But I think Kathryn Hahn kind of goes over the line; without getting into specifics, she uses a word to describe her son that, um, no mother should ever use to describe her son.

Christina Applegate plays the PTA president-from-hell, Gwendolyn. The sole reason for rating this movie a half-star: she has a pretty amusing video presentation accompanying her announcement of how the upcoming school bake sale will be run. See if you can find this on YouTube, and you'll find the only thing I chuckled at in this movie.

The Cartel

[Amazon Link]

A sequel to Winslow's 2005 book The Power of the Dog which I read back in 2007, and enjoyed. In the sense that a novel containing tons of unremitting violence and betrayal can be enjoyable.

It's more of the same here. As we begin, the villain in the previous book, drug kingpin Adán Barrera, is in an American prison. Where the diligent DEA agent (and his onetime friend) Art Keller placed him at the end of The Power of the Dog. But the decades-long path of the previous book was fatal to Art ever leading a normal life; he's now doing beekeeping in a remote monastery in the desert.

But Barrera finds an out: by betraying some of his former allies in Mexico, he wangles a deal that gets him transferred to a Mexican prison. Whose keepers turn out (as Barrera knows) to be so corruptible that it's more like a luxury hotel which you are technically not allowed to leave. But re-establishing your pre-eminence as drug lord? Hey, no problem. And he eventually "escapes" anyway.

Which, in turn, brings Keller out of the monastery, and back into the game.

The book covers about eight years of the cat-and-mouse game between Barrera and Keller. With the cats and mice equipped with plenty of weaponry. There's lots of violence, some sex, and surprisingly little drugs. A lot of supporting characters to keep straight, especially on the bad-guy side; you might want to take notes.

Winslow has long been a must-read author for me. You can read this book as mindless escapism if you want. However, the underlying theme is clear: the American "war on drugs" is a massive failure; while the US gets the drugs, what Mexico gets in return is violence, corruption, and lawlessness. In a sobering dedication Winslow lists the Mexican journalists "murdered or 'disappeared'" during the writing of the book. It is a very long list.

If you want a true-fact version, I suggest Jay Nordlinger's recent article Reporting under the Gun. If anything, the danger to journalists has gotten far worse since Winslow wrote this book.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 15:29 reminds us that the Lord could hear our prayers, sometimes he doesn't feel like it:

    29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
        but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

    Today's Pic du Jour: a suggested t-shirt for the Lord.

    Hm, that comes off as a tad sacrilegious. Sorry.

  • I'm currently reading Bryan Caplan's The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.

    My credentials: I spent around 20 years as a student, and 22 years working for the University Near Here, 7 of those years as an Instructor in Computer Science. Comparable amounts of time for the wife and kids.

    At this point, about 20% of the way through the book, I am in complete agreement with Bryan Caplan. As Robert Frost points out in another context: "But waste was of the essence of the scheme."

    Or as Mel Brooks put it (in a still different context): "We've got to protect our phony baloney jobs here, gentlemen!"

    That said, I encourage you to read (for free) a couple articles adapted from the book at Reason. The first: Going to College Is Selfish. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but…

    If you've always been a strong student, spending your time and money on education pays well. The evidence is overwhelming. Even after scrupulously correcting for ability bias—the brains, discipline, and other advantages you'd possess with or without school—formal education provides a big career boost. At an individual level, investing in your own education often compares favorably to not just corporate bonds, but long-run stock market returns.

    Since individuals' investment in their own education is personally rewarding, you might infer that government investment in society's education would be socially rewarding. But this is a classic "fallacy of composition." If one person stands up at a concert, he sees better; it does not follow that if everyone stands up at a concert, everyone sees better. The same goes for education. Yes, schooling is selfishly lucrative—at least for strong students. On a societal level, however, it is shockingly wasteful for students weak and strong. Federal, state, and local government spends far too much money educating Americans.

    The second article: A Heretical Plan for Cutting Spending on Education.

    In the U.S., spending on public elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools now amounts to almost $1 trillion a year. Private education also relies on subsidized student loans and other government support. This gives society a nearly foolproof remedy for educational waste: Cut budgets for public education and subsidies for private education. Give schools less taxpayer money. The central question isn't "How?" but "Where do we start?"

    Bryan argues the best education policy would be "no education policy at all: the separation of school and state". He goes on to assure the reader that it isn't necessary to accept his "crazy extremism" in order to acknowledge the overall correctness of his supporting argument.

  • George F. Will points out an area where clarity is demanded: A War without an Objective, 6,000 Days In.

    With metronomic regularity, every thousand days or so, Americans should give some thought to the longest war in their nation’s history. The war in Afghanistan, which is becoming one of the longest in world history, reaches its 6,000th day on Monday, when it will have ground on for substantially more than four times longer than U.S. involvement in World War II from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day (1,346 days).

    Will asks: what's the point, here? Do we have one?

  • Jeff Jacoby tells the story of China's corporate tools. As in: Marriott, Delta, Mercedes-Benz, and Apple. Apple? Apple!

    When Apple CEO Tim Cook accepted the Newseum Free Speech award last spring, he emphatically declared that Apple has no higher value than the promotion of free speech and robust debate. "We work to defend these freedoms by enabling people around the world to speak up. And . . . we do it by speaking up ourselves," Cook said. "Companies can and should have values."

    But when it comes to China, Apple's values vanish. Last year Apple scrubbed hundreds of virtual private network applications, with which Internet users can bypass government censorship, from its App Store in China. It thereby denied hundreds of millions of Chinese residents their only realistic means of accessing the Internet without restriction. "This App Store purge just created one of the biggest setbacks for the free Internet in China's history," commented TechCrunch, an industry publication.

    Jacoby calls this "nauseating hypocrisy." He's right.

  • And there's another T-shirt in our Tweet du Jour:

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 15:28 is another Proverbialist Mad Lib, and works in his oral fixation as well:

    28 The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
        but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

    As Horatio Caine might say: Proverbs has a vast amount of wisdom, but some of the verses are …

        ( •_•)>⌐■-■ 
    … half-vast.


    [Classic reference explained, if necessary, here. Thanks to Iowahawk for the graphics.]

  • Reader, did you remember to Spring Forward? Whether or not, you'll want to check out Slashdot's question: Are The Alternatives Even Worse Than Daylight Saving Time? Lots of links. Memorable paragraph:

    The article associates Daylight Saving Time with "a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, automobile accidents, suicides, and more." And in addition, it also blames DST for an increased use of gasoline and air conditioners -- adding that it will also "rob humanity of billions of hours of sleep like an evil spacetime vampire."

    "Other than that, though, it's great."

    Let me link (yet again) a classic Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal from 2013: The Right Number of Time Zones is Zero.

  • In this week's G-File, Jonah Goldberg writes a followup to the column (which appeared in USA Today) that speculated on The Wisdom of Youth. Or lack thereof. Sample:

    This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth. The whole point of liberalism (the real kind) is the idea that people are supposed to be judged on the basis of their own merits, not as representatives of some class or category. Of course, one needn’t be absolutist about this. A little pride in your culture or ethnicity won’t do any harm. But reducing individuals simply to some abstract category is the very definition of bigotry.

    Also: the Progressive media cynically exploit these kids in order to advance the Progressive media's agenda.

  • My lefty Facebook friends take every opportunity to fearmonger about imagined "cuts" to entitlement programs. Like Veronique de Rugy at Reason, I want to tell them: don't worry, Fellow ElderlyPersonOnAFixedIncome: Uncle Sam Continues to Stick His Head in the Sand on Entitlements.

    Social Security and Medicare are the two biggest programs driving the growth of our debt. What's more, they provide benefits for senior Americans generally, without regard to need. It's time to change the way we think about these programs.

