Old Black Magic

[Amazon Link]

The seventh Spenser book written by Ace Atkins, and I'm still on board. I buy the Kindle version, which is fine. The cover is more incomprehensible than ever; I'm pretty sure no playing cards were involved in the course of the book.

Consumer note: some Amazon reviewers complain about the sloppy editing and careless writing. At least one thing I was able to verify: when Spenser is about to take off for Memphis, he reassures Susan about his dietary choices:

"Biscuits and barbecue never killed anymore."

Anymore? Ace, every writer makes dumb typos, but G.P. Putnam's Sons are definitely overpaying your editor.

Other reviewers, however, are misguided. One claims that a number of characters are described as "garden gnomes". That's easy enough to check in a Kindle version, and it's just one guy described that way.

Sigh, enough with that.

The plot: a dying detective named Locke has been trying to recover a famous painting ("The Gentleman in Black", by El Greco, fictitious) filched from a local museum twenty years ago. He asks Spenser to pick up the chase. Spenser must deal with recalcitrant museum trustees, who have hired a different shamus, a Brit to whom Spenser takes an instant dislike. His old cop friend, Quirk, isn't much help; the new Boston Police brass don't care for Spenser at all. Various mob guys, and mob-connected guys, manage to be unhelpful and also violent.

This is more of a detective story than is usual for Spenser, as he traces the artwork's path through a bewildering maze of crooks. He must also deal with others competing for multi-million dollar reward money.

Spenser is not so much interested in the reward; instinctively he (correctly) knows he'll never get it. But he is interested in getting Locke some justice and closure before he heads to those mean streets in the sky. And he does that pretty well.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-31

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:13 is below average, I'm afraid:

    13 Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
        but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.

    A two-parter, where the parts don't seem to have any obvious connection. The overused oral reference. Gratuitous violence promised against transgressors.

    Well, to be honest, I'm pretty OK with the gratuitous violence. We all feel that way sometimes.


  • National Review's Andrew Stuttaford has been covering how governments are using "fake news" as an excuse, for example: Fake News and Censorship (British Edition)

    To return yet again to the topic of how abusing the idea of ‘fake news’ could represent an ideal opportunity for censors on the make, here’s the BBC discussing a report by the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee (that such a committee even exists is, incidentally, yet more depressing evidence of the reach of the modern state). The Committee’s report was prompted by Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, but, however bad that mess may have been, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the cure may be worse than the disease.

    Andrew notes the DCMS Committee is plugging for the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans”.

    And who decides which views are ‘hyper-partisan’ and which are merely the expression of sweet reason?

    As to trying to influence people’s voting plans by appealing to their “fears and prejudices”, that’s something that politicians of all stripes–from pillars of the establishment to the wildest of the wild men–have been doing for centuries. Something tells me that some ‘appeals’ will be more equal than others.

    There is nothing more darkly amusing than a pol who (a) decries appeals to "fear", and then (b) claims, for example, that we need strict gun control or our children will be murdered in their classrooms.


  • At Law and Liberty, John O. McGinnis writes on The Ideological Blinders of Court Packing Proponents.

    Two Yale Law School professors, Ian Ayres, and John Fabian Witt, have written an op-ed calling for court packing when Democrats next gain unified control of government. Their reasoning suggests that Yale’s ideological bubble may limit their understanding of law and politics.

    The proclaimed objective of their Court packing scheme, which would elevate two lower court justices to the Supreme Court for eighteen years, is to “balance” the Court. But they never provide any measure of how the Court is out of “balance.”  To be sure, it is out of balance with the views of the Yale Law faculty, which has less than a handful of right of center faculty, and none at all focused on the public law with which the Supreme Court is largely concerned. But by opinion polls, the public believes that the Court is relatively balanced with similar numbers thinking that it is too conservative or too liberal and a plurality thinking it is ideologically just right. And the Court today enjoys its highest level of approval in over a decade after a term in which Justice Anthony Kennedy sided almost entirely with other Republican justices, the kind of voting pattern that such professors fear  a Justice Brett Kavanaugh would continue.

    Ian Ayres is full of … interesting schemes. A few years back, he (with fellow lawprof Bruce Ackerman) advocated that every American registered voter get a $50 "Patriot Dollars" voucher that could only be used for political contributions. An ingenious scheme to "encourage" taxpayers to spend money the way Ayres and Ackerman would prefer it be spent, rather than wasting it on things like shoes or books.

    Ayres also wrote a semi-entertaining book called Super Crunchers which I read back in 2007; interesting ideas, marred by a USA Today style and plagiarism that would get any law student thrown out of Ayres' school.


  • And our LFOD alert rang for this news article at Bitcoin.Com: Libertarian Hotspot the Free Keene Project Bolsters More Crypto-Adoption.

    New Hampshire is widely known as the ‘free state’ for its lack of taxation, and the growing number of libertarians moving there to make the region live up to its motto ‘live free or die.’ Furthermore, areas like Keene are well known for being very cryptocurrency friendly with a multitude of merchants, bitcoin radio ads, and BTMs. More recently the Free Keene Project’s blog revealed the group has been pushing digital asset adoption like crazy, and this week the website announced they have managed to get a slew of mom-n-pop businesses to accept BTC and Dash.

    For those in the more-statist part of the state, there's still the Free State Bitcoin Shoppe. Which I still haven't got around to visiting. ("Bad libertarian! Bad!")

Molly's Game

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

Netflix thought I'd like this. They weren't wrong; I stayed awake the entire time.

It's the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain). She's not of Irish descent, as she makes clear when someone assumes she is. But she comes from a high-pressure family; her dad, especially, pushes her to become a world-class skiier, like her brother. That ambition is almost derailed when she undergoes surgery for serious scoliosis. But (through implied grit, pluck, and pressure) she nearly attains Olympic stature… until a freak accident derails her again! Darn!

So she decides to do something else. By sheer luck (whether that luck is good or bad is up in the air) she gets into the world of high-stakes barely-legal poker parties. Understandably, she wants to avoid illegality and complication. Just as understandably: she gets it anyway. No spoilers: an early scene in the movie shows her being arrested by the Feds, he assets seized via forfeiture. She appeals to a fancy lawyer (Idris Elba) for help, and gets it. Will she stay out of the clink?

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, which is an announcement of "clever dialog upcoming".

Except—and this sounds like something other people may have noticed too—it's not exactly clever dialog. It's dialog the audience listens to and thinks I'm clever for understanding this. Not quite the same thing.

It's fine, good acting, marred by a truly stupid conclusion. Don't want to spoil it, but it involves a deus ex machina speech by a judge…

URLs du Jour

2018-07-30

[Amazon Link]

  • I'm trying, and failing, to get all snarky and cynical about Proverbs 10:12:

    12 Hatred stirs up conflict,
        but love covers over all wrongs.

    This truly speaks to our time. Our time is in no mood to listen.


  • At Hot Air, Taylor Millard notes: The GOP’s Abandonment Of Free Speech Is Almost Complete. Whoa. How did that happen?

    The latest attack on free speech comes from Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Devin Nunes. The pair – adhering to the yearning of their leader at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – launched a multi-pronged attack on Twitter based on a Vice News report showing Twitter was shadow-banning conservatives i.e. not letting people find them in a search of Twitter. Social media sites have long been criticized for their failure to either crack down on fake accounts or the problems with their suspension process. But Gaetz now believes it’s time for the heavy-hand of government to ‘solve’ the problem by filing a complaint with the FEC.

    Democrats have always whined about corporate thumbs on the scales of "democracy". It's not surprising, but a little sad, to see Republicans start singing off that page of the demagogic hymnal when they think it can work to their advantage.


  • Kevin D. Williamson returns to the pages of National Review with a tutorial, in his inimitable style: Understanding Trade Deficits.

    A trade deficit is nothing like a budget deficit. Each year’s federal budget deficit adds to the total debt owed by the federal government. Trade deficits don’t do that, which is one reason why “trade deficit” is not a very useful term. A trade deficit is just a bookkeeping entry, not a debt that has to be paid. Countries don’t trade — people do. Americans are no more harmed by the trade deficit with Germany than you are by your trade deficit with Kroger.

    What people are "harmed" by—what they really don't like—is competition. Understandable. But griping about your competition seems whiny and selfish; how much more convenient to start babbling about a "trade deficit".


  • As long as we're talking about trade, Jeff Jacoby brings up another rhetorical issue: The insidious metaphor of trade as 'war'.

    Talk of trade wars is hardly new, but under Donald Trump, trade-war rhetoric has become ubiquitous. In speeches and on social media, he repeatedly approaches trade in terms suited to a grim international conflict — a struggle for dominance among nations in which there must be winners and losers.

    "When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win," Trump tweeted in March. Last month he put it even more sharply: "When you're almost 800 Billion Dollars a year down on Trade, you can't lose a Trade War! The U.S. has been ripped off by other countries for years on Trade.

    Jeff's punchline should be on a t-shirt: "Trade war is an insidious term. The metaphor notwithstanding, trade isn't war. It's peace."

    Or, as Bastiat didn't say (but could have): “When goods don’t cross borders, Soldiers will."


  • Andrew Branca, writing at Legal Insurrection looks at a recent example of MSM coverage of a legal topic, and finds it wanting: CNN Mangles “Stand-Your-Ground” Law Yet Again. It's an all-points takedown. The first sentence in CNN's article:

    Cases of self-defense aren't always simple -- especially in states with a "stand your ground" law.

    Branca rebuts:

    Actually, cases of self-defense are simpler in states with a “stand your ground” law, all other things being equal, because in those SYG states self-defense must be evaluated on only four elements–innocence, imminence, proportionality, and reasonableness–rather than five elements–the addition of the element of avoidance.

    Peruse The Entire Article to fully appreciate what a botch CNN made with its "expert" analysis.

    More info on the state of state Stand Your Ground laws here. Map, embedded from Wikipedia:

    Stand-your-ground law by US jurisdiction.svg
    By Terrorist96 - Own work | Smart Gun Laws, FindLaw, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

    New Hampshire, with full SYG protections, is a lonely green island in the northeast. (Apparently, Vermonters have zero SYG rights; you have a "duty to retreat" even within your own home.)


  • Writing in the Union Leader, Ross Connolly and Laura Spottiswood argue that we Extend worker freedom to all of New Hampshire. Which is the right to work without being forced to join a union:

    Right-to-work also reaffirms our state motto, “Live Free or Die,” and New Hampshire’s commitment to economic freedom. Besides the government, unions are the only other entity that can deduct dues directly from a worker’s wages without consent. This is wrong and goes completely against our state’s creed and values. We need to put power back in the hands of workers and ensure their freedoms are not being infringed upon.

    Interestingly, Wikipedia's RTW map is eerily similar to the SYG map: Right to Work states.svg
    By Scott5114 - This file was derived from: Right to work.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

    … except for New Hampshire. For now.


Last Modified 2018-07-30 11:09 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2018-07-29

[Amazon Link]

  • In Proverbs 10:11, the Proverbialst returns to his oral fixation:

    11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
        but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

    In other words, good people are good; bad people are bad.


  • George F. Will writes on Our socialist president. Oh, sure, we like to slag on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But:

    A more apt connection of current events to actual socialism was made by Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican, when President Trump decided to validate the conservative axiom that government often is the disease for which it pretends to be the cure. When the president decided to give farmers a $12 billion bandage for the wound he inflicted on them with his splendid little (so far) trade war, and when other injured interests joined the clamor for comparable compensations, Johnson said, “This is becoming more and more like a Soviet type of economy here: Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits.”

    We'll, once more, quote Harry Browne: “The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, 'See if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk.”

    I don't usually print more than one excerpt from an article, but I'll make an exception here:

    Now do you see what Friedrich Hayek meant when he said that socialism puts a society on the road to serfdom? Protectionism — government coercion supplanting the voluntary transactions of markets in the allocation of wealth and opportunity — is socialism for the well connected. But, then, all socialism favors those adept at manipulating the state. As government expands its lawless power to reward and punish, the sphere of freedom contracts. People become wary and reticent lest they annoy those who wield the administrative state as a blunt instrument.

    In addition to Hayek, we should also give a hearty shout-out to Bastiat, whose relevant quote is featured on our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • In his G-File, Jonah Goldberg asks the musical question: Who Cares about Truth Anymore, Anyway? He recalls the wonderful movie Galaxy Quest, with its desperate species, the Thermians, who have watched an old Trek-like TV series and taken it as a truthful documentary.

    For months, I’ve been banging my spoon on my highchair about how the legislative branch is acting like a Parliament of Pundits. Senators and congressmen on the right and left seem more concerned with getting primetime spots on cable-news shows than actually legislating. As a result, politicians are using their positions to craft entertaining talking-points for TV debates and diatribes that have only passing relationship to reality. They’re going along with the Thermians, playing to their faith in shadows and making little effort to engage with the truth. On the left, the mess at the border can’t just be bad, it must be Kristallnacht and Auschwitz. On the right, the idea that the president colluded — whatever that may mean — with Russia is the “greatest mass hysteria” in American history and a “total witch hunt.”At least until very recently. This week, the allegation Trump colluded with Russia is suddenly no longer an insane conspiracy theory and slander, it’s not really a problem at all.

    Someday, I hope, people will look back on their behavior and say: Geez, what was I thinking?

    But more likely, they'll look back, point to their political opponents, and say: Look what you made me do!


  • Well, there's some good news, as described by Brian Doherty at Reason: Gun Control Groups Fail to Stop Distribution of Gun-Making Computer Files.

    As reported earlier this month, the Justice Department wanted to settle a lawsuit with Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation over the government's many years of legally barring the former from hosting and distributing certain computer files that can help instruct devices to manufacture weapons at home. Defense Distributed believed, among other things, that their First Amendment rights were implicated by being legally prohibited from spreading the speech within those files. The government's official announcement that it was lifting its prohibition of the distribution of such files (the government originally argued spreading the files constituted illegal munitions export, essentially) was supposed to happen Friday.

    Panicked, a trio of gun-control interests (Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and GiffordsPAC) tried to muscle in on the lawsuit at the very last minute and prevent the settlement from going into effect. Friday, after a hearing before Judge Robert Pitman in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, their attempt failed, the settlement went into effect, the lawsuit is over, and the files are being freely distributed.

    I'm old enough to remember the regulatory wars over strong cryptography, which were somewhat settled by publishing source code in print, making it into a First Amendment issue. It works for actual munitions now, too!


  • A funny article in the New York Times: New Hampshire, 94 Percent White, Asks: How Do You Diversify a Whole State?

    New Hampshire, like its neighbors Vermont and Maine, is nearly all white. This has posed an array of problems for new arrivals, who often find themselves isolated and alone, without the comfort and support of a built-in community.

    It has also posed problems for employers in these states, who find that their homogeneity can be a barrier to recruiting and retaining workers of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

    There's no doubt that NH (and other northern New England states) have demographic issues, specifically an increasing fraction of geezers. (My fault entirely: I got old.)

    Leave it to the Times (aided by a lot of our own "progressive" citizens) to add the additional complication: not only do we need to get young people to move up here, those young people must be "of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds."

    One of the proposed "solutions": "a system of rewarding businesses that hire a more diverse array of workers."

    It appears that those of us who would like the state to get out of the practice of pigeonholing people by their genes are … not going to see that anytime soon, probably not within my lifetime.

No Country for Old Men

[Amazon Link]

This completes the reading mini-project on which I embarked back in 2014 or so: to read the novels on John J. Miller's Conservative Lit 101 list. I had previously read two: Advise and Consent, The Bonfire of the Vanities. You can, if you want, read my takes on the others: The Thanatos Syndrome, by Walker Percy; Mr. Sammler's Planet, by Saul Bellow; Midcentury, by John dos Passos; The Time It Never Rained, by Elmer Kelton; Shelley’s Heart, by Charles McCarry; Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson; Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin.

And now, No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. Did you see the movie? Well, especially in the early going, it's just like the movie. Apparently, Mr. McCarthy wrote it as a screenplay first, then hammered it into a novel. Then the Coen brothers adapted their screenplay from the novel.

The book puts a greater emphasis on Sheriff Bell's character; his inner monologue appears throughout the book. He's a decent man, haunted by an act of semi-cowardice back in World War II. But he's bemused by the modern world, never more so than in his current case: a heroin trade out in the wilderness has gone very awry, with just about everyone involved seriously dead. But a good old boy, Llewelyn Moss, happens upon the carnage, and makes the mistake of his life: absconding with a document case filled with $2.4 million.

This puts him at odds with the Mexican drug gang, of course. But also with the guy you probably remember most from the movie: Anton Chigurh, a hitman who plays by his own rules. And his own rules involve murdering just about anyone who gets in his way. Or offends him. Or just engages him in conversation.

The book's body count is impressive, I'm pretty sure even higher than in the movie. But weaving in and out is a dark lecture about evil, fate, and a God who's impotent in the face of injustice. You'd best muddle through in whatever way you can.

McCarthy's style is to use quotation marks not at all, apostrophes almost never. Fun! Not too hard to get used to.

The Greatest Showman

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

They don't make movies like this any more! Well, that's not exactly true. They made this one. And it's not bad, a musical extravaganza with a number of eye-popping production numbers. And it did OK at the box office, too, so maybe they'll be making more movies like they don't make any more.

It is a very loose biography of P. T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman. In fact "very loose" is probably an understatement; a number of the characters and plot-driving incidents are completely made up. But Barnum might have approved: why let the facts get in the way of a good yarn?

Barnum is the son of a scrabbling laborer, catching the eye of a rich man's daughter. Much of his motivation is to scramble for an opening into upper-class society. His ambitious dreams bring him to establish a "museum", which is really kind of a (literal) freak show. His tireless promotions bring him monetary success, but not the respect he craves. He finds a pathway to that by persuading Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to embark on an American tour. But before you can say "second act crisis", This causes him to neglect the freak show/circus (bad) and also his wife and family (worse). But do things eventually work out? Sure!

Very predictable? Yes. You bet.

The movie, for better or worse, finds Deep Lessons in Barnum's story. Aren't the freaks people too, deserving of respect? Of course, and we're beaten over the head with that. Also, there's an inter-racial romance between Barnum's white business partner and an African-American trapeze artist. Doesn't that cause problems? You bet.

This movie would probably be pretty dreary without Hugh Jackman in the title role. His enthusiasm and charisma really carry the day.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-28

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:10 doesn't like those winking wankers:

    10 Whoever winks maliciously causes grief,
        and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

    That is our default NIV translation. Some translations, however, turn that last bit around. For example, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) saith:

    Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.

    I have no idea who's right here. Although I like the "chattering fool" imagery; it's nice to know they had those guys back in Ancient Israel too.


  • This morning, Twitter stock is worth about 80% of what it was a day ago. Apparently, investors suddenly realized that Twitter sucks. (Or, more accurately, that it sucks about 20% more than their previous estimates of its suckitude.)

    Why does it suck? Mike Godwin (at Reason) knows: Twitter Sucks Because We Suck. Don’t Blame @Jack. (If you don't know @jack, read on…)

    A lot of criticism of Twitter takes the form of public tweets aimed at Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey (@jack). Those tweets have heated up in recent years because Twitter is President Donald Trump's second-favorite tool for reaching his base. (Perpetual campaign rallies ranks number one, because of all the cheering.) These days, many of the complaints charge that Dorsey and his company aren't doing enough "conversational health work" to make Twitter an inclusive public forum for divergent opinions that also reduces or prevents "abusive" speech.

    The hard fact is, no matter how much Dorsey commits himself to making Twitter a safe space for debate, conversation, and entertainment, he's always going to be criticized for not doing enough. (In this, Dorsey has the small comfort of not being Mark Zuckerberg, who I'm guessing gets orders of magnitude more criticism because Facebook is orders of magnitude more successful—despite today's market slump.) Dorsey will remain in the crosshairs as long as he runs the company—that's because, if you're running a social-media platform, there's no version of top-down censorship of "abusive" content that works out well.

    Latest example of things not working out well, according to Twitchy: PATHETIC! “The sweetest woman on Twitter” has been punished “FOR HATE SPEECH”. (Caps lock in original.)


  • There is much hilarity in this Katherine Timpf article at National Review: Professor: I ‘DEMAND That White Editors Resign’. The prof is Randa Jarrar, previously noted for her wacky tweets after Barbara Bush died. Her Twitter account is now set to private, but somehow this leaked out:

    At some point, all of us in the literary community must DEMAND that white editors resign. It’s time to STEP DOWN and hand over the positions of power. We don’t have to wait for them to [f***] up. The fact that they hold these positions is [f***] up enough.

    The incident that inspired Randa's race-based hatred was a poem in The Nation, which you may read (at least for now) here. It's not much: blank-verse advice to street beggars on how best to appeal to the pocketbooks of passers-by.

    But it did not appeal to some Nation readers, and it drew a wonderful apology from the mag and its poetry editors. (Yes, there's more than one poetry editor at the Nation. It's a tough job.)

