The Best of Enemies

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

A decent earnest movie from 2019, probably intended as Oscar bait. Although (checking IMDB) that didn't catch on.

It's "based on actual events" from 1971. When Durham, North Carolina was roiled by racial tension, menaced by Klansmen. The two main characters are white male Klan Cyclops C.P. Ellis (played by Sam Rockwell) and black female rabble-rousing activist Ann Atwater (played by Taraji P. Henson). A fire in the local black school renders it mostly unusable. The obvious solution is to stick the black kids in with the white kids, but that's steadfastly opposed by most of the local whites. The powers that be decide to resolve things via a charrette, which is basically a scrum where days of intense discussion and contention are supposed to come up with a solution.

Which seems unlikely. But you can see what's coming from the very title of the movie: Ann and C.P. develop a grudging respect, come to understand each other's point of view, and… well, you could probably write the heartwarming outcome yourself.

Both Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson are excellent. I think the movie deserved an Oscar nomination for makeup, because Ms. Henson is a beauty, and her character (wonderful woman she is) is not: she's older, seriously overweight, not particularly attractive.

I'm wondering (however) how accurate the film's portrait of 1971 Durham, NC is. There are a few elite rich folk, but everyone else, black and white, is working class or below. Mostly the town is portrayed as dingy, dirty, and poor.

You know what's in Durham? Duke University. IBM. Do all those professors, programmers, managers, and well-paid administrators commute in from out of town? Maybe in 1971?

The Good Killer

[Amazon Link]

I put this on my "Get At Library" list based on a laudatory WSJ review. After only a couple chapters, I put Harry Dolan's other novels on that list too. It's pretty good.

Sean and Molly live in Houston, but it's clear from the get-go they have something to hide. Molly's off to Montana for some mind-clearing yoga and horseback riding, and Sean's apprehensive. There are bad people out there that would do them harm if they knew where they were.

But Molly turns out to not be the problem. On a whim, Sean heads to the mall to shop, and runs into what they call an active shooter situation. Sean fits into the "good guy with a gun" role perfectly. Unfortunately, mall security cameras catch him on video, which is broadcast nationwide. And the local cops would like to question him as well. But he realizes the publicity will blow his cover, and he'd prefer to avoid law enforcement too. So instead of basking in goodwill and fame, he abandons Houston, taking off to Montana to retrieve Molly.

So: Not only are the cops after him, but also the bad guys. What follows is an intricate ballet of road-tripping, violence, threats, near-misses. And a thrilling climax, of course.

Sean's no angel. His reason for being on the lam is eventually revealed, and it's not because he's avoiding paying a parking ticket. But compared to the bad guys after him…

Lots of fun. I've seen Harry Dolan compared to Elmore Leonard, and that's fine company to be in.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-23

[Amazon Link]

  • In an NRPLUS article (sorry), Kevin D. Williamson tells you the good news: Biden Can't Tax the Rich. The bad news is, he'll wind up taxing you instead.

    Joe Biden’s tax plan is based on a deathless myth: that taxes are actually paid in economic terms by those upon whom they legally fall. The obviousness of this nonsense is clear enough if you put the proposition into plain English: “Don’t you worry, now, we’re not going to raise taxes on you, Bubba — we’re just going to raise taxes on your employer, your customers, your vendors and business partners, the people who make and sell the things you buy and use, your bank, your Internet provider, the companies that build houses and commercial buildings, your landlord, gasoline distributors, all the companies your retirement account is invested in — oh, you won’t be affected at all!”

    Biden’s tax plan is a lot like the Republicans’ health-care plan: He mainly is interested in undoing what was done under the last president, in this case partially repealing the 2017 tax bill put together by Paul Ryan, which, for some reason, we call the “Trump tax cuts.” But tax increases are generally unpopular, so Biden promises to raise taxes only on a despised and resented minority: People who make more money than most of the people he is trying to persuade to vote for him. In this case, that means a promise to raise taxes only on households earning $400,000 a year or more, roughly the top 2 percent of earners. Biden would also substantially raise business taxes, and the majority of his $3 trillion or so in new taxes over ten years would fall directly on business owners — and indirectly on their employees, vendors, and customers.

    There's also that Bastiat seen/unseen effect: we see the Feds spending piles of (our) money on the stuff government thinks we should want. We don't see the stuff that might have been provided if that money had remained in private hands, spent by individuals and groups desperately looking to provide people with what they actually do want.

    I don't see that working out well.


  • Another thing I don't see working out well: the future of free speech. Because, at Matt Welch notes at Reason: Everybody Hates Free Speech.

    The fight over media is more a fight over power, and who gets to wield it, than a fight over principle, and how it should be applied. Trump and Joe Biden both want to roll back the speech protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the difference is that the president would do it in the name of protecting conservatives and the former vice president would do it in the name of restricting conservative misinformation. Sens. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) agree that Facebook and Twitter are guilty of "election interference"; it just depends on which election. Google faces antitrust enthusiasm from House Democrats and Bill Barr's Justice Department alike. (This morning, on Fox Business Network's Mornings with Maria, Donald Trump, Jr., asserted that this election would be a referendum on the First Amendment, because only his father could be trusted with following through on his promise to break up Big Tech, because Democrats who talk a big game are actually in bed with their censorious Silicon Valley overlords.)

    The more politics (and its worst form, war) subsumes life, the more free speech is treated as a means to an end rather than as a magnificent if always-threatened achievement of the Enlightenment. It is no accident that the bipartisan clampdown on speech in the governmental realm is coinciding in the intellectual realm with a noisy right-left rethink of the Enlightenment itself.

    Matt foresees a future where "Speech from the bad guys will increasingly be treated like violence, while violence from the good guys will be increasingly treated like speech." Very Orwellian, only a few decades late.


  • Of course, that's not to say there isn't speech we'd be better off without. John Tierney in the City Journal asks for The Last Presidential Debate, Please.

    We finally have a chance to create improved debates, because the current sponsor, the Commission on Presidential Debates, has bungled its mission so badly that Republicans are vowing never again to submit to its whims. The commission is a private group that claims to be bipartisan, but as Bob Dole pointed out, none of its Republican members support Donald Trump. Its last-minute rule changes were opposed by the Trump campaign and welcomed by the Biden campaign. Its moderators have consistently favored Democrat-friendly topics, directing the most hostile questions to Trump and Mike Pence while repeating Democratic talking points as if they were uncontested facts.

    This year’s fiascos are partly due to the singular hostility that Trump has aroused in the press corps and the rest of the Washington establishment. (Though his boorishness in the first debate didn’t help, either.) But the basic problem is the debate format. Instead of confronting each other directly, the candidates must answer questions from journalists who usually have neither the skills nor the incentives to moderate a debate properly.

    Among John's worthwhile suggestions: an actual debate in the Intelligence Squared mode. Couldn't be worse.


  • Cato's Julian Sanchez writes about the anti-Google jihad: Searching for Monopolies.

    The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it was launching an antitrust lawsuit against Google alleging that the search giant’s deals with browser and operating system developers to make Google a default search engine amounted to anticompetitive behavior. The suit bears all the hallmarks of a political stunt—an unnecessary government intervention in the online search market that has little chance of yielding any meaningful benefit to consumers.

    Oddly, the suit does not target Google’s dominance in the online advertising space, which has often been the focus of critics, but Internet searches, where it seems least plausible to claim the company enjoys anything like a monopoly. Internet users have a wide variety of easily‐​accessible options for online searches: While Google is the default search engine for most browsers and mobile operating systems in the United States, users can elect to use competitors such as Yahoo, Bing, and DuckDuckGo with almost no effort, either by manually visiting those pages, or by taking a few seconds to change their default engine settings. Though Google commands the lion’s share of search traffic, it is hard to seriously claim this is because consumers lack for choices—which would normally be a precondition of claiming a company enjoys a “monopoly.”

    I used Google's embedded search widget for a while, then switched to DuckDuckGo for some reason. I'm mulling switching back to Google to register my puny protest against this stupid suit.


  • And this is one for the "Gee, I wonder if this will be reported anywhere else" department. NH Journal has a story about my current CongressCritter, Chris "Chicken Tenders" Pappas, specifically fallout from his recent debate with GOP challenger Matt "Lawn" Mowers: Pappas Admits He Lied About Relationship With Lobbyist.

    On Thursday, Rep. Chris Pappas acknowledged his involvement in a personal relationship with a corporate lobbyist, a relationship he repeatedly denied the night before during a live, televised debate.

    “How dare you? That is not true, Matt. This is an outrageous charge,” Pappas said on WMUR, in response to the allegation from his GOP opponent, Matt Mowers Wednesday night.

    Woops. Well, that link goes to the Union Leader, so it's (sort of) being reported elsewhere. Can't find anything on the WMUR website; you'd think they'd be a little more interested in reporting a baldfaced lie in a debate they televised.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-22

Pictured: probably not Hunter Biden.

  • Writing at the WSJ [probably paywalled] Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. says the latest Hunter Biden news provides A Laptop Window on the Oligarchy.

    Step one, help yourself to tasty assets from the public trough. Step two, figure out how to keep them.

    The best investment in Ukrainian history may be about to become even better—Burisma’s recruiting of Hunter Biden to its board. After a government minister allegedly awards himself lucrative gas rights, the Ukrainian people overthrow a regime famous for its corruption. In the normal course of events, a successor regime would seek to establish its bona fides by clawing back the disputed gas rights, except for one thing: The new government, under military threat from Russia, is desperately dependent on a U.S. administration whose vice president was Joe Biden.

    It was unnecessary for Mr. Biden to do anything. The new regime was checkmated from the start in its desire to relieve Burisma of its questionably obtained assets. Now U.S. reporters frightened to be seen playing it straight in the middle of an election insist there’s nothing to see here except the sad misjudgment of Mr. Biden’s dissolute son. A normal person, though, can’t help regarding Burisma as the culminating chapter in a Hunter Biden career in which, from day one, every job and opportunity was handed to him by someone seeking influence with his father.

    The media is doing its level best to downplay what anyone with an ounce of sense can see is true.


  • The National Review editors claim, I think accurately, that the Google Antitrust Case Is Weak.

    American antitrust laws are broadly written, and the prevailing legal standards have changed over the years. The dominant and most economically sensible approach to enforcing these laws, however, remains the one that Robert Bork laid out in the 1970s: “Anticompetitive” behavior becomes a problem when it harms consumer welfare. In our view, officials should not pursue antitrust actions unless they can compellingly show a company is, in fact, harming consumers — not just that it is doing everything it can to attract consumers to its product at the expense of the competition.

    Is it harmful to consumers for Google to pay other companies to feature its search engine as the default? That’s a hard case to make, because it’s generally easy for those who prefer other search engines to change the default, as Google and the alternative engines are all free and switching can be achieved in a few clicks; because these lucrative arrangements help to subsidize the devices consumers use; and because most users would probably choose Google anyhow, if its runaway success over the past two decades is any guide.

    I'm just as disgusted by Google's practices as (probably) you are. I can't imagine they'll be improved by lawsuit. NR compares Google's current legal woes with Microsoft's, decades back.


  • If you want to give a progressive the fits, mention the American Legislative Exchange Council, aka ALEC. But I'm a sucker for state economic comparisons, and if you are too here's Laffer-ALEC Report on Economic Freedom: Grading America’s 50 Governors.

    Each governor is awarded an overall rank, a results rank and a policy rank, which is expanded to list the exact criteria used so readers can clearly identify how their state leader stacks up and why. Governors and taxpayers can also use the criteria to determine state policy areas that need improvement, such as tax and spending policy, handling of federal funds from the CARES Act and economic competitiveness data. The 20 variables used to rank the governors equip readers, voters and taxpayers with an objective analysis so they can make an informed opinion.

