The Girl with All the Gifts

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

One last movie for 2019, watched while waiting for the ball to drop. It's pretty good, for a zombie movie. It appears not to have been widely released to US theaters for some reason.

I'd read the book on which it was based back in 2015, and… hey, I'll just steal a bit from what I said then, only minor spoilers:

Melanie is a smart kid in an unusual situation: she goes to school with her classmates, but that involves a couple of armed soldiers coming to get her in her cell. One holds a gun on her while the other puts her into a wheelchair with strong restraints on her arms, legs, and head. All indications are that the soldiers view her and her ilk with a mixture of fear and loathing. But she has a sympathetic teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton, who played Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace!). And there's a very creepy lady scientist, Dr. Caldwell, played by Glenn Close. Pretty clearly she views the kids much like lab rats.

So she's in some sort of prison/lab. And all indications are that the outside world is … not well. The situation can't go on forever, and it doesn't.

This seems to be a big-budget movie, special effects are impressive. (According to Wikipedia (small spoiler) "Aerial views of a deserted London were filmed with drones in the abandoned Ukrainian town of Pripyat, which has been uninhabited since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster."

Don't Think Twice

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I have a very short list of comedians of whom I'm a fan, but Mike Birbiglia's on it. Nevertheless, this 2016 movie stuck in my streamable Netflix queue for quite awhile; the holiday TV viewing drought encouraged me to check it out. Mike wrote and directed, and is one of the actors involved.

It was in "select theaters" but I'm not sure if it ever made it to "a theater near you".

It centers on a ragtag improvisational comedy group, "The Commune", Despite being modestly successful, for an improv group that means most of the cast have day jobs that they hate, in order to avoid starvation. The overriding ethos of the group is teamwork, since improv demands it. But there's also a considerable amount of professional jealousy, especially when one of the cast makes it into the big time, "Weekend Live", a thinly-disguised SNL. Things are further strained when one of the cast members' father goes into the hospital.

I'm not a fan of improv, and this movie didn't make me one. For a movie centered around comedy, the laughs from me were few and far between.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-31

As the inexorable wave of time is about to make another year disappear…

  • At Reason, J.D. Tuccille suggests some Resolutions To See You Through a New (Election) Year. And they're all good, of course, so if you need advice like this:

    Get some perspective.

    Too many of your friends and neighbors are tribal idiots, but they're not the worst tribal idiots in recent memory, by any means. Friedrich Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom at a time when trendy thinkers agreed that free societies were a passing fad, debated whether they'd be superseded by fascism or socialism, and waged their argument in the streets and on battlefields. Anne Frank wrote her diary while hiding, ultimately unsuccessfully, from psychopathic Nazis who ruled an empire, not a website. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago documented the horrors of the forced-labor camps that were an integral part of life under Communism. And in The Girl With Seven Names, North Korean Lee Hyeon-seo described an entire country turned into a forced-labor camp. By comparison, Americans' current fascination with brown shirt/red shirt cosplay should be taken as a warning, but it doesn't yet rise to the heights of historical awfulness.

    … I suggest you read the whole thing.


  • David Harsanyi points out what should be obvious: Texas Church Shooting: Concealed-Carry Law Prevented Mass Murder.

    The same weekend that Orthodox Jews in Monsey, N.Y., were fighting off another knife-wielding anti-Semite thug with chairs and coffee tables — they were fortunate that the perpetrator hadn’t brought a firearm, like the killer who targeted a yeshiva in Jersey City only a few weeks earlier — Jack Wilson, a 71-year-old congregant and security volunteer at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, took mere seconds to stop a potential mass murderer.

    Earlier in the year, to the dismay of the usual suspects, Texas governor Greg Abbott had signed a bill making it explicitly legal for Texans with concealed-carry licenses to bring their weapons into places of worship. These kinds of protections allowed Wilson to achieve something that no gun laws now being pursued nationally by Democrats has ever accomplished: He stopped a mass shooter. My guess is that Wilson, a former deputy sheriff, is the kind of guy who probably wouldn’t have broken the law and carried a firearm into church had it been illegal to do so. The killer, on the other hand, I’m wholly certain, would have been undeterred by any laws.

    We can thank Jack for not being a thoughts-and-prayers kind of guy. More of a draw-aim-fire kind of guy.


  • At AIER, Joakim Book points out Troubles in the Economists’ Case for a Carbon Tax. It's not the worst idea, mind you, just one that doesn't deserve mindless praise.

    Even accepting the externality argument, we are instantly confronted with two obvious problems: First, we don’t know how far apart these impressive-looking textbook curves of social and private benefit are. There is simply no way to adequately measure the cost of an externality (never mind that costs are individual and subjective rather than collective and observable). If we overcorrect, we are harming ourselves for no good reason.

    Second, there are suitable alternatives. The entire process of achieving a well-functioning carbon tax — one that does not suffer from leakage (where polluting industries simply move jurisdictions) and the overshoot that economists worry about or the loopholes and regulatory capture that activists are rightly worried about — is a daunting challenge. In contrast, geoengineers claim to be able to mimic the effects of naturally occurring volcanic eruptions that would block some incoming sunlight with atmospheric particles, a phenomenon that has reduced global temperatures in the past. At a total expense of no more than tens of millions of dollars, a single philanthropist could finance that, bypassing most of the nitty-gritty political horse-trading and the outcomes of opaque negotiation that we worry about. 

    I've been bothered by the promises that a proposed carbon tax will be "revenue neutral": i.e, incoming money to Your Federal Government gets shoveled back out to The People. Somehow.

    Well … the tax is supposed to disincentivize fossil-fuel use. If you just give the money back, where does that disincentive go?

    It all seems to be an unholy scheme to obfuscate the actual incidence of the tax. Am I a winner or loser? Hard to say. Especially when you consider that a carbon tax is essentially a sales tax on every product or service.


  • Bret Stephens wrote an NYT column that mentioned something true. And so (as described at Power Line): Cancel Culture Claims Another Scalp.

    […] Stephens visited the possibility that Jews may be, on the average, smarter than gentiles–not exactly a novel thought. But in raising and mostly rejecting this hypothesis (“The common answer is that Jews are, or tend to be, smart. But the “Jews are smart” explanation obscures more than it illuminates.”), Stephens violated a taboo by referring briefly to IQ scores:

    The column cited a 2005 paper by researchers Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah stating that “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. During the 20th century, they made up about 3 percent of the U.S. population but won 27 percent of the U.S. Nobel science prizes and 25 percent of the ACM Turing awards. They account for more than half of world chess champions.”

    The simple-minded among us might say, Yup. There are a lot of smart Jews. But liberals promptly swung into action, in many cases weirdly accusing Stephens of perpetuating an anti-Semitic stereotype.

    There are a lot illiberal "liberals" who not only deny the likelihood of genetic influence to IQ; they also don't want to hear about it. And they'll do whatever it takes to make people who do talk about it very, very, sorry.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang a lot this morning, but this was probably the most interesting ding-dong, from gambling.com: New Hampshire Sports Betting Launches, But Consumers Lose.

    New Hampshire talks a good motto. But “Live Free or Die” was obviously not taken much into account when state regulators finalized plans that led to the opening of legal sports betting in the state on Monday.

    What New Hampshire began with on Monday was a DraftKings monopoly. And that is not good for the consumers who are supposed to support and benefit from sports betting.

    More choices mean more interest and more money for everyone.

    One gaming industry insider described the single-source system to Gambling.com as "borderline communism. State-run wagering.” Live free or die, indeed.

    Governor Sununu dropped $82 on the Pats to win the Super Bowl. It's tempting to vote the other way. I'm not even sure they can beat the Titans on Saturday.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Finishing up my own saga: I watched original Star Wars at the Uptown Theater in Washington DC with not-yet-Mrs. Salad. We've been to every one since then.

And now it's over (sob).

I am prepared to tell you this movie is OK, but I can't shake the overall vibe I got, roughly: "Well, we said we were going to make this, and here it is." They got their characters into a bad situation, they have to figure out how to wind things up in (checks IMDB) 142 minutes.

I think the previews of coming attractions went on almost that long, too.

So, various mysteries are resolved. We find out Rey's parentage. We find out that (spoiler!) Wedge Antilles is still around and still a pretty good shot in an X-Wing.

As Mrs. Salad observed, there is a lot of fighting. Not a lot of effort went into coming up with coherent character-driven plot threads.

Since The Last Jedi ended so badly, there was unfortunately no act that compared to the thrilling rescue of Carbonited Han Solo in Return of the Jedi. Too obvious? Maybe, but still would have been preferable to whatever happened in the first act in this movie. See, I've already kind of forgotten.

I'll say that I appreciated the references to previous movies, though. And the end is a nice bookend to the entire series.


Last Modified 2020-01-18 7:01 AM EST

49th Parallel

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This 1940 British movie was an unabashed propaganda effort, one primary goal was to lure American into WW2. Not a bad try!

As the movie opens, the German U-boat U-37 has just sunk a cargo ship off the coast of Canada. Some survivors clamber up onto the sub's deck, but they're shoved right back off again. Damn Nazis. (Although I have to admit, I'm not sure how Allied subs would have handled the same situation.)

On the run from patrols, the boat decides to hide out in Hudson Bay. A small group of six is sent ashore to seek provisions and… kaboom, the sub gets blown out of the water.

So now what do those six guys do? Well, first thing is to make it to a fur trading post, where they encounter—I am not making this up—Sir Laurence Olivier, playing a trapper with a Quebecois accent that probably would get him in big trouble in modern Canada.

That encounter turns bad, for both Canadians and Nazis. So the Nazis move on, and on, encountering various Canadians along the way. The major problem is that they can't shut up about their vile ideology, keep getting discovered, getting into violent deadly scrapes, and then moving on.

It's all pretty good, in a 1940s way. Famous actors Leslie Howard and Raymond Massey play Canadian civilians that the Nazis encounter, to their dismay.

Lessons From Lucy

The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

[Amazon Link]

Dave Barry has a dog. A nice girl named Lucy. I have a dog, a (pretty) good boy named Barney. Dave thinks he's learned a lot about how to live a better life from Lucy, and he compiled that learning into seven lessons, each with its own chapter. Spoiler alert, here they are:

  1. Make new friends. (And keep the ones you have.)
  2. Don't stop having fun. (And if you have stopped, start having fun again.)
  3. Pay attention to the people you love. (Not later. Right now.)
  4. Let go of your anger, unless it's about something really important, which it almost never is.
  5. Try not to judge people by their looks, and don't obsess over your own.
  6. Don't let your happiness depend on things; they don't make you truly happy, and you'll never have enough anyway.
  7. Don't lie unless you have a really good reason, which you probably don't.

Good things: Dave is best when he's being funny and observant of both his dog and his own life. There are a number of good yarns: about his awful band, the Rock Bottom Remainders; his work with the World Famous Lawn Rangers, a group whose members parade with a broom in one hand, pushing a lawn mower with the other; the reason he woke up in hung over in a hotel room with "NO SPLEEN" sharpied on his arm. And dog stories, of course.

But I have quibbles: the "lessons" are pretty much the ones you can derive dog-free, and dogs are optimized for dogginess anyway, not humanness. And, truth be told, when Dave is not being funny, he can be … a little preachy.

In fact, while reading, I was thinking: "Dave's a little preachy." When on page 184 I see Dave admitting that he's "maybe even a little preachy in places".

OK, all is forgiven, Dave.

And it turns out there's one last lesson. And this one is moving and pretty agonizing. I read Dave's blog, and he was absent for awhile. Ah, this explains why. Small spoiler: things turn out OK.

The Lion King

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I loved the original animated version of The Lion King. Bought the VHS tape. Bought the DVD. Bought the movie soundtrack CD and the Broadway Cast CD.

And I like the idea of redoing the old Disney animations with live actors and a lot of CGI. Aladdin was fine. Beauty and the Beast was fine. The Jungle Book was fine.

But I didn't much care for this, for some reason. No people. Just talking (and singing) animals. Too weird? Is that a valid criticism for Disney movies? I wouldn't have thought so, but for whatever reason, this just didn't work for me.

I assume you know the plot: it's Hamlet, except different, and it's with lions instead of people.

And it looks fabulous.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-30

  • xkcd has a party idea that should appeal to programmers who have to worry about this stuff:

    [New Year's Eve]

    Mouseover: "Off-by-one errors" isn't the easiest theme to build a party around, but I've seen worse.


  • In our "It must have been an easy article to write" Department, AIER's Max Gulker reviews The Year in Bad Ideas. There are ten. Here's number ten:

    National Conservatism – The left has unsurprisingly occupied most of the spots on this list–they’re the opposition and we’re approaching primary season which means plenty of ideas from radicals and one or two from centrists. Given the litany of destined-to-fail hail marys on this list, one might think the right would find it expedient to double down on its perceived affinity for free markets, but that would be easier had the perception ever been true. Events like Yoram Hazony’s national conservatism conference suggest that for much of the right “free markets” always meant what the left assumed it did–a preference for big business and the businessman in his place atop society’s hierarchy. In truth capitalism and conservatism don’t go hand in hand, the former being a force for constant change in society through bottom-up, evolutionary means that, while messy, offer sounder guidance than any hand. Our system may offer the choice between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren. Bring it on. Never have those in the free-market camp been ceded more ground, but we need to jettison our old bad ideas too. Let’s be clear, libertarians have repeatedly made the mistake that right-populists also want small government. They don’t. They want to be the government. This isn’t a quick-turnaround opportunity, and more elections will likely come and go before we’re out of this hole. A lot of those bad ideas above have the seed of good intentions and those intentions can be met far more effectively by markets, philanthropy, and private governance. It may require patience and some dead-end bad ideas of our own, but the potential is out there to make people’s lives better without making everyone’s worse. That’s a daunting resolution for the new year, but consider the alternatives.

    This is a point Jonah Goldberg has been making in his recent "Remnant" podcasts: Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom to "the socialists of all parties" (emphasis added). It's not great to see folks on "our side" beguiled by the planning fallacies he so ably debunked 75 years ago.


  • The WSJ had a long editorial that deserves your attention if you can breach the paywall: Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan, Oh My. It's a "greatest hits" list of the various proposals she's set out in her "60-some policy papers". The greatest hit will be the American economy, of course. For example:

    Green New Deal: Spend $3 trillion, including $1.5 trillion on industrial mobilization, $400 billion on research, and $100 billion on a Marshall Plan. By 2030 hit 100% carbon-neutral power and 100% zero-emission new cars. Retrofit “4% of houses and buildings every year.” For “environmental justice,” put a third of the funds into “the most vulnerable communities.”

    An end to fossil fuels: Ban fracking. Halt new drilling leases on federal land. “Prohibit future fossil fuel exports.” Kill the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “Subject each new infrastructure project to a climate test.” Give “workers transitioning into new industries” a “guaranteed wage and benefit parity” and “promised pensions and early retirement benefits.”

    Why, no, she's not a big Hayek fan. How'd you guess?

    And, as the WSJ observes, her plans also include getting rid of the Senate filibuster, so that if the Democrats take control of that chamber, and keep the House, they'll be able, in theory, to pass everything.

    Thank goodness a lot of it is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, not enough of it.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson asks the musical question: Do Celebrities Really Buy the Climate-Change Story?.

    I love Emma Thompson’s acting. I wish somebody would tell her about Skype.

    The great English actress is a climate-change activist, “activist” here meaning “a celebrity who cares about popular causes in public.” When she recently was accused of hypocrisy for jumping on a jet to attend a climate-change rally — international air travel is one of the most carbon-intensive things a person can do — she attempted to justify herself, saying: “For decades now we have been asking for clean energy, and this has been ignored.”

    That is some grade-A magical thinking: The constraints involved in the problem of moving x pounds of people or freight y distance at speed z are questions of physics, not questions of ethics. “Asking for” things to be different does not remove those constraints; for decades now, I have been asking for a way to live off bourbon and cheeseburgers without getting fat and unnecessarily dead but, so far, no dice. Physics always wins.

    It is about power. They say they want to get the climate under control. What they mean is: they want to get people under control. Just like…


  • "Gun control." As Daniel J. Mitchell notes in his third collection of Gun Control Humor. A sample:

    [thoughts and prayers]

    Ayuh.

The Phony Campaign

2019-12-29 Update

Welcome to the last phony campaign update for 2019. Here's hoping that 2020 will bring a major decrease in phoniness. Also an end to the trade war, drug war, vaping war, war war, robocalls, wrong numbers, state-sponsored gambling, restrictive zoning, deficit spending, and…

Well, I could go on.

In our phony results, President Trump once again claimed the top spot, as 1.2 million phony hits for Mayor Pete disappeared in the space of a week. (They were probably never there in the first place.) The Betfair punters smiled a bit more on Bernie, improving the probability of his winning all the marbles by a full percentage point. And Senator Liz continues her fade,

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
12/22
Phony
Results
Change
Since
12/22
Donald Trump 49.8% unch 1,830,000 -140,000
Pete Buttigieg 4.3% -0.1% 1,310,000 -1,240,000
Hillary Clinton 2.4% -0.2% 837,000 +83,000
Bernie Sanders 9.9% +1.0% 501,000 +28,000
Joe Biden 14.5% +0.4% 435,000 -80,000
Elizabeth Warren 5.9% -0.4% 237,000 +11,000
Michael Bloomberg 4.6% +0.2% 92,900 +16,500
Andrew Yang 2.1% +0.1% 49,800 +6,600

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson argues Trump Isn’t a Nazi. He’s a Failure.

    The case against Trump in 2016 was that he is unfit for the office. The case against Trump in 2020 is — or should be — that he is not very good at his job.

    In 2016, Trump promised Americans sustained 3-percent economic growth, but the economy has not met that standard. He promised a shrinking trade deficit, but the trade deficit has grown. He promised to build a wall along the southern border and to make Mexico pay for it, which he has not done. Which is to say, on the core issues of economic growth, trade, and immigration, President Trump is a failure by his own criteria.

    And Kevin adds the funny part (for sufficiently small values of "funny"): the Democrats are near-literally promising to be worse: continuing the trade war, almost certainly torpedoing the mediocre recovery by jacking up taxes, and greenlighting illegal immigrants.


  • Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey wonders Is Warren a class-warrior convert -- or world-class hypocrite?. Noting a Washington Post story that came upon the midnight clear:

    Elizabeth Warren hoped to reboot her flailing campaign with an attack on Pete Buttigieg’s fundraising, but it might end up kicking her to the curb instead. After heaping scorn on Mayor Pete’s “wine cave full of crystals” big-ticket fundraising event, it turned out that Warren had a few wine-cellar events of her own. Today, the Washington Post reminds readers that Warren used to excel at the same kind of wealthy fundraiser events she excoriates now … right up until this year, in fact[…]

    After digging out numerous warning signs, Ed provides the bottom line:

    It’s not just that Warren’s a hypocrite — it’s that she’s a phony. Her stock is falling because voters have gotten wise to her act. If Warren doesn’t rethink her entire approach to politics in this cycle, she might soon be joining Harris on the sidelines.

    Except that I'm not sure what she could change at this point that wouldn't seem like shameless posturing. "Oh, you don't like the I've-got-a-plan-for-that thing any more? Well, how about this? How do you like me now?"


  • And the Daily Caller notes Soviet-style revisionism from Wheezy Joe this holiday season: Biden Christmas Message Coming From ‘Entire Family, Even The Dogs’ Excludes Embattled Hunter. Specifically:

    I can't believe they didn't think about the optics here. But it was a no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario, and Joe is no Captain Kirk.


  • Mayor Pete did his bit for phoniness, as described by Paul Mirengoff at Power Line: Fake labels.

    The Washington Post reports that some Democrats are mad as hell at Pete Buttigieg for abandoning some of his previous positions — e.g., Medicare for all and decriminalizing illegal border crossings. I think Buttigieg can live with their wrath, given that his move out of the hard left lane has corresponded with a surge in the polls, both nationally and especially in Iowa.

    However, the Post’s article, by Chelsea Janes, illustrates what a slippery character Buttigieg is. The small city mayor used a leftist persona to make an attention grabbing entrance to the campaign, but started tacking towards conventional liberalism when he realized that’s where most of his votes (other than gay votes) are likely to be found.

    Paul goes on to note the WaPo's shift in position-labelling: positions that once—maybe just a few months ago—would have been (at best) "progressive", "radical", or even "socialist" are now deemed "liberal". Whereas previously-"liberal" stances are now "moderate".

    We don't have to worry about candidates' conservative/libertarian positions getting mislabeled. Those positions are not on the table in 2020.


  • And an amusing note from the Washington Times: Michael Bloomberg contractor used prisoners to make campaign calls.

    Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg cut ties with a contractor that used prisoners to make calls for his presidential campaign, he said in a statement Tuesday.

    The former New York mayor said that his campaign was unaware of the arrangement until a reporter sought comment. Earlier Tuesday, online news site The Intercept reported that Bloomberg’s campaign contracted a New Jersey-based call center company that, in at least one instance, used Oklahoma inmates to make calls on behalf of the billionaire’s campaign.

    The next spam call you get with an actual human being on the other end? Ask them what they're in the slammer for.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-28

  • An end-of-decade grievance from Calvin and Hobbes.

    [End of Decade]

    Note that this comic is 30 years old today, and … Calvin's still right. Lots of other neat stuff, though.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith looks at Bruce Springsteen and Glen Campbell, inspired by Bruce's recent performance of 'Rhinestone Cowboy'.

    Campbell’s songs (which he didn’t write) were not about desperation and woe, but his life was. For Springsteen it was the reverse; the darkness in his songs is strictly make-believe. This would have been obvious to anyone paying attention, but should you doubt it, I refer you to Springsteen on Broadway, in which Springsteen admits he made it all up, using the following words: “I made it all up.” He went to the movies and borrowed from features such as Thunder Road (1958) and Badlands (1973). In 1987, his album Tunnel of Love reflected frankly on his (brief, unwise) first marriage, to Julianne Phillips, and in his 1992 song “Better Days” he drops a reference to being “a rich man in a poor man’s shirt,” but for the most part what Springsteen has been doing his whole career is speak through fictional characters — gangsters and losers and Tom Joad. He never raced cars. He was never a street punk. He never saw the inside of a factory. “Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something about which he has had absolutely no personal experience,” he said in the Broadway show. How could it be otherwise? He’s been a rich man since his early twenties. He lives on a 380-acre estate in New Jersey, when he isn’t at his $60 million property in Benedict Canyon. His daughter is an equestrian. If Springsteen were being frank, “The River” would be about a Mississippi of money.