    As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem “How-To.” We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.

    We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.

    So: a miniature Cultural Revolution at the Nation, complete with public humiliation and self-abnegation. Report to the re-education camps, white poetry editors!

    And don't for a moment imagine that Randa and her ilk wouldn't do the same to us, if they had the power to do so.


  • At AEI, Mark Thiessen puts forth a contrarian thesis: Trump is using tariffs to advance a radical free-trade agenda.

    At the Group of Seven summit in Quebec, Trump was roundly criticized for publicly berating allies over their trade practices and provoking a needless trade war. Well, once again, it appears Trump is being proved right. On Wednesday, he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a cease-fire in their trade war and promised to seek the complete elimination of most trade barriers between the United States and the European Union. “We agreed today . . . to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods,” declared the two leaders in a joint statement.

    Zero tariffs. Wednesday’s breakthrough with the European Union shows that, contrary to what his critics allege, Trump is not a protectionist; rather, he is using tariffs as a tool to advance a radical free-trade agenda.

    Well, that would be just great. But…


  • That prompted a near-instantaneous rebuttal from Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek, who asks: Why Not Take Trump at His (Many) Word(s)?

    This declaration is completely unsupportable. To make it, Mr. Thiessen ignores the fact that every word about trade that has come over the past few decades from the mouth of Donald Trump reveals the president to be an unvarnished mercantilist. Contrary to what economically informed and genuine free-traders understand, Trump believes that countries compete against each other economically – that trade surpluses are evidence of a country’s economic success and that trade deficits are evidence both of economic failure at home and of nefarious trading practices abroad – that tariffs and subsidies implemented by foreign governments strengthen foreign economies at our expense – that exports are a benefit and imports are a cost – and therefore that government should arrange for the country to export as much as possible and to import as little as possible.

    Although widely swallowed, each of these mercantilists beliefs is unalloyed nonsense.

    I think Professor Boudreaux has the preponderance of evidence on his side. For one thing, as he notes, if Trump were a true free trader, he would simply do whatever he could, within his power, to drop US tariffs to zero.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-27

[Amazon Link]

  • Yet another advertisement for being good in Proverbs 10:9:

    9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
        but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

    Extra points, however, for maintaining the metaphor over the entire proverb; as we've seen previously, the Proverbialist (or the translators) didn't always manage that.


  • John McCain's daughter, Meghan, is the token conservative on a TV program called The View. (Which people, I guess, watch. Not I. And I only hear about it when someone on it does something stupid.)

    Anyway, Meghan said something true the other day, and David Harsanyi of the Federalist has the story: Meghan McCain Is Right. Socialism Leads To Misery And Destitution.

    On the same day that Venezuela’s “democratically” elected socialist president Nicolas Maduro, whose once-wealthy nation now has citizens foraging for food, announced he was chopping five zeros off the country’s currency to create a “stable financial and monetary system,” “The View’s” Meghan McCain was the target of her cohost, and Internet-wide condemnation, for stating some obvious truths about collectivism.

    On the same week we learned that democratic socialist Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua had massacred hundreds of protesters whose economic futures have been decimated by his economic policies, Soledad O’Brien, and writers at outlets ranging from GQ and BuzzFeed to the Daily Beast, were telling McCain to cool her jets.

    David does as good a job of debunking "socialism" (whether "implemented by a mob of people or by a single strongman") as it's possible to do in a single short column.


  • I concur with the wise one-line observation from Instapundit: "Gun control is like socialism. When it fails, the answer is more gun control."

    Actually, there are all sorts of state activities you can convincingly substitute for "gun control". It's a flexible template.


  • Power Line (John Hinderaker) reports that: New York Times Targets Kavanaugh's Wife. Specifically, a right-to-know demand of the Chevy Chase MD government to cough up e-mail messages from Ashley Kavanaugh that contain "interesting" words. Like "Liberal", "Abortion", "Gun", "Gay", … (Two terms are redacted from the Times' demand; I guess we have no right to know that.)

    John observes:

    They won’t find anything, of course. But this is what I want to know: When Stephen Breyer, Ruth Ginsburg, Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan were appointed to the Court, did the Times, or the Associated Press, try to investigate documents sent or received by their family members?

    To ask the question is to answer it. The New York Times is only too happy to do opposition research for the Democratic Party for no charge.


  • I recently re-read 1984, so I'm sensitive to occurrences of Doublethink, such as that described by J.D. Tuccille at Reason: Liberty Makes Us Unfree, Says the ACLU

    What purpose is served by the American Civil Liberties Union? I know that the words "civil liberties" appear right there in the name, but it's increasingly difficult to take that seriously as the organization's mission. Just a month after leaked internal ACLU case-selection guidelines revealed the organization to be stepping back from viewpoint-neutral advocacy of free speech rights, the ACLU claims that vigorous advocacy for self-defense rights is to blame for government expansion of the security state.

    "Mass shootings create a pervasive sense of insecurity and anxiety that politicians and policymakers will inevitably seek to address," senior policy analyst Jay Stanley insists on the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project blog. As a result, he argues, "those who support expansive gun rights as a protection against excessive government power should strongly consider how much government intrusion and expanded power they're willing to trade for those rights."

    How about "none"? Does "none" work for you?


  • George F. Will appears at National Review, noting that Protectionism’s Appeal Endures, Despite Its Disastrous Effects.

    If you are not collateral damage in the escalating trade wars, the bulletins from the wars’ multiplying fronts are hilarious reading. You are collateral damage only if you are a manufacturer, farmer, or consumer, so relax and enjoy the following reports.

    Whirlpool, which makes washing machines and demands for government protection, wheedled Washington into imposing tariffs on, and quotas for, imported machines. Unfortunately for Whirlpool, American steel and aluminum makers horned in on the protectionist fun, getting tariffs — taxes paid by Americans — imposed on imports of those materials that, the Wall Street Journal says, account for most of the weight of 200-pound washing machines. And for part of the decline in Whirlpool’s share price. And for declining demand for appliances, the prices of which have risen as protectionism increases manufacturing costs and decreases competition.

    Mr. Will is a national resource. When on the road, I'm listening to his Reason podcast interview with Nick Gillespie.


  • Betsy Newmark compares recent Senatorial rhetoric (Cory Booker on Judge Kavanaugh, specifically) with Gustavus Adolphus, then King of Sweden, threatening a Brandenburg city father to get on the Right Side:

    I tell you plainly I will hear not a word of neutrality. Your Serenity must be either friend or foe. As soon as I get to your frontier you will have to declare yourself. Here strive God and the devil. If you will hold with God, come over to me, If you prefer the devil, you will have to fight me first. Tertium non dabitur [There is no third choice,] of that you may be sure.

    I got similar treatment for my never-Trump, never-Clinton behavior a couple years back.


Last Modified 2018-07-27 11:34 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2018-07-26

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:8 is clearly written by a command-giver:

    8 The wise in heart accept commands,
        but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

    Still, Proverbialist, I hear you about the chattering fools. They can't come to ruin soon enough.

    But for fools who want to outsource their chattering, please see our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • Vice has interesting news about the latest Twitter tilt of the playing field: Twitter is “shadow banning” prominent Republicans like the RNC chair and Trump Jr.’s spokesman.

    Twitter is limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans in search results — a technique known as “shadow banning” — in what it says is a side effect of its attempts to improve the quality of discourse on the platform.

    The Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel, several conservative Republican congressmen, and Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman no longer appear in the auto-populated drop-down search box on Twitter, VICE News has learned. It’s a shift that diminishes their reach on the platform — and it's the same one being deployed against prominent racists to limit their visibility. The profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search, but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar. (The accounts appear to also populate if you already follow the person.)

    I certainly have noticed the improvement in the quality of Twitter discourse… no, wait, I haven't.


  • At National Reivew, Ben Shapiro writes on the The Perils of ‘Owning’ the Libs.

    On Monday evening, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke before Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership Summit. There, she explained to the students that the attraction of conservatism shouldn’t be “owning the libs,” in the popular parlance; instead, conservatives should try to convince. She explained, “I know that it’s fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you’re accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone?”

    The blowback from the Trumpian right was swift. Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars tweeted, “Nikki Haley is incredibly stupid.” Breitbart headlined, “Nikki Haley Scolds Students.”

    I have never regretted bailing on Breitbart back in 2016. And I've never been attracted to Infowars.

    I'd like to think that making polite and evidence-based arguments are persuasive. My experience (I'd like to think) indicates not so much. Still, there's the matter of self-respect: if you score on a cheap shot, will you feel good about yourself in the morning?


  • Matthew Hoy writes from California on the latest environmentalist virtue-signalling: Banning plastic straws.

    We all know the arguments that this is yet another example of empty symbolism, based on 9-year-old "research"—I mean, literally, a report from a nine-year-old kid.

    But Matthew notes this comment from Santa Barbara councilman Jason Dominguez:

    “Unfortunately, common sense is just not common,” he said. “We have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.”

    That's the last kind of thing you want to hear after a re-reading of George Orwell's 1984.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for a local TV station report: Naked man arrested at Planet Fitness thought it was 'judgment-free zone,' police say.

    A Massachusetts man was arrested after police said he stripped down inside a Planet Fitness in Plaistow.

    Police said Eric Stagno, 34, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, walked into the gym and removed his clothing. He walked back and forth a couple times before settling in on the yoga mats.

    "Massachusetts man" has had a long history of Granite State misbehavior. But LFOD? Ah, there it is:

    "Well I just moved out here, so this is a 'Live Free or Die' state, so anything's free," gym member Doug Wilson said.

    Welcome to the state, Doug. Although Eric seems to be relying more on the implicit promise in the gym's "judgment-free zone" slogan than LFOD.


  • The Boston Globe's James Pindell reports on our latest legislative effort: N.H. lawmakers are trying to make it very difficult for other states to collect sales tax there

    Last month, when the US Supreme Court ruled that states and local communities could collect sales tax from online retailers in other jurisdictions, it was heralded as a boon for those looking to recoup lost revenue and small businesses trying to compete with large online retailers.

    But for some in New Hampshire, the South Dakota v. Wayfair ruling was viewed as an affront to the state’s politics and way of life. It is, after all, a point of pride for flinty Granite Staters that they don’t have an income tax or sales tax — known to locals as the “New Hampshire advantage.”

    “ ‘Live free or die’ is not just a slogan on a license plate. It is the very essence of who we are,” said Governor Chris Sununu last month when he called for a special session to find a legislative fix that would halt other states from implementing taxes on local businesses.

    Unfortunately, the New Hampshire General Court couldn't get it done yesterday. Try, try again.


Last Modified 2018-07-26 1:25 PM EDT

1984

[Amazon Link]

I previously read this book back in the 1960s, about 20 years before actual-1984. Not because it was assigned—it was a little racy for Omaha Public Schools back then, I would think—just on my own.

Now, 34 years after actual-1984, does it still hold up? I'd have to say "yes and no". Spoilers follow, but, c'mon, who doesn't know the story?

Winston Smith is a low-level Party schlub living in what used to be called "England", now "Airstrip One", part of the country of "Oceania". Things are totalitarian to the nth degree: telescreens are ubiquitous, propaganda is incessant, blind loyalty to the godlike leader "Big Brother" is required, paranoia is totally justified.

Winston harbors anti-Party feelings, though. At first, he restricts himself to writing things down in a secret journal. And then, he engages in an illicit affair with Julia, another rebel. Finally, he and Julia decide to join the Brotherhood, by taking up with co-worker O'Brien.

Oops.

It all comes crashing down. It turns out the Party was on to Winston all along; his friend O'Brien was actually a loyal member of the "Inner Party", and belongs to the Thought Police. And then things get very bad.

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about 1984. We could quibble about how likely it is that a population of millions could be effectively controlled by a relatively small cadre of telescreen monitors. But perhaps with sufficiently developed AI algorithms, the subjugation could all be automated.

But it's the kind of book that makes you scrutinize current events for worrisome trends. Unfortunately, those are always present, because Orwell had his eye on timeless human failings: the craving for authority, manipulation of language to disguise reality, scapegoating, invocation of external enemies to quash dissent,…

URLs du Jour

2018-07-25

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:7 is usual in once sense: it's better to be righteous than wicked. But the consequences are new:

    7 The name of the righteous is used in blessings,
        but the name of the wicked will rot.

    This presumably all happens after you've passed away. But it still might persuade some people to be nice.

    I plan to use Bastiat's name in blessings, or at least publicize his ideas, one of which is our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • You may have heard that folks running the gamut from George F. Will to James Comey want you to vote Democrat (or at least not vote Republican) in the November elections. At National Review Online, David French suggests an alternative strategy: Never-Trump Conservatives Should Vote for Good Republicans in 2018. To expand:

    I have a different strategy. Applied broadly, it’s far superior to any rule or suggestion that would compel you to vote for a person you don’t respect or policies you despise. Applied broadly, it will go farther than any single voting strategy to purge American politics of bad actors. It’s quite simply this: Vote for politicians of good character who share your political values. If they are deficient on either score, they don’t get your vote.

    Note that I did not say vote for a politician of perfect character. There is no such person. Nor do their political values have to perfectly align with yours. But with your vote you should maintain basic standards of decency while also preserving fundamental fidelity to your political priorities.

    I like David's strategy, but (in my case) it points to voting Libertarian, not Republican.


  • Sean Iling, a writer for the young-adult website Vox, belatedly interviews Jason Brennan, writer of Against Democracy. (Which I talked about here.) The interview discusses Epistocracy: a political theorist’s case for letting only the informed vote. It is shockingly fair. Excerpt:

    [Iling:] Let’s return to the “competence principle.” Why does the right to competent government trump other fundamental rights, like the right to participate in the democratic process?

    [Brennan:] I think the real question is why should we assume there’s a right to participate in democratic process? It’s actually quite weird and different from a lot of other rights we seem to have.

    We have the right to choose our partner, to choose our religion, to choose what we’re going to eat, where we live, what job we’ll do, etc. While some of these things do impose costs on others, they’re primarily about carving out a sphere of autonomy for the individual, and about preventing other people from having control over you.

    A right to participate in politics seems fundamentally different because it involves imposing your will upon other people. So I’m not sure that any of us should have that kind of right, at least not without any responsibilities.

    Provocative! As someone who's disgusted with the government that voters have given us, I'm sympathetic. But I still think it might be better to approach things on the candidate side: require that candidates take pop quizzes, IQ tests, etc. Publicize the results.


  • President Trump recently opined that "Tariffs are the greatest!" At the Federalist, David Harsanyi rebuts: No, Mr. President, Tariffs Are Not ‘The Greatest’.

    Many Trump supporters assure me that the president is only interested in brandishing the threat of tariffs as cudgel to attain fairer international trade deals. This, I’m told, is because the United States— a nation of immense wealth, whose gross domestic product is far larger than that of its closest competitor (despite a fraction of the population), and whose people enjoy the kind of high wages and living standards that allows them to buy things cheaply on the open market and, in turn, create dynamic domestic industries with the savings —is the victim of international trade.

    But there’s a real disconnect between this theory and Trump’s words and actions. What, as the president suggests, is the upside for American workers if these countries don’t agree to “fair” trade deals with the United States? How are tariffs—a tax, by definition—still “Great”? Is taxing consumers without any genuine corresponding benefit great? Is endangering businesses that rely on cheaper material to keep employment numbers up and costs down great? Is closing off American goods to markets that engage in similar counterproductive policies great?

    Spoiler alert: the answer to those questions are, respectively: none whatsoever; in no way; no; no; no.


  • And you know what else isn't great? As Patterico notes, this isn't: Trump Prepares $12 Billion Bailout of Farmers Hit by His Super-Easy and Great Trade War. Quoting a news report:

    The U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday plans to announce a $12 billion package of emergency aid for farmers caught in the midst of President Trump’s escalating trade war, two people briefed on the plan said, the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon.

    Trump ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to prepare a range of options several months ago, amid complaints from farmers that their products faced retaliatory tariffs from China and other countries. The new package of government assistance funds will be announced Tuesday and is expected to go into effect by Labor Day.

    The late Harry Browne is quoted, very relevantly:

    The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, 'See if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk.'

    Maybe Trump can follow up Obama's "Life of Julia" campaign propaganda with "Life of Farmer Joe" in 2020.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-24

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:6 returns to the Proverbialist's favorite orifice:

    6 Blessings crown the head of the righteous,
        but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

    I hate it when anything overwhelms my mouth. Let alone violence.


  • Veronique "Intrepid" de Rugy writes, at Reason, on a continuing bad idea, of which the latest example is: States Bid to Lure in Amazon.

    If you've been to the movies recently and stayed until the very end of the massive list of names that follows the film, you may have noticed the startling number of tax credits and other subsidies being doled out to producers by states and cities. The new Avengers movie received somewhere around $30 million in credits from Georgia. Captain America received some $20 million to shoot in California.

    Such gifts are unbecoming, considering each of these films grossed hundreds of millions in profits within the first few weeks of its release. But nothing beats the forehead-smacking stupidity of the governments currently throwing billions of dollars in corporate welfare at the richest man in the world.

    That would be Jeff Bezos. I'm a fan, and I can't get too mad at him for playing the corporate welfare game; it's a component of the water in which all us fish are currently swimming.

    But we'd all be better off if states adopted the suggestion floated later in the article: a compact between states to "mutually disarm in the subsidy war."


  • At National Review, J. J. McCullough explains: The Medium Is Not the Message. Specifically, the social medium.

    An old truism holds that to find out who rules you, “look for who you’re not allowed to criticize.” In a democratic society, however, I’d suggest a more accurate measure would be: Look for the person or thing that gets praised the least. One of the defining qualities of a free people, after all, is deep aversion to appearing on the side of power. Even the original quotation obviously exists to instigate criticism where a lack of it is presently perceived.

    By this standard, social media is clearly our collective tyrant. We all understand ourselves to be ruled by it, and endless columns are churned out decrying this grim reality. Writers are ostentatiously quitting Twitter left and right — most recently the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman — or simply writing long essays about the neurotic hell it has made their lives.

    I would imagine that people with a high public profile endure a lot of monkey poo-flinging. And (surprise) those are the folks whose complaints about poo-flinging get the widest audience.

    But plenty of people—the vast silent majority—use social media to keep interacting with real friends and family. And put up with the occasional stupid/clickbait ad. No big deal for them, and they must wonder what all the fuss is about.


  • At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff chronicles the latest example of Our under-incarceration problem, Atlanta edition.

    When he was 14 years-old, Jayden Myrick was arrested for armed robbery. He agreed in a plea deal to a 15 year sentence. The final seven years were to be served in adult prison.

    But after just two-and-half years in juvenile detention, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs set Myrick free. She put him on probation and placed him in a special program whose director claimed could keep tabs on Myrick and reform him.

    Now, Myrick, age 17, is accused of shooting and killing a 34 year-old Washington, D.C. man during the course of another armed robbery, as the man was waiting for an Uber ride after leaving a wedding reception in Atlanta. Christian Broder is survived by his wife and a 9-month-old daughter. He would be alive today if Judge Downs hadn’t stupidly subscribed to the tenets of those pushing sentencing reform.

    Judge Downs is in thrall to a "rehabilitation" orthodoxy for convicted criminals. If some innocent people have to die as a result, so be it.


  • At American Consequences, P.J. O’Rourke has guidance for Reading The Wealth of Nations All The Way Through. Yes, he's done it. There are downsides:

    […] Smith often goes off on quirky tangents. For example, in Book One of Wealth, he tries to explain how we determine value and price. He says, “If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice the labor to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer.”

    And I’m going, wait a minute. Can killing a beaver, even in supposition, really be twice as hard as killing a deer? Deer can run like hell. We know where the beaver lives. It built the beaver dam. We’ve got the beaver’s home address. Even if it does take twice as long to kill a beaver – wading around in the beaver pond smacking at Bucky’s head with the flat side of a canoe paddle – who wants a beaver? It’s not like a nation of hunters is wearing a lot of beaver skin top hats. And after a long day of hunting, take your pick – juicy venison tenderloin or beaver stew?

    I haven't read Wealth of Nations, but I've read P.J.'s own On the Wealth of Nations, a booklength treatment of the same subject.

    Fun fact. The last paragraph of my post:

    If I had to pick a flaw in the book, it's that a few of P. J.'s witticisms are very timely. Will a crack about Britney Spears make any sense to most readers in 2017? (I hope not.)

    I think I was over-optimistic there.


  • And the Babylon Bee reports: US Government Agrees To Adopt More Of Libertarians’ Ideas If They’d Just Shut Up About It Already.

    The U.S. government announced Monday it will be adopting more libertarian policies going forward, including lower taxes, greater support for civil liberties, and a drastically decentralized federal government, “if all the libertarians will agree to just shut up and stop complaining for like one freaking second.”

     The announcement was issued in the form of a joint statement by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government, and is contingent upon libertarians “chilling out a bit” and immediately ceasing from posting memes stating “Taxation is Theft” and “End the Fed” every single second they’re on the internet.