    And (spoiler alert):

    New Hampshire is one of nine states in the country without a state income tax. We often see these states outperform states with progressive income taxes in terms of domestic migration and general economic performance, so it is no surprise that Governor Chris Sununu has earned himself and his state five stars within our rankings. New Hampshire values small government, and its governor shares those values. Governor Sununu has continued longstanding education freedom, low debt levels and restrained welfare policies. New Hampshire is well situated for the fiscal shock from the pandemic crisis despite its budget gap. New Hampshire’s competitive tax rates help the state benefit from its proximity to New York and Massachusetts, incentivizing migration and a subsequent growth in the state’s tax base.

    New Hampshire faces a budget gap of over half a billion dollars this year, and Governor Sununu has pledged to make the tough but necessary financial decisions without raising taxes. “We’re going to do it. We’re not going to raise taxes. We’re not going to be putting the burdens of the state onto the backs of our citizens and our businesses that are already having a tough time paying their bills as it is,” said Sununu.

    Governor Chris came in 10th place overall, marked down due to (among other things) high property taxes and the top marginal corporate income tax rate.


  • Another state comparison from the Tax Foundation: 2021 State Business Tax Climate Index.

    The 10 best states in this year’s Index are:

    1. Wyoming
    2. South Dakota
    3. Alaska
    4. Florida
    5. Montana
    6. New Hampshire
    7. Nevada
    8. Utah
    9. Indiana
    10. North Carolina

    Ta-da! We're number six!


  • So, could be better, could be worse. At the American Enterprise Institute, Mark J. Perry asks: Suppose you live in America’s most liberal state. Now suppose you live in the state known as the “poverty capital of America.” But I repeat myself Yes, it's another state-by-state ranking:

    [poverty]

    Explanation:

    The table above is based on Census Data released last month and displays US states ranked for two different measures of poverty: a) the official measure of poverty and b) the Census Bureau’s recently introduced (2011) Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which accounts for each state’s cost-of-living including housing, energy costs and medical costs, and taxes. The SPM also considers non-cash government assistance as a form of income and is therefore considered a more accurate measure of poverty than the traditional, official rate. For the country as a whole, the percent of Americans in poverty using the SPM of 12.5% for the years 2017-2019 (averaged) is 1.0 percentage point higher than the percentage of Americans living in poverty (11.5%) using the official poverty measure.

    Somewhat surprised that we still look so good on the "supplemental" measure.


  • Most links above via Daniel J. Mitchell, who may like this stuff even more than I do: The Best and Worst States for Economic Policy?.

    P.S. I recently wrote about Chris Edwards’ Report Card on America’s Governors. So if we mesh those results (New Hampshire was in the top category while New Jersey was in the bottom category) with today’s results, the folks in the Granite State get the triple crown while the folks in the Garden State get a booby prize.

    Sorry, New Jersey.


Last Modified 2020-10-23 6:18 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-10-21

  • Celebrity worship is a good thing to avoid. Also celebrity demonization, when they take some stand that differs from yours. The latter happened to Chris Pratt. Which prompted a response from none other than Robert Downey Jr..

    Should you want to be brought up to speed on this brouhaha, see the Federalist. But suffice to say that Downey and Pratt are now both mensches in my book.


  • Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit (but you knew that), apparently had his USA Today column spiked. Read The Whole Thing here to find out what the Gannet bigwigs are scared you might read. Excerpt:

    In my 2019 book, The Social Media Upheaval, I warned that the Big Tech companies — especially social media giants like Facebook and Twitter — had grown into powerful monopolists, who were using their power over the national conversation to not only sell ads, but also to promote a political agenda. That was pretty obvious last year, but it was even more obvious last week, when Facebook and Twitter tried to black out the New York Post’s blockbuster report about emails found on a laptop abandoned by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

    The emails, some of which have been confirmed as genuine with their recipients, show substantial evidence that Hunter Biden used his position as Vice President Joe Biden’s son to extract substantial payments from “clients” in other countries. There are also photos of Hunter with a crack pipe, and engaging in various other unsavory activities. And they demolished the elder Biden’s claim that he never discussed business with his son.

    I disagree with Insty's position on breaking up big tech, but I'll admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude about their largely self-inflicted woes. Still, I bet whatever comes out the other end of the antitrust sausage factory won't be an improvement.


  • Here's an anti-antitrust argument from George L. Priest in the WSJ: Suing Google Won’t Help Consumers.

    The U.S. Justice Department and 11 states filed an antitrust claim against Google Tuesday alleging illegal monopolization. The lawsuit follows the release earlier this month of a voluminous report by the House Judiciary Committee arguing that the four major U.S. internet platforms—Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook —are monopolies and ought to be broken up. The suit against Google is the first of what will likely be many antitrust attacks on these dominant platforms.

    The basic argument of the lawsuit is that Google possesses a monopoly over search engines and search advertising, which it maintains by entering agreements to make its search engine the default on many devices. This resembles one of the claims made 20 years ago against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Yet the argument rests on a misconception about the creation and operation of network industries, which will condemn this case—and future ones like it—to failure under sensible interpretations of U.S. antitrust laws.

    Paywalled, sorry. But a good argument why you should subscribe to the WSJ.


  • Donald J. Boudreaux advocates for thinking, a certain way: The Economic Way of Thinking Brings Clarity. It's excellent all the way through. But I especially enjoyed…

    Or consider this report by Peggy Noonan on a recent exchange between the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer; the subject was yet another proposed covid-19 “stimulus” bill:

    He [Blitzer] said it’s not about him but people in food lines. Mrs. Pelosi: “And we represent them. And we represent them. And we represent them. And we represent them. We know them. We represent them and we know them. We know them. We represent them.” “Thank you for your sensitivity to our constituents’ needs.”

    “I am sensitive to them because I see them on the street begging for food,” Mr. Blitzer said.

    Mrs. Pelosi: “Have you fed them? We feed them.”

    Nancy Pelosi presides over a chamber of politicians who vote on taxing and spending bills that transfer money from some Americans to other Americans – a fact that (inexplicably!) propels Ms. Pelosi to boast that she and her colleagues, not taxpayers such as Mr. Blitzer, feed poor Americans. On top of this appalling pretension, Ms. Pelosi expects CNN’s audience to believe that she and her Congressional colleagues “know” poor Americans in a way that non-politicians don’t.

    As Peggy Noonan wrote about this interview, “It was bonkers.”

    I can't claim to be anything other than a dilettante when it comes to thinking "economically". Fortunately, you just need a modicum of sense to see through politicians' self-serving claptrap.

    Unfortunately, we keep electing them.


  • And the Federalist reports the latest effort to desting the Bee: Facebook Demonetizes Satire Site Babylon Bee, Claims Monty Python Spoof 'Incites Violence'.

    Facebook is demonetizing the Christian, political satire page “The Babylon Bee” after they published an article satirizing Sen. Mazie Hirono’s comments during the Amy Coney Barrett hearings in a fictional depiction.

    The Bee’s CEO Seth Dillon announced the demonetization on Tuesday in a tweet, claiming that the big tech company pulled down the article based on a “regurgitated joke from a Monty Python movie.”

    Here's a tweet from Dillon:

    The Bee's thoughtcrime is manifest.


  • Kevin D. Williamson does some writing about America’s Public-Hate Ritual. It's about celebrity wanker, Jeffrey Toobin. See if you can avoid chuckling:

    Oh, Jeffrey Toobin — let him among us with a free hand cast the first stone.

    Toobin, a writer for The New Yorker and fixture on CNN, was participating in a role-playing exercise on a Zoom call with his magazine colleagues, wargaming election-night scenarios. Toobin was standing in for the courts when he suddenly felt compelled to badger the witness and accidentally caused his colleagues to witness the badger.

    He believed — wrongly — that he had turned his camera off, and his private game of pickup five-on-one was broadcast, or Zoomcasted, or whatever, to his shocked and perplexed colleagues.

    KDW actually has a serious point to make, and I recommend it, of course. But if your mind wants to wallow in … darn, I've already used schadenfreude today … the Free Beacon offers: Jeffrey Toobin Dick Slip Scandal, Explained in New Yorker Cartoons and CNN Chyrons.


Last Modified 2020-10-22 5:30 AM EDT

Dune

[Amazon Link]

I embark on yet another reading project, Frank Herbert's Dune series. I bought them all at one point or another over the years, but (I think) I've only read the first two. (I'm sure I had reasons for that.) Just doing the six Frank-written books; there are currently more than a dozen others written by his son and a co-author, with more coming.

This is a re-read, but I'm not sure how many times I've read it before; my guess is twice, but not anytime in the past four decades. Fun fact: it's one of the older books on my shelves, a Science Fiction Book Club edition from the 1960s! That's the John Schoenherr cover over there on your right. And clicking on it will take you to Amazon, where someone is offering a similar first-printing edition for $2300.

I think I'd part with my copy for … oh, say, $2200.

Thirteen-year-old me had previously read the heavily abridged serialization of the last half of the book in Analog magazine in 1965. I'd only just started reading Analog in July of 1964 (because I loved the cover for the serialization of Sleeping Planet by William R. Burkett, Jr.) So I missed the first part of the book. Ah well.

Enough nostalgia. In Herbert's far-flung future, the known galaxy is ruled by an Emperor, his rule supported by a shaky set of alliances between various noble houses, each with its own planetary systems. Thanks to the evil machinations of Baron Harkkonen, the rival House Atreides is forced off their (very nice) planet of Caledan, onto the bleak desert world of Arrakis. Arrakis's only virtue is that it's the only known source of melange, or "spice", which members of the Spacing Guild require to guide their ships between stars. Melange also endows its consumers with weird psychic powers, including a sorta-precognition.

But soon enough the Harkkonens hatch part II of their dastardly plot: an infiltrator in House Atreides will fatally betray Duke Leto, and set up Arrakis for a Harkkonen takeover. Barely escaping with their lives are the Duke's 15-year-old son, Paul and his mother Jessica. They take up with a tribe of roving desert nomads, the Fremen. We follow (mostly) Paul as his plan for revenge unfolds.

Fans of the book know I am leaving out a lot of stuff: religion, political intrigue, supporting characters, knife fights, giant worms, pregnancies. And a vocabulary that (I'd guess) involved dumping out Arabic Scrabble tiles onto a large table, arranging tastefully, and transliterating into our own character set. Herbert did a masterful job of universe-building and this book nabbed both Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novel. He truly transports the reader to a world of wonder. (And at least some of that wonder involves thinking: I wonder what drugs Herbert was taking while he wrote this?)


Last Modified 2020-10-21 2:12 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-10-20

  • We Were Amused: What Should Have Happened at the Amy Coney Barrett Hearings.

    If only real life were like that…


  • Just a random gripe that I probably make every October in even-numbered years: I'm pretty sick of all the nags, online and broadcast, demanding that I vote. Stop it.

    I guess they're going after people on the margin. People who won't vote unless they're nagged. But…

    I think someone should do a reverse nag: citizen, if you need to be hectored into voting, maybe you shouldn't vote. It's not as if you would be making informed decisions in the booth. That's not the way I'd bet, anyway.

    Don't worry, though. All evidence suggests that "informed" voters don't vote that intelligently either.


  • Kevin D. Williamson's "Tuesday" column muses on Priest-King Reigns.

    In the matter of monarchy, Thailand has made one critical improvement over the United Kingdom: Whereas the British imported their ridiculous royal family from Germany, the clever Thais have taken the much more sensible step of exporting their ghastly monarchy to the same country, with the king, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, a.k.a. Rama X, having abandoned his homeland, famous for its beautiful beaches and gorgeous police state, and set up housekeeping with his extensive harem at the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in the ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, near the Austrian border. It’s a famous spot: The funny little fellow with the funny little mustache presided over the winter Olympics there in 1936.