    It's difficult to overstate how much of our budget goes toward these programs. Numbers from the Congressional Budget Office show that in the past 10 years, 70 percent of real spending increases have gone to Social Security and Medicare. In fiscal 2017, the federal government spent $4 trillion. Of that, 40 percent—$1.5 trillion, or 8 percent of our gross domestic product—went to Social Security and Medicare. These two programs will consume $3 trillion in the next decade, and that doesn't include the interest charged on Uncle Sam's credit card.

    Ms. de Rugy cites an NR article from Brian Riedl, which is behind the paywall. Sad!

  • Probably not going to be a hit movie comparable to When Harry Met Sally, but the great Katherine Mangu-Ward relates, in the NYT When Smug Liberals Met Conservative Trolls.

    Modern American political discourse can seem disjointed to the point of absurdism. But the problem isn’t just filter bubbles, echo chambers or alternative facts. It’s tone: When the loudest voices on the left talk about people on the right as either beyond the pale or dupes of their betters, it is with an air of barely concealed smugness. Right-wingers, for their part, increasingly respond with a churlish “Oh, yeah? Hold my beer,” and then double down on whatever politically incorrect sentiment brought on the disdain in the first place.

    Sensible people—and I am apparently not one of them—will turn off both sides.

  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi debunks a lefty meme: No, Government Isn’t ‘Banned’ From Studying Gun Violence. What's behind the assertion? Not much:

    In 1996, a few years after the Center for Disease Controls had funded a highly controversial study that has since embedded itself into the “scientific” case for gun control, Arkansas Republican Jay Dickey* added an amendment to a funding bill that dictated “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control” should be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” That same year, Congress also cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, the amount it spent on gun control efforts. Bill Clinton signed it into law.

    Absolutely nothing in the amendment prohibits the CDC from studying “gun violence,” even if this narrowly focused topic tells us little. In response to this inconvenient fact, gun controllers will explain that while there isn’t an outright ban, the Dickey amendment has a “chilling” effect on the study of gun violence.

    Something to deploy the next time you see this nonsense on Facebook.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 15:27 screams out for one of Mark J. Perry's Venn diagrams:

    27 The greedy bring ruin to their households,
        but the one who hates bribes will live.

    The implied dichotomy seems incomplete. There's no intersection between set A (the greedy) and set B (those "who hate bribes")?

    Anyway, we'll get to a Perry Venn diagram in a bit…

  • At Reason, Declan McCullagh makes a point that should be obvious: Don’t Blame Tech Companies for Russian Election Trolls.

    If Moscow can create cover identities for actual spies living in the United States, it can surely devise an identity for an would-be advertiser or simply impersonate an American citizen online. Identity fraud is no obstacle for a government willing to violate U.S. criminal laws. Silicon Valley companies shouldn't be expected to conduct counterespionage operations of their own.

    Put that way, the Russkie shenanigans around the 2016 election seem woefully amateurish and were relatively easy to unravel. At least that was true of the ones we know about… Hm.

  • As previously noted, Levi, son of Bernie, is in the running for the New Hampshire Congressional District One seat in the U. S. House of Representatives. An amusing article in the HuffPo digs out some of his old Facebook posts: Bernie Sanders’ Son Is Extremely Mad Online. One (small) example from 2015, in a reply to someone noting that Houston, TX had relatively low gas prices:

    I think we all know what he meant, the "o" and "i" keys are right next to each other, after all.

    I seem to remember that Trump got into a little controversy with this sort of language.

    I detect (however) a planted story by some Democrat activist working for a different candidate.

  • And finally, the Mark J. Perry Tweet du Jour:

A Letter I Wrote to Steven Pinker

[Amazon Link]

I recently read Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. My take is here. But something about the book bugged me enough to look up Professor Pinker's email address and dash off a missive. Here it is:

Dear Professor Pinker --

I'm a longtime reader, since The Language Instinct. I lean a bit more (OK, a huge amount more) toward the libertarian/conservative side than you do, but that's OK. Your occasional heresies against Progressive dogmas tell me you're a straight shooter.

So I hope you will consider a minor criticism of an instance where your shot is off-target.

I bought and read Enlightenment Now and mostly enjoyed it, but one thing bothered me enough to spur this mail. On page 343:

"Charge the cockpit or you die!" shrieked a conservative essayist, comparing the country to the hijacked flight on 9/11 that was brought down by a passenger mutiny.

And on page 449:

(Hence Anton's hysterical essay "The Flight 93 Election," mentioned in Chapter 20, which compared the country to the airliner hijacked on 9/11 and called on voters to "charge the cockpit or you die!").

I read the essay when it came out, and found it unconvincing. (I voted for Gary Johnson.) But I didn't recall the hysterical shrieking. So I went back to check...

Here's the problem: the exclamation point you (twice) put in quotes does not appear in the original essay. It's just a plain old period. Your insertion inside the quote marks is unfair and misleading, causing the casual reader to think the essayist you're criticizing was significantly more strident than he actually was.

I hope this is something you'll consider correcting.

In any case, best wishes, I look forward to your future work.

Only response so far has been an auto-reply. Understandable, he's a busy man. I'll update this post if I hear anything substantive.

URLs du Jour


  • Proverbs 15:26 reminds us that the omniscience of the Lord rivals that of Santa:

    26 The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked,
        but gracious words are pure in his sight.

    So be good for goodness' sake.

  • As promised, here is Reason's April cover story from Jacob Sullum: America's War on Pain Pills Is Killing Addicts and Leaving Patients in Agony. It is long, detailed, and deserves your attention. Sample:

    […] the truth is that patients who take opioids for pain rarely become addicted. A 2018 study found that just 1 percent of people who took prescription pain medication following surgery showed signs of "opioid misuse," a broader category than addiction. Even when patients take opioids for chronic pain, only a small minority of them become addicted. The risk of fatal poisoning is even lower—on the order of two-hundredths of a percent annually, judging from a 2015 study.

    Despite such reassuring numbers, the government is responding to the "opioid epidemic" as if opioid addiction were a disease caused by exposure to opioids, a simplistic view that ignores the personal, social, and economic factors that make these drugs attractive to some people. Treating pain medication as a disease vector, the government has restricted access to it by monitoring prescriptions, investigating doctors, and imposing new limits on how much can be prescribed, for how long, and under what circumstances. That approach hurts pain patients by depriving them of the analgesics they need to make their lives livable, and it hurts nonmedical users by driving them into a black market where the drugs are deadlier.

    A large majority of opioid-related deaths now involve illicitly produced substances, primarily heroin and fentanyl. As usual, the government's efforts to get between people and the drugs they want have not prevented drug use, but they have made it more dangerous.

    Unsurprisingly, the overall narrative emphasizes scapegoating and prohibition.

  • Jason Brennan, author of Against Democracy, notes the irony of The Anti-Democratic Ethos of Pro-Democracy Academics. Examples are cited. And:

    What these academics and groups have in common are two things: 1. They believe themselves to have strong commitments to democracy. 2. Their commitments to democrat ends are apparently so strong that they license themselves to blatantly violate the democratic ethos. They reject the spirit of free, open-minded, and fair debate, and show little willingness to engage with and reach understanding with contrary points of view. Instead, they straw man and attack others, misrepresent what others believe and why, use epithets like “racist” or “fascist” unfairly and inaccurately, and use violence, power, and discrimination to silence others, often while clutching their pearls and complaining that they are the real victims. The lack of self-awareness is stunning–assuming, of course, that they don’t know what they’re doing.

    Let's throw in some journalists, like Jane Mayer into that pot as well.

  • Jonah Goldberg describes how Youth politics has tainted the gun debate.

    But the simple fact is that young people are not, as a group, better informed, wiser, smarter or even more enlightened than older people. This is a fact of science and social science alike. We are born ignorant of the world we live in and only lose that ignorance over time.

    Think about what you knew and understood at half your current age. Were you smarter then? Wiser? Why assume it works differently for anyone else?

    Spoiler to our younger audience: It does not.

    Jonah also makes a point relevant to our previous item:

    Democracy depends on arguments that are not contingent on your age. Lots of kids don’t understand that, but grown-ups are supposed to.