    Who knew it would be so easy?

Ant-Man and the Wasp

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Neither wife nor kid wanted to see this with me, so by my lonesome I traipsed over to Barn-Zs in Barrington for a rainy Sunday matinee. Small screen, non-stadium seating, no footrests like the fancy Newington cinema. Nevertheless, it was crowded! And I had a great time.

Last movie's Ant-Man, Scott Lang, has been placed under house arrest for taking his stand with the pro-Captain America side in Captain America: Civil War. Which violated the "Segovia Accords" or something. Could have been worse. His lovely, precocious daughter, Cassie gets to visit every so often, and they have a blast.

But off in a remote lab, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his lovely-in-a-different way-if-you-know-what-I-mean-and-I-think-you-do daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are desperately trying to tie up the loose end from the previous Ant-Man movie: Hank's wife Janet has long been lost in the "Quantum Realm", which Scott visited briefly. And (it turns out) Scott and Janet were "entangled" during the visit, and Scott has unexplained dreams...

Anyway: two hours of madcap fun and sight gags, involving bad guys (Walton Goggins and his henchment), morally-ambiguous antagonists ("Ghost", victim of a past mad-scientist experiment gone wrong), Hank's ex-colleague Ben (Lawrence Fishburne), a well-meaning by-the-book FBI agent, and Scott's security company co-workers, including the always-great Michael Peña. (The scene where he's under truth serum administered by the bad guys is worth the price of admission all by itself.)

And yes, I did see three Bobby Cannavale movies in a row. Not intetionally, I assure you, but I guess Bobby is having a pretty good acting career, getting roles in all these flicks.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-23

[Amazon Link]

  • I can only imagine the family situation that caused the Proverbialist to write Proverbs 10:5:

    5 He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son,
        but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.

    … except these proverbs are credited to Solomon, who had a sole (credited) son, Rehoboam, who was (it is written) kind of an incompetent dick.

    Legend (but not the Bible) saith that Solomon's dalliance with the Queen of Sheba produced another son, Menelik I, who went on to be Emperor of Ethiopia.

    I can't find any reference to either Menelik or Rehoboam being especially eager to do field work.


  • NYT columnist Ross Douthat op-eds on a topic I should find interesting: Libertarians in the Age of Trump

    Just a little while ago journalists were talking about a “libertarian moment” in American politics, with Rand Paul as its avatar — an entitlement-cutting, prison-reforming, drug-legalizing, intervention-opposing, drone-strike-filibustering politics that was supposed to build bridges between Republicans and millennials. But then Paul, like other Republicans, was steamrolled by Trumpism in 2016. So what exactly happened to his moment?

    One answer is that the libertarian spirit was overextended and vulnerable to a backlash. Confident free-traders underestimated how much outsourcing had cost the Western working class. Entitlement reformers overestimated the political practicality of their proposals. Cultural laissez-faire weakened social solidarity, with opioid-driven disintegration the starkest symptom of decay. And the rise of ISIS transmuted the post-Iraq anti-interventionist impulse into a “raise the drawbridge” style of politics, with the libertarian aspect drained away.

    Libertarians are very used to electoral defeat. As said in the past: we'll just have to be satisfied with being totally right about everything, all the time.


  • I was informed, via Jonah Goldberg's latest podcast, that the "National Review Online" has been debranded, gone the way of gluten-free Rice Krispies. So…

    Kevin D. Williamson writes at NR on The First Nationalist. Who's that? The answer may surprise you! Or not.

    FDR sent aides to Italy to study Mussolini’s social-insurance policies and housing programs. As New Dealers including FDR himself would later acknowledge, Mussolini’s radical economic nationalism seemed benign, even salutary, when Il Duce was still maintaining some semblance of parliamentary democracy, before he entered into his subordinate alliance with Adolf Hitler. The Depression seemed at the time to represent a failure of global capitalism, and Mussolini seemed to have discovered a way to press economic resources into the service of the public good — the national interest — in a way that free markets did not.

    You know, with all the brouhaha about removing offensive statues and symbols from public display, we really ought to get iconoclastic on all the literally Fascistic symbology around the country.


  • Deirdre McCloskey asks the musical question: Is Facebook a Problem?. Hint: the correct answer is cleverly hidden in the excerpt below…

    You’ve witnessed the recent brouhaha about Facebook selling your life to advertisers and, especially, if indirectly, to Cambridge Analytica. (Can the University or the City of Cambridge sue for damages for the misuse of their name? I wish they would.)

    Is it a problem? No, not especially. What should we do about it? Nothing.

    It is indeed a problem when a company, or the state, fools people by telling them they are being taken care of when they are not. Free exchange among informed adults benefits both sides, and practically everyone else. But if the exchange is fraudulent, it does not. “Not to worry,” says Facebook, “We have your privacy for social chitchat in mind, and would never abuse it.” “Not to worry,” says the state, “We have your entire privacy, income, safety, right to vote, education, health, legal justice, protection from knife attacks, and freedom in mind, and would never abuse them.” In Facebook’s case, if the fooling becomes egregious, and is publicized through a free press, or private suits before a court, and if Facebook is not protected by the state in a cozy monopoly, the buyer of chitchat goes to a competitor, or ceases chitchatting. In the state’s case, by contrast, she gets to vote, occasionally, on a collection of important issues, one of which may be the abuse. Mostly not. Perhaps she can move to France.

    To echo David Harsanyi from yesterday: "Get a grip, America."


  • Another day, another report of massive profligacy of your ex-money from Reason (Steve Chapman): How the National Flood Insurance Program Wastes Taxpayer Dollars.

    Hurricane Harvey inundated a house in Kingwood, Texas last year—the 22nd time it has flooded since 1979. You might think that after the first or second disaster, those in charge of the insurance program would have offered to pay for the owner to rebuild—somewhere else. But it was allowed to remain in harm's way. As of 2015, the government had paid $2.5 million in claims—"at last eight times what the house is worth," according to the Houston Chronicle.

    Just one example. Unsurprisingly, the folks in charge want to "help" flood victims. They are not using their own money to do so, however.


  • More American Consequences content from P.J. O’Rourke in their "Summer Reading" issue: 3 Books That Aren’t About Investing (subtitle: "Which Every Investor Should Read")

    Spoiler: Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman; The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek; New Ideas from Dead Economists by Todd Buchholz. A quote from the middle one:

    Once government has embarked upon planning for the sake of justice, it cannot refuse responsibility for anybody’s fate or position… There will be no economic or social questions that would not be political questions.

    And, decades later, we have The Life of Julia.

Discriminations and Disparities

[Amazon Link]

I have a number of Thomas Sowell hardcovers on my shelves, but since I am now ElderlyOnAFixedIncome, I decided to get his latest, Discriminations and Disparities, via the Interlibrary Loan services of the University Near Here. And it (eventually) came all the way from the University of Wyoming! My deep gratitude to all involved along the way.

Dr. Sowell recently celebrated his 88th birthday, but this book shows he hasn't lost a lot of speed off his fastball. (Sorry about that metaphor, I've been watching a lot of baseball this summer.) This book is relatively short (127 pages of main text), and concentrates on the fallacies people routinely fall into when looking at statistical disparities between groups of people. Those fallacies lead to probably-erroneous conclusions: that either the disparities are due to discrimination or genetics.

There are a number of ways people can go wrong, intentionally or otherwise.

For example, Sowell makes an early point that I haven't seen others make explicitly: outcomes are nearly always a product of multiple factors, all of which are necessary prerequisites. If just one of the prerequisites is blocked or missing for a group, the result is a highly skewed distribution for that outcome. Example: China was a technological leader, coming up with many inventions before the Europeans. But at some point China's leaders decided to impose a substantial isolationism; while China's people remained just as talented as before, this single factor doomed China to backwardness for centuries.

Sowell goes on to slice-and-dice the concept of "discrimination". There's "fact-based" discrimination, the kind we make all the time when making judgments based on objective qualities and empirical evidence—Sowell calls this "Discrimination I". And then there's old-fashioned bigotry, based not on fact but on usually-invidious perceptions and stereotypes: "Discrimination II".

But "Discrimination I" can be broken down further: while we would prefer that decisions be made on totally accurate knowledge about individuals ("Discrimination Ia"), it's also possible for people can base their judgment on individuals from statistical facts about the group they belong to. Sowell's example: suppose 40% of the people in Group X are alcoholics, while only 1% of the people in Group Y are alcoholics. And you are hiring for a position in which having an alcoholic would be ineffective or even dangerous. Deciding to hire from Group Y is "Discrimination Ib": a reality-based call not based in animosity, just a knowledge of probability. Even though that might be bad news for the 60% of Group X who aren't alcoholics.

Sowell's point: don't lump "Discrimination Ib" with "Discrimination II". It's easy (especially for people with no skin in the game) to pontificate about what's "fair": sure, we'd like to judge all individuals on an individual basis. But when that's impractical, and it often is, how can you blame people for making a relatively safer bet?

I've just scratched the surface. Sowell continues to talk sense in an age where people resist that sort of thing.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-22

[Amazon Link]

  • Solomon brings the truth in Proverbs 10:4:

    4 Lazy hands make for poverty,
        but diligent hands bring wealth.

    Point taken.

    Everything is relative, however. An Ancient Israeli "wealthy" person would be considered in abject poverty today.


  • Jonah Goldberg's most recent G-File is (roughly) on President Trump's recent loose-cannon comments on NATO. Excerpt:

    I’m worried that we are entering a very dangerous chapter in world history. The idea that international institutions, built on the blood-stained rubble of two world wars, must give way to some glorious new era of nationalism is inflaming the minds of people across the West. It’s a very weird epidemic of Year Zero thinking on a global level. As a Burkean, I’m open to reform: gradual, thoughtful, incremental reform that improves on what we have already built. But the recent blunderbuss rhetoric isn’t about that. It’s a nearest-weapon-to-hand defense of a president who doesn’t understand how NATO even works.

    It's rough when you have a President that, every so often, can't be bothered to appear sane, knowledgable, and honest.


  • Trump's bad enough. His opponents are aguably worse. At Reason, David Harsanyi has a suggestion for us: Get a Grip, America.

    This week, The Washington Post published an op-ed headlined "It's not wrong to compare Trump's America to the Holocaust." As with similar examples of this genre, it's a sickening display of moral relativism that belittles the suffering and murder of millions in the service of some shortsighted and crass partisan fearmongering.

    Elsewhere, Politico published an opinion piece headlined "Putin's Attack on the U.S. Is Our Pearl Harbor," which demeaned the sacrifice of American service members by likening a military attack on American soil that brought us into the bloodiest war mankind has ever experienced to phishing.

    On MSNBC, where illiterate histrionic analogies litter coverage every day, a contributor compared Donald Trump's meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin to Pearl Harbor and Kristallnacht, just to be safe.

    It's a little weird when, by all objective measures, the sanest political party in America is the Libertarian Party.


  • At PJ Media, John Ellis has news you can use. Specifically, 5 Modern Myths People Need to Stop Believing. Example:

    4. After Eating, You Have to Wait to Go Swimming

    People need to let go of this myth because there's no reason to continue torturing kids. And mothers have been torturing kids for generations because of the belief that after eating we have to wait at least 30 minutes before jumping back into the pool. However, as Duke Health says, "Apparently, mother does not know best when it comes to swimming after eating."

    The myth persists, though, because it is true that swimmers can suffer from a mild cramp after eating. Please note the emphasis on "mild." Because, as Medicine Net points out, "the fact is that an episode of drowning caused by swimming on a full stomach has never been documented."

    Ellis's myths are apolitical. For example, he doesn't tackle the myth of Scandinavian socialism.


  • American Consequences has its "Summer Reading" issue online. Editor P. J. O'Rourke essays on Knowing Write From Left. His contrarian take on a musty play:

    Literature hates capitalism. And the hating started while capitalism was still being invented – before “capitalist” was even a word – in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice with its nasty portrayal of Shylock, the only worthwhile person in the play.

    All the other main characters are rich lay-abouts, except for the titular merchant, Antonio, and he’s a fool. He’s going to loan his profligate friend Bassanio 3,000 ducats (something like half-a-million dollars) so that Bassanio can afford to date Portia. Meanwhile, Antonio’s business affairs are a mess. He’s cash poor because all his capital is tied up in high-risk ventures. He’s counting on huge returns from emerging market trading ventures.

    Shylock, a keen-eyed financial analyst, sums up Antonio’s investment portfolio: “He hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies… a third at Mexico, a fourth for England.”

    Libya, Southeast Asia, Mexico, and… England? What, exactly, is this Merchant of Venice merchandizing? Looks to me like he’s trading in boat people, smuggled ivory, drugs, and… kippered herring?

    Peej has some alternate reading suggestions, a couple may surprise you! Eek!


  • A student, Ian Smith (but not that Ian Smith), writes sensibly in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: University of Minnesota pronoun policy should not be enacted. It's the (by now) standard: even though a student's birth certificate may say "Stephen", he has the right to be referred to as "Stephanie", use the girl's bathroom, and … oops, I'm probably in trouble for saying "he" back there, because "hir" preferred pronoun is "ze".

    Among the problems Ian perceives:

    • Administrators have full power to expel someone for not using pronouns.

    There is something wrong with a policy that kicks a student out of its school and essentially ruins their lives over their not uttering a one-syllable word. There is something morally in me that can’t quite support a policy that advocates for this. One may make the argument that “the university will only resort to that punishment in extreme cases.” But that’s not how policies work out in effect. When you give administrators wide breadth in disciplinary action, you must assume that they will use it. So be prepared for a student to be expelled for not speaking the exact words the university wants him or her to say.

    Aaaand … cue the lawsuits. Universities need to ask themselves: Is this really a hill they want to die on?

    So anyway, if you know any college students, you might want to invest in our Amazon Product du Jour. Which, outrageously, you can get in either "Men" or "Women" fit types. To the barricades, comrades!

URLs du Jour

2018-07-21

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:3:

    3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
        but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

    How do you know if you're not righteous? If you're hungry.


  • I've been watching—sort of—the Margaret Hoover version of "Firing Line" off the TiVo when I get the chance. Dasaun McClinton @ the Federalist notes a problem: PBS’s ‘Firing Line’ Revival Wets Bill Buckley’s Gunpowder. It's a longish article, but Dasaun eventually gets to the widely-noted claim from interviewee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: "unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs."

    It would not have taken much for Hoover to interject and point out that the number of jobs a person has or number of hours a person works has no effect whatsoever on the unemployment rate. But she didn’t. This is just the beginning of what quickly develops into a cycle: Ocasio-Cortez says something false or historically ignorant, like that the United States was not a capitalist country when it was founded. Hoover sits, nods, then moves on.

    To her credit, Hoover retorts that capitalism has generated the most wealth and eliminated the most poverty of any other system, but undercuts her own efforts by allowing Cortez to explain away those facts as being a part of the natural evolution of economic systems. This is not true.

    I suspect that Ms. Hoover doesn't push back on outlandish claims because she's an intellectual lightweight who's unable to think on her feet. (I know, she's sitting down. You know what I mean.)


  • How Margaret Hoover could have pushed back on Ocasio-Cortez's capitalism-slagging is expressed in our Tweet du Jour:

    The other "Firing Line" interviews I've watched: Gretchen Carlson, Paul Ryan, both pretty blah. I have the Jeff Merkley episode on disk, so… one more chance?


  • Coleman Hughes @ Quillette writes on Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap.

    There is arguably no racial disparity more striking than the wealth gap. While the median white household earns just 65 percent more income than its black counterpart, its net worth is fully ten times as high. And, unlike income, which individuals earn in their own lifetimes, wealth accrues over generations, and whites are more than three times as likely as blacks to inherit money from their families. In the public debate on racial inequality, the wealth gap is among the sharpest arrows in the progressive quiver. When conservative commentators argue that America is a meritocracy, or that blacks lag due to cultural factors, progressives can retaliate with a single statistic that seems to prove the reality of white privilege beyond the possibility of doubt.

    But does it? No, it doesn't. Read the whole thing. One commenter writes that "Coleman Hughes appears to be … Thomas Sowell pre-emptively reincarnated." Big, if true.


  • David Harsanyi gives us the sad news: The ACLU Has Basically Quit Defending The Constitution.

    The American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that once so rigidly adhered to the neutral principles in the Constitution that it famously defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to march through the Jewish-laden Chicago suburb of Skokie, has been increasingly rejiggering its positions to correspond with the Left’s hard lurch towards cafeteria constitutionalism.

    This week, for example, one of its senior policy analysts came up with an imaginative rationalization for limiting gun rights. “The wide availability of guns and their misuse is leading to restrictions on Americans’ freedom,” the organization tweeted this week, “and that needs to be part of the firearms debate.” The piece the tweet links to makes a, “A Pro-Liberty Case for Gun Restrictions,” which, though it’s become a tediously misused cliché over the years, can only be described as Orwellian.

    It's sad to see the ACLU self-immolate in progressivism.


  • Faint praise from Jonah Goldberg @ NRO: Obama’s Identity-Politics Warning Is Better Late than Never.

    ‘Democracy demands that we’re able to also get inside the reality of people who are different than us, so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, maybe they’ll change ours.”

    That was Barack Obama speaking in South Africa on the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.

    The former president went on to say that you can’t change people’s minds “if you just out of hand disregard what your opponent has to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you, because they are white or they are male, somehow there is no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.”

    "Welcome to the party, pal." Hypocritical? Sure, you bet. But as Jonah notes: "there’s a reason we say hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue."

URLs du Jour

2018-07-20

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10 is labeled as being direct from Solomon, so Proverbs 10:2 should be extremely wise, right?

    2 Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value,
        but righteousness delivers from death.

    Proverbs flits between "being good pays off in life" and "well, maybe not in life, but…." This seems to be one of the latter.


  • But speaking of ill-gotten treasures, think of all those folks at the receiving end of the spending detailed in the 2018 Congressional Pig Book, the yearly compendium of wasteful spending. Summary:

    Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) 2018 Congressional Pig Book exposes 232 earmarks in FY 2018, an increase of 42.3 percent from the 163 in FY 2017. The cost of earmarks in FY 2018 is $14.7 billion, an increase of 116.2 percent from the $6.8 billion in FY 2017, or nearly nine times greater than the increase in discretionary spending. The only other time the cost has at least doubled was FYs 1992-1993. Since FY 1991, CAGW has identified 110,861 earmarks costing $344.5 billion.

    Back in May, we in Seacoast NH had a visit from the USS Manchester, which had its commissioning ceremony in Portsmouth. Local pols (notably Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the ship's "sponsor") swooned, thanks to the Navy naming it after Manchester, NH. I attest: it was might impressive looking. But the Pig Book notes the waste involved:

    $544,075,000 for three earmarks funding the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the largest amount ever earmarked for the vessel. Known to some inside (and outside) the Navy as the “Little Crappy Ship,” the LCS has been a disaster since its inception, with problems that include a vaguely defined mission, a lack of firepower and survivability, and design flaws leading to cracks in the hull and corrosion. The number of ships the Navy intends to purchase has been cut in half, from 55 to 28, while the cost per ship has increased by 117.3 percent, from $220 million to $478 million.

    I don't recommend reading the Pig Book to anyone prone to hypertension unless they are well-medicated ahead of time.


  • Stephen Roberts @ the Federalist makes a point to which I've alluded in the past: Everybody Has Religious Beliefs, Some People Just Deny It. In this case, his musings are triggered by SC nominee Brett Kavanaugh's devout Catholicism, and the opposition that's likely to trigger among Senate Democrats.

    Increasingly, progressives will not tolerate deeply religious people in positions of authority. They have written them off as bigots and extremists with dangerous views, which is why Kavanaugh in his Senate confirmation hearings will face charges of bigotry and extremism from Democrats who feel free to flout the Constitution and impose their version of a religious test for public office.

    The only way to pass such a test is to not let on that you have any deeply held religious beliefs whatsoever—unless of course you subscribe to the religion of progressivism, and confess a firm belief in nothing so much as the almighty power of the state.

    Anti-Catholic bigotry, accusations of pro-Russian treason, … man, it really is the Sixties again. Far out!


  • Mark Liberman @ Language Log discusses something that's bugged me for years: when did Incredible stop meaning "not credible" and start meaning "exceedingly great"?

    Well, it's not quite that simple. After analysis of OED entries, and various corpora, Mark concludes:

    […] there has apparently been a proportional shift in the direction of the "exceedingly great" meaning — this is unsurprising, since such semantic "bleaching" (with the residue simply some sort of intensification) is a common process. Examples in the history of English include very, really, terribly, awfully,  etc. etc.

    But the "not credible" meaning is still deployed in legal contexts, for example in a recent Supreme Court decision from the Notorious RBG, which refers to a convicted murderer's "incredible and uncorroborated defense".


