A Simple Favor

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

We squoze this Netflix DVD in New Year's Eve, waiting for the ball to drop. By the way, I am not sure why we do that ball-drop thing any more.

IMDB genrecizes this as Comedy/Crime/Drama, which is about right. The five-foot-two Pride of Portland ME, Anna Kendrick, plays Stephanie: a seemingly perfect single suburban-CT mom with a mildly popular "vlog" where she perkily shares recipes, crafts, and homemaking tips. Her cute son, Miles, demands a play date with his new friend Nicky, which kicks off her involvement with Nicky's mom… well, let's call her "Emily", since that's her name in the credits, played by the 5-foot-10 Blake Lively. Emily is foulmouthed, hard-drinking, rich, and, uh, oversharing. Significantly, even with her salary as a NYC PR person for a glitzy fashion company, and her hubby's teaching gig at a local university, she claims to be on the edge of financial ruin.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie for the titular "simple favor": could she pick up Nicky from school and watch him for a bit? Fine, but Emily doesn't appear later to pick Nicky up. Or ever. She goes missing. What happened to her?

From there, the story takes a number of unexpected twists. No spoilers here, at least none other than you can get from the blurbs. A lot of R-rated fun (involving, according to the MPAA, "sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence").


The Unlikely Origins of the Statue of Liberty

[Amazon Link]

I was persuaded to read this by a good review in the WSJ back in November. Somewhat surprisingly, the University Near Here actually bought a copy—no Interlibrary Loan required!

Unfortunately, it was both longer and less interesting than I thought it would be. I crawled through it, painfully, at about 20 pages/day, just sneaking it into my 2018 reading. The author, Francesca Lidia Viano, is from Italy, a young academic now working at Institute for New Economic Thinking.

The book explores the "origin story" of Lady Liberty; its opening metaphor invokes an extremely unexpected parallel: the Trojan Horse. No, the statue didn't make its appearance on Bedloe's Island with a covert cargo of French troops inside. Other than the statue being hollow, the physical metaphor doesn't apply. But Viano argues that the statue's ideological DNA contains a lot of unexpected strands. These are illuminated by the (extremely) detailed biography of the artist, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and his associates. He was French, in the 19th century, a time of a lot of philosophical/artistic/political/international craziness. The folks who bankrolled much of the statue seemed to have messages to send: against British imperialism, for French colonialism, for free trade, against slavery, a healthy component of Saint-Simonism, Freemasonry, … (Ironically, today the main symbolism, thanks to that Emma Lazarus poem, seems to be immigration. That was a late addition.)

I could put up with a lot of that, but 500 pages? Eek!

I would have liked a little more detail on the statue's engineering. In fact, the description of the statue's construction and assembly is crowded into the book's final pages.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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

So, as I type, this movie is #29 on IMDB's Top Rated Movies of all time. Reviews have been rapturous. I went in with super-high expectations, dragging Mrs. Salad and Pun Son along with me, and…

Well, it's not bad. Fun, even. But I don't get all the hoopla. I don't think this would even make my top-29 list of superhero movies.

Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

Anyway, the deal is this: in a closely-adjacent universe (there are little hints that it isn't the same one displayed in previous Marvel movies), there's an African American kid named Miles who gets bitten by the radioactive spider; but there's already a Spider-Man in town, and he's in the process of attempting to foil a nefarious plot hatched by Kingpin and his minions. Said plot involves ripping apart space and time in order to resurrect Kingpin's late wife and son from a different timeline; unfortunate side effect being that the entire world would probably be destroyed.

Anyway, in the first big battle, disaster results. But (side effect) a number of heroic Spider-beings from other continua show up in the aftermath to mentor Miles into superhero-dom and assist him in defeating the bad guys.

A lot of humor, sight gags, apparently Stan Lee's last appearance (his voice anyway), and I didn't fall asleep. But I maybe have an aversion to alternate universes; I don't think much of the gimmick on the Flash TV show either.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson has a thoughtful end-of-year essay at NR: New Year: A Time for Choosing, Still.

    The miracle of modern life — modern life itself, really — has one ultimate source: the division of labor. The division of labor is not just a term from a dusty undergraduate economics textbook — it is the secret sauce, the fuel in the rocket engine of capitalist development that has transformed our world. It took about 66 years go to from Kitty Hawk to Neil Armstrong landing on the moon — Jeff Goldblum is 66 years old. In the course of one Goldblum — one Goldblum so far — we went from standing on the Earth and wondering about the moon to standing on the moon and observing the Earth.

    And nobody did that. An enormous number of people each did a little part.

    Because of the division of labor, the people who are searching for a cure for HIV do not have to spend their days baking their own bread — or growing their own wheat, grinding it into flour, gathering the rest of the ingredients, and then, finally, if they haven’t starved to death in the interim, baking their own bread. We like to say that “all work has dignity,” and that is true, and worth remembering. But it is a much more profound observation when understood in the context of human effort as a whole: The team that cures HIV will go to Stockholm to collect the Nobel prize, but the guy who delivered their late-night pizzas, the Uber driver, the police officer, the crew that fixed the potholes in the roads, the laborers who framed and roofed their houses and laboratory buildings — they all play a part. The work we do, no matter how seemingly unexceptional, is what makes the life we live together — this remarkable, wondrous life — possible.

    It's easy to forget, easy to take for granted. Kevin deserves our thanks for reminding us.

    Today's Amazon Product du Jour: a poster print featuring a bullshit quote from Karl Marx, wrong as usual.

  • An interesting point made by Megan McArdle at the WaPo: The latest journalism scandal proves it: Partisan writing is one way to keep journalists honest.. It doesn't really matter what that latest scandal is; by the time you read this, there may be another one; but this will remain the case:

    The great and obvious flaw of ideological media is that its practitioners are biased. But all editors and reporters are biased; it’s an inescapable part of the human condition. We can and should try to correct for it, but our corrections will never be as good as those applied by someone with a completely different set of biases — the person who says, “That can’t be right” and sets out to prove why it isn’t.

    Of course, those partisans will often be blindly determined to prove writers wrong when we aren’t; often we will waste time arguing the inarguable. We will watch with distress as the readers of our opposition come to believe things we know just ain’t so.

    But we will also watch them curb our own worst instincts, correct the stories we never should have run, force us to be better lest they catch us in an error. However annoying we may find it, honestly partisan writing is certainly better than the alternative, which is more people such as Claas Relotius.

    (Oh, yeah: Relotius is the guy who was caught making up stuff for publication in Der Spiegel.)

    What's the over/under on the number of days before the next great MSM fabrication?

  • Hey, what's that smell? Ah. As Reason's Baylen Linnekin tells us: The USDA’s Final Rule for GMO Labeling Stinks.

    Under the final rule, a food producer marketing a food that is genetically modified (GMO) or that contains GMO ingredients may comply with the rules in any one (or more) of four ways: 1) by clear wording on a food label; 2) by using the USDA's new symbol "BE" to designate that it is bioengineered food; 3) via a QR code printed on a food label; or 4) by giving the consumer the option to send a text message to the manufacturer seeking more information. Food manufacturers will have until 2022 to come into compliance with the rule.

    These silly rules took years to develop. That's largely a function of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act, the terrible 2016 law that required the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA to develop regulations to implement the law. I argued earlier this year that the real reason the rules took so long to write is that the law mandating their creation is pretty much unworkable. As generally happens, a bad law has produced bad regulations.

    The only good thing is that the food nannies are irate that the new rules don't "scare and confuse" consumers enough.

  • This Boston Globe article triggered the Google LFOD alert: ‘Live free or die, but don’t touch that plant’: A clash over marijuana in New Hampshire.

    Live free or die.

    Unless, that is, your idea of freedom involves marijuana.

    New Hampshire’s libertarian streak has long been a source of pride for residents, but for cannabis users, that self-image isn’t living up to reality. With pot legalization sweeping through New England, New Hampshire is now an island of prohibition.

    Our governor, Chris Sununu, is adamant that he'll veto any loosening of the pot laws. He's not wrong that it will cause problems. But they'll be less than the problems we have with prohibition.

  • From the other side of the state (Valley News), Dan Mackie is Predicting the Ups, and Inevitable Downs, of 2019. And we liked his prediction for September:

    A Broadway musical that tries to recreate the magic of Hamilton fails after opening night, disappointing Vermonters. Coolidge employs rap lyrics to capture the life and times of the 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. However, that doesn’t seem to work for the famously taciturn “Silent Cal.” The failure augurs poorly for Pierce!, an extravaganza about New Hampshire favorite son Franklin Pierce, who is rated among the worst presidents by historians. Critics are generally unkind to the off-off-Broadway production. A Union Leader review holds a contrarian view: “The boffo song Live Free or Die won’t leave a dry eye in the house,” it says.

    I bet Lin-Manuel Miranda could write a musical about Franklin Pierce and make it work.

  • Local writer P. Gardner Goldsmith writes at MRC TV: More Than 40 Congressional Dems Salivate Over Ocasio-Cortez’s Pork and Regulatory Nightmare Called 'The Green New Deal'.

    Newly elected NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez, 40 Democrats in DC, and many pop media “reporters” seem trapped in a Neverland of perpetual adolescence, an eternal twilight of collectivist “us-we” terminology, soothsaying economics, and mythological “history” foist on them by government-run schools.

    We can only hope that sanity suddenly takes hold when (if?) people become aware of the price tag.

    [Amazon Link]

    Ah, but where's… ah, there it is:

    As I have written in my book, “Live Free or Die”, between 1933 and 1940 FDR and his gang in Congress passed 39 devastatingly unconstitutional bills that created new agencies, spent pork for political favors, or strangled private business. The situation was so bad that as economist Robert Higgs wrote for “The Independent Review” in 1997, it created what he called “regime uncertainty” among business owners and investors. They were so alarmed by the FDR “New Deal” policies, that they waited to start new businesses, to invest, to build, or to hire people.

    Mr. Goldsmith's LFOD book is at Amazon.

The Phony Campaign

2018-12-30 Update

[Amazon Link]

In a completely unexpected move, Kamala Harris takes over our top phony position this week, her phony Google hits increasing by a factor of 6.4.

Yeah, that's not real. Expect that to return to reality next year.

In other news, Hillary Clinton returns to our chart after dropping off last week. She's now (according to Predictwise) at a 4% nomination probability, which seems… I don't know what it seems like.

Historical note: I note that Donald Trump didn't appear in our standings until after he officially announced his candidacy in June 2015. One of our first links about him was a Ben Zimmer column in the WSJ from which I quoted:

When Donald Trump gave a speech announcing his candidacy for president last week, he seemed to utter whatever thoughts popped into his uniquely coiffed head.

As Mark Plotkin, a contributor to the Hill newspaper, put it, “To say he has ‘no filter’ would be a gigantic understatement.”

And I wondered:

I'm all for "no filter" in theory. In practice, however, would we really want a president who was in the habit of saying the first thing that popped into his head? I see downsides.

I'm not the best prognosticator in the world, but geez that was spot on.

Anyway, our results this week:

Candidate NomProb Change
Kamala Harris 18% unch 3,810,000 +3,218,000
Donald Trump 59% -2% 2,160,000 +10,000
Beto O'Rourke 17% unch 1,040,000 +318,000
Nikki Haley 7% unch 906,000 -114,000
Sherrod Brown 3% -1% 876,000 +193,000
Hillary Clinton 4% --- 799,000 ---
Bernie Sanders 7% -2% 225,000 -4,000
Mitt Romney 3% unch 206,000 -27,000
Joe Biden 10% -3% 189,000 +5,000
Kirsten Gillibrand 5% +1% 179,000 +10,000
Paul Ryan 4% +1% 170,000 -13,000
Mike Pence 7% unch 153,000 -4,000
Elizabeth Warren 5% +1% 146,000 -30,000
Amy Klobuchar 5% -1% 109,000 -2,000
John Hickenlooper 3% unch 73,800 +16,900
John Kasich 6% +1% 52,700 +800
Cory Booker 5% +2% 52,600 -6,300

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • I appreciate the sheer bitchiness of this Vanity Fair story: “Democrats Don’t Like to Be Told Who to Vote For”: Obama Has Flirted with Beto and Other Potential 2020 Rivals, and Biden Is Upset.

    Word of Barack Obama’s mid-November meeting with Beto O’Rourke cheered the millions of O’Rourke fans who want the Texas congressman to run for president in 2020. And it delighted the political pundit-verse, which is always hungry for new gossip and intrigue. Joe Biden, however, is said to have been less than thrilled. Obamaworld insiders describe the former vice president as upset—not specifically by Obama’s conversation with O’Rourke, but by the former president’s willingness to talk to other plausible Democratic contenders while Biden is still deciding whether to run himself. “This is unequivocally false. Period,” Biden spokesman Bill Russo says. So just how does Biden feel about his ex-boss chatting with potential primary rivals? “I’m not going to comment further,” Russo replies.

    OK, I get that Vanity Fair writers don't get paid unless they write something, no matter how superficial and thinly sourced. But do they really have to make actual grown-up politicians sound like a bunch of middle-school adolescent girls worried about perceived slights and clique memberships?

    Or maybe it really is like that.

  • At the WSJ, Michael B. Mukasey describes The Phony Attack on William Barr.

    William Barr is probably the best-qualified nominee for U.S. attorney general since Robert Jackson in 1940. Jackson had been solicitor general and would later serve on the Supreme Court. Mr. Barr has already served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, as well as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, the authoritative voice within the Justice Department on issues of law throughout the government.

    Yet critics decry his nomination, or at least insist that he recuse himself from supervising special counsel Robert Mueller, because of an unsolicited memo he wrote last June to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who then had supervisory responsibility for the Mueller investigation, and Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, current head of the Office of Legal Counsel. The memo criticizes one obstruction-of-justice theory that some have speculated Mr. Mueller is pursuing.

    Mukasey points out that if expressing one's opinion on a matter of controversy is disqualifying, then the only "qualified" candidates will be "those who are ignorant of public issues or indifferent to them." That probably has downsides.

  • At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff invites us to Name that Senator.

    Democrats bemoan (as I do) the resignation of James Mattis. It made me wonder how many of them had voted not to confirm him. I knew that, although Democrats and their media allies had raised questions about Mattis, almost all of them voted for his confirmation in the end.

    I guessed that around five hard core leftists voted against him.

    It turns out that only one did: Kirsten Gillibrand.

    Paul's observation:

    She seems to be making it up as she goes along. She seems to be a phony.

    No foolin'. But she'll have to do better to compete with Kamala.

  • Via GraniteGrok comes a story from out in Ohio, where outgoing Governor John Kasich rejects GOP gun bill even without 'stand your ground' language. There's a lot of theological-style angels-dancing-on-pinheads argument surrounding when it should be legal to use deadly force in self-defense. Kasich dispensed with all that, however:

    “If you think I’m going to sign a bill that gives more power to the gun folks, are you kidding me?” Kasich told reporters. "That’s a moral issue: gun violence."

    Moral issue. For Kasich, them "gun folks" are not just mistaken, but evil.

    The Ohio legislature (also apparently full of evildoers) overrode Kasich's veto last week.

  • At Hot Air, Allahpundit has spotted The most fun political subplot of the new year: Bernie Sanders fans hating Beto O'Rourke. An NBC News commentary is quoted:

    Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and 2016 Sanders supporter who is now running for public advocate in New York City, said liberal activists mostly kept quiet about their concerns over O'Rourke's record, including the backing he got from the centrist Blue Dog Democrats, before he lost a Texas Senate race to Republican Ted Cruz in November.

    "They sucked it up while he was running" because they wanted him to win, Konst said. "But now it’s a different story."


    But Konst said it makes sense that progressives are vetting O'Rourke now that he is being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. It's important, she said, to make a distinction between the cool image he's crafted with progressives, in part by giving them a window into his daily routine with frequent livestream episodes, and what really matters to them.

    "Reading Karl Marx is cool," she said. "Doing a livestream while you’re doing your laundry is a gimmick.”

    What portion of the Democrat primary voters think that reading Marx is cool? That's something to keep an eye on.

  • Back at Power Line, Paul Mirengoff's eagle eye espied Democrat senators asking a judicial nominee, in effect, Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Knights of Columbus?.

    Recently, Sen. Mazie Hirono claimed that Democrats have a hard time connecting with voters because they (Democrats) are so “smart” and “know so much.” If Democrats are smart and knowledgeable, you can’t prove it by Hirono. She embarrasses herself routinely on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she almost invariably finds herself in over her head.

    The latest embarrassment is her attack, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, on a judicial nominee for belonging to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic social and charitable organization founded in 1882 that, in the words of Ramesh Ponnuru, has heretofore been roughly as controversial as the Rotary Club.. Hirono and Harris are insisting that Brian Buescher, nominated for a U.S. district court judgeship, drop his membership in that organization and recuse himself from cases in which it has taken a position.

    Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are the gift that keeps on giving… to Republicans.

  • And Ann Althouse noticed that The NYT makes its 2020 presidential choice obvious.. Quoting the paper:

    Senator Kamala Harris of California.... Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator... Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey... And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.... These four high-profile Democratic senators are poised to enter the 2020 presidential race in the next several weeks...

    The speed of the senators’ efforts reflects intense political pressure to establish themselves as leading candidates in a Democratic field that could get crowded, fast.... and they don’t want to lose a step to a rival fresh face, such as Representative Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Senate candidate who has been the focus of intense speculation in recent weeks as a potential presidential candidate....

    For the Senate foursome, moving quickly into the race is also a pre-emptive effort to undercut the early advantages of a duo of universally known contenders, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who may enter the race in the coming months. Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders would start off with important advantages, including existing networks of support among early-state activists and party donors, and the stature to generate impressive displays of support at early rallies.

    But as white men, Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders and Mr. O’Rourke do not reflect the gender and racial diversity of many Democratic candidates and swaths of the electorate that dominated the 2018 midterms. Ms. Harris, Ms. Warren, Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Booker, by contrast, would instantly make the 2020 Democratic field the most diverse array of presidential candidates in history. And they might well scramble the early polling leads held by Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, who benefit from strong name recognition but would be in their late 70s by Election Day 2020, at a moment when some in the party are agitating for generational change....

    The number of male operatives under consideration for campaign manager posts has raised concerns among some female Democratic strategists who hoped the diversity of the 2020 field would prompt more hiring of female and minority staffers for senior roles.... The focus on staff diversity reflects not only the influence of the #MeToo movement on Democratic politics but the demands of a party that has shifted to the left during the Trump era....

    Is there any doubt, Ann observes, who are the NYT's "decent choices" and who needs to "step back and get out of the way?

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, Drew Cline warns New Hampshire residents: Brace for business tax increases in 2019.

    The incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee wants New Hampshire to go from having the second-lowest corporate tax rate in New England to the second-highest (based on Tax Foundation rankings). The incoming House speaker initially expressed opposition to the idea, only to backtrack in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader.

    The message is clear: Expect the House to pass a large business tax increase in 2019.


  • After 700+ days of the Trump Presidency, Mona Charen finally notices (at NR) that the Commander in Chief has a small problem with running his fact-free mouth off: Trump’s Fake News about Military Pay -- Trump Is Undermined By His Own Lies.

    Remarkable, isn’t it, that Donald Trump has made decrying “fake news” his calling card? Is the press hostile to him? Sure. Do they lie about him? For the most part, no. Then again, the truth is not everyone’s friend. As William Randolph Hearst once quipped: “If Mr. Hughes will stop telling lies about me, I’ll stop telling the truth about him.” Or, even better, William F. Buckley said of Gore Vidal: “Anyone who lies about him is doing him a favor.”

    On his visit to Iraq, the president lied to the troops. How can you claim to honor people you are lying to? Lying signals contempt. “We are always going to protect you. And you just saw that, ’cause you just got one of the biggest pay raises you’ve ever received. . . . You haven’t gotten one in more than ten years. More than ten years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one.”

    Sure. Here’s the Pentagon’s online account of pay raises over the past ten years. The military received raises each year for the past ten years.

    I don't know if he's technically "lying"; that would require intention to deceive, right? Not that "making stuff up on the fly" is much better.

  • Reason's Peter Suderman notes that It Sure Looks Like This Obamacare Program Has Led to More People Dying. Specifically, a mandated Medicare penalty for hospitals with "too many readmissions for pneumonia, heart failure, and heart attack."

    It was hoped to be a taxpayer-friendly incentive for hospitals. But

    A new study appears to dash that hope, at least as far as readmissions are concerned.

    The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and conducted by by researchers associated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical and Harvard Medical School, looked at hospitalizations between 2005 and 2015. It found that "30-day post-discharge mortality"—the number of people who died within a month of leaving the hospital—increased for heart failure patients after the readmissions penalty program was implemented.

    Although heart failure mortality was already on the rise, the rate of increase became more rapid after Medicare started penalizing readmissions. In addition, mortality rates amongst pneumonia patients, which had been stable, increased.

    Fewer people were being readmitted to hospitals, but more people were dying.

    Hey, maybe that was the plan all along.

  • Geez, with legislatures reluctant to pass draconian "gun control" laws, how else will good Progressives harass citizens looking to buy weaponry? At Cato, Walter Olson looks at a recent scheme: NYT Report Pushes Credit Card Companies To Monitor Gun Buyers.

    To some of its advocates, the cause of gun control is precious enough to be worth jettisoning not just the rights protected by the Second Amendment but many other individual liberties, including – as recent New York controversies suggest – First Amendment rights of speech and association and Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure. Now, if a New York Times article is any indication, comes the turn of financial privacy.

    In an advocacy piece imperfectly dressed up as a news story, New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin observes that some perpetrators of mass public shootings have bought guns and ammo using credit cards, and asks why credit card companies and banks should not be made to stop this. How? Well, they could “create systems to track gun purchases that would allow them to report suspicious patterns” and “prevent [customers] from buying multiple guns in a short period of time.” Invoking the Patriot Act – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – the piece goes on to ask why the sweeping financial-snooping powers bestowed on the feds by that act should not be deployed against everyday civilians who purchase more guns than would seem fit for them to buy.

