A Dangerous Man

[Amazon Link]

The new Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel from Robert Crais. Mr. Crais is on my short "buy" list for novelists.

Young Isabel is a bank teller, but (thanks to the opening scene) we know that she comes from a family with a deep dark secret. Unfortunately, this means that she's a target of bad guys: a couple of minions grab her on her way out of the bank, shove her into their car, and drive off!

Terrible, right? Unfortunately for the minions, Isabel is a teller at Joe Pike's bank. And Joe's a witness to the abduction. So the abductors are subdued in short order (in gratifying Joe Pike fashion), and Isabel is rescued.

But (as it turns out) it doesn't end there. Because Isabel has no idea why she was kidnapped. And she remains in peril, because those guys were just minions. So Joe, and his partner, the World's Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole, must uncover the secrets in Isabel's past, and protect her from future violence.

That last bit is a bit difficult, because Isabel isn't that smart about following Pike's advice about avoiding peril.

Series writers invariably go into "maintenance" mode, and this book is an example of that. Cliffhangers are neither resolved nor introduced. The protagonists' characters do not develop. It's pretty much a generic outing for Joe and Elvis. But enjoyable nonetheless.

I do have a gripelet: like Jack Reacher, Elvis and Joe seem to attract trouble like a black hole attracts matter; the whole plot here hangs on the mere coincidence of Joe being in the right place at the right time. Maybe they inhabit an alternate universe where evil plots are developing all around, just stand around for a bit, keep your eyes open, and one will happen right in front of you!

URLs du Jour

2019-08-17

[Amazon Link]

  • Slashdot says: A New Species of Leech Is Discovered Near Washington, D.C.. Specifically, in "slow-moving swamp water."

    In the summer of 2015, when Smithsonian research zoologist Anna Phillips and other scientists were standing in slow-moving swamp water, letting leeches latch onto their bare legs or gathering them up in nets from muddy pond bottoms, they didn't realize that some of the bloodsuckers they'd collected belonged to an entirely new species. But in a just-published paper in the Journal of Parasitology, Phillips and her colleagues from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and the Royal Ontario Museum report that a previously unknown leech species, Macrobdella mimicus, is the first to be discovered on the continent in more than 40 years.

    I know, I promised to cut down on the blood-sucking metaphors. It's dehumanizing. But I am a weak person.


  • We need as much optimism as we can get these days, and Jonah Goldberg provides some in his column: Maybe Liberty Isn’t a Lost Cause in China.

    Whether it was a young political scientist named Woodrow Wilson hailing Otto von Bismarck’s authoritarian Prussia as the most “admirable system . . . and most nearly perfected” in the world, or Lincoln Steffens claiming upon his return from Soviet Russia that he’d “seen the future, and it works,” or New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wishing that America could learn from China’s “one party authoritarianism,” virtually every time nationalist and authoritarian regimes seized the reins, countless Western intellectuals became convinced that a better, more “efficient” model of government had been created.

    As George Orwell observed, this sort of thinking amounts to power-worship, and this mindset leads people to think that current trends will only continue in a straight line into the future.

    But that’s not how the last three centuries have gone. Power-hungry experts love to tell us that freedom has had its day, yet liberty keeps winning. The freedom fighters in 2019 Hong Kong may meet the same fate that the protesters in Tiananmen Square did in 1989. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be remembered as victims of a lost cause. Rather, they might be remembered as proof that liberty can win in the long run, when people fight for it.

    But you do have to fight for it. As Jonah (and many others) have noted: the natural state of mankind is miserable poverty and subjugation to tribal leaders.


  • At Law & Liberty, Titus Techera remembers Orson Welles Unlikely Prophecy. As seen in Citizen Kane:

    Now, the brilliant insight of the story is this: the only way America could produce a true populist, a home-grown demagogue that could rise to the top of national politics, would be through the media. The use of media in American politics is as old as the Founders and printing pamphlets, but the arrival of radio introduced a change that suddenly made people realize the potential to move politics away from political offices and into the ether. Politics became more populist, but more virtual at the same time. And subsequent technological innovations—most notably TV and the internet—have culminated in the celebrity presidency of Donald Trump.

    If I'm remembering it correctly, Kane lost his election when his infidelity was revealed by his opponents. Trump was luckier.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Libertarianism.org Arnold Kling explores How We Polarize Ourselves.

    Why do we demonize those with whom we disagree?  The basic reason is that it helps to protect us from having to question or doubt our own beliefs.  If we see others as decent human beings, then we have to consider how they arrived at a point of view that differs from our own, and even consider the possibility that they could be at least partly correct.  But instead, if we regard them as driven by evil motives, then we feel no need to give their actual arguments any sort of fair hearing.  Demonizing them saves us the hard work of listening and the emotional challenge of self-doubt.

    Our polarization is reinforced by another psychological defense mechanism, called confirmation bias.  Researchers have undertaken experiments in which people with different positions on an issue were shown an identical set of facts on the issue, and each side reported that the facts strengthened its position! 

    Fortunately, everything I've read about confirmation bias strengthens my certitude that I do not suffer from it. Whew!

    But for those of us not so lucky (or deluded), Arnold's book, The Three Languages of Politics (Amazon link at right) is highly recommended.


  • Hot Air excerpts a Vanity Fair interview with "New York financier" Anthony Scaramucci, who was Donald Trump’s communications director in the White House for a few days in 2017: "Oh my god, this jackass. You know, it’s all good.".

    The red line was the racism—full-blown racism. He can say that he’s not a racist, and I agree with him, okay? And let me explain to you why he’s not a racist, ’cause this is very important. He’s actually worse than a racist. He is so narcissistic, he doesn’t see people as people. He sees them as objects in his field of vision. And so therefore, that’s why he has no empathy. That’s why he’s got his thumb up in the air when he’s taking a picture with an orphan. That’s why when someone’s leaning over the desk and asks [Nobel Prize–winning human rights activist Nadia Murad], “Well, what happened to your family members?”—they were murdered—he just looks at her and says, “Okay, when are we getting coffee here?”

    Narcissism worse than racism? Debatable. But the Mooch is onto something.


  • At the Library of Economics and Liberty, David Henderson reveals a simple truth: The New York Times Is Truly Messed Up. He draws attention to their latest anti-capitalist slander, from a Princeton sociology prof, one Matthew Desmond: In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.

    The prof is part of a new movement in historical writing, dubbed the “New History of Capitalism” (NHC). As genres go, NHC is kind of a dumpster fire, as revealed by an article David links to by Phillip W. Magness, The Anti-Capitalist Ideology of Slavery. Sample:

    Many leading examples of NHC scholarship in the academy today are plagued by shoddy economic analysis and documented misuse of historical evidence. These works often present historically implausible arguments, such as the notion that modern double-entry accounting emerged from plantation ledger books (the practice actually traces to the banking economies of Renaissance Italy), or that its use by slave owners is distinctively capitalistic (even the Soviets employed modern accounting practices, despite attempting to centrally plan their entire economy). Indeed, it was NHC historian Ed Baptist who produced an unambiguously false statistic purporting to show that cotton production accounted for a full half of the antebellum American economy (it actually comprised about 5 percent of GDP).

    Much more at the links. Matthew Desmond bids fair to become this year's recipient of the Michael Bellesiles award for crap scholarship. (2017 winner: Nancy MacLean.)


  • And finally our Google LFOD alert rang for a report from Maine TV station WMTW on President Trump's recent New Hampshire visit: President Trump blasts Democratic ‘socialists, communists,’ touts US economy in NH.

    Showing affection for the state where he won his first election – the 2016 New Hampshire Republican primary – Trump said, “Our hearts beat to the words of the New Hampshire state motto, ‘Live Free or Die.’”

    So then did he apologize for kissing up to dictators? Imposing tariffs? Failing to get control of Federal spending? Nope, he just got back into the copter.

The Smallest Minority

Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics

[Amazon Link]

Pun Salad value-added: the Cyrillic footnote on page 60, систематическая, translates to "systematic". You're welcome.

If you're used to Kevin D. Williamson's writings at National Review and (occasionally) elsewhere, the first thing you'll notice is that, wow, this book has a lot of profanity. That's OK with me. I do watch Tarantino movies now and then. But unexpected from (specifically) KDW and (generally) the kind of "serious" non-fiction books I usually read.

KDW, semi-famously, was hired away from National Review by the Atlantic magazine. His ostensible gig was to do the kind of reporting he was occasionally known for at NR: a tour of White Working-Class Dysfunctional America, land of alienation, opiates, poverty, and pro-Trump voters.

But after a few days, KDW was fired. The proximate cause being the outrage his almost-coworkers expressed that an opinion writer for a conservative magazine actually had conservative opinions. Specifically, KDW refused to bow to sentimentality about anti-abortion laws; they should target both the (ex-)mother and the doctor. Otherwise, you're not treating the (ex-)mother as a responsible individual with free will.

But the genesis of the book (KDW says) was actually considerably before that, as he observed the public shaming of convenient individuals in social media. Typical example: Justine Sacco, who tweeted out an unfortunate, unfunny "joke" about AIDS as she was going to South Africa, and returned to America to find herself fired, a victim of the Twitter mob. Many examples since then, of course.

KDW is unsparing in his contempt for such mobs and their constituents, comparing them to poo-flinging monkeys. (And when they're not poo-flinging, they're masturbating.) But he takes the discussion in unexpected directions. Although, unlike the profanity, I probably should expected some of those unexpected directions: excursions into literature, sociology, economics, and more.

KDW's insights deserve to be described fully and evaluated carefully. If you expect that from me, ha, sorry. But let me give you a few cheap examples from the index: following the entry for Moby-Dick is … Mojo Burrito. Just before Dante Alighieri is Daniels, Stormy. Between Jefferson and Jesus? Jeong, Sarah. (Who managed to survive an attack of a social media mob.)

So: not what I expected, but still good. I remain a KDW fan, at the highest level, the one with the label: "If he says something I disagree with, I'm probably wrong."

Green Book

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

It won the Oscar for 2018's Best Picture! So what if I liked Black Panther better? This is still pretty good. And the IMDB raters have it at number 123 on their list of best movies of all time.

But approximately 1942 naysayers started their reviews with "It's like Driving Miss Daisy, except that…".

It's also kind of like The Odd Couple.

Viggo Mortensen plays "Tony Lip", maitre'd/bouncer at the Copacabana. While the club is being renovated, he's out of a job. Fortuitously, an offer comes in: famed pianist Don Shirley is going on a tour in the Deep South, and needs a driver/gofer. A deal is struck.

Complicating things: (1) it's the early sixties; (2) Don is an African-American; (3) as it develops, he's also gay; (4) Tony's the kind of guy who'll throw away perfectly good glasses because his wife let a couple of black plumbers drink from them.

It's based on a true story, but I can imagine the script nearly wrote itself. There's gonna be continuing culture/race-based clashes between Tony and Don. Each will Learn Things, Grudging Respect will be earned, eventually Steadfast Friendship will be established. So, no real surprises.

But the acting is first rate. (Viggo Mortenson plays Tony, Mahershala Ali plays Don.) Peter Farrelly co-wrote, co-produced, and directed; that's quite a change for a guy whose previous movie was Dumb and Dumber To.

Bottom line: very watchable.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-16

[Amazon Link]

  • As I type, ElectionBettingOdds has Beto! with a 1.4% chance of winning the Democratic nomination for President. This puts him in a solid tenth place, behind Liz, Wheezy Joe, Kamala, Bernie, Mayor Pete, Yang, Tulsi, Spartacus, and (whoa!) Hillary Clinton.

    (He is, however, ahead of Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Cuomo, Oprah Winfrey, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Jay Inslee, and Hickenlooper. There are some actually-running candidates in that list.)

    Apparently his campaign advisors have convinced him that fear-based demagogy on guns is a good way to improve his numbers. The HuffPo reports: Beto O’Rourke Calls For Mandatory Assault Weapon Buyback, Returns To Campaign Trail. Subhed: "'If at this moment we do not wake up to this threat, then we as a country will die in our sleep,' he said."

    Die. In our sleep.

    At the NR Corner, Charles C. W. Cooke disapproves of the euphemism: ‘Mandatory Buy-Back’ Means ‘Confiscation’.

    One more time, with feeling: “Mandatory buy-back” is a cowardly and cynical euphemism, and members of the press should not be using it outside of quotation marks. What O’Rourke is proposing here is gun confiscation, coupled with limited compensation. Every time somebody in the media uses the term “buy-back,” they are laundering O’Rourke’s extremism.

    Even on its own, “buy-back” makes no sense as a term: Were O’Rourke to get his way, the government would not be “buying back” the guns on his list because the government did not own, or sell, any of the guns on his list in the first instance. When coupled with the word “mandatory,” the pretense becomes farcical.

    CCWC goes on to observe that you expect politicians to use weaselly language, but journalists shouldn't.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum notes that it's apparently now the Current Wisdom that the Supreme Court should be more politicized: SCOTUS Should Drop This Second Amendment Case, a New York Times Columnist Argues, Because Mass Shootings.

    During the term that begins this fall, the Supreme Court is expected to consider its first potentially important Second Amendment case since 2010. The case involves New York City's tight restrictions on transportation of legally owned guns, which the city modified in the hope of rendering the case moot after the Court agreed to hear a challenge to them. New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse, who was the paper's Supreme Court reporter for three decades, is hoping the justices will decide not to hear the case after all. Her argument is not legal but political, which is puzzling in light of the Supreme Court's responsibility to enforce constitutional guarantees.

    I think Jacob is being slightly disingenuous about this being "puzzling". Clearly, Greenhouse does not think it's the Court's responsibility to enforce constitutional guarantees, instead it's there to enforce current leftist political dogma when possible, otherwise to do nothing.


