MLK@UNH 2020

Happy MLK day, all! It's a good day to check out the celebratory events at the University Near Here, a (mostly) yearly tradition at Pun Salad. Someone (sort of) famous is coming, and if you'd like to skip down to that click here. But otherwise…

Right off the bat, our usual disclaimers: UNH doesn't have anything going on the actual holiday. Because it's a University holiday (duh) and the first day of Spring Semester classes is the following day. So no impressionable students to indoctrinate, and nobody around to indoctrinate them. Sad!

This year's theme:

OWN IT: Using Your Power for Change

"Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose.  It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change."  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  (from the "Where Do We Go From Here") address

I'm sure there are more inspiring MLK quotes out there; this is more like a dictionary definition. But as will become clear, there's only one acceptable direction for "social, political, and economic change" in this season: to the left, to the left, to the left.

Anyway, first up is a display, Human Topographies, from artist Dan Mills, at the University's art museum, running January 21 until April 4. The scoop:

Human Topographies presents a narrow slice of the artist’s wide-ranging and decades-long interest in history, exploration, and games and wordplay to investigate networks—networks of power, trade, and migration that underpin societies, nationally and globally. Mills makes luminous and layered paintings and collages about our shared human history utilizing maps and data to expose the legacies of imperialism: war, colonialism, and the forced displacement of people.

Dan's website is here, and you can make your own call on which is cruder: Dan's art, or his ideology.

Moving on to Carmen Bradford with the Seacoast Big Band on the evening of February 3:

Carmen Bradford is third generation of incredible musicians. Her grandfather Melvin Moore sang with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band in the 1940's, and she is the daughter of coronetist/composer Bobby Bradford and jazz vocalist Melba Joyce.   Her albums include "Home With You", "A Very Swinging Basie Christmas", "Big Boss Band", "Finally Yours", and "With Respect".   Carmen Bradford has truly contributed to the preservation of this American art form called jazz.

No complaints here. Could be good, if you like jazz. It's apparently undisputed that MLK was a fan.

Then on February 5 (finally), the "MLK Opening":

Evening will be hosted by the Black Student Union and will feature spoken word, student group dance performances, slam poets, readings and other events to honor Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy.

Slam poetry is still a thing? Go figure. Best guess: tedium level yellow.

On February 6, a play at Johnson Theater ("NOTE: Doors open at 12:15 and close promptly at 12:40 at start of play. Play ends at 2:30pm"; I don't know what the deal is with that.):

The Niceties, brings a timely and important discussion between a student of color and a white professor who meet to discuss her paper on slavery and the American Revolution.  The play written by Eleanor Burgess, offers important insights on race, ageism, historical "facts", and the "why" that can often be left behind. 
Play will be performed by talented actresses from NH Theatre Project.

You have to appreciate the quotes around "facts". The play has its own website. You can google around for reviews (example) to get fell for the theme: it's a staged in-office debate between a old white liberal lady history prof and a black radical student. The student wants to promote the thesis that "the success of the American Revolution depended on the fact that slavery was never seriously challenged." The professor has "delusions of grandeur". Sounds like a fictionalized version of The 1619 Project, only more didactic.

Then on February 8, there's the "MLK Day of Action":

This is a great way to show those in need that you care. UNH Civic and Community Engagement office will have a list of service-related projects for you to choose from.

The key thing is showing people that you care. You don't have to actually care.

Next is an all-day event in the MUB on February 12: "Social Justice Educator Training".

A professional development opportunity for UNH faculty, staff, and graduate students to further their understanding of social justice and diversity issues. This session will explore social justice via personal and institutional lenses to analyze: power and privilege, discrimination and prejudice, inclusion and equity especially as it relates to one's racial identity .

From that description, my guess is that both indoctrination and tedium levels will be high.

The very next evening, February 13, we have "UNH A Capella Group Performances":

Several A Cappella groups have organized a special "Spring Inclusion" event with a wide variety of songs that will hopefully widen our circles and invite our minds to reflect on new ways to view our community and the people around us.

If you need your circle widened and your mind invited, go for it. (And if you widen your circles, don't they turn into ellipses?)(Sorry, that's a joke I've made before.)

I'm still trying to reflect on the difference between "our community" and "the people around us". (The writing on many of these descriptions is ludicrously inflated; never use one word where three or nine will do.)

Moving on, we have—of course—this year's religious event. Well it's at a church anyway: the "MLK Spiritual Program" on February 16 at the Durham Community Church.

An afternoon of spiritual celebration at the Community Church of Durham.  Program will include talks, a presentation by local artist Pamela Chatterton-Purdy, on her depiction of Black Civil Rights leaders, and music to recognize the strength and resilience of the Black community.  All are welcome to attend.

It almost goes without saying: the University doesn't do this sort of thing for actual religious holidays, like Christmas. That's OK: this is UNH's actual religion, complete with mythology and ritual.

Think I'm overstating things? Ms. Chatterton-Purdy's website is here.

And here's the sorta-famous invitee: David Hogg, on the evening of February 19. I know what you're wondering: either "What does this white kid have to do with MLK?" or "Aren't his fifteen minutes of fame up yet?"

Gun control advocate and March For Our Lives Co-Founder, David Hogg will speak about his story as survivor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida school shooting, and his call to all students to find their voice, speak out and engage in change. 

Here's a bit of what Charles C. W. Cooke said about young David back in 2018:

Since the multiple murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Hogg has emerged as a sort of Schrödinger’s Pundit, whose status within the debate sits contingent upon his critics’ willingness to push back. The game being played with his testimony — by adults, not by Hogg — is as transparent as it is cynical. For ten days now, Hogg has been as permanent a fixture on the nation’s TV screens as anyone bar the president. In each appearance, he has been invited without reply to share his ideas on our public policy. This he has done, emphatically. Among the proposals that Hogg has advanced are that the most popular rifle in America be federally prohibited; that the NRA be regarded as a haven for “child murderers”; that Americans boycott Amazon, FedEx, and the state of Florida; and that Governor Rick Scott take responsibility for the failures of another elected official. In addition, Hogg has held a gun-control rally in New Jersey, slammed the president as a coward, criticized the federal response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, made comments in support of funding for wind and solar power, taken a pre-emptive stand on Florida’s imminent senatorial election, and suggested that, as a matter of general policy, cops cannot be expected to protect the citizenry if they believe they might be outgunned.

Still true today, although I'm not sure at this point whether Hogg isn't a co-player in this cynical game by now.

In any case, the University passed up yet another chance to bring Mia Love to campus. I'd go see her.

There's a "Campus Conversation on Race" for … 80 minutes on February 20!

Hosted and designed by TREAT Fellows, join us for this cross-campus conversation with students, faculty and staff on the role power and privilege play here on campus and how we can all begin thinking of ways to leverage our power for change.

Okay… the current Treat (not TREAT) fellows are here. Fellow Brianne Morneau "still has three baby teeth" and Elana Zabar's favorite tree? It's the American Sycamore!

And finally, on February 21-23, it's the "MLK Summit".

The MLK Summit is a two and a half day social justice development institute that allows students to build cultural competencies and to expand their understanding of community activism.  The retreat is free and open to all full-time undergraduate students who are interested in gaining a better understanding of diversity and working toward social justice on the UNH campus and beyond. 

I would strongly suspect that any contrarian opinions on the intellectual coherency of "diversity" or "social justice" will be absent. And if not absent, cancelled.

[Past Pun Salad MLK@UNH coverage: 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019. We skipped reporting the 2008 and 2016 events, because they were boring.]

Johnny English Strikes Again

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

This is the third entry in Rowan Atkinson's "Johnny English" series. Johnny is about halfway between James Bond and Mr. Bean.

As the movie opens, Johnny's been sidelined, off to a small school where he's ostensibly a geography teacher. But he actually spends most of his time teaching the kiddos spycraft: ninja techniques, disguise, weaponry.

Unfortunately, this is the best part of the movie.

An evil cyberhacker breaks into Britain's "MI7" computers, and outs all the current crop of spies. To investigate, the PM (Emma Thompson, pretty good) demands that an inactive agent be brought back to investigate. So Johnny's off to France to track down the hacker, when he runs into Ophelia Bhuletova (Olga Kurylenko, who was an actual Bond girl in Quantum of Solace). Friend or enemy?

So anyway, Johnny bumbles a lot, a considerable amount of physical comedy, some of the gags work better than others. Atkinson, it's revealed in a DVD interview, likes doing physical comedy. Fine, but know when to stop, OK?

Given the elements, you can write the script yourself.

Masterminds

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

This is a pretty good entry in the "Dumb People Committing Crimes" genre. At least I laughed all the way through. It is based on an actual $17 million heist, although considerable liberties were taken to make things funnier. Co-produced by Lorne Michaels, it's also a movie gig for a lot of ex-SNL cast members.

Zach Galifianakis (could equally well have been Will Forte) plays probably the dumbest guy, David Ghantt, a trusted employee of an armored car company. When slightly-smarter Steve (Owen Wilson) learns that David is smitten with his co-worker Kelly (Kristen Wiig), a plot is hatched. And it goes surprisingly well! David goes on the lam down to Mexico. Steve, with the lion's share of the loot, realizes that David is a loose end, and sends a hitman (Jason Sudekis) after him.

Also: Kate McKinnon as David's spacey fiancée; Leslie Jones as an FBI agent. Everybody's funny, and the movie is better than it probably deserves to be.

The Phony Campaign

2020-01-19 Update

In a week where the impeachment articles finally moved to the Senate, we find that bettors took a look at the field and decided… Donald Trump is slightly more likely to win the November election. Funny old world, isn't it?

Also improving their odds: Wheezy Joe. But everyone else lost favor with people betting their own money.

In phony standings, of course President Bone Spurs widens his lead over Mayor Pete. As reported by Susan B. Glasser in the New Yorker:

Soon after the day’s ceremonial start to the Senate trial had wrapped up, Trump appeared before the cameras to call the case against him a “big hoax,” “a witch-hunt hoax,” “a complete hoax,” and “a phony hoax.” What will he talk about when the trial is over and he is completely and totally vindicated in the greatest acquittal of all time? How will he govern then?

I detect sarcasm.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
1/12
Phony
Results
Change
Since
1/12
Donald Trump 53.7% +1.7% 1,980,000 +370,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.3% -0.3% 962,000 +107,000
Joe Biden 14.6% +1.3% 492,000 +39,000
Bernie Sanders 12.6% -1.6% 435,000 -59,000
Elizabeth Warren 3.6% -0.6% 207,000 -37,000
Michael Bloomberg 5.9% -0.2% 76,300 -6,700

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

In these weekly updates, Pun Salad usually spreads out its commentary among the various candidates, not unlike scattering bread crumbs to the pigeons. But this week, one candidate generated a veritable flood of phoniness. So today we'll concentrate on Senator Elizabeth Warren. Take it away, Liz:

  • First up is Jonah Goldberg's G-File, hosted at his new website, the Dispatch. Jonah delves into How Elizabeth Warren Is Like Michael Scott.

    Elizabeth Warren is a remarkable liar. “Remarkable” is one of those funny words, like unique, that often sounds like a compliment but might not be. If asked about a dress, or a tie, or a baby with an unfortunately bright red unibrow, you might respond with, “What a unique dress” or, “That baby is remarkable!” 

    In other words, Warren’s a remarkable liar, but she’s not a very good one. Much like Barack Obama’s sense of humor and Donald Trump’s eloquence, Warren’s lying gets a boost from her fans. I remember liberals doubling over with laughter at Obama’s utterly banal dad jokes and mediocre quips (in fairness, sometimes he could be funny, particularly when scripted). I remain amazed by people who can listen to Trump vomit up a barrage of sentence fragments and non-sequiturs and then gush about his brilliant communications skills. (In fairness, Trump can approach eloquence—when scripted.)

    Michael Brendan Dougherty has a fantastically frustrated I-feel-like-I’m-taking-crazy-pills rant on the latest episode of National Review’s Editors podcast in which he approaches one of John Belushi’s old Saturday Night LiveWeekend Update” tirades about Warren’s dishonesty and insincerity. “Everything about her is phony!” he rails. MBD notes how she changes her accent, her syntax, her persona based on perceived political need—I say perceived, because she often has a thumbless grasp of what the political moment requires. For instance, no one put a gun to her head and made her release a DNA study, to much fanfare, that proved her claim of being Native American was bogus. She did that all by herself. 

    And more at the link. Pow-wow chow, lactation, minority faculty hire, and "I'm gonna get me a beer". And that just scratches the surface.


  • The link in Jonah's quote will take you to a podcast, but fortunately, Michael Brendan Dougherty also managed to type his commentary for National Review: National Review. Specifically…

    Warren’s political persona is entirely false. She claims to be a populist, but her form of social democracy is a kind of class warfare for millionaires and affluent liberals against billionaires and the petit bourgeois entrepreneurs who vote Republican. Her student-debt and free-college plans are absolute boons to the doctors, lawyers, and academics — the affluent wage-earners — who are her chief constituency. Meanwhile, her tax reforms go after not only billionaires but the small entrepreneurs: the guys who own a car wash, or a garbage-disposal service, and tend to vote Republican. Her consumer-protection reforms have hampered and destroyed local banks, and rewarded the bad-actor mega-banks she claims daily to oppose.

    And more…


  • At Reason, Peter Suderman's article from the print edition is available: Elizabeth Warren Has a Fake Plan To Pay for Medicare for All. Peter painfully details all the problems (which you should check out) but here's the bottom line:

    For Warren, however, realism is clearly not the point. She released her plan after months of pressure to explain precisely how she would finance the tens of trillions in new government spending that even the cheapest, most implausibly efficient version of a full-fledged single-payer system would require. Just as World War I generals used wooden tanks to fool enemy infantry, Warren has enlisted a legion of implausible savings mechanisms and unworkable tax hikes, hoping to look convincing from afar.

    Warren did not come up with a plan to pay for Medicare for All. Instead, she concocted a $52 trillion package of fanciful assumptions and unworkable reforms, and figured out how to pay for that.

    So the phoniness continues…


  • Sharp-eared Andrew Stiles at the Washington Free Beacon picked up another phony chord: Elizabeth Warren Takes Credit for Sponsoring Bills She Voted Against.

    "I do work with the other side," Warren said in October during a radio interview in New Hampshire. "I've gotten more than a dozen bills passed into law, and they've been bipartisan. And that's just been since Donald Trump has been elected president." A post on the "Fact Squad" section of Warren's campaign website similarly boasts that "Donald Trump has signed more than a dozen of Elizabeth's proposals into law" and lists 15 pieces of legislation Warren sponsored.

    Three of the items included in that tally, however, are bills that Warren ultimately voted against. The Gambling Addiction Prevention Act, the Sexual Trauma Response And Treatment Act, and the National Guard Promotion Accountability Act all passed the Senate in August 2018 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019. Warren was one of only 10 senators who voted against the 2019 NDAA, along with fellow 2020 contenders Kamala Harris (RIP), Kirsten Gillibrand (RIP), and Bernie Sanders.