    The ACLU has been wobbly on civil liberties of late, but the Sorkin article quotes one of their policy analysts mildly objecting: "The implication of expecting the government to detect and prevent every mass shooting is believing the government should play an enormously intrusive role in American life.”

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Ronald Bailey notes some recent bad news: New Useless and Costly USDA Bioengineered Food Disclosure Regulations Issued.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just issued its new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS). "The NBFDS is not expected to have any benefits to human health or the environment," admits the agency. "Nothing in the disclosure requirements set out in this final rule conveys information about the health, safety, or environmental attributes of BE [bioengineered] food as compared to non-BE counterparts," adds the USDA.

    But wait, there's more. A study commissioned by the agency reported that "USDA estimates that the costs of the proposed NBFDS would range from $598 million to $3.5 billion for the first year, with ongoing annual costs of between $114 million and $225 million. The annualized costs in perpetuity would be $132 million to $330 million at a three percent discount rate and $156 million to $471 million at a seven percent discount rate."

    Brought to you by people who (I'm pretty sure) will proclaim that they "bleeping love science": a regulation that has no basis whatsoever in science.

  • Ah, as I type, there are only 56 days until the Red Sox play their first spring training game (against the Northeastern Huskies, but that's OK). But conservatives, and other people who don't like Commies, have a bone to pick with Major League Baseball, as described by Elliott Abrams at NR: MLB’s Foul Cuba Deal: Trump Should Veto This Payoff to a Communist Regime.

    Major League Baseball has made a foul new deal with the Cuban regime, and the Trump administration can and should block it. The deal rewards and perpetuates Cuba’s Communist-style system in which players are the property of the state, not free individuals who can sell their talents on the open market.

    Click through for the ugly details. But it's just another reminder that a lot of American institutions have internal Progressive rot.

    But Elliott also notes that MLB folks aren't at all Commie sympathizers when it comes to their own pocketbooks. Witness the "Save America's Pastime Act". Which purports to "Save America's Pastime" by "exempt[ing] from minimum wage and maximum hours requirements any employee who has contracted to pay baseball at the minor league level."

    I'm not a fan of minimum wage laws, but selectively exempting some employees at the behest of their employers is … unseemly.

  • A funny piece from Thomas Lifson in American Thinker with a somewhat overwrought headline: With identical tweets, Schumer and Pelosi reveal themselves as mouthpieces for the same propaganda puppet master.

    I have long wondered about who writes the talking points that keep Democrats reading from the same script. That person – or more likely, persons – evidently issues instructions that the office holder branch and the journalist branch of the Democratic Party mimic in their public statements. But in order to appear slightly authentic, they are supposed to speak extemporaneously and make it appear that they all came up with the phrases-of-the-day spontaneously. This works for interviews with print and television journalists, but the rise of Twitter has introduced new danger of exposure. Now we have proof that the current ostensible leaders of the Democrats’ party are often just actors reading from scripts supplied to them by people hidden from public scrutiny. Christmas Eve saw the presumptive new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issue a tweet that was identical, word-for-word, to one issued 23 minutes earlier by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

    You can click through for the tweets, but (trust me) they are exactly what you would expect. You would think the MSM might be slightly interested in finding out exactly who is writing the Schumer/Pelosi tweets.

  • [Amazon Link]
    At Quillette, Michael O'Keefe writes on Refighting the Usage Wars.

    [Sorry, can't resist: <voice imitation="yoda">Begun, the usage wars have!</voice>]

    Anyway: Michael notes the declining ability of young people to write coherent, grammatically correct prose.

    It sounds hyperbolic, but according to a 2001 essay by David Foster Wallace entitled “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage,” it’s been undeniable since the early 1980s: “In neither K-12 nor college English are systematic [Standard Written English] grammar and usage much taught anymore.” Again, this doesn’t sound plausible. How could teachers instruct students to write well without giving them any rules or basic conventions? No reasonable answer exists, but thanks to Wallace’s observations, I can assure you that our current condition was inevitable.

    It all starts with the “Usage Wars,” a somewhat arcane but fiercely political battle over the English language that’s been raging for decades. “The average citizen” would actually know something about this conflict, Wallace wrote, “if [he or she] read the different little introductory essays in modern dictionaries.” No one actually does, of course, because they’re excruciating. A slightly less obvious reason, however, is that two tribes of nerdy lexicographers (i.e., people who decide what goes in the dictionary) are the target audience.

    You might think "there's no excuse for this", but (indeed) there are plenty of people out there who are willing to make excuses for this.

    Michael's essay draws heavily from the linked Harper's article from David Foster Wallace, which you can read in its original glory online. Or (recommended) you can buy Consider the Lobster, a collection of DFW's essays that includes it.

    I miss DFW.

  • And, just for fun, a site recommended by Katherine Mangu-Ward in a recent Reason podcast and in this tweet:

    (Since she saved that screenshot, the extreme poverty count has gone under 593 million. By the time you click…)

The Equalizer 2

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

Denzel Washington is Getting Up There (his birthday, as I type, is tomorrow, December 28, and he will be 64 years young.) He remains a believable action star, however. Here he reprises his role as Robert McCall, the Equalizer. His job is to bring his brand of vigilante justice to the people for whom the normal channels are unavailable or inefficacious. This often requires prodigious amounts of spectacular violence, at which McCall excels.

McCall lives modestly in a working-class Boston apartment, but he's well-off enough to jaunt off to Europe to retrieve a kidnapped child from (what I'm pretty sure is) the Orient Express. Mostly he sticks to home: comforting a Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean, not dead yet!) or mentoring a black kid wavering between thug life and nurturing his artistic talent.

But the main plot is driven by international intrigue: a CIA "resource" and his wife have been gruesomely murdered, the scene set up to look like a murder/suicide. This brings in McCall's old CIA boss, Susan (Melissa Leo) to check things out. Which (eventually) brings in McCall, too. The bad guys handle "loose ends" in the classic bad guy way.

A thrilling conclusion is set in Marshfield MA, seaside during a nor'easter/hurricane. And that's neat too.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • As we hurtle toward year end, it's time to read Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2018. Sample, from January:

    …which sees world tensions rise when North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un states that he has a nuclear-missile launch button on his desk. This leaves U.S. Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump with no viable military option but to fire up his Random Capitalizer App and tweet “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his,” thereby leaving no doubt as to which leader is more secure regarding the size of his button. In an apparent effort to reassure everyone on his mental state, the president also issues a Tweet in which he describes himself as “genius....and a very stable genius at that!” Which is EXACTLY HOW VERY STABLE GENIUSES TALK, OK??

    The intellectual level of the national discourse soars even higher when it is reported that, during an Oval Office meeting on immigration reform, the president referred to some poorer nations as “sh*tholes.” This upsets many people, especially the frowny panel persons of CNN, who find the word “sh*thole” so deeply offensive that they repeat it roughly 15 times per hour for a solid week. Washington is consumed by a heated debate over what, exactly, the president said; the tone and substance of this debate are reflected in this actual sentence from a Washington Post story: “Three White House officials said [Sen. David] Perdue and [Sen. Tom] Cotton told the White House that they heard ‘sh*thouse’ rather than ‘sh*thole,’ allowing them to deny the president’s comments on television over the weekend.” (This is known in legal circles as the “sh*thouse defense.”)

    Dave, seemingly like most of us, has an overriding thought: what is wrong with these people? Unlike most of us, he makes money periodically fleshing out that thought.

  • Veronique de Rugy warns us: Here We Go Again -- Another Chaotic Christmas for Congress.

    The primary job of Congress is to pass a budget. Yet year after year, its members fail to do their job. This year is no different. The week before Christmas, and in the midst of a budget deficit that's exploding along with the national debt, the Senate rushed to prepare a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open for a couple months. In other words, we're left with unnecessary uncertainty and a growing pool of red ink.

    [Amazon Link]
    Oh, sure, blame Congress if you want. But (a recurring theme) save some blame for the people who put them there. There's that timeless wisdom "when you point a finger there are three fingers pointing back at you". (See Amazon product link cleverly disguised as an illustration at right.)

    I except myself. Of course. None of this is my fault. Or Veronique de Rugy's.

  • Further on that point: Arnold Kling has a should-be-obvious-but-isn't observation: Government is a branch of culture.

    I suggest defining culture as socially communicated practices and beliefs. We may think of government as the subset of practices and beliefs that are defined formally and enforced coercively.

    Take property rights. We can think of them as culturally defined, even in the absence of government. But property rights take on more significance when the government establishes and enforces them. De Soto in The Mystery of Capital argues that without formal property rights an economy cannot develop properly.

    Just as an economy has both a formal sector and an informal sector, culture has both a formal and an informal sector. The formal sector is where norms are enforced by government.

    As a corollary, Kevin D. Williamson (in an NRPlus article) notes:.

    The United States is a republic, not a monarchy or an empire or a blood-and-soil nation of the ancient kind. The American federal state is not the American people. The U.S. government exists at our sufferance, not the other way around. And if it is making more trouble for us than it is worth, then we should reconfigure it along more sensible and effective lines. What prevents that from happening is not what President Trump et al. like to call “the Swamp” or what Senator Sanders calls in his honking accent “allah-garky.” What prevents meaningful reform is our own narcissism, which is so deep and all-encompassing that we can no longer think about government in instrumental terms but instead can understand it only in totemic terms — i.e., in terms of what it says about us and how it makes us feel about ourselves. That kind of immaturity is how you lose a republic and get . . . whatever it is we’re getting.

    Not an entirely cheerful message there, Kevin.

  • At NR, Jonah Goldberg observes, for better or (mostly) worse, Trump's Character Is Destiny.

    Weirdly, it’s gotten to the point that when I say President Trump is not a man of good character, I feel like I should preface it with a trigger warning for many of my fellow conservatives.

    Most of the angry responses are clearly rooted in the fact that they do not wish to be reminded of this obvious truth. But others seem to have convinced themselves that Trump is a man of good character, and they take personal offense at the insult, even though I usually offer it as little more than an observation. They rush to rebut the claim, citing banal or debatable propositions: He loves his children! He’s loyal to a fault! He’s authentic! Never mind that many bad men love their children, that loyalty to people or causes unworthy of loyalty is not admirable, and that authentic caddishness is not admirable. Moreover, he is not remotely loyal to his wives or the people who work for him.

    What’s most worrisome is that these defenders are redefining good character in Trump’s image, and they end up modeling it.

    New Year Resolution: don't be like that.

  • We missed this cheerful holiday story, originally told by WBZ-TV in Boston, and echoed by Jazz Shaw at Hot Air: Teamsters union takes all but $15 of UPS workers' pay.

    Sheila O’Malley of Charlestown couldn’t believe it when she opened her paycheck from her seasonal job at UPS. “I was shocked,” she told the I-Team. She worked 41 hours that week, many of them during the overnight, and ended up with just $14.52.

    Sheila assumed it was a mistake and the money would be refunded. In part, because Sheila, like other thousands of other seasonal part time UPS workers, signed an agreement to pay the $500 Teamsters union initiation fee in $32.00 weekly installments. But UPS told her it wasn’t a mistake. A spokesperson for UPS told the I-Team, “Local 25 reversed this long standing practice by rescinding this policy.”

    Man, the Grinch had nothing on the Teamsters. Save that for the next time one of your Wobbly Facebook friends posts that it's a real problem that more US jobs aren't unionized, like they were in the Golden Age.

  • [Amazon Link]
    Clay Routledge writes on a recurring theme at Quillette: From Astrology to Cult Politics—the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion.

    When people turn away from one source of meaning, such as religion, they don’t abandon the search for meaning altogether. They simply look for it in different forms. As I discuss in my new book, Supernatural: Death, Meaning and the Power of Invisible World, the decline of traditional religion has been accompanied by a rise in a diverse range of supernatural, paranormal and related beliefs.

    Nearly one third of Americans report having felt in contact with someone who has died, feel that they have been in the presence of a ghost, and believe ghosts can interact with and harm humans. These numbers are going up, not down, as more people seek something to fill the religion-shaped hole in their lives. By no coincidence, infrequent church attendees are roughly twice as likely to believe in ghosts as regular churchgoers.

    As a regular non-churchgoer, I should have a "religion-shaped hole" in my life. I'm not sure what I've filled it with, however. Jack Reacher novels, maybe?

Last Modified 2019-01-02 4:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

Hope everyone had as nice a Christmas as I did. Now back to our regularly scheduled content…

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson has (NRPlus, sorry) advice for Mark Zuckerberg & Facebook.

    ‘Out of control” is how Senator Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) describes Facebook.

    If only that were true. It would be an enormous improvement.

    Facebook was everybody’s favorite thing in the world five minutes ago. It isn’t any more. Democrats have decided to blame Facebook for the election of Donald Trump, as though Mark Zuckerberg were the one who advised Herself to take Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for granted. The alternative — that Donald Trump was freely elected president of these United States because a great many Americans preferred him to that dusty sack of vipers the Democrats nominated — is too terrible to contemplate. Must have been some kind of high-tech conspiracy involving Facebook, the Kremlin, and a bunch of knuckleheads who talk like characters from early drafts of Glengarry Glen Ross.

    Kevin also takes a look at the gathering outrage against Dolce & Gabbana, of which I was unaware, but is easy to Google. But the actual point is what Senator Schatz implicitly implied: he would prefer….

    Out of control? The alternative is to be under control. Whose control? Have a gander at Senator Schatz’s curriculum vitae: It’s a miracle that he ever negotiated the chasm between Pomona College and a hot meal. He held a series of low-level nonprofit jobs before entering what we now euphemistically call “public service.” He’s a hack who makes Barack Obama’s pre–White House résumé look like Dwight Eisenhower’s. If the alternative to being out of control is being under the soft little thumb of a nobody like that, then out of control is where it’s at.

    I wonder if Kevin has a novel in him? Something in the niche of Atlas Shrugged without the hit-me-over-the-head lecturing?

  • One problem with the Google LFOD News Alert is that it mindessly beeps whenever someone out there writes a story where the fourth movie in the Die Hard series is mentioned. I should really get around to tweaking that search string…

    But today brings a host of McClane-free LFOD stories. First up is from a site run by one Brian Dunn, "Rogue Media Labs", and he has a bone to pick with "Citizens Count": Citizens Count Caught Censoring Online Political Commentary.

    If you’ve read my biography under the editors section here on this website you would see that I included a sentence or two about being a featured author on the New Hampshire based political website Citizens Count, formerly known as The Live Free or Die Alliance. Admittedly, after attempting to flee the country and move to the Bahamas this April, I havedn’t checked in lately. But today I decided to stop by and post my first comment in nearly 8 months, only to have it immediately deleted off the web page entirely.

    Interestingly enough, I couldn’t help but notice that Citizens Count has also had their official Facebook verification badge removed/revoked since the last time I visited, suspectedly because of this very behavior. In retrospect, it was probably even a worse idea to delete my comment, the comment of a verified news website owner, because now I am going to throw a mini hissy fit about it and start writing a story about it. If they are lucky, I may even pay to boost it throughout New Hampshire – lulz.

    While the message has since been deleted, I had wrote [sic] about why I stepped away from the website for so long. Explaining that I was forced to apply for political asylum in two countries after being endlessly persecuted by liberal extremists and corrupt police officers in Henniker, NH. Adding that I am now more focused than ever because of the experience, and now have every intention of coming for every single one of these peoples jobs in the future. If Citizens Count has any doubts as to the validity of my statements, I invite them to ask the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. In written statements on record, under penalty of perjury, I was willing to testify how the Henniker Police force was a corrupt and nepotists police department, full of officers whom refused to do their jobs or arrest people if it involved personal friends or family – statements I also re-affirmed with International Police in Lyon, France, also on record, earlier this summer.

    "Citizens Count? What, up to ten?"

    Anyway, the Citizens Count site is officially non-partisan with a healthy array of corporate sponsors. (Try to find out who's actually running things—I couldn't.)

    I can't imagine why they might not want to be associated with a guy who attempted to "flee the country".

  • But LFOD makes it's way into places far away from Henniker. The (UK) Independent features a story of African unrest by Borzou Daragahi: Anger at price of bread explodes into nationwide protests in Sudan.

    Protests in Sudan that began last week over bread prices have mushroomed into a nationwide protests against the nearly three-decade rule regime of Omar al-Bashir, the country’s 76-year-old autocrat.

    At least 22 people have reportedly died in the protests, which began 19 December in the northern Nile River city of Atbara, but have since spread to the capital, Khartoum, 350 kilometres to the southwest, and across the country.

    Well, that's rough. What about LFOD? Ah:

    “Down, down with military rule,” they demand. "We either live free or die like real men."

    Sudan currently ranks number 157 (of 162) on Cato's Human Freedom Index. It's tough not to sympathize.

  • Back here at home, I detect a shade of wimpiness in this Union Leader article: 2018 saw most traffic fatalities in 13 years.

    With some of the busiest holiday travel days still to come, 2018 has become the deadliest year on New Hampshire’s roadways in more than a decade.

    As of Thursday, there had been 128 crashes causing 141 deaths, according to Department of Safety data. That was up 36 and 44 percent, respectively, from last year, when there were 92 crashes and 97 deaths.

    And the year's not over yet! So we still have a shot at breaking the 2005 record.

    With Democrats in firm legislative control, you can see what's coming down the [turn]pike:

    The state Legislature has rebuffed several attempts by advocates to pass a seatbelt law, most recently last year.

    The bill, proposed by Rep. Mary Jane Mulligan, D-Hanover, didn’t make it out of the House Transportation Committee. Opponents testified that 1 percent of traffic deaths in the nation can be attributed to seatbelts — usually when a car catches fire or is submerged in water — and that a statewide mandate would impinge on Granite Staters’ right to live free or die.

    Hedegard said that Buckle Up New Hampshire, a coalition of seatbelt advocates, plans to spend 2019 educating the new crop of lawmakers with the intention of introducing seatbelt legislation in 2020.

    I, for one, will not rest until our state mandates that all drivers wear motorcycle helmets and full-body bubble wrap.

  • And Conservative Daily News asks the musical question: Is auto insurance mandatory?. Depends where you live, bunkie.

    However, there is currently one state, with its ‘live free or die’ attitude, that feels it doesn’t need this mandatory auto insurance for all drivers- the New Hampshire state. In this state, the only thing that driver are required to do is to justify that they have the ability to compensate for any damages that occur from an accident and they are found responsible. The drivers who decide not to purchase car insurance policy in this state must pay cash or post a bond that is equivalent to the cost of damage caused during the accident. Drivers responsible of an accident in this state pay for the damages of up to $25k for property damage and $50K for liability. In case the driver is unable to compensate or pay for these damages, their registrations and driver’s licenses may be suspended.

    I'm a LFOD fan, but I'm also a fan of Flo. Despite her employer's name.

Vox Populi

The Perils and Promises of Populism

[Amazon Link]

This book came out last year mostly in response to the election of Donald Trump and the success in the UK of "Brexit", both events surprising conventional wisdom, and deemed by some to be a rejuvenation of "populism". It's a collection of ten "trenchant" (it says here) essays on that topic in response, all originally published in the New Criterion. Most of the writers are familiar to those of us who bathe in conservative journalism: George H. Nash, Barry Strauss, Daniel Hannan, Fred Siegel, James Piereson, Andrew C. McCarthy, Roger Scruton, Victor Davis Hanson, Conrad Black, and Roger Kimball (who also edited). There's a small component of blind-men-describing-an-elephant here, each describing different, sometimes contradictory, populist features. And considerable overlap too: more than one writer cites the famous anti-populist quotes from Obama ("bitter clingers!") and Hillary ("deplorables"!). But each essay is worthwhile reading. Most deal with modern-day American and British politics. But one goes back to H.L. Mencken (not a populist by any measure). And another delves into the ancient origins of the movement, in the Roman efforts of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (and his gory end).

For better or worse, "populism" is nowhere near as well-defined as (say) libertarianism. Trump is arguably a populist, but so is Bernie Sanders. Sharrod Brown (I'm told) wears the label proudly, while deriding "phony populism" in others, e.g., Trump.

But (as near as I can tell), populism has its good stuff and bad.

Good: after all, democracies are inherently populist: the "people" rule, at least in theory, and indirectly. Lincoln's memorable Gettysburg phrasing about "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is inherently populist. To the extent that populists object to being dictated to by a small elite, they're not wrong to do so. (The Brexit vote was, at least in part, a reaction against being ruled by unelected European Union commissioners, who meet in secret, and can't be unseated by voters.)

But also bad: populist sentiment has no limiting principles. Actually, it doesn't seem to have any concrete guiding principles at all. So its cloak is easily taken on by demagogues who love to seduce the masses with tales of the system being "rigged against them". It's us-versus-them, pal, and if you're not with us, you're probably in the employ of the Koch brothers.

Among other things, I learned I am definitely not a populist.

Double Star

[Amazon Link]

Continuing my rereading-Heinlein project… Double Star won the Best SF Novel Hugo for 1956. It's Heinlein at his best. And (frankly) after wading through the ponderous (but excellent) 700+ page In the First Circle, I was in the mood for something easier and lighter.

The story is first-person narrated by near-future actor Lawrence Smith (aka "Lorenzo Smythe" or "The Great Lorenzo"). Down on his luck, he's approached in a seedy bar by space pilot Dak Broadbent, who offers him a small job: could he take the place of a guy who needs to appear in public, but unfortunately is temporarily unavailable…. Lorenzo is dubious, but takes the job.

But soon discovers that the gig is (literally) more than he bargained for: he's not impersonating any random schmoe, but famed politician John Joseph Bonforte.

On Mars.

And Bonforte is not just unavailable, he's been kidnapped by powerful people who are trying to monkeywrench his negotiations with the inscrutable native Martians. And they aren't above using further violence to spoil Lorenzo's performance.

Anyway, there's a lot of action, and Heinlein does a great job of narrating Lorenzo's character arc from the inside. The basic idea isn't exactly fresh, but I still had a good time. The ending is unexpectedly moving; Heinlein did that more than a few times to me.