  • Mark J. Perry has composed a wicked Venn Diagram:

    Or as Mr. Ramirez would put it:

    [Ball and Chain]

    Orange Man Bad! Alternatives probably worse! We are screwed!


  • At American Consequences, P. J. O'Rourke, apparently no close relation to Beto!, provides something we all need: A Brief History of How Communication Devolved.

    The computer is a handy device. It’s terrific for looking up who played Wally Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver. But the computer is essentially meaningless to wisdom, learning, and sense.

    My laptop may be a great technological improvement on my old IBM Selectric. (Wally was played Tony Dow – I just Googled it.) But there is no historical indication that technological improvements in the way we inscribe our ideas lead to improvement in the wisdom, learning, and sense of the ideas themselves.

    The opposite case can be made. When words had to be carved in stone, we got the Ten Commandments.

    When we needed to make our own ink and chase a goose around the yard to obtain a quill, we got William Shakespeare.

    When the fountain pen was invented, we got Henry James.

    When the typewriter came along, we got Jack Kerouac.

    And with the advent of the smartphone keypad we get… Donald Trump on Twitter.

    Yeah, I see what you mean. Click through for the first word to ever appear on the Internet, which I did not know.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-15

[nag nag nag]

  • Kevin D. Williamson's recent NR Corner post is Decisions, Decisions.

    The polls at the moment have it Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Harris, or the nincompoop, the nag, the nut, and the nark. I feel like the Democrats are not really giving Marianne Williamson a fair look.

    "Indeed." I'd tell you to Read The Whole Thing, but you just did.

    Instead of an Amazon Product today, I've resurrected an old comic page, originally grabbed from the Jack Kirby Museum. Click for a big version.

    If it's President Warren on January 20, 2021, you can't say you weren't warned. (I believe that's Marianne Williamson in black on the right.)


  • So I'm moaning over the wreckage of my investment portfolio and pricing out cat food. And at Cafe Hayek Don Boudreaux points out: Trump Seems Intent on Destroying the Global Economy....

    … and, to the extent that he succeeds in this madness, he will inflict incalculable damage, not just on non-Americans, but on – and perhaps especially on – Americans as well.

    Trump’s belief that his trade policies will enrich Americans and makes us more secure, both economically and militarily, is a figment only of his economic ignorance and naiveté. His trade policies will eventually more than eliminate any of the economic benefits that other of his policies are generating. Trump and his advisors – both those, such as Peter Navarro, who actively encourage Trump’s trade madness, and others who, despite knowing better, cravenly abide it because of their wish to remain near The Prince – are fast becoming a greater threat to Americans’ prosperity and peace than are any foreign governments.

    Prof Don points out a new Foreign Affairs article by Chad P. Bown And Douglas A. Irwin, Trump’s Assault on the Global Trading System. You need to register to read the full article, but even the part you get for free is pretty damning.


  • Or you could just read free stuff, like the latest from Pun Salad fave, Veronique de Rugy: You Can't Have Your Tariff Cake and Eat It Too.

    When it comes to trade policy, President Donald Trump and his adviser Peter Navarro provide endless examples of incoherent economic thinking. They regularly claim that X is true, and then in the next breath, they assert that not-X is also correct. Let's consider two recent examples.

    The first involves Navarro. Following an announcement that the administration was again ready to hit Chinese imports with a new round of tariffs, Navarro made the rounds on TV to argue that consumers should not worry because this will not affect them at all. Talking to Fox Business Network's Gerry Baker, Navarro said, "There's a lot of people who are saying, incorrectly, that somehow the American consumer is bearing the burden of these China tariffs. And it's just false." In other interviews, he went on to praise the billions of dollars raised by Uncle Sam from the tariffs.

    These claims make no sense. The whole point of Trump's tariffs is to raise the prices of foreign goods to make them so unappealing to U.S. consumers that these consumers will instead buy more domestically made goods. Some of the Chinese producers of the goods could, in theory, eat the full cost of the tariffs and suffer reduced profit margins. However, in reality, importers pass a large portion of the costs of tariffs on to customers — manufacturers and households in the United States — by raising their prices. In fact, many academic studies have found that most or all of the burden of these tariffs is borne by U.S. consumers.

    So we're damaging ourselves, throwing a lot of capricious policy around, mangling relationships with trading partners, … what's not to like?


  • So the Washington Post Fact Checker gave Liz and Kamala "Four Pinocchios" (Harris, Warren ignore DOJ report to claim Michael Brown was ‘murdered’). Factcheck.org don't have a cute scale for lies, but nevertheless found Harris, Warren Wrong About Brown Shooting.

    And yesterday Politifact weighed in with…

    "How much should this word choice matter?" Well, if you're deciding whether the word is true or false, they matter quite a bit.

    If you're guessing that Politifact is going to weasel out of its ostensible mission, congratulations. From the linked article:

    Because the significance of Harris’ and Warrens’ [sic] use of the word is open to some dispute, we won’t be rating their tweets on the Truth-O-Meter.

    Here's my "word choice": Politifact exemplifies cowardice and dishonesty.

    Let's go to JVW at Patterico for an alternate take:

    So there you have it, helpfully distilled by the deep musings of three more academics: words, even those from famous politicians who are vying for the highest office in the land, should be taken colloquially, not literally; when speaking about race we have to understand that grievances from the past allow for narrative liberties to be taken in the present; and getting hung up on words, even when they are used irresponsibly, keeps us from achieving our perfect woke selves.

    What an utter load of horse manure.

    I think he's being kind. Horse manure, unlike Politifact, can be useful.


  • We try to Keep It Clean here at Pun Salad, but when P. J. O'Rourke headlines his article Shut the F%$K Up, what are ya gonna do? (Subhed: "Whose Bright Idea Was It To Make Sure That Every Idiot In the World Was in Touch With Every Other Idiot?")

    The big corporations who operate social media platforms have the ethics of an opioid-addicted Oxycontin pharmaceutical sales rep.

    User privacy equates to getting a prostate exam in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve while dropping trou’ between Christina Aguilera and Ryan Seacrest.

    Social media makes us easy victims of fraud and financial manipulation. (Darn it! Of all the Nigerian government officials, I spam-blocked the one who actually had $100 million to wire to my bank account.)

    Peej continues. You know what to do.


Last Modified 2019-08-16 6:14 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-08-14

[Amazon Link]

  • I'll just copy Charles C. W. Cooke's Corner observation in its entirety: Poetic License.

    The angry reaction to the news that the executive branch intends [to] enforce the longstanding “public charge” rules that have been a part of American law since 1882 suggests to me that progressives are simultaneously of the view that we should read the Constitution as a living, breathing document and that we should read Emma Lazarus’s poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty as an unalterable, legally enforceable contract.

    Supplementary reading: She Was Never About Those Huddled Masses, WaPo op-ed by Roberto Suro, on the Lazurus verse.

    It took a long time for Lady Liberty and the huddled masses to become completely intertwined. Most of the early mythologizing of the statue played on its patriotic appeal. The poem, written for a charity auction that raised money for the statue's pedestal, was never commercially published and got no mention at the statue's grand opening in 1886. Lazarus died a year later at age 38. In 1903, her friend from New York high society, Georgina Schuyler, had the plaque made to honor Lazarus. There was no ceremony when it was placed on a stairway landing inside the pedestal. For decades it went largely unnoticed, a memorial to a writer and reformer who died young rather than a defining inscription for the statue.

    Immigrants arriving in New York Harbor celebrated the statue, but as John Higham, the great historian of American immigration, tells it, the poem and the image of the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of welcome gained broad currency only after the immigrant ships stopped coming. The "golden door" was slammed shut by highly restrictive national quotas enacted in 1924. Then, during the Great Depression and World War II, it became popular to herald immigrants' contributions in the interests of national unity, and the statue became part of the lore. The poem was rediscovered and popularized as part of unsuccessful campaigns to open the United States as a refuge for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, a new version of Lazarus's cause. In 1945, with that point moot, Schuyler's plaque was moved to a prominent spot near the pedestal's entrance.

    Monty Python once observed: "Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government." Maybe we could also say: Activist socialite women writin' so-so poetry is no basis for immigration law.


  • If you need a reason to vote against every Democrat in the Senate, should they come up for re-election in your state, Jacob Sullum (at Reason) has a biggie: Every Democrat in the Senate Supports a Constitutional Amendment That Would Radically Curtail Freedom of Speech.

    Every Democrat in the Senate is backing a constitutional amendment that aims to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision in which the Supreme Court lifted legal restrictions on what corporations and unions are allowed to say about politics at election time. That would be troubling enough, since Citizens United, which involved a film that was banned from TV because it was too critical of Hillary Clinton, simply recognized that Americans do not lose their First Amendment rights when they organize themselves in a disfavored way. But the so-called Democracy for All Amendment goes much further than nullifying one Supreme Court decision. It would radically rewrite the constitutional treatment of political speech, allowing Congress and state legislatures to impose any restrictions on election-related spending they consider reasonable.

    Yes, my fellow New Hampshirites: that includes our state's senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.


  • Of course, it's not just Democrats who want to chip away at that whole free speech thing. James Pethokoukis suggests not going along with the latest stupidity out of the White House: Let's not censor and ruin the internet over dodgy bias issues.

    I hope this is #FakeNews, but I fear it isn’t. CNN reports that the Trump White House has drafted an executive order that “could put the Federal Communications Commission in charge of shaping how Facebook, Twitter, and other large tech companies curate what appears on their websites,” according to sources. Specifically, the draft order attempts to limit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that gives internet companies broad immunity from lawsuits over third-party content. 

    CNN: “Under the draft proposal, the FCC will be asked to find that social media sites do not qualify for the good-faith immunity if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.” 

    I was cheered up when the FCC dumped Net Neutrality; so now they're going to go for something even worse? Hope Ajit Pai lives up to his previous defense of Internet laissez-faire.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for… a WaPo op-ed from Jon Meacham: We’re in the middle of a revolution on death.

    Tuesday was to be the day — in the morning, because everything was taken care of. The goodbyes had been said, the tears shed, the coffin handmade. In the spring of 2018, Dick Shannon, a former Silicon Valley engineer with untreatable cancer, took advantage of California’s “death with dignity” law to end his own life once all other medical possibilities had been exhausted.

    “My observation about the way people die, at least in America, is they . . . are not allowed the opportunity to be part of the process,” Shannon explained. “For my way of thinking, the part that bothers me just immensely is not being allowed to be part of that process. It’s my death. Go with what you believe, but don’t tell me what I have to do.” Discussing the ultimate decision with his doctor, Shannon remarked, “It’s hard to fathom. I go to sleep and that’s the end of it. I’ll never know anything different.” He paused, then said simply: “Okay.”

    OK, Dick. Sorry to see you go. But LFOD? Ah, here it is:

    America is becoming ever more like itself when it comes to death. From Walden Pond to Huck Finn’s lighting out for the territory, we’re a nation of individualists, shaped and suffused by self-reliance and a stubborn allegiance to the live-free-or-die motto of the Revolutionary era. With this twist: Baby boomers and their successor generations are insisting on being free to take control of death itself. Innovation, creativity and customization — the hallmarks of our time, an age in which we can run much of our lives from our mobile phones — are now transforming both how we die and the mechanics of remembrance that come afterward.

    Well, fine. I for one, plan on not going gentle into that good night, if at all possible. I've managed to live my whole life without dignity so far; why should the end be any different?


  • And finally:

    I'm particularly fond of Harry Potter and the Constitution of Liberty.


Last Modified 2019-08-14 10:11 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-08-13

[Amazon Link]

  • If I had to pick a favorite Democrat it would probably be Andrew Yang. Because (as noted by Christian Britschgi at Reason) Andrew Yang Hates Zoning Laws. After noting the hatred, Christian says:

    That is all pretty encouraging stuff to hear from a presidential candidate. It's part of a growing consensus among politicians at the federal level that state and local restrictions on development are driving up the costs of housing for everyone.

    Indeed, Yang's criticism of zoning is pretty close to what other Democratic primary candidates have said on the subject.

    Sens. Cory Booker (D–N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro have all targeted restrictive local land use regulations as a cause of high housing costs.

    Yang's plan differs from his primary opponents by offering almost no details on how he'd actually get rid of these rules. His website includes only a brief mention that he would "work with localities to relax zoning ordinances" and encourage new types of housing like micro-apartments and communal living arrangements.

    Oh well. And here's another thing: the United States Presidency has zero Constitutional power to do away with restrictive zoning; it's entirely a local matter. Geez, Andrew, maybe you should run for San Francisco City Council instead?

    And, since (see our Amazon Product du Jour) one of your slogans is "Math", could I see your work on how (or if) you plan on reducing the Federal deficit? I looked for it on your issues page. I found your proposal to get rid of the penny but not on how to get rid of the deficit.


  • Via Granite Grok, this Boston Globe article in which James Pindell profiles Seth Moulton, US CongressCritter from Massachusetts's 6th congressional district and currently—honest—a candidate for the presidency. Seth Moulton wants New Hampshire’s vote — and for the state to change its ways.

    Basically, Seth hates (1) our continued pot prohibition; (2) our state liquor stores on the Interstates; (3) our lack of broad-based sales and income taxes; (4) no mandates for motorcycle helmets or (5) seat belt use.

    But were I a laugh-out-loud type, I would have laughed out loud at this:

    The decades-long (and often fraught) project of expanding the number of lanes on Interstate 93 from the Massachusetts border to Manchester, Moulton said, “makes no sense” because it just feeds the congested traffic farther into Boston.

    Moulton said he would prefer high-speed rail, such as that being built in China, adding that transportation solutions “cannot be investing in 1950s infrastructure like you are doing in New Hampshire.”