    "Assuming, of course, that they don't know what they're doing."

  • David Harsanyi notes that some Progressive pundits have been rudely taken to school for their ignorance of firearms, and are now complaining of their butthurt. But: If You’re Trying to Ban Guns, the Least You Could Do Is Learn the Basics.

    The Washington Post recently published an op-ed by writer Adam Weinstein in which he argues that Second Amendment advocates “use jargon to bully gun-control supporters.” “While debating the merits of various gun control proposals,” he contends, “Second Amendment enthusiasts often diminish, or outright dismiss their views if they use imprecise firearms terminology.”

    How dare Second Amendment advocates expect that those passionately arguing to limit their constitutional rights have some rudimentary knowledge of the devices they want to ban? To point out the constant glaring technical and policy “faux pas” of gun controllers is to engage in “gunsplaining,” a bad-faith argument akin to intimidation.

    The gun-grabbers want to rely on panicked emotionalism to win the day. Demanding that they be specific and precise isn't "bullying". But it does get in the way of their preferred mode of argument.

Who I Am

[Amazon Link]

Another book in my quest to understand the roots of creative genius. And also another failure at that quest. It's probably time to give up on this idea of seeking insights from celebrity memoirs. (Previous tries: Jimmy Webb; Bruce Springsteen; Donald Fagen; Eric Clapton; Tina Fey; Steve Martin; Bob Dylan.)

Pete Townshend's book is longer and probably more literate than most. It's full of introspection, but the takeaways are not that insightful.

But does it hit all the major themes of rock-god autobiographies?

Drugs? Check. A lot of cognac, but also cocaine, pot, prescription drugs, heroin, LSD, …

Sex? Check. Mostly fumbling, some unconsummated, mostly at the expense of long-suffering wife Karen. Surprising: Theresa Russell!

Psychological problems? Oh heck yes.

Weird religious beliefs? Have you ever heard of Meher Baba? Pete is is most devoted disciple. Did that keep him out of trouble? No. But maybe he'd have been in even worse shape without.

Some random observations:

  • He's admitted to the Daltrey/Entwistle band on page 46. His memory of the "audition" is Roger asking "Can you play E? Can you play B? Can you play 'Man of Mystery' by the Shadows? "Hava Nagila"? OK, then. See you for practice at Harry's."

    From such inauspicious beginnings…

  • Keith Moon gets into the band on page 67, replacing the "too old" Doug Sandom. Hey, Sandom may have been old and boring, but you know what? Unlike Moon, he's still alive.

  • It's funny how Townshend's musings about his music differ from my fanboy impressions. I liked the Who OK, but when Who's Next came out in 1971, I thought it was a masterpiece. Still do, in fact. Turned me into a lifelong fan. Mr. Townshend seems to view it as a thrown-together hackwork to appease contractual obligations after the collapse of his ambitious Lifehouse project.

  • On page 377, he refers to song he's written "for my friend, Harvey Weinstein." Wince. Wonder if he'd like to have that one back.

  • On page 107, he recalls in 1966 listening to "the Beach Boys' stereo masterpiece, Pet Sounds". I like Pet Sounds too, but it wasn't released in a stereo mix until 1997.

  • As an example of the book's introspection without insight: on pages 438-9, he mentions going to a couple sessions of couples counselling with long-suffering wife Karen. Upshot? "The first session was all right, but the second was less successful." Pete, could you have made that anecdote any less interesting? If you're not going to go into specifics, why are you telling us this at all?

Anyway, I'm glad Pete didn't die before he got old.

URLs du Jour


  • Proverbs 15:25 is … a little weird:

    25 The Lord tears down the house of the proud,
        but he sets the widow’s boundary stones in place.

    Taken literally, the Lord is sort of a vigilante vandal/handyman, dispensing destruction/aid as appropriate. I think we have to look for a more metaphorical interpretation here.

  • At NR, Jonah Goldberg observes: Trumpism Is a Psychology, Not an Ideology.

    Intellectuals and ideologically committed journalists on the left and right have a natural tendency to see events through the prism of ideas. Trump presents an insurmountable challenge to such approaches because, by his own admission, he doesn’t consult any serious and coherent body of ideas for his decisions. He trusts his instincts.

    Trump has said countless times that he thinks his gut is a better guide than the brains of his advisers. He routinely argues that the presidents and policymakers who came before him were all fools and weaklings. That’s narcissism, not ideology, talking.

    Insightful, and … oh yeah, we're in a heap of trouble.

  • Concerned about the assault on the Second Amendment by Progressives? You should be. But as A. Barton Hinkle points out at Reason: Some Progressives Targeting the First Amendment, Too.

    Many progressives have long believed America would be a much better place without the Second Amendment. These days, some of them seem to think we'd also be better off without the First.

    That might sound like an exaggeration. But it's hard to square the First Amendment with a recent proposal in The New Republic: "Ban Facebook Before Elections." And yes, the headline accurately represents the text:

    "If fake news truly poses a crisis for democracy," writes Jeet Heer, "then it calls for a radical response. Instead of merely requiring greater transparency of social media and empowering the courts to ban users and websites... perhaps governments should outright ban Facebook and other platforms ahead of elections.

    Fun! But as Hinkle points out, the principle that bans Facebook under certain circumstances can equally be exteded to The New Republic, National Review, or even The New York Times.

    But Progressives aren't really interested in principles these days, only the power to make people behave the way they want.

  • AEI's James Pethokoukis explains it for you: Why populists of the left and right are soulmates on trade. (We've previously noted the fact that Trump's anti-free trade positions taken during the campaign were similar to Bernie Sanders', and Pethokoukis provides additional examples.)

    Why the common ground? Well, because populists gonna populist, whether they are on the Bernie Bro left or the “drain the swamp” right, although each side may be loathe to admit how much they have in common. But in reality, it’s quite a bit. Both are deeply suspicious of capitalism as a positive force in bringing about a peaceful and prosperous society. Both rhetorically champion “the people” against “the elite” or “the establishment.” And both tend to ignore possible constraints on their actions, which is one reason they dislike markets. (This tends to be true of populists everywhere.) As presidential candidates, Sanders and Trump had the two most implausible economic plans, with both assuming super-fast economic growth to make their numbers work. When you’re a populist politician with big dreams of Medicare for all or mega-tax cuts for all, it’s a real drag to have to worry about debt-to-GDP ratios or what bond investors might think.

    At least back in the good old days of Smoot-Hawley, Congress had to pass actual legislation to screw up the American economy. Today, the President can do that all by his lonesome.

  • And Michael Ramirez comments pictorially:

    Punishing steel exporters by the numbers

    That's regrettably clipped, so please click through.

URLs du Jour


  • Proverbs 15:24 advocates for prudence:

    24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent
        to keep them from going down to the realm of the dead.

    It's easy to be snarky here: even Maximum Prudence will not save you from eventually kicking the bucket. But it could be that this is one of the (rare) instances of the Old Testament mentioning the afterlife.

    In which case, the proper attitude might be: Hey, all it takes is prudence? That seems easy!

  • My fair state—whose motto, don't forget, is "Live Free or Die"—makes the (web) pages of Reason, and not in a good way. Scott Shackford reports: What Forfeiture Reforms? New Hampshire Police Bypass State Law, Keep Taking People's Stuff.

    In theory, New Hampshire has reformed its asset forfeiture laws. The state passed a bill in June 2016 to keep police from seizing and keeping people's property unless those people have been convicted of a crime.

    And yet New Hampshire Public Radio reports this week that the state's cops are still trying to keep stuff seized from people who have been accused but not actually convicting of criminal behavior. Just months after the reform was passed, NHPR reports, state highway patrol officers grabbed a bag with $46,000 in cash out of a man's Hyundai during a traffic stop. They couldn't prove that the man had broken any laws, but they're attempting to keep the money anyway.