URLs du Jour

Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas to all!

  • Michael P. Ramirez seeks The third wise man.

    The third wise man

    A little political for December 25, but Michael's stuff is just so darn gorgeous, I don't need much of an excuse to embed it.

    And, yes, I've figured out how to embed cartoons from his website again. Apparently the bare domain name 'michaelpramirez.com' no longer DNS-resolves, so all references have to be changed to 'www.michaelpramirez.com'. Thank goodness for my basic knowledge of grep/bash/vi.

  • The Scrooges at National Review have deemed Kevin D. Williamson's article, Christmas Truths & Choices, to be "NRPlus", which I assume means unblessed peons can't see it. But (I hope) they won't get me for a fair-use excerpt:

    Christianity is a strange religion and a carnal one, insisting that the true kingdom is not of this world but defined by an act done in the flesh, to a body — the body belonging to the little baby in the manger. How do people with children do it? How do you look at that tiny, defenseless little baby, and tell Him the truth? And let’s not be shy — not out here in the cold and the darkness with the shepherds and the lambs who don’t know what they’re really in for come Passover — about what that truth is: that He is to be scourged and beaten, denounced, and publicly executed in the most gruesome fashion that the most vindictive minds of the greatest political power on Earth could devise, and that this is part of some inscrutable master plan cooked up by His Heavenly Father, Who alternates unpredictably between raining down on His people manna from heaven and floods of extinction. A Father who insists He loves His only begotten Son and is well-pleased in Him: This is His program, understand. The Romans are only instrumental. What would that baby say to all that, if a newborn could speak? Would He plead with us, “Let this cup pass from me”? Or would he say something else?

    RTWT, if you can.

  • From Friends Meeting House in the UK version of Mansfield (a couple years old, but it was new to me):

    I sing that all the time! People tell me it's a tune for which my voice is especially suited!

  • And Pierre Lemieux at EconLog wishes us a Merry Mathematical Christmas!. Also Tweeted by a number of people:

    You can click over to the EconLog link to find Pierre's musings on the beauties of mathematics, and its proper use in economics.

Last Modified 2018-12-25 10:25 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week (actually last week, sorry) muses on Conservative Facts -- Many Toss Facts & Embrace Meanness. This is … perceptive:

    There was always a yin-yang thing to conservatism. Its hard-headedness and philosophical realism about human nature and the limits it imposes on utopian schemes appealed to some and repulsed others. For those who see politics as a romantic enterprise, a means of pursuing collective salvation, conservatism seems mean-spirited. As Emerson put it: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” That’s what Ben Shapiro is getting at when he says “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The hitch is that the reverse is also true: Feelings don’t care about your facts. Tell a young progressive activist we can’t afford socialism and the response will be overtly or subliminally emotional: “Why don’t you care about poor people!” or “Why do you love billionaires!?”

    The problem conservatism faces these days is that many of the loudest voices have decided to embrace the meanness while throwing away the facts. This has been a trend for a long time now. But Donald Trump has accelerated the problem to critical mass, yielding an explosion of stupid and a radioactive cloud of meanness.

    As Jonah (almost) says: just because Hillary and her ilk think you're deplorable, it doesn't mean you actually have to be deplorable. That's an overreaction.

  • At Quillette, Robert Precht discusses American Universities' China Problem.

    According to a report released last month by a group of distinguished China scholars, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses vague threats to induce US professors and students to avoid topics that might offend Chinese government sensitivities—research or discussions on Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, human rights, and Chinese politics, for example. It denies visas to scholars who criticize the regime, uses Chinese students in the US to inform on one another, and punishes universities for hosting controversial speakers. After a university hosted the Dalai Lama, Beijing retaliated by banning Chinese students and scholars with funding from the Chinese government from attending the university. When the institutions we entrust to pursue the truth start avoiding the truth—particularly academic research that few of us can do on our own—we all suffer.

    The report linked to is from the Hoover Institution; somewhat suprisingly, it doesn't recommend the closure of Confucius Instututes at universities (like the one Near Here) "as long as several conditions are met." The conditions seem (to me) to be unlikely to be met, but I'm just guessing.

  • Ann Althouse asks the musical question: Women are generally more liberal than men, so why is there a "reverse gender gap" on marijuana legalization?. I'll answer: "liberal" is not synonymous with "libertarian".

    I will get in big trouble if anyone notices me saying this, but: women are (statistically) more bossy than men, less tolerant of misbehavior.

    But Ann makes a point I've seen her make before:

    I've observed over the years that researchers tend to explain any gender difference in a way that makes whatever is true of women good. [The WaPo story in which the pot research is discussed] is an interesting example of that. You can see that they're presenting the independence and courage of men as "risk taking," "deviance," and insensitivity to "morality." I'm intrigued by the presentation of women as pushed by the Democratic elite. Is being a follower regarded as a positive quality (when you follow the Democratic elite)?

    Yeah, just ask Carol King who visited New Hampshire for the Obama campaign in 2008, and…

    “And then to Barack,” King said softly, “we’d say, ‘Where you lead, I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to ... .’”

    Yeah, that's creepy. But please cast my sexist comment above in a form that makes it a compliment.

  • Slashdot reports: 51st Known Mersenne Prime Number Found. It's


    It has slightly under 25 million decimal digits. I'm old enough to remember when they found the 24th one, which was a big deal at my alma mater.

  • The Google LFOD Alert rang for the Union Leader and Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: The greatest Christmas gift for NH businesses would be more workers.

    New Hampshire’s three-year streak of unemployment below 3 percent hit a milestone last month when it dipped to 2.5 percent — the first time the Granite State recorded a jobless rate that low since George H.W. Bush was elected President.

    That's good news for employees, but (see the headline) businesses are having a tough time hiring.

    Mike's bottom line contains the LFOD instance:

    Maybe we should replace “Live Free or Die” as our official motto with this one until we solve our worker shortage:

    “New Hampshire: We’re hiring!”

    My first New Year Prediction: Mike Cote will not find employment in the comedy field in 2019.

Last Modified 2019-01-02 4:40 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2018-12-23 Update

[phony baloney]

In this week's update, we (once again) have a little chaos in the low-probability end of our table: Hillary has failed to meet our inclusion criterion (3% or better nomination probability according to Predictwise), but John Hickenlooper has risen (barely) to take her place. Among the more likely candidates, the big mover this week was Uncle Joe Biden, popping up to a 13% nomination probability, challenging Beto (17%) and Kamala (18%).

Phony-wise, Sherrod Brown has leapfrogged over Kamala, and is in a position to challenge Beto!

Candidate NomProb Change
Donald Trump 61% unch 2,150,000 -750,000
Nikki Haley 7% -2% 1,020,000 -350,000
Beto O'Rourke 17% -2% 722,000 -118,000
Sherrod Brown 4% +1% 683,000 +209,000
Kamala Harris 18% unch 592,000 +20,000
Mitt Romney 3% unch 233,000 +7,000
Bernie Sanders 9% +1% 229,000 -54,000
Joe Biden 13% +3% 184,000 -18,000
Paul Ryan 3% unch 183,000 -20,000
Elizabeth Warren 4% -1% 176,000 +7,000
Kirsten Gillibrand 4% +1% 169,000 -17,000
Mike Pence 7% -1% 157,000 -42,000
Amy Klobuchar 6% +2% 111,000 +19,500
Cory Booker 3% -2% 58,900 -2,500
John Hickenlooper 3% --- 56,900 ---
John Kasich 5% +1% 51,900 -6,800

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • So what about Senator Sherrod? Well, this Vanity Fair article explains Why Sherrod Brown May Have an Edge on Warren and Sanders.

    Sherrod Brown sounds like a quintessentially Midwestern rust belt white male pol: His voice is gravelly and passionate, bordering on pugnacious. The weathered voice is one of Brown's signal assets, one that helped Ohio’s oft-underestimated senior senator, a populist Democrat, win re-election fairly comfortably in a state Donald Trump carried by eight points in 2016. Is it the right fit for a Democratic Party that appears to be moving in another direction?

    Brown, who is potentially looking to challenge the president directly in 2020, refuses to be typecast—or to cede blue-collar politics to Republicans. “Populism and patriotism are not racist, they are not anti-Semitic. They don’t push some people down in order to lift some people up. They don’t appeal to the darker side of human nature,” Brown tells me. “We should not yield the hallowed ground of patriotism to extremists. We see that in Columbus, and we see that especially in the White House. You don’t practice a form of phony populism where you turn people against one another.”

    Um. I don't think you can be a credible populist without turning people against one another. A significant amount of Us-against-Them is baked into the populist pie. And (sure enough) we get it just a couple paragraphs later, where a whole bunch of villainous Thems are rattled off:

    “The fact that this White House looks like a retreat for Wall Street and oil-company executives tells you that it has been on the wrong side of almost every major issue,” Brown says. “In the fall of 2017, I presented the president, in person, a copy of my Patriot Employer Tax Credit bill. If a company pays good wages and provides decent health care and retirement and makes its products in the United States, it gets a lower tax rate. Conversely, if a corporation pays $8 and $10 and $12 an hour, and taxpayers end up subsidizing that corporation by paying for Medicaid for those workers, and food stamps for those workers, we should levy on them a corporate freeloader fee. Trump gave me all the right platitudes—and then he turned around and threw in with the interest groups for a tax cut that goes overwhelmingly to large corporations and people of his social class."

    Sherrod's one of those pols who can't figure out that discouraging companies from hiring low-productivity workers by tax/regulatory/trade policies will directly lead to companies not hiring those low-productivity workers.

    Back in 2008, Senator Sherrod wrote a WSJ op-ed, Don't Call Me a Protectionist, in which he explained … why he was a protectionist. A masterpiece of phoniness.

  • The AP Stylebook says you probably shouldn't capitalize "first lady", since it's not an official title. But Melania's not AP-compliant:

    Nice picture, right? Kind of looks like Pun Salad Manor, except for all the lights, trees, decorations, columns, high ceilings, and Trumps. But not everybody thinks so! Specifically, via Ann Althouse, a Guardian article from Jonathan Jones which you couldn’t create a creepier Yuletide scene if you tried.

    The absence of intimacy in the Trumps’ official Christmas portrait freezes the heart. Can it be that hard to create a cosy image of the presidential couple, perhaps in front of a roaring hearth, maybe in seasonal knitwear? Or is this quasi-dictatorial image exactly what the president wants to project? Look on my Christmas trees, ye mighty, and despair! If so, it fuels suspicions that it is only the checks and balances of a 230-year-old constitution that are keeping America from the darkest of political fates.

    There's the obligatory Nazi reference ("uniform decorations are arrayed like massed soldiers or colossal columns designed by Albert Speer"), psychologzing (Trump "gives full vent to his inner tyrant").

    In short, says a lot about the fevered mental state of Jonathan Jones, not much else.

    Looking for a Trump-vs-Obama Christmas comparison? Check out Elite Daily:

    However, it's worth noticing one key area where their two portraits aren't exactly the same. Donald and Melania are standing shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, facing directly forward to the camera in a more formal stance, with a full picture of the hall behind them. Comparatively, Michelle and Barack stand close together at an angle with their arms around each other, and the camera is set in a close-up and more intimate shot.

    Yeesh. It's just a picture!

  • At the Atlantic, Franklin Foer interviews Senator Spartacus on Cory Booker's Theory of Love. No, I'm not kidding.

    Let’s spin the globe right now and put our finger down. Go to, say, the Middle East. You’re going to see tribal connections. But we said we were going to found a country where we’re not connected by those things. We’re connected by ideals. I think about those words at the end of the Declaration of Independence, our declaration of interdependence, our declaration of love. If we’re going to succeed, we must mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. That is not just about tolerance, isn’t just bipartisanship. We are at our best when we give the ultimate sacrifice of putting other people, putting the country, putting our communities ahead of ourselves. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

    [Narrator: "He doesn't know what love is."]

  • At GraniteGrok, Percy Blakeney claims, plausibly enough, that Integrity Is A Cornerstone of Character.

    Earlier this month Kamala Harris, now California Senator Harris, said she had no knowledge of harassment allegations against her top aide Larry Wallace. The situation the allegations arose from occurred while she was serving as state Attorney General (AG). Now, the Sacramento Bee (Bee) reports the California Department of Justice (CDoJ), the agency she oversaw, knew about the complaint three months before Harris left her position in 2017. Was her claim true and why should we care?

    Answer to those last two questions: probably not, and I can't think of any reason. A savvy Democrat maintaining plausible deniability? Say it ain't so!

    At the American Spectator, George Neumayr offers up a factoid about how Senator Kamala got her start:

    Were it not for her fanatical support for abortion and all things culturally degenerate, NOW and NARAL would see Harris as an annoying and unworthy rival to Elizabeth Warren. A nubile Harris, after all, slept her way to the middle of California politics after she had an affair with a pol thirty-some years her senior, Willie Brown. An open crook with a Cosbyesque marriage to a long-suffering wife, Brown had no problem arranging lucrative state jobs for Harris after they trysted. The legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen called Kamala Harris Brown’s “steady.”

    Kamala makes us long for the relative honesty of Elizabeth Warren.

  • At Reason, Matt Welch derides The Fantasy of a 2020 Independent Centrist.

    So are you ready for that Joe Biden/Mitt Romney unity ticket? Conservative D.C. socialite Juleanna Glover, writing in Politico, sure is! Ideologically adrift Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin is dreaming of "a new party or a center-right independent ticket," headed by blue-state Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland. And there is no TV camera in front of which Ohio Gov. John Kasich won't float his own centrist boat

    "Let's just say that Donald Trump is nominated and Elizabeth Warren is nominated," Kasich said on ABC's "This Week" last month. "You have this ocean of people who sit in the middle."

    A sitting ocean. I could never vote for someone who mixes metaphors like that.

Force of Evil

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

Another "thought I would like it better" movie. It even has a little video extra where Martin Scorsese tells us how he saw it as a kid, loved it, and went on to make movies influenced by it. But…

John Garfield plays Joe, a lawyer in the employ of the mob. As the movie opens, he's about to hatch a scheme involving the numbers game in New York City: have the number "776" come up on the Fourth of July, a day when everyone plays "776". This will drive the small-time numbers "banks" into bankruptcy, and the mob can just waltz in, and take over.

Problem: Joe's brother, Leo, owns one of those banks. Although expressly forbidden to do so by his gangster boss, Joe tries to warn Leo about what's going to happen. Leo declines the help; he's got nothing but contempt for his mobbed-up brother.

Of course, Leo's operation is also, technically, illegal. He's just small-time, though, so it's OK.

Joe tries Plan B: call in the (corrupt, of course) cops to raid Leo's operation. This doesn't go well. In addition, Joe catches the eye of the lovely, innocent, Doris, who works for Leo. (Yes, she's "innocent" despite working the numbers racket. Everything's relative.)

It's a film noir, so consequences are dark and tragic. There are a lot of visually striking noirish shots.

The director/screenwriter, Abraham Polonsky, was blacklisted for not "naming names" for HUAC. (He was, however, a Communist Party member, so ick.

John Garfield "acts" by (unfortunately) yelling a lot.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Depressed looking at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, bunkie? Want to lash out at the Orange Man? Let Nick Gillespie of Reason talk you down: The World Is Not Ending Because of Donald Trump. In Fact, It's Not Even Ending.

    A few deep breaths are in order. Yes, Trump is what Jeb Bush called him in a Republican primary debate that took place what seems like 100 years ago (actually, December 2015): a "chaos candidate" who would be a "chaos president." He's thin-skinned, too: "One of the things he's most vulnerable to is mockery and mockery by his own supporters," an anti-immigration activist told the Post. That is nothing worth celebrating in a teenager, much less a president, but the current end-of-worldism is a bit much. Trump is doing pretty much exactly what he promised he would do: Shrink our military footprint around the world, insist on a border wall, act impulsively and childlishly. Critics are right to chastise Trump for not following any sort of coherent process in arriving at or announcing his Syria decision, but it's still the right decision. It's always ugly and disturbing when the United States pulls out of occupied countries (remember Saigon?), but are we supposed to stay in Syria and Afghanistan forever?

    Spare some ire for your Congresscritters, who are uninterested in getting their spending under control, and yet have time to harass businesses.

  • At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty dissents from the rest of the magazine's editors: Let's Leave Syria.

    [W]hat are Americans trying to accomplish in Syria? For laymen, it certainly is confusing. Advocates for staying in Syria are sometimes specific and sometimes vague. One commentator will say we have to stay in order to defeat ISIS, another will say we have to stay to honor and protect the Kurds because their militias helped us defeat ISIS. Another will say that we are there, joined in the struggle to secure a post-war order in Syria. Still others will say that the mission is to prevent Russia from achieving greater influence in the region.

    American policymakers have mostly given up on the mission of helping rebels topple the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad, partly because it would be very difficult to dislodge him. Intervention remains unpopular, and Russia proved willing to intervene dramatically. Of course it did; it naturally wants to protect naval assets hosted by a longtime regional ally, especially at a time when it considers other naval assets in Ukraine to be under pressure.

    I don't know an Alawite from an alewife, but Michael nevertheless seems convincing.

  • At the Washington Post, Megan McArdle takes on the latest bit of socialistic scheming from the junior senator from the state just south of here: Elizabeth Warren’s generic drugs plan: More placebo than cure. Specifically, her plan to have Your Federal Government get into the production of generic drugs.

    In Warren’s defense, when the supply of a vital good is interrupted, the public wants the government to do something. However, the public would also prefer that the government do something that actually works. And there we run into trouble with Warren’s scheme.

    One can describe all sorts of reasons that state-owned firms ought to be better than the profit-grubbing variety. Freed from the incessant demands of greedy investors, state-directed firms can invest for the long term, pursuing innovation and social welfare rather than profit.

    One can describe it easily enough; what’s hard is finding one of these creatures in the wild. Rather than providing a shining rebuke to free-market fundamentalists, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) often seem to have a secret mandate to prove their skeptics right about everything.

    If you're running a private company, would you want to to produce a product in direct competition with a state-owned enterprise? Why?

  • Skip at GraniteGrok notes a Union Leader story about my heroic local electric supplier: "Eversource balks at state law ordering it to buy wood power".

    The battle over biomass is far from over. Eversource now says it will not purchase power from the state’s wood-burning power plants despite a state law requiring such purchases, unless it is ordered to do so by the Public Utilities Commission. The decision by the state’s largest utility, revealed in a Dec. 4 filing with the PUC, comes after a year-long debate in the state legislature over the so-called biomass bill, SB 365.

    Skip says "good for Eversource", and I agree. And boo for the legislators that voted for this bit of crony capitalism, overriding Governor Sununu's veto.

  • We recently finished Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, In the First Circle, and linked to a number of articles praising the book and its author. In the interest of equal time, I'll also point out a nay-sayer, Cathy Young at Quillette: Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet.

    Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been shot as a traitor. A year or two later I heard excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago on foreign radio broadcasts; then, the coveted book appeared for a short while in our home.

    Later, after my family emigrated to the United States in 1980, Solzhenitsyn’s heroic halo gradually began to lose its luster in our eyes. We were hardly alone; as the years went by, many of his erstwhile admirers came to believe, with bitter disappointment, that Solzhenitsyn could no longer be seen as a champion of freedom and justice.

    We probably shouldn't let Solzhenitsyn's brilliant anti-Communism excuse his illiberalism and cranky hostility toward other nationalities.

  • And as we hurtle toward Christmas, let me wish you (via Reason video) A Very Libertarian Christmas.

Last Modified 2018-12-22 7:13 AM EDT

In the First Circle

[Amazon Link]

As a good young conservative, I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle at some point in the late 60's/early 70's. As it turns out, that was a version that Solzhenitsyn himself censored in hopes that it could get published in the Soviet Union. That didn't happen, but it did make it out to the West. But it wasn't the story he really wanted to tell.

This slightly-retitled version is the restored original, with some revisions. I was prompted to buy it when it was selected by Russ Roberts for the EconTalk Book Club. And, although this wasn't part of my decision, we also just celebrated the 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn's birth. Due to that, there's been a lot of other recent web content relevant to the book and its author. See, for example:

The book is set in the final few days of 1949, mostly around the inhabitants Marfino sharashka, a special prison on the outskirts of Moscow where technically-skilled prisoners are imported from the far reaches of Gulag Archipelago to work on projects for the state. It's relatively endurable, but it is the "First Circle" of Hell (see Dante), where the prisoners ("zeks") are always under the explicit threat of being returned to the Gulag if they fail to cooperate.

Most notably: in the first chapter, a disillusioned diplomat, Volodin, has been informed of an upcoming transfer of US atomic bomb secrets to a Soviet agent. He doesn't want to see that technology in the hands of Stalin, so he makes a desperate call from a public phone booth to the US embassy in Moscow. Unfortunately, the call is being monitored, taped, and nearly immediately terminated by Soviet security.

So the technical problem is dumped on the zeks of Marfino: here's the tape, here are the suspects, can you match up the voice to the guy we should arrest?

Well, we kind of know how things turned out: the Soviets got the A-bomb (although they already tested it by the timeframe of the book). And the world got a lot more dangerous.

The novel is told from a number of perspectives: Volodin's, the zeks', the families, and even Joe Stalin's. (You will not be shocked, I hope: Solzhenitsyn's take on Stalin is devastatingly bleak.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the book contains a lot more humor than I remembered. It's very dark, bitter, sarcastic humor, but nonetheless. There's an episode where Eleanor Roosevelt is duped by a Potemkin-village prison; another where a van transporting prisoners off to the Gulag, disguised as a food delivery truck, fools a rosy-eyed reporter for Libération, a fellow-travelling French newspaper.