    It would be nice if Liz realized that these items were either stupid or budget-busting, but… are you kidding?


  • So you won't be surprised at Wired's explanation of Why Elizabeth Warren's Feeds Are Flooded With Snake Emoji.

    Senator Elizabeth Warren’s social media feeds are crawling with snakes. If you scroll through the replies to every new tweet and the comments of her most recent Instagram posts, you won’t find much discussion about the actual content, whether its donations or the student loan debt crisis. Instead, it’s line after line of acid-green snake emoji, intermixed with people apologizing for the people inundating Warren’s accounts with snake emoji. Lest ye think that Senator Warren’s campaign for president has suddenly become much beloved by reptile enthusiasts, #NeverWarren is also trending, alongside #WarrenIsASnake.

    Sample, with additional meme:

    The Wired writer (as you might expect) plays the "sexism" card.


  • And you've probably seen this done to death, but I liked Dana at Patterico: CNN Debate Moderator Shamefully Takes Sides In Warren-Sanders Feud.

    Look, either Elizabeth Warren is lying or Bernie Sanders is lying. And moderator Abby Phillip, to her discredit and without any evidence, made it clear by the framing of her question to Warren, that she believed Sanders was not telling the truth. Not only did she openly confirm that she believed Sanders was untruthful, she gave Warren a convenient opportunity to pivot from confronting Sanders to move on to the broader picture of women and elections. This morning, I noticed that CNN’s Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza somehow completely missed his colleague’s act of “media malpractice” in his analysis of the interaction. Perhaps it has something to do with this, eh?

    CNN contributor Jess McIntosh suggested later that Phillips had taken her stance because of the network’s reporting: “This was a reported-out story that CNN was part of breaking.”

    Abby Phillip discredited herself with her clear and obvious bias, and Elizabeth Warren discredited herself by not directly confronting Bernie Sanders about his sexist remark. Her decision to choose party unity over standing up for herself and standing against an act of alleged sexism came off as weak. On behalf of women everywhere, it’s not an impressive look for a Democratic woman contending for the presidency of the United States to pass on an open opportunity to condemn sexism, especially when it has allegedly coming from a powerful, white male seeking the presidency.

    Or: 🐍


Last Modified 2020-01-19 12:00 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-01-18

[Alex]

  • Our Pic du Jour is stolen from Power Line's The Week in Pictures: Blowout Impeachment Edition. It hurts a bit to post it, because I'm eternally grateful to Alex for the 2018 Red Sox season.

    On the other hand, 2019… not so much. I suppose if there's someone needing to be own-petard-hoisted, Alex is a pretty good candidate.

    But, for the record, I'm pretty sure that "banned for life" thing isn't exactly true. At least not yet.

    And there should be an apostrophe in 'won't'. Have an editor check your memes, Trump fans!


  • Wired covers The Disturbing Case of the Disappearing Sci-Fi Story. Intro:

    Memes continue to be a messy business. They harm as well as empower. Sometimes the harmful ones can become empowering. Sometimes that makes them even messier.

    In 2014, people began to claim that they sexually identify as attack helicopters. The meme was intended to mock modern expressions of gender identity and sexuality, including those of the transgender community. Its creator, a player of the videogame Team Fortress 2, declared in the original copypasta that anyone who refused to accept their right to kill people was a “heliphobe” who should “check their vehicle privilege.” To a certain kind of internet user, the post was riotously funny. From Team Fortress 2 chat rooms, the meme spread to Reddit and then on to 4chan. Though usage peaked in mid-2015, according to Google Trends, the meme continues to hurt and offend many people.

    [That last link, by the way goes to a Medium article headlined "You’re Not An Attack Helicopter, You’re Just An Asshole". Attempting to "hurt and offend" people is just fine in some cases.]

    Anyway, Wired tells the story as sympathetically as possible:

    At the beginning of this year, the science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld published a short story called “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall. The story, which appears to be Fall’s debut, follows the first “somatic female” to undergo “tactical-role gender reassignment” surgery. She becomes, more or less literally, an Army helicopter. “When I was a woman I wanted my skin to be as smooth and dark as the sintered stone countertop in our kitchen,” the narrator says. “Now my skin is boron-carbide and Kevlar.” The experience of the narrator seemed to reflect the real-world struggles of transitioning. “Severe gender dysphoria,” Fall writes, “can be a flight risk.” The story took the offensive meme, slapped some rotors on it, and flew away to surprising places.

    Bottom line: although it's claimed that Isabel is transgender, the yarn rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, abuse was deployed, Isabel requested the story be removed from Clarkesworld, and it was.

    For another spin on the same story…


  • … check out Robby Soave at Reason: Transgender Writer Forced to Retract Trans-Themed Science Fiction Story.

    This episode demonstrates one of the most salient and oft-overlooked facts of cancel culture: The people most vulnerable to canceling belong to the very marginalized communities that the cancel-culture enforcers are purportedly protecting. These attacks on wrongthink do not help the oppressed. Indeed, it's often weaponized against them, attack-helicopter style.

    Irony can be… pretty ironic sometimes.


  • Ann Althouse comments on the Virginia gun stuff: "A sense of crisis enveloped the capital of Virginia on Thursday, with the police on heightened alert and Richmond bracing for possible violence ahead of a gun rally next week...". But what she really wants to talk about is the use of a fine old song and dance:

    From a week ago, at NPR, "'Boogaloo' Is The New Far-Right Slang For Civil War" (audio & transcript). "Boogaloo" was originally a song and dance, then a reference to a famously bad movie ("Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo"), and then slang for "any unwanted sequel." Then it got attached to the idea of another civil war — "Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo." The NPR reporter, Hannah Allam says the word is used by "anarchists and others on the far left" as well as "right-wing militias and self-described patriot groups." We hear an audio montage of unidentified persons:

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: So many people are saying that the boogaloo is about to kick off in Virginia.

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: When the boogaloo happens, these are the people that you're going to have to watch out for.

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Do not think for one second that there aren't people that would love to see this thing to get started, that would love to see this boogaloo start rolling. Personally, I do not want to see that. I don't want it to come to that....

    Interesting that all 3 of those persons were talking about those other people over there.

    We seem to have a weaponized meme theme going today.

    A quick grep tells me that "boogaloo" has never, ever, appeared at Pun Salad. Until now.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rings for column by one Lyz Lenz in the [Cedar Rapids, Iowa] Gazette: It's time to start a civil war with New Hampshire. Whoa! Why?

    The state whose motto is “Live Free or Die” is certainly good at keeping their clamming boots on our neck.

    Look, we wanted to change our caucuses. But we can’t change the caucus to a more civilized primary because New Hampshire will crap a lobster roll. It’s also the reason the new ballots at the caucuses won’t be called ballots, they will be called presidential preference cards.

    Heh, "crap a lobster roll". Those Iowa folk sure have a way with words.

    Anyway, Lyz is appalled at the situation (which she describes as "a failing system so tightly controlled by the power and influence of a few white people so desperate to cling to and justify their own relevancy that they’ll bring us all down with them", not much doubt where she's coming from), and after reviewing some history:

    That explains the passive-aggressive American standoff between a state that’s known for boiling it’s food and a state known for covering their food in cream of mushroom soup and overbaking it at 350.

    Well:

    1. OK, we boil a lot of stuff, mostly crustaceans and mollusks, but what else are you going to do with them?
    2. Truth be told, we're also kind of fond of that cream of mushroom soup culinary trick.
    3. But at least we know when to use "it's" vs. "its".
    4. Just kidding, we're pretty weak on that too.
    5. Did I mention that "relevance" is generally preferred over "relevancy"?

Last Modified 2020-01-19 4:21 AM EST

1917

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

Pun Son and I trekked over to the icy wastes of Barrington to view 1917. After a good sleep, various bodily sphincters have finally unclenched. I understand there's an IMAX version; I probably wouldn't have survived that. Yes, it's intense.

IMDB raters have this as #41 on the list of best movies of all time. And (of course) it's been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and nine others.

Set in World War I's trenches, It's the story of two soldiers and their desperate mission to notify a remote regiment that their scheduled attack against a German force is doomed to failure. If they don't get through, 1600 of their countrymen will be slaughtered.

They proceed through different instantiations of hell. All impressively shot. I don't know about Best Picture, but the Oscar for Cinematography should be a lock. (And I say that without having watched the other nominees.)

Only one little quibble: would that have really been the best plan to save the regiment? Just send two random grunts to warn them in the nick of time? Especially since… well, I don't want to spoil anything.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-17

  • Peter Suderman writes at Reason that it's pretty simple: By Withholding Funds to Ukraine, Trump Broke the Law.

    One argument that President Donald Trump's supporters have employed in the impeachment debate is that it was merely a "policy dispute." Yes, Trump held up aid to Ukraine last summer, this line goes, but he did so in pursuit of his agenda in the region. 

    There are several problems with this argument. One is that it has become increasingly clear that the president was pursuing a personal political agenda through his personal lawyer, not a national agenda through the formal diplomatic process. Another problem, arguably more serious, is that even if Trump was pursuing some less blatantly corrupt goal, what he did was still illegal. 

    That is the conclusion reached by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a sharply worded letter released this morning. The letter raises serious questions about whether the Trump administration violated the constitutional separation of powers. 

    That's a point. For a counterpoint…


  • … check out the WSJ's James Freeman, who is dismissive: Trump Receives Another Postcard from the Swamp.

    Traditionally GAO does its best to serve its congressional bosses. This is not a swipe at these particular swamp dwellers. Yes, the current head of GAO was nominated by President Barack Obama after a congressional commission presented a list of candidates. But the Supreme Court has explicitly found that GAO is subservient to the legislative branch. The 1986 decision is called Bowsher v. Synar. GAO staff try their best to satisfy requests from legislators.

    At the urging of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Maryland), GAO now says that Trump administration delays in sending aid to Ukraine were illegal. For people who aren’t students of the Washington bureaucracy, it should be noted that few people consider GAO the authoritative word on legal issues. The Justice Department and ultimately of course the federal courts make the big calls.

    James goes on to note a number of times GAO found the Obama Administration running afoul of the law. (And this doesn't even count Biden's threat to withhold aid to Ukraine aid until a prosecutor was fired.)

    At Instapundit, David Bernstein notes, with respect to one of those GAO findings: "If you can find me a Democratic House member or Senator who denounced Obama for that move, I’ll concede that he is sincerely interested in presidential lawfulness and the separation of powers."

    Let's grant that there's a surfeit of hypocrisy here.


  • One additional source of irritation is spotlighted by Kevin D. Williamson at National Review (an NRPLUS article, and I don't know what that means). Supreme Court’s ‘Endangered' Reputation: Democrat Warnings Entirely Political.

    The Democrats are great defenders of American institutions — provided those institutions serve their interests. In October 2016, the po-faced defenders of all that is good and precious were wearing themselves out demanding that Donald Trump and his supporters make a pledge to “accept the results” of the presidential election, a demand that was predicated on the assumption that Trump was going to lose. After making those demands, the Democrats have spent every single day refusing to accept the results of the 2016 election. They don’t give a fig about the credibility of our electoral processes — they care about winning. The Electoral College, the Senate, the Bill of Rights — when the Constitution itself gets in the way, they are ready and eager to gut it.

    Yesterday, Democrats were willing to slander a Supreme Court nominee, and then to continue slandering him as a justice; today, they are very, very concerned about the delicate reputation of the Supreme Court. Yesterday, Democrats were working to advance a court-packing scheme that would seal and certify the politicization of the Court; today, the Court is so sacrosanct that we must move heaven and earth to fortify its perceived legitimacy. It is difficult to take seriously the notion that they are moved by tender concern for the reputation of an institution that they insist is staffed by political hacks and rapists.

    Did I already mention hypocrisy? Oh, right, I did.


  • In unimpeachable news, Cato's James Knupp and Christopher A. Preble have a suggestion: When Debating Base Closure, Look at the Data. And there's a local connection.

    Despite years of calls from the Pentagon for a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), Congress has refused to authorize one since 2005. With the Department of Defense running at 22 percent excess capacity and constant calls for more money for operations and modernization, Congress should allow the Pentagon to reallocate funds away from unnecessary bases into more urgent projects. But fears of communities losing their bases and watching their local economies suffer as a result has kept talk of a new BRAC off the table.

    BRAC opponents should take a look at some of the data measuring the economic health of post-BRAC communities. Research shows that while there may be some short-term pain, in the long run most communities rebound -- and oftentimes end up in a much stronger position before. A presentation last year at the Association of Defense Communities’ Base Redevelopment Forum looked at three very different cases: Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1988); Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas (1991); and the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (1991). With both large and small communities represented, the evidence reveals BRAC’s actual effects.

    Our local legislators from both parties are hyper-vigilant against any waste-cutting move that might possibly endanger Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Back in 2017, I looked at PNSY through Bastiat's eyeglasses, and I think it holds up pretty well.


  • The WaPo has a fun interactive article: Which of these 2020 Democrats agrees with you most? You provide your stance on twenty policy issues, and the Post tallies up which candidates took an identical stance.

    You might, correctly, suspect that zero candidates agreed with me on more than a few questions.

    Question 17 got my goat a bit:

    The government should make four years of college ________________ for all families, including the wealthy.

    And your (only) choices were: "free", "debt-free", and "affordable". If you favor government letting colleges and students come to their own mutually-agreeable terms without meddling, you are a non-person on this issue.


  • New Hampshire magazine editor Rick Broussard triggered our LFOD news alert with: Our Declarations of “Zen-dependence”. It's a musing on our state's motto:

    Typically, when people want to define the uniqueness of our state, they go to the most public evidence of it, the one that appears on our license plates and on the signs that greet all visitors: our state motto, “Live Free or Die.”

    Of course, not everyone “gets” Gen. John Stark’s pithy bumper sticker’s worth of wisdom and not everyone appreciates the sentiment. For those still scratching their heads whenever they read it, here’s my take. The message is not that life would not be worth living without freedom. It’s just that there are worse things than being dead. This in turn suggests that there is more to our lives than just living; that we are larger beings than is suggested by our contentious featherless-biped existence on this rough mortal coil. In other words, Gen. Stark’s philosophy goes a bit deeper, perhaps, than some people think. That’s probably why it is still repeated 200 years after the event at which it was originally read as a toast to fellow veterans of the Battle of Bennington, Stark’s last hurrah.

    I'm pretty sure Rick's take is mistaken, sorry. It's not deep, it's simple: your freedom is something worth risking, and even losing, your life.

    He also seems to think LFOD was original with General Stark. I think it's generally (heh) accepted that he cribbed it from French Revolutionaries' Vivre Libre ou Mourir.

    Still, Rick's take is worth reading, if only for the idea that LFOD have a backup slogan: "Be Here Now". Can you imagine the thoughts of an incoming tourist seeing that on a "Welcome to New Hampshire" sign?

    "Be here now? Well, of course I am. Where else could I be?"

The Favourite

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As God is my witness, I thought this was gonna be funnier. I was deceived by the previews, which made it seem like kind of a slapstick hoot. And the IMDB has it as "Biography, Comedy, Drama".

