URLs du Jour

2019-10-31

[Amazon Link]

  • I am not a big Halloween fan. OK, the cute kids coming to your door in costume are fun. Everything else … sheesh, could you give it a rest, already?

    At the Federalist, Joy Pullmann is even less enchanted. She advises: Stop Turning Your Yard Into A Hellscape For Halloween.

    One of the things I’ve learned from moving into town is how little so many people think about others. Drivers will honk at 6 a.m. to get someone to come out of a house (Don’t you have a cell phone? Or get your rear out of the car and walk 20 feet to the door and knock.). People will blare music at all hours so loudly it shakes the windows of the houses they pass. They paint their porches fire engine red and their houses execrable shades of teal, let their cats defecate in other people’s sandboxes, and dump their fast food wrappers into the wind.

    In other words, lots of people are rude, tasteless, and selfish. Of course, since I believe human nature is corrupt, this isn’t really a surprise, but what is a surprise is what appears to be an increase in these crudities along with a growing tendency to excuse and rationalize them.

    Perhaps the most vivid illustration of this tendency is the grotesquery with which many people “decorate” their yards for Halloween. Within a few blocks of my house are yards full of severed heads, decomposing corpses, positively demonic-looking witches, goblins, and ghouls, and moldy skeletons coming out of the ground (some even shake!).

    One entire nearby neighborhood decorated all of its streetlights with hanging severed heads that have blood running out of the eyes. Some people have fog machines and motion detectors that emit noises from Hell every time a mom walks by with her preschooler and baby, or kids of all ages go past on their way to school.

    What is wrong with these people?

    Yeah, it's weird.

    Although I hope Joy's neighbors don't read her opinions about them.


  • Also noting the nastiness is Robert C. Hamilton at the (probably paywalled) WSJ: Halloween Has Taken a Sadistic Turn.

    Today, Halloween is much different from what I remember as a boy. The day is now for everyone, not children only. Teenagers and ever more adults are dressing up. While the secularization of America has made Christmas controversial, Halloween has become a celebration for all.

    It’s also big business. Americans spend billions each year on candy, home decorations and costumes. America’s retailers and theme parks are cashing in. Schools are too—bizarrely raising funds through haunted houses and fairs.

    The overall tenor of the holiday seems to have changed as well. Halloween has always had a certain transgressive appeal—as with Mardi Gras, the evening before a holy day is a natural occasion for naughtiness and mischief. But like a scene in a movie when events go awry and the music crescendoes to a cacophonous din, the Halloween of today has taken a sadistic turn.

    A local anecdote: a mom in a neighboring town dressed her kid (approximately age 9) up as "Chucky", the evil homicidal doll from the R-rated movies. Hm.


  • I guess today's overriding theme is: things are going straight to hell, sorry. At AEI, Frederick M. Hess shares the Grim news on the “Nation’s Report Card”. Which is the National Assessment of Educational Progress issued by the Department of Education. Hess's takeaways:

    First, the results were dismal. Scores were up a tick in 4th grade math, but dropped in 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, and 8th grade math. Indeed, the drop in 8th grade reading was large — at more than 3 scale points, it was the largest change in scores ever seen for that test, and in the wrong direction.

    Second, test score declines are never welcome. But these results were especially disheartening given the backdrop of the past decade. While there were some test score gains (particularly in math) between 2000 and 2010, NAEP performance has stagnated since that time, with the 2015 results showing the first widespread declines in NAEP.

    Third, a close look at the detailed results adds insult to injury. The bulk of the declines are coming from our lowest scoring students. In 4th grade reading and in 8th grade reading and math, declines are larger for lower-performing students.

    Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos was quoted channelling her inner libertarian in a Tweet:

    Democrat solution: promise to throw more money at government schools.

    Yeah, I don't think that will help.

    But when it doesn't help, Democrats will tell us: well, we just haven't thrown enough money at the schools.

    As a retired programmer, I can recognize an infinite loop when I see one.


  • As long as we are bemoaning societal and government dysfunction, let's bring in Veronique de Rugy's advice: End the Failed Renewable Fuel Standard Experiment.

    It's time for the annual Congressional fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. In one corner sit corn farmers and their representatives, who fight tenaciously not just to preserve the RFS but to expand it. In the other sits, well, just about everyone else. Whether you are a refiner, a consumer, an environmentalist, a free market economist or just someone who cares about good government, there is ample reason to oppose the ethanol mandate.

    Since 2005, the federal government has required that refineries blend increasing amounts of ethanol (grain alcohol) with gasoline. There are requirements for cellulosic, biodiesel and advanced biofuels, with the rest of the mandate typically being met by corn ethanol since it is the cheapest.

    The stated goals of the RFS were to reduce reliance on foreign energy and to move toward cleaner fuel sources. It falls short on both fronts.

    Additional reading from Arthur R. Wardle AND Joseph L. Verruni Jr in the Hill: The Renewable Fuel Standard is killing the environment.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie piles on the recent call for censorship in the pages of the Washington Democracy-Dies-In-Darkness Post by Richard Stengel: Former Time Editor and CEO of Constitution Center (!) Wants To Cancel First Amendment, Pass Hate Speech Laws.

    As befits a man who helmed a legacy media outlet that is slowly being reduced to rubble like a statue of Ozymandias in the desert, Stengel is particularly distraught over "the Internet" and the "Web." He implies that the "marketplace of ideas" worked well enough when John Milton and, a bit later, America's founders pushed an unregulated press, but, well, times have changed.

    On the Internet, truth is not optimized. On the Web, it's not enough to battle falsehood with truth; the truth doesn't always win. In the age of social media, the marketplace model doesn't work. A 2016 Stanford study showed that 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn't distinguish between an ad labeled "sponsored content" and an actual news story. Only a quarter of high school students could tell the difference between an actual verified news site and one from a deceptive account designed to look like a real one.

    If you're basing the erosion of constitutional rights on the reading comprehension skills of middle schoolers, you're doing it wrong. And by it, I mean journalism, constitutional analysis, politics, and just about everything else, too.

    People with memories longer than a few years will recall the decades-long wrangling over defining bannable pornography. People seriously want to redo that for the far vaguer concept of "hate speech"? Please.