Here's a description of how one hapless prisoner, Ivan Feofanovich Dyrsin, wound up at the sharashka:

His original conviction was itself an absurdity. He had been jailed early in the war for "anti-Soviet agitation," denounced by neighbors who coveted his apartment (and subsequently obtained it). It became clear that he had engaged in no such agitation—ah, but he might have done so, since he listened to German radio. He had in fact never listened to German radio—but he might have done so, since he had an illegal German radio in the house. In fact, he had no such radio—but he might very well have had one, since he was a radio engineer, and information received led to the discovery of a box containing two valves [vacuum tubes] in his apartment

It's not an easy book to read: 741 very dense pages, dozens of characters. And there's the normal problem with Russian literature: each character has a variety of patronymic names, good luck keeping them straight. (There's a cast of characters at the beginning of this edition, and you might want to bookmark it.)

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At Quillette, Allen Farrington writes what sounds as if it could be the kickoff for a young adult book series: PewDiePie's Battle for the Soul of the Internet.

    This is a story about the question of who holds power over what we can say, hear, watch and read on the internet—an increasingly urgent issue that many ordinary people have cause to think about every day. And yet the protagonist in this story, the man whose fate symbolizes the future of social media and the corporate web that controls it, is unknown to the vast majority of educated readers.

    That man is PewDiePie, a Swedish comedian whose real name is Felix Kjellberg. With 77-million subscribers, he has the most popular YouTube channel in the world. Within YouTube’s video subculture, he is regarded as a true celebrity—a sort of Joe Rogan, Kanye West and Ben Shapiro all rolled into one. As of this writing, PewDiePie is closing in on 20-billion total views—roughly equivalent to three views for every human on the planet.

    I don't watch PewDiePie (or YouTube much at all), but Allen describes how a combination of Vox and YouTube is trying to crush him. But there's a further interesting point:

    Here, I am getting into an argument that is made better elsewhere—specifically, that this kind of power hoarding exists only because of insufficiently farsighted design of the early web. Were there a public protocol that allowed video to be shared as easily as hypertext, there would be no need for YouTube. Were HTTP sufficiently robust to handle two-way links, there might not be a need for Google. Were there a public protocol for identity, Facebook might be extraneous. And were there a public protocol for value exchange, there would be no need for content that is almost exclusively monetized by advertising—a development that has ushered in a risk-averse ad-driven corporate culture with its attendant censorship and house politics.

    Bring on what people are calling the "Great Decentralization"!

  • David Harsany updates us: The State Of Colorado Is Still Trying To Destroy Jack Phillips.

    In 2016, I wrote about Colorado’s crusade to destroy Jack Phillips’ business over a thought crime. The state’s Civil Rights Commission had bored into Phillips’ soul and established that his refusal to create a specialty cake for a same-sex couple was driven by his personal animosity towards gay customers rather than his Christian faith.

    Unelected officials began fining Phillips in an effort to put him out of business for being a Christian. I wrote about the case numerous times, and every time I was assured that his actions had nothing to do with “religious liberty” — a term almost always placed within quotation marks to intimate that it was a bogus concern. I was assured that it was constitutionally acceptable for a gay couple to force a man to create art that undermined his faith. I was assured the case against him would be a slam dunk for Colorado

    Try to find the uncivil behavior in this case.

  • And Veronique de Rugy points out, regrettably, that we're still on the road to fiscal insanity: A Deficit-Happy Government May Lead to a Debt-Driven Financial Crisis.

    There are milestones you celebrate: a kid's first step, a round-numbered birthday, a marriage anniversary. And then there are the milestones you dread: Reaching $22 trillion in national debt is one of them. We're slated to reach that number next month, yet nobody seems to care.

    The $22 trillion figure we'll soon hit is the total of $16 trillion in public debt (what the government owes to domestic and foreign investors) and $5.8 trillion in intra-governmental debt (the money it owes to other government accounts like Social Security). No matter how you look at it, it's by far the highest level of debt Uncle Sam has accumulated in peacetime. It's also shocking, considering the economy is growing faster than it has for a while. Even worse, there's no end of that red ink in sight.

    I am sad for my kids, who'll have to live with the repercussions of this irresponsibility, and a little ashamed that it's (mostly) my generation that decided to kick the fiscal can down the road.

  • The Christmas season doesn't seem to have put Kristen Schaal in a good mood, judging from her Tweet.

    But that did get me thinking whether the obvious next step in entertainment industry awokeness might be gaining popularity. Alas, all I could find was a Fortune article from March, written by Lilly J. Goren: Commentary: Oscars Should Combine Best Actor Best Actress Categories.

    In the midst of an interestingly reflective period within the entertainment industry—especially given the current #MeToo and Times Up movements—many have wondered if—and how—Hollywood organizations like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will respond. Ahead of the Oscars, it’s worth noting that there is one way to bridge the gender divide that continues to be at the root of the industry’s many issues: eliminating the Best Actor/Actress/Supporting Actor/Actress categories.

    Lilly is a professor of political science at Carroll University. So I assume this is not a joke. She notes that the Grammys got rid of their segregated-by-sex award categories a few years back. (But the Country Music Association Awards still have them.)

    Don't even get me started on athletic competitions.

  • There's a new Clint Eastwood movie out, The Mule, and I happened to watch this IMDB intervew with him and the other actors. May I suggest you watch it till the end, when Mr. Eastwood does an uncanny impression of… well, watch it.

    Did you laugh out loud? I did.

Last Modified 2018-12-21 2:17 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • I find myself in basic agreement with John Glaser at Cato: Trump Is Right to Withdraw From Syria.

    President Trump has ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. This is the right decision. The U.S. military presence in Syria has not been authorized by Congress, is illegal under international law, lacks a coherent strategy, and carries significant risks of entangling America in a broader quagmire in yet another Middle Eastern country.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine." But in the interests of equal time, check out editors of National Review; they believe we should Stay in Syria. Their bottom line:

    One would think that a GOP administration would have learned the lessons of Obama’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq. American retreats often create power vacuums that are often filled by American enemies. Now, after all the blood spilled and tears shed since the rise of ISIS, Donald Trump is set to make his own version of Obama’s deadly mistake.

    Er, OK, fine. Cato and I could be wrong. NR makes a good point about the Kurds, who have a good reason to be upset at the US's on-again, off-again support.

    And at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown (in her daily aggregation of news stories) concentrates on how various factions are clutching their pearls in dread that American soldiers might finally be moving out of harm's way: Trump Doubles Down on Withdrawing Troops From Syria Despite Freakout From Warmongering Establishment.

    Following President Donald Trump's Wednesday announcement that all U.S. troops would be pulled from Syria, political establishment types on the left and right promptly rebuked him for being insufficiently committed to Forever War in the Middle East.

    Policing the world's politics and bombing brown people is one of the few things that mainstream Republicans and Democrats can come together on, and now here's Trump, the big meanie, spoiling their fun! Quick, cue rampant paranoia and a lot of Henny-Penny huffing...

    Today's Amazon Product du Jour: one of the things that comes up when you search for "power vacuum".

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson says (in an "NRPLUS" article) that we should be Learning the Real Lesson of Obamacare. Especially Paul Krugman, who didn't like the recent court ruling undoing Obamacare, since its individual mandate is no longer a credible "tax" or a mandate, either.

    'Sabotage,” Paul Krugman calls it. Funny word, that.

    Perhaps Professor Krugman, like so many progressives at the moment, has Russia on the brain.

    In the penal code of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that crime — вредительство, “causing damage” — was sometimes referred to as “wrecking,” “diversion,” or “counter-revolutionary sabotage.” The secret police were always on the hunt for the “Trotskyite wreckers” who were, apparently, hiding under every bushel of rotted beets. They were sent to the gulag or shot in the head. Some of the early Bolsheviks had wanted to abolish capital punishment, considering it emblematic of czarist high-handedness. “Nonsense,” said V. I. Lenin. “How can you make a revolution without executions?”

    Cyrillic in originnal! I'm not saying Paul Krugman is a Leninist/Stalinist, but I'm not saying he's not, either.

  • At AEI, Jonah Goldberg points out some political reality: Trump’s hard-core supporters aren’t enough. Looking at the pundits' scoring of the big Oval Office bout between Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer about border wall funding:

    Even Yahoo News’ Matt Bai, a decidedly left-leaning observer, excoriated liberals for not understanding that “Trump knows that every time he flouts the staid convention of the office, every time he does the thing that seems inappropriate among the political set, he’s winning with the chunk of the electorate he still has.”

    Sure. The problem is that chunk is not a majority.

    Bai’s larger observation — that Trump is so embattled he can’t afford to lose his hard-core supporters — is a good one in the context of gaming out how Trump can survive impeachment. When looking at what advances this administration’s agenda or is good for the Republican party, however, “his base loves it” doesn’t score any points.

    I don't see how Trump stands a chance in 2020. But to be fair, I thought he was toast in 2016.

  • At the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, James Lileks pleads: Please let the Boomer's Music Die.

    Example: There is a time and a place for Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and that time happened a half-century ago, and the place was some dorm room where people were rapping about Nixon, man.

    The time and place is not the airport bar at 7:30 a.m.

    But there it was, blaring out over the speakers while bleary-eyed people spooned steam-table eggs into their faces. Airports exist in a strange limbo where time is irrelevant until it is specifically crucial. It’s never morning or night, it’s just a timeless void you endure until it’s time to board and depart. So of course the bar is open. Someone who’s been up for 17 hours may need a drink. Of course the music is loud and lousy — it’s a bar.

    James makes a good case for bringing back Muzak. As a boomer who loves his music, I find it hard to disagree.

  • Via Power Line, a Bret Stephens NYT column aimed at "anti-Zionism", a viewpoint that deserves more scorn than it receives: When Anti-Zionism Tunnels Under Your House.

    […] Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state — details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it.

    Note the distinction: Anti-Zionists are not advocating the reform of a state, as Japan was reformed after 1945. Nor are they calling for the adjustment of a state’s borders, as Canada’s border with the United States was periodically adjusted in the 19th century. They’re not talking about the birth of a separate state, either, as South Sudan was born out of Sudan in 2011. And they’re certainly not championing the partition of a multiethnic state into ethnically homogenous components, as Yugoslavia was partitioned after 1991.

    Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse.

    Emphasis added.

    That would make a good challenge for the next person you notice claiming they're "just anti-Zionist": Are you in favor of doing away with any other country besides Israel?

  • And our Google LFOD alert rang for a Union Leader article about a Manchester NH group looking for educational improvement: Manchester Proud chooses design partner for new strategic plan for city schools.

    Members of Manchester Proud — a citizens’ coalition committed to uniting the Queen City behind an aspirational vision for its school system — announced Wednesday the group has chosen a firm to help design a new strategic plan for city schools.

    Manchester Proud issued a release Wednesday saying after “a rigorous, six month search process” the organization’s Consultant Selection Work Group chose 2Revolutions, LLC to partner with in crafting “an aspirational and achievable strategic plan” for the Manchester School District.

    To be honest, it sounds like standard educratese. But the founder of "2Revolutions" knows how to suck up to Granite staters:

    “We believe our first-hand knowledge of the context of the state makes us strong partners. We have learned that ‘Live Free or Die’ is a living concept in New Hampshire public education. We respect the importance and power of local communities to steer public education and we’re excited to leverage our unique skill set to support such an important, community-driven transformation effort.”

    At least no taxpayer money seems to be directly involved: "The effort is funded entirely by private citizens, business leaders, and community organizations in Manchester."

  • At a website called 5280, which I assume means Denver, Jay Bouchard writes An Ode to 3.2 Beer, Which Is Leaving Colorado Grocery Stores in 2019. (Yes, the legal pot state finally got around to legalizing the sale of full-strength beer.)

    Jay relates his Colorado beer education when a new roommate scorned his choice of brewski, three point two Coors Lite:

    He then explained that what I purchased was something less than “real” beer. It was 3.2 percent, because in Colorado you could only buy full-strength brews in liquor stores. I was floored by the concept. I grew up in New Hampshire, where the native folk Live Free or Die and buy booze (and maple syrup and bullets) at country stores. I spent my college years in Montana, where it was so easy to buy beer that even the mule deer were tipsy. And New Mexico? In the Land of Enchantment, whiskey shooters were sold at gas stations behind the counter, right next to Marlboro Reds.

    Our liquor sales are still restricted to state-run stores, but at least they're convenient to the Interstates.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The Netflix algorithm thought I'd like this a lot better than I did. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

The story is that Donna (Meryl Streep in the first movie) has kicked the bucket, leaving her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and widower (Pierce Brosnan) bereft. The movie also does an origin story, describing how Young Donna (Lily James) came to be impregnated with Sophie and wind up on that picturesque Greek isle owning a hotel. There's a lot of bouncing back and forth between past and present.

Oh, and Cher shows up, playing Donna's mom, Sophie's grandma. Also: Andy Garcia as (ta da!) "Fernando". What's he doing here? C'mon, guess. I bet you're right.

And mostly it's just an excuse for big dancing/singing production numbers with more ABBA songs. Unfortunately, they used all the really popular ABBA songs in the first movie, so the ones here are mostly second-string; I didn't even recognize some of them (but I am not really an ABBA fan).

Still it's kind of a hoot to see Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth try to dance and sing. They look like they're having a good time. (Although whenever I see Stellan Skarsgård in a movie, it makes me want to watch The Hunt for Red October again.)

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • You may have noticed what people (for example, Slashdot) are calling a "Senate Report" that hypes Russian pro-Trump interference in the 2016 election. At Reason, Nick Gillespie unhypes: Yes, Russian Trolls Tried To Influence the 2016 Election. No, They Didn't Win It for Trump.

    Perspective here is key. When it comes to foreign influence, the CIA says that Moscow has been trying to influence presidential outcomes via covert propaganda since at least since 1964, when Nikita Khrushchev threw his weight behind Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater due to the latter's higher level of bellicosity toward the Soviet Union and communism in general. The amount of impressions, likes, retweets, shares, and rubles that get thrown around in the reports sound fantastic until you zoom out to the bigger picture. As TechCrunch reported a year ago, for instance, Clinton and Trump spent a combined $81 million on Facebook ads while the IRA ponied up $46,000, or 0.05 percent as much.

    Today's Amazon Product du Jour: Russian nesting troll dolls. And I noticed that Amazon says the "Manufacturer recommended age" is "36 years and up". Consider yourself warned, young people.

  • At Cato, Jeffery Miron asks the musical question: Should the Government Manufacture Generic Drugs?. It's in response to a recent Elizabeth Warren proposal to … um … do that.

    […] Warren’s suggested policy - more government, rather than reduction or elimination of existing patent protection - fits the standard progressive approach: assume the fix to imperfect government is more government, rather than less.

    Note: as near as I can tell, Jeffrey's proposed solution, patent reform, wouldn't do much to alleviate the alleged problem with generic drugs, since they aren't under patent protection.

    The issue is outlined in this Marketplace article that describes a causal chain: once a drug is genericized → its price drops → profits decrease → companies stop making it → competition decreases → the remaining companies increase prices.

    My free market spider sense tingles: So ordinary market forces don't work for generic drugs? I suspect there's a deregulatory solution somewhere, but I don't know enough about the details to point it out.

  • At National Review, Ben Shapiro writes on Anti-Semitism & Alice Walker: The Left Excuses Hatred of Jews.

    This week, The New York Times Review of Books printed an interview with Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Color Purple. The interviewer asked Walker to list the books on her nightstand. Most were unobjectionable. One was not: a book titled And the Truth Shall Set You Free, by David Icke. Walker described the book thusly: “In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person’s dream come true.”

    As Yair Rosenberg of Tablet noted, this is a bit of problem. As it turns out, Icke is a rabid anti-Semite, and And the Truth Shall Set You Free is a tome of vitriolic Jew-hating garbage. Rosenberg explains that in the book, “The word ‘Jewish’ appears 241 times, and the name ‘Rothschild’ is mentioned 374 times. These references are not compliments.” The book itself suggests that the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic hoax tract written in the late 1800s, was indeed genuine.

    Back in 2006 I read Jon Ronson's book THEM, which had a chapter on Icke. Back then, it was an open question whether he was anti-Semitic, or simply a nut that believed that the Secretive Controllers Of Everything are not Jews, but actual alien lizards.

  • Our fair state makes the Volokh Conspiracy: ACLU (N.H.) Challenging Criminal Libel Statute. The case was apparently brought due to the brief arrest of an Exeter citizen for claiming on a community website that a retiring police officer was "the dirtiest most corrupt cop" and that the current police chief was covering up for him. (Local TV station story about it is here.)

    Eugene Volokh comments:

    But I'm skeptical about it: The "tends to expose to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule" test has a long history to it, and the Court has taken the view that a "knowledge requirement of [a] statute further reduces any potential for vagueness." Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010). The definition isn't mathematically precise, but it doesn't have to be, under the Court's precedents. (Note that in Ashton v. Kentucky (1966), the Court did strike down a common-law criminal libel rule on vagueness grounds, but that rule was considerably broader and less precise than the New Hampshire rule.)

    So we'll see what happens.

  • And we haven't embedded a Michael Ramirez cartoon lately. Let me remedy that:

    (I did a number of "embed.ly" embeds from MPR's website in the past. Unfortunately, they are no longer functional for some reason.)

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:45 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has issued an important Report: As changes to Title IX enforcement loom, America’s top universities overwhelmingly fail to guarantee fair hearings for students. Among the findings, conveniently bullet-pointed:

    • 3 in 4 top universities do not guarantee presumption of innocence in campus proceedings.
    • 9 in 10 top universities do not guarantee meaningful cross-examination in cases of alleged sexual misconduct.
    • None of the surveyed institutions guarantee all the due process protections required under the new, proposed Title IX regulations.
    • Polling shows students overwhelmingly want due process protections, but universities fail to deliver.

    The University Near Here was not among the surveyed schools. Dartmouth rated a "D" for its policies. My alma mater, Caltech, rated an F (both for its ordinary misconduct and its different sexual misconduct procedures). I never got in any trouble, but only because standards were different back then; within broad limits, you could be an immature, horny jerk without repercussions.

  • In an "NRPLUS" article (still don't know what that means), Kevin D. Williamson writes on Minimum Wage Laws -- Flight from Economic Reality.

    Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a way to try to force consumers of labor to value certain low-skill labor more highly than they do. But here’s the thing: They don’t. There isn’t any law that is going to make somebody voluntarily swap his Rolls-Royce for a stick of chewing gum, and there isn’t any law that is going to make any employer actually value a Burger King fry-guy (I’ve been one of those, too) in a way that is equal to how they value a newspaper copy-editor (yep) or a guy who hauls away debris from a construction site (ditto; pays better than I expected). Economic preferences are real, and you cannot legislate away reality.

    What you can do is interfere with exchange. You can price out of the market entirely people whose labor is not actually worth $15 an hour to any employer, or you can force employers to try to offload those extra labor costs onto other employees, suppliers, or customers. You can encourage automation and other substitutions of capital for labor. And you can cause all sorts of chaos.

    The bottom line won't come as a shock to anyone: minimum wage laws are misguided. But KDW (as usual) illuminates the issue well. Hope you can RTWT.

  • Matt Ridley writes on the persistent appeal of pessimism. He lists a number of reasons for the pessimistic bias. Final one is what deems "turning-point-itis":

    This is the tendency to think that things may have improved in the past but will no longer do so in the future, because we stand at a turning point in history. It’s true, as brokers like to say, that past performance is no guide to future performance. But as the historian Lord Macaulay wrote almost two centuries ago, “On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

    Well, there's the Dow Jones Industrial Average, for one thing.

    Maybe I'll adapt a strategy similar to Charles C. Mann's: On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I'll be pessimistic; On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, optimistic. And on Sunday, I'll just drink to excess.

  • Jim Treacher has a bone to pick with this less-than-Presidential tweet:

    It's all part of the Trump strategy to Make America Great Again by Cheering When People Lose Their Jobs at Christmastime.

    If you've paid any attention to Trump's public statements, you know this could've been written by an algorithm:

    [Hostile adjective] + [Hostile adjective] + [Name of somebody who has criticized Trump] + [Factual inaccuracy] + [Parting taunt punctuated with exclamation point]

    The only surprise is that he used "prognosticator" correctly in a sentence. I wouldn't have prognosticated that, so kudos to President Trump on that one.

    I know it's not my fault, but even after nearly two years, I'm embarrassed for our country every time President Trump displays his total lack of class.

  • Not only that, but we have an FDA Administrator who can't see the forest for the trees. Jacob Sullum at Reason: Amid the Underage Vaping 'Epidemic,' Adolescent Smoking Again Hits a Record Low.

    The latest results from the Monitoring the Future Study, released today, show a jump in vaping by teenagers similar to the one indicated by the National Youth Tobacco Survey numbers published last month. They also show that cigarette smoking by high school seniors, which hit a record low last year, continues to decline.

    Since e-cigarettes are far less dangerous than the conventional, combustible kind, the relationship between these two trends is vitally important in evaluating the public health impact of the underage vaping "epidemic." Yet the head of the Food and Drug Administration says his agency, because it is obligated to reduce e-cigarette use by minors at all costs, cannot weigh the possibility that its interventions, which so far include flavor restrictions and anti-vaping propaganda, may result in more smoking-related disease and death.

    Let me hasten to say that nicotine addiction is a bad thing, and I wouldn't advise people to develop it via either tobacco or vaping. But compare and contrast the British attitude versus American Moral Panic:

    Having concluded that the benefits far outweigh the risks, the United Kingdom has muscled straight on past the United States on this issue. In 2016, London’s Royal College of Physicians not only endorsed the use of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation aids, but also concluded that vaping devices are up to 95% less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes.

    We need to keep young people healthier, so they can keep funding my Social Security, dudes.

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:34 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Corie Whalen bemoans: I Can’t Figure Out What To Do. Like a lot of us.

    It’s been three months since I left my job as Rep. Justin Amash’s Communications Director. Part of the reason I quit was to start publishing under my own name again as I did for years before the move to Capitol Hill. But I’m stuck. It’s not just writer’s block, although I think that’s part of it. As I’ve told a few people, I’m still trying to find my voice.