To quote a (different) Brit queen: We were not amused.

Queen Anne is initially under the spell of manipulative Lady Sarah; she's finagled her into supporting a ruinous war with France (for a reason I missed, if it was provided). This goes along with punitive taxes on the populace, which they are pretty irked about.

Along comes Abigail, Sarah's cousin, who's trying to recover after a spell of degrading prostitution. She turns out to be equally as adept at winning the Queen's fancy, especially when she appeals to her, um, baser instincts.

To quote Bugs Bunny: of course you know, this means war.

Sarah and Abigail wage a genteel, and not-so-genteel war on each other. This is set against a backdrop of unending perversion (in this movie, everybody's pretty kinky and degenerate).

Nominated for 10 Oscars, and Olivia Colman won for Best Actress, playing Queen Anne.

Let It Burn

[Amazon Link]

Another book down in my Steve Hamilton catch-up project. This one's from 2013, and it's in his "Alex McKnight" series. Recent entries have strained credulity, as Alex has long wished to stop getting involved in the sorts of scrapes in which crime fiction deals; yet he keeps getting dragged back in to intrigue and danger.

Guess what? I found this one more believable!

Back in the day, Alex was a Detroit cop, and found himself involved in a gruesome murder. Thanks in part to his good cop skills, they nabbed a suspect, got a confession, and the city went on its slow pathway to hell, while Alex eventually retired to Michigan's scenic Upper Peninsula. But he gets a phone call from his old Sergeant (also now retired): the guy's getting out of jail.

This causes Alex to relate how the case went down back then, and (of course) there's a niggling little detail: they might have accused and convicted the wrong guy.

Kept me guessing (incorrectly) until the end. And a great page-turner.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-16

  • At National Review, David Harsanyi notes a specific example of a more general problem: Democrats’ Economic Doomsaying Doesn’t Match Reality.

    In the last debate, Tom Steyer claimed that “90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years.” Politicians have been peddling the “wage stagnation” myth for a decade now. The notion that Americans make no more than their grandparents conveniently ignores a big expansion of employee-based benefits, increased efficiency, and technological advances that have, by any genuine real-world measure, vastly improved the economic life of the average American.

    Yet, in last night’s debate, Biden again asserted, to applause, that the middle class was “being clobbered” and “killed.” (The middle class is actually quite alive. It isn’t losing ground to poverty. It has been losing ground to the upper-middle class for 40 years, however.)

    RTWT, but I'll just point out that Steyer is peddling a statistical fallacy, treating a dynamic population as static.

    To use a less-charged example: if you track the average height of trees in a forest over 40 years, it might not change significantly. But then would you conclude that no tree had grown in that forest for 40 years?

    Duh.

    Of course, we'd prefer that average wages grow over time. But it's a mistake to say that people don't get raises. They do.


  • Trump promised to drain the swamp. But he's missed a particularly foul, mosquito-infested corner, according to Veronique de Rugy: Social Engineering Run Amok in the Department of Labor. Looking at the department's $400 million vendetta against Oracle:

    To prove its discrimination claim, [ Labor's "Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs" (OFCCP)] relies entirely on a statistical analysis that fails to reflect the labor market's great complexity. For instance, the government uses crude controls for employee education and experience, both of which have a large impact on compensation. For education, OFCCP considers only an employee's degree level but not whether the degree is actually relevant to the job performed. As for experience, it considers only the employee's age and time at Oracle, omitting both length at the current position — which is where the most useful experience is gained — and the relevance of prior work. OFCCP, in other words, thinks that any employees of the same age and with the same tenure with their current employer possess the same experience.

    OFCCP's analysis also treats employees with the same job title as similarly situated, creating more grounds for discrimination claims. However, a software engineer working on databases does very different work than one who develops artificial intelligence. Yet if the worker in the higher-demand field, who can therefore demand higher pay, happens to be Caucasian or male, while the other is female or a minority, then the government concludes the pay disparity is due to discrimination by Oracle.

    I guess the Department of Labor figures that if they can't sue somebody for big bucks, people might conclude that they're not earning their keep.


  • Karen Townsend at Hot Air notes the latest outrage: Space Force Bible critics condemn "unadulterated Christian privilege".

    A religious freedom group is condemning the blessing of a King James Bible last Sunday in a ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral. The Bible was used to swear in the commanders of the Space Force. Some are criticizing the ceremony as a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Further key detail: "The Bible will be taken into space."

    Ah, but the "religious freedom group" was turning over rhetorical tables in the temple:

    The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy, dominance, triumphalism and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday’s ‘blessing’, at the Washington National Cathedral, of a sectarian Christian bible which will apparently ‘be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch (ie. The United States Space Force).” MRFF noted with additional disgust and disdain the willing and all-too visible participation of a senior USAF officer, in formal uniform, during the travesty of this sectarian ceremony which tragically validates the villainy of unadulterated Christian privilege at DoD and its subordinate military branches. For the record, military commanders are NOT ever “sworn in” to their positions let alone with the usage of a Christian bible or other book of faith. And especially not in 2020!!

    Two exclamation points, baby. They're really irked about this.

    Although I think the real source of their worries is that Bibles in space might be used to impose Christianity on heathen Klingons and Romulans.


  • A Wired article brings (probably unintentional) amusement: Chris Evans Goes to Washington. Yes, that's Captain America.

    Chris Evans, back home after a grueling production schedule, relaxes into his couch, feet propped up on the coffee table. Over the past year and a half, the actor has tried on one identity after another: the shaggy-haired Israeli spy, the clean-shaven playboy, and, in his Broadway debut, the Manhattan beat cop with a Burt Reynolds ’stache. Now, though, he just looks like Chris Evans—trim beard, monster biceps, angelic complexion. So it’s a surprise when he brings up the nightmares. “I sleep, like, an hour a night,” he says. “I’m in a panic.”

    The panic began, as panics so often do these days, in Washington, DC. Early last February, Evans visited the capital to pitch lawmakers on a new civic engagement project. He arrived just hours before Donald Trump would deliver his second State of the Union address, in which he called on Congress to “bridge old divisions” and “reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution.” (Earlier, at a private luncheon, Trump referred to Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, as a “nasty son of a bitch.”) Evans is no fan of the president, whom he has publicly called a “moron,” a “dunce,” and a “meatball.” But bridging divisions? Putting an end to the American body politic’s clammy night sweats? These were goals he could get behind.

    Yes, when you're looking to "bridge old divisions", someone who's called Trump a “moron,” a “dunce,” and a “meatball” is just the guy to tell you how to do it.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for a Concord Monitor article: Vape shop owners oppose New Hampshire flavor ban proposal. But before we get to the motto invocation…

    The Trump administration announced this month that it will prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes favored by high school and middle school students. But menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market, and the targeted flavor ban entirely exempts large, tank-based vaping devices, which are primarily sold in vape shops that cater to adult smokers.

    Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, wants New Hampshire to go further and ban the sale of all flavored vaping products, except tobacco flavors. A former surgeon, he cast the bill as a move to stem a public health crisis, and said the benefits of preventing teens from vaping outweighs the benefit to adults who use the products for smoking cessation.

    Yes, you read that correctly: the representative from Freedom wants to ban stuff. But LFOD comes in later…

    Steve Kaltsis pulled out two bottles and showed them to lawmakers, including one liquid flavored like a sweet breakfast cereal.

    “I’m 34 years old. Cap’n Crunchberries and pineapple grapefruit, these two things are keeping me off cigarettes,” said Kaltsis, who said he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years before taking up vaping five years ago. He opened a vape shop in Pelham in November after sales dropped from $1,800 to $150 per day at his store in Dracut, Mass., where the governor announced a four-month moratorium on the sale of vaping products in September.

    “Anything that is opposing adults getting their hands on these flavors that help them quit would be a tragedy for the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “Just look what it did to Massachusetts. Look what it did to me.”

    “ ‘Live Free or Die,’ ” Kaltsis continued, invoking New Hampshire’s state motto. “I was kinda hoping I could stick with that.”

    A number of us were kinda hoping we could stick with that, Steve.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-15

  • I kvetch about Wired's tired, tedious politcs a lot, but occasionally they get things right, as in this article from Brian Barrett. The 'Jeopardy!: Greatest of All Time' Tournament Is a Singular Event. (Written before last night's finale.)

    Not to get sentimental, but that future will be markedly different in more ways than just strategy. Alex Trebek has hosted the show since 1984. He’s now 79, fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer since early 2019. He says he has no immediate plans to step down, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll have an opportunity to take the podium in such grand fashion—primetime, to an audience of millions, guiding contestants that by now “feel like family”—before he settles into a well-deserved retirement.

    It’s not just Trebek, though. Harry Friedman has produced both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune for a quarter of a century. He’ll leave both shows when his contract runs out in March. Trebek has been the face and heart of Jeopardy!, but Friedman has spent the last 25 years as the connective tissue, making critical changes—lifting the five-game cap, increasing clue values—while keeping the show true to its original vision. Friedman is producing the GOAT tournament, and came up with its format. You’ll never see him onscreen, but you’re watching a legend go out on top.

    I was impressed at how easily James, Ken, and Brad got along, dropping small gags into the proceedings, while obviously playing to win. I was worried whether I could take a straight hour of Jeopardy! but it was easy.


  • Declan Garvey writes at the Dispatch: Justin Amash Has a Decision to Make. Specifically, whether to run for President as an independent. Or maybe as a capital-L Libertarian.

    Three weeks from the first votes of the 2020 election, the presidential race seems—finally—to be taking shape. Republicans, having blocked any serious attempts at a primary challenge, will field a candidate who brings passionate support from the hard-core GOP base, grudging acceptance from other Republicans, and intense opposition from everyone else. Democrats will likely field either a flawed candidate from the center—more accurately, the center-left—or an avowed leftist, maybe even an avowed socialist. 

    There are millions of moments, and billions of decisions, that will ultimately determine the next president and the next four years of the American experiment. But few will be as consequential as the decision now looming before a reserved, quirky, classical liberal from south central Michigan. 

    It would be nice to have someone to vote for in November.


  • Mark J. Perry of AEI calls it his Chart of the day… or century?.

    [Price Changes]

    It should go without saying which components Your Federal Government has been most insistent on making "affordable" for that time period.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie invites you to Gaze Upon the Worst Anti-Vaping Poster Ever and Despair. And via the magic of Twitter embedding…

    This is not simply wrong, it's unbelievably wrong, for all sorts of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. For starters, the death rate of jumping out of airplanes without parachutes is 100 percent (the odd Vesna Vulović story notwithstanding). For vaping, not so much. In fact, even New Jersey's official site for anti-vaping propaganda admits that there is only a single confirmed case of a Garden State vaper—out of what must be hundreds of thousands if not millions of users—dying from illness related to electronic cigarettes. The site also links approvingly to an article from last October that notes there are at least two "vaping epidemics" at play. The first, writes Cristine Delnevo of Rutgers, "is the outbreak of more than 1,000 vaping-associated lung injuries nationwide, which appears linked to vaping THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, and has caused more than 25 deaths, includng one in New Jersey. Separately, there is the skyrocketing rate of nicotine vaping among youth, with its risk of long-term addiction." For what it's worth, neither of the vaping devices pictured above are the sort that use the black-market THC cartridges that have been most plausibly linked to most serious illnesses, let alone deaths.

    But when you're dealing with propaganda, it's best not to get too lost in the weeds (perhaps especially when the propaganda is somehow related to weed). When targets of such communications realize they're being lied to, they tend to tune out all the information from official sources because they know it's not really unbiased, scientific, or seeking the truth.

    For seemingly the millionth time: I don't vape, and I don't advocate that people take it up. But I can't help but feel disgusted and angry about the media and politicians flat lying about the issue.


  • And one for you coders of a certain age out there, a Medium essay from Sedat Kapanoglu, Ex-Engineer at Microsoft Windows Core OS Division: How is computer programming different today than 20 years ago?. Short answer: very. But here are a few of his bullet points I really liked:

    • Since we have much faster CPUs now, numerical calculations are done in Python which is much slower than Fortran. So numerical calculations basically take the same amount of time as they did 20 years ago.

    • Unit testing has emerged as a hype and like every useful thing, its benefits were overestimated and it has inevitably turned into a religion.

    • You are not officially considered a programmer anymore until you attend a $2K conference and share a selfie from there.

    I attended a lunch with my old team yesterday, and one of the new faces said he'd been working with my code. He didn't kill me, so I'm happy.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-14

  • Daniel J. Mitchell says: Some Folks on the Left Are Honest…but Very Wrong.

    As part of my collection of honest leftists, I have a bunch of columns highlighting how some advocates of big government (including, to their credit, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang) don’t hide from reality.

    I’m unalterably opposed to their policies, but at least they openly admit that huge tax increases on ordinary people are needed in order to finance a European-style welfare state.

    Daniel adds the authors of this WaPo column to the august list.

    They enthusiastically endorse the model seen in other countries (stop me if you've heard this):

    1. The government takes a lot more of your money.
    2. They give some of it back to you in "free" stuff.
    3. They make you believe they've done you a favor.


  • At a site named Credit Takeoff, Mike Pearson has a cool visualization of 30 Years Of America's Wealthiest People. Let's see if I can't embed it:

    Keep an eye out for Jeff Bezos.


  • The lost verse of John Lennon's "Imagine", as writen by libertarian Max Gulker: What If There Was No Legal Smoking Age?. Sample:

    Just like any age, 21 is arbitrary. At some point, without an all-out war on tobacco, we must allow people to make potentially life-threatening choices. And that’s where Smith’s framework most importantly informs this debate. Individuals and their friends and families, older siblings and mentors all have just a little bit of knowledge about what makes sense for any given person. 

    The process of discovering each individual’s best balance between instant gratification and health risks down the road is messy. [Adam] Smith’s critics, as they do in his economics treatise, falsely assume he ascribes super human rationality to his subjects. That only came later when future generations tried to fully mathematize the work of the classical economists.

    There is no magic bullet. Whether government-mandated or left in the hands of individuals, tobacco use will lead some to tragic consequences. Kids will get cigarettes either way, and adults will try and fail to stop. In this scenario of no good choices, the course that encourages responsibility and humanity seems like something we might want to try.

    The result of treating adults as irresponsible children… is a country where adults act like irresponsible children.


  • And in other sad news, the Daily Wire reports: Sir Patrick Stewart Says New 'Star Trek' Series Will Take On Trump, Brexit.

    The new “Star Trek” series starring Sir Patrick Stewart isn’t being explicitly billed as “woke,” but it seems the series’ star, who will reprise his role as the legendary Enterprise captain, Jean-Luc Picard, believes “Star Trek: Picard” will have a message for anti-immigrant leaders and global isolationists.

    I guess this is good news: no temptation whatsoever to watch this tedious exercise.


  • And the Supreme Court passed up a chance … Female nipples a no-show in Live Free or Die New Hampshire.

    The Supreme Court said Monday that it will not take up a challenge to a New Hampshire city ordinance banning women from appearing topless in public.

    So much for the New Hampshire "Live Free or Die" battle cry. Lawmakers want female breasts kept tied up, locked away and covered up.