    Lots of neat stuff there too.


  • And (sorry, not much other neat stuff today) the Google LFOD News Alert rang for The enemy within! It's from Javed Iqbal writing in the [Pakistan] Daily Times. And it's great. In some sense.

    The international media portrays the troika of North Korea, Iran and China as enemies of the USA but it never divulges that American armed forces’ blood keeps the machines of US military-industrial complex running. The sole superpower is, covertly, controlled by its mighty war industry that, frequently, plunges it into new conflicts to continue arms’ sale. Its corporate world is facing a new global challenge in the shape of China-US trade war. The hegemonic corporate influence is not limited to the USA but the whole world is in the grip of global corporate entities that, even, dominate governments, media and democratic institutions. The fall of communism has, further, strengthened this hegemonic control as multinational companies’ share in global GDP is risen to more than 32 percent.

    Riiiight. Just one look at the Fortune Global 500 should show the cracks in this characterization. Number 2 (behind Walmart) is "Sinopec Group" which is … state-owned. Want to guess which state?

    For fun, keep moving down the list.

    Capitalism also invented catchy slogans and developed institutions to retain a complete hegemony over society. Democracy is its most famous and widely accepted phenomenon. Rousseau’s ‘eat the rich,’ Marx’s ‘proletariat of the world, unite’ and French Revolution’s slogan, ‘live free or die’ have, either, long been dead or forgotten but trading forces are omnipotent everywhere due to their ability to transform according to changing needs.

    I'd like to invite Javed to visit our fair state, then try to tell me that LFOD is dead or forgotten.


Last Modified 2019-12-29 6:05 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2019-12-27

[Amazon Link]

  • Our Amazon Product du Jour is a "new" book by Mr. Heinlein. Why yes, he has been technically dead for over 30 years. But nevertheless:

    The Pursuit of the Pankera is 185,000 [sic] word novel that includes the same characters as in The Number of the Beast. Both books have similar beginnings, however, Beat [sic] takes a different, unrelated story line, while Pankera is focused on the original conflict and concludes with a more traditional Heinlein ending.

    Heinlein's original manuscript has gone undiscovered until recently. Heinlein distributed a copy of the manuscript to close friends and colleagues at Worldcon, the world science fiction convention. Over the years, the unpublished manuscript was forgotten and portions were taken apart, however, critical segments survived, and Heinlein left it with his papers when he died.

    So… it could be awful. Still, the Kindle version is a mere $7.99 as I type, it will be out this coming March, and you can probably guess for yourself whether I hit the "Pre-order now" button.


  • My current Presidential candidate undertakes his annual responsibility to reassure us that we will once again (probably) make it through the year despite the best efforts of politicians and their enablers: Dave Barry 2019 year in review. Skipping down to the end:

    Finally, mercifully, this highly eventful year draws to a close. As New Year’s Eve approaches, the nation pauses to look back on 2019 and throw up a little bit in its national mouth. But then the nation looks forward to 2020, and it feels faint stirrings of hope in its national heart. Because America has been bitterly divided before. There was the Civil War, for example, and that time when we could not agree on the color of that dress on the Internet. If we got through those troubles, we can get through the current ones. Because in the end, despite our political differences, we’re all Americans, and we care about each other, and want the best possible future for everyone. Right?

    Nah.

    But Happy New Year anyway.

    Back atcha, Dave.


  • For some reason, Dave missed a pretty obvious target, but Jacob Sullum at Reason covers it: The Vaping Panic Is a Major Setback for Public Health.

    When tainted lettuce causes an outbreak of gastrointestinal disease, the federal government does not issue general warnings about the hazards of eating. Nor does it order a recall of all fresh vegetables. Instead it focuses on the specific products consumed by the people who got sick.

    After doctors began to report respiratory illnesses among vapers last summer, by contrast, federal agencies urged the public to avoid all vaping products, including legal e-cigarettes that deliver nicotine, even though it was clear early on that the vast majority of cases involved black-market cannabis extracts. That indiscriminate approach undermined public health in two ways.

    First, it did not provide specific guidance to cannabis consumers who might have avoided the products implicated in the lung disease outbreak if they had been adequately informed. Second, it scared smokers away from vaping products that offer potentially lifesaving alternatives to conventional cigarettes. The vague warnings also encouraged a series of panicky state bans that threatened to drive vapers toward illegal products that may pose special hazards.

    Executive summary: In its frantic effort to save us, Your Federal Government will probably end up killing more of us.


  • [Amazon Link]
    The Claremont Review of Books is a little too Trumpy for me, but this review by William Voegeli of The Sports Gene (link at right) and other books on human diversity seems pretty sensible: Liberty, Equality, Reality.

    Unfortunately, the “essential unity of the human species,” noble concept though it may be, is a cosmic or moral axiom rather than a scientific principle. Guarding science against abuse begins with making empirical observations accurately and reporting them scrupulously, even when the data cast doubt on our most cherished beliefs and aspirations. No intellectually honest writer would say, “Some have speculated that Kenyans might have, on average, longer, thinner legs than other people,” any more than she would say, “Some have speculated that Pygmies might be, on average, shorter than other people.” These are verifiable facts, not tendentious conjecture.

    Someday we'll be honest with ourselves about actual human diversity. Not in my lifetime, though.


  • George F. Will despises Trump more than I do, but he's clear-eyed enough to observe: Democrats’ denial on health care may produce Trump’s reelection.

    In 2019, the Democratic presidential candidates’ debates about health care have perhaps presaged a healthier party in 2020. The beginning of T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker” — “In my beginning is my end” — could be Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s campaign’s autopsy. Five months before she had the kamikaze courage to embrace the most futile and despised social policy of the last third of the previous century — compulsory busing of schoolchildren away from their neighborhood schools, in pursuit of racial “balance” — Harris did something even less explicable. Seven days after her campaign began, with a flippancy that proclaimed her unfamiliarity with health care’s complexities, she essentially said: Come to think about it, or actually without really thinking about it, “let’s move on” from private health insurance. Has any presidential campaign begun by alarming more people?

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential prospects may have passed their apogee on Nov. 1, when she explained, or purported to explain, how she would pay for her version of Medicare-for-all. Various analysts of different philosophic persuasions came to the same conclusion: She fell $10 trillion or so short of the real one-decade cost of her single-payer plan. In 2016, Hillary Clinton said a single-payer plan would “never, ever come to pass.” Warren’s only concession to reality has been to promise to not implement her plan until three years after she has fulfilled her recent promise — she cannot moderate her aggressions against those who disagree with her — to wear a Planned Parenthood scarf at her inauguration.

    The funny thing (for suitably small values of "funny") is that the issue that destroyed the Republicans in 2018 may destroy the Democrats in 2020.

    (And then bankrupt us all shortly afterward, but political timeframes don't extend that far.)


  • Did you miss any? Check 'em out at the Federalist: The Top Viral Moments Of The 2010s. Who could forget…

    Disgusting!

URLs du Jour

2019-12-26

Hope your Christmas was at least as good as mine. Which was pretty fantastic.

  • It's time for year-end chin-pulling! And, since the units digit on the yearometer is ticking over from '9' to '0', it's also time for decade-end chin-pulling.

    (We will ignore the quibblers who insist the decade won't be flipping over for another year.)

    Anyway, here's Jonah Goldberg: We just had a global super-decade! Why doesn't it feel like it?. There is no end to the possible pointing of fingers. But Jonah goes contrarian:

    This points to the problem today’s political leaders are most reluctant to discuss: us. Oh sure, plenty of politicians will blame voters for our troubles, but the voters they single out are the voters who vote for the other party. TV pundits will blame the viewers — of the other cable network — not the ones who tune into them. Writers will heap scorn on readers who read the wrong writers.

    We live in a culture that finds political power in claims of powerlessness and cultural strength in victimhood. The right thinks this is all true about the left and vice versa. But don’t you dare tell anybody that their side is full of whiners, too.

    Bad followership yields bad leadership, because in a market-based democracy the customer is always right. So we have one “change” election after another, driven by voters who don’t really know what they want beyond “not this.” Nearly every politician wants to claim to be a rebel taking on the system on behalf of the righteous victims who voted them into office; few want to take responsibility for the system itself. Congress is brimming with pols who are great at messaging outrage but don’t know jack about governing. Senators rail about elites as if being a senator doesn’t make you one. Presidential candidates — including the incumbent — insist there are easy solutions to everything, but “they” are blocking the way.

    That's a theme we've hit, directly and indirectly, for awhile now. Yes, the pols are fools and knaves. But who granted them their power? Uh…


  • A similar point is made by Veronique de Rugy, who asks: Was 2019 the Year of Peak Entitlement Mentality?.

    Looking back at 2019 is incredibly disorienting. The country is horribly divided. In fact, the president of the United States was just impeached along partisan lines. The government is running trillion dollar (and growing) annual budget deficits, even though the economy is doing well. Still, listening to many politicians and pundits, you'd think the nation is doing terribly and the government isn't spending a dime. That's 2019 in a nutshell.

    The economy is entering its 11th year of expansion. Poverty is at an all-time low; so are African American and Hispanic unemployment rates. The 3.5% overall unemployment rate hasn't been that low since 1969. The unemployment rate for women hasn't been this low since 1952. The employment rate for workers ages 25 to 54 is finally back above its pre-Great Recession level. Wages are on the rise, especially at the bottom of the income distribution. The stock market is on fire. Small businesses and many industries are complaining that they can't find enough workers to fill all the jobs they have.

    Bottom line: Would it kill you to show some gratitude? You literally don't know how good you have it.


  • At the (possibly paywalled) WSJ, Barton Swaim makes an underappreciated point: Capitalism Isn’t a ‘System’.

    In a recent essay, Time’s Anand Giridharadas writes that capitalism is on the run, and he’s jubilant about it. The Business Roundtable has announced its members’ dedication to maximizing “stakeholder” interests. Democrats are endorsing single-payer health insurance and the revolutionary Green New Deal. One serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, is an avowed socialist; another, Elizabeth Warren, avoids the label but favors vast, debilitating taxes on corporations and the rich; and a third, Pete Buttigieg, wants to replace “neoliberalism” with “something better.”

    What’s odd about Mr. Giridharadas’s essay, and others like it, is that the reader is simply expected to understand how the word “capitalism” stands for everything allegedly wrong with the U.S. economy. It’s a “system,” a “conscious project” that has caused “economic precariousness, stalled mobility and gaping social divides” and developed into “the win-win ideology that has governed the past few decades.” But the details of this system must be too obvious to mention.

    As Barton notes, we fling around abstract terms (like "system") with abandon, leading us to frustration when (for example) our economic "system" isn't as amenable to our concious intervention/modification as our old Apple ][ computer "system" was. ("I'll just stick in this Z-80 card and run CP/M.")

    Another angst-generating word I've mentioned before: "problem". Yes we have massive social "problems". But they aren't the kind of "problem" you solved back in 10th grade trig class. Yet there are no end of politicians who like to pretend they have the answer key to our "problems". Thanks to their perspicacity, they'll simply apply their "common sense" solutions.


  • And we are on track to go see the new Star Wars movie Sunday night. I know it's wrong, but I'm kind of eager. But don't call me a nerd, because as Katherine Timpf notes at National Review: Calling Star Wars Fans Nerds Is a Speech-Laws Problem It Seems. She recalls the hatred she received for making fun of fans in years past. But now…

    Now, nothing on my current Twitter feed even comes close to the level of vitriol that I received a few Novembers ago. However, one person shared an article that shocked me even more than any of the murder threats or calls to throw acid in my face: Apparently, a British psychologist had actually, recently, earnestly suggested that what I had just said should be considered a hate crime with legal consequences.

    Dr. Sonja Falck (who, by the way, is also a psychology lecturer at the University of East London) made an appearance on Good Morning Britain on Thursday, and she sincerely suggested classifying the use of words and phrases such as “nerd,” “geek,” “brainiac” “know-it-all,” “dweeb,” “brain box,” “smart***,” or “egghead” to make fun of someone as a hate crime under U.K. hate-speech legislation.

    You have to ask if this is the final reductio ad absurdum that will put the nail into hate speech ban proposals. But I fear that we'll see more of the same in the 2020s.

The End Is Always Near

Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

[Amazon Link]

I was inspired to request that the Portsmouth Public Library buy this book by a recent Reason podcast with the author, Dan Carlin. The library gave it a thumbs-up, ordered it, held it for me, and here it is. Anticlimax: I didn't find the book as entertaining as the podcast.

I was expecting something different, probably. There are no end of doomsayers predicting how some new invention, product, lifestyle, philosophy, etc. is gonna destroy civilization as we know it. Yet here we are. The doomsayers are always wrong, QED.

Except, as Dan Carlin points out, they've always been right. At least about those great, century-spanning civilizations that aren't around anymore. You don't see the Assyrian Empire making trouble, do you? Greeks? Romans? Please. And then there's the mysterious Bronze Age collapse.

Within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again.

And nobody really knows why. Carlin offers theories, aka guesses.

So are we really all that different? Maybe. History doesn't always repeat itself ("but it rhymes"). Still, it says the betting odds should be against us.

Carlin looks at other stuff too. The nature of pandemics. The development of nuclear weapons, how we've flirted with using them. The ethics of civilian war casualties. (Killing noncombatants has gone in and out of style, and the method matters. Bombing folks from the air is seen as regrettable; but sending in ground troops to slaughter an equal number would be seen as an atrocity.)

Carlin has a very popular podcast, Hardcore History®. I think this book shows the difficulty in translating your talent in one field to another; Carlin's prose doesn't grab, and the book's diversity of topics seemed more like a lack of focus.

The Birth of Loud

Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll

[Amazon Link]

First a "Geez, I'm really living in the future" note: I got a little Amazon Echo Dot a while back (thanks to an insanely great Amazon offer). And while I'm reading this book rhapsodize about the revolutionary song "Lover" by Les Paul, I gave this a try:

"Alexa, play 'Lover' by Les Paul."

And darned if she didn't do it. This little trick didn't always work, but it worked often enough to enhance the reading experience.

Anyway: this is a history of the electric guitar, specifically it's development through the efforts of (mostly) two people: Leo Fender and Les Paul. The two were initially friends, turned into estranged (but apparently not bitter) rivals. It's also a mini-history of popular music, with a lot of good (sometimes lurid) stories.

I had not previously realized at what a huge deal Les Paul and Mary Ford were. Before (even) my time.

The book seems tailor-made for a Reason review (and, yup, here it is), because it's very much the story of innovation, competition, creating a market where none existed, changing the course of cultural history.

Prince of Chaos

[Amazon Link]

Well, that was unpleasant.

I dearly loved Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber when I first devoured it back in the 1970s. I eagerly consumed the following four books in the series, the tale of how Corwin, an exiled, amnesiac prince of the True Realm of Amber (of which our Earth is a mere Shadow) fights and inveigles his way back into his rightful place. Some fantasy, mostly intrigue and mystery.

The second set of five books followed Corwin's son, Merlin. And started out equally promising: he's a computer guy on our Shadow Earth, only problem is someone keeps trying to kill him on his birthday, April 30.

Hey, that's my birthday too.

But Zelazny seemed to be playing to the suckers here. The books' characters multiply into the dozens, maybe hundreds. Impossible for my aging brain to keep track of their shifting motives and allegiances, especially when weeks and months elapse between my reading the books. Worse: some characters are "ghosts", magically created duplicates of the actual people. Locations similarly abound. Also the magical powers used by allies and enemies… seem kind of ad hoc.

Things liven up a bit when Corwin finally is found, after hundreds of pages of Merlin's search for him. Which keeps getting distracted.

Oh well. I can't claim to have kept track of all that was going on, I can't believe anyone else did either. I looked at every page, though. Glad it's over.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-25

  • Merry Christmas to all! Except for this somber note from Michael Ramirez: Poor Santa.

    [Poor Santa]


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has a moving and personal story to tell: Christmas and The Truth of the Incarnation (NRPLUS, don't know what that means). His Gospel reading is Luke 1:17:

    He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

    Happiness, like much else, is learned. For a long time, I thought that this time of year would always be for me a time of bitterness and regret, mourning for things that were not lost because they were never in my possession to begin with. But there is not any reason for that. No good one, anyway. I have a different kind of family now and blessings beyond counting. I know that my Redeemer liveth. The effort necessary to be happy does not always produce exactly the desired results, and so I spend the last part of the year vacillating between my Clark Griswold mode and my bargain-basement Henry Miller imitation: “We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things.” Treacly, sentimental Christmas stuff sometimes makes me angry, and it is hard to explain to people who care about me why that is. Children who have not been taught any better think only of themselves. But we do not have to remain in that state. We can, eventually, put away childish things. It is never too late for that. It certainly is not too early here in the waning days of Anno Domini 2019.

    I'm not as religious as KDW, but like him I have blessings without counting. And if you're reading this, you probably do too. We can all learn to put away childish things.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell has a lump of coal for your stocking: Trump’s Record on Spending Gets Worse Every Year.

    The latest example of Trump’s profligacy is the $1.4 trillion spending bill for the 2020 fiscal year that was just approved (this is the “discretionary” money for the parts of the budget that are annually appropriated, so keep in mind that there’s also more than $3 trillion of “mandatory” spending for entitlement programs in 2020).

    This pork-filled spending bill became inevitable when Trump surrendered to the Democrats this summer and agreed to bust the spending caps (something politicians also did in 2013, 2015, and 2018).

    Many facts and figures, all depressing, at the link.


  • Piling on is Scott Sumner at Econlog: The new spending bill is a disaster. There are parts that are merely awful (Export-Import Bank, the smoking age, the F-35,…). But:

    The disaster is the repeal of the so-called “Cadillac tax” on expensive health care plans.  To understand why this is such a tragic mistake, you first need to understand the nature of American health care.  Almost half of the US healthcare system is directly financed via government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veteran’s Administration. A large share of private sector health care provision is funded by private insurance.  Because this insurance is often provided by employers, it is tax deductible.

    This means that the government effectively picks up about 40% of the cost of health care provided by the private sector.  Needless to say, this provides a powerful incentive for excessive use of health care, and helps to explain why American health care is far more expensive than in other countries.  Even worse, this tax provision encourages people to pay for health care via the insurance system, rather than out of pocket.  Even my disposable contact lens are purchased this way, which means American taxpayers pick up roughly 40% of the cost of this frivolous luxury.

    The Cadillac Tax was a significant part of Obama's promise on Obamacare: “I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period.”

    Even back then it was considered a lie. Now it's a much bigger lie.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Well, that's kind of a downer. Let's cheer ourselves up a bit with Ronald Bailey's look at a new book (Amazon link at right) that claims Apocalyptic Thinking Is Wrong.

    "Let's not teach our children that apocalyptic thinking is right thinking," says Laurence Siegel. Apocalypticism "has always been wrong as a forecast, and it will continue to be wrong."

    Siegel is a business consultant and the director of research at the CFA Institute Research Foundation. In Fewer, Richer, Greener, he argues convincingly that humanity has spent two centuries rising from our natural state of abject poverty, and that most of the credit for that goes market institutions and democracy. Parsing current trends, Siegel foresees world population peaking and then stabilizing by the end of this century. (Hence the "fewer.") He argues that economic growth will bring humanity much greater wealth and more adept technologies. (Hence the "richer.") And thanks to increased urbanization and steadily improving material efficiency, he thinks our species will tred more lightly on many natural ecosystems. (Hence the "greener.")

    We'll see. I'm currently reading a book that is semi-apocalyptic, rather somberly pointing out that a lot of civilizations were doing just fine until they weren't. I'll let you know on the book feed how that turns out.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-24

[Amazon Link]

'Twas the day before Christmas, and…

  • We previously linked to Ramesh Ponnuru's National Review careful case in favor of President Trump's impeachment. Now here's Michael Brendan Dougherty's counterpoint Case against Impeachment. Bottom line:

    The Republican talking point in defense of the president — you always wanted to impeach him, you only just now found your excuse — has some purchase. It’s not strictly logical. But neither has been the American practice for impeaching presidents. If I had some sense that the political effect was to restore constitutional good order, I would happily support impeachment. But the political effect of impeachment seems to me to be aimed at restoring a Washington consensus way of doing things, a Washington culture, that has been indefensible for decades. That’s a project unworthy of support, one that is politically unwise to pursue.

    This is the consensus and culture that Trump was elected to disrupt and destroy. I think many of his supporters acknowledge freely he’s not quite the perfect man for the job. And so my own political judgement is that the best course was for Congress to inquire about, investigate, and publicize his misdeeds — and thereby encourage Trump’s challengers to campaign on them in the next presidential election.

    I've worked up an unhealthy disgust with both sides. Not a good look for the season of peace and goodwill, but there you go.

    In contrast, I have nothing but respect and admiration for folks like Ramesh and Michael, who are trying to make the best sense out of an ugly situation. Yes, that's their job, but…


  • At AIER, Don Boudreaux lays out The Case Against Oren Cass.

    Conservative scholar Oren Cass wants to “redefine the economic orthodoxy that guides the nation’s politics and public policy.” He’s convinced that economists wrongly discount the importance of work while naively giving pride of place to consumption.

    Consistent with his conviction, Cass proposes that government policies – including trade policy – pay more conscious attention to our roles as producers and workers and less attention to our roles as consumers. Cass believes that a policy of free trade – in which workers lose their jobs merely because consumers change their spending patterns – undermines human dignity by overlooking the deep yearning that each of us has to be productive rather than merely consumptive.

    That's not obviously incorrect, Don admits. But, yet, it's profoundly incorrect. Because…

    What economists mean when they insist that consumption is the sole end of production is that there is no economically meaningful production if the materials or activities that are the outcome of the exertion of human time and toil satisfy no human desire. That is, to produce is to generate some output that satisfies a human want or wants. Merely toiling to transform physical materials from arrangement X into arrangement Y is not productive unless arrangement Y contributes to the satisfaction of some consumption desire.

    To use my favorite example, if I work hard to bake a sawdust-and-maggot pie, the result of my work is not really production. I’ve produced something when reckoned in a purely physical dimension: a concoction featuring wood shavings and fly larvae. But economically I’ve produced nothing. Indeed, economically I’ve wasted time and resources that could instead have been used to produce something that does satisfy human desires. Economically I’ve reduced production from what it could have easily been.