    (One might be tempted to think of Garmisch-Partenkirchen as the Eurotrash Aspen, except that the Eurotrash Aspen is Aspen.)

    The absentee monarch is an avid cyclist, and avid for . . . other pursuits: The Economist quotes a source close to the king describing his daily schedule: “Bike, f***, eat. He does only those three things.” No doubt the Bavarian alps provide interesting and rewarding opportunities for all three. Try the Alpen Käsefondue.

    Eventually, KDW makes the American connection. The trip is fun reading.


  • Issues & Insights notes that when/if Biden ever announces his position on court-packing, it will come after millions of voters have cast their ballots. But that's not all: 5 Other Things We’ll Learn About Biden After The Election. And here's one I've been expecting myself:

    4. There are some “concerns” about Biden’s mental abilities. It’s not hard to find evidence of Biden’s cognitive decline. All you have to do is watch him. He managed to keep it together during his debate with Trump and in the oh-so-friendly town hall meeting. But at almost every other event, Biden’s struggles with memory are abundantly clear.

    The topic, however, has been ignored by the press because, well you know why. If Biden wins, this will suddenly become an acceptable topic of conversation, especially when there’s a far more reliably leftist vice president waiting in the wings.

    Does Kamala have the 25th Amendment memorized yet?


  • At Reason, Jesse Walker writes: You Can’t Always Trust What You Hear Online, and Congress Has Some Ideas About Fixing That.

    The hearings had been underway for about an hour and 15 minutes when Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi piped up with an idea. "Are there ways," the Illinois Democrat asked, "that we might be able to infect…the QAnon conspiracy web with other ideas or stories that could sow confusion and discord and cause it collapse in on itself? In other words, kind of embed other crazy things that might pit groups against each other?"

    There was a brief pause. Then Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, offered an objection. Algorithmic recommendation systems "respond to that sort of excitement," she noted, and Krishnamoorthi's operation might just keep the QAnon conversation alive.

    It was October 15, and Donovan was one of four witnesses testifying via video call to the House Intelligence Committee. She was joined by Cindy Otis, a former CIA officer now based at the Alethea Group; by Melanie Smith, who works at the social media analytics firm Graphika; and by Nina Jankowicz, a Wilson Center analyst with the wonderful job title "disinformation fellow." The hearing was titled "Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, and 'Infodemics': Stopping the Spread Online," and much of it was given over to discussing what public regulators and private platforms should do about the dubious claims that circulate on social media.

    It was a Democrat-only meeting, with all sorts of ideas flying around about having the government develop tools to make sure only its version of "truth" makes it into the public square. What could go wrong?


  • I recently subscribed to Why Evolution is True, the blog of Jerry Coyne, a bio prof at the University of Chicago. Jerry's an atheist Democrat, and very outspoken about it. But he's also an old-fashioned non-woke liberal which makes him worth reading. Check out: The pushback against free speech begins.

    He looks at recent articles in "respectable" publications (the New York Times and the New Yorker) that openly wonder how we can get those objectionable views censored. Jerry notes that for all the bloviating about "hate speech", nobody's defined it very well.

    The term “hate speech,” too is slippery. If Holocaust Denial is hate speech, well, I don’t favor criminalizing or censoring it. People need to hear the arguments against the Holocaust, for how can you counter them (many sound quite convincing!) until you know what they are? Further, allowing “hate speech”, including stuff like praising Hitler, simply outs people who are bigots, letting you know where people stand. To ban such things implicitly assumes that Americans are stupid, and will be easily swayed by arguments that are false but sound good. And it drives the “hate” underground, but doesn’t do a thing to eliminate it. Free speech is what’s needed to get rid of bigotry, and was largely responsible for the decline of racism in America in the last 70 years.

    And if you think that people can’t be trusted to suss out the truth, or consider all ideas, then somebody has to appoint A DECIDER to work out what speech people can read and what speech they are too credulous to be exposed to. Do you want Mark Zuckerberg to do that? Indeed, Facebook’s standards for taking down posts, as the New Yorker shows, are so confused and contradictory that the company won’t even make them public.

    I'm open to the "Americans are stupid" argument. But you don't make them smarter by suppressing speech.

A Stranger in Town

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

This 1943 movie is a free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. Decent IMDB rating. I didn't care for it much.

Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself, plays SCOTUS justice John Josephus Grant. Who, as the court's session winds up, wants nothing more than to take off to the wilderness and shotgun some ducks. But before he can murder a single bird, he's waylaid by the local sheriff, who shakes him down for a town hunting license. It's clearly implied that this fee will not go to schools or road repair, but instead straight to the pockets of the town's ruling class. But when the cop asks for additional cash for his trouble, Grant draws the line and finds himself in jail.

He embarks on a project to rid the town of its corrupt political establishment, without revealing his Washington job. This involves his straitlaced secretary, who (despite her better judgment) gets involved with the inept-but-honest lawyer who's running for mayor against the crooks.

The acting is … not good.

For some reason, Amazon appends "Classic Hollywood Crime Movie" to the title. You'd expect at least some gunplay, maybe a murder or two. Unfortunately, it's just the ducks that get killed.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-19

[Amazon Link]

  • At the Daily Wire, Andrew Klavan writes on The Leftist War On Free Speech. And he does it poorly:

    This week’s flagrant election interference by Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook presents an even greater threat to free speech than it appears on the surface. The cyber-thugs who tried to kill a respected newspaper’s report on Joe Biden’s alleged influence peddling are only the sharp end of the spear of a far-sighted philosophical attack on the First Amendment. They’re not just trying to win an election. They’re trying to shut conservatives up for good.

    Before I get to that though, let’s first put aside this bogus argument that since Twitter and Facebook are private companies, they can do as they please. Our right to speak our minds is given to us by God. The First Amendment protects that God-given right from the feds, but private businesses are no more permitted to interfere with it than the feds are. Mark Zuckerberg may be richer than God. He may think he’s God. But he’s not. These platforms need to be re-regulated to make their censorship stop.

    Really, Andrew?

    How do you twist our freedom of speech into a demand that Facebook and Twitter run their businesses according to government decree? Which you assume will result in a platform more to your liking?

    What on earth makes you think that would be a good idea? Where in history has that ever worked out well?


  • Hey, kids, what time is it? According to Adam Thierer at the Technology Liberation Front, it's A Good Time to Re-Read Reagan’s Fairness Doctrine Veto.

    History has shown that the dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee.

    Gosh. You know who should read that, slowly and repeatedly? Andrew Klavan. More from Adam:

    That wisdom is just as applicable today when some conservatives suggest that government intervention is needed to address what they regardless as “bias” or “unfair” treatment on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or whatever else. Ignoring the fact that such meddling would likely violate property rights and freedom of contract — principles that most conservatives say they hold dear — efforts to empower the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, or other regulators would be hugely misguided on First Amendment grounds.

    I urge my fellow conservatives to stop drinking the regulatory Kool-Aid.


  • Kevin D. Williamson, writing in the New York Post, has a pretty good handle on a more pressing problem: Democrats are twisting the English language to suit their agenda. Example one:

    Democrats have been forthrightly pressing for a court-packing program in the event of a Joe Biden presidency and a Democrat-run Congress, making the case everywhere from the halls of power to the pages of The New York Times. But the term “court packing,” redolent of banana-republic shenanigans, isn’t playing well, and Biden has been discomfited by it.

    What “court packing” really means, Democrats insist, is what Republicans have been doing: filling judicial vacancies in the ordinary way. Republicans have not expanded the courts, proposed expanding the courts, purged sitting judges, or anything like that. As it turns out, the judges chosen by the Republican president’s Republican advisers and confirmed in the Republican Senate are more Republican-ish than not. That isn’t court packing — it is an illustration of Barack Obama’s maxim: “Elections have consequences.”

    Thus, what isn’t court packing is now “court packing.” And what shall we call actual court packing? Anything but court packing, of course.

    Dahlia Lithwick, the Democratic operative who poses as a legal reporter at Slate, calls the term “court packing” a “branding problem” and insists it should be “systemic structural court reform” instead.

    Other Democratic activists sent out talking points asking their media allies to characterize the Democratic effort to expand the benches for explicitly partisan reasons and thereby politicize the courts “depoliticizing the courts.” The language was immediately picked up by, among others, the Associated Press. And so court packing is not court packing, and politicizing the courts is depoliticizing the courts.

    The original coiner of "doublespeak", George Orwell, noted in his 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" that the word Fascism had "no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable'."

    True then, true today. Which unfortunately leaves us with no term we can use to describe actual Fascists.


  • Jonah Goldberg, in last week's G-File has a warning: When Politicians Talk Empathy, Be Suspicious.

    Elevating empathy to the exclusion of everything else is a form of populist demagoguery. Paul Bloom, in his excellent book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, writes "When some people think about empathy, they think about kindness. I think about war."

    When Hitler railed about the plight of Sudeten Germans, he was marshalling empathy. When Arab, Turkish, and Persian demagogues arouse popular passions for the Palestinians, they are using empathy to foment antipathy for Israelis.   

    The antonym of empathy is antipathy, but in the political context they are not simply opposites. One goes hand in hand with the other. Politicians and culture warriors use empathy to arouse antipathy. Conservatives felt empathy for the Covington High School kids, but that empathy was weaponized to stir up antipathy. The Democrats used pictures of secular martyrs to arouse empathy they hoped to translate into antipathy for Amy Coney Barrett. 

    And you can't turn on the TV these days without getting hit over the head with political ads telling you how empathetic the candidates are. Mrs. Salad is getting pretty tired of me holding pillows over my ears and screaming "Aaaagh, make it stop!"


  • And a recent Wired article by Yussef Cole put me in a too-familiar dilemma: whether to be disgusted or amused. It's titled The Hollow Nihilism of 'Call of Duty'. The subhed should have set up a big red flag: "The first-person shooter franchise has the potential to meaningfully grapple with American history, politics, and ethics. It misses the mark."

    Not just grapple. Meaningfully grapple.

    Well, it's tedious. This stuck out, though:

    After the conclusion of the Cold War, the massive military behemoth that President Reagan created to do his dirty work could no longer enjoy, as it long had, relative immunity from the free-market cuts and defundings that had hollowed out most other government programs during the same period.

    Get that? Remember, the "dirty work" to which Reagan was dedicated resulted in dialing down the probability of global thermonuclear war to near-zero. I'm pretty OK with that.

Duelling Headlines in Local Sunday Paper

After an astronomical price increase for our daily local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, we cut back to Sunday-only delivery. Two reasons:

  1. They reproduce the Sunday crossword puzzle from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, a week late. I like doing those.
  2. And there are clippable coupons. Might be able to save some money.

But sometimes I make the mistake of looking at other parts of the paper. My eyes rolled a bit at this headline on a page one story yesterday from the AP:

[Trump Fear]

But leafing over to page A5 provides a locally-reported story about our state's gubernatorial election and the Democratic candidate, Dan Feltes, challenging Governor Sununu. And the headline spread across the top of the page was:

[Feltes fear]

In other words: "If you don't vote for me, you're gonna get sick and maybe die." Yet the paper didn't feel obligated to point out the fear-mongering inherent in that message.

The Phony Campaign

2020-10-18 Update

Mr. Ramirez, if you please…

[Old Lefty]

Meanwhile, Biden promises that he'll take a deep dive into his own principles, fasting for forty days and forty nights in the desert, where he'll tempted by the ghost of Robert Bork, and then return with his decision on court packing.

Today's betting odds show an impressive improvement for President Bone Spurs, closing the probability gap with Sleepy Veep by a net 9.6 percentage points. Hey, I calculate if his odds continue to improve at this rate, he'll be back to 50-50 in 2.4 weeks!

Unfortunately, the election is 2.3 weeks away. And a lot of people have already voted. Never mind, I regret having done the calculation, let alone typed about it.