  • Bryan Caplan sees rampant dysfunction everywhere, except: Firm Functionalism.

    I have little sympathy for the Panglossian view that the status quo is socially optimal – or even socially satisfactory.  When I look at the world, I see vicious government policies, awful wars, and grotesque waste.  You could chalk this up to my libertarian priors, and not without just cause.  But in my defense, individual behavior often strikes me as sadly dysfunctional, too.  People would be markedly happier if they second-guessed their impulses, built a Beautiful Bubble, and walked away from their own misanthropy.  They don’t, but they should.

    Still, one major form of social organization strikes me as highly functional – not merely from the point of view of the organizers themselves, but for society as a whole.  Ironically, it is arguably the most-maligned form of social organization: for-profit business.  Though I freely acknowledge the many shortcomings of the business community, it is far more sinned against than sinning.

    A balanced and reasonable argument follows.


  • Michael Munger discusses an important schism within libertarianism: Directionalism vs. Destinationism.

    I’m a “directional” libertarian. That means that if a proposed new policy or reform of an existing policy cuts spending or increases liberty, I’m for it, even if it isn’t a “real” libertarian policy.

    Directionalism infuriates the “destinationists.” Destinationists have a notion of the ideal outcome, the perfect solution. Any policy that is not acceptable in the imaginary destinationist world is not acceptable in the present world of realized institutions.

    Good point. I think I'm a Directionalist too. There's also a funny story about shopping carts in Germany and a wise local cop.

The Midnight Line

[Amazon Link]

I envision a conversation that may have taken place between Lee Child and a friend, shortly before work started on The Midnight Line.

"Lee, your books are great, but you seem obligated to stick in a violent scene every 50 pages or so. Does your publishing contract require that?"

"No, not at all."

"So it's just something you think you need to do to keep the reader paying attention or something?"

"Hm, maybe. Unconciously."

"I bet you couldn't go … say … a hundred pages without sticking in some sort of fight, shooting, stabbing, or otherwise violent death."

"'Bet', you say? OK. And to make it interesting, let's make it three hundred pages."

And so we have The Midnight Line, where [slight spoiler content ahead] our hero, Jack Reacher, beats the crap out of six bikers on pages 23-27. And then no actual violence until page 354.

This book may also set a record for fewest casualties in a Reacher novel. (I haven't been keeping track, but I bet someone out there is.)

Anyway, things kick off when Reacher gets off a bus at a comfort stop in a small Midwest burg, in the sad part of town. When his attention is pricked by a ring in a pawnshop window: class of 2005, West Point. Small, obviously for a woman's finger. Reacher is touched—that couldn't have been an easy sacrifice—and he decides (having nothing better to do) to discover the story behind the pawned ring and its ex-owner.

All he wants to know is the story. But does he, in the course of finding that out, happen upon an immense criminal conspiracy? Of course he does. He also accumulates some allies, in the form of local law enforcement, a private eye, and the PI's client.

As always, a masterful job from Mr. Child, even with the change of pace. I see the next one, Past Tense, is set at least partly in my neck of the woods. Once the price comes down.

I, Tonya

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

IMDB genericizes this movie as "Biography, Comedy, Drama". You might think "comedy" is a stretch. I think "Tragedy" might be most apt, but I don't know if they have that. According to the IMDB parental guide, the f-bomb rate is in the neighborhood of one per minute, which counts (according to the MPAA) as "pervasive language".

Margot Robbie, in the title role, was Oscar-nominated for Best Actress. Alison Janney won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Tonya's mom.

And, unless you've been living in a cave for a few decades, you know the story: Tonya Harding's rise and disastrous fall in the hypercompetitive world of American figure skating. Obstacles? You bet. Foremost is her very-low-class origins, from a broken home and a psycho super-abusive mom from hell. (Who, nevertheless, gets Tonya enough coaching and backing to propel her into the upper reaches of competition, so it's a mixed bag.) Judges are biased against her, although that's claimed from her POV, so who knows?

In addition, Tonya sets up her own problems: she's dishonest, makes dreadfully poor life choices (notably: husband Jeff Gillooly), has zero impulse control, and dysfunctional in many other ways.

So: spoiler alert, she flames out badly, and the only surprise is how far she gets before it happens.

The movie is well-done, but I had to balance that against the lack of sympathetic characters.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-19

[Amazon Link]

  • We move (backward, don't ask) into a new Proverbial chapter today with Proverbs 10:1:

    1 A wise son brings joy to his father,
        but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.

    Presumably it works the other way for daughters, so things even out between parents.

    (This is NIV, our default. A few PC translations substitute "child" for "son". I don't see any that substitute "parent" for "father" and "mother".)


  • Did slavery make America rich? If you've been wondering about that, wonder no further. Deirdre Nansen McCloskey answers at Reason: Slavery Did Not Make America Rich.

    In his second inaugural, Abraham Lincoln declared that "if God wills that [the Civil War] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk…as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

    It is a noble sentiment. Yet the economic idea implied—that exploitation made us rich—is mistaken. Slavery made a few Southerners rich; a few Northerners, too. But it was ingenuity and innovation that enriched Americans generally, including at last the descendants of the slaves.

    Read on for Professor McCloskey's detailed refutation.


  • We seem to be on a transgender kick today. Jeff Jacoby reports on … what might make a pretty good movie: The transgender posse vs. Scarlett Johansson.

    Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to left-wing pressure. In 2014, protesters demanded that she sever her ties to an Israeli company, SodaStream. Last year a racial interest group condemned her for playing the character Motoko in "Ghost in the Shell," a Hollywood remake of a Japanese classic.

    The posse came after Johansson yet again last week. Her supposed sin this time: agreeing to star in the upcoming movie "Rub & Tug," which tells the story of Dante "Tex" Gill, a brothel owner in 1970s Pittsburgh who was born female but lived as a man. The casting of Johansson triggered a backlash from transgender actors, who not only argued that the role should go to someone who personally identifies as transgender, but claimed it would be unethical and hostile to do otherwise.

    Bottom line, Jacoby notes: ScarJo has pulled out, the movie may not be made now.


  • Bias is the water in which the mainstream media swim, and it often takes an outsider to notice. At NRO, Charles C. W. Cooke observes that, according to the MSM, Apparently, Only Conservatives Spend Money on Politics. Example NYT headline:

    I.R.S. Will No Longer Force Kochs and Other Groups to Disclose Donors

    The "other groups" include every group operating under the IRS's 501(c)(4) rules. But…

    The Times notes that “varied” groups will benefit from this change, which is true. But the “varied” groups given as examples are “arms of the AARP, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity, which is funded partly by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.” Gosh, what a range! They must have been plucked from the air . . .

    Just for the record, Ballotpedia lists the "ten most viewed 501(c)(4) organizations" on their site:

    You'll recognize some of them, of course. It's far from the one-sided lists ominously peddled by the Times and their ilk.


  • At the Weekly Standard, Kevin D. Williamson has a non-negotiable demand: Stop Calling It 'Treason'.

    President Trump, who has a little something of the later Roman emperors in him, is not engaged in making war on the United States, though it is galling to defend him from such charges given his own propensity for talking treason lightly.

    He is not engaged in treason or anything like treason. He is engaged in hypocrisy and moral illiteracy. He is a frank admirer of caudillos such as Vladimir Putin, because in his mind ruthlessness, grasping, and amorality are associated with effective leadership. Hence the praise for Kim Jong-un.

    Trump is a boob of a familiar sort: The guy sitting on the barstool (though Trump does not drink) saying, “I’m not saying I approve of Hitler, but he got things done.” The president finds much to admire in autocracies and police states, and in foreign affairs he makes that plain enough. The insistence that Putin must have kompromat or financial leverage over Trump is, in the absence of evidence, only a conspiracy theory, and no responsible person in public life should be trafficking in those—not even late-night comedians. Civilization went awry when we stopped socially classifying actors and related entertainers with prostitutes and tinkers, but even Stephen Colbert owes some public duty.

    The list of folks against whom treason charges were (legally) brought in the US is surprisingly short.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is a fondly-remembered text from the previous outbreak of treason accusations.


  • I take Mental Floss quizzes every so often, and I got 96% on Is It in the USA? Not bad for a stay-at-home guy. How about you?


Last Modified 2018-07-19 11:11 AM EDT

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A rare misrating by Netflix's algorithm; it thought I'd love it. I thought it was boring, predictable, and stupid. Or maybe I was just in a bad mood. I don't claim that these reports are anywhere near objective measures of movie quality.

For the record: I liked the old Jumanji movie just fine. I like Dwayne Johnson. I even like Jack Black. Rhys Darby was hilarious in "Flight of the Conchords". Kevin Hart is OK, I guess.

I even like Karen Gillan, who played Nebula in recent Marvel movies, although I didn't recognize her with hair and non-blue skin.

Anyway. It's the inverse of the original movie; instead of game characters showing up to menace the real world, kids are sucked into the game-world. They show up as adults, although still have their kid personalities. So they bicker childishly, and doubt that their new bodies can accomplish what they need to do to win the game.

Yes, the kids are misunderstood losers and outcasts in the real world, and are tossed together by getting detention.

I fell asleep at a number of points, so maybe good stuff happened then.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-18

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:31 looks as if it should have a question mark at the end instead of an exclamation point. (Some translations go with the question mark.)

    31 If the righteous receive their due on earth,
        how much more the ungodly and the sinner!

    I question the premise. To put it mildly.

    As is not uncommon, "The Message" translation of 11:31 seems to be a botch:

    If good people barely make it, what’s in store for the bad!

    Well, just look around you, Proverbialist.

    But this made me look up "How many exclamation points are in the NIV Bible?".

    Spoiler alert: 313. As opposed to a hefty 1492 in the KJV. I guess the KJV translators were an excitable bunch.


  • J.D. Tuccille notes, for the rest of us, how Proverbs 11:31 has been overridden in Arizona, where Laws Are for the Little People. ("You mean the leprechauns?" "No.")

    For aww-shucks acknowledgment of abuse of power, it's hard to beat Arizona-style honesty. When informed by a sheriff's deputy that doing 97 miles per hour in a 55 zone was a tad excessive, state Rep. Paul Mosley (R-District 5) answered, "Well, I was doing 120 earlier...This goes 140. That's what I like about it."

    Under fire from the public and the press, Rep. Mosley apologized both for speeding and for his "jokes about frequently driving over 100 miles per hour." But he drove away from that incident free as a bird, and likely faces no consequences more perilous than what the voters can muster up at the ballot box. As he explained to the deputy, he enjoys "legislative immunity."

    Arizona, it turns out, has a pretty broad legislative immunity written into its constitution.

    For those of us wondering "what about the Live Free or Die state?", the NH Constitution Part 2, Article 21:

    No member of the House of Representatives, or Senate shall be arrested, or held to bail, on mesne process, during his going to, returning from, or attendance upon, the Court.

    That's from 1784. Interestingly, I can't find any such protection in place for NH Senators. In any case, I'd like to see a rep trying to do 120 on NH Route 4 to Concord.


  • Jibran Khan notes victims of Trumpian protectionism: Lobstermen Are Caught in the Net.

    Arguments over tariffs invariably cast the protagonists as large, impersonal units: the U.S., China, the EU, corporations such as Toyota and Harley-Davidson. We are asked to take a side between actors too big to comprehend, perhaps in the hope that we will slip into a team mentality and assume that any costs incurred are simply coming out of the pockets of the rich or abstract, with little real effect on the rest of us. This is a grave mistake. Tariffs, both those enacted by the U.S. and those they provoke in retaliation, impose limitations on the behavior and livelihood of individuals. This has been made vividly clear recently by the plight of Maine’s fishermen, who are caught right in the middle of the White House’s trade war.

    China is one of the largest markets for Maine shellfish, but because the Chinese have reacted to the U.S. tariffs by imposing some of their own, that is beginning to change. With tariffs now set at 40 percent for live lobster and 35 percent for processed lobster, Maine’s seafood producers are taking a hit. Rather than pay a considerably higher amount in taxes by importing from Maine, Chinese businesses are shifting to Canadian suppliers, whose lobster exports have not been subject to the new tariffs. Canadian waters are home to the same species of lobster, so the trade war makes their product a direct, cheaper substitute.

    The only bit of good news: this should make lobster cheaper for the rest of us, right? Sucks if you're a lobsterman, though.


  • Ma Belle Michelle Malkin takes on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic Party congressional twit: Boston University's Fake-O-Nomics Darling.

    The upstart New York congressional candidate has been hailed by pundits, newspapers and pols as "sharp," "smart" and "extraordinary." BU's Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore gushed that Ocasio-Cortez is "brilliant -- she is boldly curious and always present. She makes me think and could always see multiple sides of any issue. ... I can't wait to see what happens when her time truly comes."

    But when the time came to put her BU economics education to work, Ocasio-Cortez flunked. On PBS last week, she asserted that "unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs." Moreover, the erudite B.A. holder in economics posited, "unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their kids."

    No, as Michelle points out, that's not how unemployment statistics work. And the fraction of people with multiple jobs is "less than 5 percent and has been declining for nearly 30 years."

    Maybe Alexandria could get some tuition money back from BU?


  • And our Tweet du Jour from the reliable Iowahawk:

    I believe the Hawk might be referring to…

URLs du Jour

2018-07-17

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:30 is one of those where the Proverbialist doesn't seem to be trying that hard:

    30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
        and the one who is wise saves lives.

    A fruit is a tree? C'mon.


  • Jeezum Crow. Did you know that the Secret Service codename for the President is "Loose Cannon"?

    Well, it's probably not.

    But by nearly all accounts… for example, Ben Shapiro at NRO: Trump’s Disgraceful Press Conference in Helsinki.

    On Monday, President Trump gave a deeply disgraceful press conference with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The presser began with Trump announcing that although the Russia–U.S. relationship has “never been worse than it is now,” all of that “changed as of about four hours ago.” It was downhill from there. Trump proceeded to state that he held “both countries responsible” for the deterioration of the relationship, then supported Putin’s argument that Russia hadn’t interfered in the American election in any way: “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. . . . I have confidence in both parties.”

    Both parties. One party being a murderous dictator, and the other the intelligence community that works for him.

    Many rabid anti-Trumpers think that Trump's performance means that "Putin has something on Trump". Probably pee-related. But Ben has an alternate (and more credible) explanation: "Far more likely, it means that Trump’s ego is one giant gaping wound, constantly draining rage over the suggestion that his 2016 election victory was somehow ill-won."


  • And Reason's Nick Gillespie is also credible when he points out: Trump's Putin Summit Is Another Reminder He Prefers Dictators to Democratic Leaders.

    Among the most consistent characteristics of Donald Trump's worldview is his admiration for dictators, authoritarians, and political strongmen—not in spite of their most thuggish tactics, but because of them.

    Trump often appears more comfortable in their company, and with their style of politics, than with the leaders of liberal democracies. This aspect of his personality was on display again today in his joint press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

    We've been seeing recently a spate of triumphalism by the Trump cheerleaders. This might make them go silent for a while.


  • But I did find one positive comment for Trump, from Roger L. Simon: Putin Summit May Prove to Be Trump's Finest Hour. Wha? That's contrarian, but see if you're convinced:

    Okay, time for that familiar cliche -- the thought experiment. Suppose Trump had done the opposite, exactly what these people demanded -- verbally and viciously assaulted Putin for all his totalitarian tropes from annexing the Crimea to humiliating John Podesta for being so dumb as to fall for a phishing attack (all right -- I'll be fair. For invading the computers of Democratic Party operatives, allegedly to elect Trump) and so forth?

    What would that have accomplished? The obvious answer is zilch. Again the opposite would most likely have occurred. Things, already bad, would have been set back further. It's human nature. You don't have to be a personal acquaintance of Vladimir Putin to know that. You only have to be breathing.

    I'll just point out this looks an awful lot like a False Dilemma fallacy.


  • And it is in these days of troubled times that we turn to Iowahawk for insightful wisdom. Alas, as shown in his Tweet du Jour,…

    … he's as mystified as the rest of us.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-16

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:29 is a pretty famous one. Evocative imagery:

    29 Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind,
        and the fool will be servant to the wise.

    Famous mostly because of our Amazon Product du Jour. Apparently, that's the original movie poster over there on your right. I don't remember the monkey being in the movie, but it's been a real long time since I watched.

    I also don't know the relevance of the title Inherit the Wind to the subject matter of the play/movie, the Scopes monkey trial.


  • Experiment in multitasking: I've taken up podcast-listening while dog-walking. One of my subscriptions is to Russ Roberts' EconTalk, which I much recommend. The latest episode is based on Russ's Medium essay: The Outrage Epidemic. Couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite:

    The political atmosphere in America seem to have deteriorated a lot in the last few years. A lot of yelling. A lot of arrogance and overconfidence. A lot of trusting of stories that confirm what we already believe as opposed to stories that challenge what we only think we know. And a lot of trusting of stories that are literally not true.

    People don’t just disagree with each other. They can’t imagine how a decent human being could disagree with their view of immigration or the minimum wage or President Trump.

    Russ's podcast is interesting and he's relentlessly fair even when his guests are promoting ludicrous ideas.


  • I'm way too old to develop a new bad/stupid habit, so I'm uninterested in vaping myself. I'm pretty disgusted at the moral panic that's sprung up around it, though. So's John Tierney, writing at City Journal: Juul Madness.

    Tobacco-company stocks have plunged this year—along with cigarette sales—because of a wonderful trend: the percentage of people smoking has fallen to a historic low. For the first time, the smoking rate in America has dropped below 15 percent for adults and 8 percent for high school students. But instead of celebrating this trend, public-health activists are working hard to reverse it.

    They’ve renewed their campaign against the vaping industry and singled out Juul Labs, the maker of an e-cigarette so effective at weaning smokers from their habit that Wall Street analysts are calling it an existential threat to tobacco companies. In just a few years, Juul has taken over more than half the e-cigarette market thanks to its innovative device, which uses replaceable snap-on pods containing a novel liquid called nicotine salt. Because the Juul’s aerosol vapor delivers nicotine more quickly than other vaping devices, it feels more like a tobacco cigarette, so it appeals to smokers who want nicotine’s benefits (of which there are many) without the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke.

    So "public health advocates" are actually working against … public health. Ironic? I'm never sure.


  • Baylen Linnekin brings (more) bad news at Reason: Trump's Tariffs Are Going To Make Your Food More Expensive.

    Food prices are rising. And they're soon likely to soar even more.

    The coming spike, which will hurt millions of Americans, didn't have to be. It's due on the one hand to the Trump administration's plans to impose mind-numbingly stupid tariffs on China and other U.S. trade partners and, on the other hand, by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and others in return.

    Hey, let them eat lobster.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has deep thoughts (at NRO) about a recent sorta-comedy. Specifically, what sort of men become monsters? Stalin at the Movies.

    One possible answer: Those who get the chance.

    For the thoroughgoing materialist (“dialectical and historical materialism,” Stalin called it), none of that should be surprising. If you believe that H. sap. is only time’s favorite monkey — that man is meat — then there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the kind of behavior we’re talking about, and no need to justify it, since there is nobody to justify it to. If you believe that man ought to be better, it implies that he can be better, and that “better” means something. And here materialism fails us, which is why Marxism became an ersatz religion. Christianity is a fortunate religion in the sense that the endless moral failings of its leaders (and followers) keeps illustrating, generation after generation, the fundamental facts of the creed. The creeds based on human perfectibility, which is the romantic notion at the heart of all utopian thinking, have as their main problem the countervailing example of everybody you’ve ever met and ever will.

    As noted yesterday, there's an excellent chance that cheerleaders for secular "enlightenment", like Steven Pinker, will be unhappy with the harvest they're sowing.


  • And a brief, but super-insightful Tweet du Jour from @baseballcrank, aka Dan McLaughlin:

    Exactly.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-15

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:28 is yet another promise/threat aimed at good/bad people:

    28 Those who trust in their riches will fall,
        but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

    On a vaguely related matter: my currency says "In God We Trust", but doesn't that sneakily imply that you're relatively foolish to trust that the currency you have on hand will hold its value?

    Also vaguely related: today's Amazon Product du Jour, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by the late Jean Shepherd.


  • Haven't read Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now yet? Let NRO's Christian Alejandro Gonzalez nudge you over the edge: Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now Is Mostly Right.

    Steven Pinker is a rare type of public intellectual, capable of writing prolifically without sacrificing an iota of scholarly rigor. Meticulously researched, closely argued, and elegantly written, his books are always exemplary pieces of scholarship. Most recently he committed his pen to making the case for Enlightenment values in his boldly titled Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

    Against the Marxist revulsion to the free-enterprise system, for instance, Pinker unabashedly embraces capitalist globalization — and his empirical arguments in favor of it are devastating. With a deluge of charts he shows that 200 years of property protections and international trade have helped create a world that is healthier, wealthier, happier, smarter, safer, more peaceful, and more democratic. Far from bequeathing to us a hellishly unequal dystopia, capitalism over the centuries has diminished life’s brutalities and broadened access to its contentments.

