URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

  • At American Consequences, P. J. O'Rourke reviews Joe Biden’s 564 pages of empty promises.

    But although Joe has a plan for everything and can’t shut up when explaining his plans, he doesn’t make it easy to find out exactly what these plans are. (And perhaps that’s a wise move for someone trying to attract “Anybody-But-Trump” moderate voters.)

    If you care to repeat my reading experience, you’ll have to go to the “Joe Biden for President: Official Campaign Website” and get past all the pestering for donations and amateurish videos of Joe interacting with highly diverse and moderately enthusiastic supporters until you find the little “Menu” icon among the screen clutter.

    Click on that, and you’ll be presented with a list of (not very enticing) options. Ignoring “Home,” “Joe’s Story,” “Action Center,” “The Latest,” “Store,” “How to Vote,” and “En Español,” click on “Joe’s Vision.” This will take you to “Bold Ideas.” Beneath that heading, there’s an array of 43 boxes similar to Jeopardy! categories. (And unless you lack any political conservatism whatsoever and are bereft of every libertarian principle, the “jeopardy” comparison is apt.)

    Peej summarizes: "Every one of the 43 platform planks seems to have been written by perfervid freshmen political-science majors in a dorm room bull session after taking methamphetamine."

    But RTWT, if you can stand finding out about the progressive vapidity emitted by the campaign that the oddsmakers (still) favors to win in November.

  • The print version of National Review features a paywalled James Lileks: Transform It All.

    Does Joe Biden write his tweets? Does an aide gently guide his finger to the keys on his phone while humming a soothing melody? Whoever’s in charge of his account, this was sent a few weeks ago:

    “We’re going to beat Donald Trump. And when we do, we won’t just rebuild this nation — we’ll transform it.”

    Barack Obama made the same pledge, noting his intention to fundamentally transform America. Some credulous folk thought this meant “improve,” but that’s like saying you “improved” the Mona Lisa by painting it over, Jackson Pollock–style. No, that would be a transformation.

    The Left adores transformation, because it means the old miserable manifestations of the culture are remade to their wishes. Like this:

    “Hey, you like hamburgers? We’re going to transform them! Now you’ll eat lab-grown pseudo-beef with ground-up insects! Yes, we’re transforming the American diet, because meat is patriarchal, causes climate change, and also mustard is racist.”

    “How is mustard racist?”

    “I’m not going to perform unpaid labor to teach you. Educate yourself. Do the work. Read a book. I suggest Yellow Peril: How Condiments Led to the Anti-Chinese Riots of 1886. If you want to decolonize your burger, it’s a good place to start.”

    And, well, that's probably beyond fair use, but trust me. It's good. Subscribe if possible. Or wander into a decent library, it's the August 10 issue.

  • Boy, I'm already sick of the USPS brouhaha. One of the few islands of sanity is (of course) Eric Boehm at Reason: A Coronavirus Bailout Won’t Save (or Fix) the USPS.

    Congress has proposed a $25 billion bailout for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as part of the latest COVID-19 stimulus bill, but it's unlikely that any amount of cash will be enough to stabilize the agency's finances. Postmaster General Megan Brennan told the House Oversight Committee in April that the postal service stands to lose $13 billion this year. That's an acceleration of an ongoing trend, not a new problem created by the coronavirus pandemic; the post office has lost $69 billion since 2007.

    In May, a report from the Government Accountability Office called the agency's business model "not financially sustainable"—a conclusion it had reached before the impact of the coronavirus was factored in. The report called for Congress to make changes to "critical foundational elements" of how USPS operates. In other words, COVID-19 might be an easy scapegoat to justify a federal bailout, but the pandemic is not the main problem, and a bailout would not be a permanent solution.

    Hey, if they can lose $13 billion in a year, they can certainly lose your mail-in ballot. Especially if they've been semi-reliably delivering copies of Reason to your mailbox for 30 years, they might get the idea that you're not a USPS fan.

  • I heard Biden say this, and made the mistake of talking to my TV: "That's stupid." And Thomas A. Firey of Cato agrees: No Joe, Governors Shouldn’t Require Everyone to Wear a Mask When Outside. Bottom line:

    And yet, Biden is wrong that governors should require U.S. residents to wear masks whenever they’re outside. Many times, when people are outside their homes, they do not put others at involuntary risk of infection. From hiking and biking on public lands, to boating and fishing public waterways, to driving on public roads, to outdoor activities on private property (but not at home), and countless other instances, there are plenty of instances where mask‐​wearing creates little or no involuntary risk of infection. A general mask mandate would thus produce countless government failures.

    Statewide mask mandates would both violate the principles of limited government and cause unnecessary harm to citizens. As I explain in my paper, mask policy should be left to local governments (a point that applies to both Biden and to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both of whom at one time prohibited local mask ordinances). At the local level, policymakers are more responsive to citizens and the ordinances can be better tailored to address specific circumstances—including, perhaps, cases where there is no community spread and no need for masks.

    Apparently the strategy of providing the citizenry with accurate and full information and allowing them to judge their own risk levels is only taken seriously by those wacky libertarians.