    Yes. Why invest in 1950s infrastructure when you could be investing in 1850s infrastructure? (Also left as a comment at Granite Grok.)


  • At some point last week, Wheezy Joe Biden babbled on gun control: “It violates no one’s Second Amendment rights to say you can’t own certain weapons. You’re not allowed to own a bazooka; you can’t own a flamethrower.”

    At the Federalist, Rich Cromwell points out: Actually, Joe Biden, Flamethrowers Are Legal In All 50 States.

    […I]t’s totally legal to own flamethrowers in every state in the union, with only a license required in Maryland and a modified nozzle for California purchases. Elon Musk’s Boring Company even sold 20,000 of them back in 2018.

    The thing is, flamethrowers are not considered firearms and have legitimate uses, like clearing ice and snow, adding a bit of flair to live performances, attempting to catch nemeses, and stopping alien invasions. Also, they’re just awesome. So maybe it’s time for Biden to issue one of those corrections for which he’s becoming internet-famous.

    Or not. Back in April, Ben Shapiro noted Biden's invocation of the long-debunked myth that the term "rule of thumb" referred to the maximum size of a rod you could legally use to beat your wife.

    And he's been doing this for a long time. In fact, back in 2011, I attended his speech at UNH (introducing the notorious "Dear Colleague" letter) where he made the same claim.

    If you look up the term "invincible ignorance", there's an accompanying picture of Biden.


  • More on the previously discussed xdisciplinary “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum”. From Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon: California Introduces Radical Anti-Semitic High School Curriculum.

    The state of California has introduced "blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel" lessons into its official high school curriculum, drawing outrage and concern in the state's Jewish and pro-Israel communities, according to multiple sources involved in the controversy.

    The California Department of Education is facing backlash after permitting a host of anti-Israel activists to build a statewide educational curriculum that demonizes the Jewish state and is said to be fostering hatred of Jewish and Israeli-American students, sources said.

    So it's not just anti-capitalist jargon-filled garbage. It's also anti-semitic jargon-filled garbage. (I noticed that their "Sample Course Modules" does mention anti-Semitism once, amidst countless invocation of anti-Arab/Palestinian/Muslim prejudice.)


  • James Lileks pays tribute to a midwest restaurant chain: Perkins may not be 'us,' but we are Perkins. The mother company is in financial woes, entering its second bankruptcy. Among the observations:

    The company’s actual name is Perkins & Marie Callender’s Inc., because they also own another chain. If you’re curious: There was a real Marie Callender, who made pies. She lived in a California trailer park with her husband, Cal. (Yes, Cal Callender. You wonder if he considered selling pasta strainers that told you the date. It’s the Cal Callender Colander Calendar.)

    Also noted: the familial implications of Perkins' famous "Twinberry" syrup.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-12

[Amazon Link]

  • At the WSJ (possible paywall) Williamson M. Evers reports in an op-ed: California Wants to Teach Your Kids That Capitalism Is Racist. Well, not my kids. But:

    California’s Education Department has issued an “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” and is soliciting public comments on it until Aug. 15. The legislatively mandated guide is a resource for teachers who want to instruct their students in the field of “ethnic studies,” and was written by an advisory board of teachers, academics and bureaucrats. It’s as bad as you imagine.

    Ethnic studies is described in the document as “the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with an emphasis on experiences of people of color in the United States.” But that’s not all it is. “It is the study of intersectional and ancestral roots, coloniality, hegemony, and a dignified world where many worlds fit, for present and future generations.” It is the “xdisciplinary [sic], loving, and critical praxis of holistic humanity.”

    The document is filled with fashionable academic jargon like “positionalities,” “hybridities,” “nepantlas” and “misogynoir.” It includes faddish social-science lingo like “cis-heteropatriarchy” that may make sense to radical university professors and activists but doesn’t mean much to the regular folks who send their children to California’s public schools. It is difficult to comprehend the depth and breadth of the ideological bias and misrepresentations without reading the whole curriculum—something few will want to do.

    "Xdisciplinary" is explained in a (Microsoft Word) doc at the link above:

    Ethnic Studies is xdisciplinary, in that it variously takes the forms of being interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, undisciplinary, and intradisciplinary. As such, it can grow its original language to serve these needs with purposeful respellings of terms, including history as herstory and women as womxn, connecting with a gender and sexuality lens, along with a socioeconomic class lens at three of its intersections. Terms utilized throughout this document, which may be unfamiliar to new practitioners of the field, are defined in the glossary.

    Oh, good. I recommend our Amazon Product du Jour for any student unfortunate enough to be in an xdisciplinary Ethnic Studies class. Wear it to the first session; with any luck, you'll be asked to leave, and maybe you can take something useful instead, like wood shop.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has discomforting news: Job Security Is Not Coming Back. His upfront example is from an unexpected class:

    Shed a single tear, if you haven’t gone entirely dry, for America’s beleaguered, struggling, and anxiety-ridden law-firm partners.

    Sara Randazzo, writing in the Wall Street Journal, chronicles the lamentations of the lawyers: “Being named a partner once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed and partners rarely jumped ship. That model, and the culture that grew up around it, is all but dead. Law firms are now often partnerships in name only.” Equity-owning partners still share in the profits of the firm, but the second-class “partners” — nominal partners — are unpropertied salarymen, taking home a mere few hundred thousand dollars a year or so in comparison to the millions paid out to the real partners.

    You can practically hear that awful Sarah McLachlan song wailing in the background, and one begins to glance around for Sally Struthers. I’ll give you a second to regain your composure.

    Well, I kinda like Sarah's song, Kevin, so nyaah. I know the commercial to which you refer, though, and you're right that it's hard to watch. (Are they trying to say those puppies are drug addicts?)

    But seriously, folks: Kevin's point is that capitalism has always involved dynamic economic and social shifts, painful for many involved. And the pace of that dynamism is picking up. He encourages us to face it with open eyes.


  • We posted the other day about AOC musing that she had a "lot of common ground with many libertarian viewpoints". Brad Polumbo, at the Washington Examiner, begs to differ:

    If only this were true. While yes, the far-left socialist does hold somewhat libertarian positions on issues such as military spending, immigration, and criminal justice, her overall political philosophy is the very antithesis of libertarianism. Ocasio-Cortez’s worldview is collectivist and statist, putting her in opposition to libertarian pro-freedom principles.

    Take Ocasio-Cortez’s economic worldview [please — your blogger], for instance. She’s a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who unabashedly oppose capitalism, free markets, and private profit. Libertarians, on the other hand, understand that profit is what makes society work, and the only thing that can make society work. It induces us all, from the junior janitor in your building to the nearest small business owner to the wealthiest CEO on Wall Street. It implores us to spend our time, energy, and resources serving others and providing them with something they find useful enough to pay for.

    Yes, sorry AOC, this is a deal-breaker.


  • The American Council on Science and Health provides an article by Christopher J. Ferguson debunking Four Myths About Mass Shootings. For example, saying either that "mental illness definitely is, or is not, to blame" is going way beyond the evidence.

    Some people suggest mental illness is completely unrelated to crime, but that claim tends to rely on mangled statistics. For instance, I’ve seen the suggestion that individuals with mental illness account for just 5% of violent crimes. However, that assertion is based on research like one Swedish study that limited mental illness to psychosis only, which is experienced by about 1% or less of the population. If 1% of people commit 5% of crimes, that suggests psychosis elevates risk of crime.

    It’s also important to point out that the vast majority of people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes. For instance, in one study, about 15% of people with schizophrenia had committed violent crimes, as compared to 4% of a group of people without schizophrenia. Although this clearly identifies the increase in risk, it also highlights that the majority of people with schizophrenia had not committed violent crimes. It’s important not to stigmatize the mentally ill, which may reduce their incentive to seek treatment.

    As "solutions" go, "lock up the psychos" is as bad as "let the psychos loose."


  • And our Google LFOD alert rang for a Voice of America article: Hong Kong Demonstrators Turn to Flash Mob-Style Protests. Reporting on the weekend action:

    It didn’t seem to matter that police barred several protest marches Saturday, citing the fear of violence. Thousands of residents, furious with government indifference and harsh policing, fought battles throughout the city as they tried frenzied, urban guerrilla tactics to block roads, occupy the airport terminal, march en masse, participants shrugging off rounds of tear gas.

    And Granite Staters can't help but feel affinity for "Jack", who's apparently noticed our license plates:

    “Even if the government won’t let us legally protest, we’ll come out,” said Jack, a 25-year-old auditor standing near the front line in Tai Po. “For us, it’s like, ‘live free or die.’ We don’t want to live in a world like China now.”

    Here at home we deploy LFOD reflexively, and often mindlessly, to argue for or against practically any political issue. Jack knows what it really means.

Toy Story 4

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The IMDB raters (as I type) have Toy Story 4 ranked #177 on the best movie list of all time.

Hey, maybe. I certainly liked it a lot. Mrs. Salad and I went to BarnZ's in Barrington, and—hey!—since we were there last, they installed reclining seats! Gotta keep up with the times, I guess.

We may also have been the only people there without kids in tow. We are no longer ashamed of this.

Plot: Woody and the gang have settled in with new owner Bonnie. And Woody's super-protective, even to the extent of tagging along to Bonnie's Kindergarten orientation. Where Bonnie is initially miserable, but a little deft interference gets her started on a craft project: a spork, pipe cleaners, tongue depressor, googly eyes, etc.… et voilà! Forky is alive!

Really, those are the rules of the Toy Story universe. Unfortunately, as we've seen before, those rules don't guarantee that the toys will be smart or well-adjusted. Remember, years back, when Buzz Lightyear thought he was an actual astronaut? Well, Forky considers himself to be … trash. And, true to that nature, he keeps trying to throw himself away. Suicidal! Woody decides this must not be allowed!

And some wonderful high jinks ensue. Those Pixar folks can still tell a story, simultaneously hilarious, suspenseful, and heartstring-tugging. New characters are introduced while we're under way, and old characters are rediscovered.

Particularly good: Keanu Reeves as "Duke Caboom", Canadian motorcycle daredevil. Doomed to not quite live up to his TV commercial hype. That's a crisis.

Only complaint: the aliens are mostly MIA. I love those guys.

The Phony Campaign

2019-08-11 Update

[Amazon Link]

Well, Tulsi had her moment. But the punters at Betfair have kicked her winning probability back down below 2%, our cutoff, so she's absent from our table again.

Also with a bad week: Kamala Harris. Her probability dropped by nearly two percentage points. It's hard to remember that just last month she was at 25%. An impressive swoon.

In the phony standings, Google reports that—remember, these numbers are totally bogus—Trump's phony hits more than doubled, and Bernie's hits more than tripled. But Trump maintains his strong lead.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
8/4
Phony
Results
Change
Since
8/4
Donald Trump 47.8% -1.2% 4,830,000 +2,840,000
Bernie Sanders 6.7% +1.4% 2,920,000 +2,059,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.7% -0.7% 847,000 -100,000
Joe Biden 12.7% +0.7% 560,000 +176,000
Elizabeth Warren 12.0% +1.8% 340,000 +143,000
Kamala Harris 6.6% -1.9% 314,000 +162,000
Andrew Yang 2.3% +0.1% 32,900 +8,500

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • Ann Althouse finds an insightful article at the WaPo by Tara Isabella Burton: "For Marianne Williamson and Donald Trump, religion is all about themselves/The conviction that you can shape the world with your mind is an American tradition.". From Ann's excerpt:

    But Williamson has more in common with President Trump than she — and indeed many voters — might admit, and it’s not just that both have used personal celebrity as a springboard into politics. At their core, both are also prime representatives of one of the most important and formative spiritual trends in American life: the notion that we can transform our material circumstances through faith in our personal willpower. Trump’s authoritarian cult of personality and Williamson’s woo-inflected belief in the power of “self-actualization” both come from the quintessentially American conviction that the quickest and surest route to Ultimate Reality can be found within ourselves....

    I believe "woo-inflected" is meant to indicate that Williamson's schtick is basically pseudo-scientific crap.

    And if you want more of that, check our Amazon Product du Jour! A mere eight bucks for the Kindle version! The author, Ursula Wania ("TAROT READER · ASTROLOGER · NUMEROLOGIST / Often copied … never equalled") is from South Africa. Which makes her, unfortunately ineligible to be either Marianne's or Donald's running mate.


  • At the Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson reports on what I consider to be good news: Trump’s Background Check Pitch Is as Phony as He Is.

    We’ve all been watching the Trump Show for four years now. But a lot of folks, and a shocking number of journalists, still haven’t caught onto the rules.

    Trump will promise any policy he thinks works to his political advantage in the moment. He loves generating headlines for those proposals that break with GOP orthodoxy, but he will eventually revert to the Republican norm.

    Trump has no regard for truth or consistency. Yet the media unaccountably fail to report the essential context: That that the president is often full of shit. So people come away believing the Trump is open to universal healthcare, wants to protect the Dreamers, would raise taxes on hedge fund billionaires, or — in the wake of mass shootings — is open to expanding background checks.

    It’s no mystery why Trump seeks the political benefits of sidling up to these policies — they’re extremely popular. (Universal background checks poll at close to 90 percent.) And because bullshiting is so on brand for our presidential pitchman, Trump never pays a real political price when he later reverses himself. All evidence suggests these flip flops work for the president — low information voters hear what they want to hear (Trump is for what I’m for) and disregard the rest. 

    Dickinson is right that "universal background checks" poll well. But (as Jacob Sullum pointed out back in 2015) they are also ineffective, unjust, and unenforceable.

    Sure, I'd prefer that Trump say that instead. But that's expecting way too much.