    The refusal to hear the case left in place a 2019 ruling by New Hampshire's top court which supported convictions levied on Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro for violation of nudity laws after all three women bared their breasts four years ago.

    We will just have to be satisfied with taping over the state motto on our license plates, as long as we meet the state's dress code while doing so.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-13

  • Cafe Hayek's Quotation of the Day... is from the late James Buchanan:

    Both our fiscal and our monetary structures are currently in disarray. And, as members of the body politic, we are behaving irresponsibly in our unwillingness to look at, analyze, and ultimately to support structural reforms that offer the only prospects for permanent improvement. We have allowed a quasi-independent monetary authority to accidentally attain a monopoly over fiat money issue without effective political control…. Alongside this random-walk monetary authority, we have a fiscal structure from which almost all pretense of balancing off the costs of taxes against the benefits of spending have been removed. The problem is not, however, with irresponsible political leaders, in either the executive or legislative branch of government. The problem is that the rules of the game are such as to make fiscal responsibility and fiscal prudence beyond the limits of the politically feasible. Constituents enjoy the benefits of public spending; they do not enjoy paying taxes. The politics of the [government budget] deficit is a simple as that.

    That's from 2000. If anything, the situation has gotten worse since then. Click through for the proprietor's comments.


  • Cato has issued its latest Human Freedom Index.

    Good news for Americans: we are freer than about 147 countries.

    Bad news for Americans: we're only #15, meaning 14 countries are freer than we.

    Our biggest shortcoming is on "Rule of Law" issues, notably criminal justice.


  • And then there are scofflaws. Specifically, as Michael Huemer notes, Outlaw Universities.

    Probably everyone in the academy knows that affirmative action is widely practiced: racial minorities (except Asians) and women are commonly given preference in hiring and admission decisions at American universities. I would guess, however, that some academics — and many more non-academics — are unaware that typical university hiring practices are blatantly illegal. So I’m going to talk about that for a while, in case you find that interesting.

    Job advertisements commonly say things like that the university rejects discrimination, supports equal employment opportunity, and considers all applicants “without regard to” race, sex, religion, etc. What they actually mean by this is that they only discriminate in certain specific ways. E.g., they don’t discriminate against blacks or Hispanics, but only against whites and Asians. They don’t discriminate against women, only against men. And so on. (This sounds to me like a rather Orwellian use of “equal opportunity”. But what do I know? I’m just some crazy libertarian philosopher.)

    If you click through, you'll find a particularly damning table from UC Berkeley's own website, showing how the winnowing process for faculty positions clearly, disproportionately, knocks out Whites, Asians, and males.

    If someone set up an institution of higher education that was honestly color-blind and sex-blind, they'd have a pretty good candidate pool to pick from. But I wonder if they'd get accreditation.


  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Well, according to James Pethokoukis at AEI, it's Time to reset the Doomsday Clock of ‘late capitalism’. Much like the famous "Doomsday Clock", capitalism's time is always about to run out:

    It’s always quite late, apparently. The sun is always setting. German economist Werner Sombart coined the phrase in the early 20th century, and European socialists popularized it during the Great Depression when it probably seemed about 30 seconds to midnight for capitalism. But things were darkest before the dawn. Capitalism survived, flourished, and spread across the globe. And even small doses generated near wondrous improvement.

    Yet we remain stuck and suffering in late capitalism, according to progressives and socialists. And unlike with the Doomsday Clock, the end only approaches, never recedes. Here’s a handy definition from Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic: “‘Late capitalism,’ in its current usage, is a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality and super-powered corporations and shrinking middle class.” So Jeff Bezos and that $375 “eco-friendly” silver straw from Tiffany’s, basically.

    Well, maybe this time they'll be right. I know which way I'm betting, though. With my own money.


  • From the current print Reason, Jacob Sullum describes How Truth Became a Casualty of the War on Smoking, a review of two books on the history of the anti-smoking movement.

    That trend [of hyping anti-smoking "findings"] also disturbs Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking activist and former [Stanton Glantz, a co-founder of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights] protégé who nowadays regularly criticizes the alarmist claims and ad hominem reasoning of his erstwhile allies. Siegel is especially dismayed by the anti-smoking movement's irrational resistance to e-cigarettes as a harm-reducing alternative to conventional, combustible cigarettes.

    "Driven by an almost puritanical inability to accept the fact that a person could obtain pleasure from nicotine without it killing them," Siegel says in a blog post that [one of the reviewed authors] quotes, "we have made the demonization of vaping the solitary goal of the movement, at the direct expense of what I always believed was our primary goal: to make smoking history." For dissidents like Siegel, it's clear that vaping—which is indisputably far less dangerous than smoking—should be embraced as a public health boon by people who say they want to reduce the death and disease caused by cigarettes.

    There's zero scientific reason to impose the same public restrictions on vaping as on tobacco products. Yet, when the moral panic level is set to 11…

Holiday

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

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn! Directed by George Cukor! For what more could you ask?

And about ten minutes into it… "Did we see this before?" "It seems kind of familiar…"

I don't find it in my movie list, though. And I've been pretty diligent about keeping it complete. So it must have been pre-2004. But consumer note: I remember watching Bringing Up Baby; this one isn't super-memorable.

Anyway: Cary plays Johnny Case, who (as it happens) has just returned from Lake Placid, where he met the love of his life, Julia Seton (not Katherine Hepburn, Doris Nolan). To his eventual consternation, he discovers that, whoa, Julia's rich. As in falling-in-the-ditch rich! (I don't know what that means, but Mom used to say that.) Julia's dad, a scion of finance, is overbearing. Her brother's a drunkard. And sister Linda—ah, there's Katherine Hepburn—is "eccentric", meaning she's more fun than anyone else in the family.

There are some rough spots to overcome: Dad's skeptical, since Johnny's background is lower working class, for example. But he's a hard worker, put himself through Harvard, and has a talent for business. So eventually it's assumed he'll take his place in the Seton empire, and become heir to the throne.

But the plot-driving conflict is this: Johnny has different plans for his life. He wants to make a little money, then take off and have some fun. Then come back to work when the money runs out, then take off again. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

This is obviously unacceptable!

So yeah, the movie is mainly about Rich People Problems. How did this go over in 1938, anyway? Were people flocking to the theaters to watch Rich People Problems?

Or did people flock to the theater because they wanted to see how Cary Grant winds up with Katherine Hepburn? (Spoiler: he does.)

Vicious Circle

[Amazon Link]

Continuing my project of catching up with my C. J. Box reading. This one's from 2017, so only three years behind!

Consumer note one: you can save a lot of money by waiting to buy. C. J. sells a lot of books, but they eventually wind up on the Barnes and Noble remainder table.

Consumer note two: this (#17 in the Joe Pickett series) should probably not be the first C. J. Box book you read. It depends heavily on events described in Endangered (#15 in the series).

Specifically, the surviving members of the Cates family are out for revenge here. The sociopathic Dallas has been released from the slammer after less than two years; he had a knack for avoiding evil deeds that could easily be proved.

And it seems he's got things working the same way here: having picked up some homicidal friends in the pen, they work to bedevil Joe Pickett and his family. Every decent person wants to see Dallas back behind bars. And one law enforcement official, not Joe, seems to want that a little too much. Which comes back to bite everyone in the ass.

The Phony Campaign

2020-01-12 Update

[Amazon Link]

Amazon is your go-to store for t-shirts featuring presidential candidates on unicorns. The Product du Jour features Senator Liz so seated, and such is the nature of politics these days that I can't tell whether it's offered by a fervent Warren fan or a bitter opponent.

Improving their win-probabilities over the week: Bernie, President Bone Spurs, and Mayor Mike. Losers: Wheezy Joe, Liz, and Mayor Pete. Bernie has leapfrogged over Biden as the most likely Democrat to win.

Still nowhere on the betting-odds radar: Tom Steyer, despite non-stop TV ads. It's almost as if people are watching the ads and thinking: "No. Uh uh. No way."

Or maybe I'm projecting.

Anyway, our phony table shows DJT with a firm grasp on the phony title, widening his lead on Mayor Pete:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
1/5
Phony
Results
Change
Since
1/5
Donald Trump 52.0% +1.2% 1,610,000 +160,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.6% -1.2% 855,000 -137,000
Bernie Sanders 14.2% +2.9% 494,000 -15,000
Joe Biden 13.3% -3.7% 453,000 +26,000
Elizabeth Warren 4.2% -0.4% 244,000 -35,000
Michael Bloomberg 6.1% +2.2% 83,000 +2,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

On the diversity scale, our likely candidates are 100% persons of pallor; 5/6 male; 5/6 heterosexual; 5/6 septuagenarian; 100% thinking of different ways to push you around.

  • Michael P. Ramirez comments on presidential style:

    [Impulsive, Me?]

    This week's crazy idea: Trump is actually a believer in the Many-Worlds version of quantum mechanics, so he uses the Universe Splitter app to make decisions. Guaranteeing that there will be at least one universe where he made the right call.


  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham wonders What Happened to Liz Warren?. The answer is unsurprising:

    […] every day the evidence builds that the Liz Warren campaign’s biggest problem, is Liz Warren.

    “She got [sic] an authenticity problem,” one DC political operative told NHJournal. “It’s the one thing about her that’s real.”

    The authenticity issue appeared again this week when Warren amended her views on the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, after blowback from progressives. Her first reaction was to declare Soleimani a “murderer responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.”

    Within 24 hours she was calling him a “senior government official,” who had been “assassinated,” and she repeatedly refused to concede that Soleimani is a terrorist. (He was declared the leader of a terrorist organization by both the Bush and Obama administrations.) Rather than celebrating his demise, Warren was suggesting that Soleimani only died because Trump is facing impeachment.

    “Wow. We went from ‘murderer’ to ‘wag the dog’ in the space of a few days,” quipped CNN’s liberal commentator Chris Cillizza.

    Not only phony, but gratingly so.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson points out something that is probably, unfortunately, not contributing to Liz's popularity decline: Elizabeth Warren Bankruptcy Policy Relies on Moralistic Fairytales. (An "NRPLUS" article, don't know what that means for visibility.)

    Senator Elizabeth Warren, foundering in the Democratic primary, is returning to the theme that made her famous: her moralizing account of personal bankruptcy.

    As an academic, Warren did research on personal bankruptcy in the United States. “Our research ended up showing that most of these families weren’t reckless or irresponsible,” she writes, “they were just getting squeezed by an economy that forced them to take on more debt and more risk to cling to their place in America’s middle class.” That is a peculiar claim. Borrowing money that you cannot repay in order to finance personal consumption that you cannot afford is precisely the sort of thing one might wish to indicate with the words “reckless and irresponsible.” To claim that this is the result of “getting squeezed by the economy” is a way of giving your morality play a villain without making any specific person feel bad.

    Nothing wrong with that (as KDW goes on to point out); various versions of such tales of victimization are quite populist-popular, and a goodly fraction of voters love 'em.


  • Vermont Republican (yes, there's still one) James Barnett explicitly compares and contrasts: Why Trump should fear Sanders much more than Warren in 2020.

    [In the 2012 election] Warren rode the coattails of President Obama to the Senate. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and party standard bearer, lost Boston proper without cracking 20 percent. Warren won big there as well but trailed the showing of Obama by five points.

    Why? Because in places like gritty South Boston, many working class voters rejected her. Like in Essex County in Vermont, these are Trump voters and could also be Sanders voters. But they are not buying what Warren is selling. As Warren marched in the South Boston Saint Patrick Day parade thar year, one man on the curb mimicked her often repeated refrain about the “hammered” state of the middle class with a disdainful twist as only a Bostonian could and said, “Hey Warren, this is the middle class getting hammered,” as he downed the final swig of his Bud Light.

    So these street smart voters can sense a phony when they see one, and Warren is a fraud of the first order. Whether it is the uproar over her wine cave hypocrisy, her false claim of being Native American to gain a leg up in her teaching career, or her faux outrage at big corporations she used to collect huge paychecks from, she will say or do anything to get ahead.

    Like him or not, Sanders is anything but fake. He has been singing off the same song sheet for a half century. You will not find any big corporations on his resume. His disdain for millionaires and billionaires is as fervent as ever, even as he has become one. He does not shrink from his ideas out of political expediency. He believes what he says, as wild as it may sound.

    Well, that's a dilemma. Vote for an unrepentant bullshitter, or an authentic loon?

    Friends, our choice is clear.


  • Of course, Joe Biden still has a shot. And he's taken a page from the presidential songbook: when asked an inconvenient question about your past positions, dodge incoherently.

    During a question and answer session, a young man asked Biden about his support for Obamacare:

    I just need this question. So we’re going to take a trip back 2008 real quick. During the run-up to the passage of Obamacare, President Obama promised my father that if he likes his plan, he can keep his plan, and that his insurance will be cheaper. After passage, his plan was no longer allowed and his insurance costs doubled. Since you supported the plan, were you lying to my dad? Or did you not understand the bill you supported?

    Biden began his answer with a what appears to have been a joke, the offered an incoherent ramble:

    No, look, the fact is that what I’m talking about now is that when – because I get asked the question – since, what I do is I’d add a public option to the existence of Obamacare, meaning that a Medicare-like option is available if in fact you – but there’s 160 million people out there who’ve negotiated a health care plan with their employer that they like and they don’t want to have to give up like Medicare for All requires. It says you have to give it up. You cannot have any private insurance.

    … and then he started lying.


  • The WaPo notes that Joe claims expertise on foreign policy: Biden touts foreign policy credentials but faces questions.

    He has told audiences that Barack Obama chose him to be his vice president for his foreign policy expertise. “Joe will handle that,” Biden quoted Obama as telling other officials in his administration. “He knows more about it than anybody. Work with Joe.”

    Well, that explains a lot about 2009-2016. In more recent news, Joe displayed his current grasp of foreign affairs: Confused Joe Biden claims there's a border between Venezuela and Bolivia, which are 700 miles apart.

    In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Joe Biden lamented the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. The 77 year-old former vice president described President Donald Trump's foreign policy toward the region as "irresponsible" to the newspaper's editorial board.

    "Look what's going on in Venezuela right now...millions of people are crossing the border destabilizing Bolivia," he said.

    Yeah, not that close. Instead of debates, could we get the candidates to have a Jeopardy!-style contest? I'd like to see how far some of these guys could go in the hole. ("I'm sorry, Joe won't be around for Final Jeopardy, since he's at a negative $110,300.")


  • A website calling itself "Marijuana Moment" found hilarity on the campaign trail: Mayor Pete Declines To Hit Imaginary Marijuana Joint. And here 'tis:

    No, man, I'm already there.


  • And in our final bit of phony news this week, ABC reports the unsurprising news that journalists are gullible: A parody account dupes journalists into spreading viral 'campaign moment' on Twitter.

    In the wee hours of Friday morning, comedian Nick Cirarelli changed his Twitter profile photo, posing as a political campaign staffer for presidential candidate and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg.