Trump (of course) has a strong advantage over Biden in phony hits currently leading by a 2.4-to-1 ratio:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
10/11
Phony
Results
Change
Since
10/11
Donald Trump 37.0% +4.7% 1,830,000 -630,000
Joe Biden 60.5% -4.9% 760,000 -69,000
Jo Jorgensen 0.0% unch 193,000 +141,600
Howie Hawkins 0.0% unch 92,900 +71,700

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • As of last Thursday, Eric Boehm was still permitted to write at Reason: Joe Biden Still Doesn’t Have a Coherent Answer About Court Packing. After detailing Joe's squirmy answer to George Stephanopoulos at his "town hall" appearance…

    As Reason's Jacob Sullum noted earlier this week, Biden's sudden reticence to criticize court packing is an alarming development. The former vice president has a long track record of shunning the idea—and for good reason, since it remains pretty unpopular with voters more than eight decades after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt last pushed it. If Biden has changed his opinion on this topic, voters deserve to know. If he hasn't, why can't he just say so?

    It's pretty obvious that Biden is making a calculated political maneuver here. If he comes out in favor of court packing, he risks handing Republicans a new campaign issue at a time when he's just trying to run out the clock with a significant lead in the polls. If he says he's against court packing, he trades away leverage that he could use after he's elected. But refusing to commit one way or the other is disrespectful to the people whose support Biden is seeking.

    Eric notes, as do I, that people are already voting. Absent a clear answer on this issue. I suppose that's on them.


  • So Obama had his "if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it" whopper. But let's be proactive and look (with the WSJ editorialists) at Biden’s Tax Whopper.

    Joe Biden got a pass from the media for the myriad whoppers he told about his policies in Thursday night’s town hall. But one that we can’t let slide was his claim that he only intends to make people earning more than $400,000 “pay what they did in the Bush Administration—39.6%.”

    Where to begin? The Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 cut the top individual tax rate to 35% from 39.6%. A 2012 deal between the Obama Administration and House Republicans extended the Bush tax cuts for the middle class while returning the top rate to 39.6% for those earning more than $400,000, plus the 0.9% Medicare surtax imposed by ObamaCare.

    The Tax Foundation provides a detailed list of Biden's current tax proposals.


  • I'm not sure if P. J. O'Rourke means to reassure us with his current American Consequences essay: It Doesn't Matter Who Wins.

    Our ship of state is an old-fashioned square-rigged treasure galleon, but with a crew of 16 million. That’s the number of people employed by America’s federal, state, and local governments. This makes for a vessel three times the size of Norway (population 5,375,000). We the people put the wind in the sails, or at least we blow a lot of hot air at them. But the ship itself remains as hard to launch, maneuver, turn around, or dock as Scandinavia… especially since there’s no one steering.

    Of course, in theory, there’s a captain – the president. But that’s just one of the helmsmen. There are also 435 congressmen, 100 senators, and nine Supreme Court justices with their hands on the wheel.

    Let’s assume that this gang of jack-tars trying to steer all agree on which direction the boat should go. (That has never happened but, for fun, let’s say it does.) Trump gets reelected, holds the Senate, and retakes the House – “Right full rudder!” Or Biden wins, keeps the House, takes the Senate, and the ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsburg comes to Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas in their dreams and convinces them to join People For the American Way – “Left full rudder!”

    But somebody still has to go around convincing the ship of state’s 16 million crew members – busy battening hatches, furling mainsails, weighing anchors, shivering timbers, and whatever else it is that sailors do on sailboats – to get with the program and make sure something happens with the steering gear. Trump hasn’t had much luck in the past four years. And Biden strikes me as being about as effective as The Skipper, captain of the S.S. Minnow on Gilligan’s Island.

    Let me check… no, not reassured.


  • Well someone had to try, I suppose. At NH Journal, D. Dowd Muska attempts to make The Libertarian Case for Donald Trump.

    Fair warning: A man is about to be damned with faint praise.

    But these are extraordinary times, and perhaps “all things considered, the other guy’s worse” is a profound compliment. That’s why this libertarian is voting for Donald J. Trump, and recommending that my fellow opponents of the welfare-warfare state do the same.

    Stay with me on this. We’re going to focus on three areas of vital importance to the limited-government cause where the president is unquestionably preferable to Joe Biden: foreign policy, regulation and judges. Taken together, they make a convincing case for reelection.

    Muska aims his argument specifically at swing-state residents, because … well, I'm not sure why that makes a difference.

    Back in 2016, the Clinton/Trump race was a squeaker in New Hampshire. Ignoring write-ins:

    Candidate Votes Percent
    Hillary Clinton 348,526 46.8263%
    Donald Trump 345,790 46.4587%
    Gary Johnson 30,777 4.1350%
    Jill Stein 6,496 0.8728%

    Total votes cast (including write-ins): 744,296

    I "wasted" my vote on Gary Johnson. Had I voted for Trump instead, his percentage would have skyrocketed from 46.4587% to … 46.4588%. And he still would have lost.

    So: sorry. Mr. Muska. A real "wasted" vote is one for a candidate you only despise slightly less than the other.


  • That's not to say that Jo Jorgensen is flawless, as reported by Reason's Matt Welch.

    As the Libertarian Party has established itself as the most electorally successful third party in the United States, voters have grown accustomed to the group's radical messaging against taxation, prohibition and war. One of the party's top 10 presidential primary finishers in 2020, after all, had his name legally changed to "Taxation Is Theft."

    Less broadly known, though on full display in a streamed interview I conducted last night with presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen, is the party's antipathy toward international institutions, pandemic restrictions, and vaccine mandates.

    Jorgensen last night volunteered the latter as an example of the type of "personal decision" best left to individuals, rather than determined via the political process. So I asked her whether, philosophically, she considered it wise for public schools to require children be vaccinated as a condition for enrollment.

    "I think it is immoral," she responded. Then, after noting that she personally has chosen to vaccinate her family, Jorgensen contrasted vaccination policy with the types of prohibitions Libertarians have long opposed—on drugs, gambling, vaping, consensual sex transactions, and so on.

    Whoa, she went there.

    I'm actually sympathetic. And she didn't dodge the question. For example she could have (accurately) pointed out that states decide their vaccination requirements; the President has no authority over that issue.

    But, yeah, the real culprit here is compulsory attendance laws. Let schools decide what their vaccination requirements are, and if you don't like 'em, don't send your kid there.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-17

  • Drew Cline backs up yesterday's point about the "Live Free or Die" state. N.H. is running out of places for our families, friends & coworkers to live.

    The No. 1 reason people move to or stay in New Hampshire is not jobs or low taxes or the environment. It’s family, according to University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll results summarized in the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority's October Housing Market Report

    New Hampshire’s strong economy gives our extended family members plenty of options for employment should they decide to stay or return home. Maintaining a vibrant economy is a way of keeping our families connected and close. But the other essential part of this equation is missing — where are they going to live? 

    The coronavirus pandemic has made New Hampshire’s acute housing shortage even worse, data from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHFA) show. 

    I'm probably arguing against interest here, since I'm living in one of those insanely valuable houses that people are desperate for.


  • Some of my fellow conservatives are cheering for the FCC's latest move to interpret "Section 230" in order to bend Big Tech to its will. Goodness, what a bad idea; after "net neutrality" was successfully killed off, now they want to do some even stupider regulation? But as the folks at TechFreedom point out, even if you don't hold a general antipathy to ham-fisted state regulation, there's a practical problem: the FCC Has No Authority to Issue Section 230 Rules.

    Section 230 is the law that made today’s Internet possible. The law has allowed websites to host content created by users without, as the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA), warned in 1995, “spending vast sums of money trying to define elusive terms that are going to lead to a flood of legal challenges.” Without the broad protections of 230(c)(1) in particular, websites would face “death by ten thousand duck-bites” in the form of massive litigation risks.

    When a Democratic FCC Chairman pushed neutrality regulations at the behest of President Obama, Ajit Pai said: “We shouldn’t be a rubber stamp for political decisions made by the White House.” Now Pai’s doing essentially what he lambasted Tom Wheeler for: proposing sweeping “neutrality” rules at a President’s behest based on unprecedented claims of legal authority to regulate Internet services. Only now, “neutrality” isn’t just rhetoric used to excite the base. Republicans are trying to coerce social media companies to change how they exercise their First Amendment rights to gain advantage just weeks before the election. Having been among Pai’s strongest supporters in 2015, we could not be more disappointed.

    I'm sad that Pai's a hypocrite on this issue.


  • To quote (I'm sure) someone: George Orwell intended 1984 to be a warning, not an instruction manual. Jonah Goldberg at the Dispatch: The Left Is Twisting the Meaning of ‘Originalism’.

    Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, is an “originalist.” Given that originalism is a term coined by lawyers, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are many different flavors of originalism. But, as Barrett explained in her confirmation hearings, they all share the basic idea that the meaning of the Constitution can be found in the Constitution. 

    “So in English,” she explained, “that means that I interpret the Constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time. And it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.”

    I don’t understand why this should be a difficult concept to understand. And yet for some people, it remains not only incomprehensible but utterly contemptible.

    Dan Rather, who for decades at CBS News cast himself as a neutral reporter of facts, declared on Twitter the other day: “If you want to be an ‘originalist’ in law, maybe you should go all the way. Cooking on a hearth. Leeches for medicine. An old mule for transportation. Or maybe you can recognize that the world changes.”

    Dan Rather… well, he's 88. If I make it to that age, I'll probably be making transparently idiotic arguments too. Maybe someone will set up an Internet simulator for me by then, so I'll be deluded into thinking I'm sharing them with the world. Too bad nobody did that for Dan.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith calls a spade a spade, and a clown a clown: Amy Coney Barrett & Supreme Court: Democrats Failed Attacks.

    This week it was A. C. B. versus I.C.P.: Insane Clown Posse. Poised, graceful, unflappable, unbeatable, Judge Amy Coney Barrett sat patiently as one idiotic question after another was flung in her general direction, each time by a Democrat convinced he or she had come up with a “Gotcha!” for the ages. Pat Leahy (I.C.P., Vt.) asked whether a president must obey a court order. As though explaining this to a toddler, Barrett replied, “The Supreme Court can’t control what the president obeys.” Mazie Hirono (I.C.P., Hawaii) asked whether Barrett had ever sexually assaulted anyone and scolded the judge for using the term “sexual preference,” which has just this week been declared offensive by I.C.P. fans but had previously been used by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joe Biden, and many other members and allies of the I.C.P. movement. Cory Booker (I.C.P., N.J.) asked whether Barrett condemned white supremacy, and when she said yes, he said he wished the president would say that, although the president already has said that, and Booker’s wishes are none of the Supreme Court’s business anyway, unless he wishes the high Court to apply the Constitution, which seems unlikely.

    Hey, kids! Did you know “climate change” is in the U.S. Constitution? It’s right there in Article VIII, Section 4, right after VIII.3, “White Trousers After Labor Day, Wearing Of” (punishable by life imprisonment without parole, unless you live in Miami) but before VIII.5, “How Long You Are Legally Required to Wait Before Honking Your Horn at the Guy in Front of You Who Didn’t Move When the Light Turned Green” (three seconds, except in New York City, where it’s one-tenth of a second).

    Goodness knows (for the 5672th time): I'm no Trump fan, and I don't plan on voting for him. But the ACB nomination goes in his plus column. And thanks to Democrats for reminding me why they deserve to lose too.


  • David Harsanyi's syndicated column at the Daily Signal: Twitter's Censorship of the New York Post Is Un-American. (I'm not a big fan of the "un-American" label, but it doesn't appear in Harsanyi's column, just the headline.)

    Less than three weeks from a presidential election, perhaps the most vital platform for political news and debate, Twitter, has locked down the accounts of a presidential candidate’s press secretary and of his official campaign, among others, at the behest of activists pretending to be journalists.