    Christian [appropriately] notes one of Pinker's fudges: his effort to discover/explicate a "secular path to meaning". But to Pinker's credit, his comments on this are right up front: pages 3-4.


  • George F. Will on the National Pastime, arguably fading in popularity among the important demographics: Don’t fix baseball, even if it’s broken.

    It is a prudential axiom: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. This reflects the awareness that things can always be made worse, and it reflects the law of unintended consequences, which is that they often are larger than and contrary to intended ones. As baseball reaches the all-star break amid lamentations about several semi-broken aspects of it, it is time to amend the axiom: Don’t fix it, even if it is broken.

    The itch to fix complex systems often underestimates the ability of markets, broadly understood, to respond and adapt to incentives. So, even if you are an unsatisfactory American — i.e., uninterested in baseball — read on, because the debate about some of the game’s current defects contains lessons about lesser things than baseball, meaning everything else.

    I'm mildly in favor of a pitch clock, which almost happened this year.

    Also: hit batsmen get to fling the ball back at the pitcher. "See how you like it."


  • The Google LFOD Alert rang a lot over the past couple days. For example, a Matt Welch article at Reason: How Elected Libertarians Are Making the World More Free. Specifically, Rochester's Brandon Phinney, Republican turned Officially Libertarian:

    For instance, the Live Free or Die State had on its books for more than a century a prohibition against reusing glass milk-delivery bottles for any other substance besides milk. This bit of dairy industry protectionism wasn't exactly high on inspectors' things-to-fine list, but as Phinney explains, "Anything in a statute that has a financial penalty or a chance to get charged for a crime, it's something that I care about."

    Also: performers drinking alcohol on stage is now legal in NH. Baby steps.


  • Which reminds me: Rep. Phinney gets a solid A on the Americans for Prosperity 2017 Legislative Scorecard. I'm envious. My town's three reps, Roger Berube, Matthew Spencer, and Dale Sprague, got (respectively) F (17%), A (92%), and F (33%). Our senator, David Watters, got an F (0%).

  • The Concord Monitor editoriaized on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, pontificating: A republic’s fate is in the hands of voters. Of course, it all comes down to one thing:

    We won’t hazard a guess as to the odds of a Roe v. Wade reversal but if it happens, barring the nuclear option of a federal ban on abortions, the issue will become a matter for states to decide. If it does, we know this: People who cannot make choices for themselves cannot be governed by New Hampshire’s vaunted “Live Free or Die” motto. Rarely can personal freedom be more at stake than when a woman faces the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy or bear, against her wishes or at risk to her health, a child.

    In Monitor-Land, the baby doesn't get get a choice about "Live Free or Die". The "terminate a pregnancy" euphemism is typically dishonest.


  • Something I didn't notice local newshounds reporting is covered at the Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch:

    The New Hampshire Democrats released a July Fourth tweet quoting the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Notice anything missing there, Declaration fans? Sure you do. And so did the GOP:

    The state’s GOP jumped on the edited quote, noting that “by their Creator” was removed from the original, even though the Dems had enough Twitter characters left to include it. “God is NOT an ellipsis,” the Republican news release was titled.

    And rightly so. Thought experiment: what was going through the mind of the Genius Democrat who creatively edited this text? Be as charitable as possible.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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

Our fourth summer blockbuster so far, and I confess that I found it near irresistible. Yes, it's commercial and (on a macro scale) predictable. Don't care in this case. I just love seeing dinosaurs misbehave.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as Owen and Claire. Their relationship is off again, with Claire overseeing the rubble of the previous movie's theme park and Owen off to the wildnerness, building a cabin, trying to forget. But a big problem intrudes: Isla Nublar is a volcanic island, and its pesky volcano threatens to kill everything in the vicinity. (That park was cursed from the get-go, wasn't it?)

Good news! John Hammond's old partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) is filthy rich, and his company is offering to evacuate as many dinosaurs as possible from the island. But, yes, there's bad news: there's an evil greed-fueled plot behind this offer; Owen and Claire quickly find themselves double crossed and in deadly peril. Which sets the stage for the real fun, which is dinosaur-based destruction and carnage.

Claire has a couple of winning assistants, who help out. And there's a kid. There's always at least one kid in these movies. There's a secret behind this kid, however, and I did not see it coming.

Random thought: whoa, Geraldine Chaplin got really wrinkly. But the last thing I saw her in may have been Richard Lester's Three Musketeers movies and that was—eek!—well over 40 years ago.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-14

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:27 is pretty straightforward:

    27 Whoever seeks good finds favor,
        but evil comes to one who searches for it.

    The only problem is the ambiguous pronoun reference for "it", which confused me on first reading: "Seeking good works; but searching for good will get you nothing but trouble."

    I was looking for profundity that wasn't there.


  • I don't usually link to articles like this: Dangerous Pseudo-Science in Cyber Security.

    CrowdStrike is the network security company, that was called by the DNC when it suspected a breach in its network in early May of 2016. CrowdStrike announced that there were at least two breaches by “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries” — Fancy Bear (APT28) and Cozy Bear (APT29). CrowdStrike even suggested that Fancy Bear belongs to GRU (Russian military intelligence) and Cozy Bear belongs to FSB (Federal Security Service, replacement of KGB). The DNC was satisfied with CrowdStrike service and refused to let the FBI examine its servers, surprising even James Comey.  All data and alleged malware samples that were given to the FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, other security companies, and the public came from CrowdStrike. There is something fishy in this, isn’t it? Especially when we learn that

     In my opinion: CrowdStrike is a fraud

    Red centered text in original.

    I have no idea whether CrowdStrike is a fraud or not. Nor whether it's true that they're the sole source for evidence that the Russkies were behind the DNC server hacks. But I'd like to see some further skeptical investigation of that; people seem pretty credulous on the Russia connection.


  • At Reason, Brian Doherty has an article of local interest: Candidate Kicked Out of New Hampshire Libertarian Party Nonetheless on House Primary Ballot as a Libertarian

    Tom Alciere is a former Republican state legislator in New Hampshire who resigned under public pressure in 2001 after he made some public comments supporting the killing of police officers. He ran unsuccessfully for office two more times as a Republican (one time losing to a write-in). This year he appears on a primary ballot for the 2nd District's federal House seat, pursuing the Libertarian Party's nomination.

    The party did its best to prevent that. In 1993, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH) booted Alciere. The party's executive committee renewed its stance against the candidate last month, noting in a resolution that "Alciere has a history of advocating violence" and "refused to take a pledge against violence as a means of obtaining political objectives." (Alciere was also arrested in 2009 for a misdemeanor assault on a 12-year-old female neighbor.)

    I remember Alciere from my Usenet days; then, as now, he was a widely despised loon.

    But (note to self) it's really easy to get on a party's primary ballot: as near as I can tell, all Alciere had to do was fill out a form and write a check for $50.


  • At NRO, Jim "Indispensable" Geraghty is Ending the Week with Hard Truths. Specifically, that for politicians "the reward for telling the truth is insufficient in many cases."

    Will the voters reward you if you say that our annual deficits and the debt are too high, and that addressing the problem will require cutting spending, raising taxes, or both? No. If you tell them that changing demographics make the entitlement programs unsustainable, and that the only way to avoid a collapse is to reduce benefits, raise taxes, or shift workers to a riskier form of personal investing for retirement, how do they respond?

    Do they sit down, look at the numbers, do the math for themselves, and carefully contemplate which path is least painful for themselves and the country as a whole? Or do they vote for the guy who promises to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts” and who contends he can solve the entire problem just by eliminating “waste and abuse”?

    Ooh, teacher, I know! Pick me!

    We (rightly) criticize Trump for his serial dishonesty. But he's only a very bad example of a very bad trend.


  • You might want to send this article to the next person who's confused on the matter: The [Babylon] Bee Explains: Democratic Socialism.

    How does Democratic Socialism differ from just “Socialism”?

    It has the word “Democratic” in front of it, you see, which means it is achieved by promoting identity politics, stoking class warfare, and cranking that entitlement mentality up to 11, instead of literal violent overthrow of the government. Besides, voting for the government to seize people’s wealth is totally different from the government deciding to do so on their own, right? Err… uh… DID WE MENTION YOU GET FREE STUFF?? Say it with us: Socialism good, Democratic Socialism better!

    I can't argue with that!

What Is Real?

The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics

[Amazon Link]

When I was a mere lad, I was a physics major, which involved taking a few quantum mechanics courses. And from them I learned that at the quantum level, things get weird. It's difficult to pin things down; the mere act of trying to pin things down causes those things to behave differently than they would otherwise.

But (somehow) things remain sane at the macroscopic level. Why is that? Shouldn't they be weird all the way? At what point, precisely, do they stop being weird?

What I learned was the standard "Copenhagen Interpretation" (CI), cooked up at the very beginning of the quantum era by folks like Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Which has had great success in explaining things and allowing the design of multiple goodies in our technological wonderland. But over the years, a (relative) few people have had problems with the CI, even starting with Einstein.

Briefly, the CI says: solve Schrödinger's equation, get a probability distribution, and that's about the best you can do. For example, instead of little ball-like electrons orbiting around an atomic nucleus like beads on wires (as seen in The Big Bang Theory), all you get is a probability cloud: chances are good the electon's here, not very good over there, nearly zero over here.

But the naysayers say: wait a minute. What's really going on? The CI says that's, essentially, a meaningless question; there's no way to know. And yet, there have been efforts over the years to "do better". This book champions the naysayers, essentially arguing that (despite its successes) the CI is the Danish Emperor With No Clothes. The author, Adam Becker, deftly outlines the history, biographies of the various characters involved, and some experiments that folks do that favor alternate interpretations over CI.

So, interesting book. Could have done without the authorial cheerleading. Wherever possible, the motives and psyches of the CI adherents are impugned. (Example: within the space of four pages, Becker tells us three times that Heisenberg was concerned that his theoretical efforts would be "eclipsed" by those of Schrödinger. OK, Adam, we get it. Maybe buy a thesaurus for your next book.)

The main objection to the CI seems to be aesthetic; those of an anti-CI bent really don't want to think like that, preferring to think in terms of electrons really being shiny little balls. Becker argues forcefully that way, but has a hard time getting over the plain fact that the CI works just fine: it comports with experiment, sets the basis for fruitful research. Yes, the future could unseat it, but it will have to be on stronger grounds than provided here.

Blood of Amber

[Amazon Link]

Number 7 of 10 in my attempt to read Roger Zelazny's Amber series. I think this may have been new ground for me—I know I petered out at some point when the books were originally published. Spoilers follow:

Anyway, Merlin has been imprisoned in a crystalline cavern by Luke, a longtime friend on Shadow Earth, only recently revealed to have ulterior motives, and hostile knowledge of Amber. Many adventures unfold, as Merlin manages to escape, thanks to a dimwitted duo happening by his jail. Things get complicated as Merlin travels through Shadow: old familiar places like Amber and Earth, but also new sites like the Keep of the Four Worlds, a handy crossroards that (unfortunately) is under siege, and controlled by unfriendly forces anyway.

A number of new characters (or are they new?), shifting alliances, and a usual display of spectacular magic. The climax finds Merlin (once again) seemingly trapped, but in a world that will be familiar to Lewis Carroll fans.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:26 demonstrates that the Proverbialist was far from a laissez-faire capitalist:

    26 People curse the one who hoards grain,
        but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

    A "hoarder" is someone who is guessing about the economic future differently than you.


  • Wired magazine is part of the Condé Nast family, and often makes me grit my teeth at its dogged leftism. But every so often an article comes along…

    Daniel Duane has an article in the current issue: How the Startup Mentality Failed Kids in San Francisco. That's not entirely accurate; you can read the article yourself to find out what the actual "mentaility" involved was.

    Duane is one of the classic examples of a "liberal mugged by reality" when it came time for his own daughter to enroll in middle school, and one of her options was:

    Willie Brown Middle School was the most expensive new public school in San Francisco history. It cost $54 million to build and equip, and opened less than two years earlier. It was located less than a mile from my house, in the city’s Bayview district, where a lot of the city’s public housing sits and 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. This new school was to be focused on science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM, for short. There were laboratories for robotics and digital media, Apple TVs for every classroom, and Google Chromebooks for students. A “cafetorium” offered sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, flatscreen menu displays, and free breakfast and lunch. An on-campus wellness center was to provide free dentistry, optometry, and medical care to all students. Publicity materials promised that “every student will begin the sixth grade enrolled in a STEM lab that will teach him or her coding, robotics, graphic/website design, and foundations of mechanical engineering.” The district had created a rigorous new curriculum around what it called “design thinking” and a “one-to-one tech model,” with 80-minute class periods that would allow for immersion in complex subjects.

    And then… it all fell apart. Nearly from Day One.


  • At Cato, Colin Grabow rebuts a recent opinion piece from Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro: Navarro Misses the Boat on the Jones Act.

    In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece White House economic advisor Peter Navarro hailed the christening of a new transport ship in the nearby Philly Shipyard as evidence of the “United States commercial shipbuilding industry’s rebirth.” As is typical of Navarro’s pronouncements, the reality is almost the exact opposite. In fact, a closer examination of the ship’s construction reveals it to be symptomatic not of a rebirth, but of the industry’s long downward slide.

    Named after the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, Navarro describes the 850-foot Aloha-class vessel as “massive” and notes that it is “the largest container ship ever built in the United States.” This, however, is somewhat akin to the tallest Liliputian. Although perhaps remarkble in a domestic context, by international standards the ship is a relative pipsqueak. Triple-E class ships produced by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering for Maersk Line, for example, are over 1,300 feet in length. While the Inouye’s cargo capacity is listed at 3,600 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, roughly equivalent to a standardized shipping container), the Triple-E class can handle 18,000.

    "Misses the boat", heh! See what he did there? Also at Cato: The Jones Act: A Burden America Can No Longer Bear, by Grabow and two co-authors.


  • Matt Welch is dissatisfied with the behavior of a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan: 'Constitutional Conservatives' Lose Interest in Holding Trump Accountable. While Jordan has had a record of calling out executive misbehavior pre-January 2017…

    So how did Jordan react to the May 2017 appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI's ongoing investigation into the Russia-related activities of President Donald Trump? "Well, I'm—you know, look, I guess I'll keep an open mind," were the congressman's first recorded public words. That mind has been closing ever since.

    Five weeks later, Jordan and Meadows were already co-authoring op-eds saying it was "time to investigate the investigators" because Mueller's team leaned too Democratic. One month after that, Jordan signed onto an official request for a second special counsel, this one focusing on potential crimes by Hillary Clinton. The congressman is a permanent fixture on cable news, hyping the latest soon-to-be-forgotten Mueller-probe controversy and issuing grave condemnations against any official seemingly caught in a lie.

    Except Donald Trump.

    For the recond, I think it's pretty clear that the recent allegations about Jordan about his decades-ago Ohio State wrestling coach era are politically-motivated slime-throwing. But Matt's correct that the real scandal is hypocrisy.


  • Jonah Goldberg writes at NRO: Business Insider Surrenders to the Social-Justice Warriors

    Business Insider ran a column defending actress Scarlett Johansson from fierce criticism for her decision to play a transgender man in a forthcoming film called Rub and Tug. The writer, Daniella Greenbaum, took the apparently outrageous position that actors can pretend to be people they are not. Or, as Greenbaum put it, “Scarlett Johansson is the latest target of the social-justice warrior mob. The actress is being chastised for, well, acting.”

    Ironically, Greenbaum’s column rendered this claim outdated, because by writing that, Greenbaum herself became an even more recent victim of the social-justice-warrior mob. In response to complaints, internal and external, Business Insider pulled the column from its website and invented some new editorial standards to justify the decision.

    Ms. Greenbaum has since quit the publication. Readers should be on notice that anything they read from Business Insider has been sent through the SJW filter. Ironically, as CNN reports, the term "social justice warrior" is now also banned at Business Insider.


  • But that's not the only trouble brewing for Miss Scarlett, as the Babylon Bee reports: Scarlett Johansson Under Fire For Agreeing To Play Giant Sandworm In Upcoming ‘Dune’ Adaptation

    Scarlett Johansson has come under withering criticism after agreeing to play the giant sandworm, Shai-hulud, in Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

    Johansson is signed on to provide the motion-capture footage and guttural roars for artists to generate CGI of the legendary desert worm. Critics claim that by agreeing to portray a character other than a white, cisgendered female, Johansson is ignoring the life experiences and struggles of other genders, races, and species of colossal desert-dwelling worm creatures living on the planet Arrakis.

    Not that it matters, but how come they remake Dune over and over, but not The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, ever?

    Amazon Product du Jour is Sandworms of Dune which Amazon claims is Book Number—whoa!—Nineteen in the "Dune Universe". I gave up decades ago, partway into number three.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-12

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:25 is a sweet paean to altruism:

    25 A generous person will prosper;
        whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

    Ayn Rand might disagree, but that's OK.


  • At Cato, Terence Kealey has the musical question du jour: Why Does the Federal Government Issue Damaging Dietary Guidelines?

    It's a long, sad history of Your Federal Government bumbling and fumbling as it took over the role of Food Nanny. Key quote:

    In fact, the federal government may be institutionally incapable of providing wise dietary advice, as Thomas Jefferson warned us in his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia: “Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.”

    The government is "supposed" to ensure the safety of our food. Except, as the news often informs us, they haven't managed to get that right yet. Maybe fire the nannies, in order to get a few more cops?


  • Lest you worry that the lefties are the only people looking to shut down expression they don't like on college campuses, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) will reassure you that it can be a bipartisan effort: Kansas officials demand University of Kansas remove American flag artwork.

    A controversy is brewing over a flag being flown at the University of Kansas as part of a nationwide public art series. The series, called “Pledges of Allegiance,” is a project of the New York-based arts nonprofit Creative Time, displaying a rotation of flags addressing a variety of themes and topics by artists from around the world. While the series consists of 16 artworks, the ire is focused on one in particular: “Untitled (Flag 2)” by artist Josephine Meckseper. Meckseper describes the work as “a collage of an American flag and one of my dripped paintings which resembles the contours of the United States.”

    Today, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded KU remove the artwork.

    Ms. Meckseper's artwork isn't my cup of tea. In fact I find it talent-free. Other flags at the site linked above are of varying quality and stridency.

    The site's Project Support page lists a number of sponsors, at least a couple seemingly supported by New York taxpayers. Were I a New York taxpayer, I might be pretty steamed at that.

    But (unlike the grandstanding Kansas pols), I'm content to leave it there.


  • At NRO, Kevin D. Williamson has Ten Thoughts on Judicial Activism. Let's look at … number six!

    1. Which brings us to the question of what judicial activism actually is. Properly understood, the question of whether there should be a legal right to abortion is separate from the question of whether there actually is a legal right to abortion in the text of the Constitution. It is fanciful to believe that there was in fact a constitutional right to abortion lurking in the document for nearly 200 years, unnoticed by the men who wrote and ratified it, and then discovered by Justice Blackmun et al. Judicial activism is what happens when judges abuse the power entrusted to them, choosing to act as politicians making policy rather than as judges upholding the law even when they wish the law were other than what it is.

    It would be neat if Brett Kavanaugh were to lecture any querulous senators this way. But that's why it's gonna be Justice Kavanaugh and not Justice Williamson. senators.


  • Veronique de Rugy looks at the emperor and claims that he's got his free-trade garments on. Veronique says, nope, he's naked: On Trade, Trump Is Who He Claims to Be.

    Nothing in what the president has ever said suggests that he's anything but a diehard mercantilist. Yes, it's true that he complains loudly of the treatment of U.S. exporters abroad—treatment he no doubt wants to change. It's also true that he has endorsed dropping all tariffs around the world to zero.

    But even these seemingly free-trade stances stem from fundamentally protectionist beliefs: First, that if there were no tariffs, U.S. exports would rise dramatically and surpass imports, shrinking the dreaded trade deficit. And second, that exports are great and imports are bad. In other words, America wins with low imports and high exports.

    He is wrong on all counts. If the U.S. trade deficit were to ever disappear, America's economic health would take a turn for the worse. As long as the United States is growing and remains an attractive place to invest, we will continue to run a trade deficit with the rest of the world.

    Which brings us to…


  • Mark J. Perry identifies the latest casualty in Trump's War on Laundry.

    Hey, folks! Your tax cut was nice, wasn't it? Too bad that it got eaten up when you bought that washing machine.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-11

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:24 follows the "good guys win/bad guys lose" formula, but at least is worded entertainingly:

    24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
        another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

    Hey, it sounds like the Paradox of Thrift! But… no, it's probably not. The Proverbialist was no Keynesian.


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi cuts through the Kavanaugh hype: Democrats Don’t Fear Brett Kavanaugh, They Fear The Constitution.