    The Commie New Hampshire Public Radio link has more information, including a link to the filed complaint from the Feds: United States of America v. Forty Six Thousand Dollars ($46,000) in U.S. Currency, more or less, seized from Alex Temple.

    The story of Mr. Temple's interaction with the NH State Police and the subsequent investigation is (frankly) pretty hilarious. And I say that without being Under the Influence of any Substance, other than my morning Folger's.

  • At the WaPo, Megan McArdle asks and answers: The real risk to Trump’s tariffs? American jobs.

    Remember, industries that consume steel and aluminum employ more Americans than steel or aluminum mills. These are “good” jobs, manufacturing jobs of just the sort that Trump has promised to protect. The products made by those industries will now become less competitive compared with foreign goods. They’ll lose domestic sales and export markets — and, with them, jobs.

    And that’s not all. China’s exports to us are already considerably restricted. The hardest-hit will be other trading partners, the ones that buy plenty from us. And they will be itching to retaliate with tariffs of their own. Depending on how far this escalates — and given Trump’s temperament, it could escalate pretty far — those secondary losses could be quite substantial.

    Ms. McArdle's article is a good brief description of the political and economic realities involved.

  • Writing at the American Conservative, Nick Phillips describes Oxford’s Junk Science on Fake News.

    Is National Review “junk news”? A panel of Oxford scientists says yes. Their study, “Polarization, Partisanship and Junk News Consumption over Social Media in the US,” purports to show that on social media, conservatives are far more likely than others to share “junk news.” That conclusion has earned them glowing write-ups in left-of-center outlets like The Guardian, Salon, and The Daily Beast.

    And what’s junk news? According to the study, a source is junk if it “deliberately publishes misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news about politics, economics or culture.”

    Mr. Phillips shows how the "scientists" utilized vague criteria, unevenly applied. The study is a bad joke.

  • Bryan Caplan debated a WaPo columnist, Elizabeth Bruenig, at LibertyCon the other day. Topic "Capitalism vs. Socialism". Ms. Bruenig posted her opening statement at Medium. Bryan Caplan responds: Capitalism vs. Socialism: Reply to Bruenig.

    RTWT—both things—of course, but I enjoyed this response to Ms. Bruenig's assertion that the "great authors of the Western tradition, the ancients and the late antique and medieval luminaries who laid out the foundations for what remains true and beautiful in our culture, would look see [sic] us as profoundly unfree."

    Caplan's response:

    I spent many years studying intellectual history. Still, my honest reaction: While these "luminaries" were smart, most were also profoundly ignorant and dogmatic - and apologists for the brutal societies in which they lived. Most had near-zero knowledge of what actually sustains the true and beautiful in our culture, namely: science, tolerance, and markets. They have far more to learn from us - both factually and morally - than we do from them.

    That said, I suspect the large majority of these luminaries would look at us with amazement. Indeed, when they exited of the time machine, they'd wonder if they'd died and gone to heaven. After all, they'd witness amazingly well-fed, healthy people enjoying a cornucopia of technology and art beyond their wildest dreams. Then they'd learn about the abolition of slavery and serfdom, the amazing progress of women, and the peaceful co-existence of conflicting religions and philosophies. And hygiene. And Netflix.

    Did I say RTWT? I did, but consider it said again.

URLs du Jour


I'm pretty sure today's URLs are a hodgepodge, with no overall theme. But if you discover one, let me know.

  • The Proverbialist shows his unexpected classical liberal leanings in Proverbs 15:23:

    23 A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
        and how good is a timely word!

    … as long as the timely words and apt replies don't descend into mockery. As we know, the Proverbialist despises mockers.

  • In the "Should Have Seen That Coming" Department, Ira Stoll [Reason] notes an upcoming counterproductive idiocy: Trump and Trial Lawyers Target Drug Companies Over Opioid Addiction

    The opioid addiction issue is headed for the next stop on what is now a well-worn path: from public health crisis, to subject for award-winning and heart-tugging journalism, to payday for trial lawyers.

    The lawyers are poised to do to prescription drug companies, pharmacy chains, and drug distributors what they did to tobacco companies and asbestos manufacturers—wring from them a multibillion dollar settlement, with a sizeable chunk going to the lawyers themselves.

    They may even do so with an assist from President Trump. "Hopefully we can do some litigation against the opioid companies," Trump said earlier this month at a White House "Opioids Summit." "I think it's very important because a lot of states are doing it, but I keep saying, if the states are doing it, why isn't the federal government doing it? So that will happen."

    There's a long and insightful article from Jacob Sullum on pain-pill opioids in the current dead-tree Reason; I'll link to it when it goes to free access in a few days.

  • In his Bloomberg column, Tyler Cowen offers A Radical Solution to the Overuse of Occupational Licensing. Problem (as you may know):

    Criticism of the proliferation of occupational licensing is now bipartisan. Occupations such as dog walkers, interior designers, auctioneers and barbers do not need state licenses, and those legal restrictions serve mainly to raise prices for consumers and restrict supply, eventually limiting innovation and job creation, too.

    But how to move forward? There are thousands of licenses, covering almost a third of U.S. workers, and licenses are proliferating at the city and county levels, too. Constitutional and antitrust and legal challenges to this trend are beneficial, but they bring only piecemeal victories and cannot undo the current morass of restrictions.

    Spoiler: Professor Cowen proposes a federal takeover of the licensing game. Upside: uniform rules across the nation, not the current patchwork. Criticism: eroding federalism. And he may be a tad optimistic about the benefits.

  • Philip Greenspun notes the irony: People who hate inequality want poor Americans to pay for a $30 billion Wall Streeter tunnel. At issue is a proposed Hudson River tunnel between Newark and Manhattan, which Trump doesn't want Federal cash to flow to, at least as long as Chuck Schumer keeps being a yutz. Mr. Greenspun observes:

    $30 billion for a short tunnel? The world’s longest and deepest tunnel, opened in 2016, cost roughly $10 billion (Wikipedia). I accepted the assumption that the president of a country that is $21 trillion in debt wouldn’t oppose this purely on the grounds of efficiency and a theory that, if $30 billion must be borrowed, it could be better spent elsewhere.

    A Facebook debate between Mr. Greenspun and pro-tunnellers is featured.

    But to make an observation I've made before: In the future—even the near future—is that region's economy going to depend on spending vast sums of money to shuttle ever-increasing numbers of people back and forth daily across/under the Hudson River? Really? Or is this another preparation for a future that's not gonna happen?

  • At NR, George Leef notes how higher-ed folks are Exaggerating the Economic Impact of a University.

    Governmental institutions like to exaggerate their benefits since that helps ward off questions about their efficacy. State universities are a good example. Taxpayers might wonder why we spend so much on them, given that lots of college grads seem to have learned little of use from their college years.

    Recently, one of the University of North Carolina campuses (Asheville), put out a study purporting to be an “economic impact statement” of the university. As with all such studies (we find the same thing with studies about convention centers, sports stadiums, and so on), the researchers came to the conclusion that the school has a huge impact on the local economy. So there, you nit-pickers!

    Mr. Leef notes that such "studies" routinely ignore opportunity costs. Or, as Bastiat memorably put it, emphasizing the "seen" over the "unseen".

    The University Near Here devotes an entire website section to essentially argue that the state give it more money. It relies heavily on the kind of "analysis" that Leef (and Bastiat) debunk.

    Not to toot my own horn… OK, to toot my own horn a little bit… I'm still a little proud of this Pun Salad essay from last year: The Seen and Unseen at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, covering similar ground.

  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi calls 'em like they is: Jeff Flake’s ‘No Fly, No Buy’ Is A Stupid Anti-Constitutional Idea.

    This is what a real attack on American values looks like.

    One day Sen. Jeff Flake is warning America about rising Stalinism and the next he’s supporting a bill that strips the rights of citizens who’ve been arbitrarily placed on secret government lists without any probable cause or due process. Make no mistake, that’s exactly what the legislation a group of senators plan to re-introduce this week does.