    Oh, fine. Here it is:


Last Modified 2020-01-13 7:26 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-01-11

  • Drew Cline at Josiah Bartlett asks: 2020? No, it's 2019, suckers.

    The Legislature opened its session on Wednesday by taking up bills that remain from the previous year, as is its custom. Even with hundreds of leftover bills awaiting disposal, a majority party can set the agenda and tone for a new year on the first days of a session.

    The message coming from Concord this week was crystal clear: 2020 is going to be 2019 all over again.

    The last legislative session was defined by its clashes between the governor and the Democratic majority in the Legislature over the imposition of new costs on employers and consumers, from business tax increases to energy price hikes to costly employer regulations such as mandatory paid leave and large minimum wage increases.

    The House this week signaled that Democrats intend to make the 2020 elections about all of these same issues. They are determined to impose through the legislative process new financial burdens on employers and consumers.

    Click through for the details: mandatory paid family leave; mandatory charges for single-use plastic bags; and a mandatory minimum wage. (Last year's failed bill mandated $12/hr. Apparently deciding that wouldn't destroy enough jobs, Democrats are upping that to $15/hr this year.)


  • At Reason, Ronald Bailey reports on the latest research, which… confirms what you probably already suspected, because that's how confirmation bias works: Facts Still Matter, but They Don’t Change Many Voters’ Minds. You can click over for the details (again) but here's the bottom line:

    In 2016, journalist Salena Zito famously summed up reactions to Trump's constant stream of hyperbole and lies: "The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally." These studies seemy to bolster that idea. As the researchers write, "Trump supporters took fact-checks literally, but not seriously enough to affect how they felt toward their preferred candidate."

    This is disturbing. If politicians suffer essentially no diminution of support from being wrong and/or lying, they'll have no reason to hew to the truth. And the proliferation of lies debases public discourse and inflames partisan passions.

    My take: these studies need to make the philosophical distinction between lies and bullshit.


  • Another worthwhile response to Tyler Cowen's "state capacity libertarianism", this one from David R. Henderson at the Hoover Institution. The Meaning of Libertarianism. On one specific issue:

    Cowen writes, “Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity.  Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending.  Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality.” Again, I’ll put climate aside temporarily. But consider K-12 education, which is close to a government monopoly. It’s a particularly insidious monopoly because the government uses tax revenues that allow it to set a price of zero, and when parents either home school or pay tuition to send their children to private schools, they get no break on taxes. That means that if a private school charges a low tuition of, say, $7,000 annually, a parent who values the education at a little more than $7,000 is unlikely to pay that tuition. For it to be worthwhile, the parent must value the education by at least $7,000 more than he or she values the government-provided education. That’s likely the main reason that most parents who could afford private schools for their kids instead send their kids to government schools.

    Government spending on K-12 schools is now at an all-time high, in 2017-18 dollars, of $12,760. Compare that to $9,073 (in 2017-18) dollars just 29 years ago. That’s a real increase of 40.6 percent. Whatever else you can say about the mediocre government schools in America, you can’t attribute the mediocrity to lack of state capacity.

    Cowen writes that “even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the system better.” I’m not sure that’s true. A case could be made that it’s only when the system gets even worse that people will be more inclined to chuck the government system. But even if it is true, one thing we know is that throwing money at it—oops, I mean increasing state capacity—is not a sure-fire winner. And if you think that we need government in education at all, then I suggest that you read the works of the late education economist Edwin G. West. In his 1965 book, Education and the State, West showed that even in a society where the wealthiest people were substantially poorer than all but our poorest people are today—mid-19th century Britain—education was widespread among all income classes. What’s more, education is what economists call a normal good, a good that we buy more of as our incomes rise. With real incomes being ten to 30 times higher now than 170 years ago, we would, in a free market, buy much more of it.

    Calling US education a "system", I think, attributes to it too much intentional design.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson (an occasional critic himself) suggests How to Improve Film and TV Criticism. Springing off the all-too-common trope: "Members of oppressed class X have too little screen time (or are portrayed negatively) in movie/TV series Y."

    This is a problem with a technical solution. The film and television business are heavily unionized and regimented, and it would not be terribly difficult to give every actor working in mainstream film and television an intersectionality score (i) on, say, a 100-point scale ranging from Matt Damon to . . . whoever is the dead opposite of Matt Damon. (We could even assign negative scores to Jon Hamm and Chris Pratt.) From there, it would be relatively easy to develop an artificial-intelligence tool to scan every major piece of commercial film and television, automatically tally up how many minutes of screen time (t) each actor has, and produce a score relative to total running time (r) — something simple like (i*t) ÷ r — adding up the scores for each of the actors (perhaps normalizing for cast size) to produce a cumulative quantitative judgment on the work as a whole.

    Who needs film and television critics when AI can do the job?

    Of course, the nation’s newly unemployed film and television critics would be forced to find some new useful occupation, if you’ll forgive my begging the question.

    Forgiven.


  • And last but not least, my appreciation of actor Michael Shannon got bumped up a few notches by this Tweet.

    You may need to click around a bit to get the full story.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-10

  • Well, gosh, Robby Soave at Reason takes a swing at playing the blame game: If Iran Shot Down the Ukraine Jet, the U.S. Government Deserves a Little Blame.

    Regardless of why it may have shot down the plane, Iran is primarily responsible for the deaths of those 176 passengers. But it is not absurd to assign the U.S. some responsibility, given that Iran's combat offensive was prompted by the Trump administration's decision to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.

    If you extend a causal chain of events back far enough, branching in the right directions, you can always attach "some" responsibility to whomever you might want. At least Robby's only going back a few links.

    Note: as I type there are 461 comments on this article. I have to wonder what the guy typing comment number 461 was thinking. "Yeah, this will set everyone straight."


  • Daniel J. Mitchell looks at Tax Policy and Migratory Patterns of the Golden Geese. It's got one of those things for which I'm a sucker: state-by-state comparisons. The Tax Foundation is quoted:

    States compete with each other in a variety of ways, including attracting (and retaining) residents. Sustained periods of inbound migration lead to greater economic output and growth. Prolonged periods of net outbound migration, however, can strain state coffers… While it is difficult to measure the extent to which tax considerations factor into individuals’ moving decisions, there is no doubt that taxes are important in many individuals’ personal financial deliberations. Our State Business Tax Climate Index uses over 100 variables to evaluate states on the competitiveness of their tax rates and structures. Four of the 10 worst-performing states on this year’s Index are also among the 10 states with the most outbound migration in this year’s National Movers Study (New Jersey,  New York, Connecticut, and California).

    New Hampshire ranks #19 overall, net in-migration. Surprisingly, Vermont is #1! (But it's been lower in the past.)


  • The Google LFOD alert rang for this "Energy News" article, tsk-tsking our fair state: New Hampshire a regional outlier on climate, clean energy under Gov. Sununu. And unsubtly suggests we should bow to peer-group pressure, wondering at our Mad Max dystopian hellscape:

    New Hampshire has long prided itself on a small-government approach, as suggested by its official state motto: Live free or die. The state has no sales tax or income tax. Motorcyclists may ride helmet-free. Auto insurance is optional for drivers. And the state ranks last in the nation for its level of fiscal support for higher education.

    With strong support from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, as well as the state’s leading business lobby, Sununu has applied that hands-off philosophy to state energy policy throughout his three years in office. His administration’s 10-year energy strategy emphasizes cost effectiveness above all, noting that New Hampshire has some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

    My own state senator, David Watters, bemoans our (so far) refusal to go along with the "Transportation and Climate Initiative" (TCI) which would raise (for example) gas prices by (its backers estimate) 5 to 17 cents/gallon.

    If New Hampshire decides to sit [TCI] out, Watters said he fears the state will be at an economic disadvantage.

    “We will not then have that money to invest in efficiencies,” he said. “Other states will have it to put into electrification, or making grants to the trucking industry to increase the efficiency of their fleets, and so on.”

    Which kind of gives the game away. When Watters says "we", he's really referring to the state government, which will have more cash to shower on "efficiencies".

    Almost needless to say: if they were true "efficiencies", they wouldn't need to be state-subsidized; people would naturally invest in such measures themselves, with their own money.

    And the arrogance just keeps on coming, with this aside about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a similar boondoggle:

    New Hampshire’s participation in RGGI has resulted in annual proceeds ranging from $11 million to $24 million over the past few years. However, the state has not invested as heavily in energy efficiency and renewables as other states. Legislation passed in 2012 requires most of the money to be rebated back to ratepayers.

    “The rebate is throwing the money away basically,” said state Rep. John Mann, D-Alstead, who sponsored legislation last year to repeal that requirement. The bill passed, but the governor vetoed it.

    Yes, Alstead Mann thinks that rebating incoming cash to ratepayers is "throwing it away". Who knows, they might spend it differently than he would! Best just send him your entire paycheck, so he can spend it on whatever he deems wise.


  • On a related matter, I noted this article at Granite Geek: Push for carbon fee will show up at some town meetings, of all places.

    As I report in today’s Monitor (story here), Citizen’s Climate Lobby has volunteers in at least 60 towns getting signatures to put a petitioned warrant article supporting the idea of a carbon fee that would be reimbursed to households in the state. They’re emphasizing this you’ll-get-a-check aspect: “The money goes back to the people, it doesn’t go into Exxon’s profits or Saudi Arabia’ pockets.” The name of the drive makes that clear: Carbon Cash-Back Coalition.

    Putting a per-ton price on carbon emissions is generally acknowledged to be the most straightforward and one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change. Make the cost transparent and humans will respond to the incentive, or so goes the thinking.

    Uh huh. I took some time to compose a comment, which I'll copy here:

    I have to take issue with “transparent”. Such schemes are anything but. Clue number one is the “you’ll-get-a-check” marketing, appealing to the folks who are gladdened by an IRS tax refund. (They really should put “Thanks for the interest-free loan, sucker” on those checks.)

    Incentives? If everyone got back exactly what they paid in, there would be zero net incentive. And the whole endeavor would be pointless. So there will, of course, be net winners and losers, but that’s obscured by the “money going back to the people” gimmick. The who wins/loses ball will be hidden for as long as it takes to pass the legislation.

    People might notice the direct effect: higher prices for gas and oil. Less obvious will be the hidden sales tax on anything you buy that has fossil fuel energy involved somewhere in its supply chain. (To a first approximation that would be “everything”.) That “tax” won’t be broken out as an explicit number; you’ll just maybe notice the price has gone up for some reason. Again, the opposite of “transparent”.


  • And also on the LFOD alert, a Rolling Stone snippet: Matt Taibbi's 10 Laws of New Hampshire Primary Reporting. Here they are:

    1. The candidate references Tom Brady.
    2. The candidate drops the name of a local eatery (“So, I was eating the Hash Benny at the Red Arrow the other day…”).
    3. Reporters (in vain) scan the crowd for African-American faces.
    4. Reporters ask each other what “the ethanol of New Hampshire” is.
    5. The phrase “right here in New Hampshire” is in the speech.
    6. Live free or die” referenced in Q&A.
    7. Man with Sophocles beard and chamois shirt posed among the supporters behind the candidate.
    8. Photographers jostle to capture the moment when the candidate looks with dismay at the size of the selfie line.
    9. Your “tiny Dixville Notch” story is filed from the Radisson in Manchester.
    10. Before hitting “send” to your editor, you check to make sure you didn’t use the phrases “key battleground state,” “fierce independence,” or “Yankee frugality.” You probably used at least two of them.

    Amusing! Local quibble about number 9: the Radisson was renovated and converted into a Doubletree in 2018. I guess Matt was filing his story from somewhere else

Something Deeply Hidden

Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime

[Amazon Link]

When Virginia Postrel asked her Facebook followers for science writer recommendations, I immediately suggested Sean Carroll, Caltech research professor in physics. And that was when I was only part way through the second book I've ever read from him. He's a very good writer at the dilettante level (which is where I am these days, even though I was a physics major), writing with insight and wit.

Richard Feynman, in his day, famously said that he was confident that nobody really understood quantum mechanics. It's just weird. And it hasn't gotten any less weird since then. Part of the problem is that a key feature in QM's standard "Copenhagen" interpretation is kind of loosey-goosey: the act of observing a quantum state causes its Schrödinger wave function to "collapse" to some definite value. But unless that state is (somehow) measured, asking what it "really" is is nonsensical: it's in a superposition of its possible states. This gives rise to the good old half-dead Schrödinger cat, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen "paradox", and other oddities. And there's a lot of handwaving about the nature of wave function collapse; when does it "really" happen, how long does it take, etc.

That doesn't sit well with some scientists, even though decades of experiments don't contradict it, and much modern technology relies on it being correct down to many decimal places. There have been alternate explanations offered. One of the most thought-provoking was offered by Hugh Everett back in the 1950s: quantum events spawn, literally, multiple universes, one for each possible outcome. That's the version of QM Carroll prefers and he explicates it well.

So, for example, Schrödinger's cat isn't half-dead. He's alive in one universe, dead in another. (Carroll, being a more humane physicist, dinks the experiment so the cat is asleep/awake instead of dead/alive.)

The book made me aware of the Universe Splitter©, an iPhone app you can get for a mere $1.99. Need to make a binary decision? Well, just fire up the app and…

Universe Splitter© will immediately contact a laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, and connect to a Quantis brand quantum device, which releases single photons into a partially-silvered mirror. Each photon will simultaneously bounce off the mirror and pass through it — but in separate universes.*

Good news: if you use the app to make all your decisions (and you can always break down complex decisions into binary ones), then there will be a universe out there where you've made all the right decisions!

And, unfortunately, there will also be a universe where you've made all the wrong ones.

Anyway, I've babbled enough. The book is a lot of fun, and Carroll goes into other areas as well, like (see subtitle) where time and space "come from". He argues that they may not be fundamental, but emergent properties of "something deeply hidden". Fine. His argument is (unfortunately) at the layman level, so there's a lot of handwaving over what in actuality is some pretty, very serious math. Still, the book is full of "did I just blow your mind?" arguments and descriptions.


Last Modified 2020-01-11 7:00 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-01-09

  • We present a point/counterpoint today, George F. Will vs. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. First up is George: Market-skeptic Republicans like Josh Hawley have it wrong.

    The sails of Sen. Josh Hawley’s political skiff are filled with winds gusting from the right. They come from conservatives who think that an array of — perhaps most of — America’s social injuries, from addiction to loneliness — have been inflicted by America’s economy. Individualism, tendentiously defined, is the Missouri Republican’s named target. Inevitably, however, the culprit becomes capitalism, which is what individual freedom is in a market society’s spontaneous order.

    In a November speech to like-minded social conservatives of the American Principles Project, Hawley said: “We live in a troubled age.” Not pausing to identify a prior, untroubled age, he elaborated: “Across age groups and regions, across races and income, the decline in community is undeniable. But it is not accidental.” Well.

    Time was, Marxists’ characteristic rhetorical trope was “it is no accident” that this or that happened. As economic determinists, they believed that everything is explained by iron laws of economic development. They insisted that culture is downstream from economics and is decisively shaped by economic forces.