    As far as Oren's plea for "dignity" goes, Don has some tough-but-fair advice: there's "no dignity in being parasitic".


  • My local TV news station routinely calls vaping an "epidemic", and makes the error Jacob Sullum decries at Reason: As More Evidence Implicates Vitamin E Acetate in Lung Injuries, the Press Continues to Blame E-Cigarettes That Don’t Contain It.

    The fourth paragraph of a recent New York Times story about vaping on college campuses notes "a growing health crisis that has killed more than 50 people and injured more than 2,500," which it says led Congress to raise the minimum purchase age for e-cigarettes to 21. Later the Times concedes that the deaths and injuries are "largely attributed to vaping products containing THC." But that inconvenient fact does not stop the Times from conflating college students' nicotine vaping—the main subject of the story—with vaping of potentially deadly black-market cannabis products.

    That sort of misleading reporting remains sadly common despite the mounting evidence implicating vitamin E acetate, a cutting and thickening agent that began showing up in illegal THC products this year, in the recent outbreak of vaping-related respiratory illnesses. Two days before the Times published its story, The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study that strengthens the case against that additive, which is not found in legal e-cigarettes.

    Standard disclaimer: vaping is a bad habit to pick up, but (other than regulating product safety) the government should butt out.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-23

  • At Reason, Baylen Linnekin notices a liquor-fueled hubbub in my second-favorite New England state: A Tiny Reform to a Massachusetts Booze Law Reform Faces Big Opposition.

    Massachusetts alcohol buyers could see a tiny measure of relief from the state's overbearing prohibition on retail alcohol discounts if a bill introduced earlier this year becomes law. But a powerful lobby group is pushing back.

    The proposed reform centers on a Massachusetts law that requires licensed alcohol retailers to file "a schedule of minimum consumer prices for each such brand of alcoholic beverages" with the state. That law also prohibits sellers from beating those scheduled prices. "No licensee authorized to sell alcoholic beverages at retail for off-premises consumption shall sell, offer to sell, solicit an order for, or advertise, any alcoholic beverages at a price less than the minimum consumer resale price then in effect," it states.

    Baylen goes on to reference the competition MA retailers face from my favorite New England state:

    Supporters of the booze-discount ban claim it levels the playing field for small mom-and-pop stores that might otherwise not be able to compete.

    That argument is also shortsighted and likely incorrect. If mom-and-pop packies don't face pressure from large in-state sellers, then they'll simply feel that same pressure from outside the state. That's the current reality. New Hampshire's state-owned liquor stores (that'd be a whole different column) offer better prices than their private Massachusetts competitors, even including special discounts to thank the out-of-state buyers who make up half their sales.

    (And if you're willing to put aside for a moment the crappiness of government-owned liquor stores as both concept and shopping experience, New Hampshire's periodic trolling of Massachusetts lawmakers is amusing.)

    The "trolling" consists of NH state liquor stores offering discount coupons to MA residents with the slogan "No Taxation on Our Libations".

    Note: of course some percentage of your NH booze purchase winds up in state coffers. I suppose this is not, technically, a "tax". But still.


  • Mark J. Perry offers Animated chart of the day: The rise and dramatic fall of democratic socialism in Venezuela. And it's pretty cool:

    Pretty cool, that is, unless you're Venezuelan. Then it sucks.


  • I imagine Veronique de Rugy saying this verrrry slooowly: One Point Four Trillion Dollars.

    This week, the House of Representatives went all out. It oversaw and approved a massive spending package, resurrected sleazy corporate tax breaks, reauthorized an odious corporate welfare program, and implemented paternalistic policies, and simultaneously found the time and energy to impeach the president. While the Senate won’t convict Pres. Trump, Senators gave up all pretenses of fiscal rigor and rushed to pass the bills by a large margin.

    Congress approved two major spending packages. Together they spend $1.4 trillion spread over 2,300 pages, which no one has had time to read. (For the geeks out there, you can find 4 of the 12 Appropriations bills here, and the other 8 here). 

    I would suggest you find out if your CongressCritter and your state's Senators voted for these monstrosities, and (if so) pledge to never, ever, vote for them again.

    And, oh yeah, Trump signed them. Ditto on that voting thing.


  • At National Review (NRPLUS article, sorry, don't know what that means), Kevin D. Williamson has suggestions: How to Deal with the Counterfeit-Goods Problem. It's a decent-sized article, but the executive summary is succinct: Your Federal Government should enforce the laws already on the books.

    The United States has robust anti-counterfeiting laws, which would be even more robust with the implementation of Counterfeit Goods Seizure Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill (from Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) that enjoys the support of the International Trademark Association. The U.S. government already has the power to seize certain counterfeit goods; the bill would expand the category of goods eligible for seizure to include those that infringe “design patents,” which is to say, counterfeits that replicate the real thing in everything but name.

    That’s a good idea, but it won’t work unless the U.S. government gets serious about doing its job when it comes to law enforcement. As it stands, only about 3 percent of the shipping containers entering U.S. ports are inspected. The U.S. government manages to seize only about $1.4 billion a year in counterfeit goods, almost all of that being goods sent through the mail, mostly fake watches and handbags. All the statutory power in the world will not do any good unless Uncle Stupid puts in the grunt work: inspecting, investigating, indicting, seizing goods and financial assets, making it impossible for offenders to access shipping and banking services, etc. There is not a lot that we can directly do about what happens inside China and other countries, but somebody in the United States is receiving U.S.-bound counterfeit goods, and we could prosecute the heck out of them — if somebody were willing to put in the work.

    I am a sucker for any article containing the sobriquet "Uncle Stupid".


  • I recently read Lost in Math by theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, liked it enough to subscribe to her blog, and she recently entertained with her rendition of Monty Python's Galaxy Song.

    You don't see Richard Feynman do stuff like that. (Well, you might find a video of him on the bongos somewhere.)

Echo in the Canyon

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Wow, we end up watching a lot of movies in December, as original TV fare drops to nothing. This one was on impulse, a Netflix streamer, aimed at nostalgic boomer music lovers.

It's apparently a project masterminded by Jakob Dylan, examining the 1960s Laurel Canyon music scene, how a bunch of American musicians influenced each other, with side-influences over in England. A lot of talking heads, archival footage, a live concert resurrecting some of the era's songs. And (of course) there's a soundtrack, featuring Jakob's versions of some of those oldies.

Those talking heads are a pretty amazing array, though: Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, Michelle Phillips, John Sebastian, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Brian Wilson. Not everyone is totally coherent. What do you expect, they're old. Also as you might expect, some tales of sex and drugs get mixed in with the rock and roll.

Joni Mitchell? Not mentioned at all. What the hell? She was the Lady of the Canyon. I can understand if you can't get her to interview, but making her a non-person is … problematic.

Jakob also corralled a number of more modern musicians to help him perform some of the oldies: Norah Jones, Beck, Fiona Apple. (Tom Petty also appears, but didn't make it to the performances.)

Local Hero

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

We saw this movie back in the 1980s, a VHS tape rented (probably) from a long-gone Dover video store. (Space now occupied by a trendy bar/restaurant.) But the Criterion Collection decided to Collect it, it showed up at Netflix, and I remember being charmed by in over 30 years ago, so…

I'm still charmed.

Peter Riegert (Boone from Animal House!) plays MacIntyre, a deal-negotiator with Knox Oil, which is looking to locate a new oil terminal and refinery in a picturesque bay in Scotland. The CEO (Burt Lancaster!) picks Mac to go to Scotland to negotiate the sale of the entire area, including the cute little village. (He's picked because of his Scottish-sounding name, but he notes his parents are Hungarian immigrants, and they chose the name because it sounded American.)

You might expect the movie to go one way… but then it goes another, because the villagers are onto the deal, and they are enthusiastically looking to sell out to Big Oil.

But things don't go as planned.

Random Notes:

  • I'm not sure Burt Lancaster was ever funnier.

  • I'm still not sure what the title means. Who's the Local Hero? Ben, maybe. I could probably Google it, but at my age you come to appreciate not knowing certain things.

  • I just love the Mark Knopfler soundtrack. His first, apparently.

  • That guy playing Gordon, the town's negotiator/hotelier/etc. Very familiar, where have I seen him before. Look on IMDB… oh, right.

    And then I found out he's in another movie… one that's in theaters right now… darn, that was kind of a spoiler, I should avoid IMDB.

The Phony Campaign

2019-12-22 Update

'Tis the season to be jolly, and we'll try to keep it that way today. Pictured at right: the Pun Salad Manor Wine Cave, which makes staying jolly much easier *.

Looking at this week's standings:

  • Biggest increase in win probability: Wheezy Joe. Because, apparently, he is currently the least-despised candidate on the D side. According to a book I recently read, this is pretty much how Warren Harding got elected in 1920.

  • Biggest slump in win probability: Mayor Pete, who's now tied among the oddsmakers with Mayor Mike. That wine cave thing really stung, I guess.

  • Phony hit count leader: Still Mayor Pete, who's been showing real staying power at that position.

This week's results:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
12/15
Phony
Results
Change
Since
12/15
Pete Buttigieg 4.4% -1.7% 2,550,000 -1,480,000
Donald Trump 49.8% +1.0% 1,970,000 -470,000
Hillary Clinton 2.6% -0.6% 754,000 -100,000
Joe Biden 14.1% +1.6% 515,000 +35,000
Bernie Sanders 8.9% +0.2% 473,000 -62,000
Elizabeth Warren 6.3% unch 226,000 -57,000
Michael Bloomberg 4.4% -0.7% 76,400 -43,600
Andrew Yang 2.0% -0.2% 43,200 -5,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • The President, as is his wont, deployed his favorite p-word in a Tweet.

    You know that tired saying about dogs chasing cars: they wouldn't know what to do with one if they caught it? That's kind of how I feel about Pelosi and her party: they caught their "car" in voting to impeach President Bone Spurs… and now they can't seem to figure out what to do next.

    It also reminds me of that South Park Underpants Gnomes strategy:

    Phase 1:
    Collect underpants
    Phase 2:
     ?
    Phase 3:
    Profit

    Phase 1 was "Impeach Trump". So, check. Except the Dems seem to have even less of an idea about both Phases 2 and 3.

    (Phase 3: Pence?)


  • Once again, I was not paid a lot of money to watch the Democrats debate, so I did not. But Megan McArdle was, and she was tickled by Bernie's demand to speak because Amy Klobuchar "took my name in vain".

    Even as a fully-confirmed Lutheran, I was always a little weak on what it meant to take a name "in vain."


  • At Reason, Corey A. DeAngelis documents (yet another) instance of phoniness: Elizabeth Warren Fails Her Own Public Education Purity Test.

    At last night's debate, Warren declared her desire to "do even more for our public schools" with a "historic $800 billion investment." Though the phrases "charter school" and "school choice" did not come up on stage last night, Warren solidified her anti-choice stance in a previous debate when she said "money for public schools should stay in public schools, not go anywhere else." And she told the president of the National Education Association last month that families should stay put in their failing public schools.

    That was a purity test that Warren and her family cannot pass. In October, I discovered that Warren sent her son to elite private schools starting in the fifth grade. Less than a month later, Warren was caught on video speaking misleadingly to a voter about her decision to send him to private schools.

    Corollary: Senator Liz prattles on about the corrupting influence of money in politics, but she never mentions the teacher unions as an example.


  • Back to Bernie, his home state VTDigger reports: Sanders takes aim at Biden, Buttigieg in heated debate. Specifically, the wine cave thing:

    While the Sanders campaign had criticized Buttigieg earlier this week for recently holding a private big-money fundraiser in a wine cellar — going so far as purchasing the domain www.peteswinecave.com — the Vermont senator went on the attack on the stage in Los Angeles.

    “Now there’s a real competition going on up here,” Sanders said. “My good friend Joe, and he is a good friend, he’s received contributions from 44 billionaires. Pete on the other hand, is trailing, you only got 39 billionaires contributing.” 

    That's a slick move, buying a phony domain. Unfortunately, it takes you to a Bernie-contributing site, not anywhere amusing.


  • The Issues & Insights Editorial Board asks and answers the burning question: How Crazed Is The Left? Its New Villain Is … Pete Buttigieg. Skipping right to the meat:

    “He’s phony,” Adam Jentleson, a now quite far-left ex-senior aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tells CNN. “He’s been validating Republican lines of attack consistently in ways that, if Warren and Bernie were the nominee, will give Trump a lot of footage to use in ads against them.”

    In fact, with the all-too-willing help of the establishment media, Buttigieg might be exactly what Democrats need to defeat Trump next year – a nominee perceived as a moderate who defeated two candidates of the left, Warren and Sanders, but whose radical plans actually don’t stray that far from theirs, either in cost or in revolutionary effect, thus placating the party base. Buttigieg also has a (probably practiced) Obama-esque earnestness, which some find charismatic, others sanctimonious.

    But a counterpoint (of sorts) is provided by …


  • … Kevin D. Williamson of National Review: Pete Buttigieg Bores Americans, Which Should Make Us Proud.

    God bless the pointy little head of Pete Buttigieg, the insufferable and smug embodiment of what’s left of bourgeois values and McKinsey-certified respectability among Democrats. Not since David Brooks was ensorcelled by the crease in Barack Obama’s slacks has simple propriety seemed so remarkable.

    Mayor Pete has one or two things in common with Barack Obama. Barack Obama was the first African American elected president, and Buttigieg, if elected, would be the first gay man elected president. That parallel puts some light on a basic fact of American life that is routinely ignored: Every minority-rights movement models itself on the civil-rights movement led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., but in reality there is no group of Americans — including other Americans who have been oppressed and marginalized and who have legitimate complaints about civil rights and justice — whose experience is really like that of black Americans.

    Kevin is, as usual, pretty insightful on this stuff.

* Pun Salad Manor does not actually have a wine cave. What it has instead: a leaky washing machine. Calling someone tomorrow.


Last Modified 2019-12-23 4:31 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2019-12-21

  • At National Review, in an "NRPLUS" article, I don't know what that means, Ramesh Ponnuru has Four Tests for Impeachment.

    Advocates of a president’s removal from office by Congress should have to climb over four walls to reach their objective. First, they should have to show that the facts they allege are true. Second, they should show that the fact pattern amounts to an abuse of power or dereliction of duty by the president. Third, they should show that this abuse or dereliction is impeachable. And fourth, they should show that it is prudent for Congress to remove the president for this impeachable offense: that it would produce more good than evil.

    If the advocates can scale all four walls, then a majority of the House and a supermajority of the Senate ought to remove the president. If any of the obstacles proves insurmountable, the president should be allowed to serve out his term in office. In the current controversy over President Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, it just so happens that each successive wall is higher than the previous one.

    Ramesh proceeds to leap over all four walls. Pretty easily.


  • In the Washington Post, Megan McArdle notes Unintended Consequences on the left coast: California law AB5 aimed at Uber and Lyft is hurting freelance writers.

    In September, the left-leaning media website Vox.com ran a triumphant headline about a bill that had just passed the California legislature: “Gig workers’ win in California is a victory for workers everywhere.” Assembly Bill 5, or AB5, would go into effect on Jan. 1, essentially making the gig economy illegal in the state.

    AB5 forbids businesses to use contractors unless the companies can pass a stringent requirement known as the “ABC test.” It’s designed to ensure that all workers are classified as employees unless they perform their work independent of supervision, have an established business doing the same sort of work for multiple customers and are doing work that isn’t part of the company’s core business. Meeting one or two of these requirements isn’t enough; you must meet all three.

    What is the sound of the other shoe dropping? Vox announced it was "laying off hundreds of freelancers in California".

    What's the best word to describe this attitude: "We thought the law was fine, because it only hurt people we don't care about. But then it turned out it hurt people we do care about." Some kind of combination of arrogance and stupidity?


  • David Henderson looks at the new US/Mexico/Canada (USMCA) trade deal, and considers it to be NAFTA 0.0.

    In some small ways, USMCA is better than NAFTA. But in the main ways in which it differs, it’s worse. Of course, to judge any policy, you need a few criteria. My main criterion for trade agreements, which I share with the vast majority of economists, is: does the agreement move towards, or away from, free trade? On net, the USMCA is a move away.

    But why is free trade my main criterion? For one ethical reason, one economic reason, and one national security reason. The ethical reason is that people should be allowed to trade with each other, even when there is a border separating them, unless there are very strong reasons against allowing such trade. Just as people in New York are allowed to trade across various state borders with people in California, people in the United States should be allowed to trade with people in Mexico.

    The economic reason for allowing trade is that trade makes both parties better off; if it didn’t do so, they wouldn’t trade. Opening of trade encourages people to engage in production for which they have a comparative advantage. Just as it would be inefficient for even a middling-quality lawyer to do his own legal research instead of hiring a paralegal, it is inefficient for someone in the United States to produce a given-quality product at a cost that exceeds the cost for a foreign producer.

    In the 18th century, the national security reason for allowing free trade was articulated succinctly by a French philosopher whom many signers of the Declaration of Independence read: Baron de Montesquieu, who wrote, “Peace is the natural effect of trade.” He then gave his reason: “Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.” In this century, two economists who examined a large number of trading nations, produced evidence for his view. Solomon W. Polachek and Carlos Seiglie of Rutgers University wrote, “[T]rading nations cooperate more and fight less. A doubling of trade leads to a 20% diminution of belligerence.”

    Click through for details. See also: USMCA is tainted by special-interest side deals by Tim Worstall at the Washington Examiner. Getting to the nub of the matter:

    The only reasonable or fair trade deal is the one I've continually proposed for my native Britain as it leaves the European Union, here lightly adapted for U.S. usage:

    1. There will be no tariff or nontariff barriers on imports into the U.S.
    2. Imports will be regulated in exactly the same manner as domestic production.
    3. You can do what you like.
    4. That’s it.

    Everything else, and anything else, is just someone trying to use politics to take a bite out of consumers' backsides. That might be the aim of politics, to wax fat at the expense of another, but it isn't the point of economics, nor is it fair or righteous.

    Indeed.


  • Continuing on that theme, my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, notes the special pleading of a local business who wants an easier time taking a bite out of the backsides of consumers of their product: Novel Iron Works joins fight for fair trade practices. If you've ever driven through NH on I-95 you might have noticed Novel's structures to the east as you zip through Greenland. The occasion was a visit from our Governor Sununu. The refrain was old and tired protectionist agitprop:

    What [CEO Hollie] Noveletsky said is happening is twofold. She said the countries are “dumping” steel into America at grossly under market prices. She said they can do this because they are receiving subsidies from their countries. Decisions are expected in February from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and in March from the International Trade Commission on the damages being done to companies like Novel and others across the country, and on ways to remedy the situation.

    Noveletsky said they are losing ground to unfair trade practices coming into the country from China, Mexico and Canada. She said the effects are being felt on their company, but also on their employees. Noveletsky said Novel employs an average of 120 workers at its facilities. She said there are about 700 iron workers in the state who are threatened by what is happening, and 115,000 nationwide.

    […]

    “I grew up here and have seen those giant beams my entire life,” Sununu said. “This is finally my chance to check it out. I tend to focus on business and infrastructure, and I get criticized for that. I am proud of that. I believe that if we can bring relief to our businesses, we are providing opportunity for our families. I think our job is to get out of your way. Live free or die, right?”

    But that "live free" doesn't mean free trade.


  • Which brings us to a pictoral comment from Michael Ramirez.

    [Protectionism]

    Hey, isn't that Governor Sununu about to fly into… ZAP!

Waldo and Magic Inc.

[Amazon Link]

Continuing the Heinlein-rereading project. Yes, I found the edition I own for sale at Amazon: a 60¢ Pyramid paperback, purchased circa 1968. It joins together two very different novellas Heinlein wrote pre-WW2, one sorta-straight science fiction, the other fantasy. I understand Heinlein was bemused that his publisher stuck them together in a single volume, but he was pragmatic enough to shrug it off and endorse the checks.

"Waldo" is the sorta-straight-SF one. I remember being more impressed with it when I was a young 'un. Nowadays, I really liked the first couple pages, and the last couple pages—I think they're really touching and well-written—-and everything in between, meh.

The problem is that a key component of civilization, DeKalb power receptors, are failing for some unknown reason. The corporation that owns the technology has no option but to go, hat in hand, to Waldo Farthingwaite-Jones, a genius reclusive scientist/inventor. Waldo is afflicted with myasthenia gravis, leaving him weaker than a baby. Fortunately, his immense wealth allows him to establish a home in geosynchronous Earth orbit. The solution to the puzzle involves a lot of tedious pseudo-scientific handwaving.

"Magic, Inc." imagines a (then) near future where the magical laws have been "discovered" and tacked on to normal reality. The adventures of Archie Fraser, building contractor, are followed; his own need of magical services is limited, but that doesn't stop a shady character from coming by to offer them exclusively. In exchange for not having Archie's business burned down.

Archie refuses, and his business is burned down.

Then follows an involved, long process that I didn't follow too closely, because I didn't care enough. But the climax involves travelling to the "Half World", the source of magical power, with a retinue of allies to confront the demon in charge of the mischief.

Imagining the "Half World" as a member of the multiverse where the physical laws are different enough to allow "magic" — gee, that's almost science.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-20

  • The Google LFOD alert rang for a BBC news report about… Trump impeachment and a US state divided. It's by Jane O'Brien, identified as "BBC correspondent, New Hampshire".

    Yes, the Beeb has a New Hampshire correspondent.

    Two things are taken very seriously in New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley - politics and snow.

    There was palpable excitement when several inches of the white stuff fell on Impeachment Day. But the vote itself garnered little more than a collective shrug of weariness and resignation.

    Local radio stations gave equal weight to coverage of the proceedings and reports on which ski trails were operating.

    "The partisans are very partisan and have already decided one way or the other and those in the middle are still undecided and probably a little disinterested," says Mark Guerringue, publisher of the Conway Daily Sun.

    Congratulations, Publisher Mark, you've hit on one of my Language Cop peeves: using "disinterested" because you think it sounds somehow classier than "uninterested". (Maintaining the distinction between the two words is a lost cause, unfortunately. But that's never stopped me before.)

    Where were we? Ah:

    Support for the president is strong among Republicans while Democrats are celebrating Wednesday's vote to impeach him. But New Hampshire also has a strong independent streak - the state motto "live free or die" is proudly displayed on license plates.

    Sometimes it seems that every foreign-press article about New Hampshire is obligated to point that out. This is what happens when writers are paid by the word.


  • David Harsanyi has a suggestion for the D-side partisans: Impeach Him If You Like, but for the Love of God, Stop Pretending You Care about the Constitution.