  • Something you probably won't see reported in the Rolling Stone, which is why you should read the Washington Free Beacon: CNN Fact Check: Sanders Has Been Repeating False Claim About Health Care Spending For a Decade.

    CNN published a fact check on Friday against Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), saying he has repeated the same "false claim" about health care spending since at least 2009.

    Fact checker Daniel Dale said Sanders has falsely claimed multiple times over the last decade that the United States spends "twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation on Earth." Politifact rated the claim "false" in 2009 and 2015, according to CNN.

    Dale said the claim is still false in 2019. While he argued the United States spends more than any "health care per capita of any Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development country," he said they don't spend twice as much as any other single country.

    Well, it's Bernie. Way too old to give up on cherished beliefs. They're "his truth". Which reminds me of a recent Ramirez cartoon about a different aged Democrat…


  • [truth over facts]

    Oh, shoot, you need a reference for that? Well, here.

    Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic front-runner crowd, left some in the crowd at the Iowa State Fair mystified when he told them: We choose truth over facts."

    The 76-year-old former vice president, who loquacious style and propensity for flubbing his lines endears him to some and draws mockery from others, was ending his speech at the state fairground in Des Moines when he attempted a rousing finish.

    “There is nothing we’ve ever decided to do we’ve been unable to do, he said. "Period. That’s not hyperbole. We have never, never, never failed when we’re together. And ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get up.

    "Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. Even his supporters know who he is. We got to let him know who we are. We choose unity over division. We choose science over fiction. We choose truth over facts."

    Or if the Washington Examiner is too rightwing for you, how about Slate: Joe Biden gaffes his way through Iowa..

    So maybe that didn’t come out right. (He would get the line—“We choose truth over lies”—correct later in the evening.) But at least, shortly thereafter, he successfully told off a Breitbart reporter who was trying to promote the conspiracy theory that the media had misrepresented President Donald Trump’s remarks after the lethal violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    Oh, right, it's Slate. Goodness knows, I'm not a Trump fan, but it's not a "conspiracy theory" that the media misrepresented Trump's "very fine people" post-Charlottesville remarks, it's the simple truth.

    I'm also not a PragerU devoteee, but they do a pretty good job with this:


  • And finally, we have: Elizabeth Warren’s Ferguson Lie. (Christopher Tremoglie at National Review) Specifically:

    This is an outright lie, one day after Warren complained of the dangers of rhetoric.

    Michael Brown was not murdered. Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson in an act of self-defense. This is why the grand jury declined to indict Wilson for murder or manslaughter, and it was also the conclusion of the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.

    Not what we need right now, Liz.



Last Modified 2019-08-11 10:00 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-08-10

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson speaks utter truth in National Review: Gun-Control Advocacy: Mostly Demagoguery.

    The Second Amendment isn’t about shooting ducks. It’s about shooting people.

    Once you really get your head around that, you can begin to appreciate the political architecture of the gun-control debate and the fundamental problem at the heart of it: The purpose of the Second Amendment is to ensure the right of Americans to keep and bear arms designed to kill people in armed confrontations, and everything that makes firearms unsuitable for that purpose is at odds with the Second Amendment.

    The usual response to that goes something like this: “Oh, sure, that may have been true, one upon a time, but we no longer have a lawless frontier, and the idea of a bunch of Bubbas getting together with their AR-15s and strapping on their tactical Underoos to take on a tyrannical U.S. government in some hypothetical dystopia is an absurd and adolescent fantasy.” If that’s your argument, then, fine: But that is not an argument for banning 50-round magazines or prohibiting semiautomatic rifles — that’s an argument for repealing the Second Amendment, at which point you have constitutional license to pass whatever gun-control legislation suits your fancy.

    Give it a shot.

    I added, in a comment, something I've said before: "Gun control" isn't about controlling guns. It's about controlling people.


  • At Reason, Billy Binion noticed someone saying something. Specifically, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: ‘I Have a Lot of Common Ground With Many Libertarian Viewpoints’.

    "I actually think I have a lot of common ground with many libertarian viewpoints in [the Republican] party," Ocasio-Cortez said, emphasizing her stances on immigration, the military, and privacy rights. Her admission comes not long after she and Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) publicly agreed on the need to prohibit former congresspeople from becoming lobbyists, as well as to make hormonal birth control available over the counter.

    "True libertarians, which many happen to be in the Republican Party, true libertarian viewpoints are pro-immigration," she explained on Instagram. Advocates of smaller government do indeed acknowledge that immigrants help the economy, and many dismiss the notion that the federal government is capable of determining optimal migration levels.

    Yeah, well, maybe. I'm slightly sympathetic to libertarian immigration arguments. But I waver away at times, too.

    It's all that other totalitarian crap in the Green New Deal that kinda turns me off, AOC. You can't give that a libertarian spin.


  • Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center offers an idea: How N.H. could save millions in drug costs with an online auction. Specifically, it could put a better process in place for choosing its pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) using a reverse auction.

    Corporations and the federal government have for years employed an online reverse auction to force contractors to bid aggressively to win their business. It works sort of like eBay, but in reverse. The buyer starts the auction, and contractors place their bids. The auction then cycles through multiple rounds, with contractors having the chance in each new round to outbid each other.

    Drew notes that this would be a welcome introduction of market forces into state multi-million dollar outlays.


  • Steven Landsburg distinguishes between the Slips and Lies of politicians. Specifically:

    I was not present at Joe Biden’s recent speech, and I have not seen the video, but I am essentially certain that the phrase “Poor kids are just as bright as white kids” — which Biden, like Mrs. Reagan, instantly corrected — was an equally innocent slip of the tongue. I have little patience for those who are attempting to profit by suggesting otherwise. What Mr. Biden meant to say was that “poor kids are just as bright as wealthy kids”. And therein lies the true outrage. Because that statement is a lie.

    Poor kids are not just as bright as wealthy kids. The sources for this empirical fact are easy to find, so I won’t review them here. There are several plausible explanations. First, IQ is highly correlated with wealth and IQ is heritable. Next, poverty is stressful, and stress impedes cognitive development. Et cetera.

    And, yes, 'tis a lie told with good intentions. But it's one of those which the "fact checkers" will not bother to check.

    [Hasten to say: it's a lie in the context of averages. Pick a poor kid, pick a rich kid, it's certainly possible that the poor kid will be brighter. But do that multiple times, and over the long run, it's not the way to bet.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for Jeff Jacoby at the good old Boston Globe: For good reason, statehood for D.C. has always been a nonstarter.

    Most state license plates bear mottos that are uplifting (“The Spirit of America,” “Live Free or Die,”), descriptive (“10,000 Lakes,” “America’s Dairyland”), or welcoming (“Aloha State,” “Great Faces, Great Places”). Only the District of Columbia’s is bad-tempered. Emblazoned on its license plate is a complaint: “Taxation Without Representation.”

    Jeff goes into the sensible (and Constitutional) reasons why D. C. ain't a state, and shouldn't be one.

    D. C. is bigger than even the bloated Federal Government needs. Maybe cede the residential areas to Maryland, and restrict the District to government offices and supporting service businesses. But nothing fancier than a Wendy's! Well, maybe a Shake Shack.


  • And, praise be, I have been liked and (in a sense) edited by Virgina Postrel. Well, at Facebook. It wasn't hard. Nevertheless, I can scratch that off my bucket list.

The Mark of the Assassin

[Amazon Link]

So back in 2017 I read The Unlikely Spy, a World War II thriller by Daniel Silva. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but was reluctant to commit to reading Silva's oeuvre. (Because once I start down that road, it's hard to stop.)

But I picked this, his second novel, at Portsmouth Public Library. See how it goes. Written in 1998, it's a globe-hopping tale of violence and intrigue, but mainly violence. The hero, Michael Osbourne, is a CIA employee whose career as a covert agent was terminated when a KGB assassin (we learn his code name is "October") brutally murders his girlfriend, implying his cover is seriously blown.

Years later, Michael's married and works as a staid analyst. But another murder comes to light bearing October's trademark (three bullets in the face), accompanied by a jetliner shot down by a Sidewinder fired from the waters off Long Island. So he's drawn back to the game, and finds himself finding out way too much about a nefarious plot involving … well, that would be telling. Let's just leave it at "nefarious".

Silva's a successful writer, but I didn't like the book much. Way too much unlikely dialogue, high amounts of coincidence, pointless descriptions. It's written from a tedious liberal perspective (no spoilers). And the ending is unsatisfying (slight spoiler) sequel-bait.

So I don't know if I'll continue with Silva. There are other books in the library.

Why Free Will Is Real

[Amazon Link]

If you've been paying attention to my reading history (and, don't worry, there's not the slightest reason why you should), one recurring topic is the controversy over whether "free will" exists. This latest book—you may have inferred from the title—is pro-existence. The author, Christian List, is professor of political science and philosophy at the London School of Economics.

With the typical philosopher's care, he dissects "free will" into three components:

  1. People are "intentional agents", whose intentions support actions;

  2. In relevant cases, people face multiple alternative actions, and each is a genuine possibility;

  3. And the resulting action is the result of appropriate mental states, reflecting the actual intention of the agent.

Anti-free willers object to at least one of these components. Respectively:

  1. There's no room in neurophysiology (let alone in the underlying physics) for "intention"—it's just atoms and their electrons flying around synapses, firing off hormone releases and causing muscle proteins to contract. I oversimplify, but no amount of further detail will get to "intention".

  2. The universe is essentially deterministic. You might think you have alternate choices, but that's an illusion; only one action will actually happen, governed by the biochemical processes described above.

    (But what about quantum uncertainty? Well, yeah: some of the dice-throwing wackiness described by the inherently probabalistic Copenhagen interpretation of nanoscopic processes might get manifested in macroscopic outcomes. But that coin-flipping doesn't put you in control.)

  3. The last objection is subtle: "you" might think "you" are in control of your actions, but in fact your consciousness is merely a helpless observer along for the ride. The famous "Libet experiments" are invoked: the ones that allegedly show that your body has already made its "decision" to do something milliseconds before you "think" you're deciding yourself.

List discusses each objection, hoping to refute each one. And to my mind, he's successful. He argues that "free will" is an emergent property of our complex nervous systems interacting with the rest of our body. It is no less "real" than (say) life itself, or consciousness. His argument is language-heavy, and (frankly) difficult for a dilettante like me to grok in fullness, but I think I got the high points.

But (for me) the knock-down argument for free will is one adapted from Caltech physicist Sean Carroll: tomorrow morning when you want to get dressed, go stand in front of your closet and try saying: "Well, I'll just stand here and let the atoms in my body do whatever they were deterministically going to do anyway." Wait as long as you need to before you're convinced that that the atoms in your body aren't gonna get that clothes-picking job done for you. Or go to work in your jammies. Your call.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-09

[Amazon Link]

  • Via Slashdot, a report in the Verge: Trump calls for social media companies to ‘detect mass shooters before they strike’.

    After two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump said his administration would ask social media companies to develop tools that could detect potential mass shooters.

    While delivering a speech on the recent violence, Trump said “we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs,” and he suggested social media companies could develop new ways of catching “red flags.”

    “I am directing the Department of Justice to work in partnership with local state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike,” Trump said in the speech.

    Well, I guess it's time to pick up a DVD of Minority Report. Who knew it would be so prescient?

    I am (sigh) old enough to remember the post-9/11 atmosphere, with the Patriot Act quickly penned in full "do something" response. Among other things, civil libertarians were clutching their pearls about government watchdogs being able to get access to library patron records.

    Yes, like that was the most worrisome infringement on the privacy of innocent people.

    Good times.


  • One of the more common "do something" responses to the latest horrors: expanded background checks. Often "universal". As if Klingons were a major threat.

    Anyway, Jeff Jacoby dares to be contrarian: No, expanded background checks wouldn't prevent mass shootings.

    In reality, the overwhelming majority of gun sales already require a background check. Anyone who buys a gun from a licensed dealer — whether in person or online, in a store or at a gun show — must be cleared by the FBI before the weapon is delivered. Every year the federal government conducts more than 25 million such background checks — more than 320 million since the system was put in place. The only time the requirement doesn't apply is when someone acquires a gun locally from a private individual, such as a friend or relative. That's the so-called "gun show loophole," which has nothing to do with gun shows and isn't a loophole, since it doesn't apply to anyone in the business of selling guns.

    Enacting "universal" background checks would mean forcing private citizens, people who aren't gun dealers, to go through the FBI before they can sell a gun to their next-door neighbor or their sister-in-law. That would impose a considerable burden on the personal affairs of private individuals. But would it "do something" about mass shootings?

    Nope. But in the midst of a moral panic, facts do not matter. Only "do something" rules.


  • At Reason, Christian Britschgi notes: Rep. Joaquin Castro’s Doxxing of Trump Donors in His District Has Flipped the Campaign Finance Discourse on Its Head. Rep Castro tweeted out a list of his deplorable constituents who had committed the sin of donating maximum bucks to Donald Trump's re-election effort.

    Transparency advocates argue that by allowing the public to see who donates how much to which campaign committees and ballot initiatives, voters can better understand the motivations and incentives of officeholders and the relationships between special interests and the government. The stated justification of campaign finance transparency, in other words, is not to publicly shame private individuals for their political preferences.

    And yet this isn't the first time that campaign contribution data has been used to punish private individuals for their political donations. Former Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign in 2014 after it was revealed that he gave $1,000 in support of a 2008 ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in California.

    The ability to punish people for supporting or opposing particular political campaigns is one reason a lot of libertarians oppose making political donations public.

    Because they foresaw that demagogic politicians would weaponize the information against their opponents. Duh.


