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.