    “Terrorists,” explains Flake, “shouldn’t have access to guns, and this legislation has the teeth to make sure they don’t.”

    Hey, forget the guns! Why aren’t Flake and the Democrats introducing legislation to immediately detain all these “terrorists?” If the watch lists are enough to convict a man, then it’s safe to assume that there are over a million violent extremists walking our streets with impunity. Because surely — surely — Flake, sainted martyr of real conservatism, a man who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution,” isn’t arguing that we should circumvent the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments for those placed on extrajudicial lists by bureaucrats? Surely he’s not arguing that simply being suspected of potentially engaging in criminal activity is now enough to preemptively deprive people of their rights? That would be downright authoritarian.

    Um, exactly. Flake has earned plaudits for his libertarian-tinged conservatism, but he seems to be determined to undo that reputation on his way out the door.

  • Andrew Klavan makes an insightful post at his PJMedia perch: Two Op-Eds Draw a Stark Portrait of Left vs. Right.

    Last Friday, two op-eds, one in a leftist newspaper, one in a paper that leans right, drew the starkest possible portrait of the difference between our two political cultures.

    On the left was The New York Times, a former newspaper, which now reads like a cross between Pravda and a cluster of six-year-old girls who have just seen a mouse. On the op-ed page I like to call Knucklehead Row, David Brooks delivered himself of the opinion that the left is winning the culture war. How? By brute force.

    You should RTWT for the … well, the whole thing. But I just wanted to quote the bit I really enjoyed: "a cross between Pravda and a cluster of six-year-old girls who have just seen a mouse."

Last Modified 2018-03-07 3:51 AM EST

URLs du Jour


  • Proverbs 15:22 is an ostensible ode to collaboration:

    22 Plans fail for lack of counsel,
        but with many advisers they succeed.

    This Proverb was inserted thanks to the generous support of the Judean and Israeli chapters of the International Brotherhood of Plan Advisers. Our motto: "Plans Failing? Hire More Advisers!"

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson shares Jamie Kirchick's insight: "Everything Trump says makes sense when you just preface it with, ‘Donny from Queens, You’re on the Air’."

    The formal term for what’s at the root of all this is “rational ignorance.” Many of you will have experienced the phenomenon of the very smart person who has very dumb ideas about politics — and who, if challenged, will immediately retreat into the vaguest of generalities, and often ends up displaying surprising ignorance about the most basic public-policy questions. These are the people who believe that you can walk into Walmart and buy a machine gun, that foreign aid represents half of federal spending, that the CIA introduced crack into inner-city neighborhoods, etc., and who tend not to know things like who their representative in Congress is or how our tax system works. Why are these smart and often very successful people so ignorant about politics? Because they’ve spent their lives getting really smart about a different subject and achieving their success in a field in which political knowledge isn’t very important. This is why Albert Einstein had such batty ideas about politics.

    Bottom line: Trump has learned one big thing: given the reality of tribal loyalties and antipathies, his ignorant babbles don't impact what he really cares about. Which is, to a first approximation, satisfying the appetite of his massive ego.

  • The Daily Signal calls attention to new frontiers in proposed judicial meddling: Progressive Activists Look to Courts to Undermine the Electoral College.

    Having failed to generate enough support to abolish the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment, the institution’s detractors are now looking to the courts to upend it.

    A new lawsuit, spearheaded by Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig and filed in four states, charges that the “winner-take-all” element of how states divvy up their Electoral College votes is unconstitutional.

    I'm no fan of "winner-take-all" and (let me yammer about it one more time) my crackpot election reform proposal showed one way around it for Congressional elections. But—here's the thing—I realize it would take an actual Constitutional Amendment to implement.

    Lessig and his ilk should simply say what they really want: "Let's get the judicial system to rewrite the rules of the game until we win".

  • Richard Bernstein, writing at the New York Review of Books website, lists off The Brands That Kowtow to China.

    A couple of years ago, a satirist on Taiwan, the democratic self-governing island that China claims as a province, created an online “Apologize to China” contest. Shortly before, an eighteen-year-old Taiwanese pop singer named Chou Tzu-yu had prompted patriotic outrage in mainland China when it was discovered that she had waved a Taiwanese flag on South Korean television, a gesture taken as disrespect for the sacrosanct One China idea. Facing furious demands that she be banned from performing in China, Chou made a video in which she tearfully begged for forgiveness for her offense, which itself aroused a good deal of dismay on Taiwan about Chinese bullying of a naive teenager. Hence the “Apologize to China” contest.

    It was a joke, but there’s been no joking as the apologies to China have come thick and fast in recent weeks, issued not by teenage singers but by some of the largest and richest multinational corporations in the world—the German luxury car manufacturer Daimler, the Marriott Hotel chain, Delta Airlines, and others. Like Chou Tzu-yu’s statement of regret, moreover, the apologies have been striking in their abjectness, their reaffirmation of China’s position on crucial issues like Taiwan and Tibet, even the use of boilerplate language right out of China’s propaganda lexicon.

    What pricked up my ears a bit: Delta Airlines is kowtowing to China? The same company that made a big deal of yanking its discount for National Rifle Association members?

    They would prefer to do the bidding of a Communist dictatorship instead?

    Delta's sin, as reported by Reuters:

    China’s aviation authority on Friday [Jan 12] demanded an apology from Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website, while another government agency took aim at Inditex-owned (ITX.MC) fashion brand Zara and medical device maker Medtronic Plc (MDT.N) for similar issues.

    The apology was swift:

    Delta Air Lines apologized on Friday [also Jan 12] and said it recognized the seriousness of the issue after it was criticized by the Chinese aviation regulator for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website.

    But the funny thing is: the press release that Delta issued back in January seems to be unavailable on its website. (You can still find cached versions on Google.)

    And: Taiwan is still shown on Delta's route map, labeled as "Taiwan" in the same typeface as used for other countries. Both "Tibet" and "Taiwan" appear as pulldown menu options on Delta's Group Travel Request Form. Tibet does not appear on their "Countries & Territories" list, but Taiwan does. And they have a page devoted to Taiwan Instant Savings.

    Gee, I hope I don't get Delta in trouble by pointing this out. Oh, wait: I hope I do.

  • Alton Bay's Robert Wyszynski pens a Concord Monitor LTE, and it triggered our LFOD alert: Ban conversion therapy.

    Right now under New Hampshire law, parents can force their children to undergo therapy designed to brainwash their children into believing that who they are and who they love is wrong. This practice, conversion therapy, has been proven to increase rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among teens, and it must be stopped.

    OK, fine. Good luck finding any full-throated support on the web for "conversion therapy". (Sometimes called “reparative” therapy. Whether you call this a euphemism or not depends on how you feel about what's going on.) About the best I could do was an anti-banning op-ed (from 2013) at the NYT.

    But what about LFOD? Ah, here it is:

    If we truly want to live by the “Live Free or Die” motto, then we have to work to make sure that our children can live free from discrimination and judgment, and we can do this by banning gay conversion therapy for minors.

    Because nothing says freedom like getting the state to ban things.

URLs du Jour


  • The Proverbialist reveals that he is not a fan of folly in Proverbs 15:21:

    21 Folly brings joy to one who has no sense,
        but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course.

    Unlike the Proverbialist, I am kind of a folly fan, so my feelings are understandably hurt here.

  • On the other hand, I am no fan of certain kinds of folly, specifically what the WSJ editorial board calls Trump’s Tariff Folly.

    Donald Trump made the biggest policy blunder of his Presidency Thursday by announcing that next week he’ll impose tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum. This tax increase will punish American workers, invite retaliation that will harm U.S. exports, divide his political coalition at home, anger allies abroad, and undermine his tax and regulatory reforms. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.7% on the news, as investors absorbed the self-inflicted folly.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine!" Said nobody, ever.