    This is unsurprising to anyone who has been paying attention. The press has spent four years pressuring social media outlets to censor speech and limit access with scaremongering over the alleged nefarious influence of foreign accounts, “fake news,” and hate speech—all of which are preferable to authoritarian technocrats shutting down open discourse. Well, at least until such time that people lose their agency and free will.

    Ah, remember when the Obama/Biden Administration used the IRS as a political weapon against conservative groups. Good news, everyone! The Biden/Harris Administration won't need to do that, because their allies in Big Tech will do that for them.


  • The Google LFOD News Alert rang for a Forbes article headlined How Nia Miranda Inspired A New Song By Skrillex, Ty Dolla $ign And Ant Clemons.

    I think that's four people total. I think I may have previously heard of one: Skrillex. And I probably only remember his name because it sounds like a 60's Marvel Comics villain. But I can't help but think Nia's got her head on straight here:

    “It is never okay to commit a crime in our honor,” Nia Miranda says in her now-famous viral video. The actor stops two women who are defacing a Los Angeles coffee shop, telling them, “We, the black community, will be targeted for it. This is a 400-year battle we are fighting. And if you can’t adhere to how we need your help, then stay home.”

    But LFOD? From the interview:

    Does it ever scare you to be an activist in this day and age? 

    I’m not scared. I grew up on the east side of Detroit. People say, ‘If you can make it out of Detroit, you can make it anywhere.’ I've tested those waters; I've traveled a few places, and I've seen it to be true. My whole mission right now is to live free or die trying. I mean, what is life if you're not free?

    Probably Nia has some positions I would find objectionable, but I can't help but give her a thumbs up here.

Gemini Man

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

Have I mentioned that we're kind of getting desperate for TV-watching content here at Pun Salad Manor? Probably. Our latest desperate move was this free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. Usually included on people's "Box Office Bombs" lists for 2019. And a mediocre IMDB rating. But it was OK. Not great, but I didn't come away with a sad feeling that I'd wasted my time.

Maybe I'm getting more tolerant as I approach my eighth decade? Nah.

Will Smith plays Henry, a good-guy assassin for the US government, basically using his mad sniper skillz against whomever he's directed by his superiors. But he feels those skills—which are still mad, mind you—are in decline. And it's only a matter of time before he shoots some cute-kid innocent bystander. So he puts in his retirement papers.

Now the immutable rules about these retired-assassin movies dictate that (at least some of) his former superiors are gonna prefer Henry dead. Henry, feelers up, notices that the cute dockworker (Mary! Elizabeth! Winstead!) is probably doing undercover surveillance on him. Correct. And soon the hitters show up.

The trick here is that one of the assassins sent out to bag Henry is his much-younger clone, raised from birth by the primary bad guy, Clive Owen. (Thanks to CGI magic, the clone looks much like Men in Black-era Will Smith.) Giving rise to amazement and angst from both Original Henry and Clone Henry.

But otherwise, it's pretty normal. Directed by Ang Lee, good acting from all involved, some spectacular action scenes, imaginative settings.

And, of course, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She looks cute, and about twice as smart as anyone else on the screen. Wonder who she's voting for?… Jo Jorgenson, right Mary?

URLs du Jour

2020-10-16

[Amazon Link]

  • Haven't heard much from Bari Weiss since she was bullied out of the New York Times. But she has a recent article at Tablet; she's speaking to her fellow Jews, but everyone needs to hear it: Stop Being Shocked.

    I share with the majority of American Jews’ disgust toward Trump and Trumpism, which has normalized bigotry and cruelty in ways that have crippled American society. That truth doesn’t detract from another: There is another danger, this one from the left. And unlike Trump, this one has attained cultural dominance, capturing America's elites and our most powerful institutions. In the event of a Biden victory, it is hard to imagine it meeting resistance. So let me make my purpose perfectly clear: I am here to ring the alarm. I’m here to say: Do not be shocked anymore. Stop saying, can you believe. It’s time to accept reality, if we want to have any hope of fixing it.

    I'll make the usual implicit read-the-whole-thing recommendation: really, read the whole thing.

    My own litmus test for cultural dominance: the "Racial Justice Resources" page from the University Near Here. It is dominated by Critical Race theorists with (as near as I can tell) not a single advocate of old-fashioned liberal values.


  • Another example of how "cultural dominance" means that alternate views get squelched: Amazon Cancels Shelby Steele (WSJ, probably paywalled).

    As a documentary, “What Killed Michael Brown?” has everything going for it. Its subject is timely, about the pre-George Floyd killing of Michael Brown by a police officer that set off riots in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

    It’s written and narrated by Shelby Steele, the prominent African-American scholar at the Hoover Institution, and directed by his filmmaker son, Eli Steele. Its subject—race relations—is a major fault line in this year’s presidential election, one reason the Steeles scheduled their film for release on Oct. 16. Our columnist Jason Rileywrote about the film on Wednesday.

    One problem: “What Killed Michael Brown?” doesn’t fit the dominant narrative of white police officers killing young black men because of systemic racism. As a result, says the younger Mr. Steele, Amazon rejected it for its streaming service. “We were canceled, plain and simple.”

    The film's website is here.


  • At National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke notes another symptom of Bari's thesis: The Censors Will Never Give Up.

    In the New York Times, Emily Bazelon reminds us once again that an enormous number of journalists, law professors, and other academics simply cannot be trusted to defend the First Amendment — and, in fact, that they spend an increasing amount of time coming up with what they believe are new arguments for censorship. In a key paragraph, Bazelon writes that:

    It’s an article of faith in the United States that more speech is better and that the government should regulate it as little as possible. But increasingly, scholars of constitutional law, as well as social scientists, are beginning to question the way we have come to think about the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. They think our formulations are simplistic — and especially inadequate for our era.

    In addition:

    These scholars argue something that may seem unsettling to Americans: that perhaps our way of thinking about free speech is not the best way. At the very least, we should understand that it isn’t the only way. Other democracies, in Europe and elsewhere, have taken a different approach. Despite more regulations on speech, these countries remain democratic

    There is nothing novel about the arguments presented in Bazelon’s piece. Indeed, they are exactly the same arguments that have always been made by people who would like to be more powerful than they are. And we are by no means obligated to buy into her euphemisms. When Bazelon writes that “democracies, in Europe and elsewhere, have taken a different approach,” or that the “principle of free speech has a different shape and meaning in Europe,” she means that governments in Europe use violence to prevent people from saying things that they don’t want them to say. When she refers to “regulations on speech” she means “censorship enforced by the police.” When she observes that “some liberals have lost patience with rehashing debates about ideas they find toxic,” she means that those people have abandoned freedom of expression both legally and culturally, and, having privately decided what is true and what is false, have decided to ruin the lives of anyone who dissents. When she proposes that “our formulations are simplistic,” she means that people cannot be trusted with the unalienable liberties they inherited, so experts must step into the breach. When she waxes lyrical about the mid-20th century arrangement, during which “broadcasters were held to a standard of public trusteeship, in which the right to use the airwaves came with a mandate to provide for democratic discourse,” she means that she would like the government to decide which broadcasts counted as a “public service” and that the public would be better off if given a “choice” between three different versions of the same thing. When she suggests “our way of thinking about free speech is not the best way” she means that we should tear up the First Amendment. She can put it how she likes; the answer is No.

    That's an unusually long excerpt. Hope Charles forgives me.


  • A brief ray of sunshine from Cato, its updated version of Freedom in the 50 States. I'll just embed their map:

    That's us, number two in the nation, right behind Florida! But we could be doing so much better. Skipping to the bad news:

    New Hampshire’s regulatory outlook is not so sunny. Its primary sin is exclusionary zoning. It is generally agreed that the Granite State is one of the four worst states in the country for residential building restrictions. Part of the problem might be the absence of a regulatory taking law. However, the eminent domain law is strong. On labor-market freedom, New Hampshire is below average primarily because of the absence of a right-to-work law and of any exceptions to the workers’ compensation mandate. New Hampshire has no state-level minimum wage. Health insurance mandates are low, but the state mandates direct access to specialists, hobbling managed care. A telecommunications deregulation bill was passed in 2011–12, but the state has not yet adopted statewide video franchising. The state is above average on occupational freedom solely because the health professions enjoy broad scope of practice; the extent of licensing grew significantly during the 2000s—and more recently in 2016—and the state is now worse than average on most indicators of licensing extent. Insurance freedom is generally better than average, except for some rate classification prohibitions. The hospital certificate-of-need law was abolished in 2011–12, but that only became effective in 2016. Household goods movers are still licensed. There are no price-gouging or sales-below-cost laws. New Hampshire is one of the least cronyist states. The state’s civil liability system is far above the national average; punitive damages were abolished long ago.

    Hopefully, we'll get more libertarian-leaning legislators in November.


  • [Amazon Link]
    But not too libertarian, as the left-statists keep warning us: a review (which rang our Google LFOD News Alert) in the New Republic of a book I've mentioned before: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear. It's about the attempted takeover of Grafton, NH. I haven't read it yet, but I will, Amazon link on your right: The Town That Went Feral.

    “In a country known for fussy states with streaks of independence,” [author] Hongoltz-Hetling observes, “New Hampshire is among the fussiest and the streakiest.” New Hampshire is, after all, the Live Free or Die state, imposing neither an income nor a sales tax, and boasting, among other things, the highest per capita rate of machine gun ownership. In the case of Grafton, the history of Living Free—so to speak—has deep roots. The town’s Colonial-era settlers started out by ignoring “centuries of traditional Abenaki law by purchasing land from founding father John Hancock and other speculators.” Next, they ran off Royalist law enforcement, come to collect lumber for the king, and soon discovered their most enduring pursuit: the avoidance of taxes. As early as 1777, Grafton’s citizens were asking their government to be spared taxes and, when they were not, just stopped paying them.

    Grafton is a mere 80 miles, mostly up US Route 4, from us. I must have been through there at least a couple of times when I visited the Dartmouth area. Didn't notice all the tommy guns though.


  • And here's News You Probably Can't Use from (arguably) the best Federal Government agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology: NIST Pair of Aluminum Atomic Clocks Reveal Einstein's Relativity at a Personal Scale.

    Scientists have known for decades that time passes faster at higher elevations—a curious aspect of Einstein's theories of relativity that previously has been measured by comparing clocks on the Earth's surface and a high-flying rocket.

    Now, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have measured this effect at a more down-to-earth scale of 33 centimeters, or about 1 foot, demonstrating, for instance, that you age faster when you stand a couple of steps higher on a staircase.

    Described in the Sept. 24 issue of Science,* the difference is much too small for humans to perceive directly—adding up to approximately 90 billionths of a second over a 79-year lifetime—but may provide practical applications in geophysics and other fields.

    I was going to make a small joke about why you should stay at low elevations so you'll live longer. But, yeah, physics major here, I know it doesn't work like that.


Last Modified 2020-10-16 2:21 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-10-15

  • I don't always laugh out loud at online cartoons, but this one I did. Our Eye Candy du Jour is from xkcd: Dialect Quiz.

    [Dialect Quiz]

    Mouseover: "Do you make a distinction between shallots, scallops, and scallions? If you use all three words, do they all have different meanings, all the same, or are two the same and one different?"


  • Some find this amusing, I can't manage to do so: Webster's Redefined 'Sexual Preference' After Amy Coney Barrett Used It To Match Leftist Talking Points.

    The online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary changed the definition of “sexual preference” on the same day that senators scolded Judge Amy Coney Barrett for her use of the word during day two of her confirmation hearings.

    When questioned by Democratic senators on the judiciary committee on Obergefell v. Hodges, which decreed a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, Sens. Mazie Hirono and Cory Booker reprimanded Barrett for using the term “sexual preference,” claiming that is was outdated and offensive.