    The fact is, I spent the better part of a decade as a mouthpiece for liberty Republicans predicated on the notion that the GOP was improving and had a more libertarian future ahead of it. I naively believed this like gospel for a long time. I wishcasted this destiny for a living. It was arguably a part of my identity. Now, the very thought of calling myself a Republican makes me feel gross, and the respect I had for many conservative politicians and pundits has waned precipitously, to phrase it perhaps more politely than I should.

    I almost left my mantra as a comment: "Just say to yourself: 'Well, I guess I'll just have to be content with being right about everything, all the time.'"

    Too glib, though. Not for nothing is Jonah Goldberg's podcast called "The Remnant". With all its Old Testament implications.

  • Kevin D. Williamson writes at the NYPost: Why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drives conservatives crazy.

    One can partly understand why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the hilariously ignorant young socialist recently elected to a House seat from The Bronx and Queens, has soared to the top of the Republicans’ naughty list.

    For one thing, the Democrats and their reliably obsequious media allies already have elevated her far above what one might expect for a safe-seat shoo-in from an abjectly Democratic district who has not yet served a single day in office: They’re already asking her about running for president, perhaps sharing a ticket with Robert Francis O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat formerly known as “Who?”

    KDW makes an excellent comparison between the media's treatment of AOC and its treatment of Dan Quayle, who was lampooned mercilessly for saying far less stupid things than does AOC.

  • You may remember Politifact. You may even remember that it awards "Lie of the Year" to … well, what it feels was the most egregious lie of the year. But this year? David Harsanyi writes Why PolitiFact's Winner of the 'Lie of the Year' Award Is Misleading.

    This week, the allegedly unbiased fact-checkers at PolitiFact awarded their “Lie of the Year” award to the “online smear machine” that attempted “to take down” the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

    “The attacks against Parkland’s students stand out because of their sheer vitriol,” the piece explains. “Together, the lies against the Parkland students in the wake of unspeakable tragedy were the most significant falsehoods of 2018.”

    It should go without saying that those who spread the conspiracy theory that the activists in the wake of the horrific school shooting were “crisis actors”—kids only pretending to be victims—are exceptionally terrible people.

    It’s debatable, though, whether this conspiracy theory, which had no effect on policy or the students’ ability to march or speak out, should be considered the most significant political lie in 2018. I’m relatively positive that the vast majority of Americans have never heard it.

    Politifact is hopeless, so it's unlikely that they'll reconsider. But, honestly, with all the lying going on, that's the best they could do?

  • I missed the 245th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party yesterday. Let me make it up to you by linking to Jay Cost's National Review article: Boston Tea Party: Lessons for Today.

    In a country with a story as long and colorful as ours, there is hardly a date on the calendar that was not — at some point — an important day in American history. It would be tedious to comment on all of them, yet I cannot help but note that yesterday marked one of my favorite events in American history, the Boston Tea Party.

    There are two reasons I like the Boston Tea Party so much — one “low” and one “high.” The low reason is that it is a good reminder that the Founding generation was not all about highfalutin philosophy and earnest debate about first principles of government. Far from it! There was a lot of mob-like activity during the eleven years between the end of the War of 1765 and the Declaration of Independence. There was also, to be blunt about it, quite a lot of booze consumed by said mobs.

    The higher reason? Well, RTWT.

  • At American Consequences, P.J. O'Rourke provides Useless Christmas Trivia. Specifically, things you can say at your Christmas dinner to deflect political discussion. Examples:

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created in 1939 for a Montgomery Ward Christmas promotional coloring book. The character was originally rejected by the department store’s executives because red noses were associated with alcoholism. Did Rudolph ever get so drunk that he guided Santa to any of your houses?”

    We call St. Nick ‘Santa Claus’ because we get many of our Christmas traditions from the New Amsterdam Dutch. The way the Dutch pronounce ‘St. Nicholas’ is Sinterklass. And speaking of Rudolph’s red nose, this is how some people at this table are beginning to pronounce their words. I spiked the eggnog with Everclear, in the hope that at least a few of you would pass out face-first in your plates. Santa’s helpers are standing by at EMS.”

    I may give a dramatic reading of P.J.'s column for our dinner this year.

The Phony Campaign

2018-12-16 Update

[phony baloney]

Last week, Hillary Clinton had dropped below our inclusion criterion (3% or better nomination probability according to Predictwise), and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for some reason, (barely) met it. This week, the inverse happened: Hillary's back, Tom's gone. So: still 16 candidates, with a more partisan split: 10 donkeys, 6 elephants.

President Trump shed about 10% from his Google hits compared to last week, but he's still in a solid first place. Interestingly, his nomination probability dropped significantly, while Nikki Haley's increased.

(True fact: as I type, adding up the probabilities for all GOP candidates listed at Predictwise only gets you to 91%. I don't know whether this means you could make money arbitraging at a betting site, or if there's just a bug in converting betting odds into probabilities.)

Anyway, on to the phony results:

Candidate NomProb Change
Donald Trump 61% -6% 2,900,000 -310,000
Nikki Haley 9% +4% 1,370,000 +30,000
Hillary Clinton 3% --- 895,000 ---
Beto O'Rourke 19% +1% 840,000 +116,000
Kamala Harris 18% unch 572,000 -11,000
Sherrod Brown 3% -1% 474,000 +184,000
Bernie Sanders 8% +1% 283,000 +44,000
Mitt Romney 3% unch 226,000 +5,000
Paul Ryan 3% unch 203,000 +16,000
Joe Biden 10% +1% 202,000 -9,000
Mike Pence 8% unch 199,000 +34,000
Kirsten Gillibrand 3% -1% 186,000 -12,000
Elizabeth Warren 5% unch 169,000 -32,000
Amy Klobuchar 4% unch 91,500 +3,600
Cory Booker 5% +1% 61,400 -1,500
John Kasich 4% unch 58,700 -2,200

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • As a reminder of why President Trump consistently leads our phony poll, the New York Times reminisces: As the Trumps Dodged Taxes, Their Tenants Paid a Price. Specifically, decades back, renters in "unassuming red-brick buildings scattered across Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island" saw their rents go up! Why?

    As it turned out, a hidden scam lurked behind the mysterious increases. In October, a New York Times investigation into the origins of Mr. Trump’s wealth revealed, among its findings, that the future president and his siblings set up a phony business to pad the cost of nearly everything their father, the legendary builder Fred C. Trump, purchased for his buildings. The Trump children split that extra money.

    Ah, well, I can hardly get too exercised about an effort to evade onerous death taxes, especially one that escaped the eagle eyes of the IRS at the time. It's too bad that renters paid the price, but maybe they should be mad at a tax regime that penalizes people that have the poor judgment to die.

  • Since Hillary's back in our listing for now… At the Washington Times Monica Crowley churns out a column based on Hillary's offhand comment to an interviewer: 'Well, I'd like to be president'.

    There it is, in all of its elitism: She still wants to be president, of course. She just doesn’t want to have to go through the marathon pantomime again to get there. No more phony performances. No more kissing babies. No more greeting the factory swing shift in the middle of the night. No more pretending to enjoy corn dogs at the state fair. No more pretending to like normal Americans. No more selling her marriage as anything but a transactional relationship. She’s done with all that.

    And who can blame her? The woman has been faking it for nearly 50 years.

    Eh, it's not as if we'll be seeing a suddenly-authentic version of Hillary Clinton—version 5.0, would it be? I don't believe there's anything real at her core anymore; it would have long since shriveled and died.

  • Jim Treacher stands up and takes notice when Elizabeth Warren Finally Says Something True.

    There comes a time in every successful politician's life when he -- or she! -- needs to completely backpedal on a long-held assertion without ever admitting that he -- or she! -- was wrong. Either through willful dishonesty, reflexive self-delusion, or some combination of the two, the trick is to say the exact opposite of what you said before, without ever acknowledging the contradiction. It's really tricky, and political history is littered with poor chumps who couldn't get away with it. Some people are just better liars than others, whether by natural talent or decades of practice.

    Jim notes (quoting the Washington Examiner, which is quoting the WaPo, which is quoting Warren):

    “I’m not a person of color. And I haven’t lived your life or experienced anything like the subtle prejudice, or more overt harm, that you may have experienced just because of the color of your skin,” Warren said at Morgan State, a historically black college in Baltimore, Md, according to the Washington Post.

    Well, there you have it. Elizabeth Warren's truth, as of late 2018. We'll see if that holds through 2019. Or even the rest of 2018.

  • But Kevin D. Williamson demurs with Senator Warren's backtrack:

    As I have written before, this is not quite accurate. She is a person of color: Pantone 11-0602 TPX.

    I've helpfully added a link to the relevant Pantone page, but I bet you don't need it.

  • So, anyway, there's a lot of punditry to the effect that Warren's campaign—which, technically, doesn't even exist yet—isn't catching fire. At Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi says wait a minute: Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 Presidential Run Endangered by Media Coverage.

    (His subhed is kind of classic: "Sit back and watch how 2020 narratives “shift” after questions are “raised” by the very people writing stories about “raising questions”")

    The headline in the New York Times reads: “Sanders and Warren Meet and Agree: They Both Are Probably Running.”

    At first, the story about Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont reads like standard election news. Dig deeper, though, and you find signs of negative media campaigns already beginning in earnest. Over the past few weeks, multiple outlets have published negative pieces about Warren in particular, deploying coverage gimmicks used to disparage candidates early in presidential campaigns before.

    The gist of the new Times piece is that the Warren and Sanders, if they do run, “will not enjoy an easy path to the nomination.” Both are described as having political vulnerabilities that will force them to face questions or “concerns.” (This is code for, “they’ll get beat up by the media.”)

    OK, so Rolling Stone is probably not the best publication to whine about media dishonesty. Still, Taibbi isn't wrong to observe that MSM-pushed narratives can be self-perpetuating. And, in a word, phony.

  • As reported by Jazz Shaw at Hot Air, Senator K. Gillibrand: Say, there are a lot of white men running for President, aren't there?. From her CNN interview (as reported by the Hill):

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said during a televised interview on Friday night that she was worried about a lack of diversity among top potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

    Gillibrand was asked by CNN’s Van Jones about a poll from the network released this week that found that the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination were white men.

    The poll showed former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) as the top three potential 2020 Democratic candidates.

    "In a party as diverse as ours, does it worry you to see the top three being white guys?" Jones asked Gillibrand, herself a potential presidential candidate, in front of the live audience.

    "Yes," Gillibrand responded.

    The CNN poll disagrees with Predictwise, which has Kamala Harris (a non-white non-guy) battling it out with Beto for the most-probably-nominated candidate.

    Which is probably equally meaningless at this point in the campaign; when I look four years back, the oddsmakers thought the favorite to win the 2016 GOP nomination was… Jeb Bush.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Jonah Goldberg does some political strategizing: How Democrats Could Blow 2020.

    Right now, it’s almost easier to list the number of prominent Democrats who aren’t thinking of running. No one knows for sure, but estimates on the number of potential Democratic candidates range from 20 to 40. In that kind of field, the ability to attract a small but passionate cadre of supporters will be more important than arguments about electability. Thus, there will be an enormous incentive to replicate the Trump model of taking unorthodox positions, stated as boldly as possible, in order to win over the most passionate ideologues and activists.

    Moreover, the mood among Democrats is more than a little analogous to the mood among Republicans in 2016. Hillary Clinton was a uniquely disliked and feared figure among conservatives. The argument that America would be “over” if she won found purchase among millions of Republican voters. One need only listen to a few minutes of discussion on CNN or MSNBC, or to read the op-ed pages on almost any given day, to see that a similar attitude is widespread among Democrats. If you can’t imagine chants of “Lock him up!” at the Democratic convention in 2020, you haven’t been paying attention.

    Yes, we could have two extremely unappealing major-party candidates in 2020. In fact, from my point of view, that's almost certain. But I mean Hillary-level unappealing.

  • At Reason, Baylen Linnekin asks the musical question (in response to the latest anti-market idea to come out of left field): Are Dollar Stores Really Driving Grocers Out of Business?.

    Earlier this month, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit advocacy group with offices in Minneapolis, Maine, and Washington, D.C., that "challenges concentrated economic and political power, and instead champions an approach in which ownership is broadly distributed, institutions are humanly scaled, and decision-making is accountable to communities," released research meant to push back against the spread of dollar stores, which the group argues are "targeting struggling urban neighborhoods and small towns."

    Aieee! Beware the Dollar Store Menace! They are aimed at people who find Wal-Mart a tad upscale!

    But click through to find Baylen's rebuttal to the shoddy activist research.

  • Our second musical question today comes from David Hines of the Federalist. And it is: Why Does Lin-Manuel Miranda Enthusiastically Support A Terrorist?.

    If a celebrity celebrated the release of an abortion clinic bomber from prison, gave the abortion clinic bomber a present, then personally hung out with the abortion clinic bomber, we wouldn’t chalk it up to naïveté; we would conclude that the celebrity liked the idea of bombing abortion clinics.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda––yes, that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the “Hamilton” guy, co-star of Disney’s upcoming “Mary Poppins Returns,” recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, awardee of a shiny new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame––did all of those things as an avid supporter of the Puerto Rican nationalist terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, ringleader of the 1970s terrorist group FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña / Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation), which murdered at least five and probably six innocent New Yorkers.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Miranda can probably insulate himself from any uncomfortable questions about this.

  • A bracing review from Spencer Kornhaber of a new Netflix show by some music guy you may have heard of: Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, on Netflix.

    Bruce Springsteen is a phony, and he wants you to know it. “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life,” he shouts early in his one-man stage show, viewable on Netflix Sunday. “I’ve never seen the inside of a factory, and yet it’s all I’ve ever written about. Standing before you is a man who’s become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something [with] which he has had absolutely no personal experience.”

    Now if he'd only apply those observations to his political opinions…

  • And P.J. O'Rourke has a seasonal musical question in American Consequences: What if Santa Came for Grown-Ups?.

    Well, for one thing, he wouldn’t land on the roof! Do you know what roofs cost? We had ours re-shingled a couple of years ago and… “skyway robbery” is what I call it. No thanks to an overloaded sleigh and eight sets of sharp, pointy hooves busting through my rafters.

    Although Santa is welcome to come down our chimney. We’ve been meaning to have it cleaned.

    Peej is more fond of scotch and cigars than I am, but there is much wisdom in his words, I promise. For example: "A real Santa-for-Grown-Ups wouldn’t bring us things – he’d take things away." I've got a list.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At the Hill, Chris Edwards points out a real problem: Ballooning debt harms our youth, but Trump doesn't care.

    On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump railed against the federal government’s almost $20 trillion of debt, and he boldly promised to eliminate it “over a period of eight years.”

    That would have been nearly impossible, and now that he is president, Trump has changed his mind anyway. Told by his advisors that the soaring debt may generate a crisis years down the road, Trump said bluntly, “Yeah, but I won’t be here,” according to The Daily Beast.

    Sure enough, Trump is acting like the debt is someone else’s problem. Last year’s tax cut increased deficits, the discretionary spending deal earlier this year was a budget buster, and soaring entitlement costs have garnered little interest from the Oval Office.

    Also not caring: many other Republicans, nearly all Democrats, and (most importantly) American voters, who keep electing these people.

  • As we survey the dystopian rubble that used to be the net-neutral Internet, where feral savages roam to plunder the fearful survivors of the FCC-mandated catastrophe… oh, wait: Despite the media’s prophecies of doom a year ago, the internet is alive and well.

    A year ago today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the harmful 2015 internet regulation dubiously titled the “Open Internet Order.”  The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNET, Ars Technica, Recode, The Verge, and advocacy groups such as Free Press and Public Knowledge predictably forecasted apocalyptic consequences to the rollback of the regulation, mischaracterizing the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) along the way. CNN declared “the end of the internet as we know it,” and other media outlets said the RIFO was “gutting the rules that protect the internet,” and “that the internet has no oversight.” A year later, the internet is alive and well. The media and pundits are unlikely to issue corrections, but here are some facts to remember.

    That's Roslyn Layton, writing at AEI. The doomsayers will not issue corrections; they've long since moved on to bemoaning other imagined crises.

  • At Reason, Veronique de Rugy asks the musical question: Why Are Conservatives Suddenly Supporting Mandatory Paid Leave?.

    The economy is thriving, unemployment rates are low, and companies that have to compete for quality employees are expanding benefits, including paid time off. That makes this an odd moment for conservatives to shift their position on whether the government should implement a family leave mandate.

    A 2017 working group made up of representatives from the center-left Brookings Institution and the conservative American Enterprise Institute outlined the need for a federal paid family leave law. They point to Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that only 13 percent of private sector workers receive paid leave.

    This number ignores a multitude of paid leave options and other benefits that frequently are provided by employers, however. In a new report, the Cato Institute's Vanessa Brown Calder corrects the record. Citing more comprehensive government metrics, she finds that as of 2008 (the last year for which we have data), as many as 61 percent of women reported having access to some form of paid leave from their employers, up dramatically from 16 percent in the 1960s. Calder notes that even in the absence of a federal policy, the number of new moms who quit working declined "from over 60 percent in 1961 to just over 20 percent in 2008."

    Veronique notes that although the mandate proposals promise future spending cuts, we all know those promises go a-glimmering when it comes time to actually keep them. And experience in "progressive" states like California indicates that when government steps in with mandatory benefits, private companies drop their voluntarily-supplied benefits. Net benefit to employees: zero, but the pols can say they "did something".

  • A provocative post from Jonny Anomaly (apparently his real name) at Fake Nous: The “e” word is the new “f” word. And that "e" word is…

    Plato and Aristotle, Russell and Rawls, Darwin and Galton, Crick and Watson, Haldane and Hamilton. What do they have in common? Apart from being some of the most influential philosophers and biologists of the last few millennia, all of them openly supported some version of eugenics. In other words, all of them have argued that traits are to some degree heritable, and that this fact should influence how and with whom we choose to have children. In a passage that many philosophers quietly skip when they teach distributive justice, John Rawls writes:

    “[Deliberators] want to insure for their descendants the best genetic endowment (assuming their own to be fixed). The pursuit of reasonable policies in this regard is something that earlier generations owe to later ones… Thus over time a society is to take steps at least to preserve the general level of natural abilities and to prevent the diffusion of serious defects.” (1971, p. 107).

    The [Deliberators] are those hypothetical social engineers working behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. Who knew Rawls was such a Nazi?

    Just kidding, he wasn't. But I can't help but wonder if he would have been able to get away with writing those words today.

  • I am a devoted follower of Titania McGrath on Twitter. Because of things like this:

    She's justly famous for taking progressive identity politics to the logical conclusion. So, naturally, she got in trouble with the Twitter censors. And she got an article about it in Quillette: "I Now Understand How Nelson Mandela Felt".

    My name is Titania McGrath. I am a radical intersectionalist poet committed to feminism, social justice, and armed peaceful protest. In April of this year, I decided to become more industrious on social media. I was inspired by other activists who had made use of their online platforms in order to spread their message and explain to people why they are wrong about everything.

    This week the powers-that-be at Twitter hit my account with a “permanent suspension” (a semantic contradiction, but then I suppose bigots aren’t known for their grammatical prowess). This was the latest in a series of suspensions, all of which were imposed because I had been too woke. The final straw appeared to be a tweet in which I informed my followers that I would be attending a pro-Brexit march so that I could punch a few UKIP supporters in the name of tolerance.

    I'd confess my undying love for Titania, except that she would reject it as a cisnormative attempt at establishing patriarchal hegemony. (I think I got that right.)

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:45 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At Quillette, Conor Barnes does a bit of psychologizing on Sad Radicals.

    When I became an anarchist I was 18, depressed, anxious, and ready to save the world. I moved in with other anarchists and worked at a vegetarian co-op cafe. I protested against student tuition, prison privatization, and pipeline extensions. I had lawyer’s numbers sharpied on my ankle and I assisted friends who were pepper-sprayed at demos. I tabled zines, lived with my “chosen family,” and performed slam poems about the end of the world. While my radical community was deconstructing gender, monogamy, and mental health, we lived and breathed concepts and tools like call-outs, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, safe spaces, privilege theory, and rape culture.

    Conor's thesis: "The ideology and norms of radicalism have evolved to produce toxic, paranoid, depressed subjects." I usually don't like this sort of psychologizing, but I'll make an exception because (a) Conor is extrapolating from his own experience and observations; (b) I've kind of suspected this anyway. It explains why lefties are so diligently humorless. Or, more exactly, why their "humor" is so bereft of fun.

  • At Cato, Chris Edwards tells the sad story of one more massive, but lousy, piece of Federal legislation: Farm Bill Socialism in Senate.

    Republicans have criticized the socialism of Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but they should reflect on their own party’s socialist vote in the Senate yesterday. The upper chamber voted 87-13 for the bloated monstrosity known as the farm bill, which funds farm subsidies and food stamps. Republicans in the Senate voted in favor 38-13.

    It is not hyperbole to call the farm bill “socialism.” It will spend $867 billion over the next decade, thus pushing up government debt and taxes. It includes large-scale wealth redistribution in the form of food stamps. At its core is central planning, which is obvious when you consider that the bill is 807 pages of legalese laying out excruciating details on crop prices, acres, yields, and other micromanagement. Furthermore, the bill lines the pockets of wealthy elites (landowners), which is a central feature of socialism in practice around the world.

    It also passed overwhelmingly in the House, 369-47. At Reason, Eric Boehm chimes in: it "somehow manages to suck even more than most farm bills."

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson writes on the recent Shutdown Theater & the Spectacle of Trump.

    The problem is that the Republicans have the right politics but the wrong policy. (Often, the opposite is the case.) Building a wall would bring some benefits and would present the Trump administration with an important symbolic victory, but it is at best an incomplete policy, and in some ways a bad one. For much of the U.S.-Mexico border, a wall is neither practical nor desirable, something that would be clear to the denizens of Washington if they spent much time on the parts of the border that are not within micturition distance of a Starbucks in San Diego.

    As a long time NR reader, of course I know what "micturition" means.

    But as KDW notes, the problem with the wall is (a) it's massively expensive and (b) it won't work. But it's symbolic for Trump, and he's looking for a "win". For himself, not the country.

