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.