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week reveals that the tariffs aren't just folly. They are, in fact, A Conspiracy against the People.

    The funny thing is that this move toward protection is celebrated or condemned as a fulfillment of Trump’s “populist” agenda. I get that we label protectionism “populist” these days — though I’m old enough to remember when protectionism was a technocratic cause. But populism is supposed to mean putting the interests of “the people” first. (The problem with populism is that populists never mean all the people; they only mean their people.) And this move isn’t in the interests of most people. How is it “populist” to punish over 300 million consumers and the 6.5 million workers in steel-consuming industries for the benefit of 140,000 workers in the steel-producing industry? Trump says trade wars are “good” — but when other nations retaliate, farmers, truckers, manufacturers, and Americans in general will pay the price.

    This isn’t populism in any literal meaning of the word; it’s elitism of the rankest sort. The president is abusing a law beyond its intended purpose to heap favor on a specific industry, while telling Americans that they aren’t paying enough for cars, aluminum cans, and countless other goods. Despite the fact that the U.S. steel industry already provides 70 percent of the steel used in America. This is literally conspiracy against the public.

    I just finished Steven Pinker's new book, Enlightenment Now, which is (unfortunately) plagued by tedious political fumbles, not least of which is identifying Trump with "authoritarian populism". As Jonah notes, that's far from an accurate characterization.

  • And Matt Welch at Reason also comments: Trump's Impulsive Trade War Is Lousy Economics and Worrisome Politics.

    It is not new for a modern U.S. president to impose protectionist tariffs. Barack Obama did it with Chinese tires, costing American consumers an estimated $1.1 billion in return for preserving 1,200 jobs in the domestic tire industry. And as Steve Chapman has noted in these pages, "When George W. Bush imposed duties on foreign steel, experts concluded, he destroyed some 200,000 jobs in other sectors—exceeding the total employment of the American steel industry."

    Trump's moves, coming on the heels of his recent tariffs on Chinese solar panels and imported washing machines, threaten to be far more ruinous, "the most significant set of U.S. import restrictions in nearly half a century," Edward Alden concluded over at the Council on Foreign Relations. That's in part due to the centrality of protectionism to both Trump's presidential campaign and his lifelong economic worldview. He really, truly believes that "trade wars are good, and easy to win," and that his commitment to this belief is part of why he won the presidency. That's a potent combination.

    There's an amusing Robert Reich video making the rounds that claims Donald Trump is some sort of Ayn Rand hero. As I commented to one of my Facebook friends: I wish. In fact, given Rand's explicit advocacy of free trade, Trump has shown himself to be more like Wesley Mouch than Howard Roark.

  • Two years ago on Pun Salad, I noted an interesting article on fake news in The Hill: Fake NYT article shows Warren endorsing Sanders. In the middle of the primary campaign:

    An imitation New York Times article is making the rounds on social media, duping readers into believing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has backed Bernie Sanders’s Democratic presidential campaign ahead of Super Tuesday.

    The imitation article was produced using Clone Zone, a site that still exists and "lets you create your own version of popular websites", mimicking their look-n-feel, while dropping in your own content.

    The Hill went on to note the NYT's concern: "As of late Monday evening, the imitation story had 50,000 shares, 15,000 of them on Facebook, the Times added."

    As near as I can tell, nobody claimed, then or now, that this was Russians. What it was, was a lot of American gullibility.

URLs du Jour


  • Proverbs 15:20 is another head-scratcher for moderns:

    20 A wise son brings joy to his father,
        but a foolish man despises his mother.

    Seems pretty straightforward… Wait, what about the daughters? What does their wisdom, or foolishness, portend?

    I know, Ancient Israel. Nobody cared about the daughters, save that they would someday become mothers.

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson patiently explains something any Republican should already know: How Tariffs Cause Chaos in the Real World.

    There are a handful of U.S.-based steel companies operating a relatively small number of facilities and employing about 142,000 people. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and we should wish them all well. But holding practically the entire U.S. manufacturing sector and construction sector hostage to the narrow corporate self interests of small but politically connected group of companies is deeply foolish. It’s also unjust.

    But I suppose that’s only of interest to people who live in buildings or drive cars, or who consume products that are made and stored in buildings or transported via truck, train, ship, or airplane. And the shareholders and workers at Caterpillar, GM, Boeing, Ford, Toyota, United Technologies . . .

    It is somewhat ironic (however) to hear the protests coming from Bernie Sanders fans. Because (as even Politifact knows), Trump and Bernie had "very similar" views on trade.

  • At Cato, Christopher A. Preble makes the case for Another BRAC Now.

    Last month, Congress authorized a massive increase in defense spending as part of a two-year budget deal. In 2018 alone, the Pentagon will receive an additional $80 billion, increasing the topline number to $629 billion. War spending will push the total over $700 billion. Though such a windfall might prompt Defense Department to ignore cost-saving measures, the White House pledged that “DOD will also pursue an aggressive reform agenda to achieve savings that it will reinvest in higher priority needs.” Noticeably absent, however, was another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), even though Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and at least four of his predecessors, have called for such authority in order to reduce the military’s excess overhead, most recently estimated at 19 percent.

    That's a lot of moola.

    Our state's senators both oppose another BRAC, because one of the obvious candidates for cutting wasteful Defense spending is the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. My CongressCritter/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter is also opposed. The ladies are united in mainly seeing the DOD budget as a welfare spigot for (some) NH residents.

  • The Federalist's Daniel Lee notes a Progressive saying out loud what many are only thinking: Don’t Say ‘Gun Control’ So We Don’t Scare Americans With The Truth.

    A piece in New York Magazine last weekend pressed the case for abandoning the term “gun control” in favor of the less frightening “gun reform.” Writer Benjamin Hart calls the former an “unhelpful phrase.” He says it “has long been the default for well-meaning citizens who want to curb the killings that are a fact of American life. But it’s well past time to retire it and come up with something more effective.”

    The amusing thing here is that "gun control" is already a euphemism. To adapt an old Thomas Szasz quote: There's no such thing as "gun control"; there is only citizen control.

    Steven Pinker coined the term "euphemism treadmill" to describe how people invent "polite" language to replace offensive/emotional words or phrases; but eventually that polite language also offends, requiring new euphemisms to be created. This isn't quite the same thing, but pretty close.

  • We previously plugged the USNews "Best States" compilation. Minnesotan James Lileks wonders, amusingly: How could Minnesota have lost 'best state' award to Iowa?

    Iowa? The state that looks, on a map, like it’s Minnesota’s commode? Not that we would say such things out loud, but look at our neighborhood. Wisconsin leans into us like a drunk who won’t shut up about the Packers. North and South Dakota stand there like twins with nothing much to say, and Canada is the roof covered with snow. Iowa is what Minnesota would be if it fell into a trash compactor.

    Not that I'm a fanboy or anything, but in a "best states" competition, Minnesota should probably get some extra credit for being home to James Lileks. (And Florida would get some love for Dave Barry, but not enough to get it out of fifteenth place.)

  • Some days I blog an article simply on the strength of its headline. This is one of those days, because at Mental Floss we have: Poop Visible From Space Helped Scientists Find a Remote 'Supercolony' of Penguins.

    Penguin poop visible from space just helped scientists discover a previously unknown, massive colony of Adélie penguins on a chain of remote Antarctic islands, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.

  • The Babylon Bee stings… Facebook Sends Warm Reminder To Publishers That It Is In Complete Control Of Their Livelihood

    Facebook, Inc. sent a personal message Friday to each publisher using its service, warmly reminding them that they are utterly dependent on the social media giant for traffic and that it is in complete control of their livelihood.

    “Publishers are important to Facebook,” the message sent to countless page admins read. “We want you to know that we care about you. Also, we will not hesitate to choke off your traffic until your organization ceases to be financially viable, should we feel the desire to do so at any time.”

    I eagerly await the Snopes fact check on this!