    Perhaps Donald Trump deserves to be impeached for his Ukrainian adventure. Heck, maybe he deserves to be impeached for sending that insanely entertaining letter yesterday. But those are political considerations for Democrats. Impeaching the president isn’t a Constitutional imperative. Nor is it a patriotic obligation. Democrats, who today ludicrously wrap themselves in the patina of “rule of law,” know this well. Not very long ago, they were rationalizing and cheerleading unprecedented abuses of power under the Obama administration. And they’ll be cheerleading for more abuses of the Constitution the next time they win the White House.

    Nancy Pelosi can dress in black, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and act as if this impeachment is her solemn obligation, but everyone saw the Democratic party’s hysterical reaction to the 2016 election. Everyone saw dozens of candidates running in 2018 — either implicitly, but most often explicitly — on getting rid of the president. Just last week we learned that people within our intelligence agencies subverted the law to help Democrats concoct a three-year national panic meant to undermine the veracity of a fair election.

    “The Republic is why we are here today. We are custodians of the Constitution. A Republic by the people for the people,” writes one Eric Swalwall, a man who once pondered the possibility of nuking Americans who demanded to practice their Second Amendment rights. Trump-era liberals had argued for the abolition of the Electoral College long before they were pretending to care about Ukrainian autonomy. Democrats were talking about stacking the Supreme Court long before any whistleblower showed up. If your contention is that the Constitution protects abortion on demand through the ninth month but are fine with undermining property rights, gun rights, religious freedom, and any meaningful separation of power, you’re not a custodian of the Constitution, you’re partisan with an agenda. So do what you must. But it’s been insufferable watching you playact sentinel of the American Republic — whose presumptions, institutions, documents, and Founders you don’t really seem to like very much.

    Let's not forget the ongoing hostility of Democrats to various aspects of the First Amendment; whenever they say they want to "get money out of politics", that's shorthand for censorship of political speech.


  • We gripe about the American educational system (with good reason). But as Alex Berezow reports at the American Council on Science and Health: Chemophobia: Nearly 40% of Europeans Want a Chemical-Free World. As reported in Nature Chemistry:

    The first series of questions was designed to measure chemophobia, the irrational fear of chemicals. As shown below, 30% of Europeans report being "scared" of chemicals, and about 40% try to "avoid contact with chemical substances" and want to "live in a world where chemical substances don't exist." Obviously, this is impossible. Everything -- water, food, your smartphone -- is a chemical or a combination of chemicals.

    The second series of questions was designed to assess basic chemistry and toxicology knowledge. The results were far worse: 82% of respondents didn't know that table salt is table salt, whether it is extracted from the ocean or made synthetically. Another 91% didn't know that "the dose makes the poison" is true, even for synthetic chemicals.

    Amusing! Wonder what the USA results would be?


  • At Reason, Deirdre McCloskey suggests: Don’t Trade Stock Tips or Obsess About the Fed, Read Moby Dick Instead.

    You need to be inoculated from some strange but popular notions about the economy. After the inoculation—it won't hurt much—you can turn off CNBC and skip over most of the economic chatter. It'll give you time to read Moby Dick. You really should. It's amazing and is markedly less fictional than the notions here.

    Let's begin with this one: The stock market is predictable. CNBC specializes in it, with its talking, or sometimes shouting, heads. People want certitude, and stock tips provide the illusion. The industry of stock tipping came out of some century-old court decisions that trustees be prudent. The idea was to prevent the trustees from making off with the assets of widows and orphans yet allow for regrettable but unforeseeable losses. Preventing an agent from cheating the principal is the most ancient reason for accounting. But how to be prudent? Well, take sober advice on what stocks will perform. From CNBC.

    More concentrated wisdom from Deirdre at the link.


  • At the Concord Monitor, occasional columnist Jim Baer looks at Privacy madness in America. His musings are kicked off by an unpleasant encounter:

    I visited a local health provider to request an appointment. I innocently walked up to the counter. An unpleasant clerk looked up and loudly and publicly rebuked me: “Stand back! Can’t you see I am working on a patient’s private records?” I could feel my cheeks flushing bright red. I could see other clients staring at me as if I was a child molester. I cannot repeat what I wanted to say to her.

    My only error was that I failed to read all of the caution signs that were festooned to the side of her counter that notified me that she was a person of substance and admiration in her professional community.

    Yeah, I bet it happened just that way. Although I can't help but wonder how the "unpleasant clerk" (who doesn't have access to the pages of the Concord Monitor) would recount the incident.



Last Modified 2019-12-20 3:03 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2019-12-19

  • Jay Nordlinger of National Review has our Quotation of the Day.

    Anyway, I admire politicians who are willing to lead. Everyone likes to “speak truth to power.” How often have you heard people brag about that? Almost no one likes to speak truth to the people — where, in a democracy, power really lies.

    For better or worse.


  • The New Hampshire branch of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-NH) have issued their annual report card on our state legislators.

    The scorecard empowers Granite Staters to hold their legislators accountable for their votes concerning economic freedom and creating a society of mutual benefit, where people succeed based off helping others.

    And here in Rollinsford, our General Court representatives scored as follows:

    Gerri D. CannonF
    Wendy ChaseF
    Cecilia RichF
    Catt SandlerF

    Eek. Also scored was our State Senator, David Watters, who also got an F.


  • At NH Journal, Michael Graham interviews… Jennifer Horn on the Lincoln Project: We Are Republicans Dedicated to Defeating Trump. She is one of the advisors to the Lincoln Project, which says their mission is to "Defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box."

    NHJOURNAL: So why did you join the Lincoln Project?

    HORN: There are multiple reasons. Of course, I believe very strongly it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing this for the same reason I ran for Congress and served as the chairman of the New Hampshire Party. I’ve spent years as a spokesperson for Republican values, like small government and defending the Constitution.  And Donald Trump doesn’t have a clue about what Republican values are.

    I believe that what we’re doing here is being a voice for Lincoln, for Reagan, for all of those sound, conservative Republicans who’ve come before us.

    And I firmly believe that Donald Trump is an existential threat to our Republic. I believe that Mitch McConnell is leading the Senate Republicans into a constitutional crisis when he says that he’s going to manage the impeachment trial in complete coordination with the White House. They are supposed to be a separate and equal branch of government, and instead they are completely under Trump’s thumb.

    I'm no Trump fan, but I think that's overblown, or maybe Jennifer doesn't know what "existential" means.

    And (oh yeah) she also promises to "target" Susan Collins, should Susan have the temerity to vote against convicting Trump. (So are they kidding about that "ballot box" thing or not?)


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson (in an "NRPLUS" article, and I don't know what that means: Trump Impeachment: A Weaponized Investigation Used for Political Purposes.

    I do not think that you would need to be an admirer of President Trump or a partisan Republican (I am neither) to understand, as all mentally normal people do, that the impeachment itself is the trophy example of a weaponized investigation being used for political purposes. You can even believe that the president should be impeached and removed from office and understand that. Because that is the obvious truth. There isn’t anybody who does not know that, even though there are many people who cannot, for professional or psychological reasons, admit it.

    In the now-forgotten days of October 2016, the great rhetorical demand among Democrats was that Donald Trump and Republicans promise that they would “accept the results of the election.” This was always a little mystifying, inasmuch as it raised the question of what they might do instead — raise an army? But that rhetoric was premised on the assumption that the Republican candidate was going to lose in 2016. Since then, it has been Democrats who have steadfastly refused to accept the results of the 2016 election. The hyperbole about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (settle down, you mouth-breathers — it is possible for something to be both real and exaggerated at the same time) is part of that. The impeachment is part of that. The years-long campaign to establish a pretext for impeachment was part of that. (Emoluments, indeed.) Michelle Goldberg’s bizarre politics-as-group-therapy (“Democracy Grief Is Real,” etc.) is part of that. So is “Resistance!” and the risible insistence that Donald Trump is the worst thing since Adolf Hitler.

    I think Kevin makes more sense on this stuff than Jennifer does.


  • And a you-can't-make-this-stuff-up article from print Wired from Jason Parham: We Should Seriously Consider Segregating the Web.

    What I'm proposing is not a firewalled splinternet; it has more to do with where I see us evolving as a society—into enclaves. In one form or another, this sort of purposeful bundling already informs our day-to-day life. Netflix groups its users into “taste clusters.” The global population has become more siloed with the mass introduction of premium subscription and paywalled services—those who have and those who don't. On Reddit, users bond and bicker in shelled communities. We're already walling off.

    So why not be more intentional about it? What many black, brown, and even queer users are losing in this digital jambalaya is a sense of ownership—all of us remain beholden to the reach and grip of Big Tech. You could assume the worst, of course—that in an internet of micro-utopias there would be, say, a NaziGram. But communities of hate already and will always exist, in the name of “free speech.”

    Gosh, one would have thought the Wired geniuses would have put this on the web on Martin Luther King Day.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-18

  • At Quillette, Jordan Alexander Hill has a bone to pick with Economic Inequality—Populism’s Rallying Cry.

    The flaw in “victimhood populism,” a term coined by writer David French, is that it fails to address the agency and responsibility of the individual, railing instead against a vague, indefinable antagonist. Populism, writes French, “tells a fundamentally false story about Americans as victims of a heartless elite and their ‘worship’ of market economics, rather than the true story of America as a flawed society that still grants its citizens access to tremendous opportunity.”

    The inequality fable is an emotionally satisfying tale filled with pathos and poignance. Yet it is untrue. While it is true that our nation faces a bevy of serious problems—including climate change, opioid and obesity epidemics, a decreasing life expectancy rate, gun violence, the decline of the family (a third of US children are now raised by single parents), and a looming national debt crisis—inequality, it turns out, is not one of them.

    It's increasingly appealing to demagogues of all political stripes to tell their followers: "You're a victim, and I'm here to save you."


  • I've been following Jonah Goldberg's new effort The Dispatch. I'm not sure if they're going to do anything that I'd feel comfortable paying for, but it hasn't been decision time for that as yet. But I get their morning mail, and I'll just snip out a good bit on the latest horror story of Federal Government spending:

    But Tuesday brought another, equally troubling example of the current dysfunction, when the House revealed and summarily passed an enormous government spending package—two monstrous bills, 2,300 pages between them, to the tune of $1.4 trillion—less than 24 hours after lawmakers first got the chance to read it. The Senate is expected to matador it through and Trump is expected to sign it in plenty of time to avoid another government shutdown.

    The president will likely do this despite his pledge in March 2018 to “never sign another bill like” the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill Congress had given him. Splitting the package into two bills was Congress’s way of getting around that threat. We wish we were kidding.

    Of course my CongressCritter, Chris Pappas voted for it, and he was pretty smug about it too:

    As a wise person once said: "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."


  • At National Review, Robert VerBruggen picks out Five Bad Things in the New Spending Deal. Here's number four:

    Killing the “Cadillac tax.”

    The deal actually kills three health-care taxes in total, including an insurance fee, a tax on medical devices, and what’s known as the “Cadillac tax.” That final tax never went into effect — it was delayed repeatedly and set to go into effect in 2022 — but it addressed an actual problem with health-care funding in this country and deserved to be saved, or at least to be reformed rather than repealed outright.

    The underlying problem here is that when you get health insurance through your employer, it’s tax-free, with no upper limit. This is a bizarre distortion of the market that grew out of wartime price controls, and it encourages employers to offer more and more compensation in the form of health benefits, driving up health costs. The “Cadillac tax” basically caps this tax exclusion, requiring people with especially lavish employer plans to pay taxes on some of this form of compensation. It’s not the best possible fix, but it’s better than nothing.

    The others: (1) more spending all around; (2) Funding for “gun-violence research.”; (3) Raising the smoking age to 21; (5) Continuing the “Export-Import Bank.” Robert says "Ugh" and I concur.


  • Reason contributor Jacob Sullum is unhappy (but also unsurprised) about The FBI’s Systematic Dishonesty.

    Former FBI Director James Comey initially portrayed last week's damning report on the bureau's investigation of alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia as a vindication. This week Comey admitted that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz discovered "real sloppiness," which is "concerning."

    That characterization does not begin to cover the problems described by Horowitz, which yesterday prompted a highly unusual public rebuke from the court that reviews secret warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The FISA court called the FBI's conduct "antithetical to the heightened duty of candor" that applies in such cases.

    I didn't think I'd say this, but there's decent reason to vote for Trump: he's the most likely person to root out (or, more accurately, appoint people who'll root out) the corruption in the FBI's FISA process.


  • Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center finds Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) a bad deal for New Hampshire.

    The TCI organizers projected that their initiative would cause gas taxes to rise by 5-17 cents per gallon if distributors passed the costs on to consumers (which they would). That seemingly small figure would extract billions of dollars from the economy, giving it to governments to distribute to projects that they favor but that consumers might not. In fact, the whole point is to replace consumer and investor choices with those made by government officials.

    The program’s assumed effectiveness relies heavily on the premise that government officials will spend billions of dollars in ways proven to be effective at generating additional carbon reductions. Not only would those projects have to be effective on their own, they would have to be more effective than the choices that otherwise would have been made by business, entrepreneurs and consumers in the absence of the TCI.

    Fortunately, we're not gonna do it.


  • Wired author Virginia Heffernan tells her readers about How We Learned to Love the Pedagogical Vapor of STEM.

    That's kind of a lie, because Virginia doesn't love STEM.

    But STEM: come on. Way worse. The acronym, coined in the early 1990s, is pedagogical vapor. It Pasteur-pipettes into a flask all kinds of clashing and differently scaled fields of study, with no shared methodology or pedagogical tradition. Then STEM Bunsen-burns this brew to ashes and calls the precipitate “progress,” “rigor,” a “competitive edge,” and “gross domestic product.” And now, as parents of school-age kids have been told at least since 2001, STEM requires our reverence and our investment.

    Dear Virginia: you may not want to see common threads among STEM disciplines, but there are a pretty obvious ones: (1) facts, logical processes, objective evidence, and rigor matter more than opinions and feelings; (2) answers can be right or wrong; as a result (3) actual progress can be made in expanding knowledge, unlike fields in which people argue about the same things they were arguing about centuries ago.

    And I'm sorry about the "Dear Virginia" lame joke above, but in my slight defense, 'tis the season.

Aladdin

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

I liked animated Aladdin just fine, ThankYouVeryMuch. We get Will Smith instead of Robin Williams as Genie, but … hey, the next version of this they put out could very well be a deepfaked Robin Williams back from the dead, returning to the role.

What, too ghoulish, even for Disney? Probably. But maybe not.

Anyway: the marriage of live action and CGI works fine. Not at all creepy.

Plot summary: riff-raff street rat Aladdin falls for a young lady who just happens to be the princess of the sultanate, out slumming with the proletariat. He's also drafted by the evil vizier, Jafar, to go spelunking in the Cave of Wonders for a magic lamp, which will enable further nefarious deeds. But due to some legerdemain, Aladdin winds up with the lamp, plus accompanying Genie, and he decides to use his wishes to impress the princess.

Some neat things: although the depicted culture is vaguely Middle East Arabic, some of the production numbers are straight outta Bollywood, very gaudy and fun. A nice surprise: SNL alumna Nasim Pedrad showing up as "Dalia", the Princess Jasmine's handmaiden. Extra half-star for Ms. Pedrad.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-17

  • The Federalist brings us tidings of comfort and joy: 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' Finally Tops Billboard Charts After 25 Years.

    Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” holiday classic topped the Billboard top 100 for the first time, 25 years after its release. The song was originally released in 1997 and years later, without a remix or weird cameo appearance, the song managed to hit number one.

    Axios reported that the 25-year waiting period between the song’s release to its newfound first place spot is the longest in Billboard history.

    We did our part. Mrs. Salad said "Alexa, play 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. And, lo, it was so.


  • Anti-semitism is pretty high on my list of disgusting isms. But at National Review Tyler Coward makes a pretty good case that Trump's Campus Anti-Semitism Executive Order Undermines Free Speech.

    President Trump’s executive order targeting anti-Semitism on American college campuses is the wrong solution to a pressing problem. There is little doubt that in recent years, anti-Semitic incidents on campus have risen at an alarming rate. But in fighting such bigotry, we must always be mindful of the free-speech rights of college students and faculty. Both the Constitution and the president’s prior executive order aimed at protecting free speech on campus require it.

    The “Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism” requires the Departments of Justice and Education, the federal agencies responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to “consider” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” The definition’s primary author, Ken Stern, has repeatedly opposed its use in the campus context because of the clear threat it poses to constitutionally protected expression.

    There are better ways to handle disagreeable people on campus than Federal regulations.


  • A Wired article by Will Knight argues Washington Must Bet Big on AI or Lose Its Global Clout.

    The US government must spend $25 billion on artificial intelligence research by 2025, stem the loss of foreign AI talent, and find new ways to prevent critical AI technology from being stolen and exported, according to a policy report issued Tuesday. Otherwise it risks falling behind China and losing its standing on the world stage.

    The report, from the Center for New American Security (CNAS), is the latest to highlight the importance of AI to the future of the US. It argues that the technology will define economic, military, and geopolitical power in coming decades.

    Unleash the snark:

    • I think articles like this should use a template headline: "People who benefit from increased government spending on X advocate more government spending on X."

    • Government can arguably do a decent job of devoting resources to achieve a concrete goal, like going to the Moon or defeating the Axis. Nebulous goals like "not falling behind China" or "not losing our standing on the world stage"? Nah.

    • The lefties at Google will freak when they see AI research dollars being explicitly aimed at enhancing American "economic, military, and geopolitical power".

    But, hey, I could be wrong.


  • In contrast to Artificial Intelligence, we have plenty of Natural Dumbness. The (possibly paywalled) WSJ notes that we are close to Achieving Quantum Wokeness.

    Two months ago researchers at Google published a paper in Nature saying they had achieved “quantum supremacy.” It’s a term of art, meaning Google’s quantum computer had zipped through some calculating that would take eons on a classical supercomputer.

    Don’t you see the problem? “We take issue with the use of ‘supremacy’ when referring to quantum computers,” as 13 academics and researchers wrote last week, also in Nature. “We consider it irresponsible to override the historical context of this descriptor, which risks sustaining divisions in race, gender and class.”

    I was somewhat surprised that UNH's Chanda Prescod-Weinstein wasn't among the signatories, but maybe it was a rush job.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-16

[Amazon Link]

  • If you have done all your Christmas shopping, it's probably OK to check out Dave Barry Holiday Gift Guide for Christmas 2019. You probably won't be tempted, but better safe than sorry. Our Amazon Product du Jour is one example, the "Umbrella Jacket".

    This item is a “must-have” for the fashion-conscious individual on your gift list who wants to be protected from the rain and at the same time look like he or she is wearing one of those those cones that veterinarians use to keep dogs from licking themselves. This garment, which is made from 100 percent genuine sticky plastic, is basically a hood, which goes over the wearer’s head, attached to a plastic disc approximately three feet in diameter, which protects the wearer’s body while leaving the wearer’s hands free to make gestures, which is something the wearer will probably be doing often if he or she wears this garment in public.

    My current favorite presidential candidate. Despite this.


  • At the Epoch Times, Gerry Bowler requests Can We Please Stop Using the F-Word?. No, not that one. The other one.

    Fascism is a genuine ideology. Tens of thousands of Canadians died fighting it in its German, Japanese, and Italian manifestations in the Second World War, so it behooves us to know if it is still alive and well today. It was largely the brainchild of war-veteran Benito Mussolini who adopted the Roman symbol of the “fasces,” an axe in the centre of a bundle of rods, and a black-shirted uniform. His motto was Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato (“everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”)—the perfect definition of totalitarianism.

    Not too tough to understand. It's a particularly virulent form of statism/collectivism. You're either driving the state bulldozer, or you're one of those being bulldozed.


  • David Harsanyi notices that Democrats Aren't Interested in Talking about Trump's 'Crimes' Anymore.

    The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake points out that Republicans have adopted a new line of defense during the impeachment hearings: Unlike former president Bill Clinton, the GOP argues, Donald Trump won’t be cited for an actual crime. A number of Democrats made a big show of offering their colleagues a civics lesson on the matter, explaining that impeachment isn’t contingent on the president having committed any obvious statutory offenses.

    It’s true! Democrats can impeach Trump for virtually any reason they see fit. Then again, as you’ve no doubt have heard, the impeachment is a political process. And Republicans would be negligent if they didn’t stress that the Democrats’ articles of impeachment lacked a single criminal accusation. Especially since Dem leadership has spent months alleging that it was a moral imperative to impeach Trump because he engaged in specific acts criminality.

    The House will do what it wants. My own CongressCritter has announce he'll vote for impeachment. I'd like to send him a nastygram saying "Well, I won't vote for you again!" But that would be dishonest, since I wouldn't vote for him anyway.


  • At Reason, John Stossel interviews my Aloha Sweetie. Tulsi Gabbard: The Anti-War Candidate. Interesting data point:

    Gabbard's staunch anti-war stance has led to accusations of disloyalty and even possible foreign allegiances, with 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton musing in October that a Democratic candidate was likely being "groomed" to play spoiler in the 2020 race. That candidate, Clinton warned without explicitly naming Gabbard, "is the favorite of the Russians." Gabbard shot back that she was running for president to "undo Mrs. Clinton's failed legacy." The fight seemed to work to Gabbard's benefit: After polling near the bottom of the field for much of the summer, the Hawaiian's numbers have shot up in the important early primary state of New Hampshire.

    The Democrats turned into Joe McCarthy so fast…

    Unfortunately, Tulsi has a number of dealbreakers for me. Here's one, aka "Let's Bring Back an Awful Government Regulation Act of 2019."

A Hologram for the King

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Tom Hanks movie that bombed at the box office? How did that happen? Well, it's based on a Dave Eggers novel, and I would imagine it's very literary, and translating literary to cinematic is always problematic. Still, I assume they did their best.

Tom plays Alan, an aging salesman for an IT company, trying to sell a holographic chat system to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In a previous life, Alan was on the board of Schwinn, the bicycle people.

But that life is now Gone With the Schwinn.

(I beg your pardon for stealing an old Muppet Movie joke.)

Anyway, his marriage is kaput too, and he's on the hook for paying the college expenses for his daughter, and so off to Saudi Arabia. When he gets there, he has to deal with the bizarre local customs about alcohol, the extreme passive/agressive behavior of the Saudi bureaucracy, a sex-starved Danish lady, and a nasty cyst on his back. And he meets a nice Saudi lady doctor.