    The other day Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in Israel to receive an award for her commitment to tikkun olam (“to heal the world” in Hebrew,) a spiritual concept that progressive Jews have long distorted so that their malleable religious views could better align with leftist orthodoxy. It’s the sort of convenient philosophy that allows traditions to be subsumed by the vagaries of contemporary politics.

    So it is with an increasing number of Democrats and the Constitution: a document they seem believe must bend to the will of their policy preferences rather than preserve legal continuity, limited government, individual liberty, or enlightenment ideals.

    Sure, some of the anger aimed Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is partisan bluster meant to placate the activist base. Still, most Democrats were going to get hysterical about any pick, because any conservative pick was going to take the Constitution far too literally for their liking. For those who rely on the administrative state and coercion as a policy tool — forcing people to join political organizations, forcing them to support abortion, forcing them to subsidize socially progressive sacraments, forcing them to create products that undermine their faith, and so on — that’s a big problem.

    I fully expect our state's Senators to emit more than their fair share of partisan bluster over the coming weeks.


  • Going against the Progressive flow, Jacob Sullum notes that Brett Kavanaugh is Another Surprisingly Subversive Justice.

    Upon being nominated to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh said he had "witnessed firsthand" Donald Trump's "appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary." That claim raised some eyebrows, given the president's tendency to question the authority of judges who reach conclusions he does not like.

    Kavanaugh, by contrast, clearly understands the importance of an independent judiciary as a check on the other branches of government. His readiness to perform that function as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is reassuring, especially since the man who picked him for the Supreme Court seems to know little and care less about the legal principles that protect liberty and thwart tyranny.

    Slam Trump all you want—I've certainly done my share of that—but he's kept his campaign promises on judicial appointments.


  • But you may ask yourself: Will Brett Kavanaugh protect Donald Trump? Fortunately, David French has an answer for you: No, Brett Kavanaugh Won’t ‘Protect’ Donald Trump. The alleged smoking gun trumpeted by Kavanaugh-bashers is a Minnesota Law Review article that argued that Presidents should be immune from criminal prosecution and investigation while in office, and suggested Congress might want to legislate to that effect.

    Study Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence for any length of time, and you’ll note that he’s not a devotee of the presidency. He’s a devotee of the Constitution, and the Constitution separates powers between the three branches of government. In this case, the Constitution gives the power to Congress to protect the president — it doesn’t insulate the president from criminal investigation and prosecution by its own terms. Otherwise, why suggest legislation?

    And what of the other claims that Kavanaugh has been, as Garrett Epps claims in The Atlantic, “deeply shaped by the needs and mores of the executive branch”? They collapse under scrutiny as well. For example, Epps in two paragraphs explains that Kavanaugh “incline[s] toward the ‘unitary executive’ view of presidential power, which holds that Congress cannot set up federal agencies that are not under the direction and control of the president,” but Kavanaugh has also attacked the Chevron doctrine, a judicial rule that has mandated judicial deference to executive-agency interpretations of governing law.

    Of course, as David goes on to say, undoing Chevron deference would decrease arbitrary executive power. Epps misses this.


  • Let's see, we've killed off Han… and Luke… and not sure what's going to happen with Leia… who else is there? Ah! The Hollywood Reporter reports: Billy Dee Williams Reprising Role as Lando Calrissian.

    Billy Dee Williams is returning to a galaxy far, far away.

    The actor, who famously played the galactic gambler Lando Calrissian, will reprise the role for Star Wars: Episode IX, the next Star Wars installment from Lucasfilm.

    Given the current filmmakers' predilections for killing off the old characters we love, I would advise Billy Dee against relying on further appearances.

Sapiens

A Brief History of Humankind

[Amazon Link]

I had high hopes for this book, based on … I'm not sure what, exactly. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, is a history prof at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The subtitle, "A Brief History of Humankind", led me to think it might be a… well, a history book, hopefully full of "big ideas", a genre I'm kind of a sucker for. In addition, it's glitzy, with many color illustrations.

But as it turns out the subtitle is misleading. Yes, there's some history here. But …

The book is organized around four "revolutions". The first, the "Cognitive Revolution", occurred around 70K years back, when Homo Sapiens developed "imagination". This caused our ancestors to develop language, culture, and migrate out of East Africa to (eventually) the four corners of the earth.

Second revolution was "Agricultural", the transformation from hunter/gatherer societies to farming, about 10K years ago. Harari notes that this was, in many ways, a downgrade in terms of diet, life expectancy, and freedom. (Agricultural societies arguably needed "protection", and agricultural products were easy sources of protection money, often euphemized as "taxes".)

Third revolution: unification. Various far-flung empires sprang up, absorbing previously-independent cultures into their overweening grasp. Harari refrains (mostly) from moral judgmentalism here, noting that this revolution, as the others he details, was more or less inevitable.

Finally: the scientific revolution, only a few hundred years old, in which we live today, and for the foreseeable future.

All that's fine, I suppose. But I was expecting more facts and stories from a self-described "history" book. Instead, I got a lot of pontificating about the Meaning Of It All. I found Harari's "big ideas" to be simplistic, delivered with smugness. For example, he takes apart the most famous sentence in the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The first paragraph of Harari's "translation into biological terms":

According to the science of biology, people were not 'created'. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal’. The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are ‘equal’? Evolution is based on difference, not on equality. Every person carries a somewhat different genetic code, and is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities that carry with them different chances of survival. ‘Created equal’ should therefore be translated into ‘evolved differently’.

And so on. We are more or less invited to chuckle at the efforts of Jefferson et al. Har, them guys back then sure were stupid.

Harari's reductionism tears down a lot of the "myths" surrounding us. He's not shy about dragging in his own myths, however. (Don't get him started about poor treatment of farm animals!)

It's not all bad. Harari is on-target when he notes the silliness of arguments about "cultural appropriation": when Culture A steals things from Culture B, it's almost always something Culture B had previously grabbed from Cultures C, D, E, … And his discussion of possible futures for Homo Sapiens is pretty interesting.

All in all, I'm in agreement with the WSJ review by Charles C. Mann:

There’s a whiff of dorm-room bull sessions about the author’s stimulating but often unsourced assertions. Or perhaps I should use a more contemporary simile: “Sapiens” reminded me occasionally of a discussions on Reddit, where users sound off about supposed iron laws of history. This book is what these Reddit threads would be like if they were written not by adolescent autodidacts but by learned academics with impish senses of humor.

I previously had put Harari's second book, Homo Deus on my to-be-read list. After reading Sapiens, I took it off. Your mileage may vary, of course.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-10

[Amazon Link]

  • Yesterday's Proverb was insanely great, but today we're back to the same old "being nice pays off" shtick in Proverbs 11:23:

    23 The desire of the righteous ends only in good,
        but the hope of the wicked only in wrath.

    As said before: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"


  • So how about that Bret Kavanaugh pick, eh? I liked Jonah Goldberg's spontaneous take on the announcement of the stopkavanaugh.com website:


  • But Jonah had some useful pre-pick commentary too, and made a surefire prediction: It’s All Going to Get Dumber.

    I read this essay by an LSU law professor in The Hill, and I think it sets a new standard for dumb legal commentary. Ken Levy — again, a law professor — argues that the “McConnell Rule” should be treated as the law of the land, and that the Senate Democrats should then sue Mitch McConnell for not upholding it. Then, when a court (“preferably the Supreme Court,” he writes with admirable humility) agrees with Levy’s analysis, the judge (or justices) will not only prevent the Senate from considering Trump’s next SCOTUS nomination, it will actually force the Senate to “retract” Neil Gorsuch. Or something like that.

    As near as I can tell, the sole reaction to Levy's argument has been from conservatives (drawing attention to|making fun of) it. Stony, probably embarrassed, silence from the other side.


  • At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin makes an immigration argument I've not noticed before: The Hereditary Aristocracy of Citizenship.

    Citizens of modern Western nations like to think that we have abolished the hereditary privileges once associated with aristocracy. No longer does a person born a noble enjoy a vast array of rights denied to commoners. Nor do we any longer have a class of serfs tied to the land, condemned to poverty and oppression for life. But, as conservative columnist Rachel Lu points out in an insightful recent article, we have a system of hereditary privilege that in many ways is just as pernicious as the aristocracy of old. We call it citizenship[.]

    That's an interesting take, and shakes my belief in traditional borders and immigration somewhat. I think nearly all of the talk about "white privilege" is tendentious and bogus, but it's hard to refute a concept of "American privilege": you and I are as lucky as hell to have been born here, and—quite obviously—we did nothing to deserve that good fortune. So?

    Still, as Ilya points out, all nations are like this. You are blessed/cursed with citizenship based an accident of birth.


  • At the Federalist, Robert Tracinski reports the least-surprising proof ever: Donald Trump’s Trade War Is Proving The Free Traders Right.

    It seems almost embarrassing to have to rehearse the case for free markets and free trade, a case thoroughly established centuries ago by the likes of Adam Smith and especially Frederic Bastiat. But Donald Trump is determined to make us learn that case all over again, the hard way.

    The key argument for free trade is that a tariff on imports may benefit one particular industry or group of producers, but it raises prices for everyone else, including other manufacturers who import the taxed material. You think the country is getting ahead because you see the increased profits for, say, domestic steel producers. The problem, as Bastiat famously pointed out, is what you don’t see—or at least, what Trump refuses to see—namely, all of the costs that tariffs impose on other companies and individuals.

    The link goes to an 1850 essay to which we've linked ourselves in the past: "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen". Which is excellent, but more relevant might be Sophisms of the Protectionists, available as our Amazon Product du Jour. The Kindle edition is $0.00, and Pun Salad gets a cut of that.


  • Arnold Kling (one of my favorite authors) reviews Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg (another of my favorite authors). Arnold suggests an alternate title for Jonah's book: Get the Story Straight.

    In Suicide of the West, Jonah Goldberg offers an ambitious intellectual defense of modern conservatism. His argument is grounded in a theory of cultural anthropology in which the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves play a crucial role in political economy.  If we tell the right story, we can maintain political order and continue to make economic progress.  But instead the wrong story, told by people he labels Romantics, threatens to undo what he calls “the Miracle,” the progress that took off as a consequence of the Age of Reason.

    There's a good suggestion that the book could have been more concrete in distinguishing between "innovations" that bolster the Miracle, and those that threaten it.


  • Alex Isenstadt sees possible trouble off Trump's starboard bow from Nebraska's junior Senator: Sasse tempts Trump’s wrath by refusing to bow.
    [Amazon Link]

    Ben Sasse has so far been spared the public floggings that Donald Trump inflicted on two since-vanquished GOP critics in the Senate, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.

    But that could soon change.

     As the “never Trump” faction of the Republican Party dwindles to a lonely few, the Nebraska senator has shown little interest in backing down – leaving him vulnerable to a Trump-fueled primary challenge in 2020, when he’s up for reelection.

    How Sasse responds — he has a book coming out three weeks before the midterm elections and has quietly launched a new political non-profit group, fueling speculation that he might launch a Hail Mary bid for president rather than seek another term in the Senate — promises to be the next intra-GOP drama.

    If the 2020 New Hampshire Primary ballot had Sasse on it, I'd probably vote for him. If it just had Trump and Kasich,… I might stay home and knit.


  • Philip Greenspun is watching the Thai cave rescue operation, and has an aside that got my attention more than his main point:

    Separately, when this is over will we Americans tighten up our (currently rather generous) standards for “hero”, “courage”, and “brave”? The rescuers are volunteering for a dive that requires multiple tanks of oxygen and swimming for miles underground. They’re doing this knowing that already one expert diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, has already died.

    Example of how Americans use “courage”? See “West Hollywood to Honor Stormy Daniels as ‘Profile in Courage’”[…]

    Not for the first time, I'm reminded of… (via GIPHY)

The Man Who Invented Christmas

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

This is (spoiler alert!) about how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol, Yes, we kind of watched it out of season. We were inspired to put it in the Netflix queue by watching the trailer for it on a different DVD. Fortuitous!

The premise is that Dickens is going through a rough patch. His early stuff, especially Oliver Twist, gave him fame and fortune. But after a string of relative duds, he's still got the fame, but the fortune has gone a-glimmering. (The movie lists Martin Chuzzlewit as one of the duds, but if I'm reading the bibliography correctly, that book was actually published after A Christmas Carol.)

Dickens needs to come up with a hit, fast. With Christmas on the horizon, what could be more natural? Inspired by a sparsely-attended funeral for a rich guy, various and sundry colorful characters from the London streets, he sets to work. His creative process involves summoning up his characters into his writing room. Most notably, Scrooge, who is given life when Dickens comes up with his name.

In addition to financial pressures, Dickens' domestic life is full of turmoil. Mom and Dad show up, uninvited; his Dad is revealed to be kind of a starry-eyed deadbeat. (Flashbacks show him going off to debtor's prison when Charles was but a lad. Traumatic!)

A certain amount of dramatic tension is unavailable to us because we know how things turn out. We know A Christmas Carol was a huge hit, so getting us to worry otherwise is futile. Dickens toys with killing off Tiny Tim in the book, but we know he doesn't. And so on.

The acting is first-rate. Matthew Crawley himself, Dan Stevens, plays Dickens convincingly. But Christopher Plummer as the Dickens-imagined Scrooge is priceless, and occasionally hilarious.

Like the book A Christmas Carol, the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas is entirely Baby Jesus-free, other than in the title. I'm not a good enough Christian to complain overmuch about that, but it's something other people have noticed.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-09

[Amazon Link]

  • Whoa! Out of nowhere, Proverbs 11:22 makes a pungent and telling observation:

    22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
        is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.

    Every lonely loser has said something like that, hasn't he? I know I did, back in the day. It's a slight solace to know that someone was saying it back in Ancient Israel too.

    Also reminded me of Joe Jackson's 1978 hit, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" It's like a long-version of this proverb.

    Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street
    From my window I'm staring while my coffee goes cold

    Which (further) reminds me that the WSJ did an "Anatomy of a Song" article on a different Joe Jackson hit a few weeks back: "Steppin' Out". Both songs are in the five-star rotation on my iPod.


  • Speaking of pungent and telling observations, at NRO, Kevin D. Williamson looks at one Democrat-floated scheme: Against Packing the Courts.

    The current push on the Left to expand the no-quarter approach to Supreme Court politics by introducing court-packing schemes is genuinely dangerous for the country. That’s worth thinking about, but it is also worth considering — not that I’ll shed any tears over it — that it’s dangerous to the political aspirations of the Democratic party, too. Republicans have bested them in all their own favorite games, gerrymandering, filibusters, and weaponizing congressional procedure prominent among them. They’d probably be better at court-packing, too. The Republicans may look divided and in disarray in the Trump era — and they are, of course — but it is the Democrats who have the more pressing long-term coalitional problem of being a party in which little old white liberal ladies lord over a growing and politically dynamic constituency that is much younger, much browner, and surely wondering why its members’ most pressing priorities have to be signed off on by that ghastly butcher Cecile Richards or that puffed-up PTA president Dianne Feinstein. It isn’t obvious that Latino ethnic-solidarity politics is going to be a real big winner in UAW country. That permanent Democratic majority, like Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidency, is always on the way but never quite arrives.

    "Puffed-up PTA president." Kevin is a national treasure.


  • Reason's Baylen Linnekin has his eye on food-related matters, and he wants you to know that The USDA Is Considering Some Lousy GMO-Labeling Rules. They have to, thanks to the "National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard" legislation passed by Congress, signed by Obama, back in 2016. Details were left to the USDA, and…

    One needn't look further than the USDA's proposed mandatory GMO labels, which the agency publicized for the public comment period, to see the law is a harbinger of nothing good. For example, the agency invited comments on its three different proposed labels for "BE" food. What's "BE" mean, you ask? The USDA proposes to use the term "BE"—short for "bioengineered"—to designate foods that are genetically modified or that contain GMO ingredients.

    The link goes to a PDF with various "BE" stickers (some smiley-faced!) that could appear on your next jar of Frankenfood. Baylen quotes people who would no doubt prefer a skull-and-crossbones logo instead.

    I'm so tired of GMO scaremongering that I swear I would go out of my way to pick up some GMO-enhanced peanut butter.


  • Toni Airaksinen of Campus Reform points to an amusing STUDY: Fossil fuels contribute to ‘petro-masculinity’.

    A feminist professor at Virginia Tech University is warning that fossil fuels are contributing to a warped sense of “masculine identity” and “authoritarianism” among men.

    Cara Daggett, who teaches classes on politics and global security at Virginia Tech, penned her criticism of petro-masculinity in an essay “Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire” for the most recent issue of Millennium: Journal of International Studies.

    Writing in response to the 2016 election, Daggett coins the term “petro-masculinity” to describe what she sees as a convergence of “climate change, a threatened fossil fuel system, and an increasingly fragile Western hypermasculinity.”

    I, speaking as one male-identifying person of pallor, would prefer increased reliance on nuclear energy. But I'm sure Prof Daggett would deem this "nucleo-masculinity" in some future "study".


  • Hey, President Trump is gonna announce his Supreme pick tonight in prime-time, baby! We'd like an originalist, please! But Scott Sumner has a sobering query: Are there any originalists?

    The 10th Amendment to the Constitution seems to severely limit the scope for Federal action:
    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
    That seems pretty clear. Congress cannot do anything unless the Constitution explicitly gives it the authority to legislate on the issue. And if you read the rest of the Constitution, there is very little authority given to Congress. I’d guess that over 90% of what Congress does do is not explicitly authorized by the Constitution.

    I know that—see above—Kevin D. Williamson considers court-packing to be "dangerous", but I confess that it would be very tempting to pack the court with justices who would be very strict about applying the 10th Amendment.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-08

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:21 is another assurance of (eventual) cosmic justice:

    21 Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished,
        but those who are righteous will go free.

    Yeah, well, maybe! But I like how the Proverbialist precedes the Proverb with "Be sure of this". This kind of downgrades every other Proverb, doesn't it? The ones that, implicitly, you might not want to be too sure of?


  • At Reason, Steven Greenhut wonders: If Civility Is Out of Style, Where Do We End Up Next?

    During the 2012 election, this writer was appalled by the loutish behavior displayed by incumbent Joe Biden in his vice presidential debate against GOP challenger Paul Ryan, as Biden smirked and interrupted his way through the contest. In fact, my outraged column argued that Biden's behavior was "an affront to civility" because of its bullying nature. Civility doesn't meaning rolling over, but it does mean behaving with a little decorum.

    I laughed out loud after coming across that long-forgotten diatribe. It brought to mind a term from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York: "defining deviancy down." Basically, the Democratic senator argued that as society becomes accustomed to deviancy, societal standards are lowered. What seemed outrageous yesterday, is accepted today. Life begins to resemble a game of limbo. How low can you go?

    I guess that we are going to find out.


  • But never mind civility. Jonah Goldberg's G-File wonders what happens When Patriotism Loses Its Universality.

    The reasons for this are many and complicated. One partial explanation — or result, depending on how you look at it: Appeals to patriotism work better on older, whiter Americans, nostalgic for a national unity that looms larger in gauzy memory than in fact (something that has not gone unnoticed by marketers). Trump’s fan service to “my people” only highlights and amplifies the trend.

    Like appeals to divine authority, appeals to patriotism only work on people who recognize the authority of patriotism. And the more you invoke patriotism as a substitute for fact-based arguments, the more you drain the power from patriotism. The more patriotism is used to sell an explicitly partisan agenda, the more patriotism is seen as a partisan phenomenon.

    Surprise: the link does not go to a Budweiser ad. Instead,… well, check it out, and see if it doesn't buttress Jonah's point about appeals to patriotism being aimed at us geezers.


  • Republicans are shaking their heads in gratitude, giggling under their breath. For the upcoming elections, in an Age of Trump, all that Democrats would really have to do is appear to be relatively sane, moderate, and polite. Instead, they are inspiring columns like George F. Will's: What might a socialist American government do?

    Today’s American socialists say that our government has become the handmaiden of rapacious factions and entrenched elites, and that there should be much more government. They are half-right. To be fair, they also say that after America gets “on the right side of history” (an updated version of after “the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”), government will be truly disinterested, manipulated by no rent-seeking factions, serving only justice. That is, government will be altogether different than it is, or ever has been. Seriously.

    Mr. Will is subtle. Also, correct.


  • John Hinderaker (Power Line) comments on a recent NYT editorial position. Times Editorial Board: Let’s Have a Gang War!. First, quoting the editorial:

    With Republicans controlling the Senate and the judicial filibuster dead, the Democrats’ odds of denying President Trump a second Supreme Court appointment are slim. Barring some unforeseen development, the president will lock in a 5-to-4 conservative majority, shifting the court solidly to the right for a generation.

    This is all the more reason for Democrats and progressives to take a page from “The Godfather” and go to the mattresses on this issue.