    My guess is that Hawley is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run, showing that he is a Serious Thoughtful Guy. We'll see, maybe I'll be senile enough that year to vote for him. But…


  • Senator Josh makes his rebuttal in the pages of the Federalist and scolds: No, George Will, Individual Freedom Is Bigger Than Market Choice.

    There was a time when I read George Will religiously. My parents gave me a volume of his columns for Christmas when I was thirteen, if I remember. He was my introduction to Aristotle and Edmund Burke, to James Madison and Alexis DeTocqueville. Will was a teacher as well as a commentator in his writing, and I learned much from him. And back then, he was still a conservative.

    Times change. These days Will spends his columns sneering at Donald Trump and the rural, “non-college-educated” working class, bashing pro-worker trade policies and pro-family tax reforms. And in today’s installment, he dismisses my call to revive American community as an affront to capitalism and—wait for it—individual liberty! It must be hard being so angry all the time.

    Well, make your own call. If I were GFW, I'd probably reply, "Senator, it must be hard being so stupid all the time."

    But he won't. That's why I'm me, and GFW is GFW. And the GOP is living up to its "Stupid Party" nickname.


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards provides an entry to our "Should/Could Have Seen That Coming" file. Crescent Dunes: Another Green Flop.

    The Department of Energy called the vast and expensive solar project a “success story” and “milestone for the country’s energy future.”

    But you can’t trust what the government says. Crescent Dunes is a flop and taxpayers are set to lose $737 million on it, according to a new Bloomberg report. That is even more than the $535 million taxpayers lost on the corruption-soaked Solyndra solar project.

    With 10,000 mirrors arrayed in the Nevada desert, Crescent Dunes does look cool. But with the much lower costs of solar photovoltaic and natural gas projects, the government’s gamble on this alternative technology was folly. Politicians never apologize for their mistakes, and the main politician responsible for this one, former Senator Harry Reid, has retired and won’t face any tough questions about wasting our money.

    Some geeks were easily suckered, for example Slashdot back in 2015.


  • Like me, Ann Althouse visits Real Clear Politics now and then, and notes the prominent featuring of diverse articles by their headlines. And notes Headlines are really just a gentle invitation: What would you like to believe today?.

    [RCP Headlines]

    Click the image to enlarge and clarify. When you have clarity, and know what you want to believe, go to Real Clear Politics and click on the headline you want to be true. Do you want Trump to be a great benefactor of humankind or a bumbling fool? Do you want it all to be Obama's fault? Do you want Joe Biden to be just what we need right now or a guy who needs to wake up and get outta here? Do you want the impeachment to be a bust or do you want Democrats to have a new trial strategy? Would you like Nikki Haley to be a monster or Bill Barr to be a fabulous hero?

    Or does everything seem to be a dismal waste of time? I say view the headlines as a gentle invitation: What would you like to believe today? See the array of offers. Pick one or 2 to lift your spirits or confirm your identity, or — like party invitations — decline them all and stay home, embedded in your real life, where you have some hope of finding something genuine and worthy.

    I've kind of had the same feeling, but Ann expresses it better than I ever could.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker at AIER takes on Tyler Cowan's "State Capacity Libertarianism", in particular Tyler's claim that current libertarianism is "hollowed out": If Libertarianism Hollowed Out, Why?.

    There is nothing hollow about the idea that people should be free, that people should expect to live good lives without having their volition and property invaded by public officials who know much less about real life than the people actually living it. It is for this reason that society should be left alone to take its own course of evolution. This is the path to peace, prosperity, and progress. This is the real libertarian position. It’s a broad conviction that has more presence in today’s world than any point in the last century. 

    Becoming a libertarian doesn’t mean leaving your humanity behind; on the contrary, it means embracing it fully and believing that the potential of a free life on earth is far from fully realized.

    I'm right now putting my fist in the air (yes, while typing) and shouting "Yeah!" Honest.


Last Modified 2020-01-10 7:25 AM EST

The Darwin Affair

[Amazon Link]

The WSJ's Tom Nolan did a Best Mystery Books of 2019 compilation in mid-December, and I pushed the books therein onto my get-at-library list. This is the first, so far so good.

It's set in 1860s London, and the hero is Charles Field, an Inspector on the local police force. Field was an actual person, and Charles Dickens based the character of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House on him. In this book's universe, this causes a certain amount of consternation for Field, as everyone refers to him as "Mr. Bucket".

Things are set in motion by an apparent assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Or was it aimed at Prince Albert instead? Participants wind up dead, making investigation inconvenient. And their left ears have been sliced off! Ew!

As it quickly develops, the attempt was part of a massive conspiracy set to deny Charles Darwin the knighthood he so richly deserved. At the top level are fictionalized actual people: Samuel Wilberforce, Sir Richard Owen, and Robert Fitzroy, who captained the Beagle decades earlier. But they've chosen a psycho, Decimus Cobb, to carry out the plot—he's the ear-slicing one. The psycho is nevertheless brilliant and talented, and he assembles a gang to assist his evil deeds, over which he rules by terror and intimidation.

Field gets onto him soon enough, but Cobb always seems to stay a couple steps ahead. Amusingly, Field is one of those loose-cannon, plays-by-his-own-rules detectives, always running afoul of his superiors. And a brief interaction with Karl Marx, he mouths off enough to the boss to lose his job. (For a while.)

It's great fun. My comments while reading enticed Mrs. Salad, so we renewed the book so she can read it.

The Guilty Dead

[Amazon Link]

I started this series on a recommendation from my sister, and it's been OK. She mainly liked the Minnesota-based locale. But this one … eh. Not so much Minnesota (could have been in Anytown, Anystate), and it is a slog at 336 pages (according to the Amazon). It maybe should have been half that.

The dedicated detectives of the Minneapolis PD are out to solve a couple murders, one of a rich guy, the other of a paparazzi sent to cover him. The prime suspect is a ne'er-do-well drug dealer. Who we've seen, in a prologue, intentionally overdose the rich guy's wastrel son. The motives behind all this are hidden in the remote past, it turns out.

But wait, there's more: the FBI has gotten wind of a terrorist plot against an unknown Minneapolis target. One of the desperate agents asks a favor from the Monkeewrench group to hack into the underground to find out what they can. It turns out there are disturbing connections!

Gripe: 48% of the way through, the detectives are in a slovenly trailer, where they observe

… curling posters of biker babes suggestively straddling Harleys in bikinis …

How do you put a bikini on a Harley, anyhow?

Oh yeah, there's a pregnancy subplot, and of course the baby comes at the most inconvenient time.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-08

  • In case you haven't already seen it, this Andrew Bosworth memo reproduced in the New York Times is a refreshing antidote to the misinformation being peddled about Facebook's role in the 2016 election. Bosworth was in charge of Facebook ads at that time. RTWT, but here's some bracing truth:

    So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.

    To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary. After his election I wrote a post about Trump supporters that I’m told caused colleagues who had supported him to feel unsafe around me (I regret that post and deleted shortly after).

    But [Trump campaign manager Brad] Parscale and Trump just did unbelievable work. They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.

    Also good debunkery about Cambridge Analytica and Russkie-linked agitators.


  • Jonah Goldberg notes: Trump almost certainly doesn't have an Iran policy.

    President Trump often talks about leaving the Middle East, getting out of “endless wars” and spending our resources here at home under a policy of “America First.”

    So it was quite a moment when, on Sunday night, he threatened to impose “very big sanctions” on Iraq if the Iraqi parliament follows through on its nonbinding resolution to oust American forces from its soil. “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

    If you’re trying to follow along from home, this is a perfectly understandable moment to say, “Wait, what? Isn’t that a complete flip?”

    Well, sort of. But a "flip" implies that there was something coherent and concrete to flip from. Instead, we are (for better or worse) looking at a whim-based foreign policy.


  • Another response to Tyler's "State Capacity Libertarianism", this one from Richard M. Ebeling. Who is: Not Losing Sight of the Classical Liberal Ideal.

    [Tyler] expressed part of this argument in an earlier essay on “The Paradox of Libertarianism” before the financial crisis of 2008-2009, in which he said: “The bottom line is this: human beings have deeply rooted impulses to take newly acquired wealth and spend some of it on more government and especially on transfer payments. Let’s deal with that.” Furthermore, “The more wealth we have, the more government we can afford.” He concludes that this is a “package deal.” The more wealth a market-based economy produces, the more government people will want in terms of social welfare programs. That’s just the way it is, Professor Cowen asserts. Live with it and give up the classical liberal and libertarian idea of prosperity and a highly limited government. With prosperity will come bigger government, he asserts.

    The “inevitability” implied in this is, in fact, nothing of the sort. It could be just as reasonably argued that as the members of the society grow in wealth and improved standards of living, they will need and desire less government dependency and support. Rising standards of living enable more people to financially support themselves, as well as providing the means for those gaining in material comfort and ease to have the monetary means to demonstrate more willingness and generosity to assist some who may still be less well off than themselves through avenues of private charity and philanthropy; plus, having the greater leisure time to participate in such endeavors through the institutions of civil society

    Ebeling's essay is long and thoughtful. Again my standard comment: we wouldn't need to worry so much about what kind of libertarianism will work, when a large swath of the public is so opposed to any sort of libertarianism.


  • Katherine Timpf is a vaper. I am not. But I'm in total agreement with her article at National Review: FDA’s Vape Ban Is What Happens When People Legislate What They Don’t Understand.

    First of all, the narrative that we are in the midst of an epidemic of young kids getting addicted to vaping is patently false. Although many of them may have tried it, Julie Gunlock’s analysis of CDC data finds that only approximately 5.7 percent of teenagers — including 18- and 19-year-old adults — are actually addicted.

    Another misconception is that vaping nicotine is deadly, and perhaps even worse than smoking. This also couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, experts agree that it is, at least for adults, much safer than smoking traditional combustible cigarettes. A Public Health England study, for example, estimated that it was 95 percent safer.

    I don't recommend you get the habit. But as habits go, vaping is pretty innocuous.


  • If you're tired of the vaping panic, the good folks at Issues & Insights have a take on another panic: Climate Hysteria Is A Backdoor For Imposing Personal Interests On The Public.

    “Shout out if you want to destroy fossil fuel capitalists,” a woman described as an “environmental strategist” told the crowd gathered last week at Fire Drill Friday, a Capitol Hill climate protest held each week.

    “We will demand reparations for the harm that they caused,” she tweeted. “Together we will redistribute trillions of dollars to fund a #GreenNewDeal.”

    According to Townhall, the woman – who was given a microphone and stage clearly to stir up emotions, and has common ground with Joe “Put Fossil Fuel Executives In Jail” Biden –  also said “let me hear your vigor for ending racism while you do it” and “we need to make them pay today.” So again we find evidence that the goal isn’t to stop Earth from overheating, but to fulfill a left-wing wish list.

    The I&I editorialist recalls Eric Hoffer's quote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” And notes we've made it to the final stage in this case.

The Hitman's Bodyguard

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

IMDB records this movie's genres as "Action,Comedy,Thriller". It's rated R due to (according to the MPAA) " strong violence and language throughout". Salma Hayek is in it, and if you want to hear Salma talk dirty, this is your go-to flick.

Ryan Reynolds plays a private bodyguard specializing in escorting threatened individuals to safer places. He's at the top of that game… until he isn't, as a crooked Japanese businessman is picked off by a sniper shooting through the window of a private jet.

After some time passes, Ryan is still in the dumps about that, but he gets a shot at redemption when his ex-girlfriend recruits him to escort Samuel L. Jackson (the titular hitman) from London to the Hague, where he is to bear witness against murderous dictator Gary Oldman. And of course, Gary has a veritable army of mercenary thugs to deploy against Ryan and Sam. And there's an Interpol mole (Joaquim de Almeida, who might as well be wearing a "MOLE" sign taped to his back).

There is a lot of impressive, inventive, action and violence that must have cost a lot of money to film. Also a lot of wisecracking, profane, banter between Ryan and Sam. Gary Oldman is the only cast member who can be accused of acting.

Apparently it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, out later this year, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, with Ryan, Sam, and Salma returning.

Genius

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

So was the world really clamoring for a star-studded movie about the relationship between Scribner's editor Max Perkins and writer Thomas Wolfe? Apparently not, as this movie wasn't widely released in the US, and didn't make much money.

Colin Firth plays Perkins, which explains why we got it. Mrs. Salad loooves Colin Firth. Jude Law is Wolfe. Nicole Kidman is Wolfe's, um, girlfriend (she's married to someone else). And Laura Linney is Mrs. Perkins. Guy Pearce has a meaty supporting role as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and there's also Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway. Everybody's pretty good, although the script suffers from biography-revealed-in-dialogue disease. ("So you're a best-selling author now, Tom.")

And the movie apparently strays from the facts in important ways. Arguably, a more factual take could have made a better flick.

And yeah, Colin Firth really does wear a hat in every scene right up until the end, when he doffs it while reading Wolfe's last letter to him. Kept waiting for someone to tell him to take it off.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-07

  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum diverts from his usual drug beat and asks the musical query: Who Poses the Greater Threat to Peace: An Impetuous President or ‘Experienced Advisers’ Who Are Disastrously Wrong? He notes that the foreign policy noises made during the Trump, Obama, and Dubya campaigns were radically different from their actual behavior in office.

    Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention. If you think that skepticism was naive, that was a welcome development. But the consequences suggest otherwise.

    "Top American military officials put the option of killing [Soleimani]—which they viewed as the most extreme response to recent Iranian-led violence in Iraq—on the menu they presented to President Trump," The New York Times reports. "They didn't think he would take it. In the wars waged since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pentagon officials have often offered improbable options to presidents to make other possibilities appear more palatable."

    The Times says those military officials were "flabbergasted" by Trump's choice and "immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region." If so, the president's "experienced advisers," the ones Chris Murphy thinks should be restraining him, played a dangerous game that backfired on them.

    Also backfired upon Soleimani, but whatever.

    Q: What's the difference between this random blogger and "experienced advisers"?

    A: This random blogger both (a) knows what he doesn't know; (b) would nevertheless know better than to think Trump wouldn't pick the "improbable option".


  • The rebuttals keep coming to Tyler Cowen's "State Capacity Libertarianism". Up today is Max Gulker at AIER: Private Governance, Not State Capacity.

    In justifying State Capacity Libertarianism, Cowen has committed what I’ve equally awkwardly called “the nation-state fallacy.” Under this belief, taken for granted by even many libertarians, society-level issues are either for the government to address, or not to be addressed at all. Think about how many debates revolve around whether government, not society, should tackle a problem. Only when written on a page is its peculiarity revealed. 

    Max has an interesting story of his own intellectual odyssey from wishy-washy statism to libertarianism, and sets forth his advocacy of "private governance". Key supplemental quote:

    I don’t think climate change, education, and infrastructure aren’t important. They’re so important, in fact, that we can’t leave them up to a lumbering organization plagued by political incentives and lacking the information to implement anything all that helpful.

    … but, again, a world in which a majority believed that would be a world that probably wouldn't be mired in arguments about what kind of control the people need to be put under.