Not discussed: the regime's murderousness.

For Talking Heads fans, the opening scene is pretty great.

The Phony Campaign

2019-12-15 Update

Welcome to the Pun Salad Sunday Featurette, where we examine the authenticity of the current crop of presidential candidates.

After a week of impeachment news, the punters looked hard at the field, and… decided that Donald J. Trump was even more likely to win the election. He's our big winning-probability gainer this week (plus 4.0 points), approaching even odds for re-election.

A surprising big loser: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, shedding 2.2 points, dropping his winning probability below Elizabeth Warren's… even while she was dropping a point herself.

And we welcome the plucky Andrew Yang back to our table, whom the bettors rescued from last week's sub-2% showing.

Sure, Andrew. People betting their own money say so.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
12/8
Phony
Results
Change
Since
12/8
Pete Buttigieg 6.1% -2.2% 4,030,000 +2,260,000
Donald Trump 48.8% +4.0% 2,440,000 +470,000
Hillary Clinton 3.2% +0.7% 854,000 +14,000
Bernie Sanders 8.7% +0.2% 535,000 -57,000
Joe Biden 12.5% +0.7% 480,000 +31,000
Elizabeth Warren 6.3% -1.0% 283,000 -5,000
Michael Bloomberg 5.1% unch 120,000 -12,000
Andrew Yang 2.2% --- 49,000 ---

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • The hard-hitting investigative reporter Lucy Diavolo in Teen Vogue clears things up for her audience: Baby Yoda Is More Popular Than 2020 Democrats, but Could He Actually Be President?.

    At 50 years old, he’s certainly old enough. But it’s unclear if he can produce a birth certificate to meet the natural-born citizen requirement for president, as he’s an unknown alien species living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — presumably well before the United States was even constituted. And while he may be up for space travel, he’d be hard-pressed to meet the 14-year residency requirement even if he were a natural-born citizen.

    I'm pretty sure you could write him in, though. I've committed to Dave Barry, myself, but if you want to go with someone more fictional, fine.


  • And the Boston Globe reports (for some reason) on a candidate who is Living or dying in the Live Free or Die state.

    New Hampshire is a hill Michael Bennet is willing to die on.

    The Colorado senator is scaling back his efforts in Iowa and refocusing his dark-horse presidential candidacy on the Granite State. He’ll be barnstorming its near and far reaches for the next two months, holding town-hall meetings.

    “This is it, man, this is it," says Bennet, professing to be hopeful about his prospects.

    Unfortunately, we've already used that Jim Carrey GIF this week, Mike. The most recent polls have you behind… well, nearly everybody.


  • President Bone Spurs loves the p-word, as noticed in this Tweet.

    Yeah, that's our thrice-married President musing on the intimate personal details of the (second) marriage of a political opponent. Classy! Just the kind of thing of which America needs four more years.


  • Trump could go after Elizabeth Warren on… y'know… an actual political issue. For example (WSJ possibly paywalled): Warren’s Economic Illusions. A new study contributes to the pile-on:

    On Thursday the analysts at the Penn Wharton Budget Model pitched in their two cents. According to their dynamic estimate, which takes account of macroeconomic effects, Ms. Warren’s tax would bring in only $2.3 trillion over 10 years. That’s almost $1.5 trillion less than Ms. Warren is counting on.

    The model also says the economy under Ms. Warren’s wealth tax would be about 1% to 2% smaller in 2050, compared with the baseline, though the exact outcome depends on whether Congress spent the revenue in ways that lifted productivity. Meantime, average hourly wages in 2050, “including wages earned by households not directly subject to the wealth tax, would fall between 0.8 and 2.3 percent due to the reduction in private capital formation.”

    It’s not that the Penn Wharton model is precisely accurate. As Russ Roberts likes to say, you know macroeconomists have a sense of humor because their estimates include decimal points. Still, Ms. Warren’s promises are wildly unrealistic. She’ll pay for a $20.5 trillion health program, which actually costs $34 trillion, by imposing a $3.75 trillion wealth tax, which actually raises $2.3 trillion. The real magic trick would be getting voters to believe that.

    That's boring, of course. With numbers. Let's talk about marital sleeping arrangements instead.


  • Despite TV ad after TV ad, poll-wise, Tom Steyer is down there in single-digit-or-less-land with Patrick/Delaney/Williamson/Bennet/Yang/Gabbard/Klobuchar/Bloomberg. (Did I miss anyone?) It's too bad, because as Brendan Nyhan points out in the WaPo, You could teach a political science class on all of Tom Steyer’s bad ideas.

    Steyer also advocates term limits in Congress, which he claims will “defeat the corporations who’ve bought our democracy” by preventing them from, in effect, capturing legislators. “The longer an elected official stays in office,” his website states, “the more beholden they become to corporate backers and special interest groups.”

    First of all, the promise is unrealistic: Steyer’s plan would require a constitutional amendment to overturn a Supreme Court decision, U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, that prevents term limits for members of Congress.

    More important, however, the evidence is at best equivocal on the effects of term limits. Some studies find they would actually enhance the power of special interest groups. The problem is that incumbents who lack a reelection incentive can reduce the effort they devote to their jobs, becoming less attentive to their constituents and working less on the legislative process. The political scientists Alexander Fouirnaies and Andrew B. Hall, for instance, use data from 1995 to 2016 to show that legislators facing term limits sponsor fewer bills and miss more votes. This shift can increase the influence of outside forces such as interest groups and lobbyists, who will happily fill the vacuum in expertise and effort created by term-limited legislators.

    As Brendan points out, they have had legislative term limits in California since 1990. And if you're like me, that's all you need to know about term limits improving governance.

    But as Brendan doesn't point out: the President has no Constitutional role whatsoever in the amendment process. If Steyer really wanted them, he'd be running for a legislative office that would at least have some chance of putting term limits into play.


  • The candidate who has been dubbed "My Little Aloha Sweetie" by a well-known blogger gets some advice from local pols: NH Democrats Want Tulsi Gabbard to Vote for Herself in FITN Primary.

    Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is so committed to winning the New Hampshire primary that she’s moved to the Granite State, renting a house in Goffstown, N.H.  Now that she’s moved in, the question has arisen: Should she be able to vote for herself here, too?

    According to the New Hampshire ACLU, the state Democratic Party, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and — oddly enough — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the answer appears to be yes.  Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii should be able to cast a vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary.

    New Hampshire is embroiled in an eternal debate about whether college students should be able to vote in (say) Durham (UNH) or Hanover (Dartmouth). But, yeah Tulsi, if you'd like to make a statement on that issue, go for it.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-14

  • Michael P. Ramirez captures my own sentiments, drawing The monkeys in the House.

    [Monkeys]


  • I commented on Garrett Graff's unhinged rant about Fox News in Wired a couple days ago. But Kevin D. Williamson says it better. Unsurprisingly. I'll resist quoting the whole thing, but…

    Graff should be both more worried and less worried than he is. He overestimates the problem of Fox News specifically. He underestimates the problem of the way in which cable-news programming as a whole functions as an echo-chamber and amplifier for a relatively small but politically significant demographic of Americans who are old and stupid and credulous. Both Fox News and MSNBC have a median viewer age of 65, and oldsters are by far the most enthusiastic consumers of television across-the-board.

    People who rely on television for their news are dumb. Dumb as rocks. Dumber than nine chickens. Everybody knows this, but some people have professional reasons for declining to say so.

    Graff predictably lacks the courage of his convictions. What do we do about threats to national security — dangerous threats to national security — Mr. Graff? Do tell.

    I was wondering about that last bit myself. I note that Mr. Graff is way too young to remember the Rosenbergs, actual threats to national security, but maybe he's heard about them, and I wonder if theirs is the kind of Fox News Final Solution he has in mind.


  • We don't often see perfection in our flawed world, but David Harsanyi thinks he's got an example: Greta Thunberg Is the Perfect Hero for an Unserious Time.

    Who better than a finger-wagging teen bereft of accomplishment, or any comprehension of basic economics or history, to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019? Greta Thunberg’s canonization is a perfect expression of media activism in a deeply unserious time.

    Has there ever been a less consequential person picked to be Person of the Year? I doubt it. I mean, Wallis Simpson, 1936’s Person of the Year, got King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne. Thunberg can’t even get you to abdicate your air-conditioning.

    These days we celebrate vacuous fire and brimstone. “Greta Thunberg”—the idea, not the girl—is a concoction of activists who have increasingly taken to using children as a shield from critical analysis or debate. She’s the vessel of the environmentalist’s fraudulent apocalypticism-as-argument. Her style is emotion and indignation, histrionics and fantasy. She is a teenager, after all.

    I've gotta write something about David Hogg along these lines. Maybe after Christmas.


  • There's been a distressing lack of chin-pulling end-of-decade analyses, but Jacob Sullum offers one: This Was the Decade When Politicians Stopped Panicking About Marijuana and Started Panicking About Nicotine.

    The shift from demonizing cannabis to demonizing nicotine is not a good sign for anyone who hoped that recognizing the folly of marijuana prohibition would lead to a broader understanding of the costs inflicted by attempts to forcibly prevent people from consuming psychoactive substances. By and large, neither legislators nor the voters they represent think about this subject in a principled way. If they did, the repeal of National Alcohol Prohibition in 1933 would not have been followed four years later by the Marihuana Tax Act, a federal ban disguised as a revenue measure. When it comes to ending the war on drugs, the same arguments have to be deployed anew for every intoxicant.

    Still, there's no denying the dramatic progress we've seen since 2010, when no state allowed recreational use of marijuana (with the partial exception of Alaska, where the state constitution had been interpreted as protecting private possession of small amounts). Today recreational use is legal in 11 states, 10 of which also allow commercial production and distribution, while medical use is legal in 33 states, up from 13 at the beginning of the decade. During the same period, according to Gallup, public support for general legalization has risen from 44 percent to 66 percent.

    It's like we have a hardwired need to always panic about something. (If only it were out-of-control government spending!)


  • Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center says that we are Taking the first step to solving New Hampshire's housing shortage.

    A positive shift is happening in New Hampshire’s pro-housing movement. Gov. Chris Sununu helped highlight it on Wednesday.

    Speaking at a housing forum organized by the Center for Ethics in Government at St. Anselm College, the governor criticized municipalities that use local regulatory powers to impose severe restrictions on housing development.

    Bedford, the governor said, was an example of a town that has made it difficult for people to build lower-priced homes, particularly multi-family housing.

    My town's discussion page on Facebook is full of freakouts about any new housing construction. Open space! New kids at the school! Property values!

    I suppose I should go along in self-interest: keeping the housing market tight makes it more likely that my house will (eventually) sell for an exorbitant price. But (with my luck) that factor will be more than offset by all the other baby-boomer dwellings selling at the same time.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-13

  • Kevin D. Williamson (in an NRPLUS article, I don't know what that means) writes on Marco Rubio & “Common-Good Capitalism”: Government Hubris Will Backfire. Long, with interesting insights into the nature of successful businesses, but …

    Good government — including a steady, stable, predictable policy environment — multiplies the value of labor, just as training and capital do. That is why investment capital around the world for years has flowed largely to well-governed countries, most of them liberal democracies, with the largest recipients of foreign direct investment being the United States and the European Union. (China, the important exception to that rule, is not well-governed; it is governed brutally but predictably, an ugly but useful reminder that stability has economic value, too.) There are many places that businesses could go in search of low wages and a loose regulatory environment, but you aren’t driving a car made in Haiti or using a computer built in Burundi. Investors aren’t putting a lot of money into factories in Yemen or Afghanistan.

    And that is what is so irritating about Senator Rubio’s new push for “industrial policy.” Is the U.S. government really performing its core duties so well, so ably, so competently that we need to add to them with additional duties that demand a kind of competence it does not have and cannot acquire?

    The truth is something closer to the opposite: The U.S. government is in many cases a force for instability and non-confidence in our national economic life. Peter Navarro’s position as Trump’s China hand is as ridiculously implausible as Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, but there he is, whispering into the president’s ear. Senator Rubio is no less implausible in his belief that he has eagle eyes to detect subtle national interests in complex economic affairs of which he has no substantial first-hand knowledge. His problem isn’t stupidity — it’s hubris.

    A perennial theme, and one we'll no doubt return to again and again.


  • Huawei has been on Your Federal Government's shit list for a number of years, starting (as near as I can tell) under Obama. For a contrarian take, take a look at John Tamny at AIER, who claims The FCC’s Treatment of Huawei Is a Tremendous Embarrassment.

    Up front, these actions meant to neuter Huawei are nakedly protectionist, and speak to how far Republicans have slid as the party of “limited government.” It’s truly sad to witness.

    Republicans excuse their embarrassing behavior by claiming that “China” is “communist,” and Huawei has close ties to the communist regime. It’s a reminder that modern Republicans are either ignorant to history, willfully blind to simple economics, or both. Simply put, to visit China is to see it’s “communist” in name only. Anyone with even the slimmest memory of the 20th century knows that communism is defined by relentless misery, starvation, murder, and other horrid things. The latter doesn’t much describe modern China. It’s an economically vibrant country that’s thick with American businesses.

    Tamny considers the "national security" argument against Huawei to be a lot of scarifying, in cronyistic service to American corporations that don't like its competition. I'm not totally convinced, but it doesn't sound totally implausible.


  • Scott Sumner asks the musical question: Compared to what?. Specifically, looking at this recent chart from Our World in Data:

    Pasting Scott's comments in full:

    Notice that prior to 1980, the number of affluent people was growing rapidly, but the number of poor people was also increasing. After 1980, the number of affluent people rose even more rapidly, while poverty began declining. I was in grad school in 1980, and I don’t recall very many people expecting such a dramatic turnaround in the number of poor people. Many experts were predicting a global catastrophe, due to rapid population growth in poor countries.

    So what changed in 1980? The most likely explanation for the plunge in global poverty is the neoliberal revolution, which began around 1980. Poverty fell especially rapidly in countries that adopted market reforms, such as Chile, Bangladesh, India and China. Ironically, the media is now full of stories claiming that neoliberalism has failed. My response is simple—compared to what?

    Neoliberalism didn't fail; we failed it.


  • Hey, good news, Brits! Looks like Brexit will happen, and it can't happen too soon. Matt Ridley notes: The EU’s absurd risk aversion stifles new ideas.

    Last month, at the WTO meeting in Geneva, India joined a list of countries including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Malaysia that have lodged formal complaints against the EU over barriers to agricultural imports. Not only does the EU raise hefty tariffs against crops such as rice and oranges to protect subsidised European farmers; it also uses health and safety rules to block imports. The irony is that these are often dressed up as precautionary measures against health and environmental threats, when in fact they are sometimes preventing Europeans from gaining health and environmental benefits.

    The WTO complaints accuse the EU of “unnecessarily and inappropriately” restricting trade through regulatory barriers on pesticide residues that violate international scientific standards and the “principle of evidence”. Worse, they say, “it appears that the EU is unilaterally attempting to impose its own domestic regulatory approach on to its trading partners”, disproportionately harming farmers in the developing nations whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

    The problem is that the EU, unlike the rest of the world, bases its regulations on “hazard”, the possibility that a chemical could conceivably cause, say, cancer, even if only at impossibly high doses. WTO rules by contrast require a full “risk” analysis that takes into account likely exposure. Coffee, apples, pears, lettuce, bread and many other common foods that are part of a healthy diet contain entirely natural molecules that at high enough doses would be carcinogenic. Alcohol, for instance, is a known carcinogen at very high doses, though perfectly safe in moderation. The absurdity of the EU approach can be seen in the fact that if wine were sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under a hazard-based approach.

    I imagine the EU regs claimed to be based on "science".


  • Want to get depressed? Nick Gillespie at Reason notes that Even in Impeachment-Crazed D.C., It’s Always a Good Time To Borrow and Spend!

    The House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, just passed a "progressive" defense spending bill that totals $738 billion, or "$120 billion more than what President Obama left us with," in the words of Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.). Is America under $120 billion more military threats since January 2017? Of course not, but why live in reality when make-believe is so much more fun? The bill is considered progressive only because it includes "paid parental leave for federal workers," a long-sought goal of liberal Democrats and, not unimportantly, President Trump, who is urging "don't delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!" Next week, the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass similar legislation that includes the family leave plan along with money to establish Trump's new Space Force and "the largest pay increase for uniformed service members in 10 years."

    [… damning table elided …]

    So, despite impeachment proceedings and other disagreements, Congress and the president are pulling in the same direction and digging deep into the pockets and couch cushions of current and future taxpayers. Such bipartisanship doesn't come cheap, of course. The deficit for fiscal 2019, which ended in September, was $984 billion. Total outlays clocked in at $4.447 trillion, with revenues reaching $3.462 trillion, both record amounts. For the first two months of fiscal 2020, deficits came in at $342 billion, a 12 percent increase over the same period in a previous year despite revenues climbing by 3 percent. Like GM before it was bailed out, America is losing money despite bringing in more cash than ever before.

    "Sorry, kids. I tried." "OK, Boomer."

Since We Fell

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Dennis Lehane fan since I got hooked on his Kenzie/Gennaro private eye novels, set in seedy old Boston; he's moved away from those two to write more "serious" mainstream fare, including some movies. (Some good, some not.) But his books are automatically pushed into my to-read queue.

And in an epic tale of shopping, I picked up the Kindle version on sale for a mere $2.99. (It has since returned to $11.99.)

All that said, this is a darned odd book. It opens with "On a Tuesday in May, Rachel shot her husband dead." Promising!

But then we go back, way back, into Rachel's upbringing in a fatherless household, subject to a domineering mother. Mom is a famous self-help writer on relationships and marriage, even though she has no relationships and has eschewed marriage herself. She hides dad's identity from Rachel, which kind of messes Rachel up. Rachel goes through her life with bad relationships, some substance abuse, some mental illness. A promising career in broadcast journalism self-immolates after harrowing Haitian experiences. And then…

Well, once we're 63% of the way through the book, we're back at the point where she shoots her husband.

And then, I'm tempted to say, things get interesting, finally. Which is not fair, Lehane is an immensely gifted writer, and that first part is "interesting" in that sense. But what comes in the final third of the book is—and I don't want to spoil anything—totally different and unexpected.

All in all, a decent read. I keep wishing for Kenzie/Gennaro to come back, but I'll keep reading anything Lehane writes.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-12

  • In our occasional "Headline Implies That It Could Be a Very Long Article" department, Reason's Robby Soave: Here’s What’s Wrong with Time Declaring Greta Thunberg Person of the Year.

    After decades of treating children as little more than pets, the media now gives too much weight to the opinions of teen activists, particularly when they protest about issues like climate change, gun violence in schools, income inequality, etc. As Ilya Somin has written, young people—even ones who can credibly claim to have been especially harmed by some crisis—do not generally have special insights or strong knowledge of public policy. According to Somin:

    The young, as a general rule, know less about government and public policy than other age groups. For that reason, they are also less likely to have valuable insights on how to address difficult issues. …

    It would be a mistake to dismiss policy proposals out of hand, merely because of the age of their adherents. But it is also a mistake to ascribe any special political wisdom to the young. The fact that large numbers of young people support a political cause adds little, if anything, to its merits.

    Thunberg is Time's Person of the Year, but that doesn't make her claims about the future of the planet any less wrong: We are not "in the beginning of a mass extinction," and the world is not going to end in the next 10-12 years barring the adoption of her radical ideas.

    Also see David Hogg, a discussion of whom will show up here at some point in the next few weeks.

    [Not pictured at right: a young Greta.]


  • Apparenty, according to the Indispensible One: There's a Rumor Biden Will Promise Not to Run for a Second Term. As usual, there's a lot of analysis and insight, but I liked this:

    Either way, Biden is probably going to have to address his age and health at some point in some degree of length and detail. Back in 1996, I thought Bob Dole had a terrific speech accepting the nomination, where he confronted the idea that he was too old directly: “Age has its advantages. Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action. And to those who say it was never so, that America’s not been better, I say you’re wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.”

    (In 1996, Bob Dole was 73 years old and was endlessly mocked for being ancient. On Election Day in 2020, Bernie Sanders will be 79, Mike Bloomberg will be 78 years, Biden will be 77 years, 11 months, President Trump wil be 74, and Elizabeth Warren will be 71.)

    Jim goes on to observe that if you're tired of "wild gaffes, offensive statements from the Oval Office and embarrassing presidential offspring", … well, Biden might not be your best choice.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson, no Trump fanboy, lets loose on FBI Corruption: How Dirty Cops Spied on Trump Campaign.

    The FBI’s actions in the Trump matter were outrageous, with agents going so far as to alter documents included as part of the FISA warrant process.

    Focus in on that for a moment: The Federal Bureau of Investigation under the Obama administration sought to launch an investigation of the rival party’s presidential campaign in order to spy on it under powers reserved for national-security purposes. (FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.) In order to activate those powers, the FBI had to go to a federal court for permission, which it did — with falsified documents in hand. If the FBI attorney who altered that document avoids seeing the inside of a federal prison cell, it will be a grave disservice to justice.

    What makes this even worse is not that there was no good reason to be suspicious of the relationships between Trump’s circle and the Russians but that there was. In that sense, Obama’s investigation of the Trump campaign is a mirror image of Trump’s efforts to strong-arm the Ukrainians into investigating Hunter Biden: The underlying issue was very much worth looking into, and that makes the fact that the process was distorted by petty, corrupt opportunism even more offensive. Trump & Co. may be as crooked as a barrel of snakes, but that does not mean that those who investigated them weren’t crooked, too. Nor does it absolve the FBI and the Obama administration from their wrongdoing.

    This seems obvious to me as well, but good luck cutting through the MSM fog.


  • Apparently nobody at Wired magazine is in charge of saying "wait a minute". Because the headline on this Garrett M. Graff article/screed is: Fox News Is Now a Threat to National Security.

    Monday’s split-screen drama, as the House Judiciary Committee weighed impeachment charges against President Trump and as the Justice Department’s inspector general released a 476-page report on the FBI’s handling of its 2016 investigation into Trump’s campaign, made one truth of the modern world inescapable: The lies and obfuscations forwarded ad infinitum on Fox News pose a dangerous threat to the national security of the United States.

    The funny part is that later in the article Garrett complains about "overheated and bombastic rhetoric".