  • At AEI, Jonah Goldberg chronicles one more sign of decline: Trump trouble shows we've abandoned morality for mere legality.

    In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s legendary 1978 commencement address at Harvard, he lamented how in the West, law had replaced higher notions of morality.

    “Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution,” he observed. “If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody will mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk. It would sound simply absurd.”

    This is a point that conservatives once understood.

    Well, some of us still understand it.

  • And Kyle Smith reviews Aquaman at NR: unfortunately, it Stinks Like Last Month’s Fish. Reading Kyle's review is more fun than you'll have at the movie, I think:

    Aquaman’s back story is like a discarded draft of Splash: Atlanna, the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman, with 30 years digitally erased from her face) washes ashore in Maine, where a kindly lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) nurses her back to health. Their son, Arthur (Jason Momoa), combines both of his parents’ qualities and is described as a bridge between the land and the sea, which is not actually how bridges work, unless they’ve got major design flaws.

    Jason Momoa was on SNL last week. His one joke, repeated in multiple sketches, wasn't funny.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At the NYPost F.H. Buckley explains Why ‘No Hate Here’ signs are actually pretty hateful.

    Someone came up with the label “virtue signaling” to describe the psychological impulse behind these signs. The idea is that people who put them up want to tell you how noble they are. But that doesn’t sound right. Virtue-signalers aren’t in any way in doubt about their own virtue. What they really want to do is signal how depraved others are.

    It’s about vice signaling, not virtue signaling.

    Um, good point, I think. But if you think otherwise, please feel free to purchase our Amazon Product du Jour via the link at right. (No, your right.) In case you were wondering, the languages are (allegedly) English, Urdu, Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish.

  • At the Daily Signal, Rachel Greszler notes the latest bit of Congressional crony capitalism: Congress Shouldn’t Prop Up Some Newspaper Companies at the Expense of Employee Pensions.

    Under the Save Community Newspaper Act of 2018 being considered in both the House and Senate, a select group of community newspapers would be allowed to use an excessively high discount rate of 8 percent as a means of lowering their pension contributions. (An updated Senate version of the legislation, not yet available online, provides a broader definition of community newspapers and more relief through a retroactive date of enactment.)

    Yes, it's one more bit of special-interest legislation, and the article goes into detail on the likelihood that ordinary taxpayers will eventually wind up footing the bill.

    Slightly interesting in that it's being pushed by a group called the News Media Alliance.

    Treasurer of the News Media Alliance is one Kirk Davis, CEO of Gatehouse Media.

    And among the (many) papers owned by Gatehouse media, is my local one, Foster's Daily Democrat.

  • James B. Freeman of the (possibly paywalled) WSJ debunks a lefty talking point: U.S. Income More Equal than Advertised.

    Remember the 2014 bestseller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by French economist Thomas Piketty? Beachgoers in the Hamptons couldn’t be seen without it tucked under an arm if they wanted to be regarded as serious people concerned about the plight of the less fortunate. The dismal tale of exploding inequality and capitalist failure has been a recurring theme in political chatter ever since. But a new report highlights just how poorly Mr. Piketty’s thesis has held up under further study.

    This column should note that some scholars saw problems right from the start. In a 2014 Journal op-ed, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein ticked off a series of fundamental errors, including those related to Mr. Piketty’s practice of comparing the incomes of top earners with total national income. “National income excludes the value of government transfer payments including Social Security, health benefits and food stamps that are a large and growing part of the personal incomes of low- and middle-income households,” wrote the Harvard prof.

    One of my progressive Facebook friends condescendingly tossed some Piketty-based propaganda at me a couple weeks back; wish I'd had this Freeman article around to rebut.

  • Occasionally the right-wing response to the various rumors about Mueller's investigation of Trump/Russia seem to be hopelessly rosy about Trump's outcome. But Megan McArdle of the WaPo is no GOP hack, and she asks and possibly answers: Who’s most at risk from the Russia investigation? It just might be the Democrats..

    But the greatest danger may be the one facing Democrats: that the investigations end up with not quite enough evidence to justify impeachment — and the Democrats nonetheless go ahead and impeach Trump anyway. If the Mueller investigation ends without a credible, direct link between the president and Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Democratic base would still clamor to impeach him over the campaign finance violations that prosecutors have connected to the hush-money payments. If the activists clamor loud enough, impeachment may well happen simply because no one in the Democratic caucus wants to be the one who breaks the bad news to them.

    The result would be a replay of the Clinton impeachment, only with each team taking the other side of the field. Democrats would have their own Lindsey Graham problems — Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) trying to explain why Trump’s behavior is worse than a president having sex with a 22-year-old White House intern and then concealing the affair with a spot of perjury. But those arguments, no matter how ingenious, wouldn’t travel well outside of the left’s ideological bubble. Explaining that everything has changed since the #MeToo movement arrived wouldn’t be much help.

    I don't care much about what happens to Trump, but I care about what happens to the country. Where's MoveOn when you need them? Well, about where you would expect.

  • And at Reason, Jacob Sullum looks at the bad news around Trump's pick for Attorney General: William Barr’s Never-Ending War.

    William Barr, Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, believes the president has vast, unilateral authority to protect national security, which he says is threatened by the distribution of psychoactive substances the government has decreed Americans should not want.

    Those positions are a dangerous combination that is apt to encourage the worst instincts of a president who portrays himself as tough on crime, promises to stop the flow of illegal drugs, and revels in pointless military displays. With Barr as attorney general and Trump as president, we may see an increasingly literal war on drugs in which aggression masquerades as self-defense.

    Worse than Jeff Sessions? Sigh, probably.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> Or, actually, not so good news. The latest Human Freedom Index is out, and Cato reports: Human Freedom Falls in More Countries than Not. Notably:

    New Zealand and Switzerland are the two freest countries on this year’s index, while Venezuela and Syria rank last. The United States ranks 17. In 2008, it ranked 11, then fell notably until 2013, after which it rose through 2016, the latest year for which the index gathers sufficient data that is comparable globally.

    Note: that's all pre-Trump data. Who knows what next year will bring?

  • At the possibly-paywalled WSJ, James B. Freeman writes on The Unbelievable James Comey.

    Can the story former FBI Director James Comey told Congress on Friday possibly be true? In a joint executive session of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, Mr. Comey presented himself as unaware and incurious regarding one of the most consequential investigations the FBI has ever conducted. After describing how little he knew about the federal government’s use of its surveillance powers against associates of the presidential campaign of the party out of power in 2016, Mr. Comey then assured lawmakers that the launching of the investigation was proper and free of political bias.

    As Richard Nixon allegedly urged his aides back in the 1973 about testifying under oath: “Just be damn sure you say, ‘I don’t remember, I can’t recall. I can’t give any honest — an answer to that that I can recall.’" They didn't get away with it, but I bet Comey will.

  • At the Library of Economics and Liberty, Scott Sumner poses an interesting query: What should be regarded as property?.

    Tangible products such as bicycles and haircuts and food are considered by economists to be rival goods, consumption of the good by one person prevents its use by another. Non-rival goods include things like broadcast TV. If I tune in to Seinfeld, it doesn’t prevent another person from tuning in to the same show. For that reasons, private broadcast TV companies were not able to charge money for their service, and instead relied on advertising revenue. (The publicly-owned BBC was a different story.)

    Most intellectual property has a non-rival characteristic.  Use of an idea by one person doesn’t prevent the use of the idea by another.  So should ideas be regarded as private property?  In other words, should inventions be granted intellectual property rights? And if so, to what degree?

    Scott is not immodest enough to provide a concrete answer, but his post is required reading for folks who worry about such things. Open question.

  • The Google LFOD alert buzzed for a Business Insider story: The CDC issued a warning about not eating raw cookie dough and people don't care at all.

    Flour and raw eggs, both of which are often used in dough and batter, can contain bacteria and salmonella, which pose health risks. The CDC noted that in 2016, E. coli outbreak traced back to raw flour made 63 people sick.

    But many truly do not care about the health risks.

    Adapted from a response to a Facebook friend yesterday: As usual, numbers or solid facts that might allow people to make up their own minds about the risks involved are not easy to find among the "just say no to dough" hoopla. You'd think the CDC might do better. One anecdote about a two-year-ago E. coli outbreak? Just one not particularly helpful data point.

    I've seen estimates that (back in the 90s) the prevalence of salmonella in eggs was 1 in 20,000; it's almost certainly far lower now, and I would imagine your odds improve even further if you get your eggs from a non-sketchy source.

    As for the flour, they point to a 56-person E. coli "outbreak" back in 2016 linked to raw flour. Here's an article that puts that in some context: Why you shouldn't panic about E.coli in your flour.

    And, oh right:

    Thanks, Kaitlin!

  • And those wacky libertarians over at the Union Leader chronicle the latest bit of small-town statism: Shop owners angry as Keene passes tobacco ban.

    Shop owners are angry after the Keene City Council passed a ban on tobacco and other nicotine product sales to people under the age of 21, saying the city is hurting small businesses.

    “I think it’s ridiculous,” said Dan Cavallero, owner of Monadnock Vapors on Washington Street. “I think it’s the first step in making New Hampshire unrecognizable as the Live Free Or Die state.”

    Actually, Dan, it's one more step in making New Hampshire unrecognizable as the Live Free Or Die state.

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:54 AM EDT

She's Funny That Way

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

Why yes, we did watch two screwball comedies in a row. Good catch. This one's from 2014, and it languished in my Netflix queue for a few years due to Netflix's algorithm's prediction that I might not like it much. But I have a little script that tells me, in essence, among other things: "Either bump this movie to the top of the queue, or delete it." And I did the former.

Anyway: it was directed and co-written by Peter Bogdonovich, who made some great films in the 70s.

Director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) checks into a fancy hotel under a fake name, and immediately makes arrangements for an "escort", Isabella Patterson (Imogen Poots), who turns out to be a hooker with a heart of gold, and acting aspirations as well.

Without going into detail (because the details are ludicrous), the plot quickly involves more and more goofy characters: an actor in Albertson's play (Rhys Ifans); Albertson's wife (Kathryn Hahn); Isabella's totally unqualified shrink (Jennifer Aniston); an Isabella-infatuated judge (Austin Pendleton); the playwright (Will Forte). Unexpected and surprising relationships between characters are revealed as the movie progresses. There are a lot of slamming hotel room doors and suspicious looks.

I had a good time watching. One neat bit for me: a lot of actors from Bogdonovich's old movies have roles here: Austin Pendleton, Tatum O'Neal, Colleen Camp, Cybill Shepherd, Joanna Lumley, and maybe others I've missed. Bogdonovich must be a good guy to work with.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • I was pointed to this David Bahnsen article at Forbes thanks to a tweet by National Review publisher Jack Fowler, who said "I wish to hell [National Review Online] published this." High praise! But on to the show: Amazon Has Teed Up A Generation Of Conservative Electoral Success, And We Apparently Don't Want It.

    It may seem that there has been ample conservative opposition to the recent announcement of Amazon’s sweetheart deals to open an office expansion in Queens, NY and Arlington, VA, but the fact of the matter is that the opposition has been grossly inadequate, unless conservatives are content to let Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez grab the mantle of principled opposition to corporate welfare.  At National Review, Jim Geraghty did a stellar job whacking the announcements for what they were – a celebration of crony capitalism.  Other writers took on the issue here and there, but the national press coverage of opposition to the deal was overwhelmingly from the left, and virtually no high profile public elected officials on the right took it on at all.

    David's right, of course. And he doesn't even mention Wisconsin soon-to-be-ex-Governor Scott Walker's Foxconn deal, which probably lost him the election. As many wise people have said over the years: there's a huge distinction between being pro-market and pro-business. If Republicans can't learn that, they really are the stupid party.

  • Two Brit university professors, Matthew Goodwin and Eric Kaufmann, write at Quillette: What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration.

    Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way.

    This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On the night itself, we repeatedly returned to this phrasing because it is the clearest way of distinguishing competing positions.

    "… and you won't believe what happened next!" Or, actually, if you've been following this stuff for awhile, you will be able to predict what happened next. Slanders and slurs about "white nationalism", "nativism", "racism", … Activists made no effort was made to engage with the issue because that would "normalise far-right hate."

  • [Amazon Link]
    I read Jason Brennan's Against Democracy (link at right) a couple years back, and liked it quite a bit. He's now a contributor to Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and his most recent article attempts to discover the purpose of political philosophy. And the answer is… The Purpose of Political Philosophy Is to Rationalize Evil. He imagines a hyper-logical Vulcan, T’Luminareth, to whom he gives the standard answer: "The purpose of political philosophy is to determine the standards by which we judge institutions good or bad, just or unjust.”

    She shook her head. “No, that’s not right. Perhaps that’s what Earthling political philosophy aspires to do. But that’s not what it does. Rather, for the most part, Earthling political philosophy attempts to justify holding government agents and political actors to absurdly low moral standards. Nearly all of your philosophers—from Plato to Aristotle to Hobbes to Rousseau to Marx to Mill to Rawls to Habermas—spent most of their time trying to prove that governments and their agents are exempt from normal, commonsense moral obligations. You Earthlings seem to think your governments and their agents are magical, as if they’re surrounded by force field that both relieves them of their basic moral duties and requires you to treat them as if they have a privileged moral status over the rest of you. Hundreds of years ago, you believed in the divine right of kings. You Earthlings realized that was a mistake. Yet rather than reject the idea altogether, you’ve imbued all government agents, including yourselves as when you vote, with a magical and majestic exemption from normal standards of right and wrong.”

    Provocative! Jason has a new book coming out in a couple days, and I've put it on the things-to-read list.

  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi writes In Defense Of 'Dark Money'.

    Although the term “dark money” sounds ominous and unsavory, it’s just a misleading neologism adopted by activist journalists to make completely legal contributions to political causes they disagree with sound creepy and illegitimate. It’s become dogma among journalists to treat “dark money” as an attack on democracy. It’s not.

    The use of the phrase “dark money” reminds me of words like “loophole,” which, in its new political parlance, means “any act, although wholly legitimate, that Democrats have yet to figure out how to regulate or tax.” It’s a rhetorical shortcut meant to intimate wrongdoing.

    David notes that the spooky term is deployed asymmetrically in the press against groups leaning conservative/libertarian.

    But the general principal holds: people can (or at least should be able to) judge the quality of arguments without knowing the identity or funding source of the people making it. Yes, sometimes it's interesting information. But it's never necessary.

    If you find yourself reading an argument against your position and wondering "who paid for this?", it's maybe because you can't otherwise refute it.

  • A print-Reason article by Matt Welch is released from behind the paywall, and it's a sobering look at the election results: The Libertarian Party Future, Perennially Out of Reach.

    "He's going to finish certainly no worse than second, and maybe first," Libertarian Party (L.P.) 2016 vice presidential nominee Bill Weld enthused about Massachusetts state auditor candidate Dan Fishman in mid-October. And once Fishman grabs all those votes, Weld declared, "[We're going] to make a list of every campaign for whatever office this year that Libertarians fare no worse than second, and then we're going to take that and publicize it strongly. I think that's going to be a crevasse in the two-party monopoly."

    It looked like Weld might be onto something two weeks later when The Boston Globe took the highly unusual step of endorsing the L.P. candidate for a job that's been held, in all living memory, by Democrats. "Fishman would bring a sorely needed independent streak to the office," the region's dominant newspaper proclaimed. "Give this Libertarian a shot."

    Massachusetts voters declined the advice. When the smoke cleared on November 6, the would-be Libertarian auditor for the government of Taxachusetts finished not first, not second, but a distant third place, with a desultory 4.2 percent of the vote. The effort was enough to give the party automatic statewide ballot access for 2020—no small achievement—but not enough to stave off the national wave of nausea that afflicted many libertarians on election day.

    Matt also points out that incumbent New Hampshire Libertarian state representatives Brandon Phinney and Caleb Dyer lost badly. He could have, but doesn't, note that the LPNH lost the automatic ballot access that it won in 2016, when its gubernatorial candidate didn't come close to meeting the 4% vote requirement. Sigh.

  • And at Inside Sources, Michael Graham piles on the woes for Senator Fauxcahontas: Elizabeth Warren's 2020 "Tribe" Troubles Don't End With DNA Debacle.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s struggles to overcome the impact of her unproven—and likely incorrect—claims of Native American ancestry are well known. This week the New York Times reported that Warren and her close aides are finally realizing what many political observers have long known, that her strategy to use a DNA test to resolve the controversy was a fiasco.

    But Warren’s been working on another effort to burnish her Native American bona fides that could be just as problematic: H­­elping the Massachusetts-based Mashpee Wampanoag tribe secure a $1 billion casino project in southeastern Massachusetts. As a result, Warren is making a strange bedfellow of a scandal-plagued, billion-dollar multi-national corporation–exactly the sort of company she has railed against at an outspoken economic populist.

    Casinos are designed to encourage people to make bad choices with their money. You'd think that might be something Elizabeth Warren would be against. Is she sacrificing her principles in order to curry favor with Native American constituents? Or is there something even more corrupt going on?

The Phony Campaign

2018-12-09 Update

[phony baloney]

This week, Hillary Clinton has dropped below our inclusion criterion (3% or better nomination probability according to Predictwise), and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for some reason, has (barely) met it. So: still 16 candidates, with a more bipartisan split: 9 donkeys, 7 elephants. But President Trump widened his phony lead on the field this week:

Candidate NomProb Change
Donald Trump 67% unch 3,210,000 +890,000
Nikki Haley 5% unch 1,340,000 +310,000
Beto O'Rourke 18% unch 724,000 -127,000
Kamala Harris 18% +1% 583,000 +24,000
Sherrod Brown 4% +1% 290,000 +134,000
Bernie Sanders 7% unch 239,000 +1,000
Mitt Romney 3% unch 221,000 -18,000
Joe Biden 9% -1% 211,000 -7,000
Elizabeth Warren 5% -1% 201,000 +7,000
Kirsten Gillibrand 4% unch 198,000 +7,000
Paul Ryan 3% unch 187,000 -406,000
Mike Pence 8% unch 165,000 -3,000
Amy Klobuchar 4% -2% 87,900 -4,400
Cory Booker 4% unch 62,900 -3,100
John Kasich 4% unch 60,900 -4,400
Tom Cotton 3% --- 21,100 ---

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham gives his view of the Democratic nomination horse race: Beto’s Up, Warren’s Down and Avenatti’s Out. We've managed to ignore the so-called "creepy porn lawyer" up until now, but apparently …

    Lots of 2020 news for New Hampshire, starting with the departure of 2018’s Summer Superstar, Michael Avenatti.  The L.A. lawyer had an electric effect on the crowds at Democratic events in New Hampshire, and some longtime Granite State politicos had high praise for him.

    Alas, we'll have to make do, for now, with more conventional pols. And Trump.

  • Fox News reporter Lukas Mikelionis put his ear to the ground and noticed: New York Democrat Gillibrand mocked for saying future is 'female' and 'intersectional'. The New York senator tweeted, she thought inspirationally:

    If we could only somehow harness the renewable energy of millions of eyeballs rolling skyward when reading Senator Gillibrand's tweets, our climate change problems would be solved. Among Lukas's tweet harvest:

    That's… not bad, actually. In a saner world, the president would delegate his tweeting to Junior.

  • We gave up on following Andrew Sullivan years back, when he was obsessing over Sarah Palin's uterus. But he's on target in pinpointing America’s New Religions.

    Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

    Maybe I like that because I've said the same damned thing hundreds of times myself. (I'd like to know what Sean Carroll says about it though.)

    Anyway, Andrew gets around to commenting on Senator Gillibrand's tweet:

    I get the point: Women are succeeding more than ever before, are poised to do even better, and this is a great thing. But why express this as if men are also not part of the future? And “intersectional”? It’s telling that, in Democratic circles, this is such a mainstream word now that she doesn’t have to explain it to anyone.

    Gillibrand’s evolution, of course, has been long in the works — and reveals, I’d say, where the Democrats are going. When Gillibrand was a member of Congress, she identified as a Blue Dog conservative Democrat. She once campaigned in defense of gun rights, was in favor of cracking down on illegal immigration, voted against the 2008 bank bailout, and opposed marriage equality. Fast-forward a decade and look at the change.

    "Evolution" is, for our pols, a shorthand for "changing positions to maximize electability".

    I would wager that the senator not only feels that she doesn't have to explain her use of "intersectional" to anyone, I bet she couldn't explain it to anyone without sounding ridiculous.

  • The staid NYT casts a cold eye on Senator Fauxcahontas: Elizabeth Warren Stands by DNA Test. But Around Her, Worries Abound.

    The plan was straightforward: After years of being challenged by President Trump and others about a decades-old claim of Native American ancestry, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would take a DNA test to prove her stated family origins in the Cherokee and Delaware tribes.

    But nearly two months after Ms. Warren released the test results and drew hostile reactions from prominent tribal leaders, the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened. Conservatives have continued to ridicule her. More worrisome to supporters of Ms. Warren’s presidential ambitions, she has yet to allay criticism from grass-roots progressive groups, liberal political operatives and other potential 2020 allies who complain that she put too much emphasis on the controversial field of racial science — and, in doing so, played into Mr. Trump’s hands.

    Apparently (according to the last link) it's standard Native American dogma to eschew genetic tests. So the senator is in a tad of trouble from them, too.

  • But James Freeman of the (maybe paywalled) WSJ asks: Too Soon for Democrats To Dump Elizabeth Warren?.

    President Donald Trump has famously ridiculed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American heritage. Perhaps more damaging to the Massachusetts leftist as she considers running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, many natural allies aren’t buying her story either. But before Democrats reject her as a potential leader of their party, they ought to consider the alternatives. She is not the first and won’t be the last politician to make phony autobiographical claims.

    For example, Freeman notes, compared to Senator-Non-Elect Beto O'Rourke (quoting Alfredo Corchado in the Dallas Morning News):

    O’Rourke was born in prestige, lived a charmed life, raised in an upper-class lifestyle by people accustomed to power -- a sharp contrast to that of a mostly Mexican-American, hardscrabble city where workers still barely make ends meet...