  • At the Free Beacon, Alex Griswold notes the viral nature of a fake quote: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez OBLITERATES Teenagers, Fake Mitch McConnell Quote #slay. Some young Mitch supporters posed inappropriately with an AOC cutout; AOC objected; Mitch responded; and that response was paraphrased (inaccurately) by the Daily Beast as "boys will be boys".

    And—voilà!—that "boys will be boys" phrase was quickly transmogrified into something Mitch actually said. Alex's bottom line:

    So now "boys will be boys" is something like two or three times removed from the original source, namely the opinion of a single journalist at Newsweek's competitor. To a reader coming late to the story, "McConnell campaign's ‘boys will be boys' defense" is simply a fact, a fact they'll tweet and retweet and will take on a life of its own, etc. All thanks to journalists and politicians acting in bad faith at every step.

    Another example of why it's difficult to grant the MSM a smodgen of respect.


  • But let me immediately contradict myself, because this New York Times interactive interview asks you a few questions and then guesses your Political Party. It's very neat, and it was enoyable to see my answers swing the polarization arrows one way and the other.

    Oh yeah: they got me right, at least technically. And I murmured "in name only" as the final answer appeared.

  • And as long as I was visiting the NYT, the challenge offered here was irresistible: Can You Answer the Hardest Citizenship Test Questions?.

    And not to brag, but I got 10/10.

    OK, to brag.


  • And as I was blogging this morn, I was playing my new Bruce Springsteen album "Western Stars". (Got it for Father's Day—thanks, kids!)

    After a few decades of Bruce-fandom, I just gave up and declined to purchase his most recent studio albums. I gave up after "Devils & Dust". But the unmissible talking point about "Western Stars" was Bruce was explicitly naming Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb as his major influences in making it.

    Reader, I am a serious devotee of both those artists. So I had to see what was going on with "Western Stars".

    Bottom line: it's pretty good,

    But for most of the songs, I'm thinking: "Glen Campbell would have done this so much better" Sorry, Bruce. I know you did your best.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-08

[Amazon Link]

  • David Henderson takes off on The Deep-seated Authoritarian Impulse. Spurred by an article that begins "If I were a state education minister I would endeavour to make it a compulsory part of a high school curriculum for …"

    And it doesn't really matter what comes next, no matter how praiseworthy. David:

    I’ve noticed that many people who have a good idea jump pretty quickly to a proposal to make it compulsory. That’s what [the quoted author] does and I’ve seen it a lot. When I was the health economist with President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, I went to a lot of lunches where a health care expert would give a talk on a health care issue. I remember one time when a speaker said he learned a lot about how disabled people must feel when he had to be in a wheel chair for a week or so. Someone in the audience then spoke up to say she thought it would be a good idea if doctors, as part of their training, were required to be in wheel chairs for a day or two.

    Or consider how many people, when they start to understand an academic discipline (I’ve seen it a lot with economics), advocate that everyone be forced to study that discipline.

    The authoritarian impulse seems to come easily to many people.

    Pun Salad Fact Check: True. [If I were appointed grand dictator, I'd resign. Although first I'd ban radio ads with sirens. Those panic me.]

    When I first espied the Amazon Product du Jour, I thought it was an obviously bogus quote, too good to be true, like so many ascribed to Jefferson, Lincoln, et. al.. But guess what? It's real.


  • Speaking of that authoritarianism thing… Kevin D. Williamson writes at National Review on Democrats & Illiberal Democracy: Short Road to Tyranny.

    There are two rules for illiberal democracy.

    The first rule is that during an emergency certain illiberal and anti-democratic measures are necessary to ensure public safety, national security, and the practice of democracy itself.

    The second rule is that there is always an emergency.

    Which reminds me…


  • The Kevin D. Williamson article I linked to yesterday had an intriguing aside:

    Those old war propaganda posters had it right: “I am Public Opinion! All men fear me.”

    That set me to Googling. I was able to find plenty of war propaganda posters, but I was only able to find that particular phrasing in newspaper ads hectoring the citizenry to buy war bonds. Here's an example from the November 1917 edition of the Texaco Star, an employee newsletter:

    [Public Opinion Propaganda]

    Scary, because you know she's about to punch you out with that balled right fist. And … yet, she's kinda hot, amirite?

    Yup, they did propaganda right back in those days. When they pass compulsory confiscation of those nasty-looking "military-style weapons" in 2021, perhaps they could recycle Lady Public Opinion.


  • Veronique de Rugy's column discusses Passing Laws, Passing Taxes and Passing the Buck.

    What do the French digital services tax, the employers' share of payroll taxes and the corporate income tax all have in common? They are rarely shouldered by those entities and individuals targeted by legislators. In fact, one of the most important things to know about taxes is that the people who actually write the checks to the Internal Revenue Service (or to its French equivalent) are seldom the ones who actually shoulder its burden.

    In 2004, economist Stephen Entin wrote, "The economic burden of a tax frequently does not rest with the person or business who has the statutory liability for paying the tax to the government." That's because taxes are paid only by flesh-and-blood individuals. The actual incidence of any tax is not determined by the formalities of the tax code but, rather, by the realities of markets — specifically, by how sensitive buyers are to price changes, relative to sellers. It makes it difficult to fully predict the full impact of taxes, but as a general rule, it is rarely what politicians think.

    Take, for example, the employer's statutorily stipulated share of the payroll tax. On paper, workers and employers each pay 7.65% of the employee's salary and wages. Employers send their portion of the tax as well as the one collected from their employees to the government. But this fact doesn't tell us anything about the tax's true burden. Economic research shows that employers shift the burden of the payroll to their employees by decreasing workers' wages by almost 7.65%.

    Veronique grants the good intentions of the pols who pass such taxes. I'm not as charitable as she.


  • At Reason, J.D. Tuccille tells those of us who need to be reminded: White Supremacy Is Alien to Liberal and Libertarian Ideals.

    Amidst a grab-bag of authoritarian ideas, including xenophobia, anti-capitalism, and radical environmentalism, the El Paso mass murderer was primarily motivated by a bigoted hatred for immigrants from south of the border. His manifesto is full of denunciations of "race mixers," "Hispanic invasion," and "cultural and ethnic replacement"—buzz phrases for racists and white supremacists who elevate an illusory collective racial and cultural heritage over respect for people as individuals.

    He couldn't have more thoroughly distanced himself from the liberal/libertarian ideas of the pro-liberty movement if he'd gone through a checklist of shitty notions.

    The liberal tradition that libertarianism inherits and extends doesn't treat people as members of some sort of Borg collective or as any other representation of a group identity. While we're all humans and sometimes fail to live up to our aspirations, libertarians at least aspire to treat with people on their own merits—or lack thereof, as in the case of people who mouth the sort of nonsense espoused by Patrick Wood Crusius in El Paso.

    Certainly we've seen this point before: the nature of politics is to appeal to your "demographic", telling them what you think they want to hear. (And, of course, not saying anything that might offend.)

    Our current overpoliticized environment has no room for speaking to people as individuals.


  • So let's move off politics for the rest of the post. Five Thirty Eight has a clever headline that makes me want to throw my computer against the wall: The Red Sox Were The Toast Of Baseball Last Year. Now They’re Just Toast.. ("It's infuriating because it's true.")

    If the Boston Red Sox harbored any hopes of returning to the playoffs after last year’s magical World Series run, they knew they’d need to make a very strong push over the regular season’s last couple of months. Boston entered the final week of July running eight games behind in the American League East race, though it had just taken five of six games against the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees and were scheduled to play 25 of their final 56 contests against AL East opponents. The Red Sox would have plenty of chances, and the FiveThirtyEight model gave them essentially a coin flip’s probability of making the postseason as at least a wild card.

    But a weekend massacre at the hands of the Yankees has all but destroyed Boston’s playoff hopes. After New York swept the four-game series (which included a pair of losses in a double-header Saturday), the Red Sox are down to a mere 8 percent chance of getting back to the postseason, with basically no hope of winning the division. As the recriminations begin to fly for Boston’s lifeless title defense, we ask: What has happened to leave a team so good on paper sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in?

    What follows is a stat-filled geekout, so if that's your thing…

    I was surprised (somewhat) to learn that the Red Sox were not (at least as I type) leading the MLB in blown saves this season. They "only" have 20, behind the Mets (22), Padres (also 22), Athletics (21), and the Cubs (21).

    But it seems I've seen every one of those blown saves.


  • And there's terrifying news from space: Tardigrades Are Now On the Moon Thanks To a Crashed Israeli Spacecraft.

    Tardigrades, the microsopic water-dwelling animals that can survive almost any environment, may be on the moon thanks to an Israeli spacecraft called Beresheet. The spacecraft was carrying thousands of dehydrated tardigrades (among other cargo) when it crashed due to glitches with the landing process.

    At Transterrestrial Musings, Rand Simberg comments: "Yeah, it’s all fun and games until they mutate and become our giant lunar tardigrade overlords."

    I, for one, welcome…


Last Modified 2019-08-08 11:06 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-08-07

[Amazon Link]

  • Jack Miller and I are in the same intersectional pigeonhole. And I am in broad concurrence with his thesis at the Daily Wire: We Old White Men Are Not The Source Of Every Societal Ill.

    Last week, 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she wanted to explain “white privilege” to suburban white women. I would be happy to sit in on the lecture (assuming men are allowed) because, apparently, nobody is more privileged — nor more disliked for it — than old white men. Like me.

    In fact, I recently did a quick Google search (yes, I know how to do that) for “old white men,” which turned up a horrifying list of angry screeds against people like me. There’s “No Country for Old White Men and Good Riddance,” a T-shirt that tells everyone you’ve “heard enough from old white men,” and The New York Times wondering whether “a white man be the face of the Democratic party in 2020?” — which, for the Times, is an improvement over hiring editorial board members who tweet about “how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

    This barrage of vitriol speaks to the recent cultural milieu in which, at best, there is something suspect about the decisions, the motives, and even the very existence of old white men. At worst, there is a presumption that we are malevolent, parasitic oppressors of those who are not like us.

    Well, speaking as an old, white man — I beg to differ.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is Jack's second example. It is the perfect storm of ageism, racism, and sexism. Unfortunately missing: "heterosexual", "cisgender", etc. But you can only fit so much on a t-shirt.

    Excercise: How fast would a product be taken down if it featured some other combination of groupings, singling out people that current theology considers to be victimized and oppressed?

    But, yeah, I have heard enough from some old white men. Named Donald, Bernie, Joe,…


  • How can the FDA save lives? At the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Michelle Minton has a suggestion for that: FDA Can Save Lives by Rejecting Scott Gottlieb's Lies. Rejecting all of them would be nice, but Michelle will settle for…

    E-cigarettes have proven effective at helping people quit smoking, a massive potential public health gain, considering nearly half a million people die every year from smoking-related illnesses. The big question is: How can we help smokers quit and at the same time discourage young people from taking up either smoking or vaping?

    Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has paid some lip service to “preserv[ing] e-cigarettes as a tool to help adult smokers while snuffing out the teen smoking epidemic,” but it’s difficult to believe Gottlieb or the FDA when they’ve been lying to us so far.

    Teen smoking remains a concern, but let’s be honest about the size and scope of the problem: There is no teen smoking epidemic.

    When the current moral megapanic about guns abates, as I hope it will, there will still be numerous residual moral panicoids about people who, for one reason or another, prefer to go through the day with an occasional nicotine buzz.


  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) notes and comments on a recent (paywalled) WSJ op-ed by Christian Schneider: Bias teams welcome the Class of 1984. The topic is so-called "bias reporting systems".

    While defenders of bias reporting systems often point to their supposedly non-punitive nature, both FIRE and Schneider warned of the chilling effect they can have on student speech. As FIRE wrote in 2017, “Bias Response Teams create—indeed, they are intended to create—a chilling effect on campus expression. Even if a Bias Response Team does not have the power to take punitive action, the prospect of an official investigation may make students and faculty more cautious about what opinions they dare to express.” Schneider expresses similar concerns, adding that “Complaints go down in permanent, often public, records, which can affect future employment prospects. Most bias-response systems don’t offer any process by which the accused can clear their names.”

    The University Near Here contributes to the general panopticon with its reportit! system. Which may be used by anyone who is subject to, or witnesses, the varieties of bad behavior described in the relevant sections of the USNH policy manual.

    Could someone be reported for wearing our Amazon Product du Jour? Sure.

    The USNH manual assures that "all members of the University of New Hampshire community have the right to hold and vigorously defend and promote their opinions." Would that be enough to allow you to escape the Star Chamber?

    Reader, you may be missing the point. You don't want to go into the Star Chamber at all. So leave the shirt at home, in the drawer.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has literature in mind, specifically the Faust legend: Faust Government & Political Power -- Infernal Art of the Deal.

    You know the legend of Faust. He was a man of great learning who wanted to be a man of great power, who made a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for perfect worldly knowledge and the commanding position that goes with it. The story has been treated most famously by Marlowe and Goethe, but also has held the imagination of everyone from Paul Valéry to Václav Havel.

    It should be performed weekly in Washington, because what Faust ultimately sought was not only knowledge and magical abilities but political power — the ultimate end to which he meant to put his ill-gotten capacities. Faust envisioned a new kind of government, above and separate from the vanities and schemes of mere kings and emperors, one that would be universal and based on science, which at the time was so closely related to magic as to be nearly indistinguishable in the popular mind.

    Kevin knows his stuff, literature-wise, and is unafraid to apply it to our present situation.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And, finally, a Boing Boing amusement from Cory Doctorow: Author hid funny messages on the copyright page of his book.

    When my first couple novels came out, I lobbied to add some kind of notation about "fair use" and "limitations and exceptions to copyright" on the copyright notice page and was told not even to try because legal would never allow even the slightest variance from the boilerplate; apparently Steve Stack is better connected than I am, because his book 21st Century Dodos, has a copyright notice that is full of whimsy and gags, as Rebecca discovered and documented.