  • And guess who's on this list of The 10 States With The Most Millionaires compiled by a site called "The Richest"? Coming in at a solid seventh place:

    New Hampshire's motto is "Live Free, Or Die". And it means it. In 1776, it was the first of the American Colonies to establish a government independent of the British Crown. It's an old-money kind of place. Millionaires make up almost 8 percent of the total population, thanks to a number of federal agencies, together with law firms and agencies that advise them. Then there is the booming tourist trade.

    Is having that many millionaires a good thing? Well, for the rich yes. But for the average man or woman on the street, it simply means a higher cost of living.

    Hm. That "thanks to a number of federal agencies" doesn't seem right to me, but let's see…

    This USA Today article ranks states by the percentage of population working for "the government". NH is in 45th place, "only" 13.2% of workforce considered government workers.

    But that includes state/local employees, apparently. This site has a table that ranks "States Most Dependent on the Federal Government". NH ranks #36 on its score (based on a few measures); they say the fraction of our workforce employed by the Feds is 2.1%.

    So I'd rank the "Richest" commentary as "uninformed garbage."


Last Modified 2019-12-13 3:35 AM EST

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Geez, what was I thinking?

Well, Netflix's algorithm thought I'd like it, despite me giving the previous entry a mediocre three stars (and I actually blogged at the time that I wasn't going to bother with this one).

And I think it was Peter Suderman who said he liked it in a Reason podcast episode.

So, I thought, hey maybe.

Well, maybe I was tired and maybe I had one too many glasses of wine, but at a certain point I fell asleep on the futon, … woke up for a bit, and hey, there's Halle Barry shooting people in the head with as much gusto as Wick… then fell asleep again … and woke up about a minute before the credits rolled.

I suppose the cinematography is good, the sets are excellent and imaginative, but it's all in service of a story that's the third try at the same old thing: a bunch of people are trying to kill John Wick, but he kills them instead. And I don't care.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-11

  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham has a question: Hey, Sen. Shaheen--Whatever Happened to 'Medicare For All?'. Our state's senior Senator was happy to co-sponsor Bernie Sanders' "Medicare For All" bill in 2017. But this year, Jeanne was MIA on M4A.

    It turns out that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is the network of professional Democrat campaign operatives that seek to keep Democrats in the US Senate, urged Shaheen to abandon her support for Medicare For All because it was too risky a position for her to win re-election.

    These multi-million dollar campaign professionals now guiding Jeanne Shaheen know that the socialist policies that have taken over the Democratic Party in the last couple of years are putting their campaign prospects in jeopardy.

    Why, it's almost as if Jeanne adapts her principles to whatever is most likely to get her re-elected.


  • Jacob Sullum opines at Reason: Trump’s Congressional Defenders Deny Reality. What, as if there's something wrong with that?

    During Monday's impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year's election. "I don't think the record supports that," Castor said.

    That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president's defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

    Not that it matters. As the reaction to the recent DOJ IG report shows, the other side…


  • … is in a reality-distortion field of their own. As David Harsanyi details at National Review: Inspector General FBI Report: Many Serious Mistakes.

    How many “missteps” does it take for an FBI investigation to be considered improper by the Inspector General?

    According to IG Michael Horowitz, the magic number lies somewhere north of 17. That’s the number of “serious performance failures” uncovered by his investigation into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants obtained by the FBI in connection with former Trump campaign aide Carter Page — who, in the end, was never charged with any crime.

    The IG report also confirmed that agents inflated, and then heavily relied on, the Democrat-funded political-opposition work of former British spy Christopher Steele to help propel “Crossfire Hurricane,” an investigation into whether the Republican presidential campaign had criminally conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

    The number of people I trust to play it straight on these issues is dropping precipitously.

How Charts Lie

Getting Smarter about Visual Information

[Amazon Link]

I picked this off the new-book table at the Portsmouth Public Library on impulse. It's short. The author, Alberto Cairo, is "Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami." His blog is here.

I was slightly disappointed at (1) the basic level and (2) preachiness. There wasn't much in here that I didn't learn long ago, although the presentation is good, examples are fresh.

If you're looking for a good introduction for a bright high-schooler, this might do the trick.

Lost in Math

How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

[Amazon Link]

I picked this book up from the Portsmouth Public Library, spurred by an interesting Econtalk podcast with the author, Sabine Hossenfelder, earlier this year. She is a theoretical physicist, currently at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies. She's German, but her English is very good; as near as I can tell, her writing is mainly in English.

The book is an interesting combination of philosophy and science, spurred mainly by the recent (and continuing) failure of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to detect new particles predicted by theories of "supersymmetry".

Famously, the LHC detected the Higgs Boson a few years back, and that was great, but the Higgs had long been predicted by the so-called "Standard Model". Supersymmetry, though, is (was?) an exciting new theory that was considered to be "beautiful". So beautiful, in fact, that some theoreticians felt it "had to be true".

Could it be that (see the subtitle) that physicists were led "astray" by mathematical beauty? Specifically, led into dropping billions of eurodollars onto a research facility that has come up with (again, so far) disappointing results? (That money could maybe have been directed at more fruitful research. It would have bought a lot of whiteboards and dry-erase markers.)

Sabine (I call her Sabine) explores notions of "beauty" in science. With a philosopher's care, she breaks it down into various components: simplicity, naturalness, elegance. These are not strictly defined, but they're described well. "Naturalness" is probably the weirdest concept: the notion that dimensionless ratios between theoretical parameters "should" be around 1. (Don't believe me? There's a Wikipedia page.)

Sabine travels the world and interviews/argues with a lot of other physicists. Her takes are personal, idiosyncratic, and often funny.

The book is aimed at a popular audience, hence shies away from delving into the actual physics. A lot of theories are described on the surface, but a lot of readers (including me, and I was a physics major long ago) will be left wondering: what's that mean? Unavoidable, I think.

I've mentioned this before, but my concern is that some aspects of the universe might be entirely too complex or subtle for human intelligence to comprehend. I have a very smart dog, but I don't expect him to be able to understand calculus. Or even something relatively simple, like the base-10 numbering system. Not only doesn't he understand it, he doesn't even understand that there's something to understand. How sure can we be that we're not in the same state?

I don't think Sabine mentions this issue in the book.

If you want to explore All Things Sabine, a good place to start is sabinehossenfelder.com, which has links to her blog, videos (including, I am not making this up, music videos), articles in various outlets, etc.

1920

The Year of the Six Presidents

[Amazon Link]

I got this book via UNH Interlibrary Loan (thanks, Wesleyan U!) because (back in July) Jonah Goldberg did a couple episodes of his Remnant podcast with the author, David Pietrusza. It sounded interesting, so…

And it turns out the book isn't exactly fresh: it's from 2007. But he's writing about 1920 and that era, and I suppose that subject hasn't changed much since 2007. As we're coming up on the centennial of that year:

Pietrusza's main topic is the 1920 presidential election, but it ranges wide beyond that, as it discusses the issues and personalities that made the year so memorable. The subtitle is "The Year of the Six Presidents", and they are:

  • Woodrow Wilson, the incumbent. Despite being enfeebled and ill, he entertained fantasies of running for a third term, despite his unpopularity in the country and in his own party. Nobody seemed to take him seriously on this.

  • Teddy Roosevelt. Very popular, despite having torpedoed his party's chances in 1912 by running on the "Progressive" ticket. Bad luck, though: he died of a blood clot in his lungs in 1919. (President Wilson's reaction to the report of TR's death was apparently ghoulish. Not a nice guy was Woody.)

  • Herbert Hoover. Very popular due to his feats in relieving famine abroad and at home. As with Eisenhower, it wasn't exactly clear what his politics were, even his party was nebulous. In 1920, though, his desire for the presidency was low, and he managed only 5.5 votes for the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention. (He went on to be Harding's Secretary of Commerce, and brought us dreadful regulation of the radio spectrum.)

  • Warren Harding, the eventual winner. He backed into the GOP nomination on the tenth ballot, mainly by being someone that nobody especially hated (unlike contenders Leonard Wood, Hiram Johnson, Frank Lowden, et. al.). As we know, Harding had an, um, colorful personal life. And there's a great story about his wife throwing a piano stool at his mistress.

  • Calvin Coolidge, nominated for veep, and assuming the presidency in 1923 on Harding's death. Probably the best one of the six, but that's me.

  • And Franklin D. Roosevelt, who the Democrats nominated to run on the doomed ticket with presidential nominee James M. Cox. Another "colorful" character, he was dynamic, charismatic, unfaithful, dishonest,… Pretty much the whole deal

Pietrusza has an eye for good anecdotes, and details the issues of the day: League of Nations, women's suffrage, suppression of dissent, Navy scandals in Newport RI and Portsmouth NH (!), Sacco and Vanzetti, etc. There was even a "birther"-style controversy, as Harding was alleged to have an African-American ancestor in his family tree somewhere.

Various kind of socialism were in vogue, and the adventures of Eugene V. Debs are chronicled. A big admirer of the newly-formed Soviet Union, he made Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan! Well, not quite, but…

One quibble: the final section of the book contains a "whatever happened to" concerning the dramatis personae appearing in the text. There's an intriguing entry for Alexandra Carlisle Pfeiffer. Problem: if you want to know what she did, the index won't help you. (I can tell from her Wikipedia entry that she seconded the nomination of Calvin Coolidge for vice president at the GOP convention, but I'm not sure that's in the book.)

URLs du Jour

2019-12-10

  • I really don't write much about woke academic silliness, because after a point… well, as an old website once said: "Fish. Barrel. Smoking Gun." It's too easy.

    But the College Fix does that stuff, and there's a local angle here. Academic paper: For black women in physics, ‘social prestige asymmetries affect epistemic outcomes’.

    A new academic paper by a physics professor clams that, for black female physicists, “white epistemic claims about science—which are not rooted in empirical evidence—receive more credence and attention than Black women’s epistemic claims about their own lives.”

    The paper, written by University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and published in the feminist academic journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, examines the way in which “Black women physicists self-construct as scientists and the subsequent impact of epistemic outcomes on the science itself.”

    Thanks to the magic of grep, I can tell you that we've mentioned Prof Prescod-Weinstein a couple times on the blog. Once last year when she was at the University of Washington, Seattle, she opined on the colonization of Mars (worrying specifically whether "we can avoid reproducing deeply entrenched colonial behaviors as we seek to better understand our Solar System.") And just last month when she was quoted in Wired about the term "people of color", fretting that its use doesn't "excavate the historical importance and necessity of multiracial antiracist solidarity."

    Clearly an up-and-comer.

    As previously stated, she's currently an Assistant Professor in Physics at the University Near Here, and also "Core Faculty" in the Women's Studies Department. I shouldn't kvetch: in my truncated physics career, I never came close to obtaining either one of those positions. But the paper contains sentences like:

    Through the recognition of white empiricism, a bifurcated logic that serves white supremacist traditions in science while deontologizing marginalized Black women physicists, I propose that the Black feminist theory intersectionality should change physics—and not just through who becomes a physicist but through the actual outcomes of what we come to know.

    OK. Well, if any of that helps figure out dark matter, I suppose I'll be convinced. Until then…


  • At Reason, José Cordeiro writes that Socialism Killed My Father. The opening three paragraphs tell the story:

    I was working in Silicon Valley when my mother called me from back home in Caracas with some alarming news: My father had experienced sudden kidney failure. I immediately flew from San Francisco to Miami, where I had to wait two days until I could get one of the few flights left to Caracas. Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 ushered in successive waves of nationalization, inflation, and recession, international airlines—American, Delta, United Airlines, even carriers from next-door Colombia and Brazil—had been steadily reducing, canceling, and eventually abandoning all routes to my once-prosperous country. I slept in the Miami International Airport with many other desperate Venezuelans. Finally I was able to purchase a ticket for an exorbitant sum from Santa Barbara Airlines, a Venezuelan carrier that has since gone bankrupt.

    Fortunately, my father was still alive when I arrived in Caracas, but he required continuous dialysis. Even in the best of the few remaining private clinics, there was a chronic lack of basic supplies and equipment. Dialyzers had to be constantly reused, and there were not enough medicines for patients. In several parts of the country, electricity and water were also rationed, including in hospitals. Given the precarious economic situation, and thanks to our comparatively advantageous financial situation, we decided the best course of action would be to leave Venezuela and fly to my father's native Madrid, where he could get the treatment he needed.

    But because of the decimated air travel situation, we had to wait three weeks for the next available flight to Spain. The few airline companies still operating in Venezuela had reduced their flights dramatically because of Venezuelan government controls. Sadly, the Caracas dialysis couldn't hold out that long. Just two days before he was scheduled to leave his adopted country, my father died because of its disastrous policies. I still remember it vividly. I cannot forget.

    I'm not sure how that could have happened, given that Articles 83–85 under Title III of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution "enshrine free and quality healthcare as a human right guaranteed to all Venezuelan citizens". Why it's almost as if calling something a "right" doesn't mean you're going to get it.


  • Buzzfeed reports the latest example of journalistic bravery: British GQ Put China's President And Thailand's King On Its "Worst Dressed" List, Then Removed Them Online So As Not To Cause Offence.

    Sources said management would have stood by the list if “it was a hard-hitting piece of journalism,” but considered it instead a “light-hearted list meant for a UK audience”. Condé Nast, which also publishes Vogue, has local editions of both magazines in China and Thailand.

    In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Friday, a Condé Nast spokesperson confirmed the world leaders had been scrubbed from the worst-dressed list over concerns that it “would travel globally and grant traction” without necessary context.

    "We are conscious that digitally published stories travel globally and can gain traction where they lack the necessary context and can cause unintended offence,” the Condé Nast spokesperson.

    The king of Thailand Maha Vajiralongkorn and China’s president Xi Jinping still appear in the Brit edition of GQ. Where, I assume, Chinese and Thais will be less likely to see it, and it probably would have been too expensive to pulp.

    I would imagine that this is kind of embarrassing to honest journalists working for Condé Nast. If there are any left.


  • George F. Will notes the latest in the decay of the Republican party: Marco Rubio joins the anti-capitalist conservatives.

    Trying to give intellectual coherence to the visceral impulses that produced today’s president, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is joining anti-capitalist conservatives. Those who reject this characterization are unaware of how their skepticism about markets propels them to an imprudent leap of faith.

    In a recent Washington speech, Rubio said America has “neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer.” Careless language — workers are not sharing America’s bounty? — serves Rubio’s economic determinism, which postulates a recent economic cause for complex and decades-long social changes. Economic “negligence” has, he asserts, “weakened families and eroded communities,” diminished churchgoing and PTA participation, and increased substance abuse. If only the explanation of, say, family disintegration — a social disaster since the 1960s, before economic globalization — were monocausal.

    It is utterly mystifying to me that simply by winning a few elections, politicians imagine that they can run large businesses better than the people who actually have skin in the game. Rubio is simply a recent example, but sort of unusual in that this disease is more prevalent on Team Blue.


  • Allen C. Guelzo writes at City Journal about the New York Times effort to revise American history to give us all a massive dose of guilt-trippery: The 1619 Project Is Not History; It Is Conspiracy Theory.

    There is one sense in which the 1619 Project’s attempt to rewrite U.S. history in the image of slavery is right: America’s founding was like nothing else seen in the history of human societies. But not because of slavery. Instead, it was because the American republic modeled itself on the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century by trying to find a natural order in human politics, rather than fall back upon the artificial and irrational hierarchies that governed how the ancients had understood both the physical and political universes. Our Declaration of Independence stated as a self-evident truth of nature that “all men are created equal”; our Constitution prohibited all titles of nobility and required virtually all offices to be matters of public election rather than inheritance or class. The American republic would be a theater of those who, like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, could be “self-made men,” and the solutions to the problems of their day would be generated by a host of voluntary associations, working from the bottom up, rather than through government, from the top down.

    Yet, nature is not always kind or predictable, and neither is the path of the republic. The temptation has always existed to slide back into the comfortable abyss of hierarchy, whether it be the racial hierarchy of slaveholders in the Civil War or the newer hierarchies of bureaucracy and socialism. It is that temptation to backsliding which the 1619 Project wants to insist is the real story; but this is like taking the stage crew out from behind the curtain and insisting that they’re the real musical.

    Economic arguments against liberty and capitalism have failed, so the statists are getting pretty desperate to find new ones.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

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

A kids movie. But I'm not proud, I thought it was great and was fully entertained all the way through. And it's still streamable on Netflix, although I imagine it's destined for Disney+ eventually.

I didn't remember much about the previous movie, but that's OK. Video game characters Ralph (a big not-too-smart galoot with a heart of gold) and Vanellope (a tiny urchin with a passion for fast driving) have become fast friends. But Vanellope longs for something more … unpredictable … than racing around in her sugary-sweet driving game.

Without fully thinking things through, Ralph tries a solution that leads to possible disaster: Vanellope's game console is broken, and it's so old that fixing it is not economically feasible for the arcade owner. But without a repair, Vanellope is likely to become a gameless refugee, which is even worse than being bored.

But (see the title) there's a possible out via … the Internet! If somehow Ralph and Vanellope can scrape up enough real-world cash to buy the broken part on eBay.

Well, needless to say (again, see the title) Ralph manages to make things even worse.

Without spoilers, there are some really hilarious scenes and interactions here. And after you watch it, you might want to visit the IMDB trivia page to see all the jokes and Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Internet fan service you may have missed.

And, oh yeah, don't miss the mid-credits joke scene.

My Questions For the Candidates

I may have mentioned that I only subscribe to the Sunday edition of my local paper any more, mostly for the coupons and the crossword puzzles (from the New York Times and LA Times, one week old). But their editorial this Sunday got my interest. They plan on posing queries to the presidential candidates, and shared their top five. They are (to be charitable) a mixed bag:

  1. Arguments over impeaching President Trump are just the latest example of our sharply divided nation. Why are you the best candidate to break the partisan gridlock and unite the country?

  2. Life expectancy in the United States has declined for three straight years and New Hampshire saw the greatest rise in mortality at 23.3% for people aged 25-64. An American Medical Association study cites the cause as “drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides, and a diverse list of organ system diseases.” As president, how would you address this troubling trend?

  3. With tens of millions of Americans uninsured or under-insured, and even those who are insured faced with charges they didn’t expect and prescription medications they cannot afford, what is your plan to contain health care costs while maintaining quality of care?

  4. Where in your list of priorities is climate change? If it is a high priority, what would you do and how would you engage people from the other side of the political aisle to pass meaningful legislation, while being mindful of the impact on consumers and the economy?

  5. Is it possible to put the nation on a better track in terms of its trillion-dollar budget deficits, a record setting national debt and the resulting generational burden? How can it be done while also sustaining Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

But then what to my wondering eyes did appear:

Before sending these questions to the candidates we’d like to invite you, our readers, to join our editorial board process and let us know if there’s an issue you think is critical that we’ve missed.

If you like our questions, would you rephrase them in any way to make them sharper? Attached to the end of this editorial is a Google form for you to tell us and through us the candidates, what’s most important to you. We’ll collect your responses for a week and then send the questions out to all the candidates, including President Donald Trump, and publish their responses as soon as we receive them. When the candidates come in for their meetings with the editorial board we’ll dig deeper into these issues based on their responses. And we plan to livestream all our editorial board meetings with candidates from this point forward to increase community access.

Well, shoot. I've had questions in the back of my mind for literally years. And so here's what I proposed, off the top of my head:

Two questions:

(1) The Office of Management and Budget (https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/historical-tables/ Table 1.2) says that in the most recent fiscal year, 2018, Federal Government receipts were 16.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and its outlays were 20.3% of GDP.

Average receipts from 1946 to 2018 were 17.2% of GDP; average outlays were 19.4% of GDP.

What would your administration propose those numbers look like instead?

(2) A lot of candidates promise to make the "rich pay their fair share of taxes". The Tax Foundation (https://taxfoundation.org/summary-latest-federal-income-tax-data-2018-update/), summarizing IRS data, says the top 1% of income earners earned 19.7% of all reported adjusted gross income. They paid 37.3% of all Federal individual income tax receipts.

What would that percentage have to be for you to call it "fair"?

They only ask for the question; no names, e-mail addresses, phone, etc. So I don't know if my questions will actually make it to the candidates.

The Phony Campaign

2019-12-08 Update

The big odds-improver this week is Our President Donald J. Bone Spurs, whose winning probability improved by 3 percentage points.

Biggest loser: Pete Buttigieg, losing nearly 2 percentage points. And Senator Liz continues to droop among the oddsmakers. Will she rebound next week? Ever? Stay tuned.

And we say farewell, for now, to the plucky Andrew Yang who dipped ever-so-slightly below our 2% inclusion threshold. But maybe he'll be back at some point. I am not one to pigeonhole people by their genes, but our current lineup is pretty pale.

The Google seems to have decided that Mayor Pete is not that phony after all, and after a few weeks with a solid lead, he lost over 70% of his phony hits over the past seven days. And now POTUS is in front once again. (AKA, "His rightful place".)

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
12/1
Phony
Results
Change
Since
12/1
Donald Trump 44.8% +3.0% 1,970,000 -10,000
Pete Buttigieg 8.3% -1.8% 1,770,000 -4,350,000
Hillary Clinton 2.5% -0.2% 840,000 -52,000
Bernie Sanders 8.5% +0.7% 592,000 -71,000
Joe Biden 11.8% -0.2% 449,000 -7,000
Elizabeth Warren 7.3% -0.2% 288,000 -56,000
Michael Bloomberg 5.1% +0.2% 132,000 -26,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Hot Air excerpts a WaPo column by Marc A. Thiessen, who is honest about candidate dishonesty: Biden and Buttigieg say you can keep your health-care plan. They’re lying — just like Obama..

    Biden’s case for the public option uses almost the very same words that Obama used when he lied to the American people a decade earlier: “If you like your employer-based plan, you can keep it. If in fact you have private insurance, you can keep it,” he says. In a new ad, Buttigieg also channels his inner Obama, declaring “If you prefer a public plan like Medicare, like I think most Americans will, you can choose it. But if you prefer to keep your private insurance, you can.”

    Just like Obama’s false promise 10 years ago, the Biden-Buttigieg promise that you can keep your plan is a lie. As Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has explained, “the public option is a Trojan horse with single-payer hiding inside.” Verma points out that private insurance pays hospitals 75 percent more than Medicare for the same services. In 2017, for example, Medicare underpaid hospitals by $54 billion. They make up the lost revenue by charging private insurers more — which means private plans are essentially subsidizing Medicare for seniors.