    In the backdrop of the city’s multicultural community, his father, Pat O’Rourke, a consummate politician, once explained why he nicknamed his son Beto: Nicknames are common in Mexico and along the border, and if he ever ran for office in El Paso, the odds of being elected in this mostly Mexican-American city were far greater with a name like Beto than Robert Francis O’Rourke.

    We can only hope that this who's-phoniest issue gets brought up in debates.

  • At NR, Jonathan S. Tobin notes a side effect of the truth-challenged current president: Donald Trump Makes Joe Biden Plausible.

    Also like Trump, Biden has a famously loose relationship with the truth. When asked in Montana about the accusations of law-school plagiarism that helped derail his 1988 bid for the presidency, he said, “It all came out in the wash — I never did plagiarize, I never did — and it all was proven that that never happened.”

    That, of course, was a brazen lie. Biden even admitted to his guilt at the time. And even setting aside that particular incidence of plagiarism, the sum of his conduct in 1988 speaks for itself. He embarrassed himself over and over again during that campaign. He was found to have blatantly stolen the stump speech of another politician, British Labour-party leader Neil Kinnock, and to have lifted passages from speeches by JFK, RFK, and Hubert Humphrey. He was also found to have lied about his college grades and the degrees he had earned while campaigning.

    Tobin further notes that Biden is the "only likely Democratic contender who is capable of competing with the president when it comes to wild, exaggerated accusations and rhetorical excess."

    Professional fact-checkers would have guaranteed job security if it came down to Trump vs. Biden.

  • In the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby dares to recommend that the country Break the Iowa/New Hampshire duopoly. The criticisms are the ones we've heard for years: Iowa and New Hampshire are too white, too old, etc. And the rest of the country is shut out from participating in the inevitable winnowing of the field that happens after (and sometimes before) the Iowa/NH action.

    The problem being that his recommended method…

    Here’s a better system:

    Every four years, the Republican and Democratic parties should hold a drawing to choose two different states to go to the head of the line. Limiting the drawing to, say, the 15 smallest states would preserve the traditional “retail” campaigning that voters and candidates prize in Iowa and New Hampshire. But — this is the crucial reform — the drawing should not take place until Jan. 1 of the presidential election year.

    At least in New Hampshire, the Secretary of State is empowered to set the primary date "7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election". So the "parties" can do whatever they want, but they can't stop us from voting when the SoS says.

    (Well, they could say: "we won't recognize the delegates from your state at our conventions." But see how well that goes over.)

    So: Neener neener, Jeff.

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At the Federalist, Jesse Kelly explains Why The Right Should Start Taking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Seriously. He's talking to me, I think.

    Do not underestimate this woman, and do not think your savage mockery of her stupidity will be an effective tool to stop her. It won’t. It will instead be personalized by her supporters, creating an army that will lay down and die for her (or at least vote for her), just like the army Trump has. You should be afraid of Ocasio-Cortez. Be much more afraid than you are.

    Through thick and thin, up and down, one thing about elections in America has never changed: you cannot win them without non-political people. It is the undecided masses who decide elections. They do not watch YouTube videos of Milton Friedman breaking down economics, and they’re unimpressed that you graduated summa cum laude. They may only glance at the nightly news for a few minutes, but they will get on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

    So: point out when she says stupid, false, and/or hypocritical things, but for goodness' sake, don't make fun of her.


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week is a slight pun: Climate Change Frenzy Clouds Our Judgment.

    So, as often happens, a weasel crawls up your tailpipe (I mean of your car, sicko). It then gets caught in the doohickey connecting the thing to thing that goes mmmm-chicka. And now your car is busted. The mechanic says it will cost $5,000 to de-weasel your diesel engine.

    But you don’t have five grand lying around. So what do you do?

    Obviously, you ask the mechanic how to raise $5,000. I mean, he’s an expert on how to fix your car, he must also be an expert on how to pay for it. Right?

    You see the analogy, I assume. Except the analogy is flawed: because you really should imagine the mechanic is also in the business of making payday loans…

  • I subscribed to the Weekly Standard for a bit back in the 90's, thanks to a generous introductory offer. But then bailed, because subscribing was expensive. But now (you may have heard) the never-Trump conservative magazine is in peril, and Megan McArdle has some praise: The Weekly Standard may be teetering, but its anti-Trumpism is a model of standing firm on principle.

    In fact, ideological magazines always do better when their party is out of power and readers are fired up with outrage. But even if it’s true that the Weekly Standard’s troubles reflect the way Trump has divided the movement, there’s a more appropriate reaction than solemn finger-wagging about the true nature of conservatism. Instead, spare a moment to admire how many of the movement’s leading intellectuals held their ground, even as a substantial portion of the conservative base moved away.

    Those conservatives opposed Trump early and often — earlier, in fact, than many liberals. When the Republican nomination was still contested, plenty of left-leaning public intellectuals argued that he was preferable to supposedly more extreme candidates such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). In fairness, many of those people later admitted that they’d been wrong, although many also implausibly tried to suggest that they’d been unaware of Trump’s character flaws when they praised him.

    At some point, you have to be satisfied merely with being right about everything, all the time.

  • Daniel J. Mitchell offers up his candidate for The World’s Most Depressing Tweet. And here 'tis:

    You'll recognize these counties by their geographical proximity to … guess where?

    The D.C. metropolitan region is unjustly rich because of everyone else who has figured out how to divert taxpayer money into their pockets. That includes disgusting examples of Democrat sleaze and Republican sleaze.

    I'm pretty sure I've made this point before, but: the people who deride "trickle-down economics" when objecting to policies that keep more money in the private sector never seem to mind the cash flowing to Our Federal Government that tends not to trickle down, but to stay right around the Washington D.C. area.

  • Our Google LFOD alert rang for a Providence Journal story from Rhode Island Poet Laureate Tina Cane: This 'toxic' year gives humanity a stark choice.

    As 2018 draws to a close, it seems appropriate to note that the Oxford Word of the Year is toxic. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, since I hear and read this word every day in news articles and commentary. An apt adjective for our current cultural climate, toxic is widely used to characterize anything from political discourse to types of femininity and masculinity. That toxic’s most common usage is no longer relegated to medical waste or that cheesy Britney Spears song may not shock most of us, but it should sadden all of us. And that might be a good thing, for sadness is actually a more productive emotion than the ones that have brought us here.

    You'd think the Poet Laureate could and should write at least some doggerel for the paper about this instead of turgid prose. But no. She quotes a poem, but it's not ever hers, it's Auden, the one with the line "We must love one another or die." And…

    It’s said that Auden, disillusioned by the horrors that unfolded, changed the last line of his poem from We must love one another and die — a move which was effectively a commentary on the ineffectiveness of poetry to impact the state of the world. Still, Auden thought that this shift from “or” to “and” lacked rhetorical power and he removed the line altogether. When it was found years later in his drafts, Auden was convinced to include it as he had originally written it — perhaps because enough time had passed, perhaps because he wanted to preserve the poem’s integrity in accordance with his intention, rather than with the world’s ugly reality.

    I prefer the “or,” even if the “and” is true. Either way, “We must love one another or die” is a directive for our times — an antidote to the toxic tone we’ve managed to cultivate. It brings to mind New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live free or die,” in which Gen. John Stark, who led a charge in the Battle of Bunker Hill, captures America’s revolutionary spirit of independence. Times have changed, but America is still a democracy.

    We are free to decide how we treat one another — regardless of our persuasions — and we should exercise our freedom responsibly and with humanity. We can choose love, as Auden would advise, if we wish to. While love as a solution may sound simplistic, it’s a lot harder than it seems. Perhaps, we can start by putting toxic back in its box and by refusing to take the easy — angry — way out. Maybe then, next year’s Word of the Year can be something closer to respect or the gratitude emoji. That would be a mark of real independence.

    You know, I'm trying to find something to disagree with here, and … failing.

  • But on a lighter note, Seacoast Online gets spooky on us: 'Ghost Ship' docked at state pier. In Portsmouth, NH!

    The stealth and “supercapivating” [sic] water craft “Ghost Ship” has a new home on the state pier, next to the Piscataqua River, where it’s been docked for marketing purposes, explained Greg Sancoff, Juliet Marine Systems chief executive officer, who self-funded the Ghost Ship project.

    The ship has been described as being like a helicopter on water because it travels across water like a boat, but through a tunnel of gas below the surface. The significance of the technology means Ghost Ship moves through a gas instead of water, which has 900 times more drag.

    It looks very cool:

    And, for a bonus:

    On the back of Ghost Ship its home port is noted as Portsmouth, N.H. Over the rear door is the state’s slogan, “Live Free or Die.”

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie asks the musical question: Are You Ready for the 'Inevitable' Clampdown on Tech and the Media?.

    One of the most remarkable statements ever made by the CEO of a major corporation generated relatively little notice or pushback. But just a couple of weeks ago, there was Tim Cook, the head of Apple, spitting in the eye of the very economy that made his company the highest valued corporation on the planet.

    "I am not a big fan of regulation," Cook told Axios in an interview. "I'm a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn't worked here. I think it's inevitable that there will be some level of regulation... I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something."

    Nick is pissed, understandably so. And Nick writes like an angel when he's pissed.

    As always "the free market is not working" is Progressive-speak for "the free market isn't producing the results I want".

  • Neal Pollack, The Greatest Living American Writer, tells all at the Federalist: I Used To Be A Conservative, But I'm Not Anymore.

    I hereby disavow my conservatism, which I disavowed after disavowing my liberalism, which I disavowed after being conservative after being liberal. While I realize my many readers, who have followed me faithfully throughout my tortured ideological voyage, will find this latest about-face disappointing, I have no choice given our current political climate.

    As I write in my new book, “I Used To Be Conservative: Confessions Of A Conservative Who Used To Be A Conservative Who Used To Be A Liberal,” “I could no longer be a conservative, because being a conservative could no longer be an option.” How true that is.

    It helps if you have been paying attention to recent ideological stylings of (among others) Max Boot.

  • At NR, Jacob Huebert advocates Leveling the Campaign-Contribution Field.

    Can the government pass laws that effectively silence groups on one side of a political debate but not the other?

    You might think not. After all, under the Constitution, the government is supposed to treat everyone equally — especially when it comes to our participation in politics.

    Unfortunately, under the guise of “campaign-finance reform,” some states have enacted laws that muzzle some groups but not others. Massachusetts, for example, has completely banned for-profit businesses from giving money to political candidates and committees. But it allows unions to give candidates and committees up to $15,000. The state also lets unions — but not businesses — create their own political-action committees, which they can use to give even more money.

    Jacob is a lawyer with the Goldwater Institute, and is helping out on a lawsuit challenging the Massachusetts law.

  • Good news from David Brooks, the Concord Monitor geek-in-residence: More young adults are moving to New Hampshire. Hooray, says New Hampshire.

    The state’s demographics guru, Ken Johnson of the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy, regularly crunches census data to give big-picture looks at our population. A report out today is good news for this aged state: More young adults are moving here from other states. (Note to pearl-clutching white nationalists: In this case the word “migrants” covers anybody who moves across a state border, regardless of background.)

    I like the image of "pearl-clutching white nationalists', although "pearl-clutching" was considered to be a cliché by Slate even back in 2012.

    The Carsey report is here. Interestingly, older people (over 50) are (on net) getting the heck out.

  • And our Google LFOD alert rang for this story at mg ("the premier resource for everyone involved in the cannabis business sector"): Why Cannabis and Alcohol Sales Should Never, Ever be Co-located.

    A recent article in the Staten Island Advance newspaper started with a seemingly random Billy Joel reference: “A bottle of red. A baggie of weed.” As New York state moves ever closer to legalizing adult-use marijuana, this scene from a cannabis-infused Italian restaurant represents a more modern New York state of mind, indeed. But what follows this tongue-in-cheek lede is a disturbing trend we’re starting to see more and more as the commercial cannabis industry continues to expand.

    As the Advance reported: “As lawmakers in Albany draft a bill to legalize adult use of marijuana, a coalition of wine and liquor store owners is campaigning for the right to stock their shelves with the product. Organizers of The Last Store on Main Street (LSMS), which recently fought to keep wine out of grocery stores, said the effort is motivated in part by the fear of losing business.”

    Liquor stores wanting a piece of the legal marijuana pie are nothing new. From the live-free-or-die beauty of northeastern New Hampshire to the laid-back chill of California’s southwestern-most city San Diego, the conversation about liquor stores retailing adult-use cannabis is common. In fact, the same debate rocked Canada more than a year ago. […]

    OK, saying this discussion is happening in northeastern New Hampshire is a little weird. It depends on how you define things, of course, and the state is kind of funny-shaped, but at first glance there's nothing up there.

    As near as I can tell, the author's case against mixing marijuana and liquor sales is esthetic. Roughly paraphrasing: "Man, alcohol is a poison, man, and nobody ever died from smoking too much weed, man."

    But (in any case), the most recent legal-pot bill here specified that the New Hampshire Liquor Commission be the relevant body to regulate sales to the citizenry. Like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, though, I don't care.

The Complacent Class

The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

[Amazon Link]

A pretty good book from Tyler Cowen bemoaning the decreasing dynamism in America, and (worse) that the people who should care about it, don't. A book actually owned by the University Near Here, and (finally) the faculty member who had it out (due date 4/19/2019) returned it early.

If you were pretty happy about your job, home, educational opportunities for you and your kids, and America in general, Tyler's book should be like a big slap in the face with a wet fish. Not only shouldn't you be happy; it's that your happiness is actually a major part of the problem. Tyler thinks we should be a little more on edge.

Chapter by chapter, he picks at the troubling currents in American society. We are a lot less mobile, tending to stick in our communities when we could (theoretically) do better elsewhere. And those communities are increasingly segregated, not just on racial characteristics, but also by economic status, education, class, etc. Our companies are increasingly staid, investing less in R&D, content with maintaining the status quo, lacking innovation, stifling competition. (Even companies like Apple; when was the last time they came out with an actually revolutionary product? The IPhone, over a decade ago?)

Some social innovations have improved matching in all areas of life; music sites, for example, will provide you with an effectively infinite supply of music you are nearly guaranteed to like. Which is wonderful, but will you ever discover anything new?

And of course, pot is nearly totally legal. Talk about guaranteed complacency.

It's an adage that something that can't go on forever, won't. And (true enough) the decline in American dynamism has to stop at some point. Will we like the results when it all hashes out? Probably not, but at least we won't be complacent about it.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At Cato, Gene Healy (author of, not coincidentally, The Cult of the Presidency) bemoans the ongoing Imperial Rites for George H.W. Bush.

    The president described in the Federalist was to have “no particle of spiritual jurisdiction.” Yet there’s an unsettling, quasi-mystical orientation toward government at work in much of the ritual. While lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, the president’s body is placed atop the Lincoln Catafalque: the funeral bier constructed for our 16th president–one of the holy relics of the American civil religion. Above him hangs the cathedral-like ceiling, which features the fresco “The Apotheosis of Washington,” painted by Constantino Brumidi in 1865. It depicts the first president “sitting amongst the heavens in an exalted manner, or in literal terms, ascending and becoming a god.” I generally find the so-called “New Atheists” insufferable, but we could use a little of their militant impiety when it comes to our presidential cult.

    Unfortunately, it seems there's no easy path of retreat. Now that we've made all this fuss over Republican GHWB, are we going to say no to (likely to be next, sorry) Democrat Jimmy Carter?

  • Megan McArdle leaps into the fray with a semi-clickbait headline: The incredibly unpopular idea that could stem opioid deaths. Well, what is it?

    […] you don’t free slaves by killing them, and as long as fentanyl suffuses the illicit drug markets, that’s what a “tough love” policy amounts to. The drug naloxone can counter the effects of an opioid overdose, but death tolls have continued to rise even as public-health workers have made naloxone much more widely available. What about detox? About half of addicts who go through treatment are using again within six months, according to Sally Satel, a drug policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

    That leaves two options: Keep doing what we’re doing and let addicts keep dying as they’re dying, until the opioid epidemic burns itself out. Or start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren’t ready to stop. That would mean opening more methadone clinics and making it less onerous for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a relatively mild opioid that’s difficult to overdose on. But lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates.

    I'm for complete decriminalization of all drugs, but Megan's idea is fine too. Neither of our proposals are likely to go anywhere, because the "compassionate" politicians would essentially prefer that people keep dying instead.

  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi makes a scientific observation: Climate Change Alarmism Is The World’s Leading Cause Of Hot Gas.

    Even as anti-gas tax riots raged in France this week, the naturalist David Attenborough warned a crowd at a United Nations climate change summit in Poland that the “collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” UN General Assembly President Maria Espinosa told the media that “mankind” was “in danger of disappearing” if climate change is allowed to progress at its current rate.

    David recounts the long history of aieee!-we're-all-gonna-die doomsayers. It's not pretty, but they ought to reread that fable about the boy who cried wolf.

  • At NR, Michael Tanner asks a deceptively simple question: Why Are People Poor?.

    Too often, government policies help make or keep people poor. Rather than having another sterile debate over whether this program should be increased by $X billion or that program should be cut by $Y billion, we should strive for fundamental reform of those areas of government that most harm the poor…

    Michael outlines possible areas of anti-poverty action: reforming policies on criminal justice, education, housing, savings, and growth.

    Could it be that actually fixing things would but scads of government bureaucrats out of jobs?

  • 'Tis the season for year-end compilations, and you do not want to miss The Babylon Bee's Top Ten Books Of 2018. It is difficult, for example, to disagree with their number 10 pick:

    10.) Stop Browsing Facebook and Go Read A Friggin' Book You Morons — Karen Swallow Prior: Prior may be a little harsh here, but we like her overall message: log off Facebook and go read a friggin' book. Most of the book is written in all-caps as she yells at the reader to stop going on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks and just read some classic literature. Point taken, Karen!

    Many of these books can be read in one sitting, due to their non-existence. (There's at least one exception, though…)

  • And finally, the Google LFOD alert rang for a story in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat about a citizen of Pun Salad's hometown: Rollinsford man wins big on ‘Price is Right’.

    Lee Norton of Rollinsford won $43,390 in prizes to be precise — including a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, an SUV and a trip to Winnipeg, Canada — during a recent appearance on the popular game show “The Price Is Right.” The episode on which Norton appeared aired Tuesday morning on CBS.

    What was second prize? Two trips to Winnipeg? But anyway, where's the LFOD? Ah, here:

    “The Price Is Right” contestants are chosen from the audience with the iconic slogan “Come on down!” Norton was the first contestant selected on Tuesday’s show. He and Savannah, who was shown cheering from the audience, both wore green shirts that read “NH live free or die,” the state slogan.

    Live free or die? I choose ‘live free,’” host Drew Carey said, reacting to Norton’s shirt.

    Good for Lee. And Drew.

Last Modified 2018-12-06 2:05 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • I've been harping on Progressivism being a secular religion, especially evident in its attitude toward blasphemers and heretics that disagree. Another confirming data point is noted by Bre Payton in the Federalist: Apple CEO Tim Cook: It’s A ‘Sin’ To Not Ban Bad People From Tech Platform.

    Apple CEO Tim Cook said Monday night that not using one’s judgement to kick certain people off of tech platforms is a sin. While accepting the first-ever “Courage Against Hate” award from the Anti-Defamation League in New York City, Cook said that Apple is proud of exercising its judgement to kick certain people off of its platforms.

    “At Apple, we’re not afraid to say our values drive our curation decisions,” he said. “And why should we be?”

    As usual, the nice-sounding "I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person" has the understood small print: "Except you, bigot."

  • OK, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. But by now everyone should expect stories like this (from Peter Wood at the Federalist): Springfield College Attempts To Ruin Professor’s Life For Teaching About Male Writers. It's yet another example of how "it became dramatically easier to threaten and to intimidate anyone who crossed the invisible and often imaginary lines" in 21st Century Institutions of American Higher Education.

    The case of Professor Dennis Gouws at Springfield College in Massachusetts provides the best-documented instance of how this works. Gouws first came to national attention in spring 2016, when his department cancelled his popular undergraduate course, “Men in Literature,” which paralleled another offering in the English department, “Women in Literature.”

    The course on men in literature had been offered for many years and wasn’t controversial, but all at once the dean of the college, Anne Herzog, decided Gouws’s interest in teaching about men was, as we now say, problematic. Gouws had ventured onto thin ice by agreeing to co-edit a book on maleness; missing a “sexual harassment prevention” training session in 2013; and organizing a Springfield College “men’s group.” Herzog seized on a complaint from one student in “Men in Literature” to demand that he revise the course.

    There's plenty of back and forth, including some impressively nasty letters sent between Herzog and Gouws.

  • Drew Cline notes a birthday: “I, Pencil” turns 60.

    The Foundation for Economic Education is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Leonard Read’s famous essay “I, Pencil” with a series of essays about the essay that are worth reading for anyone who isn’t familiar with the groundbreaking original work.

    If you haven’t read “I, Pencil,” you must. It is a short, simple essay that makes profound points about market economics — points that are overlooked every day by millions of people whose lives are enriched by the market economy that we all take for granted.

    A click on the link above will take you to "I, Pencil".

  • Twitchy posts a tutorial on how to tweet JUST like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sample:

    Too mean? Well, there's more at the link.

  • But in the meantime, CongressCritter-elect Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

    As I said just the other day: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Democrat politician found to be lying by even Politifact and the WaPo must really be lying. And sure enough, Politico said: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrong on scale of Pentagon accounting errors. ("The comparison is specious." Rating: False)

    And the WaPo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s $21 trillion mistake. (Four Pinocchios, "It’s badly flawed.")

    AOC has trumpeted her econ degree from Boston College, but they might want to see about rescinding that.

  • And finally, my own Tweet having some fun with a bit of recent PETA silliness:

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Virginia Postrel writes at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Culture Matters.