    Left as a comment on one of the National Review pieces about this: "You went full Orwell, Merriam-Webster, never go full Orwell."

    As for the "leftist talking points", Patterico has examples of this herd of independent minds. Bottom line:

    Anyway, this faux-outrage is about as stupid as Lindsey Graham trying to make a joke about segregation. Just stop. People really should take more time to think, and then carefully consider whether opening their big yap is in anyone’s best interest but their own.

    Note: the outrage here at Pun Salad is the real thing.


  • Ann Althouse puts paid to The notion that Twitter's the place to go to see what's happening. That's been, as she says, destroyed by Twitter itself, in its effort to suppress the New York Post's stories about Hunter Biden. She provides a number of reactions, including…

    I continue to think that Twitter, Facebook, et. al. should be free from government interference. If they want to set themselves up as a bubble where no contrary thoughts from the Real World™ are allowed to intrude, that's—literally—their business.

    But I think they are shooting themselves in the tootsies.


  • At NH Journal, Michael Graham questions whether our state's senior senator is as brave as she pretends: Would Shaheen Really Stand Up to Schumer Over Court Packing?.

    During a press call on Monday, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Corky Messner accused incumbent Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of being dishonest about her position on court packing. He also accused her of being more loyal to the national Democratic Party than to the people for New Hampshire.

    Over the weekend, Shaheen said: “I don’t support packing the court, although I have to say I think that’s exactly what [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump have done.”

    Asked by NHJournal if Shaheen was right that by filling court vacancies, McConnell and Trump are “packing the court,” as Shaheen claimed, Messner, an attorney, gave a lawyerly answer:

    “It’s common knowledge that court-packing is the idea that you add to the number of justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court. That is to say, there are currently nine justices on the Supreme Court and court-packing is when you would increase the number of justices,” Messner said.

    “The latest Democrat talking point that President Trump and the Republican Senate, by confirming Amy Coney Barrett, would be some kind of court-packing is pure propaganda. It’s trying to take the issue of court-packing and turn it on its head.”

    Corky, I'm pretty sure, is going to lose handily.


  • And the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has yet another example of higher-ed hijinx: Richard Taylor, thought criminal.

    Last week, FIRE sent an urgent letter to St. John’s University, calling on them to rescind a finding that professor and graduate student Richard Taylor had violated the school’s “Bias, Discrimination, and Harassment” policy by asking a question in an introductory history class. The class was on the biological impact of transatlantic trade, and the question, in the last slide of his presentation: “Do the positives justify the negatives?” 

    You might well be wondering how asking that question could create a bias incident. I’m not sure, because the school hasn’t explained its reasoning. But if I had to guess, I assume the trail of breadcrumbs goes something like this: Enslaved people were treated like commodities in transatlantic trade; therefore, a thought exercise debating the outcomes of historical choices amounts to asking students to justify the practice of slavery. And because that topic is painful, the question re-traumatizes the descendants of the victims of slavery. 

    The message is clear: don't ask provocative questions in class, unless pre-approved by your ideological masters.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-14

[Amazon Link]

  • My favorite science popularizer, Sabine Hossenfelder, provides a video and a transcript explaining: You don’t have free will, but don’t worry.

    Today I want to talk about an issue that must have occurred to everyone who spent some time thinking about physics. Which is that the idea of free will is both incompatible with the laws of nature and entirely meaningless. I know that a lot of people just do not want to believe this. But I think you are here to hear what the science says. So, I will tell you what the science says. In this video I first explain why free will does not exist, indeed makes no sense, and then tell you why there are better things to worry about.

    I was going to do an old-style fisking of Sabine's post, but let me just debunk the bit about "science says". Caltech's Sean Carroll has as much right to speak for "science" as does Sabine, and you can read his take (from 2011) on the issue here: Free Will Is as Real as Baseball.

    Sabine has (in the past) discussed Sean's take. So she really knows better than to (now) claim "science" has definitively put a thumbs-down on free will.

    Those interested in the issue might also check out the reaction of Jerry Coyne to Sabine's post. He's also an anti-free willer.

    Fine. As near as I can tell, this debate has been going on for centuries. And people might be convinced one way or the other, but I'm not sure anyone has let their views affect how they actually behave in day-to-day life. Evidence is weighed, desires and values consulted, personal decisions get made. (Yes, I'll have the scallops.)

    I'm a free will fan, but it's pretty clear that informed opinion is divided. Note (however) there's a telling lack of "science" involved here. Neither Sabine, Sean, nor Jerry do the science thing: propose an experiment or describe possible observations that would settle the question one way or the other. A good scientist should have a ready answer to the question: what sort of data would make you change your mind on that?

    I'm not holding my breath there. I'm assuming the silence means nobody can think of a way to resolve the issue scientifically.

    I suppose that could happen at some point. But until then, I'll have to go with lived experience. And either actually choose what shirt to wear today, or have the illusion that I'm doing so.


  • At Reason, J.D. Tuccille has the bad news: German-Style Internet Censorship Catches On Around the World. Skipping down to us in the USA:

    The U.S. faces its own speech- and privacy-threatening legislation in the form of the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020. The legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last month, invokes children and the dangers of child pornography on its way to threatening platforms with the loss of Section 230 protection against liability for content posted by users if they don't adopt government-dictated "best practices."

    "The EARN IT bill would allow small website owners to be sued or prosecuted under state laws, as long as the prosecution or lawsuit somehow related to crimes against children," warns the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We know how websites will react to this. Once they face prosecution or lawsuits based on other peoples' speech, they'll monitor their users, and censor or shut down discussion forums."

    The legislation was introduced on the Senate side back in March. Like most bad legislative ideas, the supporters are bipartisan.


  • At AIER, Jenin Younes wants you to know something about "lockdowners". Which is: Lockdowners Speak with Privilege, and Contempt for the Poor and Working Class. Specifically, Jenin is not a fan of one particular critic of the lockdown-skeptical Great Barrington Declaration:

    Ironically, it is the Declaration’s most prominent critics, rather than its authors, who are politically motivated. Not least among them is Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale epidemiologist who has emerged as one of the most vocal and qualified detractors of the Declaration, which he has, in nuanced fashion, dubbed “bullshit” and “bad science.”

    Gonsalves’s writings and social media posts over the past six months make his agenda plain. In April, Gonsalves co-authored an editorial in the British Medical Journal blaming President Trump for the pandemic and the deleterious effects of countermeasures effectuated in response to it. According to Gonsalves, the President’s “most dangerous act” was to support the

    mass public protests by his supporters to “liberate” states from their stay-at-home orders, specifically targeting states with Democratic governors . . . By encouraging armed insurrection, said Washington state governor Jay Inslee, Trump is “putting millions of people in danger of contracting covid-19. His unhinged rantings and calls for people to ‘liberate’ states could also lead to violence.”

    I would suspect Gonsalves is also less than enamored with our "Live Free or Die" motto. Let's see… yup.

    Someone should tell Gregg that "live free and die" gibe was already lame and tired back in March.


  • We're still celebrating the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman's essay "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits". Andy Kessler in the WSJ agrees: To Serve the Public, Seek Profits. Something not appreciated enough:

    No, profits aren’t greedy. They are a critical price signal—a measure of how well a company is deploying capital and creating value for society. The stock market sums all expected future profits, funding companies with great profit prospects and starving unworthy ones. But besides owning shares in those companies, what’s in it for us?

    A lot. In a 2005 paper, Yale economist William Nordhaus concludes, “Only a minuscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers.” This is what Friedman was saying implicitly when he called for corporations to maximize profits: It would maximize value to society at large.

    Mr. Nordhaus quantified that value in a 2006 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research: “Innovators were able to capture about 4 percent of the total social surplus from innovation.” The social surplus Mr. Nordhaus identifies is the improvements capitalism brings to common living standards. That is societal wealth. Yes, entrepreneurs and innovators generate wealth for themselves, but not as much as they do for society. If that’s not socially responsible, I don’t know what is. Mr. Nordhaus should have won his Nobel for this, but it was his work on “integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis” that caught the committee’s eye in 2018. Sigh.

    The flip side is that for every dollar government removes from profitable uses through taxes or regulation, it theoretically takes 25 times that amount from compounding social wealth. Each lost dollar reduces investment and potential productivity, and instead goes to whoever public policies favor. Same for environmental, social and governance investing, where distortions diminish returns, just as federal car mileage standards and union overpay destroyed Detroit.

    I've said this in the past: there is not a single dollar in private hands that statist politicians do not imagine they could spend more wisely and humanely. Oh, sure: they'll probably let you keep some of yours. But that's not due to any lofty principle. The only rule is: if they think government "needs" it, and they can politically get away with it, they'll take it.


  • [Amazon Link]
    I recently read a book titled Science Fictions by Stuart Ritchie (Amazon link at right.) So did Matt Ridley, and he updates Ritchie's observations with recent events: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us About Science.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has stretched the bond between the public and the scientific profession as never before. Scientists have been revealed to be neither omniscient demigods whose opinions automatically outweigh all political disagreement, nor unscrupulous fraudsters pursuing a political agenda under a cloak of impartiality. Somewhere between the two lies the truth: Science is a flawed and all too human affair, but it can generate timeless truths, and reliable practical guidance, in a way that other approaches cannot.

    In a lecture at Cornell University in 1964, the physicist Richard Feynman defined the scientific method. First, you guess, he said, to a ripple of laughter. Then you compute the consequences of your guess. Then you compare those consequences with the evidence from observations or experiments. “If [your guess] disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make a difference how beautiful the guess is, how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is…it’s wrong.”

    That nicely dovetails with the first item up there, doesn't it?

URLs du Jour

2020-10-13

  • I loved this Katherine Mangu-Ward editorial when I read it in print Reason, and it's now out from behind the subscriber wall for all you deadbeats: Why Can’t They Both Lose?

    They say if you don't vote you can't complain. They're wrong. Complaining is prior to voting. It is deeper and more powerful than voting. It is the original act of politics. Before there was democracy, there was sitting around the campfire complaining about the way the headman allocated the shares of mastodon meat. Bellyaching about the boss is more than a political right. It is a human right.

    And so, in Reason's 2020 election issue, we are here to complain. The candidates from the major parties are subpar. They display troubling authoritarian tendencies. Their records in office—one long, one short—are underwhelming and frequently self-contradictory. Their actions consistently fail to match their rhetoric. If they agree on one thing, it is that they have the right, and perhaps even the obligation, to tell you what to do in the bedroom and in the boardroom, in the streets and in the sheets. If they agree on a second thing, it is the necessity of spending ever-larger sums of taxed and borrowed money in pursuit of ever-vaguer goals. They helm parties that are similarly compromised and hypocritical.

    I, for one, plan to both vote and complain.

    Reason has no dog in this fight. They also have no interest or intention of telling you what to do, votewise. Which makes them relatively trustworthy in their analyses.


  • P. J. O'Rourke at American Consequences urges: Keep IN the vote. It's about America's lackluster voter turnout. One theory:

    Or maybe Americans are self-selecting… 50% of people are below average intelligence – a mathematical fact. But, as Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Or, in this case, as stupid doesn’t, like by not voting.

    I’m not saying that stupid people shouldn’t have a say in how the country is run. A lot of what the government does is stupid… So we need stupid input. However, there’s such a thing as a wise fool. And some of us stupid people are going, “I’m dumb as a box of rocks. I don’t know how much a whole mess of nines are. Maybe I’d better stay home and watch SpongeBob SquarePants and let the eggheads and the brainiacs figure out if Squidward or Patrick the Starfish oughta be in the White House.”

