URLs du Jour

2020-06-03

  • Remember when Trump said "very fine people" in reference to Charlottesville? Dan McLaughlin has a careful, long review: The 'Very Fine People' Trap and How to Avoid It Today.

    Violent, racially charged disorder in our nation’s cities, and the involvement of Antifa, evokes memories of the lowest moment of Donald Trump’s presidency: the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that erupted in violence that left one protestor dead and many more injured. Joe Biden even made President Trump’s “very fine people” line after Charlottesville the centerpiece of Biden’s presidential announcement. The shadow of Trump’s response still hangs over his communications on the George Floyd riots. And not only over Trump: Leading Minnesota Democrats tried over the weekend to play the “both sides” game to blame the Floyd riots on white supremacists, apparently into the teeth of evidence to the contrary.

    It is worth revisiting now what happened then, and what it tells us about presidential and political communication in this sort of crisis. Trump’s critics have frequently misrepresented what the president actually said. But Trump’s defenders also missed the bigger picture of why his response was both morally and politically tone-deaf. The very skill that has been Trump’s greatest political asset — his ability to blast his chosen theme like a foghorn over the din of the media and his critics — deserted him then. He is still struggling with the same problem today, as well as with the legacy of “very fine people.”

    Let's skip down to the end:

    Whether he did so in good faith or not, Donald Trump told the nation what it needed to hear from him after Charlottesville: He denounced white nationalists and violence and never called Nazis “very fine people.” But he also stepped on his own lines, telling a story disconnected from reality and totally inapt to the moment, and feeding the worst fears of what a Trump presidency represents. No amount of apologetics, more than two years later, can fix that. Presidents don’t get moments like that back.

    I won't be sad if Trump loses. Unfortunately, I'll be sad if Biden wins. As many people (including me) have said before: isn't there some way they could both lose?

    Speaking of a controversy where both sides deserve to lose…


  • Jacob Sullum at Reason observes that It’s Hard To Take Either Side in Trump’s Twitter Spat Seriously.

    Last Thursday the president of the United States threw a temper tantrum disguised as an executive order, threatening to punish Twitter for daring to annotate two of his comments about voting by mail. Twitter retaliated the next day, slapping a warning label on a presidential tweet about the protests triggered by George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

    President Donald Trump's order was legally meaningless, aiming to increase the civil liability of disfavored social media platforms in ways that are beyond his powers and that would encourage more, not less, scrutiny of online speech. But Twitter's sudden interest in policing the president's claims and rhetoric was equally hard to take seriously, promising a kind of dispassionate and consistent oversight it cannot possibly achieve with Trump, let alone every public official on Earth.

    Trump has challenged his opponents to a "who can be dumber" game. It's a fierce competition.


  • Tyler Cowen's column says Americans Unified Only in Outrage.

    If I have learned one thing over the last few weeks, it is that the psychology of the American public is weirder — and perhaps more flexible — than I ever would have thought.

    Consider, as just one example among many, the issue of nursing homes. According to some estimates, about 40% of the deaths associated with Covid-19 have occurred in nursing homes, with more almost certain to come.

    You might think that those 40,000-plus deaths would be a major national scandal. But so far the response has been subdued. Yes, there has been ample news coverage, but there are no riots in response, no social movement to “clean up the nursing homes,” no Ralph Nader-like crusader who has made this his or her political cause.

    That's just one example.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for an Atlantic article by Kellie Carter Jackson ("assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College"): Riots Are the American Way: On the George Floyd Protests.

    Since the beginning of this country, riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism. When our Founding Fathers fought for independence, violence was the clarion call. Phrases such as “Live free or die,” “Give me liberty or give me death,” and “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” echoed throughout the nation, and continue today. Force and violence have always been used as weapons to defend liberty, because—as John Adams once said in reference to the colonists’ treatment by the British—“We won’t be their Negroes.”

    [Did John Adams really say that? Yes he did, under a pseudonym in 1765.]

    Quibble: LFOD was actually General Stark's 1809 translation of a French Revolution slogan; I'm pretty sure it wasn't being slung about by the Founders before that.

    Professor Kellie is basically giving a big thumb's up for riots and violence.

    I have to point out that the results of the American Revolution and the current violence are likely to be much different.

    Hey, remember when Kevin D. Williamson was fired from his brief Atlantic gig for saying something beyond the pale about abortion? Good times.

Open Borders

The Science and Ethics of Immigration

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Bryan Caplan fan for awhile now. I enjoyed his take on why we can't trust voters to generate rational public policy and his look at "why the education system is a waste of time and money".

But, on those topics, Bryan was "confirming my priors"; I was kinda leaning his way before I opened the books. But in this book, he sets out to recommend his titular policy: open borders. Next to no restrictions on foreigners making their way into this country to work. I'm, like, really?

But (spoiler alert) he pretty much convinced me that's the way to go. The moral and economic cases are pretty clear for a libertarian: you have people who want to work, other people who want to employ them, how dare you step between them and ban this capitalist act between consenting adults? And (no question) this is a positive-sum transaction, making both parties better off.

Bryan also handles the (numerous) objections: expanded immigration is not a drag on the welfare state, the cultural differences between Us and Them fade out after a generation, etc.

I should mention the biggie: it's a comic book. The illustrating is done by Zach Weinersmith, the force behind the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comic. (Recommended, if you're into that sort of thing.) This works pretty well, too. And I got more than a couple chuckles along the way. (There's a "Notes" section at the end if you want more words than pictures on a certain topic.)

[Amazon Link]
And I should also mention that immigration is one of those topics on which I'm easily persuaded by the last thing I read. See (for example) my take on Reihan Salam's book opposing open borders. By which I was also persuaded. But that was last year.

I am a tall stalk of grass, destined to bend in whichever direction blows the wind…

Ad Astra

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Wow, I was really surprised at how much I disliked this movie. A big budget. A couple stars I like, Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Pretty good reviews from the professionals. But I kept nodding off…

It's set in the near future where travel within the inner solar system is an everyday thing. Brad plays Roy McBride, an astronaut famous for keeping his cool head in a crisis. But his dad (Mr. Jones) set off to Neptune years back on an extraterrestrial intelligence hunt, disappeared, and is presumed dead.

Except the inner solar system is now being bombarded with weird emanations seemingly coming from the Neptunian area, wreaking havoc with power supplies and communications. Can't have that! So (this is complicated), Roy gets drafted into communicating a message to his dad. Which must be sent from Mars. Which involves first stopping on the Moon. And Roy has abandonment issues with Dad. And there's a lot of secrecy involved in the mission. And Roy's marriage to Liv Tyler is rocky because of his emotional distance or something. (Isn't she shy of getting involved with space guys from Armageddon?)

Roy also endures a fall from a huge antenna sticking from the earth's surface into space; encounters with moon pirates with lunar dune buggies; face-eating space monkeys. None of that has much of anything to do with the main plot.

And (oh yeah) Roy's laser-borne message from Mars to his dad on Neptune: everyone acts like they expect an immediate response. I looked this up: at best, Neptune is about 4 light-hours from Mars. Even an "immediate" response wouldn't show up until at least 8 hours later. For a purportedly-hard SF movie, this is unforgivable.