    John comments:

    “Going to the mattresses” means starting a gang war. Despite the editorialists’ reference to The Godfather, one assumes they mean the phrase as a metaphor. But a metaphor for what? Given the current frequency of violence and threats of violence against Republicans, it would be reassuring if the Times would make it clear that the paper isn’t actually calling for Republicans to be murdered.

    Yeah, the NYT probably doesn't want to be seen as advocating a Sonny Corleone-style machine-gunning of the participants in a GOP candidate debate.

    Probably. Right?

URLs du Jour

2018-07-07

Witzend MrA ByDitko.jpg
By Source, Fair use, Link

  • RIP, Steve Ditko.

    Steve Ditko, a comic-book artist best known for his role in creating Spider-Man, one of the most successful superhero properties ever, was found dead on June 29 at his home in Manhattan, the police said on Friday. He was 90. […]

    Mr. Ditko, along with the artist Jack Kirby and the writer and editor Stan Lee, was a central player in the 1960s cultural phenomenon known as Marvel Comics, whose characters today are ubiquitous in films, television shows and merchandise.

    Though Mr. Ditko had a hand in the early development of other signature Marvel characters — especially the sorcerer Dr. Strange — Spider-Man was his definitive character, and for many fans he was Spider-Man’s definitive interpreter.

    The coolest scenes in the Spider-Man movies are those that redo Ditko's original comic panels. One of the best examples is Voxsplained by Alex Abad-Santos. (You'll want to click for the pics.) Bottom line:

    One of the frequent criticisms that comics fans level against Stan Lee’s legacy is that Lee took all of the credit and often left none to spare when it came to work and characters that he co-created with legends like Ditko, including Spider-Man. But this scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming won’t let anyone forget what a genius Steve Ditko was at giving life to the legendary webslinger.

    But let's not forget Mr. A, Ditko's uncompromising sorta-Objectivist hero, and one of the inspirations for Alan Moore's Rorschach.


  • Back to our normal programming. Proverbs Chapter 11 seems to be stuck in a rut over the past few days. Proverbs 11:20 is yet another good people/bad people comparison:

    20 The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse,
        but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.

    What can you say, except "that's good to know"?


  • At Reason, Steve Chapman notes that The Debt Clock Keeps Spinning.

    Federal debt now equals 78 percent of gross domestic product, the highest since we had just finished fighting World War II. The CBO says that under current policies, it can be expected to "approach 100 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade and 152 percent by 2048. That amount would be the highest in the nation's history by far."

    The Trump administration pretends that its policies will unleash such rapid economic growth that the treasury will get a flood of new revenue. Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, bragged the other day that the deficit "is coming down, and it's coming down rapidly."

    Later, he amended his false claim, saying that he "probably should have said future deficits." But that would also have been false. The CBO projects the deficit will balloon from $804 billion this year to $1.3 trillion in 2022.

    Kudlow should know better. Congress—and not a penny can be spent without Congressional assent—hould know better. And voters should know better.


  • At NRO, David French makes a point that really shouldn't have to be made: Defending Donald Trump Isn’t a Sign of Masculinity.

    Last year I wrote an essay describing the emerging “tough-guy Right” and the almost-comical tendency of Trumpist conservatives to equate their man with toughness, their tweets with combat, and their movement with masculinity. In their minds, Never Trumpers aren’t just wrong, they’re also wimps. They’re beta males. It’s not uncommon to see throwaway phrases in essays condemning Never Trumpers like Emerald Robinson’s description of some conservatives as “low-testosterone” and “dilettantish” or Kurt Schlichter’s condemnation of so-called fussy fredocon gimps. Or, when they describe their own writing, they’ll use vivid war imagery — like Jesse Kelly’s recent loving description of “scalping” his ideological enemies.

    I’ve written a lot about our culture’s attacks on masculinity. I’ve discussed a man’s duty to defend the weak and the vulnerable. I’ve even decried the apparent increasing physical weakness of men and boys and argued that men were meant to be strong. Yet not once in the modern fights over masculinity had I thought for a moment to include — as markers of male toughness — the ability to deliver spittle-flecked tirades on cable news, to tweet like a punk, or to circle the wagons around a man who avoided service in his own generation’s war and who compared sexually transmitted diseases to his own personal Vietnam.

    I'm probably guilty of, on occasion, writing about progressives getting their panties in a bunch … or clutching their pearls … or … maybe something about douches.


  • Ah, well. David Henderson has a simple proposal: allow competition in first class mail. But what would that really mean? Thankfully: Rick Geddes Explains the Postal Monopoly.

    The USPS actually has two legally enforced monopolies, as per Title 39 of the US Code. One is over the delivery of anything defined as a “letter,” which is within certain size and weight limits. The second is over the use of your mailbox. That is correct: there are criminal violations if anyone puts anything in your mail box that is not US government approved “mail.” The US is the only country that I know having that latter monopoly, while most countries (including all 27 member EU countries) have done away with the first, the delivery monopoly.

    Yes, when it comes to letter delivery, the US is actually more socialist than most other countries.

    As David notes, President Trump has ordered a study for USPS reform, but that seems to have been driven more by his animus towards Jeff Bezos than his devotion to free market philosophy.


  • James Freeman writes on a recent WaPo effort to debunk Ivanka Trump's claims about employment news and food stamps: Ivanka Checks the ‘Fact Checker’.

    Ivanka made a single factual comment: "Two million people have come off food stamps and have come back into the economy."

    WaPo: two out of four "Pinocchios". Even though it admits the two million number is, well, true.

    Freeman quotes his predecessor:

    Some good work is done under the rubric of “fact checking,” but the label is deceptive. Calling it “fact checking” is meant to convey an extra degree of objective authority, but “fact check” journalists do not limit themselves to questions of verifiable objective fact. Frequently they accuse politicians of dishonesty because the journalists favor a different interpretation of facts that are not in dispute. Sometimes their “rulings” are mere opinions on matters about which they do not know the facts, or that are not factual questions at all.

    This is why most—ahem—honest people only quote the WaPo fact checker or the even-more-lefty Politifact when they debunk some progressive talker. As in, usually, "even the WaPo couldn't believe this."


  • Michael Ramirez on the sudden enthusiasm for socialism among Democrats:

URLs du Jour

2018-07-06

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:19 is another encouragement to be a good person:

    19 Truly the righteous attain life,
        but whoever pursues evil finds death.

    It would be churlish to point out that the Proverbialist, and everyone he was talking about, has been dead for many centuries.

    Instead, let us once again hold out the possibility that this is one of the (rare) instances of the Old Testament mentioning the afterlife.


  • We continue our post-Fourth link cleanup with Jonah Goldberg at NRO: Our Strange Relationship with the Word ‘Patriotism’. I liked this aside:

    By the way: It’s simply not true that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. As my National Review colleague John O’Sullivan puts it: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Treason is the highest form of dissent. Ergo, treason must be the highest form of patriotism.

    "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" was in vogue during Dubya's terms in office. For the next eight years, it was "dissent is racism". And now it's more like "Dissent is pretending your IQ is 20 points lower, but making up for it by yelling."

    (See the Charles Sykes link on "jerkitude" below.)


  • I can't claim to have read all 50 pages of Deirdre Nansen McCloskey's Manifesto for a Humane True Libertarianism. ("The first chapters of Humane True Liberalism, forthcoming 2019.") But I will, and you might want to as well. First paragraphs:

    I make here the case for a new and humane version of what is often called “libertarianism.” Thus the columnist George Will at the Washington Post or David Brooks at the New York Times or Steve Chapman at the Chicago Tribune or Dave Barry at the Miami Herald or P. J . O'Rourke at the National Lampoon, Rolling Stone, and the Daily Beast.

    Humane libertarianism is not right wing or reactionary or some scary creature out of Dark Money. In fact, it stands in the middle of the road—recently a dangerous place to stand—being tolerant and optimistic and respectful. It’s True Liberal, antistatist, opposing the impulse of people to push other people around. It’s not “I’ve got mine," or “Let’s be cruel.” Nor is it “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you, by force of arms if necessary.” It’s “I respect your dignity, and am willing to listen, really listen, helping you if you wish, on your own terms.”

    When people grasp it, many like it. Give it a try.

    I assume it's as good as those first bits promise.


  • Roger Scruton op-editorializes in the NYT: What Trump Doesn’t Get About Conservatism. I know, longest column ever, amirite. But it's short. Bottom line:

    Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage and the family. Such spheres of social endeavor arise not through buying and selling but through cherishing what cannot be bought and sold: things like love, loyalty, art and knowledge, which are not means to an end but ends in themselves.

    About such things it is fair to say that Mr. Trump has at best only a distorted vision. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.

    Given his record so far on trade, I think it's a mistake to paint Trump as being a free market ideologue. But Scruton has food for thought, even for those of us who veer toward the libertarian side of the circus tent.


  • Another post-Fourth pickup, the intrepid Veronique de Rugy writes at Reason: The Government's Economic Illogic Is on Display.

    The Fourth of July holiday is a time to reflect on the courage of our Founding Fathers to pursue independence from the tyrannical British government. Unfortunately, we now get to spend the other 364 days dealing with the tyrannical federal government in Washington.

    You see this in our debt and increasing deficits to entitlement programs that redistribute from relatively young and poor to relatively rich and old—or in our corporate welfare programs that subsidize a handful of producers at the expense of everyone else. You also see it in a never-ending stream of contradictory legislation and red tape at the taxpayers' expense.

    Fun fact, as Veronique describes: a branch of Your Federal Government, the Export-Import Bank, extended over $7 billion in loans backed by American taxpayers to Pemex, the Mexican government-owned state-owned oil and gas company.


  • We are only a couple weeks into the season, and Charles Sykes sees it coming: Our Summer of Jerkitude. (Or, if we wanted to go full PG-13, as Sykes implies, "assholery".)

    But “jerkitude” is a useful concept for our national moment of irritation and obnoxiousness. As it happens, some years ago, Eric Schwitzgebel, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, developed a comprehensive theory of the essence of jerkitude:

    The jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers. . . .The jerk himself is both intellectually and emotionally defective, and what he defectively fails to appreciate is both the intellectual and emotional perspectives of the people around him.

    Which brings us to the owner who kicked Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of her restaurant, Robert DeNiro’s f-bomb at the Tony Awards, President Trump’s twitter feed, Corey Lewandowski’s “mwah-mwah” about a child with Down Syndrome, Maxine Waters, and actor, director, and thorough jerk, Seth Rogen.

    And almost certainly more as the season (year?) drones on.

    If you missed Eric Schwitzgebel's essay when it came out in 2014, here it is.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-05

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:18 is another optimistic take on the benefits of being a good person. It pays off, baby!

    18 A wicked person earns deceptive wages,
        but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.

    The Proverbialist apparently never heard of "Virtue is its own reward." Who said that, anyway? Ah, here it is: John Henry Newman (1801-1890), British clergyman, and all-around smart guy. (And, according to Wikipedia, only one miracle short of sainthood.)


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum has a simple request: Another Justice Like Gorsuch, Please. Jacob rebuts recent criticism from "People for the American Way" (PFAW) that Gorsuch is "a narrow-minded elitist who consistently votes in favor of corporations and the powerful." Oh, yeah?

    PFAW is echoing the criticism of Democratic senators who worried, before Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017, that he was not inclined to stand up for "the little guy." Gorsuch's record during a decade on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit belied that claim, and his 15 months on the Supreme Court provide further evidence that he is not shy about defending the principles that protect politically disfavored individuals from the whims of the powerful.

    In sharp contrast with the man who nominated him, Gorsuch worries about abuses of the government's power to take people's property "for public use." In June 2017, when the Court declined to hear a case that raised the question of whether a state can impose limits on the "just compensation" it owes for takings under the Fifth Amendment, Gorsuch, joined by Clarence Thomas, urged his colleagues to address that issue at the "next opportunity."

    Left-wing hyperventilating is one of their less attractive traits.


  • And one thing they hyperventilate about most is Roe v. Wade; for them, its legal authority is above the Constitution, its wisdom above Socrates, and its holy truth far above anything in the Bible!

    But, at the WaPo, Megan McArdle urges: Let Roe go. For one thing:

    The decision itself is a poorly reasoned mess. It failed to mount a convincing case that the Constitution contains language that can be read as guaranteeing a woman’s right to abort her pregnancy. Nor have the subsequent courts that amended and extended Roe managed to come up with a constitutional justification; it’s all “emanations and penumbras” and similarly float-y language that did little to convince opponents that Roe v. Wade was a good or necessary ruling. Even many liberal supporters of a constitutional right to abortion have voiced concerns about the way the Burger Court got us there; those critics include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Megan is a sensible woman, but we live in nonsensical times.


  • Ah, but the LFOD Google Alert Bell rang overtime recently. For example, at (of all places) the Omaha World-Herald and their movie critic Micah Mertes, who lists The 5 different kinds of patriotic movies. All of which are unabashed American propaganda. Dude, that's bold talk for a Cornhusker.

    Anyway, one of Micah's movie classifications is the "pop entertainment patriotic film".

    These movies are the most effective and insidious form of patriotic agitprop, merely by nature of how entertaining they are and how thoroughly the American exceptionalism is baked into every frame of the spectacle.

    The heroes overcome their obstacles not just because they are good but because they are American. Because Americans are the coolest, toughest, scrappiest, most ingenious, most practical, awesome, courageous, clear eyes, full heart, can't lose.

    Hackers want to destroy America? Not if John McClane has anything to say about it.

    And, yes, one of his examples is Live Free or Die Hard, a movie that did not even have one scene in New Hampshire. I felt like demanding my ticket money back!

    (Google sends me an LFOD alert for every mention of Live Free or Die Hard. Google's AI is not all its cracked up to be.)

    Anyway: Micah Mertes is deeply troubled and snide about any movie that might make you even slightly grateful to be an American.


  • OK, that's a take from deep-red Nebraska. Oddly enough, there's a counterpoint in deep-blue Illinois, John Kass writing in the Chicago Tribune: On Independence Day, thanking my family for coming to America.

    My people didn’t know about Independence Day when they came to this country.

    But on this Independence Day, I’ll lift a glass to them, my wife’s family from Sicily and my family from Greece.

    They risked their lives and everything they had for the one thing America offered:

    A chance to be an American.

    They didn’t come for a government safety net. They didn’t expect that, and it wasn’t offered. All they wanted was opportunity.

    When they left their poor villages, they didn’t know about the motto of New Hampshire, “Live Free or Die.” But that’s what they set out to do here in America: Live free or die.

    Pun Salad bestows an honorable LFOD mention award to John Kass.


  • Closer to home, Manchester's Nate Bernitz pens a Union Leader LTE, alleging something about Unconstitutional checkpoints.

    Recent immigration checkpoints along I-93 in New Hampshire, as well as along neighboring Maine’s I-95, are an affront to our Live Free or Die values as well as a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

    Given my long history of watching movies with menacing foreigh-accented police state functionaries demanding "Your papers, please", I'm uncomfortable with this sort of thing too. But, as even Vox notes: the checkpoints are probably legal.


  • And NH Labor News ("Where Labor and Progressive Politics Intersect") approves: Woodburn Kicks Off Cannabis Legalization Petition.

    On July 1, Senator Jeff Woodburn is kicking off an online campaign for the “Live free or die” state to join Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts in legalizing marijuana. If re-elected, Woodburn plans to file legislation to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis in 2019.

    Whatever, dude.

    Senator Jeff is the current Democratic state senator from District 1, which is, like, the entire northern half of the state. He is also against mandatory motorcycle helmets, mandatory seat belt usage, bans on "assault weapons", broad-based taxes, … Not bad for a Democrat.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-04

[Amazon Link]

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Try not to blow yourselves up tonight.

  • It would be a marvelous coincidence if Proverbs 11:17 had a relevant take on America's Independence, and … it does not:

    17 Those who are kind benefit themselves,
        but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.

    It's selfish to be kind. I think that's what that means.


  • At Reason, Christian Britschgi brings the Fourth-relevant bad news: Facebook Algorithm Flags, Removes Declaration of Independence Text as Hate Speech.

    America's founding document might be too politically incorrect for Facebook, which flagged and removed a post consisting almost entirely of text from the Declaration of Independence. The excerpt, posted by a small community newspaper in Texas, apparently violated the social media site's policies against hate speech.

    It was the bit about "merciless Indian savages", which you're not supposed to say, or even think, any more, I guess.


  • At the (possibly paywalled) WSJ, James Freeman offers Yet Another Reason to Thank the Founding Fathers:

    On July 4th Americans will celebrate 242 years of independence and the enduring success of a bold experiment in personal liberty. On July 5th the United Kingdom will remind Americans of one particular benefit of independence. Thursday will mark 70 years that English patients have tolerated a single-payer health-care system.

    Freeman details some recent "features" of British single-payer: at least 2,400 dead thanks to transfusions with Hep-C and HIV-tainted blood; 650 dead due to drug overdoses; its treatment (or lack thereof) of Alfie Evans.


  • David Harsanyi's latest column at the Federalist has some helpful advice: Hey, Democrats, The System Doesn’t Need To Be ’Fixed’ Every Time You Lose An Election.

    If you’re under the impression that the system exists merely to facilitate your partisan agenda, it’s not surprising that you also believe it’s “broken” every time things don’t go your way. This is why so many Democrats argue that we should “fix” the Electoral College when they lose a presidential election and “fix” the filibuster when they run the Senate and now “fix” the Supreme Court when they don’t run the Senate.

    During the Obama presidency, liberal pundits groused about the supposed crisis posed by a “dysfunctional” Congress. In political media parlance, “dysfunction” can be roughly translated into “Democrats aren’t able to do as they like.” Congress, as you know, was only “broken” when President Obama wasn’t getting his agenda passed, not when his party was imposing a wholly partisan, unprecedented health-care regime on all Americans.

    There's nothing important wrong with "the system". If there's anything that needs to be "fixed" in America, it's the voters.

    I can say that, because I'm not running for anything.


  • Jonah Goldberg at NRO writes perceptively on The Tribal Mind and the Nation State. It's from last month, so this is an "ICYMI" link. Mankind evolved in the context of loyalty to their tribe; can one's "tribe" be expanded without limit to a touchy-feely global solidarity?

    Eh, maybe that's not practical.

    […] one reason I think a global sense of ethical or tribal solidarity is very difficult to achieve is that one of the key ingredients of tribal solidarity is opposition to an “other.” Global religions still define themselves — in practical terms — as opposed to some other religious view or group. Johnson’s point about cosmopolitanism is a good one, but it overlooks the fact that many of the cosmopolitans, or “globalists,” very much act like a tribe pitted against what they consider to be the populist rubes beneath them. As Ross Douthat notes, the cosmopolitans are a tribe, too.

    Ronald Reagan used to talk a lot about how the nations of the world would drop their differences in the face of an extraterrestrial threat. He was often mocked for saying this, but I think he was making a fairly profound point. It’s not obvious that it would have to be little green men knocking on our door. If the Sweet Meteor of Death had fulfilled its campaign promise, one could imagine a similar dynamic of global unity in the face of a global threat. Lord knows this is a major political passion underneath a lot of climate-change activism. Indeed, William James in his “Moral Equivalent of War” address explicitly talked about the need to use the war against “nature” as a substitute for the natural martial tendency to wage war against the (human) other.

    Jonah doesn't explicitly mention social media technology, Lots of tribes, and we have "othering" out the waz.


  • [Amazon Link]

    Philip Greenspun reports on a book Exploring the twisted personality that can result from tenure. It's Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, designed as a series of letters written by a university professor of creative writing and literature. Phil has a sample, and here's one, an employment recommendation for a would-be adjunct:

    Alex Ruefle has prevailed upon me to support his teaching application to your department, which I gather is hiring adjunct faculty members exclusively, bypassing the tenure track with its attendant health benefits, job security, and salaries on which a human being might reasonably live. Perhaps your institution should cut to the chase and put its entire curriculum online, thereby sparing Ruefle the need to move to Lattimore, wherever that is. You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice, and then charge your students a thousand dollars each to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.

    I assume he listed me as a reference because of the retirement and demise, respectively, of his two thesis advisors: it took Ruefle fourteen years to earn the doctorate. During that time he became a fixture here at Payne, beginning his studies as a vigorous man and, after marrying and acquiring multiple children, staggering across the PhD finish line in late middle age.

    Dear Committee Members is available at the library of the University Near Here, so I might check it out soon.

My Book Picker (and Lister)

2018 Version

This is an updated version of a "geekery" post from last year. I've made substantial changes to the script it describes since then. I'm leaving the former (and much simpler) version in place, but also wanted to show off my new version.

But one thing hasn't changed at all: it's another example of the mental aberration that causes me to write Perl scripts to solve life's little everyday irritants. In this case two little irritants:

  1. I noticed that I had a lot of books on my shelves, acquired long past, that I never got around to reading. Either because (a) they were dauntingly long and dense (I'm thinking about Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace); or because (b) they just fell through the cracks. Both poor excuses, but there you are.