    This is a noble sacrifice on the part of the stupid and we should be recognized for it. Smart people are often too smart for their own good. And never more so than in their failure to propose a vote of gratitude to voters who don’t vote… thereby letting the smart alecks elect the president. (And over the past 100 years, we’ve had a number of presidents that prove smart people are too smart for their own good. I’ll let the readers name those presidents’ names.) Anyway, stupid non-voters should be rewarded, given maybe $50 or at least a six-pack.

    Intelligence correlates poorly with intelligent voting.


  • At AIER, Joakim Book has general thoughts about The Obsession with Funders, brought on by some of the reactions to the Great Barrington Declaration urging big adjustments to lockdown policies.

    One of many flaws in today’s scientific and political discussion is the emphasis of money. Campaign donations in politics, funding declarations for scientists in academia, concern about from where an NGO receives its donations. It’s as if money rules the roost, that “money makes the world go ‘round.’”

    It doesn’t in politics, it doesn’t in career choices, and it doesn’t in academia. It’s widely believed that politicians and scientists are up for sale, that waving a stack of money before their incredulous eyes can have them produce whatever policy, opinion, or scientific result required.

    One of the first objections raised when we’re presented with factual claims we don’t like is to dispute the source. It’s not a “reputable” publication, we say, not a “serious” scientist – and (s)he’s anyway in the pocket of some rich, evil, anti-human person or industry we disapprove of. 

    'Struth. Now, sometimes questioning the source is the right thing to do. For example, if someone cites a report from Russia Today, … well, they at least should be asked if they can get the same information from somewhere more reputable. But if it's your go-to move by default, you might want to readjust your filters.


  • Heavily excerpting Book's article is Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux: The Absurdity of Ad Hominem. He has additional thoughts:

    One especially comical feature of the accusation that AIER’s opposition to covid lockdowns springs from a 2018 contribution that AIER received from the Koch Foundation is that Tyler Cowen and the Mercatus Center this past Spring awarded funds to Imperial College modeler Neil Ferguson. The reason for this grant of funds was Tyler’s admiration of the fact that Dr. Ferguson’s model served as the spark for massive lockdowns in the U.K. and the U.S. But here’s the thing: Until last year, Charles Koch served on the board of Mercatus and has been, and continues to be, a contributor. Clearly, if the Koch Foundation is buying opposition to covid lockdowns, it’s doing a poor job!

    For some reason the Kochtopus keeps failing to send big checks to Pun Salad. Folks, if you need my address…


  • Cato gives my state some attention: New Hampshire’s Fiscal Advantages.

    New Hampshire has one of the most restrained governments in the nation. The state’s relatively small government is unique in the Northeast.

    Less government means more freedom for New Hampshire residents. In Cato’s Freedom in the 50 States report, which assesses economic and social freedoms, New Hampshire is ranked #2, while Massachusetts is #23, Maine is #39, Vermont is #46, and New York is #50.

    New Hampshire has the fifth lowest state and local tax burden in the nation as a percent of income. By this measure, New Hampshire taxes are 14 percent lower than Massachusetts, 27 percent lower than Maine, 28 percent lower than Vermont, and 40 percent lower than New York.

    Do New Hampshire’s low taxes result in poor public services? Not at all. U.S. News ranks New Hampshire public schools third best in the nation and the state second on overall quality of life. Besides, poor public services would repel residents, yet New Hampshire enjoys net in‐​migration from other states, while all nearby states except Maine suffer out‐​migration.

    It's easy to be pessimistic at times, but Cato does a good job of reminding me that it could be worse.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Another stupid article in Wired, this one about Cory Doctorow: His Writing Radicalized Young Hackers. Now He Wants to Redeem Them.

    Set the first and last books in Cory Doctorow’s epic, three-book Little Brother cypherpunk saga side by side, and they read a bit like a creative writing master class on telling two starkly opposite stories from the same prompt. The common premise: Islamist terrorists bomb the Bay Bridge. Thousands die. The Department of Homeland [sic] responds by turning San Francisco into a fascist, total-surveillance police state. The protagonist, a digitally gifted, troublemaking teen, must decide how to respond.

    In the first Little Brother installment, which Doctorow published in 2008, the answer seemed righteously inevitable: The hero uses his hacker skills to fight back. Specifically, he and his plucky hacker friends figure out how to jailbreak their Xboxes and channel the video game consoles’ encrypted comms over the Tor network to create Xnet, a cheap, anonymous, surveillance-proof system for organizing protest and foiling the panopticon cops by injecting false data into their totalitarian schemes.

    I read Little Brother back in 2010, and thought it was awful. The true villains weren't the terrorist murderers of thousands; it was the DHS, full of cartoonish sadists and the top bad guy is "Kurt Rooney", the "President's chief strategist". Whose initials just happened to be the same as Karl Rove's. Unsubtle and dumb all the way through.

    So I won't be reading Attack Surface. But hey, maybe you'd like it. The Amazon link is at your command, and I'd get a cut. While I'm waiting for that fat check from Charles Koch.

A Song for a New Day

[Amazon Link]

"Recommended by Katherine Mangu-Ward in Reason" was probably enough for me to grab this book out of the Portsmouth Public Library. It also won the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

So it's not bad. I'll get to my problems later.

The book follows two female protagonists: musician "Luce Cannon" (first person narration) and customer service drone turned talent scout "Rosemary Laws" (third person narration). A small bit of Luce's story is set in the "Before", where she's giving a live concert in the face of rising terrorist threats. But that threat quickly becomes reality when a football stadium and its audience are blown up. The second part of that one-two punch is the "pox": a nasty, contagious disease that also kills a bunch of people.

Which basically kills off live music. Bummer.

So we're quickly transported to "After". America quickly goes to permanent and serious lockdown mode. Everybody has a "hoodie", which provides you with Zoom-in-virtual-reality. Deliveries by drone, because you don't want to catch anything or get blown up. That becomes the new normal, Rosemary barely remembers anything different. She works from home, doing customer service for "Superwally", a retailer providing all your needs. But she gets an offer for a new job, seeking out rogue musical talent for "StageHoloLive" (SHL), provider of VR concerts, drained of spontaneity and communal vibes. This moves her out of her comfort zone of social isolation. And she meets up with Luce, who's running a bootleg illegal speakeasy where live music is presented. And then… things happen that reveal that unbeknownst to Rosemary, she's actually been sent on a dual mission by her corporate SHL masters! (Spoilers below, beware.)

  • As I said, it's good. It's especially good at describing the live music scene, the gritty details of setting up, plugging in, trashing hotel rooms, etc. (The author is a practicing musician herself, so…)

  • Rosemary and Luce are both lesbians. (As is the author, so…) A couple trans folks show up along the way. Nobody's explicitly labeled as a heterosexual. So this makes me wonder if the Nebula "Best Novel" isn't really "Best Eye-Poking to the Cis-heternormative Patriarchy".

  • It's clear that the combination terrorism/pandemic threat has profoundly changed American society. Think: Covid, up by a couple orders of magnitude. It's not (particularly) clear how this affects anything other than the American music biz, though. It would have been nice to have a little wider take on what's going on globally and in other important sectors. There are hints, but come on.

  • Spoiler coming: SHL's hidden motive is to poach live talent from illegal concert venues, and then call in the cops to shut the venues down. Whoa, is that a sustainable strategy? If you need new talent coming into the corporate pipeline, why would you want to shut down the sources of such talent?

  • I kept waiting for a Grand Conspiracy to be revealed between Big Corporations and the State: laws and regulations based in paranoid fear long after actual threats are gone, designed to keep customers locked into "SuperWally" and "Mickeys" (the dominant restauranteur).

So, bottom line, a fun read. I don't read much science fiction these days, so I can't say it's not the best. But I wanted more.

Science Fictions

How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth

[Amazon Link]

This is a shoo-in if I do a "Best Non-Fiction Books Read in 2020" post.

A lot of kooks, quacks, and loons are science doubters. And even at the highest levels of government… So you might suspect the author of this book, Stuart Ritchie, is one of those guys. But he isn't. The debunking is coming from someone fully inside the tent, and his book is meticulously researched and footnoted. There's some trouble a-brewin' in Science. It would be especially recommended reading for all those "I F***ing Love Science" and "Science is Real" bumper sticker and yard sign owners.

I even got taken down a peg on that score. I read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann back in 2017; it made me pretty smug about knowning about the funny little biases and traps our evolved brains lead us to.

But as it turns out one of the major themes of that book, the concept of "priming", is largely hot garbage, based on faulty and irreproducible research. Our brains are not especially trustworthy, but we probably don't need to worry overmuch about priming.

Anyway, the four horsemen leading modern science astray are right up there in the subtitle: Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype. Each has its own chapter, and each is a deadly sin for scientists, leading away from the virtues laid out back in the 1940s by Robert Merton: science is universal, not a respecter of class, gender, race, etc. of the participants. Scientists should be disinterested in tawdry temptations of fame, ideology, institutional loyalty. They should be communal, openly sharing methods and results with one another. And they should be skeptics, always avoiding faith-based arguments, demanding to see the numbers and facts.

Ritchie does a fine job of laying out the problems. He also has some proposed solutions, all along the lines of enhancing the Mertonian norms, and decreasing the incentives and temptations that lead scientists astray.

My only problem with the book is that Ritchie seems to have a blind spot for a few areas of science. For example, climate change: he's disdainful of the skeptics there, dismissing them as "politicians on the fossil fuel dole".

That's not a great approach. Climate scientists are every bit as human as the other scientists who've churned out shoddy research. Are they somehow immune to the incentives that Ritchie ably describes? If they've somehow avoided those pitfalls, shouldn't Ritchie describe how they managed that feat?

A lengthier review from Joakim Book at AIER is here.

[Added 2020-10-13] You might also be interested in this recent Matt Ridley essay that explicitly ties various Covid-19 controversies to Ritchie's argument.


Last Modified 2020-10-13 3:47 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-10-12

Happy Columbus Day! Let's start it out with some Eye Candy:

[Not Chris]

Pun Salad Fact Check: True. But the linked article from David Marcus at the New York Post doesn't do the bait-and-switch:

Happy Columbus Day. There, I said it. And I mean it. I don’t wish you a solemn Columbus Day, nor a mournful one, nor still a guilty one. No, I wish you a happy Columbus Day.

It’s a day to celebrate the contributions of Italian Americans to our nation’s history. That was the original intent behind the holiday, after all, to elevate Italians at a time when they still faced marked bigotry. But more than that, it’s a day to celebrate a man whose example of courage and determination we need, as they say, now more than ever.

Shame on my fellow Norwegian-Americans for not coming up with making Leif Erikson Day a Federal holiday. Although President Trump did (indeed) issue the yearly proclamation.

Still not gonna vote for him though.

  • Since this is Pun Salad, I will note that Peter Suderman at Reason could not resist the pun: Debt Reckoning.

    It's a difficult time to be a deficit hawk.

    In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, named to show what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle wanted to be seen to be doing in the wake of the economic devastation caused by the outbreak of COVID-19. They cared to the tune of about $2.2 trillion, all of it billed to the deficit, making it the single biggest legislative care package in history by a wide margin. It was the first time Congress had ever passed a bill with a trillion-dollar price tag. As a point of comparison, the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health law that would be known as Obamacare, which was viewed as unusually costly, had to be whittled down during the legislative process so as not to technically exceed the trillion-dollar mark. Its 10-year price tag, at the time of passage, came in around $940 billion.

    But any real worries about those sky-high figures appear to have melted away in the face of the pandemic, which has exposed the underlying unseriousness of Washington's approach to budgeting. For nearly 40 years, federal lawmakers have been trying, or at least pretending to try, to reduce the deficit. But when asked to make tough budgetary choices, they consistently buckle under the pressure of partisan politics. This, in turn, has given rise to simplistic economic theories designed to justify whatever outcomes are most convenient.

    Peter provides the recent history, and see if he can't convince you that we're in a heap of trouble.