Enlightenment Now

The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

[Amazon Link]

As I'm sure I've mentioned before: I'll read anything that comes of Steven Pinker's keyboard. Fanboy here. Despite the fact that I am now ElderlyOnAFixedIncome, I sprang for the dead-trees hardcover at Amazon.

This book consists of two main themes: first, it's sort of a sequel to Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature (which I reported on here). The positive worldwide trends he reported in that book continue: our Collective Statistics continue to improve, we're living longer, healthier, wealthier, safer, smarter lives, increasingly free of violence, pollution, and despotic governance. What's not to like?

The second theme, which I think he hits more strongly here than he did in Better Angels, is when he describes the likely causes and possible future of such progress. Basically, he sees our Enlightened history as a long process of shucking off the chains of tribalism and superstition. And our future progress depends on continuing that trend, and embracing an (explicitly atheistic) humanism. And, oh yeah, he despises Donald Trump. And Republicans, generally.

Pinker is a very good science writer, one of the best popularizers. But when he wanders outside of his professional fields of psychology, linguistics, and cognition, he can seem more than a little glib. When he gets into the philosophical/political/economic realm—as he does here, to I think a greater extent than in previous books—he manages to appear both strident and simplistic. (For example, he rails against "populism", but it becomes clear that he's using that term to mean "political positions I don't like". Fine, I don't like most of 'em either, but your terminology is non-standard, Steve.)

To be fair, I think Pinker can be an equal-opportunity offender: he has zero patience with left-wing PC Progressivism when it serves the forces of irrationality, intolerance, ignorance, and global pessimism. As a result he's been smeared by (some) leftists. So good on him for that.

But he seems to have his own faith. He's a big believer in "problem solving". As if the divisive issues confronting us were simply more advanced versions of the end-of-chapter exercises in math textbooks. Hey, just plug the numbers into the formulas, and they'll tell us technocrats what to do, and we'll just make that happen! There are no trade-offs.

While he gives lip service to "the freedom of people to screw up their own lives" (p. 344), it's unclear what that implies. He never seems to come to grips with it. Frustrating to those of us with libertarian sensibilities.

Added later that same day: Tyler Cowen calls this review ("Why Steven Pinker is Wrong") "one of the very best". I think we're in agreement: read Pinker, but don't take his philosophical/historic musings as gospel (heh).

Last Modified 2018-03-03 5:46 PM EST

URLs du Jour


  • The Proverbialist remembers: "Hey, I haven't mentioned sluggards recently. Man, I hate those guys! Let me write down Proverbs 15:19…"

    19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns,
        but the path of the upright is a highway.

    Bible Gateway's keyword search tells us that there are 14 occurrences of "sluggard" in the Bible, and they are all in Proverbs. No guarantees about getting to them all.

  • The University Near Here can keep a secret when it wants to: UNH refusing to release the names of finalists for president. And this is irking some outside agitators:

    Leaders of the Seacoast National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union are demanding more transparency in the search for UNH’s next president.

    On Monday, it was announced that the presidential search committee had selected finalists to be interviewed by the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees.

    That committee will make the final hiring decision.

    The NAACP and ACLU want to ensure the new guy ticks off all the Progressive boxes for "diversity". Their statement is here. John Small, Chair of both the Board of Trustees and the search committe makes his argument for secrecy here. We link, you decide.

    Disclaimer: Pun Son is on the search committee. I can assure you that he's not blabbing anything to anyone, including Mom and Dad.

  • On the national front, Reason's Alec Ward tells us that Ben Carson Spent $31K on a Dining Table, and 5 Other Times Trump Cabinet Members Wasted Your Money.

    On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials spent $31,561 on a custom hardwood dining table and chairs for Secretary Ben Carson's personal offices, violating a department policy capping office redecoration expenses at $5,000.

    A career agency employee alleged she was demoted from a high-level position within HUD after she repeatedly refused to approve expensive office redecoration plans being pushed by Carson's wife, Candy. A department spokesman told reporters that Carson was not aware of the purchase, but did not believe the price was too high, and would not be returning the table.

    Yes, one of those Deep State Swamp Dwellers actually tried to save you some money, taxpayer. Other money-wasters: Steve Mnuchin [Treasury]; Ryan Zinke [Interior]; David Shulkin [VA]; Scott Pruitt [EPA]; Tom Price [ex-HHS].

  • I bet you've wondered: Is Trump's big stupid mouth a real problem? Fortunately, Patterico provides the answer at RedState: Yes, Trump’s Big Stupid Mouth Is A Real Problem.

    Let’s review the bidding. Trump has said so many crazy things in the last 24 hours, a writer doesn’t even know where to start.

    But start he does. Pick the quote that most offends you; for me it's his accusation that Senator Pat Toomey is "afraid of the NRA" for not falling in line with some gun-controller hysterical talking point.

    But there's more.

  • At NR, Veronique de Rugy discovers: The Swamp Is Alive! It Is Alive!

    The beauty of the modern age is that you can just turn on your TV and witness live how cronyism works.

    Just a few hours ago, President Trump hosted a “listening session” with steel and aluminum executives, whom he had summoned to the White House. Right there, on live TV, we witnessed these CEOs pleading for government support that will inevitably result in higher prices for consumers of steel and aluminum. And, as we all sat there, stunned, we watched the president grant their demand and make policy on live TV.

    Who's being protected by protectionism? The answer is: "Almost certainly not you."

  • At Reason, Steven Greenhut deals with a topic I've long found of interest: Are Health Advocates Finally Wising Up About the Nature of Risk?

    It's a fascinating topic. Every year, the Isle of Man—a self-governing British dependency in the Irish Sea—hosts a motorcycle race that zooms through the island's gnarled, twisting roadways. Competitors in the Tourist Trophy are routinely killed, with the total death count on the Snaefell Mountain Course hitting 255. It's amazing reading accounts of this risky contest.

    I doubt that Americans would tolerate such a dangerous spectacle. But we do accept everyday activities that have a high body count. Nearly 89 Americans die each day in car crashes. And 13 motorcyclists are killed in the U.S. daily on top of that, but risks for bikers are far higher when one factors in vehicle-miles traveled. Motorcyclists account for only 0.6 percent of the miles traveled yet riders account for 21 percent of all vehicle fatalities, according to the National Motorcycle Institute. Bikers are 38 times more likely to die in an accident than people in cars.

    And you can engage in risky behavior just walking around. See the recent report of record-high pedestrian fatalities. (But maybe that's due to weed.)

    Anyway: Mr. Greenhut goes on to make the point about advocates "wising up" to the fact that just about any substitute nicotine delivery system is less risky than combustible cigarettes. More generally, though, policymakers need to come to grips with the fact that there's a wide range of risk tolerance in the adult populace. In a free country, how do you deal with that?

  • Facebook is stupid, part 1249: Facebook Threatens Satire Site Babylon Bee over CNN Story That Snopes Rated 'False'

    Christian satire site The Babylon Bee received a terse warning from Facebook this week after the "independent fact-checkers" at Snopes reported that one of the site's humor articles was "false."

    Adam Ford, who runs The Babylon Bee, was warned by Facebook that a recent satire article about CNN "contains information disputed by ( an independent fact checker." Repeat offenders, Ford was told, "will see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetize and advertized [sic] removed."

    Pun Salad links to Babylon Bee a lot, but neither I, nor, I assume, any reader would mistake their hilarious articles as containing "facts" ripe for "checking".

    Nevertheless, here's the article: CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.

    In order to aid the news station in preparing stories for consumption, popular news media organization CNN purchased an industrial-sized washing machine to help its journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication.

    The custom-made device allows CNN reporters to load just the facts of a given issue, turn a dial to “spin cycle,” and within five minutes, receive a nearly unrecognizable version of the story that’s been spun to fit with the news station’s agenda.

    And, yes, here's the Snopes "debunking".