  • So this Wired article on Marc Benioff, the Salesforce billionaire who proclaimed "capitalism is dead" was an interesting skeptical look at his record: The Gospel of Wealth According to Marc Benioff. Unfortunately, it presents controversial, dubious, and false claims as fact, for example, on the 2017 tax cut legislation:

    Those new cuts, atop years of tax avoidance, cuts to estate taxes, and rising payroll taxes, meant that, for the first time ever recorded, the 400 richest Americans are now paying a lower overall tax rate than almost anyone else, according to a study by two UC Berkeley economists.

    The two economists are Saez and Zucman, and this call to class-warfare arms has been widely debunked. (See, for example, here; here; here.)

    Another howler, put in contrast to Benioff's net worth increase of $2.47 million/day:

    Meanwhile, recent Federal Reserve data revealed that tens of millions of Americans would be unable to cover a $400 emergency expense.

    Debunked here.

    That said, the article's author does manage to ferret out some of Benioff's bullshit, although you have to wade to the end to get to it:

    Does Salesforce lobby for tax breaks? You bet.

    Is Salesforce one of those eeevil corporations with high profits and yet pays zero taxes? Apparently so.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Scientific American posts an opinion piece from psychologist Steve Taylor on the famed Libet experiment: How a Flawed Experiment "Proved" That Free Will Doesn't Exist.

    Many people believe that evidence for a lack of free will was found when, in the 1980s, scientist Benjamin Libet conducted experiments that seemed to show that the brain “registers” the decision to make movements before a person consciously decides to move. In Libet’s experiments, participants were asked to perform a simple task such as pressing a button or flexing their wrist. Sitting in front of a timer, they were asked to note the moment at which they were consciously aware of the decision to move, while EEG electrodes attached to their head monitored their brain activity.

    Libet showed consistently that there was unconscious brain activity associated with the action—a change in EEG signals that Libet called “readiness potential”—for an average of half a second before the participants were aware of the decision to move. This experiment appears to offer evidence of Wegner’s view that decisions are first made by the brain, and there is a delay before we become conscious of them—at which point we attribute our own conscious intention to the act.         

    Taylor says: not so fast. He's pushing a book giving his own views, Amazon link at right.

    I might check it out. If I use my free will to decide that it's worth the time.


  • And darned if the Google LFOD News Alert didn't ring for an article in the Henley Standard. Which, according to their page has been "Delivering the news from Henley on Thames and South Oxfordshire for over 100 years". Yes, that's in Old Blighty herself. And apparently they have comedians there too, including a guy named Geoff Norcott, who's appearing in Maidenhead in March. And: Comedian’s got a spring in his step ahead of tour extension.

    Geoff’s libertarianism calls to mind the official New Hampshire state motto of “Live Free or Die”. But which country in the world, if any, comes closest to his preferred political outlook?

    “It’s uncool to say it, but I love the States. I also like the fact their politics skew right to the point that I’d probably be a Democrat out there. I could hold all the same views but still be friends with Katy Perry.”

    Katy Perry? Well, apparently she's available. Maybe she and Geoff could get together, move to Dover or something.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-06

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has a good idea that will go nowhere. Repeal Authorization for Use of Military Force: Congress Must Take Back War-Making Powers. (NRPLUS, so ?)

    Nancy Pelosi complains that the Trump administration’s decision to assassinate Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was “provocative and disproportionate” and that it “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.” Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders also have denounced the killing.

    Pelosi further charges that the operation was unauthorized.

    Specifically, Pelosi says the action was taken “without an authorization for use of military force against Iran.” But the airstrike happened in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, not in Iran. The Trump administration argues that the Iraq AUMF empowered the president to take this action, a position shared by many critics not ordinarily inclined to view the president with a great deal of indulgence, my friend David French among them. The administration’s case here is not obviously implausible.

    Kevin's solution to resolve this Constitutional quandary was right up there in the headline: Congress should repeal the AUMF.

    And the reason this won't happen: it would involve (re)taking responsibility. Which is much less fun than finger-pointing and pearl-clutching.


  • Campus Reform's Celine Ryan covers the latest inanity from the University Near Here. UNH Prof: Asking black people to speak out about anti-Semitism makes you a ‘garden variety racist’.

    University of New Hampshire physics professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein took to Twitter on New Year’s Eve to explain why anti-Semitism is exclusively a “white” problem, and why it is inappropriate to discuss anti-Semitic acts committed by black people.

    Prescod-Weinstein began her tweetstorm by explaining that it is “anti-Black” and “dangerous both to non-Jewish Black people and to Jews” to consider violent attacks against Jews by Black people “equivalent” to “white antisemitism.”

    Uh, fine. In case you're wondering if Prof CPW was misquoted or taken out of context… well, you can't check for yourself, because she's protected her Twitter account.

    We'll give her credit for the last half of her surname, however, and devoutly hope she's not victim of any counterexamples to her assertion about Black anti-semitism. For example, I wouldn't advise hanging with the (so-called) Black Hebrew Israelites.


  • Tyler Cowen has a provocative post that has stirred up some discussion in the libertarianosphere: What libertarianism has become and will become. He advocates for "State Capacity Libertarianism".

    Having tracked the libertarian “movement” for much of my life, I believe it is now pretty much hollowed out, at least in terms of flow.  One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions, and another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents.  For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.  For another, smart people are on the internet, and the internet seems to encourage synthetic and eclectic views, at least among the smart and curious.  Unlike the mass culture of the 1970s, it does not tend to breed “capital L Libertarianism.”  On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women.

    There is also the word “classical liberal,” but what is “classical” supposed to mean that is not question-begging?  The classical liberalism of its time focused on 19th century problems — appropriate for the 19th century of course — but from WWII onwards it has been a very different ballgame.

    Along the way, I believe the smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into a view that I dub with the entirely non-sticky name of State Capacity Libertarianism.  I define State Capacity Libertarianism in terms of a number of propositions:

    … and what follows is 11 of those propositions. And also contrasts State Capacity Libertarianism with (so-called) "liberaltarianism".

    It's interesting. Recommended. As are replies, starting with…


  • … Arnold Kling, at his blog:Should libertarians heart state capacity?. A couple of his notes:

    I don’t think that it follows that we need more state capacity. Private coalitions can put together rules. The Internet Engineering Task Forces are an example. If you respect technocrats, fine. Just don’t pretend that government does a great job of hiring and incenting them.

    In a democracy, politicians specialize in instilling fear. I see the climate issue as an illustration of fear-installation rather than as an issue where our best hope is more state capacity.


  • And also check out Reason's Nick Gillespie: The Libertarian Movement Needs a Kick in the Pants.

    I don't intend this post as a point-by-point critique of Cowen's manifesto, whose spirit is on-target but whose specifics are fundamentally mistaken. I think he's right that the internet and the broader diffusion of knowledge encourages ideological eclecticism and the creation of something like mass personalization when it comes to ideology. But this doesn't just work against "capital L Libertarianism." It affects all ideological movements, and it helps explain why the divisions within groups all over the political spectrum (including the Democratic and Republican parties) are becoming ever sharper and harsher. Everywhere around us, coalitions are becoming more tenuous and smaller. (This is not a bad thing, by the way, any more than the creation of new Christian sects in 17th-century England was a bad thing.) Nancy Pelosi's sharpest critics aren't from across the aisle but on her own side of it. Such a flowering of niches is itself libertarian.

    Cowen is also misguided in his call for increasing the size, scope, and spending of government. "Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion," he writes, attributing such outcomes to "failures of state capacity"—both in terms of what the state can dictate and in terms of what it can spend. This is rather imprecise. Whatever your beliefs and preferences might be on a given issue, the scale (and cost) of addressing, say, climate change is massive compared to delivering basic education, and with the latter at least, there's no reason to believe that more state control or dollars will create positive outcomes. More fundamentally, Cowen conflates libertarianism with political and partisan identities, affiliations, and outcomes. I think a better way is to define libertarian less as a noun or even a fixed, rigid political philosophy and more as an adjective or "an outlook that privileges things such as autonomy, open-mindedness, pluralism, tolerance, innovation, and voluntary cooperation over forced participation in as many parts of life as possible." I'd argue that the libertarian movement is far more effective and appealing when it is cast in pre-political and certainly pre-partisan terms.

    There you go. I think this discussion is healthy. And also pointless, given the current unpopularity of free market capitalism, individual liberty, and government fiscal sanity. Folks like us (I think) will just have to watch things crash, and say "I told you so" when it does.

The Phony Campaign

2020-01-05 Update

[Amazon Link]

Well, for our first phony poll of 2020, we've gotten rid of Andrew Yang and Hillary Clinton, as the Betfair punters apparently awoke hungover from their New Year's revelry, looked at their betting slips, and said: "What are these blokes thinking? Blimey!"

Does that sound authentic? I was really trying.

In addition, Donald Trump has moved into better-than-even odds; Bernie and Joe showed solid gains. Liz and the mayors sunk, and I'll derive whatever joy I can from watching them wonder what they did wrong in getting beat by Trump, Bernie, and Joe (combined age 228 years).

So you might want to pick up our Amazon Product du Jour, before Mayor Pete decides to ride off into the South Bend sunset on his trusty steed.

And President Trump can rest assured that if he looks in the Google Magic Mirror and asks "Who is the phoniest of them all?" … that title is his for at least another week.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
12/22
Phony
Results
Change
Since
12/22
Donald Trump 50.8% +1.0% 1,450,000 -520,000
Pete Buttigieg 3.8% -0.6% 992,000 -1,558,000
Bernie Sanders 11.3% +2.4% 509,000 +36,000
Joe Biden 17.0% +2.9% 427,000 -88,000
Elizabeth Warren 4.6% -1.7% 279,000 +53,000
Michael Bloomberg 3.9% -0.5% 80,200 +3,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • You know who's not even threatened to break into our phony results, despite his TV commercials blanketing my local TV news show? Tom Steyer.

    He is literally a finger-wagger. Tom, if you can't think of what to do with your hands, just keep them in your pockets.

    Anyway, at Reason, Eric Boehm points out that Bloomberg, Steyer Showing Money Can’t Buy Elections After Failed $200 Million Ad Blitz.

    There are two lessons here. First, Bloomberg and Steyer seem to be on an inadvertent crusade to prove that progressive fears about the influence of money in politics are largely unfounded.

    Secondly, the two billionaire candidates are providing a real-world lesson about opportunity costs by setting fire to their huge campaign war chests. They've got the means to change the world, but getting involved in politics isn't the best way to do it.

    Nevertheless, the wannabe political speech censors will continue to assert the necessity of "getting money out of politics".


  • Also at Reason, Jacob Sullum looks back "at a year of presidential blame shifting". Starring who else: Trump’s Inartful Dodges. Sample:

    Love Him or Leave. After Trump supporters at a July 17 rally chanted "send her back" when he mentioned Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), who was born in Somalia, he claimed "I felt a little bit badly about it" and "started speaking very quickly," which was not true. Trump's attempt to distance himself from the spirit of the chant was especially implausible because just a few days before he had suggested that "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen"—a reference to Omar and three other minority representatives, all of whom were born in the United States—should "go back" to the countries they "originally came from."

    Given that he's referred to me (and people like me) as 'human scum', I'm not inclined to cut him a break on this.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Not that the front-running Democrat septagenarian septugenarian septuganerian guy-in-his-seventies would be much better on the not-making-stuff-up front. Fox News reports: Biden now denies he told Obama not to launch Bin Laden raid in 2011.

    “As commander in chief, if you were ever handed a piece of intelligence that said you could stop an imminent attack on Americans -- but you have to use an airstrike to take out a terrorist leader -- would you pull the trigger?” Fox News asked Biden.

    “Well we did - the guy’s name was Usama bin Laden,” Biden replied.

    “Didn’t you tell President Obama not to go after bin Laden that day?” Fox News followed up.

    “No, I didn’t,” Biden said.

    It might be time to reread Harry Frankfort's classic On Bullshit (link at right). I seem to remember he made a fine and crucial distinction between lying and bullshitting, but I'd need to refresh my memory… Either way, a useful skill for navigating the presidential news no matter who wins.


  • Bernie's doing pretty well in fundraising, I hear. It probably helps him in that he and his campaign find the malign influence of evildoers everywhere. As the Free Beacon reports, Sanders Campaign Manager: Buttigieg and Biden Are Kowtowing to the Rich.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) campaign manager Faiz Shakir on Thursday said Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are kowtowing to rich donors while the Sanders campaign is funded entirely by small donations.

    "If you have Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden telling you that they need to go kowtow at the altar of the rich to fundraise for the general election, they are wrong," Shakir told CNN. "We are upending those notions. You can fund this totally in a grassroots way."

    Shakir added that Biden and Buttigieg are ultimately selling political influence to those donors.

    Bernie's perfectly amenable to changing his positions (on, say ethanol) to get votes from Iowans. Is that kowtowing?


  • Tulsi Gabbard … ah, if only she were slightly more liberty-friendly! Because this is pretty (and literally) cool: Tulsi Gabbard draws crowd while surfing in New Hampshire. And on January 1, baby.

    OK, I'm getting the chills just typing about it.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-04

  • Kevin D. Williamson, inspired by the recent efforts of a Kansas cop, writes at National Review on Hoax Politics.

    Americans are perfectly able to distinguish between hoaxes and crimes, between authentic political disagreement and intellectually dishonest misrepresentation. The problem is that too many of them are so besotted with tribalism and high on rage that they do not care. Such passions always have characterized the demos, which is what makes democracy so vulnerable to demagoguery. But a combination of factors — including, but not limited to, the decline of political parties and changes in the business models of media companies — have left the institutions that once countered the worst of these tendencies either unable to do so, as in the case of the institutional leadership of the two major political parties, or unwilling to do so, as in the case of the New York Times et al.

    A 19th-century politician once complained that we live under a “government of newspapers,” but we are well on our way to something much worse: a government of Twitter, which is, inevitably, a government of lies.

    "I know I'm lying, but I don't care."


  • Reason is one of my two favorite magazines. And I realize there's plenty to argue about with respect to us blowing up Qasem Soleimani. But this headline from Elizabeth Nolan Brown...

    Does Trump’s Strike Against Iran Mean We Are Going to War?

    Note: the strike was made in Iraq. I realize it's only one letter different, but geez. Elizabeth, would it introduce too much moral ambiguity to acknowledge that Soleimani was up to no good in a different country than his own?

  • Every time I seriously consider changing my party registration to "Libertarian" it seems I see things like this.

    Again: there's room for reasoned disagreement about the wisdom of taking out Soleimani. But I'm not gonna throw in with a party that takes its cues on defense policy from the Edwin Starr/Michael Moore songbook.


  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center, Drew Cline notes A 2020 priority: Protecting N.H. from unlicensed art therapists?.

    Under House Bill 546, it would be illegal for anyone to offer “art therapy” services unless the instructor has “a masters or doctoral degree from an accredited college or university in a program in art therapy….”

    The bill contains an exemption for art teachers who do not present themselves as therapists. But under the definitions in the bill, any presentation that an art instruction program is therapeutic in nature could be construed to run afoul of the law.