    I won't reproduce it here. Click through, or (hey!) buy the book! Link over there on your right!


Last Modified 2019-08-07 4:38 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-08-06

[Amazon Link]

  • At the WSJ (which I'm told may be paywalled), Joseph Epstein wonders: What Would We Do Without the Word ‘Racism’?.

    If the country had a National Language Commission, and I were appointed commissioner, the first word I would put in cold storage—filed permanently away beside the N-word, the C-word, the K-word and other prohibited words—would be “racism.” In our day the word has been used imprecisely, promiscuously, perniciously and well beyond abundantly. If you are politically on the left, racism is what you accuse people of who don’t agree with you. If you are on the right, you can accuse them, I suppose, of socialism, but it doesn’t carry anything like the same resonance in moral opprobrium or self-awarded virtue as does racism.

    The racist, if we can use the dictionary definition, believes that all members of a particular race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, which distinguish it as superior or inferior to other races. The true racist of course feels his own race is superior, and thereby he hasn’t any difficulty in discriminating or otherwise ill-treating members of other races, sometimes through government policy—as formerly under apartheid in South Africa or during the strict segregation once pervasive in the American South—or sometimes through ugly personal actions.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour can help, although if you wear it I'm afraid you'll get lectured about "panda privilege".


  • I suppose someday we'll stop slagging Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) for his stupid ideas. But today is not that day. David French writes at National Review Against the Republican Daddy State.

    On Tuesday, Senator Josh Hawley introduced his second proposed regulation of social media in as many months. In June, he introduced a bill to regulate political speech on large social-media platforms. In July, he followed it up with the “SMART Act,” a bill designed to curb allegedly addictive features contained in popular applications such as Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube.

    I fully agree that social-media platforms should reform their speech policies. I also agree that too many Americans spend too much time on their phones. But there is a dramatic difference between declaring that something is a problem and believing that government should act to solve that problem. In fact, the very determination that government should act — rather than relying on a free citizenry to exercise its liberty responsibly — can be harmful to a nation and to a culture.

    The SMART Act is a remarkable attempt at micromanaging the design of popular online products. It would ban, for example, “infinite scroll” (the feature that allows you to thumb rapidly through a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed), the “autoplay” of a new video after the user finishes the one he initially selected (on sites like YouTube, but not on the ultimate autoplay device in American homes, your television), and certain gaming features on social-media apps, such as Snapchat’s “streaks” (which record how many consecutive days you’ve communicated with friends).

    Welcome to the Republican Daddy state. It responds to a social challenge with a blunt instrument that hurts responsible users of popular applications — which is to say, the overwhelming majority of all users — while not providing any concrete evidence that it will cure the extraordinarily complicated underlying problem it’s attempting to address: the rise of anxiety, depression, and polarization that correlates with the rise of social media and the smartphone but is caused by a multiplicity of factors.

    Hawley, I suppose, is better than the senator he replaced. (Claire McCaskill, right?) But still disappointing for those who think that government is doing a lousy enough job on its core tasks that it really shouldn't go into back-seat website design.


  • Jacob Sullum, at Reason wonders: Does 'Common Sense Gun Safety Legislation' Make Sense As a Response to the El Paso and Dayton Shootings?. Hint: Betteridge's law of headlines is fully armed and operational.

    Hours after a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso on Sunday, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D–Texas), whose district includes that city, implored "all of us who have the power to end this horror" to "come together" and "once and for all address the gun violence epidemic that plagues our nation." Other prominent Democrats, including several presidential contenders, likewise reacted to the attack in El Paso and a mass shooting that killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, early the following morning by calling for "urgent action" to approve "common sense gun safety legislation."

    The elements of that legislation are mostly window dressing that would do little or nothing to prevent attacks like these. The most frequently mentioned policy, "universal background checks," is plainly irrelevant to these particular crimes, since both the El Paso shooter and the Dayton shooter purchased their weapons legally, meaning they did not have disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records. Nor do the vast majority of mass shooters, who either passed background checks or could have. Neither requiring background checks for private transfers nor creating "strong background checks," as President Donald Trump has proposed (perhaps referring to the same policy), would make a difference in such cases.

    It's tedious to endure the onslaught of gun-grabbers saying the exact same things after every horror. As well as the "thoughts and prayers" folks, although I don't find them as offensive.


  • At the Federalist, Jonathan S. Tobin dares to criticize the earnest Swedish teenager who some of my lefty Facebook friends adore: Greta Thunberg Has No Patience For Democracy Or Your Lifestyle.

    The heroine of the environmental movement is on her way. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish celebrity protester, has finally figured out a way to bring her extremist message to the New World.

    Thunberg, who has been the focus of adulatory coverage throughout Europe and in mainstream American outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, and a cover story in Time magazine, is a teenage sensation leading a movement of angry European children. Thunberg and her fans are demanding that their country’s governments act to stop global warming. What’s more, they are denouncing as sellouts even those who agree with their goal but are reluctant to adopt the extremist measures such as those Thunberg’s ally Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) put forward in the Green New Deal.

    This bit of Tobin's article rang a bell:

    Thunberg and her movement operate with some clear advantages. Since they are a children’s crusade, they are credited with the best possible motives and not asked to fully or coherently explain their goals or how they might be achieved without doing more harm than good. […] As for journalists who point out the flaws in these young people’s arguments, the inconsistency in their behavior, or ponder whether children should be skipping school to pursue a political agenda, progressives denounce them as bullies picking on nice kids.

    This (at least sometimes) works at the other end of the spectrum, too. A few years back we had Doris "Granny D" Haddock, also fond of publicity stunts. At age 88, she walked across the country in support of "campaign finance reform" (i.e.: increased government regulation of political advocacy). She approached secular sainthood in our local media.

    [Comment also left on the Federalist article.]


  • And at the Atlantic, straight shooter Sally Satel provides The Truth About Painkiller Addiction. She references a HuffPost article from Brooke Feldman, a onetime pill addict. Some facts:

    Among people who are prescribed opioids, addiction is relatively uncommon. The percentage of patients who become addicted after taking opioids for chronic pain is measured in the single digits; studies show an incidence from less than 1 percent to 8 percent. Most of the estimates are skewed toward the low end of this range, when those at risk (due to a history of substance abuse or, to a lesser but meaningful extent, a concurrent mental illness) are removed from the sample. In Feldman’s case, the nature of the risk was constant anguish. When she was 4 years old, her heroin-addicted mother left the family and died of an overdose before she was 12. “For so much of my childhood, I felt abandoned, worthless, unlovable, and confused,” she told me. Her first Percocet came from a girlfriend. “Being numb helped,” she said. Before Percocet, though, she had achieved “escape” with marijuana, alcohol, PCP, benzodiazepines, and cocaine.

    Sally's article is a good debunking of a lot of drug-warrior hype, especially the "blame the eeevil drug companies" sort.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-05

[Amazon Link]

  • At the (possibly paywalled) WSJ Peggy Noonan wonders: What Were Robespierre’s Pronouns?

    [The French Revolution was] largely run by sociopaths. One, Robespierre, the “messianic schoolmaster,” saw it as an opportunity for the moral instruction of the nation. Everything would be politicized, no part of the citizen’s life left untouched. As man was governed by an “empire of images,” in the words of a Jacobin intellectual, the new régime would provide new images to shape new thoughts. There would be pageants, and new names for things. They would change time itself! The first year of the new Republic was no longer 1792, it was Year One. To detach farmers from their superstitions, their Gregorian calendar and its saints’ days, they would rename the months. The first month would be in the fall, named for the harvest. There would be no more weeks, just three 10-day periods each month.

    So here is our parallel, our hiccup. I thought of all this this week because I’ve been thinking about the language and behavioral directives that have been coming at us from the social and sexual justice warriors who are renaming things and attempting to control the language in America.

    There is the latest speech guide from the academy, the Inclusive Communications Task Force at Colorado State University. Don’t call people “American,” it directs: “This erases other cultures.” Don’t say a person is mad or a lunatic, call him “surprising/wild” or “sad.” “Eskimo,” “freshman” and “illegal alien” are out. “You guys” should be replaced by “all/folks.” Don’t say “male” or “female”; say “man,” “woman” or “gender non-binary.”

    More on CSU's Inclusive Speech Guide at the College Fix. I thought things were getting more sensible at the University level, and they may be, but I suspect we'll have to wait until the last Robespierre retires to be sure.


  • David L. Bahnsen, on the other hand, has an eminently sensible take at National Review. Sometimes Trump: Now More Than Ever.

    Few things have occupied more of my energy and frankly my anxiety over the last two and a half years than trying to see conservatism hold itself together through the Trump era. This transcends any impact of Trumpism on the ideology or movement of conservatism, and actually speaks to the personalities involved: the thought leaders, the people. It is inadequate to merely state that divisions have formed around the response of conservatism to Donald J. Trump. In some tragic cases friendships have been destroyed. Nastiness has frequently ruled the day. My dream a couple years ago of everyone taking a breath and finding it in themselves to understand where the other side was coming from was revealed to be naïve gibberish. And as we prepare for President Trump’s reelection effort, I suspect we are about to discover that these intra-squad disputes have only been in the early innings.

    I hold out no hope for persuading other leading advocates of a particular school of thought on Trump how they ought to think, how they ought to behave, or how they ought to be. I can only affirmatively suggest what my modus operandi will be for the next year and three months, and if it strikes a chord within any of you, so be it. My objectives at this point are not to be a grand mediator of divided forces, but rather to be a faithful witness and effective movement conservative in a time where it is desperately needed.

    I can't find a single thing about which to quibble in David's article.


  • [Amazon Link]
    An article on the "Bad News" side of Reason's latest issue by Katrina Gulliver: What If Man Is a Killer Ape Beset by Original Sin?.

    Today, self-help books and relationship gurus invoke evolution to explain everything from marital infidelity to the paleo diet. Our early ancestors' survival needs echo through our ideas today. But this is not the first time our hominid ancestry's role in our culture and character has played a major role in Western popular culture.

    Following the nightmare of the Second World War, the idea of a universal humanity had great appeal. The Holocaust and the atom bomb had proven that human beings have not only destructive impulses but a devastating ability to carry them out. But were these impulses something we were born with, or were they created by our culture? Answering this question became a driving focus of popular anthropology. With Creatures of Cain, the Princeton historian Erika Lorraine Milam explores this period of intellectual debate.

    Cool! Creatures of Cain has been plopped right onto the to-read list.


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards has a rundown on Elizabeth Warren's plan to extract more money from the "rich": Taxing Wealth and Capital Income. Let's skip down to the conclusions:

    Nations around the world have cut taxes on capital in recent decades, and most nations that had annual wealth taxes have repealed them. Recent U.S. proposals to increase taxes on wealth and capital income run counter to the lessons learned about efficient taxation in the global economy.

    The Europeans discovered that imposing punitive taxes on the wealthy undermined economic growth. They found that wealth taxes encouraged tax avoidance and generated capital flight. European wealth taxes raised little money and became riddled with exemptions.

    Wealth is accumulated savings, which is needed for investment. The fortunes of the richest Americans are mainly socially beneficial business assets that create jobs and income, not private consumption assets. Raising taxes on wealth would boomerang against average workers by undermining their productivity and wage growth.

    Senator Warren says that she wants rich people to “pay a fair share, so the next kid has a chance to build something great and the kid after that and the kid after that.” But encouraging the wealthy to invest in new and expanding businesses is what creates opportunities for those young people, not redistributing more income through the tax code.

    Creating a fair and efficient method of taxing capital is a challenge, but experts are widely agreed that wealth taxes are an inefficient way to do so. Rather than sin taxes, wealth taxes are virtue taxes that penalize the wealthy for being frugal and for reinvesting their earnings.

    Rather than imposing a wealth tax or raising tax rates on capital income, policymakers should rethink the overall federal approach to taxing capital. A better way is through consumption-based taxation, which would tax wealth but in a simpler way that does not stifle savings, investment, and growth.

    It must have been tempting for Chris to say: "Elizabeth Warren probably knows her proposal is garbage; her goal is simply to woo the left-wing bubbas that hate the rich."


  • Reader, you may be familiar with/amazed by Gmail's helpful guesswork on what you're going to type when composing your correspondence. And, for that subset of readers who are also current or ex-coders, you may have wondered whether this would happen: This AI-powered autocompletion software is Gmail’s Smart Compose for coders.

    Over the past year, AI has seriously improved its ability to generate the written word. By scanning huge datasets of text, machine learning software can produce convincing samples of everything from short stories to song lyrics. Now, those same techniques are being applied to the world of coding with a new program called Deep TabNine.

    Deep TabNine is what’s known as a coding autocompleter. Programmers can install it as an add-on in their editor of choice, and when they start writing, it’ll suggest how to continue each line, offering small chunks at a time. Think of it as Gmail’s Smart Compose feature but for code.

    Oooh, there's a version for vim, and it supports Perl! I may not be posting for a few weeks…

The Phony Campaign

2019-08-04 Update

[Amazon Link]

This is why Pun Salad tries to stay away from making predictions. ("Especially about the future" — not Yogi Berra.) Andrew Yang has popped back into a slight amount of favor at Betfair, putting him above our 2% WinProb threshold. Also reappearing in our list: Tulsi Gabbard, for the first time since February!

I did not see that coming. Good for them, even though their odds remain slim.

Most hurt, probably by her lackluster performance in the recent debate: Queen Kamala I. And (with, I imagine, an air of resignation) Joe Biden failed to babble incoherently enough in his debate, so he has retaken "favorite Democrat" position away from Elizabeth.

