URLs du Jour

2020-09-01

[Amazon Link]

  • Well, <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice>: Kevin D. Williamson is back from vacation, and his Tuesday. column contains the bottom line on "social justice".

    Social justice is vague and infinitely plastic, which is, of course, the point. A nebulous moral mandate in the hands of people with armies and police forces at their disposal is one of the most dangerous things in the world.

    Hayek had this nailed back in 1978; see our Amazon Product du Jour.

    Lots more KDW goodness at the link, including his take on the recent revelations about Andrew Sullivan's defenestration at New York magazine. Check it out.


  • Washington Monthly tripped our LFOD Google News Alert with a book sorta-review from Elizabeth Austin: Libertarians Took Control of This Small Town. It Didn’t End Well..

    The book is A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears), by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. The small town is Grafton, NH. One of those little towns over there. (I'm waving in a generally northwest direction.)

    Hongoltz-Hetling's book is (apparently) very tongue-in-cheek about the efforts of Grafton's local libertarians to make it a more laissez-faire community. (The title refers to a townsperson who fed "daily boxes of donuts to the increasingly aggressive local bears".)

    Their effort was inspired by the Free State Project, a libertarian-adjacent organization founded in 2003 with the goal of taking over New Hampshire and transforming it into a tiny-government paradise. After more than a decade of persistence, the project persuaded 20,000 like-minded revolutionaries to sign its pledge to move to New Hampshire and finally force the state to live up to its “Live Free or Die” motto. (Despite their pledged support, only about 1,300 signers actually made the move. Another 3,000 were New Hampshire residents to begin with.) The project’s political successes peaked in 2018, when 17 of the 400 members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives identified as Free Staters—although all but two were registered Republicans.

    The affiliated Free Town Project set its sights on Grafton in 2004 because of both its small size—about 1,200 residents—and its long history as a haven for tax protesters, eccentrics, and generalized curmudgeons. The Free Town Project leaders figured that they could engineer a libertarian tipping point by bringing in a few dozen new true believers and collaborating with the resident soreheads. Over the next decade or so, Free Towners managed to join forces with some of the town’s most tightfisted taxpayers to pass a 30 percent cut in the town’s $1 million budget over three years, slashing unnecessary spending on such municipal frills as streetlights, firefighting, road repairs, and bridge reconstruction. But eventually, the Free Town leadership splintered and the haphazard movement fizzled out. The municipal budget has since bounced back, to $1.55 million.

    The reviewer is dismayed—nay, distraught that Hongoltz-Hetling wasn't serious enough about revealing the Dread Libertarian Menace:

    Certainly, the author is not alone in finding cause for amusement in Grafton’s funny little basket of deplorables. For years now, reporters and pundits have chosen to focus on the style, rather than the policy substance, of the growing libertarian right. Again and again, we read stories of rural rubes clad head to toe in MAGA swag, hunched over chipped cutlery in dingy diners, wielding biscuits to wipe the last of the sausage gravy from their oversized plates while vociferously proclaiming that taxation is theft and inveighing against the nanny state. In choosing to shoot these red, white, and blue fish in a barrel, Hongoltz-Hetling is in very good company.

    But had the author not chosen snark over substance, his book could have served as a peculiarly timely cautionary tale, because the conflicting philosophical principles that drive this story are central to understanding American politics today. The differences between the libertarian stumblebums who moved to Grafton and the staff of the Koch-funded Cato Institute are mostly sartorial. And the sad outcomes of Grafton’s wacky social experiment are now being repeated in American communities every single day.

    Wake up, sheeples! The libertarians are coming. Probably under your bed right now! As their slogan says: diligently plotting to take over the world and leave you alone!

    Data point: As I type, Grafton has had zero Covid-19 cases.


  • Martin Hutchinson might get a bitter chuckle at the "news" that libertarians are taking over. At National Review, he writes some sobering news: American Economy Too Far Left for Prosperity.

    It was inevitable that Karl Marx would become a Marxist — at least according to the precepts of that ideology. He was brought up in an environment in which savings had been destroyed by inflation and a failure to keep up with the Industrial Revolution was impoverishing local people. Today we profess to live under capitalism, yet state spending represents 40 percent of GDP, while much of the rest of the economy is distorted by state-determined ultra-low interest rates and state-imposed regulations. Overall, only a modest percentage of decisions are determined by a willing buyer–willing seller price mechanism, while the rest are determined directly or indirectly by government. That may not be socialism in the most precise sense of the word, but, in some respects, it is uncomfortably close to it.

    And (on the margin) we have our two major parties whose major debate is which sectors of the economy should be brought under more government control. If you're a wannabe entrepreneur, or a budding innovator, do you look for greener pastures, or just hunker down?


  • Continuing on that theme, sort of, is Richard M. Ebeling at AIER: Trump’s “American Greatness” Also Political Paternalism.