    Libertarian intellectuals and activists know that culture matters. If I had a hundred bucks for every time I’d heard someone chalk up poverty to a black box called “culture” or demand that we “change the culture” or complain that Hollywood or the universities or the media or women in general are culturally biased against markets I could buy a vacation home. And not a cheap one, either.

    That culture matters isn’t controversial. The real issue is that most libertarians simply aren’t terribly curious about how culture works. They treat it as an instrument—a tool for promoting or hampering the advancement of their political ideas—rather than a phenomenon worthy of its own careful observation and analysis.

    Ms. Postrel has sharp eyes and insightful observations. I wish she were more prolific, because we could use more of that sort of thing nowadays.

  • At Quillette, Colin Wright has a bone to pick with The New Evolution Deniers.

    Counterintuitively, the social justice stance on human evolution closely resembles that of the Catholic Church. The Catholic view of evolution generally accepts biological evolution for all organisms, yet holds that the human soul (however defined) had been specially created and thus has no evolutionary precursor. Similarly, the social justice view has no problem with evolutionary explanations for shaping the bodies and minds of all organisms both between and within a species regarding sex, yet insists that humans are special in that evolution has played no role in shaping observed sex-linked behavioral differences. Why the biological forces that shape all of life should be uniquely suspended for humans is unclear. What is clear is that both the Catholic Church and well-intentioned social justice activists are guilty of gerrymandering evolutionary biology to make humans special, and keep the universal acid at bay.

    Also counterintuitively, the social justice league wrapped itself around the "I [Bleeping] Love Science" slogan. They should have added an asterisk: "* except where it conflicts with our religion."

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File discussed The Wars to Come.

    Dear Reader: The quickening is upon us. What I mean is that, while few people really have any clue what is going on, many are certain that It’s About to Go Down.

    And so the Great Loin-Girding has begun.

    In Green Rooms, in Editorial Rooms, in Conference Rooms of every hue and shape, and even in bathrooms where stewed bowels are uncorked like a confused drunk opening the emergency exit at 35,000 feet, people are preparing for what can only be described as the Mother of All Shinola Shows, only it won’t be shinola on the main stage. Reporters are rereading ten-year-old New Yorker profiles of bit players just so they can be ready to drop an obscure reference about a Russian oligarch. A striver at Breitbart is researching Robert Mueller’s family tree going back to the Duchy of Pomeria. Behind the scenes at Fox & Friends, things are more somber: There are a lot of prayer circles and quiet moments of solitude, as various hosts and producers stare out the window onto Sixth Avenue and ask themselves if they are ready for what is to come.

    I, for one, desperately want it to be over. In the possibly forlorn hope that Saturday Night Live will Move On to something funnier.

    But, like Jonah, I have no dog in this fight.

  • Hey, did you hear that George H.W. Bush died? Nick Gillespie soberly eulogizes at Reason: George H.W. Bush's Legacy Holds Little, Nothing for Libertarians To Celebrate.

    Former President George H.W. Bush, who served one term in office from 1989 through 1993, is dead at the age of 94. By all accounts, he was an exceptionally kind, decent, and thoughtful individual and his service as a Navy pilot in World War II—he was awarded the Distinguished Navy Cross and shot down over the Pacific—reminds us of a time when seemingly casual, superhuman heroism by young twentysomethings was the order of the day.

    Yet from a specifically libertarian view, there is little to celebrate and much to criticize regarding his presidency. With at least one notable exception, he did nothing to reduce the size, scope, and spending of government or to expand the ability of people to live however they wanted. If he was not as harshly ideological and dogmatic (especially on culture war issues) as contemporary conservatives, neither did he espouse any philosophical commitment to anything approaching "Free Minds and Free Markets." There's a reason he did not elicit strong negative responses or inspire enthusiasm: He lacked what he called "the vision thing." He had no overarching theory of the future, no organizing principle to guide his policymaking. That's not necessarily the worst thing in a president—we don't need a maximum leader, after all—but it also means he squandered an opportunity to set the coordinates for a post-Cold War world in the direction of maximum freedom.

    I don't remember specifically, but I probably voted for Jack Kemp over Bush in the 1988 New Hampshire Primary. And went for Bush in the general election, because even back then I thought Ron Paul, the Libertarian Party nominee, was a flake.

    1992? Probably went for Bush in the NH Primary (against Buchanan), and then Libertarian Andre Marrou in the general. Didn't like Bush breaking his "read my lips" promise.

  • Ex-presidents don't die very often, but I'm always amazed by the hoopla involved, treating a retired government employee as if he were a demigod. But, like Kurt Schlicter at Town Hall, I'm especially amazed at the MSM, who hated GHWB while he was politically active. But, for them, The Only Good Republican Is A Dead Republican.

    The death of President George H. W. Bush provided liberals and their Fredocon houseboys yet another opportunity to lament the fact that all Republicans aren’t dead. Their feigned amnesia about what libs were saying while Bush 41 was still in the arena, and their latest hack attempt to tsk tsk tsk tsk about how the Bad Orange Man isn’t like [Insert Name of Dead Republican Here] serves to justify the prophylactic cynicism that we Normals should strive to cultivate.

    I'm probably what Kurt would consider a "Fredocon", but he's pretty on target.

  • OK, this tweet is really all I need to mourn his passing:

    That's "Sully", GHWB's service dog. Mental Floss has more on Sully.

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:54 AM EDT

The Awful Truth

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

A fine screwball comedy from 1937 that somehow I've managed to miss up until now.

Noted screwballer Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play upperclass socialites Jerry and Lucy Warriner. Jerry fibs to Lucy about his recent whereabouts (I don't know where he went, but it wasn't Florida) and Lucy shows up after being out all night with a suave male companion. Mutual suspicion breeds mutual distrust, and before you can say "can't we discuss this as adults", there is mutual agreement on a divorce. The only issue is who gets the cute doggie, Mr. Smith. (After some shenanigans, Mr. Smith goes to Lucy, with visiting rights to Jerry.)

But there's a 90-day wait before the divorce becomes final, and the remainder of the movie chronicles the misadventures of the (obviously still in love) couple as they struggle to come up with new partners and lives. Will they concede the obvious and get back together? Spoiler: yup.

Just about all the characters are very very rich, and this was in the midst of the Great Depression. Audiences didn't seem to mind, though; it won an Oscar for Best Director (Leo McCarey), and was nominated for five more, including Best Picture.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson writes on Twitter Magic. (An "NRPLUS Member Article, I still don't know what that means as far as visibility.) The issue is Twitter's decision to make so-called "deadnaming", calling trans people by the old names they've forsaken, an offense which can get your account suspended or yanked. Bottom line:

    This is only secondarily a political question. At its roots this is an issue of superstition, an irrational — antirational — belief that words and things as intrinsically linked in a mystical way, and that the right incantation at the right time can create — or undo — reality itself. It is necessary to understand that the dynamic here is not that of a political disagreement. Trying to respond to this fanaticism as though one were moderating the terms of a political debate is to miss the point. This isn’t the authoritarianism of a Stalin or a Pinochet, but the authoritarianism of a Calvin or a Luther, laundered through the oddball sexual obsessions of our time.

    And why the authoritarianism?

    It takes a very tall and sturdy wall to protect a house of cards.

    Apparently, a subset of self-described feminists are upset when guys decide are actually female. (We've previously mentioned Meghan Murphy, who got Twitter-suspended for her heretical tweets.) Nobody much cares about the gals who decide they're dudes.

  • At Reason, Baylen Linnekin informs us that Maine’s Food Sovereignty Law Is a Hit.

    One year after Maine's groundbreaking food sovereignty law took effect, the capital city of Augusta has become the latest municipality to set food freedom in stone.

    Maine's first-in-the-nation food sovereignty law, An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, allows local governments in the state to pass ordinances that exempt many direct-to-consumer food sales within city limits from burdensome state licensing and inspection requirements.

    I'm ignorant about what the relevant law is in New Hampshire. I do see a number of direct-to-consumer farmstands, including one in my own town selling (eek!) raw milk. So it may be that we just bypassed the regulatory nonsense that Maine is trying to undo.

  • Scott Morefield of the Daily Caller asks the musical questions: What Is ‘Ballot Harvesting,’ And How Did California Dems Use It To Nuke The GOP?. The symptoms are ominous:

    As the polls closed on election day last month, six California Republican House candidates, including Representatives Dana Rohrabacher, Steve Knight, and Mimi Walters, were ahead in their respective races. However, as the absentee and provisional ballots rolled in over the intervening weeks, all six lost to their Democratic opponents.

    At issue is the recently-legalized practice of allowing anyone to collect "vote by mail" ballots and submit them for counting, without a lot of checking for fraud. Orange County had a quarter-million such ballots, and it's pretty clear the Democrats out-maneuvered the Republicans on that score.

    Democrats keep claiming that there's "no evidence" of widespread voting fraud; they conveniently ignore the fact that the system is set up so that voting fraud is undetectable.

  • Philosopher Michael Huemer has started a blog titled Fake Nous (heh), and I've added it to my blogroll. Sample post, where Michael admits that he's Tired of arguing. Specifically, with "Christian proselytizers, subjectivists, Randian objectivists, Marxists, positivists, other victims of scientism." A couple of his reasons:

    1. I’m not going to learn anything. I know these ideologies. It is highly unlikely that the next Marxist I meet is going to say something importantly different from all the other Marxists. If they do, it’s still highly unlikely that I’m going to find it interesting or illuminating. I’ll probably just find it confused or irrational. Unless they’re an established scholar, there’s a pretty good chance that I will actually know more than they do about their own ideology, and I’ll have to teach them what ridiculous thing they’re supposed to say at a given point in the conversation.
    2. They’re not going to learn anything either. I have a fair chance of being able to tell, say, the positivist subjectivist something relevant that they don’t yet know. But it is extremely unlikely that they’re going to use it to improve their belief system. They’ll just try to make up an excuse for disregarding it.
    3. I find it tedious to struggle with people to convince them to open their mind.

    I occasionally get into it with some of my lefty Facebook friends. Maybe my unacknowledged motives for doing so are ignoble? I'll try to check that next time.

  • I am not sure whether the Intersectionality Score Calculator is a joke or not.

    You may have heard of intersectionality - "the theory that the overlap of various social identities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, contributes to the systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual" - but don't know how to compare your level of oppression with others. Now, you can!

    Just move the sliders—there are 13 of them: White/Person of Color, Straight/Gay, Male/Female, etc. And you get a score at the end.

    I got a 5% ("You are more privileged than 94% of others!") Take that, haters!

The Phony Campaign

2018-12-02 Update

[phony baloney]

Our 3% nomination probability threshold (according to Predictwise) is more of a semi-permeable membrane at this point of the phony campaign. This week saw John Hickenlooper go under 3%, but (hey!) somebody named "Mitt Romney" has popped above it. So we still have a healthy field of 16, six Republicans (if you count Donald Trump) and 10 Democrats (if you count Bernie Sanders).

And (of course) Trump leads the pack by far in phoniness, as judged by Google result counts:

Candidate NomProb Change
Donald Trump 67% -4% 2,320,000 -100,000
Nikki Haley 5% unch 1,030,000 0
Hillary Clinton 3% -1% 880,000 -40,000
Beto O'Rourke 18% +3% 851,000 -239,000
Paul Ryan 3% unch 593,000 +390,000
Kamala Harris 17% unch 559,000 +5,000
Mitt Romney 3% --- 239,000 ---
Bernie Sanders 7% unch 238,000 +15,000
Joe Biden 10% +3% 218,000 -21,000
Elizabeth Warren 6% -4% 194,000 +15,000
Kirsten Gillibrand 4% unch 191,000 +26,000
Mike Pence 8% unch 168,000 -18,000
Sherrod Brown 3% unch 156,000 +5,000
Amy Klobuchar 6% +2% 92,300 -6,400
Cory Booker 4% +1% 66,000 0
John Kasich 4% unch 65,300 +24,100

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • [Amazon Link]
    Bernie has a new book out (Amazon link at right), and his promotion efforts were noticed by Newsweek: Bernie Sanders Slams Donald Trump As a ‘Total Phony’ Who’s Only An ‘Extreme Right-Winger’ To Get Votes.

    President Donald Trump’s conservative agenda is not grounded in any real beliefs held by the president but is based solely on Trump’s pandering for votes, according to independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday.

    Sanders blasted Trump as a political leader with no true beliefs and who previously held far more left-wing views well before he ever entered politics.

    “Look he has no political belief. He is a total phony and a political opportunist,” Sanders said of the president to CNN while promoting his new book Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance. The progressive movement leader also detailed how Democrats can form a message to appeal to voters in the Midwest and around the country.

    Bernie, of course, is no stranger to changing positions in order to pander for votes.

    I agree with Bernie (however) that Trump's political positions are stuck on "inchoate", but his analysis is facile. He exemplifies the standard Progressive view about non-Progressives: they're either (a) being paid off by plutocrats; or (b) in the grip of some combination of stupid/ignorant/insane/evil/pathetic psychological dysfunction.

    Data point: WaPo article from November 29: How Donald Trump appeals to men secretly insecure about their manhood.

    Another example:

    Former President Barack Obama listed "mommy issues" as one explanation why U.S. has failed to make progress addressing policy problems ranging from education to the environment.

    "The reason we don't do it because we are still confused, blind, shrouded with hate, anger, racism, mommy issues," Obama said, specifically using the possibility of decreasing carbon emissions by 30 percent with available technology as an example.

    The guy who talked about "bitter clingers" … is still bitterly clinging to his simplistic views of his opponents.

  • You've heard of people singing from the same hymn sheet. A recent example had a CBS "journalist" singing a lovely duet with Bernie: Gayle King Finishes Bernie Sanders’ Sentences During CBS Interview.

    "As we talk about Black Friday and people shopping, we should remember that millions of workers who are out there now who are selling us products in department stores are making what I consider to be starvation wages," Sanders said.

    "Yeah," King said.

    "And I think we have got to finally make it clear that if you work 40 hours a week in America, you know what?" Sanders said.

    "You should not be poor. Yeah," King said.

    Alternate theory: Bernie's so utterly predictable in his stale tropes that an impatient interviewer might want to finish his sentences just to move things along, in hopes that he'll go on to say something new.

  • American Greatness, as its name implies, is a little too Trumpian-cheerleader for me to visit regularly, but Brit journalist Christopher Gage has an agreeably nasty article there: Brutal Truths for ‘Beto’ Believers.

    Only in the Current Year could an Irishman married to a billionaire pretend to be a Latino progressive fighting for the little guy. The title for biggest phony threatens to desert Rachel Dolezal.

    Beto O’Rourke, who is about as Hispanic as a penchant for California rolls makes me Emperor Hirohito, is running for president.

    It's not bad, and even has a Nathaniel Branden mention later in the article to appeal to us libertarians.

  • As our table shows, the betting markets show Beto with the current best shot (18%) at the Democratic nomination, edging out Kamala Harris (17%). Kamala can give Beto a run for his money on phoniness, though. It's not recent, but Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown took on The Phony Feminism of Kamala Harris.

    Kamala Harris has long positioned herself as a feminist crusader. But both as attorney general of California and now as a member of the U.S. Senate, she has actively championed policies that deny women's agency, ratchet up female incarceration, and endanger those most vulnerable to sexual abuse. Along the way, she has shown an utter disregard for civil liberties and constitutional law—a tendency she will now get to take to the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Note that this was written back in January, long before the Kavanaugh hearings, where Kamala beclowned herself by:

    California Sen. Kamala Harris and other prominent Democrats distorted Brett Kavanaugh's statements on birth control in widely shared warnings that the Supreme Court nominee is a woman-hating religious extremist. Harris' comments about Kavanaugh have been deemed whoppers by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler and ruled as false by the lie detectors at Politifact.

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Democrat politician found to be lying by even Politifact and the WaPo must really be lying.

  • Bad news for the "Hillary, but younger" candidate: Franken Fallout Continues to Hurt 2020 Hopeful Gillibrand Among Donors.

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) might have thought she helped Democrats put former Sen. Al Franken’s groping scandal behind them, but big-money donors are keeping the issue alive.

    The donors preoccupied with the scandal are predominately in Franken’s corner, according to a report from Politico declaring that the matter "haunts Gillibrand’s 2020 chances." The report comes after Gillibrand was blackballed by mega-donor George Soros, who accused the New York senator of stabbing Franken in the back to improve her 2020 chances.

    An older story on Senator G from Paul Bois at the Daily Wire: Kirsten Gillibrand Is A Shape-Shifting Phony. Here Are 10 Times She Flip-Flopped Positions.

  • And we have a Trump/Pence/Hillary three-for-one phony bonus in this Politico story from Rebecca Morin, apparently one of the staffers assigned the sorry task of monitoring and analyzing presidential retweets: Trump retweets fake Pence account giving thanks for Clinton's 2016 loss.

    President Donald Trump on Wednesday shared a post from a parody account of Vice President Mike Pence giving thanks “for every day Hillary Clinton is not president.”

    The post was originally shared by @MikePenceVP, a profile that uses the same photo as one of Pence’s verified accounts but describes itself as a “fan account. My Goal is to expose liberal hypocrisy and Fake News Bias.” The vice president’s official Twitter accounts are @VP and @Mike_Pence.

    Here's the tweet in question:

    The issue in the Politico writer's mind seems to be whether Trump knew it was from a fan account (not really a "parody" account), and not the real veep. And she admits she doesn't know.

    Hmph. Without even so much as a "sorry I wasted the time that you spent reading this."

Last Modified 2018-12-20 6:43 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

Happy December to all!

  • When I was a young 'un, I remember reading Frank Meyer's book In Defense of Freedom, which set forth his "fusionist" philosophy attempting to reconcile mostly-libertarian conservatism and mostly-traditionalist conservatism. And I was favorably impressed. But (a) I was a kid; (b) I probably wanted to believe it. Still, as someone who subscribes to both Reason and National Reivew, I'm still kind of in his corner, over fifty years later.

    So I was interested in Jonah Goldberg's retrospective look at Meyer: Fusionism Today.

    Fusionism was an idea championed most forcefully by Frank Meyer, the longtime literary editor of National Review. He argued that libertarianism — then often called “individualism” — and traditionalism are the twin pillars of conservatism and, more broadly, of a just and free society. The chief obligation of the state is to protect individual liberty, but the chief obligation of the individual is to live virtuously. Coerced virtue is tyrannical: Virtue not freely chosen is not virtuous. Or as Meyer himself put it: “Truth withers when freedom dies, however righteous the authority that kills it; and free individualism uninformed by moral value rots at its core and soon brings about conditions that pave the way for surrender to tyranny.”

    Now I largely agree with this. But as both a philosophical and a prudential matter, we understand — just as Meyer did to some extent — that freedom is a concept with limits, that each principle must be circumscribed at the extremes by other important principles. A society where literally everything is permitted isn’t free except according to some quasi-Hobbesian or fully Rousseauian or Randian theory about the freedom inherent in a state of nature or an anarcho-capitalist utopia. Some forms of authority must be morally permissible, even to the lover of liberty.

    Doesn't seem too tough. But see Jonah's caveats.

  • Pierre Lemieux, at the Library of Economics and Liberty, asks the musical question: Does the Chicken Tax Imply Prices Lower for Domestic than for Foreign Pickups?. Short answer: are you kidding?

    The tariff on light trucks—the so-called Chicken Tax, which I discussed in a previous post—cannot be avoided by buying domestic. In the general case, as I explained in another blog, a tariff equally increases the price the imported good and of its domestically-produced equivalent. Domestic producers want the tariff precisely in order to be able to increase their prices and sales. They will charge what the market will bear, that is, as much as the sellers of the imported good charge tariff included.

    In other words, a "protective" tariff screws consumers even worse than is commonly believed. Good point.

  • Speaking of getting screwed … Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center notes the fallout from the Supreme Court's Wayfair ruling: The sales tax invasion has begun.

    In zombie movies, unsuspecting innocents often fail to recognize that the zombie apocalypse has begun. The first of the undead stumble through the village or city unnoticed or mistaken for drunks. Only when it’s too late do the living realize they’re surrounded.

    This horror movie cliche came to mind when Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan released a letter on Wednesday urging Congress to pass a one-year moratorium on internet sales tax collections that were allowed by this year’s Wayfair ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court.

    “Some states have established implementation dates as soon as January 1, 2019,” they wrote jointly with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeffrey Merkley.

    In zombie movies, as in real life, politicians are usually the last to know.

    Vendors are already getting "you may have already lost" letters from states looking to collect from them. Aieee!

  • At the Federalist, Dean Clancy has a good idea that won't happen: The Government Needs To Stop Subsidizing Tesla Owners And Start Taxing Them.

    Is there anything so permanent as a “temporary” government program? To test that question, consider the “Tesla Tax Credit,” the federal subsidy program for cars that don’t use gasoline. Created in 2005 as a way to jumpstart a market for pure-electric plug-ins, the Tesla credit allows taxpayers to take up to $7,500 off their taxes for purchasing one.

    This regressive subsidy primarily benefits Americans earning more than $100,000 a year. Happily, it’s fading away, as the market for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) matures. But the “green” car industry, led by Tesla Motor’s eccentric CEO Elon Musk, is lobbying Congress to make the gravy train permanent — and more generous.

    I like Elon a lot, but he (and other EV makers) should put on his free-market big boy pants.

    (The "tax" part is making sure EV owners cough up some dough to pay for their road use, something normal-car drivers do through the gas tax.)

  • I found this Motherboard story via Slashdot, and it tickled my long-dormant physics geek: This New Atomic Clock Is So Precise Our Ability to Measure Gravity Constrains Its Accuracy.

    Researchers at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed an atomic clock that is so precise that our models of Earth’s gravity aren’t accurate enough to keep up with it. As detailed in a paper published this week in Nature , the atomic clock could pave the way for creating an unprecedented map of the way the Earth’s gravity distorts spacetime and even shed light on the development of the early universe.

    Very cool. If I were elected (oxymoronically) Libertarian Dictator, I'd start terminating scads of government bureaus. But I'd definitely keep the NIST.

Last Modified 2018-12-02 5:23 AM EDT