    Put that old Who song, "Won't Get Fooled Again" on the Victrola and… get depressed, because it's clear the American voting public wants to get fooled again. That's what the polls say, anyway.


  • Speaking of polls, PJ Media's Tyler O'Neil reports on a poll that showing that some voters are not only willing to be Fooled Again, they're also eager to embrace their inner Xi Jinping: Fans of Bernie Sanders and Warren Want Speech Bans With Jail Time.

    When asked, "Should federal or state governments ban speech by individuals that a majority of Americans believes to be offensive, including speech considered to be racist or sexist," most likely voters (50 percent) said "no," while 27 percent said "yes," and 24 percent said they were "not sure."

    Yet a full 51 percent of likely voters who said they have a "very favorable" view of Bernie Sanders said governments should ban "offensive" speech. Thirty-six percent of those with a "somewhat favorable" view of Sanders agreed. Similarly, 49 percent of those who had a "very favorable" view of Elizabeth Warren also supported speech bans, as did 37 percent of those with a "somewhat favorable" view of her.

    If a likely voter said he or she would support such a speech ban, the pollsters asked him or her, "Should those who violate such bans against offensive speech be punished with jail time?" Of the 27 percent of voters who supported speech bans, 48 percent said people who violate these bans should be punished with jail time.

    🙄 Good luck, America.


  • Do you need any more mood deflators? Well, here you go. At National Review, Kyle Smith reports: Hillary Is Still Thinking about Running in 2020.

    Yet the only people who want Hillary to run are comics, Republicans, Republican comics . . . . people like me. Democrats realize she blew it. Democratic fundraisers are furious with her for being such a poor candidate that she created the Trump presidency. There was an open path to the White House, she had a huge fundraising advantage, she had only token opposition from a batty old socialist in the primary, she had Barack Obama’s blessing, and she lost against a total novice because people just can’t stand her. Her token opposition turned into the siege of Leningrad. Her convention speech underwhelmed. She did not and indeed could not explain the clandestine means she set up for removing her communications from public scrutiny, committing the felony of taking classified information out of secure channels in the process. She did not and indeed could not offer a better rationale for her candidacy than a combination of “I deserve this” and “Trump is worse.”

    See the table above: some people betting their own money think she has a better shot of winning than do Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and whoever else is still in.

    I think there's no chance. But you know who else I thought had no chance of being president? Right up until the early morning of November 9, 2016?

    Right.


  • Corey A. DeAngelis is director of school choice at Reason Foundation, which makes him a good choice to look at Elizabeth Warren’s School Choice Blunder.

    Elizabeth Warren came out swinging against school choice when she released her education plan on October 21. The Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate called for ending federal funding for public charter schools, banning for-profit charter schools, increasing regulations for all charter schools, and making it more difficult to start new charter schools. She also said she wanted to stop private school choice programs.

    Warren then started tweeting that she was "#PublicSchoolProud" and that "we must stop the privatization of public schools." She also bragged about how she attended and taught at public schools.

    But the senator remained silent about where she sent her children to school. She'd been silent on the subject for a while, in fact, having failed to respond when Education Week asked where her children went to school. If Warren was so loud and proud about public schools, wouldn't she be more than happy to tell everyone that she sent her two kids, Alex and Amelia, to public schools? Of course she would.

    Unless, that is, she had the privilege to send her own kids to private schools while fighting against extending similar options to the less fortunate.

    … which is exactly the case, as Cory discovered.


  • Another one of Senator Liz's Big Ideas: Warren Plans to End Electoral College by 2024 (as reported by the Washington Free Beacon).

    Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) said she plans to be the last person elected president by the Electoral College.

    "I want to get rid of it," Warren said during an Iowa campaign event on Sunday. "So here's my goal: my goal is to get elected and then to be the last American president elected by the Electoral College. I want the second term to be that I got elected by direct vote."

    As I never tire of pointing out, Pun Salad tries to follow the Elvis Costello advice: "I used to be disgusted, Now I try to be amused." But Liz makes it hard.

    1. Getting rid of the Electoral College would require a Constitutional amendment.
    2. The President's involvement in the amendment process: none whatsoever.
    3. Liz would have much more clout into the amendment process if she remained a senator.
    4. Which is probably what will happen, but
    5. I would bet she'll find other things to do.


  • As befits its proud status as a progressive rag, Wired magazine reports this with a straight face: Bernie Sanders Says Internet Service Should be a Human Right.

    In August, presidential candidate and senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) proposed spending $85 billion to expand high-speed internet access in rural America and other underserved communities. Senator and rival presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) thinks that's not enough. Friday, he offered his own $150 billion broadband plan that goes far beyond connecting rural communities to the internet.

    Sanders wants to break up large media and telecommunications giants, force companies to make internet services more accessible to people with disabilities, and regulate broadband prices to ensure affordability. He says he will treat internet service as a human right.

    Bernie believes in one overall right: the right of the state to tell people what products and services they may buy and sell, at whatever price it decrees.


  • At Reason, Matt Welch reports on Michael Bloomberg and the Imperious Presidency.

    If Donald Trump could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it, what bit of brazenness might we expect from his fellow septuagenarian Manhattanite presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg?

    The then-mayoral candidate gave us a glimpse back in 2001, when he was dumping his first tranche of $74 million into a late-in-life political career and a reporter asked him whether he had ever smoked marijuana. "You bet I did," the media mogul enthused, at a time when politicians tended to be much more reticent about such things. "And I enjoyed it."

    Talk about do as I say, not as I did. During Bloomberg's three terms as mayor, the Big Apple became the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to the notorious stop-and-frisk searches in neighborhoods where billionaires rarely venture.

    Bottom line: if you loved Trump's exercises of arbitrary power, you'll love… well, you probably won't love it when President Bloomberg does the same. But you won't have a lot of standing to complain.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-07

  • At the New York Times, David Brooks confesses and repents: I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked. Here's his inspiring end:

    Capitalism is not a religion. It won’t save your soul or fulfill the yearnings of your heart. But somehow it will arouse your energies, it will lift your sights, it will put you on a lifelong learning journey to know, to improve, to dare and to dare again.

    Last Sunday I attended a service with a young friend at a church that has quickly become a home for her. There were several hundred congregants. Ninety percent were under 30. Ninety percent were Latino. The service was two hours of joy and exultation — glow sticks and song and balloons.

    They weren’t worshiping capitalism, but something higher. But still their work lives came into view. “Look how far we’ve come! Look how far we’ve come!” different people kept saying. I saw my own family’s Jewish immigration history being re-enacted right in front of me. We, like they, started out as butchers and seamstresses and tailors, self-employed capitalists because it can be hard for immigrants to get corporate jobs. The opportunity explosion my family experienced and your family probably experienced is happening still, made possible by the ever-expanding pie that capitalism provides.

    The theme that day was hope, transcendent hope and more immediate hope. “Move and miracles happen!” a young Latino woman sang. Every year, hundreds of millions of people march with their feet to capitalism.

    Today, the real argument is not between capitalism and socialism. We ran that social experiment for 100 years and capitalism won. It’s between a version of democratic capitalism, found in the U.S., Canada and Denmark, and forms of authoritarian capitalism, found in China and Russia. Our job is to make it the widest and fairest version of capitalism it can possibly be.

    Me mostly likey, but David is too quick to praise Sweden et alia for their massive welfare states that operate in tandem with a mostly-free economy. I think that's a recipe for permanent mediocrity, but… see the next item.


  • Via Philip Greenspun, an article at the Foundation for Economic Education by Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan makes an interesting distinction: Transferism, Not Socialism, Is the Drug Americans Are Hooked On. "Socialism" polls alarmingly well recently in the US, but…

    It appears that what Americans really have in mind when they think about socialism is not an economic system but particular economic outcomes. And their thoughts seem to focus most often on the question of what people should have. The answer they arrive at most often? More than people typically get in a system based on the pursuit of profit. Capitalism, they believe, is immoral because it is a system in which some do without while others have more than they could hope to use in multiple lifetimes.

    These four in ten Americans, and the politicians who speak for them most vocally, are not advocating socialism at all; they are advocating what we should really call “transferism.” Transferism is a system in which one group of people forces a second group to pay for things that the people believe they, or some third group, should have. Transferism isn’t about controlling the means of production. It is about the forced redistribution of what’s produced.

    This seems (to me) is what Sweden et alia have been (at least for now) pursuing: (1) taking huge amounts of taxes; (2) giving it back to the citizenry (after taking their cut) in varied "services" and free stuff, and (3) making people believe they've done them a favor.

    Step (3) is bemusing, and it's hard to see how they get away with it, but lots of cultures can survive on myths, I suppose.


  • Hanoi Jane Fonda recently wrote in the New York Times that "the fossil fuel industry has hijacked our political system" by spending $218 million on lobbying in 2018 and 2019, and donating 27 million to Senate and House candidates and party committees in the 2020 election cycle.

    At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson offers Some Facts about Money and Politics in response.

    About $100 million a year in lobbying is a lot of money, but it hardly puts the oil-and-gas guys at the top. There are other industries that are much bigger spenders — for example, Jane Fonda’s industry, which so far this year has spent about 40 percent more on lobbying than the entire energy sector combined and about 350 percent of what the oil-and-gas industry has spent. Does that mean that “entertainment interests are subverting our democracy?”

    It is, of course, difficult to put a price on the political value of the entertainment industry’s most valuable asset: celebrity itself. Half-literate boobs who are not famous have a considerably harder time getting this kind of undigested piffle into the New York Times. It’s not like she has a Nobel Prize!

    The top spenders on lobbying for 2019 can be found here. You will not see a lot of oil and gas on that list, which begins with: 1. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce; 2. The National Association of Realtors; 3. The Open Society Policy Center (cue spooky Theremin music); 4. The pharmaceuticals lobby; 5. The American Hospital Association; 6. Blue Cross Blue Shield; 7. The American Medical Association; 8. Amazon; 9. Facebook; 10. The Business Roundtable.

    Click through to discover the major campaign contributors. The fossil fuel folks are pretty far down the list there too. Kevin's bottom line (which I will unexpurgate):

    Big money isn’t subverting our democracy. Bullshit is.

    Yep.


  • Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center notes some good local news: USNH schools rank high for free speech.

    For the second year in a row, all undergraduate campuses of the University System of New Hampshire were nationally recognized for their commitment to freedom of speech.

    In its just-released “Speech Codes 2020” report, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University and Keene state College “green light” ratings. A green light signifies “that the institution does not maintain any written policies that imperil free expression.”

    By contrast, the state’s lone Ivy League institution, Dartmouth College, received a “red light” for having “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

    We ridicule the University Near Here a lot, because they usually deserve it. But this is good continued news. If you are trying to steer your college-bound kiddos to a First Amendment-respecting institution, the FIRE report is here.


  • And the academics at Language Log have some fun with a recent headline on the website of New Hampshire Commie Public Radio:

    N.H. Defends Laconia Law Barring Female Nudity In U.S. Supreme Court Appeal

    Language Logger Mark Liberman explains the joke:

    Or with lower attachment of the prepositional phrase (yes, that's what it's called), you'd have the vexed constitutional question of whether a municipal ordinance could impose a dress code on the U.S. Supreme Court, even for the representatives of its own state.

    They provide a screenshot, a common practice when a site has made a blunder likely to be corrected. But, as I type, NHPR has not corrected.

Two Kinds of Truth

[Amazon Link]

Tale of shopping: purchased in July of last year from "ThriftBooks - Blue Cloud" for a cool $5.98 (original price … much more than that). It turned out to be a rescue book from the Vineyard Haven Public Library. In good shape, those washashores are gentle readers. (Hey, for all I know, James Taylor might have read this very book before I did.)

Anyway: It's 2017 Connolly, which means I am only two years behind.

The plot threads in this book were also the basis for the most recent season of the Bosch series on Amazon Prime. There were some changes, most to adapt the details of the series' reality,

There are two major things going on: first, Harry Bosch is investigating the murder of father-and-son pharmacists in a tiny farmacia in the Hispanic section of San Fernando. It soon becomes apparent that the business was part of the oxycontin trade run by the mysterious "Santos". Harry goes undercover as a pill-popper to infiltrate the scheme that relies on fraud and coercion to funnel millions to the bad guys. Which puts him in major physical peril, I don't need to tell you.

Second, Harry gets the bad news that a thirty-year-old case where he put a murderer/rapist on death row is being re-opened. A deathbed confession from a different lowlife has been alleged. Reopening the evidence box seems to show exculpatory DNA on the victim's pajamas. And (worst of all) Harry is accused of planting a vital piece of physical evidence. If this conviction is overturned, Harry's reputation will be ruined, and it will cast Reasonable Doubt on the hundreds of bad guys he's put away since then.

The usual Connelly magic: the story hooks you and keeps those pages turning.

A bit of trivia: I said there were differences between the show and the book. Most are minor, as said, but there's one biggie on the show that might (as they say) Change Everything.

Logan Lucky

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

For the record, if you are fired by your employer for some bullshit reason, leaving you with few prospects, Pun Salad does not recommend hatching a detailed scheme to rip off the concession proceeds from the local NASCAR track.

On the other hand, watching a movie where that happens can be pretty enjoyable.

Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, to whom the above happens. He enlists the aid of brother Clyde (Kylo Ren) and together they rope in explosives expert Joe Bang (James Bond). Who happens to be in the slammer on an unrelated matter, so as a side-scheme, they have to break him out, do the thievery, and break him back in again with nobody at the pen noticing.

It's all a good deal of fun, a lot of comedy is involved. Jimmy's family (ex-wife and precocious/cute young daughter) are lovingly drawn. Hillary Swank shows up as an on-the-ball FBI agent late in the movie, and she's great too.

The Netflix algorithm said I'd like this and it was correct. I watched it on Amazon Prime, where it was free. I recommend it if you've got Amazon Prime and a couple hours to spare.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-06

  • David Henderson writes at the Hoover Institution on The Assault On Wealth. He's against it. The assault, that is. RTWT, of course, but he hits one of my own bugaboos near the end:

    One final note. I know that politicians of all stripes lie, but one highly misleading line that Warren likes to use is that she’s asking the very wealthy to “pitch in two cents” line. I’ll put aside the fact that she really means two percent. She knows that and, hopefully, the vast majority of her audience knows that. My big problem is the word “asking.” She’s not asking; that’s not how the IRS operates. Warren is threatening to use force on those who don’t comply […]

    Note that the Warren campaign lingo also calls for her Medicare For All scheme to be partially paid for by an employer "contribution" for each employee. The Orwellian doublespeak is strong with this one.


  • At the Daily Caller, James Bovard exposes The College Hunger Hoax.

    “Nearly half our college students are going hungry,” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proclaimed on Saturday. Sanders’ tweet went viral, spurring more than 20,000 retweets and likes. Starving college students are a new rallying cry for social justice warriors, spurring demands for new federal handouts and maybe even a college student meal program modeled after school lunches.

    I occasionally walk my dog on the well-maintained sidewalks of the University Near Here, and I can report no visible emaciation. What's the hoax?

    In reality, the College Hunger Hoax is largely the result of a bait-and-switch by social scientists. Rather than seeking to measure actual hunger, questionnaires ask about the vaporous topic of “food security.” Surveys rely on sentiments and opinions, not actual food consumption. If someone fears missing a single meal, they can be categorized as “food insecure,” regardless of how much they ate. And if someone desired to consume better quality or more expensive cuisine (attention Whole Foods shoppers), they can join the ranks of the “food insecure.”

    Why, it's almost as if the questions are designed to maximize the "problem", so that Bernie and his ilk can propagandize.

    [I should point to UNH's Swipe It Forward page that allows compassionate parties to donate free meals in the dining halls, which are all-you-can-eat.]


  • I'm a sucker for these state comparisons, and the security site Safehome.org has done one for telling us Which Americans Are the Smartest?. There's the Lake Wobegon Effect:

    There’s a well-known phenomenon in psychology where people tend to think they are smarter than the average person. For Americans, that belief may approach certainty. A 2018 study found that 65% of Americans believe they have above-average intelligence.

    In addition to about 2 in 3 Americans saying they are smarter than most other people, the study found that certainty of one’s superior intellect increased with income and education but decreased with age.

    OK, that's boring. Skip down, how did our state do…

    Well, that's also boring. New Hampshire is near the mediocre middle (#22). At least we ain't Idaho (#51, they included D.C.)

    Number one on the smart parade: New Jersey. Which makes me want to ask: if those folks are so smart, why do they live in New Jersey?.


  • And Atlas Obscura dinged our LFOD bell with its report on Old Man of the Mountain Profiler Plaza.

    The state of New Hampshire is known for its “Live Free or Die” mentality (it is, in fact, the state’s motto) and beautiful foliage, so tourists and newcomers may be confused to see the profile of a rather chiseled-looking man adorning the state’s highway signs, license plates, driver’s licenses, and even the state’s coin. Few are aware that this man was once one of the most-visited attractions in all of the northeastern United States—and that it’s not really a man at all.

    The OMotM has been gone since 2003, but the plaza remains, and if you stand just right the state has arranged some of the old support hardware to "create the illusion of the Old Man of the Mountain, sitting high above Franconia Notch once again."

URLs du Jour

2019-12-05

  • Among the items in Jim Geraghty's Morning Jolt is a rejoinder to University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, who claimed under Judiciary Committee oath that the acts of President Donald J. Trump were "worse than the misconduct of any prior president": I Guess American History Began in 2017, Huh?.

    Dude. Dude. Eight of our presidents owned slaves while serving in the White House. Franklin Roosevelt forcibly imprisoned tens of thousands of law-abiding American citizens for four years because of their ancestry. Woodrow Wilson re-segregated the federal government, wrote that the races were unequal, and threw a black civil rights leader out of the Oval Office. If we want to expand it to vice presidents, Aaron Burr straight-up murdered the old Treasury Secretary by shooting him in the chest.

    Worse than Lyndon Johnson telling America that that we were winning the Vietnam War when we weren’t? That one proved a lot more consequential in the lives of Americans.

    How much better or worse is the effort to strongarm the Ukrainian government than Jimmy Carter’s irritated pledge, “if I get back in, I’m going to f*** the Jews”?

    A book I'm currently reading also notes that Woodrow Wilson was an opponent of female suffrage as late as 1912; by the end of his term he came around to favor passage of the 19th Amendment.

    But he probably was always steadfastly against African-Americans voting. Can he be retroactively impeached?


  • Andrew Wilford writes at the Bulwark on Senator Liz Warren’s Hidden, Destructive Tax Proposal: The Head Tax.

    After weeks of pressure to explain how she would fund her Medicare for All plan without raising taxes on the middle class, presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently relented. Kind of. The presidential candidate unveiled a set of tax hikes that still produce only about half of the $34 trillion needed to fund her healthcare proposals. Yet, despite her attempts to focus on favorite tax targets—corporations and the wealthy—many of these proposed taxes would in fact harm the middle-class. Perhaps the worst of the tax hikes is her proposal for a type of employee “head tax.” 

    Making up just over half of the $17 trillion in tax increases under Warren’s plan to fund Medicare for All is an “Employer Medicare Contribution.” This would require businesses with 50 or more employees to calculate their average per-employee spending on health insurance coverage “over the last few years,” adjust for inflation, multiply that by their number of employees, then send 98 percent of that number to Uncle Sam as their Employer Medicare Contribution.

    Note the Orwellian language: "contribution". Try not making the "contribution", Mr. Employer, and see what happens.

    As Andrew points out: (1) it's a truism that taxing something gets you less of it; and (2) this is a tax on jobs.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson notes that (like many things that aren't computers) Impeachment Isn’t Binary.

    The Trump movement is very much a personality cult, and personality cults are largely immune to rational argument. But, even so, the Democratic strategy here is the wrong one for reaching out to those who might be reached. Trump’s partisans are not going to dump him because people who read the New York Times think he is a boob, a boor, a doofus, etc. Trump’s bumptiousness and his willingness to show his ass to what passes for polite society between Boston and Washington is part of the charm for many of his supporters — as is his willingness to play fast and loose (and worse) with the rules. Remember that for Bill Clinton’s most abject apologists, “Slick Willie” was a term of endearment, not one of reproach.

    Trump’s people believe what Elizabeth Warren’s people believe and what Bernie Sanders’s people believe: that the system is rigged, that it is corrupt, that our elites are complicit in selling out their interests, etc. Senator Warren’s people enthusiastically support her patently unconstitutional proposals, the more vindictive the better. Senator Sanders’s people endorse his irresponsible calls for “revolution” and his old-fashioned class-warfare rhetoric. Trump’s people resonate on a different cultural frequency, but the right-wing populists’ fundamental assumptions about what ails the country are very much like those of the left-wing populists.

    I am practicing my penmanship so that I can write in "Dave Barry" as legibly as possible on my GOP primary ballot.


  • Jonah Goldberg says fiddlesticks to goopy young people who prefer the fresh young faces of Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren: Voters don't like Joe Biden's nostalgia? That's malarkey.

    I like the word malarkey, consarn it. It’s the bee’s knees. Sure, the youngsters might say, “OK, Boomer” on hearing Joe Biden utter the word, but if you think he’s all wet for using it, you can take your phonus bolonus and tell it to Sweeney.

    Joe Biden has never really been my cup of tea. There’s always seemed like a bit of flimflam behind that gigglemug of his. And for a guy who uses the word malarkey more than any politician since the 19th century — and has now emblazoned the slogan “no malarkey” on his campaign bus — he’s peddled a lot of it over the years. But he remains popular among a lot of Democrats for the same reason people like the word malarkey: nostalgia, which can be a powerful force in an election.

    You can get a lesson in obscure archaic terms just by clicking on Jonah's links.


  • At Reason, Ronald Bailey contributes to the Pun Salad "Department of Duh": Private Flood Insurers Chastised for Not Insuring Houses Likely To Be Flooded.

    "Insurers cherry-pick homes, leave flooded ones for the Feds," runs a very odd headline over at E&E News. The article goes on to explain, "Taxpayers could be forced to spend billions of dollars to bail out the federal government's flood program as private-sector insurers begin covering homes with little risk of flooding while clustering peril-prone properties in the indebted public program." Well, yes.

    Decades of government intervention tend to obscure what once needed no explanation: unless forced, insurance companies won't bet against (their best estimate of) the odds.


  • And this is a fascinating Road and Track article on illegal activity: Cross-Country Cannonball Record Broken — 27 Hours 25 Minutes.