In the phony standings, Trump maintains a solid lead overall, but Mayor Pete edges out Bernie for second place this week:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
7/28
Phony
Results
Change
Since
7/28
Donald Trump 49.0% -1.1% 1,990,000 -990,000
Pete Buttigieg 3.4% -0.2% 947,000 +88,000
Bernie Sanders 5.3% +1.3% 861,000 -169,000
Joe Biden 12.0% +2.2% 384,000 +63,000
Elizabeth Warren 10.2% +0.1% 197,000 +24,000
Kamala Harris 8.5% -4.0% 152,000 +38,000
Tulsi Gabbard 2.3% --- 48,900 ---
Andrew Yang 2.2% --- 24,400 ---

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • Ann Althouse notes a Democrat trend: "We cannot keep with the Republican talking points on this. You got to stop.". A long excerpt, but she has a lot to observe and something good to say:

    I […] want to talk about the rhetoric "Republican talking point." It wasn't just Kamala Harris. It was Joe Biden: "This is not a Republican talking point." And Julian Castro: "Open borders is a right-wing talking point."

    And (to go back to the Tuesday night debate), Elizabeth Warren said it twice: "We should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other...." And "What you want to do instead is find the Republican talking point of a made-up piece of some other part and say, Oh, we don't really have to do anything."

    There was Bernie Sanders: "And, Jake, your question is a Republican talking point."

    Marianne Williamson used the phrase, but warily: "And I do have concern about what the Republicans would say. And that's not just a Republican talking point."

    It's such a cliché already that its usefulness may already be gone, but let me do my part to try to kill it. I assume — and I am a moderate voter in Wisconsin, capable of going for either party's candidate — that the Republicans' talking points are their best arguments on all the various issues. A Democratic Party candidate, to be any good, better demonstrate skill at countering these arguments, these talking points!

    It's especially bad to use the line against the debate moderator, as Bernie did — "Jake, your question is a Republican talking point." It sounds as though he's implying that Jake Tapper should go easy on him and not challenge him with the very arguments he'll have to deal with if he's the Democratic Party candidate.

    And it's terrible to use the phrase as a way to refuse to deal with a problem with your position. Julian Castro said "open borders is a right-wing talking point, and frankly I'm disappointed that some folks, including some folks on this stage, have taken the bait." His whole argument was Shut up, you sound like a Republican. And he wasn't even talking to the other candidates. He was talking to one of the moderators (Don Lemon), who had quoted President Obama's homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson. Your immigration policy sounds like open borders! If it's not open borders, you'd better explain why!

    And look at that Kamala Harris quote I put in the title: "We cannot keep with the Republican talking points on this. You got to stop." You've got the slang "We cannot keep with" and the (intentionally?) bad grammar "You got to stop." Is that supposed to be sassy and cute? To me, it sounds tired and unprepared. Or worse... it sounds like you know your policy is bad and vulnerable to attack but you're going to bull forward with it anyway. It's the best you got... the best you've got.

    "Republican talking point" is a Democratic talking point.

    Well, ouch.


  • At Reason, Ira Stoll notes another irritating Democrat usage: Sanders, Warren Compare Capitalists to Vampires, but Socialism Is What Really Sucks (published pre-debate).

    At the Democratic presidential debates this week and as the campaign heats up in the months ahead, listen for the word "suck."

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) has been using it frequently in connection with health care. In the first round of debates she said, "the insurance companies last year alone sucked $23 billion in profits out of the health care system."

    She also uses the term for those in the financial sector more broadly, beyond health insurance. Recently, Warren issued a plan to "rein in the financial industry so it stops sucking money out of the rest of the economy."

    Ira notes the unsavory history of othering hated groups as "vampires", "vultures", and "ticks".

    And Ira also notes the hypocrisy of folks who (1) want to be in charge of an organization that already demands 15-20% of GDP out of the private economy and (2) want to increase that fraction even more to fund their wacky schemes. So, for those who indulge in that sort of metaphor, who are the bloodsuckers again?


  • As Jane Austen never got around to observing: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a newspaper writer in possession of a good word processor, must be in want of a writing hook. Because otherwise that writer will not be paid. And sometimes that want can reflect utter desperation, as pointed out by the Free Beacon: the WaPo's Deena Prichep discovering that Even Trump's Favorite Food Has a 'Hidden Russian Connection'.

    American hamburgers unquestionably predate Russian versions, but Prichep's "Russia connection" is that in 1936, Soviet food commissar Anastas Mikoyan introduced the hamburger to his country after a fact-finding mission in the States.

    "Mikoyan shared Trump's opinion of fast food. He was a great admirer," University of Helsinki sociologist Jukka Gronow told the Post. "If the war hadn't broken out in 1941, we would have a chain of McMikoyan's."

    The jab that even Trump's food has Russian ties ironically mirrors an administration talking point back in 2017. "If the President puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russia connection," complained White House press secretary Sean Spicer. (In response, a CNN fact-check noted "Russian dressing is actually from Nashua, New Hampshire.")

    Wow, I didn't know that about Nashua. What would we do without CNN fact checkers tracking this stuff down?


  • Pre-debates, Megan McArdle attempted to help CNN clarify something important: What debate moderators should ask Kamala Harris about her Medicare-for-all plan.

    Sen. Harris, like Bernie Sanders, you envision your Medicare-for-all plan covering many services that Medicare currently doesn’t, such as dental, vision and hearing aids. Will it eliminate co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, as the Sanders plan does? Exactly how much do you estimate this plan will cost?

    Your plan will make private insurance illegal for covered services. Will clinics and physicians be able to provide covered services for cash, or will there be no way to obtain those treatments outside the public system?

    And many more. I don't know if Kamala was asked any of that. Because even if she was, her answers tend to have a half-life of hours, as she struggles to explain what she really meant. (I'm reminded of the phrase: "trying to nail jelly to a tree.")


  • At the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein deals directly with the phony issue: Elizabeth Warren is a policy fraud.

    When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks, liberals swoon over her supposed mastery of policy. She markets T-shirts emblazoned with her refrain that she “has a plan for that.” Even those political journalists who question her chances of capturing the Democratic nomination accept this basic premise, and their skepticism is often framed as: Can somebody so wonky appeal to a broader electorate? The truth is that when it comes to policy, Warren is a fraud.

    Whatever reputation Warren may have had as an academic, as a presidential candidate, she has churned out or endorsed one half-baked policy after another.

    True policy innovation requires creativity and grappling with genuine challenges to achieving one’s vision. Rather than seriously working through issues, Warren’s simple solution for everything involves giving away lots of free stuff and insisting that only major corporations and the ultra-wealthy will pay more. Any legitimate questions about her policies are waved away with triumphant lines about the need to think more boldly.

    Phil's number one example is health care, where Warren has not submitted a plan of her own, instead leeching off Bernie's M4A scheme. (See, this bloodsucking metaphor is catching. I'll have to remember to avoid that.)


  • And those crazy libertarians at Reason are similarly unimpressed with Warren's trade policy. Because, as Eric Boehm notes: Warren’s Trade Policy Dresses Up Trumpism with Progressive Rhetoric.

    The Warren campaign's trade policy plan attempts to draw a distinction between the progressive senator and President Donald Trump, who has spent a good deal of his time in office threatening to terminate existing trade deals without getting very much in return. Warren says her administration "will engage in international trade—but on our terms and only when it benefits American families."

    It's a classic example of a sentence where nothing that comes before the "but" really matters. Warren's policy is aiming, essentially, for a more competent version of the protectionism that Trump has brought to the forefront of American politics in the past two years. Warren's plan calls for "establishing a set of standards countries must meet as a precondition for any trade agreement with America." Those standards include enforcement of collective bargaining, elimination of domestic fossil fuel subsidies, and a long-term plan to reduce carbon emissions—rules so strict that they effectively disqualify any developing country from reaching a trade deal with the United States.

    Off the table for both parties, at least for now: dropping tariffs, subsidies, and regulations hampering free trade, and let Americans decide what they want to buy from and sell to those nasty furriners without either Trump or Warren looking over their shoulders.


  • David Henderson has Reflections on the Democratic Debate too. One bit centers on the John "Mr. Peterson" Delaney/Elizabeth Warren imbroglio:

    In criticizing Senator Elizabeth Warren’s and Senator Bernie Sanders’s call for “Medicare for All,” Delaney said, “we don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction, and telling half the country, who has private health insurance, that their health insurance is illegal.”

    A lot of people on the web made fun of Delaney. I thought he did a good job. It’s too bad that he also has the worst proposal of any of the candidates: compulsory national service for every American at age 18. [Note: If you go to the above link, you’ll see that author Rebecca Klar writes, “Every American over the age of 18 would be required to serve the country for at least one year under a plan proposed by presidential candidate former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.). ” There are over 200 million Americans over age 18. I’m pretty sure that Delaney plans to go after “only” the vulnerable 18-year olds, not 68-year olds like me.]

    Senator Warren seems to be getting kudos for this comeback to Delaney:

    I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.

    Really? That gets kudos? Delaney talks about what’s politically and economically feasible and that’s bad? In fact, the contribution of someone who talks about what we really can’t do is enormously valuable.

    Trying to dig some liberty-friendly content out of Democrat debates is… well you know the joke Reagan used to tell about the kid digging around merrily in the room full of horseshit: "There has to be a pony in here somewhere!"

    No there doesn't, kid.


  • And let's give Andrew Yang a big welcome back by pointing to an article by Reason intern Alex Muresianu: Andrew Yang Is Wrong About Shopping Malls and Amazon.

    At the second round of Democratic debates, entrepreneur Andrew Yang criticized Amazon, accusing the online retail giant of "closing 30 percent of American malls and stores." Yang has a plan to protect dying malls, proposing to direct $6 billion to prop up struggling shopping centers.

    But one company is already repurposing many of those suburban behemoths: Amazon. 

    Yang, bless him, thinks $6 billion is the precise amount of Federal cash needed to prop up the "right" number of malls, as determined by the propeller-beanied wizards that will take over the government in the Yang Administration. No doubt these bright boys and girls will be unswayed by pleadings from local pols and mall owners, relying instead on cold hard algorithms!

    And that $6 billion extracted from the private economy. What would that have done, if left in private hands? Well, that's the thing. Yang doesn't care about that "unseen" use.

Cheap Shot

Presidential candidate John Delaney vs. the late John Fielder. Who had a long, distinguished acting career, but (for me) mostly memorable as Mr. Peterson on "The Bob Newhart Show".

[Delaney/Peterson]

This is obviously unfair to … one of these guys. Not sure which. Maybe both.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-03

[Amazon Link]

Personal note: my daughter is getting married today to a wonderful young man. So my thoughts are on their likely future. And I'm trying not to be depressed or angry about what current political trends imply for that future. It's not a pretty picture, Emily.

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has thoughts on Poverty and Capitalism. It is in response to a column by Noah Smith that urges us to "stop blaming America's poor for their poverty." And you know who does that, right? Conservatives, specifically Kevin D. Williamson! Who rebuts:

    The thing about moral truths is that they are truths. Take the example of a problem drinker. We can be reasonably sure that his life will improve if he stops drinking two liters of bourbon a day, or at least that it is much less likely to improve if he does not stop drinking two liters of bourbon a day. Some people see drunkenness and understand it as a character defect; others see alcoholism and understand it as a disease — in either case, the diagnosis is the same: Stop drinking two liters of bourbon a day. Perhaps it is the case that the world has been cruel and unfair to him. What now? Stop drinking. Maybe his parents abused him, he was discriminated against because of his race or sexual orientation, and wrongly convicted of a crime. What now? Stop drinking. It is not that those other factors do not matter — of course they do, especially if they can help us to understand the source of the problem. But the remedy is going to be the same.

    To argue that the problem is “the capitalist system” is to retreat into generality and to refuse to consider the facts of the case, each on its own merits. To insist that the problem is capitalism also is to assert that phenomena such as homelessness are fundamentally economic problems, which does not seem to be the case. In New York, Los Angeles, and other big cities, it is common for people to sleep on the streets even as beds in shelters go unoccupied. There are many reasons for that, but the main one almost certainly is mental illness (and substance abuse as a subset of that). That is the nearly universal opinion of the professionals who work with the urban homeless.

    KDW has been pilloried for his accurate reporting on the various social dysfunctions behind American poverty. And we deal with poverty in the worst possible way: building huge government bureaucracies whose continued existence and funding depend on not solving the problem.


  • Drew Cline, at the Josiah Bartlett Center, has a fever! And the only prescription is… more Milton! To fix health care, look to Milton Friedman, not Bernie Sanders. After a depressing recitation of debating Democrats deriding—eek!—those demonic companies daring to profit from offering health care:

    The Democratic Party is following the wrong Brooklyn-born Jewish immigrant.

    Tooting “The Internationale” on his pipe, Bernie Sanders is leading the Democratic Party down the dark path toward state control of the economy. His anti-capitalism rantings have shifted the party’s base far to the left. He led the health care debate on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Elizabeth Warren and others danced to his seductive tune.

    Wednesday, as it happened, was the birthday of Milton Friedman, “the 20th century’s most prominent advocate of free markets.” Born in Brooklyn 29 years before Bernie Sanders, the Nobel laureate economist became famous for explaining to popular audiences how free markets combat poverty and empower the powerless, as he did here on Phil Donahue’s show.

    Sanders’ progressive push for a government-run health care system is based entirely on the notion that health care and health insurance in the United States are controlled by for-profit companies preying upon citizens in an unrestrained free market. It’s an interesting theory, considering that exactly the opposite is not only true but demonstrably true.

    The United States does not have a free-market health care system. In a free market, a seller cannot raise prices with impunity. The existence of price signals and competition would allow consumers to choose alternatives, keeping prices down and service quality high.