    Although it should have been obvious that the Babylon Bee piece was just a spoof of the ongoing political brouhaha over alleged news media “bias” and “fake news,” some readers missed that aspect of the article and interpreted it literally. But the site’s footer gives away the Babylon Bee’s nature by describing it as “Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire,” and the site has been responsible for a number of other (usually religious-themed) spoofs that have been mistaken for real news articles.

    Wouldn't it be better if "some readers" were simply encouraged to be less stupid?

    But I can't help but wonder if "some readers", dismayed at the Bee's conservative slant, intentionally put the Snopes/Facebook wheels in motion to achieve the desired threatening result?

  • And finally, a nice article in the Laconia Daily Sun about retired Brigadier General Donald Bolduc.

    His company commander discouraged him from leaving military service and entering a civilian law enforcement career, telling him, “I really see you as a sergeant major. I just don’t think you’re going to be successful as a police officer.”

    “I took that as a challenge, and as a compliment, because all of the officers in my company were West Point, except for one, and that’s the one everybody liked. ... I decided to go active duty. I’m very proud that I’m from New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, from Laconia, the son of a farmer, grandson of a farmer, went to a small school, learned small community values, learned good ethics, learned to be a God-fearing man, learned that no one is going to give you anything for free and, if they do, you should be suspect of it. While the odds were against me to make general officer, I will do that, but I didn’t do that without the help of many, many people.”

    Good for him.

Last Modified 2018-03-02 4:28 PM EST

No Middle Name

The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

[Amazon Link]

Bottom line (up here at the top): Reacher stories are pretty good, too. Not better, not worse, just different. Lee Child gets to play around, experiment a bit. When he's having fun, the reader does too. There's no doubt about that. It's a collection of twelve stories, four of which I'd already read, either as Kindle singles or as paperback extras. But I had fun re-reading them.

Random notes:

  • In one 43-page story, Reacher doesn't even show up until eight pages from the end.

  • As always, ultra-Dickensian coincidence plays a major role in the yarns where Reacher is out of the Army, just wandering around the world. He always somehow seems to fall into the middle of some skulduggery, conspiracy, or mystery. (Just one exception, and it's kind of sweet. I'll let you find it.)

  • A couple of stories involve Young Reacher, one as a thirteen-year-old with his Marine family in Okinawa, one as a sixteen-year-old in New York. Even back then, recognizably Reacher.

  • In one story, there are major characters named Aaron, Bush, Cook, and Delaney. In another: Alice, Briony, Christine, and Darwen. Reacher remarks on the latter coincidence. I don't mind this sort of thing that much, but it took me out of the stories a bit, wondering why Lee Child did that.

  • Reacher beats the crap out of one or more deserving characters in many of the stories. And displays his super-Sherlockian powers of observation and deduction in many too. I didn't keep careful track of how many of each, though, sorry.

URLs du Jour


Proverbs 15:18 is another fortune cookie candidate:

18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

Patience, of course, is one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues, and is held in opposition to the Deadly Sin of Wrath.

Our pic du jour is an illustration of someone patiently waiting to calm a quarrel.

■ Charles C. W. Cooke just became an American citizen last week, and he's already griping: The Age of Majority Is a Mess.

When is a person an “adult”? When are they deemed to be independent, responsible, their own master? Does anyone care, except when seeking a temporary political advantage? As I type, some Americans are trying to raise the age at which one may buy a rifle from 18 to 21 — usually on the grounds that one’s brain isn’t developed until one reaches 25. At the same time, many of the same people are arguing for lowering the voting age to 16 — and possibly younger. What’s the rationale? It is often glibly asserted that voting never hurt anyone. Does anyone familiar with history believe that to be remotely true?

Not me. Here in NH, there are currently bills being considered to (a) raise the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21; and (b) lower the age for consuming alcohol from 21 to 20.

■ A funny post by Damon Root at the Reason blog notes a Supreme Court exchange between Justice Alito and lawyer Daniel Rogan, who argued in favor of Minnesota's ban on a "vast array of political badges, buttons, insignias, and other attire at polling places." It’s OK to Ban Voters From Wearing 2nd Amendment T-Shirts at the Polls, Minnesota Tells SCOTUS.

Justice Alito: How about a shirt with a rainbow flag? Would that be permitted?

Mr. Rogan: A shirt with a rainbow flag? No, it would be—yes, it would be—it would be permitted unless there was—unless there was an issue on the ballot that—that related somehow to—to gay rights….

Justice Alito: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?

Mr. Rogan: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that's a clear indication—and I think what you're getting at, Your Honor—

Justice Alito: How about a shirt with the text of the Second Amendment?

Mr. Rogan: Your Honor, I—I—I think that that could be viewed as political, that that—that would be—that would be —

Justice Alito: How about the First Amendment?


Laughter, indeed.

[Amazon Link] Again with the "here in New Hampshire" connection: Section 659:43 of our legal code contains:

No person shall distribute, wear, or post at a polling place any campaign material in the form of a poster, card, handbill, placard, picture, pin, sticker, circular, or article of clothing which is intended to influence the action of the voter within the building where the election is being held.

The fine can be up to $1000, so think hard before you order the t-shirt over there on your right.

■ As Buck Murdock once noted: Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has an article confirming that proverb: After Florida school shooting, ‘Worst Colleges for Free Speech’ promising high schoolers a right to protest.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and many more injured, school districts nationwide are warning students that they could face suspensions and other disciplinary measures for participating in walkouts and protests over guns and gun violence. Now, a number of colleges have released statements with an encouraging message for high school students who want to speak their mind on this issue: Engaging in peaceful protest won’t impact your college admission status.

As you might expect, the University Near Here has joined the mighty chorus; to do otherwise might impact the school's already dismal finances:

As I commented: But once you get here... Make sure to follow the dress code for Cinco de Mayo and Halloween. And there are other areas where you might want to tread cautiously.

Lifezette notes The Son Attempting to Rise: Son of Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders Is Seeking Seat in New Hampshire. Again, he wants to be my CongressCritter, despite living in Claremont, which is on the NH-Vermont border, the other end of the state from my Congressional district.

Andy Sanborn, a Republican running for the 1st District, slammed Sanders on Tuesday as an “out-of-district socialist” whose views don’t align with the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die.”

"I am appalled, but not surprised, [that] Bernie Sanders is sending his socialist son here to dismantle our state motto," Sanborn said in a statement. "We are a state that believes in personal freedom, personal liberty, and individual rights, yet Sanders' socialist views look to turn New Hampshire residents into government-controlled zombies, where you lose the right to think for yourself, act for yourself, and live free."

Andy Sanborn has his campaign website up and running, and it contains Pun Salad bait:

Known for his quick wit, inability to spell, sharp financial acumen and fierce loyalty to friends and family, this 4th generation NH native unabashedly fights for limited government, economic opportunities for all and as his friend US Senator Rand Paul says, “A government so small we can barely see it.”

I might remain a registered Republican just so I can vote for Sanborn in the primary.

■ At NR, Alexandra DeSanctis notes what should be obvious: NRA Critics Ignore Political Influence of Planned Parenthood. A factoid:

Planned Parenthood also — and unlike the NRA — rakes in over half a billion dollars in government funding each year. The group then turns around and spends much of that money not only to fund abortion procedures for low-income women (albeit indirectly), but also to lobby the federal government for additional funding and elect Democratic politicians who will vote to eliminate restrictions on that funding, and on abortion itself.

Good luck getting anyone on the left to square that circle.

■ And New Hampshire is hitting above average in USNews comparisons of Best States.

Some states shine in health care. Some soar in education. Some excel in both – or in much more. The Best States ranking of U.S. states draws on thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens. In addition to health care and education, the metrics take into account a state’s economy, the opportunity and quality of life it offers people, its roads, bridges, internet and other infrastructure, its public safety and the fiscal stability of state government.

Spoiler: number one is Iowa. But NH is a solid fifth.

Last Modified 2018-03-02 4:23 PM EST