    Included in the bill’s definitions of art therapy is:

    “Using the process and products of art creation to facilitate clients’ exploration of inner fears, conflicts, and core issues with the goal of improving physical, mental, and emotional functioning and well-being.”

    Art instructors have been doing this for centuries. Without a license. Suddenly, in 2020, it’s a danger to the public?

    "Throw out your paintbrushes and palettes, and come out with your hands up!"


  • At the Foundation for Economic Education, Gary M. Galles takes on The Myth That the Rich Don’t Pay Their “Fair Share” of Taxes. RTWT, of course, but here's an interesting point that (sigh) applies to me:

    Even more important, Social Security’s supposed regressivity reflects only its taxes. But they generate retirement benefits, and accurate evaluation must incorporate both. Doing so reveals Social Security as progressive, not regressive.

    For example, for a single earner retiring at 65 in 1993, Social Security replaced 59 percent of taxed income for low earners and 44 percent for average wage earners, but only 25 percent for an earner at the Social Security tax cutoff. Higher-income earners received far smaller returns on their contributions than average earners and less than half that of lower earners.

    Taxation of benefits for higher-income retirees now increases this difference. In terms of lifetime net benefits, in 1992 dollars, a single low earner retiring in 2000 would net $27,983 from the system, an average earner, $14,833, but a high-income earner would lose $23,129.

    The system is designed to obfuscate net winners and net losers. Mrs. Salad and I are almost certainly in the latter group.

    I get that we don't want to let poor oldsters starve, or freeze. But we need to transition to a system that prevents that, rather than maintain the "saving for your retirement" fiction. Realize that the vast majority of people can deal with their retirement perfectly well, if they are allowed to.


  • And the LFOD Google News Alert rang for this op-ed column in the Valley News from English Professor Emeritus Bill Nichols, a West Lebanon (NH) resident who looks longingly across the Connecticut River at the enlightened citizenry of White River Junction (VT): Twin states, different views of climate change. It's about Governor Sununu's decision to remove New Hampshire from the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). Bill is not happy about that:

    In New Hampshire, where “Live Free or Die” now sometimes seems to mean “live as close to tax-free as possible,” avoiding the TCI gas tax could be a winning tactic for a governor seeking reelection. This might be especially true because many low- and middle-income citizens need to drive long distances to work. The truth is nearly any tax other than an income tax, which New Hampshire avoids like disease, weighs most heavily on those with limited incomes.

    Uh huh. Nevertheless, TCI is beloved by statists, because it's Yet Another Scheme to suck money from the pockets of the citizenry, who might waste it on fripperies, and puts it into the hands of governments, who will spend it more wisely. As Drew Cline wrote on TCI last month:

    At best, the TCI would reduce carbon emissions of a little more than 5 percent in 10 years — at a cost of $56 billion in that best-case scenario. Without the TCI, carbon emissions are projected to fall by roughy four times that amount. If the TCI’s worst-case scenario occurs, the cost would be $14 billion to achieve an emissions reduction roughly 1/20th the size of what would happen anyway.

    An expensive way to achieve negligible good. But that doesn't matter to Bill. Because he, and folks like him, are obsessed with controlling people.


  • A long and interesting article at Hollywood Reporter on a darn good movie that deserved better: DreamWorks "Screwed Up": Why 'Galaxy Quest' Wasn't a Bigger Hit.

    [Actress Missi Pyle] recalls when Weaver’s character dropped the F-bomb in the climax. “I think they changed it to ‘frill’ or something silly. I don’t think we ever had an intention of making it as kids-friendly as DreamWorks wanted.”

    [Director Dean] Parisot still regrets that the F-bomb was cut. “That moment where she swears got so many laughs, it was a shame they cut it,” Parisot says. “I purposefully dubbed it really badly so it would stick out.”

    Well, now I have to rewatch it to find the bad dub.

The Cloverfield Paradox

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

Our first movie of 2020, and it kind of sucked. I liked the other "Cloverfield" movies just fine, but this one was kind of incoherent.

Also dull. Disclaimer: I did fall asleep on the futon for indeterminate periods while watching. The Pun Salad rules allow inclusion in the blog even for such occurrences.

The plot, as near as I can tell: in the future, Earth is running out of energy. Our only hope: the orbiting Cloverfield Station, which houses the developmental "Shepard particle accelerator"; if the international team of scientists and engineers aboard can get it to work, all will be well.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Instead their testing shifts them into a different parallel universe. And taken on board is a young lady who was on her version of Cloverfield Station in her universe. She materializes inside a wall, which means her body is riddled with space station wires and tubes. She recovers, though.

A bunch of stuff follows which disjointed, nonsensical, inexplicable, and (most of all) uninteresting.

The lead actress is named Gugu Mbatha-Raw. That's awesome. Also Ziyi Zhang from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Also awesome. Saved it from zero stars.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-03

Some day soon we'll get past the new year/decade material, but today is not that day.

  • Kevin D. Williamson's headline sounds like he might be auditioning for a Hallmark gig: This Will Be Our Year .

    Politics matters, but it is not the only thing that matters, and if we allow political tribalism to cut us off from what’s best, what’s most interesting and innovative and thriving in our nation and in our culture, then we’ll be worse off for it. Conservatives of all people cannot afford to make that mistake, because the Left has better songs. If we are to resolve something for 2020, then maybe that should be our resolution: to bear always in mind that this is not Donald Trump’s America or Elizabeth Warren’s America but ours and Walt Whitman’s and John Coltrane’s and Herman Melville’s and Toni Morrison’s, and that if we really love this country, then that can only be because we love the people in it, the ones who are with us still and the ones who have been, who are “not enemies but friends.”

    This will be our year. It will be the year that we make of it, which is both our great hope and our great, fearful responsibility. I myself will not be awake to hear the cuckoo clock announce the new year. The morning will come soon enough. Maybe I’ll put on A Love Supreme and listen to Coltrane’s great American prayer, which sounds just like a great American prayer should sound, full of beauty and near to chaos. And, speaking only for myself, I will try to do some things better than I have: a little less from my own worst inclinations, a little more from Lincoln’s better angels, a little less shallow outrage and a good deal more from the deep sweet well of American goodness, which is the only possible source of American greatness.

    Although my musical tastes are not the same as KDW's, his points are good. RTWT, really.


  • And even though it's Day Three of the new year, Veronique de Rugy says it's not too late: It's Resolution Time for Congress and the Administration. There are only three, and here's number 3, a biggie:

    Resolution No. 3: Stop growing future generations' tax burden.

    According to the Heritage Foundation, as of today, the debt per capita — that is, for each and every man, woman and child in this country — is $69,200. That's the per-person amount that it would take to repay all the money the federal government has borrowed so far to fund its excessive spending. Unfortunately, this sum, as gargantuan as it is, pales in comparison to what's coming our way. If we include all the money the government doesn't have but has promised to spend (primarily on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), the figure grows to $240,000.

    Congress needs to prevent this fiscal disaster from hitting future generations. It goes without saying, but Congress should start by halting growth in unfunded spending. There's no good excuse, for example, for Congress to enact irresponsible bills like "Medicare for All." Congress should also undertake serious entitlement reform so as to reduce the amount of unfunded liabilities we face.

    I fear this resolution will be broken very soon. Maybe already has been.


  • Lonely voice of sanity on vaping, Jacob Sullum at Reason: FDA Announces Ban on Flavored E-Cigarette Cartridges, Exempting E-Liquids Used in Refillable Vapes. Click over for the details, but here's the bottom line:

    "By allowing vape shops to continue selling flavored vape liquids, the FDA is preventing hundreds of thousands of ex-smokers from being forced to return to smoking," writes Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel. "It also ensures that this important off-ramp from smoking remains available to adult smokers. However, the battle is not yet over because if the FDA implements the PMTA deadline in May of this year, it will wipe out most of the vaping industry, handing it over to the tobacco companies. The results would be devastating to the public's health, as many ex-smokers would return to smoking and many more would turn to a new black market for these products."

    I really, really, try not to get angry when our local newsbots mindlessly chatter about the "vaping epidemic". Invariably, they invite confusion with Vitamin E acetate-laced products and everything else. And they use that panic to move the goalposts, inviting hysteria over "adolescent nicotine addiction", another bogus concern.


  • Don Boudreaux asks the musical question: Why Take the 'Climate Change' Crowd's Case for More Government Power Seriously?. I usually excerpt, but here's nearly the whole thing for ya:

    I’m tired of hearing that anyone who refuses to embrace every proposal to tax carbon and to otherwise hamper markets in the name of ‘addressing’ climate change is an unscientific ideologue. Of course, some such people are, but it follows neither that every such person is, nor that the embrace of proposals to tax carbon and to otherwise hamper markets in the name of ‘addressing’ climate change is thereby the only scientifically supportable position.

    Those of us who are skeptics of giving the state more power to ‘address’ climate change are not the ones who now have as a prominent spokesperson a 16-year-old child. We are not the ones who cling to a completely unscientific notion of how governments actually operate. We are not the ones who ignore the vast upsides of economic growth, or the full history of that growth. And we are not the ones whose ranks are heavily populated by people making doomsday predictions that are consistently proven wrong – and, in many cases, spectacularly wrong.

    Why should anyone with a serious commitment to thinking rationally, realistically, and scientifically pay attention to a political movement whose adherents made such predictions as those reported by Maxim Lott about the year 2020?

    I'm on the fence about even "sensible" climate-change mitigation strategies, but (like Don) I despair at the blind faith in Government Wisdom exhibited by the "sensible" activists.


  • Megan McArdle has a musical question herself: Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture?.

    Before the Beatles arrived and the Sixties really got rolling, American fiction used to abound in novels where earnest young people chafed under the censorious regency of “Mrs. Grundy” and her ubiquitous gossip-wielding hatchet squads. After a wild decades-long interregnum, we have apparently once again decided that our lives should be governed by that still, small voice crying “What would the neighbors think?”

    Not that we care about the people next door to us. Rather, we fret about the opinions of officious strangers, possibly thousands of miles away, who swarm social media like deranged starlings over and over again, in the same pattern: A few thousand souls, left or right, decide that some opinion or behavior, tolerated as recently as last week, is now anathema. Then they descend upon unwitting heretics en masse — as when author J.K. Rowling attracted the mob’s ire in mid-December for tweeting in support of Maya Forstater, who was fired from a British think tank for expressing her belief that biological sex is immutable and binary. “Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill

    Of course, J. K. has (um) much more than enough "forget you" money.

Romance of the Rails

Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need

[Amazon Link]

Randal O'Toole loves railroads, but he's not blindly in love. As the subtitle implies, there's very little case to be made for thinking that passenger rail is a good solution at any level: intra-city, commuter, cable car, light-rail, whatever: it almost never makes a lot of economic sense.

The first part of the book is an interesting history of American "mass" transportation, how it evolved to its state today. Then it looks at the current sad state of affairs: rail service propped up by hefty taxpayer subsidies; proposals that overpromise ridership, underestimate costs (and often get greenlighted anyway); deferred maintenance; aging infrastructure. Even the hyped "Northeast Corridor" (Boston-Washington) doesn't survive O'Toole's analysis.

Note that our fair state is about to get into this boondoggle: N.H. Capitol Rail Project Advances to Next Stage. Aieee! Somebody buy copies of this book to spread around Concord!

Top Ten Nonfiction Books read in 2019

Just in case you're interested in what I found informative, interesting, thought-provoking, etc. last year. Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Amazon page (where I get a cut if you buy); clicking on the title will whisk you to my blog posting for a fuller discussion.

I read a lot of good books this year, and it was hard to limit myself to 10. So this selection is somewhat arbitrary, and I could have come up with a different set on a different day. Feel free to peruse the full list.

In order read:

[Amazon Link] Stubborn AttachmentsA Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen. Tyler's philosophical/economic pitch for a broadly libertarian society: economic growth seasoned by a healthy respect for individual liberty should be our primary social goal.
[Amazon Link] ThemWhy We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal by Ben Sasse. Senator Sasse is worried about the country's future, as well he should. Although his diagnosis seems to point the finger at economic dynamism at times, his suggested solutions are heartfelt and mostly correct.
[Amazon Link] Love Your EnemiesHow Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks. Yes, another what's-wrong-with-America-these-days book. But filled with good advice for those of us who have political opinions and might want to discuss them without engendering hard feelings.
[Amazon Link] The Coddling of the American MindHow Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. Not just another set of rage-inducing anecdotes about leftist campus snowflakes! Greg and Jonathan take a sympathetic look at how Young People These Days wound up so desperately unhappy.
[Amazon Link] Why Free Will Is Real by Christian List. Good news everyone! I think this is the best discussion of free will I've seen. I don't need to read any more books about it, I'm pretty sure.

I probably shall, though. Because I have no choice in the matter. (That's a joke, son.)

[Amazon Link] The Smallest MinorityIndependent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics by Kevin D. Williamson. Kevin's f-bomb-laden tirade against the forces of conformity. It goes in surprising directions.
[Amazon Link] Bad BloodSecrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Kind of a mainstream pick, this best-selling book describes the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder, Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes. She had a reality-distortion field at the Steve Jobs level. Alas, without a product to eventually back it up.
[Amazon Link] The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will. His magnum opus. Deserves to be read more slowly than I did. (I had it on a two-week loan from the library.) You won't agree with everything, I didn't, but you'll find that following Mr. Will's arguments is worthwhile exercise.
[Amazon Link] Panic AttackYoung Radicals in the Age of Trump by Robby Soave. Another Young People Today book. Robby teaches us the ideology of intersectionality, and does a lot of shoe-leather reporting. (As a young person himself…)
[Amazon Link] Lost in MathHow Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder. Dr. Hossenfelder provides a contrarian (and funny) look at the state of theoretical physics. Her thesis: the field has been led down the rabbit hole by esthetic concerns about theory. She unpeels the esthetics with a philosopher's skill. She also interviews a lot of her fellow physicists.

Some Graphs

2020 Update

The yearly Pun Salad update. Mostly copied from years previous.

Back in 2016, I made an early New Year's resolution to blog more diligently. This was unusual, in that it was actually successful. There have been 1103 consecutive days of Pun Salad posts (not counting book/movie/geek posts) since 2016-12-24. And yet I am still not famous.

I suppose this can't go on forever, but we'll keep trying.

There's twelve more months of data on the chart showing the monthly blog posts since Pun Salad's birth in February 2005: (Hat tip: the Chart::Gnuplot Perl module)

[Pun Salad Monthly Posts]

Last month nearly set a record for posts. It was the second-most prolific overall, only outdone in March 2006. (I must have been unusually gabby back then.)

Once a geek develops a hammer, it's tough to stop finding nails to pound. Here's an updated chart on my book reading; you can tell that I've been trying to read more over the past few years:

[yearly book reading]

Aha, a record for 2019! At least since I've been keeping track.

And movies watched since 2004…

[yearly movies watched]

If not for a heroic amount of movie-watching in December (looks like 17 in that month), this would have been a record low in 2019.

For the curious: My 2019 book list is here; my 2019 movie list is here.