    Only quibble: Milton was not, and Bernie is not, an "immigrant". (A comment I've subitted to the article.)


  • I've referred indirectly to a new hot Democrat debate tactic, and (at the Bulwark) Andrew Egger has noticed it too: "Republican Talking Points".

    The race to the left among the Democrats currently running for president reached a tipping point at the Detroit debate Tuesday night. The progressives and socialists of the field, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, didn’t just behave as though their policy proposals totally blowing up and overhauling everything from healthcare to finance were three-foot putts that moderate Democrats were just too weak-kneed to attempt. They actually dismiss the moderates’ objections as “Republican talking points.”

    When former congressman John Delaney, objecting to progressive proposals of single-payer “Medicare for All,” argued that many Americans were leery of the idea of losing their private insurance, Warren dismissed him out of hand, saying that “We should stop using Republican talking points” when discussing how to provide adequate health care for Americans. When moderator Jake Tapper mentioned that M4A would increase taxes on the middle class, Sanders laid into him with an accusation of bad faith: “Jake, your question is a Republican talking point . . . The health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program; they will be advertising with that talking point.”

    This sort of thing is silly on its face: Just because Republicans have made an argument doesn’t mean a candidate is absolved from addressing it. Whoever wins the 2020 nomination will be forced to defend these same policies in conversation with a very pushy Republican; you’d think the least they could do is get some practice in now. 

    It would also be nice if they could respond substantively to arithmetic-based criticism; otherwise people might get the impression that they're just dodging reality.

    And that impression would be totally accurate. Because…


  • … as Steven Greenhut points out at Reason: There’s No Such Thing as ‘Free Money’ or Meaningless Deficits.

    Most people probably have seen those TV advertisements featuring an obnoxious pitchman wearing a brightly colored suit covered in question marks. He jumps around frenetically, waving his hands, and announcing that the government is giving away lots of "free money." Matthew Lesko's websites help people tap into a sea of federal grants and loans. You can even talk to a "free money coach" to show you how to do it.

    That's probably a good business opportunity in a country where the government spends $4.7 trillion a year. That's trillion with a dozen zeroes. It's 1,000 times a billion, which is starting to approach real money. It could take thousands of years to simply count to 1 trillion. The Lesko approach—free cash for everyone—has long been the strategy of Democratic politicians, but now it's the official fiscal policy of Republican politicians, too.

    When there's "broad bipartisan agreement" that a problem will be ignored, the modern-day media go along because they can't fit the issue into their usual partisan-spat model, and voters can't get that excited about it either … well, that's trouble, right here in River City.

    Trouble with a capital "T".

    And that rhymes with "D".

    And that stands for "Deficit".


  • But at least our representatives are concentrating on the important problems. At AEI, James Pethokoukis looks at Senator Josh Hawley's SMART ("Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology") Act: We’re from the government, and we’re here to redesign your website. Example:

    The bill also delves into minutiae such as the look of consent boxes. For example: If a website operator “requests that a user accept or consent to terms, anything similar, by clicking an icon, the operator shall present the user with an option to decline by clicking an icon that is identical to the other  icon in terms of size, shape, font, and other visual or auditory design, except that the options need not be identical in color as long as the option to decline is conspicuously shaded differently than the immediate background color, and such option to decline shall be placed before the option to consent as measured by the direction the language in which the option is written is conventionally read.”

    I’m not making this up. The specificity here almost defies parody. It turns out that in America, as opposed to say Soviet Russia, government central planning is really more super, super annoying and inconvenient than truly oppressive. Or as TechDirt’s Mike Masnick puts it, “It basically seems to be Congress (via Hawley) appointing itself as the new product manager for all internet services. It’s taking what is a potentially reasonable concern that certain activities on various internet platforms may lead to addictive behaviors and then assuming that Congress must ban them outright.”

    Hawley's bill has no cosponsors yet. As I type. To maintain the pessimistic attitude for the day: I'm not hopeful that will last.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-02

[Amazon Link]

  • Adam Thierer, writing at the Technology Liberation Front, describes Sen. Hawley’s Radical, Paternalistic Plan to Remake the Internet.

    More insultingly, [Hawley] has argued that the entire digital economy was basically one giant mistake. He says that America’s recent focus on growing the Internet and information technology sectors has “encouraged a generation of our brightest engineers to enter a field of little productive value,” which he regards as “an opportunity missed for the nation.” “What marvels might these bright minds have produced,” Hawley asks, “had they been oriented toward the common good?”

    Again, this isn’t the sort of rhetoric that conservatives are usually known for. This is elitist, paternalistic tripe that we usually hear from market-hating neo-Marxists. It takes a lot of hubris for Sen. Hawley to suggest that he knows best which professions or sectors are in “the common good.” As I responded in one of my essays:

    Had some benevolent philosopher kings in Washington stopped the digital economy from developing over the past quarter century, would all those tech workers really have chosen more noble-minded and worthwhile professions? Could he or others in Congress really have had the foresight to steer us in a better direction?

    We live in stupid times. Hope they will pass soon.

    But our Amazon Product du Jour is "Destroy The Justified Hard Paternalism" by FUKAFUTA, a Japanese composer/performer of electronic music. The sample provided of the title track sounds like it could have been on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack during the Isengard orc-factory scene. So not my cup of tea, but could be yours for a mere $0.99.


  • At Reason, Eric Boehm notes another stupidity symptom: The Senate Will Vote on a $2.7 Trillion Budget Deal That Adds to the National Debt. The Democrats’ Debates Ignored It..

    Maybe CNN should take most of the blame for this. Its debate moderators spent more than four hours over two nights grilling 20 presidential hopefuls, yet they did not see fit to ask a single question about the $22 trillion (and growing) national debt—and the candidates, unsurprisingly, did not bring it up on their own.

    Considering that several of the candidates on the state are current members of the U.S. Senate, the very legislative body that will vote on the budget deal Thursday, CNN missed an important and obvious opportunity for voters to draw distinctions among the 20-member debate field.

    Would any of the candidates have offered even the slightest suggestion that adding trillions more to the $22 trillion national debt might be an error we'll regret later? Maybe we'll find out at the next debate in September, but don't hold your breath.

    I don't blame CNN especially. Except I wish they'd stop pretending to be the "adults in the room", bringing the public's attention to serious issues. A more honest network would say: "We attempt to satisfy your craving for spectacle and partisan animosity."


  • I suppose you're wondering: are white cops are more likely to kill black suspects? Heather MacDonald has your answer at National Review: White Cops Are Not More Likely to Kill Black Suspects.

    A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demolishes the Democratic narrative regarding race and police shootings, which holds that white officers are engaged in an epidemic of racially biased shootings of black men. It turns out that white officers are no more likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot black civilians. It is a racial group’s rate of violent crime that determines police shootings, not the race of the officer. The more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater the chance that members of that racial group will be shot by a police officer. In fact, if there is a bias in police shootings after crime rates are taken into account, it is against white civilians, the study found.

    The authors, faculty at Michigan State University and the University of Maryland at College Park, created a database of 917 officer-involved fatal shootings in 2015 from more than 650 police departments. Fifty-five percent of the victims were white, 27 percent were black, and 19 percent were Hispanic. Between 90 and 95 percent of the civilians shot by officers in 2015 were attacking police or other citizens; 90 percent were armed with a weapon. So-called threat-misperception shootings, in which an officer shoots an unarmed civilian after mistaking a cellphone, say, for a gun, were rare.

    These facts will be soon dismissed (if they haven't been already) as "Republican talking points" by Democratic presidential candidates.


  • And, via GeekPress, Ancient Roman 'Pen' Was a Joke Souvenir.

    The tradition of buying cheap, joke souvenirs for your loved ones while traveling dates back at least two millennia.

    During an archaeological excavation at a Roman-era site in London, researchers found around 200 iron styluses used for writing on wax-filled wooden tablets. One of those styluses, which just debuted in its first public exhibition, holds a message written in tiny lettering along its sides. The inscription's sentiment, according to the researchers who translated it, is essentially, "I went to Rome and all I got you was this pen."

    So the next time you see a "I went to X and all I got you was Y" trinket, you can recognize it for what it is: a sign of the decline and fall of America.

URLs du Jour

2019-08-01

[Amazon Link]

Happy August, everyone! Won't be too long 'fore snow be flyin'!

  • I read this WSJ story yesterday with a growing sense of disbelief: Capital One Hacking Suspect Showed Strange Online Behavior.

    The 33-year-old woman accused of executing one of the largest-ever data thefts at a bank showed strange behavior online in recent months, at times bragging about her exploits and discussing deep struggles in her personal life.

    Paige Adele Thompson was arrested in her home city of Seattle on Monday, charged with stealing data from Capital One Financial involving more than 100 million credit-card customers and applicants.

    Skipping to page 6 showed a pic of Paige. When I began to suspect… yup, there it is:

    Ms. Thompson changed her name in 2009 from Trevor Allen Thompson, according to a legal document filed in King County District Court in Seattle.

    Capital One asks: "What's in your wallet?" Turns out it's Paige.


  • Veronique de Rugy makes a point that will seem obvious to people who know the way the world works: Colorado's Paid Leave Proposal Ignores Trade-Offs.

    There are no valid free market arguments for a nationwide, one-size-fits-all federal plan to provide paid leave. But should experimentation with this policy be off-limits to states? The beauty of a federalist system is that states can experiment and innovate with their own policies. This diversity can teach us what works and what doesn't. In this sense, Colorado's commitment to implement a new state-level, paid leave entitlement program — the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act — is consistent with federalism.

    The FAMLI Act would provide paid leave benefits to workers who have family events, such as the birth or adoption of a child or the need to care for a loved one, but the hefty price tag would be paid for by collecting a "premium" from employers and employees. So, while it's ill-advised for the state government to intrude in this way, depending on what the plan ends up looking like, the rest of the country will learn a valuable lesson at Colorado's expense.

    Veronique goes on to explain that the people that such policies are meant to "help" are actually the ones most likely to be penalized, in this case via regressive payroll-taxation, or by reductions in employment and promotion opportunities (disproportionately falling on women).


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi observes: Compared To The Democrats, Donald Trump Is Moderate.

    Once you strip away all the hysteria and madness surrounding the Donald Trump presidency, you’re left with a policy agenda of a populist, big-government Republican. Whether or not you have a moral or personal case against Trump himself, the president’s stated policy positions fall well within the contours of traditional right-left politics.

    Can the same be said of Democrats? I’m sorry, but across-the-board tax cuts, notwithstanding the panic-stricken reaction, aren’t particularly radical. Every Republican president going back to Warren Harding has passed some kind of rate reduction. Nor is Trump’s stated position on constrained foreign entanglement, which is popular with large factions of both parties. Trump’s anti-Iran and pro-Israel posture are long-standing GOP positions — and before President Barack Obama, bipartisan consensus.

    David's got a point. Still not gonna vote for Trump, though.


  • Max C. Eden, writing at National Review notes: Lack of Funding Is Not What Ails American Schools.

    Last month, researchers from Johns Hopkins University published a heartbreaking study describing the conditions of public schools in Providence, R.I. The report contained a laundry list of problems that plague America’s public schools, such as the inability to fire bad teachers and discipline unruly students, and the need for massive reams of bureaucratic paperwork to get anything done at all.

    Here’s what wasn’t a problem: lack of funding. Providence spends $17,192 per pupil every year.

    But to hear progressive politicians and advocates tell of it, insufficient spending is the only problem with public education. For example, in his “Thurgood Marshall Plan,” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders declared that schools have seen “savage” budget cuts, teachers are paid “starvation wages,” and schoolhouses are “crumbling.”

    This could not be further from the truth. The fact is that America spends more on education than any other major developed nation. In 2015, the latest year for which Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data is available, the United States spent a combined $12,800 on primary and secondary education, significantly higher than Germany ($11,100), France ($10,000), Italy ($9,100), and Spain ($8,300).

    Don't confuse Bernie with facts. (Now known, apparently as "Republican Talking Points".)


  • In case it's not painfully obvious to the reader (and maybe even if it is), David Henderson tells us, at the Library of Economics and Liberty, Why Libertarians Distrust Political Power.

    In mid-July, Hillbilly Elegy author J. D. Vance delivered a talk at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington entitled “Beyond Libertarianism.” The talk is interesting and important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it was one of several talks at that coming out party for “nationalist conservatism” that saw in classical liberalism the source of the social problems they hoped their new vision of conservatism could address. Vance’s talk took this point head-on, arguing that conservatives have to break away from libertarianism’s commitment to individual choice and be willing to exercise political power to fix the ills that he sees libertarian attitudes and policies as having caused. At one point, he says of libertarians:

    Libertarians are not heartless, and I don’t mean to suggest that they are. I think they often recognize many of the same problems that we recognize, but they are so uncomfortable with political power, or so skeptical of whether political power can accomplish anything, that they don’t want to actually use it to solve or even address some of these problems.

    But to me, ignoring the fact that we have political choices, or pretending that there aren’t political choices to be made, is itself a political choice. The failure to use political power that the public has given is a choice, and it’s a choice that has increasingly had, and I think increasingly will have, incredibly dire consequences for ourselves and our families.

    This argument treats libertarian criticisms of political power as either psychological “discomfort” or unexplained “skepticism.” If not that, then the refusal to use political power is the result of ignoring that we have political choices or pretending none are to be made. All of these claims deeply misunderstand the libertarian aversion to the use of political power and ignore the role that such power can often play in causing the very problems further use of such power is hoping to solve.

    I like J. D.'s book a lot, and his life story displays an admirable character. I just wish that he'd spend a little time perusing that old (origin unknown) chestnut: "Government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have."

    But David's response is longer, and deserves your attention.