  • And (in a column helpfully labeled "Humor") Rich Cromwell has advice at the Federalist for our favorite government agency, because rockets. Dear NASA: Don't Stop With Renaming 'Eskimo Nebula.' Probe Uranus.

    Finally, NASA is doing something important: Taking a closer look at the nicknames for cosmic objects.

    In a real and not satiric press release announcing the move, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Science Mission Directorate, said, “Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we’ll proactively work with the scientific community to help ensure that. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value.”

    This comes a little too late. It is 2020, after all. It also focuses on things like the Eskimo Nebula and the Siamese Twin Galaxy, and doesn’t take into account all celestial bodies. The sad fact is that it’s time to cancel all the planets in the solar system, starting with Uranus.

    Discovered in 1781, the seventh stone from the sun was named for the Greek god of the sky. Although all the other planets except for Earth are named for Greek gods, this is especially troubling as the god of the sky is the sun, unless you have a misbegotten belief in a geocentric universe. Even then, though, no way Uranus would get the crown.

    In case you worry that Rich might slip into 13-year-old jokes about Uranus… don't worry, he totally does.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 5:01 AM EDT

In Sunlight and in Shadow

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I was pointed to this 2012 book by National Review’s Summer Reading List 2020, a recommendation by Alexandra DeSanctis. I got it on a curbside pickup from Portsmouth Public Library, a two week loan, about 700 pages, which meant I had to polish off fifty pages a day. That's a little fast, especially when the author, Mark Helprin, is a wonderfully lush writer, inviting you to linger over lovely lengths of description and musing. Sorry, Mark, we're on to the next page already!

It's (mostly) set in postwar New York City and environs, and things kick off when our hero, Harry Copeland, espies the lovely Catherine Hale aboard the Staten Island Ferry. It is love at first sight, and it does not run smooth. First of all, she's betrothed to Victor, who turns out to be kind of a bad guy. That has to be undone. The business that Harry's inherited, purveying fine leather products for retail sale, gets targeted by a nasty mobster. And Catherine, who (it turns out) has a supporting role in a Broadway-bound musical find her career path threatened by mysterious corrupt influences.

So: it's a love story, and it might make you feel a little guilty about the depths of your devotion to your own Significant Other. Harry and Catherine never make the mistake of taking their relationship for granted.

There is a long flashback to Harry's wartime experiences, as part of an elite unit performing particularly dangerous operations behind enemy lines. This sets up for the book's climax, but no spoilers here.

The plot is character-driven, by which I mean that the stuff that happens seems inevitably guided by the sort of people Harry and Catherine (and the supporting cast) are. Many decent, some impressively heroic.

Jay Nordlinger (it turns out) had a five-part essay on the book at the National Review website back in 2013. If you're interested: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five.

Here's a bit I found amusing: one of the characters notices a movie poster and we're obviously meant to think that it's the inspiration for a famous fictional character.

[Dear Ruth]

See it? Obviously true, right?

But wrong, according to Wikipedia:

Although it is sometimes mistakenly believed that J. D. Salinger got the name for his character Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye and other works, when he saw a marquee for [Dear Ruth] the first Holden Caulfield story, "I'm Crazy", was published in December 1945, a year and a half before the movie's release.

So: it's an unbelievable cosmic coincidence.

Last Modified 2024-02-02 4:54 AM EDT

The Decadent Society

How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

A few months back, I found myself embroiled in a debate over at Granite Grok with an earnest Progressive who insisted that "living standards in this country have declined for the vast majority since 1980." Apparently a Reagan hater. They tend to view 1980, specifically November 1980, as the date America began its long slow slide into the toilet.

I think I got the better of that mini-debate. (Life expectancy: up since 1980; median income: up; unemployment: down; inflation: way down; poverty rate: down; …) But my adversary would have done better if he had a copy of this Ross Douthat book. Ross believes that we are slipping into decadence. And not just the US of A, but pretty much your entire furshlugginer Western Civilization as a whole. Oh well, fun while it lasted.

Ross doesn't have a particular political axe to grind, because the signs are everywhere, trends have been accumulating for decades. Manned space exploration has gotten boring, since it's running up against barriers of cost and technology. Actual economic growth shows signs of stalling out. Dynamism, research, entrepreneurship are down. Population growth is off. Politicians are more concerned with power grabs and partisan gains than actually working to find common ground. (When was the last innovative government program, anyway?) Religious participation is down.

And media seems to be recycling itself. Yeah, the new movie I most want to see is… the new James Bond flick. I saw the first one in 1962, thanks very much.

There are two ways things could end. Decadence might be sustainable! Good news for folks already in comfortable positions, poised to grab their share of a static economic pie. Not great news for people stuck at the bottom. Presumably, in order for the status quo to be "sustainable" their resentments will have to be managed. Maybe more drugs could be legalized.

Or something interesting could happen. Here, Ross advances possible scenarios, which are less convincing, but he could be right. An Africa-driven renaissance, maybe? A religious revival: Islam, Christianity, or…

Anyway, a thought-provoking book, by one of the New York Times pet conservatives. (He's over here in this cage…)

Last Modified 2024-01-23 2:06 PM EDT