    Mind your own business. Every one of us has thought or said words to this effect when others have told us how to live our lives. Who our friends should be, what career we should pursue, where we should live, the person we should marry, how we should spend our money, or even what clothes we should wear or how to furnish or decorate the place we live. Even when others have the best of intentions, after all, whose life is it?

    Yet, especially in presidential election years, we hang on the words of candidates who all have “plans” to tell us precisely what should be the answers to most of these matters, and many more, in our everyday lives. Not only do we often hang on every word they say, but we actually end up voting for people who are determined to use their election to political office precisely to attempt to run our lives.

    Back when I was a young'un, 1976, I opined to a late co-worker: "Everyone who wants Jimmy Carter as President should be able to have Jimmy Carter as President. And anyone who wants Gerald Ford as President should have Gerald Ford as President. And for those of us who don't want a President at all…".

    She was unimpressed with my political philosophy. Still, 44 years later, I think I had something. Geographical sovereignity seems to be a concept that's outliving its usefulness.


  • The NYPost has done the job the more respectable mass media won't, looking at our upcoming mess of an election: Mass vote-by-mail really does invite fraud.

    Voting fraud, especially via mail-in ballots, is a cinch to pull off, warns a top Democratic operative, who’s done it repeatedly. Yet voting by mail will be a huge part of the November election. Which is why officials need to plug the holes now.

    Fixing ballots “is a real thing” and plenty common, says the insider in Jon Levine’s eye-opener in Sunday’s Post. States, he pleads, need to address major security gaps to protect the November election.

    Indeed, as few as 500 or 1,000 votes can be enough “to flip” entire states, notes the source, who (as The Post confirmed) has worked in numerous legislative, mayoral and congressional races across the tri-state area. Among the scams he describes:

    • Postmen or others simply discard ballot-stuffed envelopes from areas that lean heavily toward a candidate they oppose.
    •  Operatives offer to mail completed ballots for voters, then steam open the envelopes and switch in their own ballots.
    •  Insiders “help” the elderly by filling out ballots for them. In some nursing homes, “the nurse is actually paid” to do that.
    •  Voters are flat-out bribed.

    Just what the country needs: an election where there will be substantial doubts about its legitimacy.


  • Fortunately, other countries are innovating, as reported by The Drive: Drug Cartel Now Assassinates Its Enemies With Bomb-Toting Drones.

    Mexico's drug cartels are notoriously well armed and equipped, with some possessing very heavy weaponry, including armored gun trucks sporting heavy machine guns. Now at least one of these groups appears to be increasingly making use of small quadcopter-type drones carrying small explosive devices to attack its enemies. This is just the latest example of a trend that has been growing worldwide in recent years, including among non-state actors, such as terrorists and criminals, which underscores the potential threats commercially-available unmanned systems pose on and off the battlefield.

    I see a possible scenario for Season 4 of Ozark.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

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

A break from our film noir festival to watch this 2018 PG-rated movie. Really for kids, but it's got winks and nods to any adults who might be watching. Like us.

It's set in the 1950s in the fictional town of New Zebadee. The recently-orphaned young lad Lewis has been sent to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black!). Whose heart seems to be in the right place, but (frankly) lacks parenting skills. Help is offered by Florence (Cate Blanchett, looking her most beautiful). And (of course) they live in the titular House, which is full of magic, and but also contains dark secrets, due to its previous inhabitant, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan!)

After some initial discomfort, Lewis decides to get into the magic game himself. Hey, why not? But he's a geeky kid who's kind of desperate to fit in at school, and that brings up its own problems as he makes some ill-considered magical mistakes which nearly destroy the world. I hate it when that happens.

So it's not bad. It's based on a series of kids' books, and the director, Eli Roth, has said there could be a sequel, but that hasn't materialized.

Please Murder Me!

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

Well, at least he said "Please". Although I could have done without the exclamation point.

Continuing our film noir extravaganza with this 1956 movie. Raymond Burr plays defense lawyer Craig Carlson, good practice for Perry Mason (which began in 1957). It's a mere 78 minutes in length… but feels longer.

As the movie opens, Craig taken to dictating into his office reel-to-reel tape recorder: he plans on being murdered in a short while! Why? Well, most of the flick is a flashback: it shows how Craig breaks some sad news to his wartime life-saving buddy, Joe. "Joe, I've been, um 'seeing' your wife, Myra (Angela Lansbury!). As Homer Simpson will put it in a few more decades: Welcome to Dumpsville, population: you."

But Joe quickly turns up dead, shot by Myra, who claims self-defense. There's a trial anyway, because Myra's story of the shooting is full of implausibilities, contradiction, and conflicts with forensics. And Myra stands to inherit a sizeable fortune, hundreds of thousands of dollars, back when that was a lot of money.

Fortunately for Myra, Perry Mason Craig is her defense lawyer, and how do you think that's going to turn out? You bet: acquittal! But Craig eventually realizes he may have been played for a sap.

Anyway, it's not very good except for the decent acting by old pros.