URLs du Jour

2019-04-17

[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Ira Stoll has an interesting take on the indictment of Gregory Craig, accused of … something, mumble. mumble, Ukraine… mumble, mumble … How Trump Could Save Obama’s Lawyer.

    The first count on which Craig is charged is Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001. That’s the same section to which Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to violating, and also to which Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to violating. It provides or a fine or up to five years in prison for anyone who “knowingly and willfully” makes any materially false statement or representation “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States.” The provision also is the one that James Comey used against Martha Stewart, and the one that prosecutors used during the George W. Bush administration against Vice President Cheney’s aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was pardoned by Trump.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has accurately warned of the “sweeping generality” of Section 1001, writing, “the prospect remains that an overzealous prosecutor or investigator—aware that a person has committed some suspicious acts, but unable to make a criminal case—will create a crime by surprising the suspect, asking about those acts, and receiving a false denial.”

    The second count on which Craig is charged is violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That’s a law passed in 1938 amid anxiety about Nazi influence in America on the eve of World War II. It’s so broadly written that it could conceivably require the Times itself to register as a foreign agent of Mexican investor Carlos Slim.

    Ira suggests that Trump direct the Justice Department to (a) "use their prosecutorial discretion", or (b) get out the pardon pen, or (c) ask Congress to fix (or repeal) such overbroad laws.


  • Something Monty Python perhaps missed, from Kevin D. Williamson in NR: The Division of Labor Is the Meaning of Life. (Long, based on a lecture Kevin was allowed to deliver at Georgetown University.)

    What we call “globalization” is a sudden radical expansion in the worldwide division of labor—a miracle of human cooperation that, as such miracles so often are, goes mostly unappreciated and unloved, and often hated. Our globalization is hated for the same reason that Renaissance globalization was hated: It disrupts existing status arrangements and introduces new elements of insecurity and anxiety into communities whose members had believed their situations to be fixed, if not ordained—and who believe that they have a natural right to the fixity of those situations, and that the duty of the state is to secure them. Our Silicon Valley billionaires are denounced as “rootless cosmopolitans” (the phrase itself derives from the anti-Semitic socialist purges of the 1940s and 1950s) and are resented for their transnational lives and transnational interests, as well as for their preference for self-regulation and their slipperiness in the face of merely national mandates. Like the merchant princes of Florence, they lead lives that seem impossibly indulgent and patronize cultural and political forces that perplex, irritate, and offend the partisans of peasant conservatism.

    At the other end of the economic spectrum, special vitriol is reserved for a new kind of division of labor: the casual “gig” work associated with firms such as Uber. This opportunistic work provides important income to many people who could not otherwise get it as conveniently, and it performs the important function of allowing people of more modest means to convert their property into capital. But this comes with none of the old assurances: health insurance, pensions, the gold watch at the end of a long tenure of service, etc. It is easy to be sentimental about those old assurances, and to forget that almost nobody in 2019 really wants a 1950 standard of living (you can have it—cheap!), but we should keep in mind that the economy has evolved the way it has because people have made certain choices that comport with their preferences in the face of the unalterable reality that is scarcity.

    That makes some of us uneasy, if not enraged.

    It's Wednesday, and this is my day to be optimistic about the future. Mankind has flourished through millennia of social upheavals, each accompanied by widespread panic and predictions of doom. Now is different? I doubt it.


  • At Quillette, Sebastian Cesario looks at the Case of the Black Hole Science Lady: Scientific Progress and the Culture Wars. In case you missed it: dimwit ideologues of all stripes took turns overinflating/denigrating Dr. Katie Boumann's contributions to the Event Horizon Telescope team. People pointed out that a White Male [also Gay] team member, Andrew Chael, actually contributed more lines to the software used in imaging.

    As to the people who actually stirred this up, much of the problem obviously lies with the temptations of the wider culture war. There are ample justifications for recognizing accomplished women scientists; one needn’t subscribe to every inaccurate narrative about gender gaps in STEM to think that it’s nice to highlight role models for young women. However, singling out one individual from a large team (which reportedly includes 40 other women>) denies the other team members their deserved recognition, possibly arousing resentment from co-workers. Also, justifying this lopsided attention as a remedy for some sort of social ill makes it harder to highlight anyone else. Even deserved attention for someone like Andrew Chael can now be tarred as part of a backlash.

    Likewise, there are good reasons to push back against inaccurate narratives about gender gaps in STEM—I have certainly done so! However, what is to be gained by picking one scientist and using a worthless metric (size of file uploads) to build him up at the expense of another good scientist? We can question bad narratives about gender and STEM careers without calling into doubt the good work of Bouman, and without drafting Chael into a fight that he sought no part of. Yes, Bouman did give a TED Talk about the work, making herself a face of the project, but she never sought to be the face of the project, and she should not be maligned as some sort of glory hog. Most importantly, the other 198 people on the project (including many women at all career stages) certainly don’t deserve to have their fine work turned into a culture war battlefield.

    Apparently, both Boumann and Chael are requesting sanity. Good luck with that! And Katie's on her way to Caltech, where she has a tenure-track appointment, so good for her.


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi provides an "Of Course They Are" headline: Democrats Are Using Ilhan Omar As An Excuse To Chill Speech.

    Democrats have spent the past two-plus years accusing the president of the United States and his allies of seditiously conspiring with our enemies to destroy “democracy.” For the most part this fairytale has been cynically deployed by politicians to undermine the legitimacy of a Republican presidency, yet millions of Americans now believe their votes were upended by a foreign power. There is no more serious charge against an elected official than treason.

    Then again, for decades before the 2016 election, Democrats argued that Republicans were literally killing their fellow Americans when cutting taxes, murdering the sick when rejecting nationalized health care, and sentencing the poor to death when rejecting socialist schemes. Not to mention suppressing the minority vote when asking for ID, engaging in Nazi-like actions when enforcing existing border laws, and destroying the world when failing to embrace a takeover of the economy. And so on.

    This overwrought rhetoric is embedded in the everyday arguments of the mainstream left, and its intensity is only growing.

    The same liberals are now demanding that conservatives stop quoting and posting video of progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar belittling the 9/11 attacks because doing so puts her life in danger. That’s quite the deal they’ve cooked up for themselves. Nearly every presidential candidate and major Democratic leader has argued that Donald Trump’s criticism of Omar is out of line because of increased death threats against her. I do wonder how many death threats Trump or Mitch McConnell or Steve Scalise receives every week. I imagine it’s considerable.

    As the Babylong Bee headlined: "Leftists Demand That All Criticisms Of Trump Cease Until He Stops Getting Death Threats".


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for an unlikely story in the Cornell Sun: Comedian Ronny Chieng on Asian Representation in Politics, Critics and Life as an Asian in America. Chieng immigrated from Malaysia, and became a stand-up comic, because this is America.

    Chieng said that people from other countries have a romanticized view of America and tend to “think of [America] as a monolith,” but, after emigrating to the US, he learned more about the nation’s cultural diversity and that “every state is like a nation onto itself.”

    Chieng delved into the nuances of American culture and weighed in on the East Coast versus West Coast debate, calling the East Coast “intense” and pointing to New Hampshire’s state motto — “Live Free or Die” — as an example. He also asked the audience to shout out some guesses for the state motto of Texas. After receiving a few wrong guesses — “Lone Star State” and “Don’t Mess With Texas” among them — he surprised the audience by revealing that the motto is actually “Friendship.”

    Texas: unexpectedly wimpy motto!

    I hope Netflix puts up one of Chieng's shows. I'd watch it.