    After leaving the Red Ball garage on the east side of Manhattan at 12:57 a.m. on November 10, it took Toman, Tabbutt and Chadwick 27 hours and 25 minutes to reach the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, in L.A.'s South Bay. In a car. If number crunching isn't your thing, allow me to break that down for you. Taking the northern route—I-80 through Nebraska, I-76 down to Denver, I-70 to the middle of Utah and I-15 down into L.A.'s spiderweb of interstates for a total of 2825 miles—Toman and Tabbutt were able to maintain an overall average speed of 103 mph. That's including stops for fuel, which they managed to keep down to a blindingly fast 22 and a half minutes total. And that's in a country where the speed limit on interstate highways is usually 70 mph, and never higher than 80 on the roads they were traveling.

    Let me repeat: average speed of 103 mph. I might be able to hit 103 in my Impreza. If I drove off a high enough cliff.

    [OK, can't resist. If I remember my high-school physics, I'd need about a 360-foot freefall to hit 103 mph, neglecting air resistance.]

URLs du Jour

2019-12-04

  • Indispensible Geraghty notes in yesterday's Morning Jolt that Impeachment Is a Drag. Everyone is bored. And I thought this to be an insightful observation:

    Chad Pergram, a Fox News reporter on Capitol Hill, reported, “a member of Pelosi’s leadership team today told Fox that the backlog of bills up this month in the House ‘works against’ a December impeachment vote. And the Democrat noted that impeachment ‘doesn’t fit the holiday spirit.’ That means impeachment could wait until 2020.”

    First, if Trump is this law-breaking menace to the Constitution, who is such a clear and proven threat to American values and the processes of our government that this cannot be left to voters . . . why is he getting a reprieve for Christmas?

    The House pushed back its holiday vacation from December 12 to December 20. Right now, it isn’t scheduled to reconvene until January 7, 2020.

    Why, it's almost as if Democrats don't believe their own rhetoric.


  • A glum story in the New York Times: ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts.

    The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.

    And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.

    Almost needless to say: this, after "No Child Left Behind", "Race to the Top", "Common Core", "Every Student Succeeds" and the accompanying billions of taxpayer dollars.

    All pretty much a waste.


  • Rational Optimist Matt Ridley lays out The plot against fracking. It's not just greenies, who don't like anything that once might have been a dinosaur fart. It's…

    The Russians also lobbied behind the scenes against shale gas, worried about losing their grip on the world’s gas supplies. Unlike most conspiracy theories about Russian meddling in Western politics, this one is out there in plain sight. The head of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the Russians, as part of a sophisticated disinformation operation, “engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations — environmental organisations working against shale gas — to maintain Europe’s dependence on imported Russian gas”.

    The Centre for European Studies found that the Russian government has invested $95 million in NGOs campaigning against shale gas. Russia Today television ran endless anti-fracking stories, including one that “frackers are the moral equivalent of paedophiles”. The US Director of National Intelligence stated that “RT runs anti-fracking programming … reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.” Pro-Russian politicians such as Lord Truscott (married to a Russian army colonel’s daughter) made speeches in parliament against fracking.

    How much fracking opposition in the US is funded behind the scenes by Putin?


  • The Bulwark takes a break from its relentless anti-Trumpism, and looks at a popular Democrat freestuff campaign pledge: "Free College" Isn’t About Free College.

    College is, as a sector, broken. This isn’t an opinion. It’s just a fact.

    If you bought a car in 1985, you probably paid about $27,000 (that is, in 2016 dollars). If you bought a new car in 2016, you probably paid about $27,000 (also in 2016 dollars). In the intervening 30 years, the real price of cars moved around a bit, increasing and decreasing. And the average price for light trucks mostly increased. But not by all that much, relatively. [Graphic elided]

    And over that period, the cars got a lot better. Cars in 2016 are more fuel-efficient, more reliable, less expensive to own in total cost, and much, much safer.

    Now let’s do college. If you went to a public college in 1985, you paid about $8,000 a year (again, we’re using 2016 dollars). If you went to a public college in 2016, you paid about $17,000 a year. That’s a real-dollar increase of more than 100 percent.

    And was your college degree “better” in 2016? Probably not. For one thing, it became more common. For another, over that period there was a proliferation of soft majors resulting in degrees that don’t really help you in the job market. I mean, have you been in a college classroom recently?

    Both my kids recently volunteered, unprompted, that they found college to be much easier than high school.

    I didn't say anything, but if I had it would have been something like: "That's because you went to a challenging high school, and chose a unchallenging university/major."

    It's OK, they turned out fine. But…


  • Good old Wired battles those politically incorrect algorithms: Senators Protest a Health Algorithm Biased Against Black People.

    In October, a bombshell academic study questioned whether widely used software could cause racial bias in US health care. It found that an algorithm some providers use to prioritize access to extra help with conditions such as diabetes systematically favors white patients’ needs over those of black patients. Democratic presidential candidate and senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Senate colleague Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) are now demanding answers.

    I'm not saying it's true in this case, but I wonder if describing an algorithm as "biased" is shorthand for "gave results that didn't comport with our ideology."

    No problem. If you don't like what your algorithm does, it's easy to change (as Google demonstrates). So what if people die as a result?

URLs du Jour

2019-12-03

  • A brief personal yarn. Our local Sunday paper finally showed up this morning. The only reasons we continue to subscribe: (1) coupons; (2) week-old crossword puzzles from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

    So I was doing the NYT crossword puzzle, and one across clue was:

    Number in an office?

    Seven letters, and the only way I got it was figuring out the down answers for each letter. I'll put the answer here in white type, mouse-highlight to see it:

    DENTIST

    My reaction: "I don't get this. I don't get this. I don't … Oh, I get it." And an audible moan.

    See if you do better.

  • At Reason (donate to their webathon while you're there), Jacob Sullum tells the story of a current Supreme Court case: New York City, Which Defended Its Onerous Gun Transport Restrictions As Necessary for Public Safety, Concedes They Weren’t.

    For decades, New York City enforced uniquely onerous regulations that effectively prohibited licensed pistol and revolver owners from taking their weapons outside their homes, even when they were unloaded and stored in a locked container, unless they were traveling to or from one of seven gun ranges in the five boroughs. When several gun owners challenged those regulations, the city successfully defended their constitutionality for five years, obtaining favorable rulings from a federal judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. But after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of that decision, the city rewrote its rules, backed a state law that eased restrictions on transporting guns, and urged the Court to drop the case, arguing that the regulatory and statutory changes made it moot. During oral arguments today in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, several justices seemed skeptical of that claim, which is transparently aimed at avoiding a Supreme Court decision that could clarify the contours of the Second Amendment.

    It would be nice to get some clarity from the Supremes on Second Amendment stuff. Avoiding the mootness issue and ruling on the onerous restrictions would be a great start.


  • Matt Ridley, the Rational Optimist, gives the good news in the headline: GM Crops Like Golden Rice Will Save the Lives of Hundreds of Thousands of Children. But there are some green weenies that say nay:

    Given the scale of human suffering Golden Rice could address, there may be no better example of a purely philanthropic project in the whole of human history. Yet some misguided environmental activists still oppose Golden Rice to this day.

    Prominent among these is Greenpeace, the environmental lobby group which now has annual revenues of nearly $300m and a highly-paid chief executive overseeing a sophisticated fund-raising operation. Greenpeace lobbied to set very strict rules on the use of genetically-engineered crops which had the effect, whether intended or not, of making life difficult for Potrykus and Beyer. In January 2000, the same month that the development of Golden Rice was announced to the world in Science magazine, there was a meeting in Montreal of delegates from 170 countries working to come up with an international protocol on the regulation of biotechnology. This process had been started the year before in Cartagena, Colombia. Greenpeace was there, both protesting in the streets (“Life before profits!”) and working behind the scenes to draft rules for the delegates.

    And you can be sure all the Greenpeaceniks were well-fed.

    It always sets my teeth on edge when I notice one of those smug "NonGMO Certified" labels on a jar, box, or carton of something we've purchased. It means we've sent a small market signal that we are ignorant science-illiterate idiots.


  • At Cato, Alan Reynolds examines the nonsense emitted by one of Senator Liz's tame economists: Simon Johnson Claims the Warren Health Plan is a Gift to U.S. Businesses. A sample:

    "The health-care burden hurts American business," says Johnson, due to "the onerous contribution most companies are required to make through employer-sponsored insurance." Would the Warren plan end that "onerous contribution"? Of course not. They're counting on it to pay 43% of the cost of the plan. 

    Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler explains: "Instead of employers continuing to give that money to insurance companies, Warren proposes that businesses direct 98 percent to the federal government [$8.8 trillion] and keep 2 percent for themselves. . . "

    Would the Warren plan prohibit the next government from requiring employers to pay a vastly more "onerous contribution" in the future? Of course not. The Warren plan would also raise taxes on corporations and their investors by some $6.3 trillion, according to Kessler, so any ephemeral promise of reducing companies' insurance premiums by 2% for a year or two is hardly great news for American business.

    A successful Democratic candidate will have to hire better flim-flammers than Simon Johnson.


  • At the (maybe paywalled) WSJ, William McGurn wonders: Will Bloomberg Buy the Election?.

    If Joe Biden falters, the received wisdom runs, nominating Michael Bloomberg to head the Democratic ticket would boost the party’s chances next November by pitting a strong, credible moderate against Donald Trump. It’s possible. But the former mayor of New York could do his party an even bigger favor just by losing.

    The reason has to do with the Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Instead of hailing the decision as a welcome victory for the First Amendment—it overturned an FEC ban that had prohibited airing a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton right before the 2008 Democratic primaries—today’s Democratic orthodoxy holds that Citizens United has left American democracy for sale to the highest bidder.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders puts it this way: “We do not believe that billionaires have the right to buy elections, and that is why we are going to overturn Citizens United, that is why multibillionaires like Mr. Bloomberg are not going to get very far in this election.”

    McGurn goes on to argue that if Bloomberg can't buy his way into the White House, that would persuade would-be Citizens United overturners that their premises were mistaken.

    I'm doubtful. Among the faithful, that is a belief somewhat impervious to evidence.


  • On a related note, Iowahawk reacts to Zuck's latest:

    I encourage you to click over to Twitter and RTWThread.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-02

[Amazon Link]

  • So a sad story for the Welfare Queens, Dairy Queen edition: The Nation’s Biggest Dairy Is Failing Despite Relentless Government Intervention. As reported by Baylen Linnekin at Reason:

    In early November, Dean Foods, the nation's largest dairy producer, filed for bankruptcy protection. The company, which has secured nearly a billion dollars in debtor financing to keep it afloat temporarily, is looking to sell off some or all of its assets as it attempts to reorganize and survive.

    How did the government "help"?

    "USDA dairy marketing orders set minimum dairy prices, while the [agency's dairy] checkoff program takes money from dairy farmers to promote milk and other dairy products," I detail in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable. "Taxpayers have the dairy checkoff program to thank, for example, for the ubiquitous 'milk mustache' advertising campaign. If there are any benefits to be had from either program, they aren't likely to be enjoyed by your local farmer, creamery, or dairy."

    There's an obvious joke in here somewhere about getting off the government teat, but I'll let you make one up and laugh at it.


  • Issues & Insights has an economic bone to pick with a young CongressCritter: AOC’s ‘Free Stuff’ As ‘Public Goods’ Is An Old Socialist Game.

    The political left has long tried to hide its true intentions and character through the use of euphemisms. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has learned to play the game as well as anyone. She has demanded that taxpayer-funded handouts be considered “public goods.” It’s a convenient justification for taking the property of productive Americans and giving it to those who have more political favor.

    “People like to say, ‘Oh, this is about free stuff,'” the New York Democrat said at a Bronx town hall meeting over the weekend, before Thanksgiving. But “this is not about free stuff,” she said.

    As (even) I know, economists define a public good as non-rivalrous (I can consume it without there being less for you) and non-excludable (By its nature, one can't restrict provision of the good to people who have paid for it.) The classic example is national defense.

    Giveaway programs don't qualify on either count.

    And yet AOC graduated from BU with an econ major. So either she's forgotten what she learned or BU did a poor and incomplete job teaching her.


  • And the great Titania McGrath notes that some progressives are stealing her ideas without proper attribution.

    Guilty confession: I excused and myself left the Thanksgiving table when one of our guests started to spout off politically. (It was after the meal, though.)

A Quiet Passion

[1.0 star] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Mrs. Salad pick. As sometimes happens, I didn't care for it. What I saw anyway, because I kept dozing off. Hey, maybe something happened during my naps. But I doubt it.

It's the story of Emily Dickinson, the Belle of Amherst. from her schoolgirl days (where she's played by actress Emma Bell) to her older years (where she's played by Cynthia Nixon).

But nothing much actually happens besides people talking to one another. And doing so in the most affected and wooden way. It was impossible for me to imagine people talking to each other like that even in 19th century Massachusetts. People take offense, or not, at Emily's devastating quips that seem to have been made up hours in advance.

As the years go by—seemingly in real time—people move in and out of Emily's life through birth, death, marriage, war, occupation, etc. I didn't find anything to be that inherently interesting.

I never cared for Emily Dickinson's poetry either, sue me.

Ford v Ferrari

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

So Pun Son and I had an itch to go see a Theater Movie, and this was kind of an ideal Guy Flick. Loud cars going very fast. Precisely one female speaking role. But it's the great Caitriona Balfe, who is so badass, she qualifies for Honorary Guy.

It's the story of how a offer by Ford to buy struggling Ferrari was insultingly spurned, causing Henry Ford II to decide that old man Enzo Ferrari needed to be humiliated by having a Ford-powered car win Le Mans. To do that, Carroll Shelby (played very well by Matt Damon) is enlisted by the Ford brass to design, build, and race said car.

Enter Ken Miles (played, also wonderfully by Batman himself, Christian Bale). He's a loose cannon, custom-made to irk the oleaginous Ford execs. But he's the best driver around, and also has a "feel" for what needs to be tweaked on a racing machine. Or pounded out with a sledgehammer.

The Shelby/Miles relationship is developed wonderfully well. And there's plenty of racing action. I think we'll see some Oscar nominations.


Last Modified 2019-12-02 3:40 PM EST

Yesterday

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

You probably got the premise if you've heard anything about Yesterday at all, but if you haven't, I would recommend that you put this movie on your watch list right now, and otherwise stop reading. (Don't read the fine print on the DVD box over there on your right either.)

I think it would be more fun to watch it if you didn't know the premise ahead of time.

Still here? Well, fine. I knew the premise, and I had a good time anyway.

Jack is an aspiring songwriter/musician, but his writing talents are at best mediocre. He's decided to give up his aspirations when an inexplicable glitch in reality, paired with getting hit by a bus, catapults him across the universe (see what I did there) into a slightly altered reality. The big important change: the Beatles never existed.

Out of the hospital, Jack discovers this while playing "Yesterday" for his friends. Who are gobsmacked by his hitherto-unknown genius, and don't know what he's talking about when he tries to credit the Fab Four.

And after a number of comic missteps, his knowledge of old Beatles tunes paves his way to pop superstardom. But can he honestly coast on someone else's talent like that? And what about his loyal manager, Ellie, who has loved him for years? Will she be left behind in his old life?

OK, it's sentimental and gooey. But still…

If you get the DVD with the alternate ending, I suggest you check that out. I liked it better than the actual ending.

Keanu

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

Well, I wanted to like this a lot better than I did. I wasn't a devotee of Keegan-Michael Key's and Jordan Peele's sketch series on Comedy Central, but what little I saw was pretty funny. And Jordan Peele has directed a couple of really good horror movies since this.

But this … was disappointing. Thanks to an opening scene, we meet Keanu, a cute kitty who is apparently the only survivor of a drug gang shootout. He makes his way to the doorstep of pothead Rell (Peele), who adopts him. Meanwhile middle-class family man Clarence (Key) is on his own as wife and kid go off somewhere… I forget the details, they don't matter anyway.

It turns out that Clarence has nothing better to do than hang with his cousin Rell. But their fun bro time is interrupted by Keanu getting catnapped. They must go track him down, and that involves them getting involved with the drug underground economy, of course posing as drug lords themselves…

I'm not saying that none of this is funny, a lot of it is. But a lot more of it involves various invocations of the f-word, usually shouted, as if that's funny in itself. The plot has a made-up-as-we-go-along quality.

Tolkien

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

A biopic of the early life of J. R. R. Tolkien. Spoiler: it ends with J. R. R. penning (literally penning) the first line of a certain book: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

But to get there was quite a journey. And I knew next to nothing about Tolkien's life, so it was pretty revelatory. As the movie begins, Daddy Tolkien is already dead. And Mom is on her way out herself. J. R. R. and his brother are remanded to the care of the local priest (Chief O'Brien himself, Colm Meaney). Who in turn places them in a home for orphans, where he J. R. R. meets (spoiler) the future Mrs. Tolkien. He also enrolls them in a good local school, where J. R. R. makes some lifelong friends, each with his own special artistic talent. (Tolkien himself has a natural way with languages, and that is the source of some fun scenes.)

Ah, but "lifelong" isn't that long for some in that era. Because World War I happens, and … well, it ain't pretty. The movie makes a powerful cinematographic argument that Tolkien's depiction of various hellish scenes in Lord of the Rings was "inspired" by his war experience.

The movie kept my attention, the acting is decent, the depiction of the era is spectacular.

The Phony Campaign

2019-12-01 Update

[Amazon Link]

Another big phony week for Mayor Pete, as he expands his lead in phony Google hits over President Bone Spurs.

And the big loser again this week among the Betfair punters: Senator Liz. Who is now behind both Wheezy Joe and Senator Bernie.

Did she have a plan for that?

Her plummet has been one for the history books. As recently as mid-October she was at 27.6%. Was she too honest about how she was planning to get the money to give back to all of us? Or too dishonest? Or did people actually listen to her and were turned off by her grating tone?

It's anyone's guess.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
11/24
Phony
Results
Change
Since
11/24
Pete Buttigieg 10.1% +1.2% 6,120,000 +390,000
Donald Trump 41.8% +1.3% 1,980,000 -260,000
Hillary Clinton 2.7% -0.1% 892,000 -38,000
Bernie Sanders 7.8% unch 663,000 +69,000
Joe Biden 12.0% -0.7% 456,000 -41,000
Elizabeth Warren 7.5% -2.0% 344,000 +32,000
Michael Bloomberg 4.9% +0.1% 158,000 +34,000
Andrew Yang 2.0% unch 51,600 +4,700

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Real Donald Trump gets some phony hits the old-fashioned way Tweeting the word himself, which everyone talks about.

    Calling a hoax "phony" is a redundancy. I assume. Or is this one of Trump's famous 3-D chess moves, where a phony hoax is actually… something real!


  • Man, I really liked John Cusack in the movie Better Off Dead. But nowadays he's reduced to complaining that some people appearing on MSNBC say negative, hurtful things about his longtime favorite:

    Warning: the video is rated "PL" for "Pretty Lame." I'll continue my MSNBC boycott, which has been going on for roughly 8,539 days.


  • Over on Fox News, we have Co-founder of Home Depot and Billionaire Ken Langone calls Elizabeth Warren a 'phony and a liar,' wants to see her donations to charity.

    Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is a "phony and a liar" looking to paint wealthy people as the enemy, said billionaire and GOP donor Ken Langone on "Fox & Friends" Thursday, before calling on her to make her charitable donations public.

    "They can call me whatever they want. I still go to work every day... What I am is a grateful American," he said. "What happened to me in my life only happened because my grandparents came to America. She can call me whatever she wants. She's phony. She's a liar, we know that. We know she's a liar, a horrible liar."

    Ken, I may be going to Home Depot later today to get some shear pins for my snowblower. I know that money won't go directly into your pocket any more, but it's the thought that counts.


  • But it's not just rapacious capitalist pigs that find Senator Liz less than authentic. Writing in the Guardian, Nathan Robinson warns: Progressives, trust your gut: Elizabeth Warren is not one of us.

    But lately, Warren has finally begun to make her true feelings clear, and progressives no longer need to wonder whether she’s with us or not. She’s not. Warren released a Medicare for All plan that called it a “long-term” plan, which leftwing political analyst Ben Studebaker pointed out is “code to rich people for ‘this is all pretend’”.

    A few weeks later, Warren confirmed that while in theory she supported single-payer healthcare, it would not be one of her primary initiatives, and she would initially push for a more moderate proposal similar to those advocated by Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. Political analysts quickly saw Warren’s statement for what it was: an admission that she did not really intend to pass single-payer at all. Doug Henwood noted that Barclays bank put out an analysis assuring Wall Street that Warren’s plan to put off Medicare for All until late in the first term “decreases the likelihood that this plan comes to fruition”. So much for big structural change.

    Aw darn. You mean she's a normal politician, unwilling to hang onto ideas that poll poorly? Fetch me the smelling salts!


  • Norman Rogers writes at American Thinker, and here's what he's been thinking about: Why Joe Biden seems so different. Specifically, his eyes were opened by "Frank", apparently a denizen of Chicago's Michigan Ave.:

    [Frank]

    Norman comments:

    Quite obviously Biden is the Russian Manchurian Candidate. In the 2004 movie version a candidate for vice president is discovered to have an implant connected to his brain. So, rather than substituting an impersonator, the Russians may have surgically altered the real Biden to obey their commands.

    The picture is from 2011, so it's possible that Frank has been taken out by the KGB since then. That's what would have happened in a decent movie anyway.


  • And what's behind Mayor Pete's perceived phoniness? Well, it may be that he's a soul whose intentions are good, but oh Lord maybe a little misunderstood. Take it away, Jim Downs at Slate: Pete Buttigieg’s gay best little boy archetype needs to be better understood..

    As Pete Buttigieg rises in the polls in early caucus and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, criticism of the candidate has mounted, particularly around his personality. Since entering the field, initial appreciation for the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s relative youth and rolled-sleeves Midwestern energy has given way to a sense in certain incredulous quarters that he is robotic, overly polished, McKinsey-calculating, somehow fake. A related discontent has emerged in some corners of the LGBTQ community around Buttigieg’s relationship to his own gay identity. Here, too, he can come off as strangely circumspect, seemingly distant from gay culture and history—despite making it as the first serious openly gay presidential candidate. The privileges of race, class, and gender presentation that allow for his “pioneer” status relative to other sorts of queer people (and Buttigieg’s tepid acknowledgement of these) is another sore point.

    Article summary: he's no Liberace. But that should be OK.