  2. I sometimes want to methodically read a series of books in a particular order.

In other words, I needed a way to bring diligence and organization to my previous chaotic and sloppy reading habits.

I think of what I came up with as the "To-Be-Read" (hereafter TBR) database. That's a slightly lofty title, but anyway:

The high-level view: all the TBR books are in zero or more stacks, each stack containing zero or more titles. Each stack is maintained in the order I want to read the books therein. (This goes back to the issue mentioned above: sometimes a series really "should" be read in publishing order, for example C.J. Box's novels featuring protagonist Joe Pickett.)

So picking a book to read involves (a) choosing an "eligible" stack; and (b) "popping" the top book from the chosen stack. Very computer science-y.

The interesting part is the "choosing an eligible stack" step. There are a number of possible ways to do it. But first, more details on "eligibility".

The major problem with the previous version of this script was that too often it would pick a book "too soon" after I'd read something off the same stack. (An issue mentioned in last year's post.) As it turns out, I wanted to let some time go by between picks from the same stack. (For example, at least 30 days between books by Heinlein. Too much of a good thing, too soon…)

So: in this version, each stack has an "age": the time that's elapsed since I previously picked a book from that stack. And a "minimum age", the amount of time that must elapse after a pick before that stack becomes eligible again.

Another minor difference: I don't actually own some of the books in some of the stacks yet. I want to read them someday. But I'm waiting, typically for the price to come down, either via the Barnes & Noble remainder table or the Amazon used market. I'm RetiredOnAFixedIncome, after all.

So an eligible stack is one that:

  • is non-empty;
  • the top book is owned;
  • the stack is older than its specified minimum age.
OK, so how do we choose among eligible stacks? Possibilities:
  1. Pick the "oldest" stack; the one for which it's been the longest time since a book from it was previously picked.
  2. Pick the highest stack, the one with the most titles therein. (Because it needs the most work, I guess.)
  3. Just pick a stack at random.
  4. Pick a random stack weighted by stack height. That is, any stack can be picked, but one with eight titles in it is twice as likely to be picked as one with four titles. (This was the algorithm used in the previous version.)
  5. Pick a random stack, weighted by age. That is, a stack that's 90 days old is twice as likely to be picked as a 45-day old one.
  6. But what I'm doing is a combination of the last two: the stack-weighting function is the stack height times the stack age. So (for example) a 120-day-old stack with 5 titles is twice as likely to be picked as a 50-day-old stack with 6 titles. Because 120 * 5 = 600 and 50 * 6 = 300. This is totally arbitrary, but it seems to work for me so far.

Here's my current take on scripting that.

Each stack is implemented as a comma-separated values (CSV) file, headerless, one line per book, each line containing two fields:

  1. The book title;
  2. Whether I own the book yet (1/0 = yes/no).
For example, here's the current content of moore.csv, containing the to-be-read books of Christopher Moore:

"The Serpent of Venice",1
"Secondhand Souls",1
Noir,0

I.e., three books, the first two owned, the third one, Noir, unpurchased as yet. (I'll get it someday, and edit the file to change the 0 to 1.)

There is a "master" CSV file, stacks.csv. It has a header (for some reason that I forget). Each non-header line contains data for a single stack:

  1. The (nice human-readable) stack name;
  2. The stack ID (corresponding to the name of the stack file);
  3. The minimum time, in days, that should elapse between consecutive picks from that stack;
  4. The date when a book was most recently picked from the stack.
As I type, here's what it looks like:

name,id,minage,lastpicked
"Chronicles of Amber",amber,42,2018-04-15
"C.J. Box",box,30,2018-06-16
"Michael Connelly",connelly,30,2018-06-22
"Continental Op",continental_op,30,2018-06-09
"Conservative Lit 101",conservative_lit_101,60,2017-09-07
"Elmore Leonard",elmore,30,2018-06-28
"Dick Francis",francis,30,2018-04-20
"General Fiction",genfic,30,2018-06-13
"Steve Hamilton",hamilton,30,2018-04-29
"Robert A. Heinlein",heinlein,30,2018-06-19
Monkeewrench,monkeewrench,30,2018-05-28
"Christopher Moore",moore,30,2018-04-23
Mystery,mystery,30,2018-01-04
Non-Fiction,nonfic,30,2018-07-01
"Lee Child",reacher,30,2017-12-29
"Science Fiction",sci-fi,30,2018-05-30
Spenser,spenser,30,2017-05-01
"Don Winslow",winslow,30,2018-03-02

No comments from the peanut gallery about my lack of literary taste, please.

Picking a random stack according to a weighting function isn't hard. I'd pseudocode the algorithm like this:

Given: N eligible stacks (indexed 0..N-1), with Wi being the calculated weight of the ith list (assumed integer) …

Let T be the total weight, W0 + W1 + ⋯ + WN-1

Pick a random number r between 0 and T-1.

p = 0
while (r >= Wp)
     r -= Wp
     p++

… and on loop exit p will index the list picked.

To anticipate CS pedants: I know this is O(N) and using a binary search instead could make it O(log N). In practice, it's plenty fast enough. And other steps in the process are O(N) anyway.

Enough foreplay! The "picking" script, bookpicker, is here. A prettyprinted HTML version is here. Notes:

  • The Text::CSV Perl module is used for reading/writing CSV files. The Time::Piece and Time::Seconds modules are invaluable for doing the simple age calculations and comparisons.

  • You just run the script with no arguments or options; output is the title and the name of the picked list.

  • The user is responsible for maintaining the CSV files; no blank/duplicate lines, etc. I use My Favorite Editor (vim), but CSVs are also editable with Your Favorite Spreadsheet.

  • For the "picked" stack, the script writes a smaller file with the picked title missing. The old stack is saved with a .old appended to the name. The stacks.csv file is also updated appropriately with today's date for the last-picked field for the picked stack.

  • The weighting function and random number generation are constrained to integer values; I think it would work without that, but who wants to worry about rounding errors? Not I.

I also have a couple scripts to list out the contents of the to-be-read database.

  1. A script that produces plain text output (on stdout) is here. A prettyprinted HTML version is here.

  2. A script that produces an HTML page and displays it in my browser (Google Chrome) is here. A prettyprinted HTML version is here. It uses text color to signify eligible/ineligible stacks and owned/unowned books. Sample output (again, comments on my literary taste, or lack thereof, are welcome) is here.

    The HTML::Template module is used to make output generation easier, and the template used for that is here; note that it probably won't show up nicely in a browser.

    Getting it to show up in my browser is accomplished via chromix-too server/client/extension; if you don't have it, it's pretty easy to do something else instead.

Whew! I feel better getting this off my chest..


Last Modified 2018-07-03 3:40 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2018-07-03

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:16 sounds like it could be the basis for a good blues song:

    16 A kindhearted woman gains honor,
        but ruthless men gain only wealth.

    This goes double if the kindhearted woman is named Ruth.

    But… only wealth? A lot of guys will take that deal.


  • At NRO, Robert Stein has A Modest Proposal for ‘Draining the Swamp’. Robert details, convincingly, how elected officials gallop to the watering trough once out of office.

    So here’s my suggestion: Once someone is elected to federal office — the House, Senate, or White House — they will get that office’s pay for life, guaranteed, plus inflation, no matter how soon they retire or how long they linger in office. However, all other income (except for withdrawals from previously accumulated retirement funds and Social Security) will be taxed at 100 percent.

    No speech fees, no lobbying, no consulting, no corporate boards, no book deals, no film deals, no university positions. No other jobs, either. Basically, no nothing. Unless, of course, you just want to work as a labor of love, in which case be my guest.

    I probably wouldn't go for that in practice—Stein admits he might not either—because, hey, it's a free country. But I'll admit that the "high eight figures" deal that Netflix gave the Obamas seems like little more than (as Robert puts it) a "postdated bribe".


  • At the Daily Signal, David Harsany espies The Next Phase of Our National Moral Panic:

    It looks as if the next phase of our ginned-up national moral panic will feature the public shunning and harassment of people we disagree with. And in a free country, even the pretend oppressed can kick imaginary Nazis out of their establishments, as we saw when the co-owner of The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, booted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from her restaurant.

    Certainly, politicos don’t deserve safe spaces from peaceful protest or confrontation. You want to make their lives miserable, humiliate them, and show everyone how principled and right-thinking you are? By all means, stop them from having those chimichangas. That’ll teach ’em.

    But don’t fool yourself into self-idealization. You’re no budding Martin Luther King. No matter what you think of President Donald Trump, you’re still an insufferable jerk. You’re just a member of a blindered tribalist mob, imbued with a false sense of certitude that allows you to justify incivility. That is to say, you’re like a Twitter troll made real.

    To repeat a Tyler Cowen quote from yesterday: "There is no better venue for politeness than commerce." Especially commerce conducted in public before witnesses.


  • Hey, it's almost the Fourth! Time to get prepared. Ira Stoll, at Reason, describes How the Declaration of Independence Explains Political News in 2018.

    The founders of the United States of America didn't just declare independence from Great Britain. They wrote a statement explaining their reasoning. Two-hundred-and-forty-two years later, we're navigating some of the same issues.

    President Trump's immigration crackdown? The Declaration of Independence complained that King George III "has endeavoured (sic) to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither."

    President Trump's tariff threats and the risks they may pose to international trade? The Declaration of Independence had faulted George III "for cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world."

    President Trump's encouraging Justice Anthony Kennedy to resign so Trump could reshape the Supreme Court? The Declaration criticized George III for having "made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices."

    OK, that last one was kind of a stretch, Ira.


  • Charles C. W. Cooke has our Tweet du Jour:

    I've quoted Jonah Goldberg on this before: we "like our Constitution like our beef jerky — cold, dead, tough to chew through."


  • And you'll want to take Mark J. Perry's Carpe Diem quiz on the Declaration of Independence. I got 11 out of 14, thanks to some semi-educated lucky guesses. See how you do.

Riding the Rap

[Amazon Link]

Continuing the project of reading Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens-related works. This one was written in 1995.

The troubled bookie from Pronto, Harry Arno, is in even deeper trouble here. He has sent his enforcer, Bobby Deo, to collect on bad bets from dissolute pothead Chip Ganz. Unfortunately, Bobby and Chip, together with Chip's associate, Louis Lewis, decide instead to take Harry hostage, planning on extorting the millions Harry has stashed in the Bahamas.

Raylan, in the meantime, has been canoodling with Harry's sometime-girlfriend, Joyce. When Harry goes missing, Joyce worries, which causes Raylan's fugitive-seeking instincts to kick in. And it's not long before he zeroes in on the bad guys.

Fans of the Justified series will notice some similarities between this novel and the Season One episode "Fixer". Although many details differ, even down to character names. Most of this is probably due to the series having the rights to some, but not all, of Elmore Leonard's oeuvre. Another example: a lady psychic, "Reverend Dawn" plays a key role in this book, and she's awfully similar to the show's Season 4 character Eve Munro. And a Crowe family member has a small cameo at the beginning of the book.

A fun read, as expected. Leonard is as interested in the bad guys as he is the good guys. And (as we've seen before) the bad guys are violent, dishonest, volatile, and generally poor candidates to sustain their criminal plotting.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-02

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:15 asks: who can you trust? And comes back with the answer: not strangers:

    15 Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer,
        but whoever refuses to shake hands in pledge is safe.

    For once, "The Message" translation seems pretty accurate: "Whoever makes deals with strangers is sure to get burned; if you keep a cool head, you’ll avoid rash bargains."


  • At NRO, Kevin D. Williamson muses on Harleys, protectionism, and America: On the Road. Excerpt:

    Harley-Davidson, like the Pilgrims, finds itself at odds with the authorities. In this case, it is the Trump administration, which is displeased with the Motor Company’s decision to shift some additional production overseas. The proximate cause of that decision is tariffs imposed by the European Union in retaliation for tariffs imposed on European goods by the Trump administration. Trade wars cause a great deal of collateral damage.

    Harley-Davidson already operates facilities in Brazil, India, and Australia, and it has plans for a factory in Thailand. Avoiding protectionist measures drives some of that, but so do other factors, including proximity to customers — which is why Mercedes-Benz manufactures SUVs in the United States, where most of them are sold. Indians buy nearly 17 million motorcycles and scooters a year, and Harley-Davidson covets a larger share of that market. It also has a following in Europe, and its executives calculate that the Trump administration’s anti-trade policies will cost it as much as $100 million a year in the EU market alone. The president has sternly warned the company that there will be consequences for its decision to move some production to Europe.

    The Trump Administration is a frustrating array of brilliant and stupid. Protectionism, with associated bullying of American companies, is irredeemably stupid.


  • On the other hand, as Reason's Baylen Linnekin reveals, Trump's Proposal To Reform Federal Food Regulations Is Long Overdue.

    Last week, the Trump administration proposed to significantly overhaul several federal regulatory agencies. Food-safety oversight is one of the key elements of the proposal.

    "Food safety programs, now overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), would be consolidated into a new Federal Food Safety Agency," Politico reported. That agency would become part of the USDA.

    The Trump administration says the food-safety proposal, part of its larger plan to consolidate various agency responsibilities, would shift thousands of current FDA and USDA employees and billions of dollars into a new Federal Food Safety Agency.

    The need for reform is real. The USDA and FDA currently operate under completely different food-safety laws and regulations. When it comes to food safety, which agency oversees what foods (and what the agency's process is for regulating those foods) has long seemed arbitrary. One classic example is that frozen cheese pizzas sold at your local grocer are regulated by the FDA, while frozen pepperoni pizzas are regulated by the USDA.

    Darn, now I'm hungry.

    Some critics are quoted. Some are against the proposal, well, because Trump. Others (mostly bureaucrats and their enablers) are deeply invested in the status quo. So the prospects are grim.


  • I made one of my rare tweets yesterday:

    … referring to this ABC News story: From Twitter fingers to judicial decisions: Examining a potential SCOTUS nominee's odd social media habits.

    On New Year’s Eve, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Don Willett channeled Rick Astley by tweeting “People of Earth—In 2018, @JusticeWillett will never: give you up, let you down, run around, desert you, make you cry, say goodbye, tell a lie, hurt you.”

    Before that, Willett, at the time a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas, tweeted out his son confusing “Eminem” and “eminent,” a picture of three puppies and a picture of cornbread shaped like his home state.

    But with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement on Wednesday, and Willett’s name appearing on a list of Trump’s potential Supreme Court nominees, the judge’s frequent tweeting last year raises questions for some of judicial impartiality.

    Right. Here's one of Justice Willett's tweets that has ABC clutching its pearls:

    Can a rectangular state ever hope to be treated fairly in Justice Willett's America?


  • At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen has a mini-essay in response to Civility in politics queries. RTWT, of course, but I especially liked this bit:

    Driving a public figure out of a restaurant may seem like fun, but in fact they don’t know at which point you are planning on stopping. You’re coming pretty close to threatening them with violent aggression, and there are very very few situations where such actions will end up improving the world as a whole. There is no better venue for politeness than commerce.

    Good point.

URLs du Jour

2018-07-01

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:14 is one that might be aimed at President Trump (and it still seems funny to type that):

    14 For lack of guidance a nation falls,
        but victory is won through many advisers.

    I believe earlier versions of this verse contained the notation: "This Proverb was brought to you by the Union of National Advisers".


  • It's very belated, but ("ICYMI") I wanted to draw readers' attention to The Church of Grievance, an excellent article from Michael Brendan Dougherty in a recent issue of National Review. (It's behind a semi-permeable paywall.) I found this observation to be telling:

    […] Haunted by the corruption of commercialism and disillusioned with the pursuit of genius for its own sake, almost the entire artistic world has looked to politics to find a new purpose. And so every field, from abstract sculpture to film to stand-up comedy, has started to mimic the hectoring voice and social goals of progressive politics. Those seeking to express or sublimate their deepest longings almost inevitably turn away from contemplation and creation and toward activism. Tragedy and comedy are supposed to offer catharsis and make living in an imperfect world easier. But, given an overtly political role, these forms now essentially withhold that salve; their mission is agitation in the service of social reform. We have an art world that satisfies us less and diverts more dissatisfaction into the political realm.

    Borrowing from the thought of Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, the Christian social critic Alan Jacobs showed that “woke” social-justice activists often don’t use political terms when talking about the imperatives of their identity politics. Instead, they invoke mythic ones. This partly explains why their response to unwelcome campus speakers takes on the form of an exorcism, with chants repeated in a loud, prayer-like cadence. Sometimes the shouts are enacted as an antiphony — a call and response. At other times, an exemplar is pulled forward to speak and the entire supportive group amplifies that voice by repeating the person’s words.

    The Alan Jacobs article to which Dougherty refers is here.


  • The headline on a recent NYT article from Adam Liptak is a common Progressive trope: How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment.

    Yes, those Deplorables are always "attacking", "weaponizing", "pouncing", etc. (Apparently some versions of the story doubled down on metaphor, appending "How Free Speech Became a Conservative Cudgel". That's been memory-holed at the NYT.)

    Headline aside, though, it's a pretty interesting insight into the "free speech for me, but not for thee" club. It turns out that "Weaponizing" in this case means "insisting on the same rules for everyone".

    [L]iberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.

    “The left was once not just on board but leading in supporting the broadest First Amendment protections,” said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer and a supporter of broad free-speech rights. “Now the progressive community is at least skeptical and sometimes distraught at the level of First Amendment protection which is being afforded in cases brought by litigants on the right.”

    Many on the left have traded an absolutist commitment to free speech for one sensitive to the harms it can inflict.

    "Many on the left" are always good for a chuckle, because it's pretty clear that the "harms" they are newly "sensitive" to are solely those coming from their political opponents.

    There's nothing new under the sun. One wishes for the relative "repressive tolerance" frankness of Herbert Marcuse, who believed in making those on the right simply shut up.


  • Speaking of First Amendment jurisprudence, check out George F. Will's latest: The ‘Janus’ ruling is a welcome blow to coerced speech. (That's the one that said that public employees could not be coerced into paying "fees" to a union to which they had no desire to join.

    There is no sugarcoating today’s reality. Public-sector unions are conveyor belts that move a portion of government employees’ salaries — some of the amount paid in union dues — into political campaigns, almost always Democrats’, to elect the people with whom the unions “negotiate” for taxpayers’ money. Progressives who are theatrically distraught about there being “too much money in politics” are now theatrically distraught that the court has ended coercing contributions that have flowed to progressive candidates.

    Let me get away with a mildly "weaponized" metaphor: Will is on target.


  • Power Line's Steven Hayward reveals the Academic Absurdity of . . . Maybe All Time. Exemplified in last December's passing of UCLA Professor Doran George (of the "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Studies, and Queer Studies" Department). The quoted People article is relatively circumspect:

    A California university professor died suddenly during a BDSM bondage session at the home of a Hollywood executive. Dr. Doran George, 48, was found dead in the home of Skip Chasey, an executive for Hollywood agency William Morris Endeavor on Nov. 19, 2017. . .

    The room included padded floor tiles, a ladder back chair, a metal cage, a padded examination table and a St. Andrews cross, according to the autopsy report.

    George — who was born Duncan Gilbert but changed their name and did not use gendered pronouns — was wrapped “head to toe in plastic wrap and gaffer’s tape, with small breathing holes at the nose and mouth,” the autopsy report stated. The professor was also wearing a “locked metal chain around [their] neck.”

    … but there's more detail quoted from less-fluffy publications.

    The UCLA department chair, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, offered RIP Doran George on the department's website, and (for the rest of us) it's pretty sad how Doran's forlorn death was an occasion for dragging out the identity-politics boilerplate and confusing pronouns:

    Besides serving as a TA for our M114 Intro to LGBTQ Studies course, Doran also taught M114 during the summer, and conceptualized and offered one of the most incisive critical courses ever offered by our minor, Heteronormative Colonialism, specifically looking at the connection between colonial ideology, economic expansion, and continued exploitation of queer bodies and bodies of color. Those of you who had the honor of taking this course or being in one of Doran’s discussion sections know that their heart was as big as their laugh, and that their dedication to social justice was informed by their own queer immigrant experience.

    And for those accustomed to reading "RIP" as "Rest in Peace", you'll note that Prof Alicia intends it as "Rest in Power". Because nothing says "power" like getting wrapped head to toe in plastic wrap and gaffer's tape.


  • And yet another reason for voting against Republicans in November is detailed at Reason: Rep. Justin Amash Calls Out House Republicans for Passing 'Massively Wasteful' $675 Billion Defense Bill.

    Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), one of just three House Republicans to vote against a Department of Defense appropriations bill on Thursday, called out his party for overwhelmingly supporting the wasteful legislation.

    The $675 billion spending bill easily passed in the House of Representatives by a 359–49 vote. Aside from Amash, Reps. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) and Ken Buck (R–Colo.) were the only Republicans to vote no.

    … and—doing the math here—only 46 Democrats voted no. So this isn't much of a reason to vote for Democrats either.


Last Modified 2018-07-01 7:32 AM EDT