    One lousy reason for conservatives/libertarians to cheer for Democrat victory next month: they'll get blamed when the results of fiscal insanity are made manifest.


  • Speaking of which, George F. Will asks the musical question: Republicans, are you tired of winning yet? It's kind of an interesting grab-bag of fact and speculation, here are the final two paragraphs:

    Trump, whose reading of constitutional law has convinced him that Article II, properly construed, means “I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” has now taken to speaking reverently about “law and order.” “Nothing,” wrote George Orwell, “is gained by teaching a parrot a new word.”

    Joseph Stalin — like God, in the book of Genesis — looked upon his work and saw that it was good. Hence Stalin’s March 2, 1930, Pravda article “Dizzy with Success.” Trump told Americans they would get tired of all the winning he had in store for them. They are indeed tired. Promises made, promises kept.

    Mr. Will's link goes to Wikipedia, but it includes the link to Uncle Joe's Pravda article.


  • Counterpoint to Mr. Will from Paul Mirengoff at Power Line: Not tired of it, but there has been plenty of winning under Trump. After a pluses-and-minuses analysis:

    If, on this record, Will wants to taunt Trump for saying we’d tire of winning under his administration, that’s his right. However, it would have been better if he had bothered to analyze the record.

    It would also be nice if he would compare the amount of winning conservative Republicans can expect in a second Trump administration to the amount that’s likely to occur if Joe Biden wins. The latter amount is approximately nil.

    Instead, we can expect non-stop losing, including, quite possibly, a packed Supreme Court and the end of the Senate filibuster. These measures would give Democrats almost limitless ability to enact left-wing legislation with virtually no hope of having the unconstitutional portion of that agenda struck down by the courts.

    It’s futile to ask most Never Trumpers to recognize this reality. To most of them, it’s more important to signal their distaste for a distasteful president than to focus on the policy implications of defeating Trump. And the worst of them have already switched their positions on key policy matters, anyway.

    In one way or another, they have sold conservatism down the river.

    Also selling conservatism down the river: lots of Republicans, including Trump.


  • Hey, I've occasionally mentioned that it would be nice to get Jeanne Shaheen, our state's probably-gonna-be-re-elected Senator, on the record about court packing. Here you (sort of) go: Shaheen Joins Dems Claiming Filling Vacancies is 'Packing the Court'.

    During a Facebook Live Q &A session hosted by WMUR’s Adam Sexton, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told viewers she did not support packing the U.S. Supreme Court. She does, however, support Democratic efforts to label filling judicial vacancies as “court-packing,” a notion rejected by virtually every legal scholar and political historian.

    “I don’t support packing the court, although I have to say I think that’s exactly what [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump have done,” Shaheen said. “But no, I don’t think expanding the number of judges on the Supreme Court is a good thing to do.”

    That's not an ironclad commitment to vote against court-packing legislation, but we'll take what we can get. When she votes in favor of it anyway, sometime in 2021, she'll probably be in her final term, and can afford to thumb her nose at the suckers voters who believed her.


  • But note her silly rhetoric, trying to redefine "packing the court" with "Constitutionally nominating and confirming justices Democrats don't like". An interesting Twitchy article that asserts ‘Americans aren’t idiots!’.

    Well, that's your opinion. But at issue is an AP article containing the following:

    Why it's almost as if the AP is in the pocket of the Democratic Party. (Much like my local paper.)

Cold Pursuit

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

Desperate for new movies, I put this on the Netflix DVD queue. Not great, but a pleasant surprise.

Liam Neeson plays an ordinary Joe, a solid citizen, a snowplow driver in a remote Colorado town. His grown son is a baggage handler at the regional airport who makes the unfortunate mistake of being friends with a co-worker who has the bright idea of ripping off an incoming drug shipment. Which gets the kid abducted, driven off to Denver, and murdered via lethal heroin overdose. The Denver cops write this off as yet another drug death, but Liam knows his kid is no junkie, and sets off on a trail of detection and revenge.

That sounds pretty standard by-the-numbers shoot-em-up, and of course that's part of it. But the movie develops the character of everyone involved, even (maybe especially) the bad guys. E.g., the head drug kingpin has a broken marriage, a feisty ex-wife, a cute young son, wacky ideas about diet. Amidst the overall grim and violent plot, there are veins of actual quirky humor.

Except for Liam, of course. He's dour and relentless. IMDB trivia says this is going to be his last action movie, and it's a pretty good farewell.

The Phony Campaign

2020-10-11 Update

Our Eye Candy du Jour from Pun Salad's favorite cartoonist, Michael P. Ramirez:

[copay]

To be clear, I don't begrudge the President his first-class healthcare. I think hoi polloi should have a crack at those meds, though.

It's been a good week among the betting markets for President Trump: they judged he picked up 1.4 percentage points in his win-probability.

Unfortunately, 'twas an even better week for Wheezy Joe, picking up 7.5 percentage points. So, a net addition of 6.1 percentage points to his already large probability advantage over Bone Spurs.

And that boomlet we saw last week for Mike Pence in the betting markets is gone. Sad!

In phony news… well, there is no new phony news. The Donald really has an unchallenged lead there.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
10/4
Phony
Results
Change
Since
10/4
Donald Trump 32.3% +1.4% 2,460,000 +280,000
Joe Biden 65.4% +7.5% 829,000 +14,000
Jo Jorgensen 0.0% unch 51,400 -93,600
Howie Hawkins 0.0% unch 21,200 -4,400

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Goodness knows I am not a Trump fan, but holy cow. A bunch of Never-Trump conservatives founded "The Bulwark" a while back, and it has taken to publishing articles like this one from Brian Karem: The Trumpist Death Cult. No, it's not a gentle parody of Trump Derangement Syndrome; it's the real deal. After he describes his experiences in covering David Koresh and Waco…

    H.L. Mencken, unflinchingly clear-eyed, said that every great religion was susceptible to cults. Mystics, he wrote, drive many cults and the “essence of mysticism is that it breaks down all barriers between the devotee and his god, and thereby makes the act of worship a direct and personal matter.”

    David Koresh did that.

    Jim Jones did that.

    So does Donald Trump.

    Trump is, in his own perverse way, one of the greatest mystics of the 21st century. He is a masterful manipulator who told everyone from the beginning of his political career how he could shoot someone in front of witnesses and not lose a voter. He also explained that he calls the news media liars so people won’t believe us and will believe him.

    It seems the Bulwark has lost the ability to make relevant distinctions. As I did with Breitbart years back, I bid it farewell. I'm sure someone will let me know if it starts publishing sanely again.


  • I wasn't paid to watch the vice-presidential candidates debate, so I did not. But it seems that Reason paid Jacob Sullum, and he sums it up for us: The Pence-Harris Debate Was a Model of Civility, Evasion, and Obfuscation. Since our Sunday concentration is on the latter two, Jacob provides a couple of examples:

    [Moderator Susan] Page asked Harris what she thinks California, which she represents in the Senate, would do if Roe were overturned and whether she thinks there should be "no restrictions on access to abortion." Harris' response was mostly about other subjects, although she did say, "I will always fight for a woman's right to make a decision about her own body." That was not an answer to either of Page's questions, although at least it had something to do with abortion.

    Page asked Pence how the Trump administration will "protect Americans with preexisting conditions" so they have "access to affordable insurance if the Affordable Care Act is struck down." Pence said nothing relevant to that question, although he did introduce a completely different but timely issue: If Barrett is confirmed and Biden wins the election, he asked Harris, "are you…going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?"

    It's nice that Pence and Harris were able to demonstrate a (relative) modicum of respect for each other. It would be even nicer, as Jacob points out, if they were able to demonstrate an equal amount of respect for American voters, who deserve honest and clear answers to even tough questions.


  • Even though the focus has been on other issues, Steven E. Landsburg writes at the WSJ about The Cynicism of Joe Biden’s Minimum-Wage Politics.

    For nearly four years, I’ve looked forward to voting against Donald Trump. But Joe Biden keeps testing my resolve.

    It isn’t only that I think Mr. Biden is frequently wrong. It’s that he tends to be wrong in ways that suggest he never cared about being right. He makes no attempt to defend many of his policies with logic or evidence, and he deals with objections by ignoring or misrepresenting them. You can say the same about President Trump, but I’d hoped for better.

    Take Mr. Biden’s stance on the federal minimum wage, which he wants to increase to $15 an hour from $7.25. Why transfer income to low-wage workers as opposed to poor people generally? Mr. Biden has ignored the question. But even if you’re laser-focused on raising wages, there are better alternatives. The Earned Income Tax Credit increases after-tax wages and gives businesses an incentive to hire more employees—an incentive the minimum wage gets backward.

    The minimum wage is a good way for politicians to demonstrate "compassion" without spending any taxpayer money. Very phony.


  • Say what you will about Wheezy Joe; he's occasionally honest about his contempt for voters, as reported by the Daily Wire: Voters ‘Don’t’ Deserve To Know If I’m Going To Pack Supreme Court.

    Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told a local news reporter on Friday afternoon that voters do not deserve to know whether he will pack the Supreme Court if he wins the upcoming the election.

    “Sir, I’ve got to ask you about packing the courts and I know you said yesterday you aren’t going to answer the question until after the election, but this is the number one thing that I’ve been asking about from viewers in the past couple of days,” the reporter said to Biden.

    “Well, you’ve been asked by the viewers who are probably Republicans who don’t me continuing to talk about what they’re doing to the court right now,” Biden responded.

    “Well sir, don’t the voters deserve to know—” the reporter pressed.

    “No, they don’t,” Biden responded.

    Seems legit.


  • At National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy looks at it this way (NRPLUS, sorry): Why Biden and Harris Refuse to Give an Answer about Court-Packing.

    What I found most striking about last night’s vice-presidential debate was the contrast between how objectively outrageous it is that the Biden-Harris ticket will not answer the court-packing question and how unabashedly, even glibly, they go about insulting our intelligence while demurring.

    It is inconceivable that Republican candidates could get away with such smugness, even on issues of far less consequence. Here, we are talking about blowing up any semblance of the Supreme Court’s role in our Constitution’s separation-of-powers equilibrium as the non-political branch that decides issues of great importance in accordance with the law, not partisan or ideological considerations.

    To be sure, the Court has done grave damage to itself in this regard. For a half-century, in cases involving the Kulturkampf or implicating constitutionally dubious “progressive” legislation, the Court has acted as a super-legislature. Its liberal members vote as a bloc, shredding — er, I mean, “evolving” — the law as they lock in the desired result, then reason backwards. That said, implicit in the justices’ recent grappling over stare decisis — the presumption in favor of adherence to precedent, even when the precedent is arguably wrong — is a self-awareness that the legitimacy of their institution demands fidelity to something besides sheer political will.

    We're in for interesting times. Way too interesting.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-10

  • So the NYPost has more details about our new favorite First Amendment poster boy at the University Near Here: White male New Hampshire professor allegedly posed as woman of color.

    A white male professor from the University of New Hampshire has been booted from the classroom for posing as a “woman of color” — the latest in a growing trend of race fakers.

    Craig Chapman allegedly secretly tweeted under the name The Science Femme and handle @piney_the to rail against the left, transgender and even people of color to his more than 13,000 followers.

    Can't have that, I suppose. Inside Higher Ed has an article here: University of New Hampshire suspends professor amid investigation into online persona.

    A white, male assistant professor of chemistry at the University of New Hampshire is on administrative leave after apparently posing as a female, immigrant scientist of color on Twitter to criticize feminists, trans people, Black Lives Matter supporters and others.

    The account in question, @piney_the, or “The Science Femme, Woman in STEM,” has been deleted. Older tweets are available, archived, here.

    In more recent tweets, the professor seemed to have accused another junior academic of reveling in the death of Mike Adams, a conservative professor of criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington who died by suicide in July, following his separation from UNC over several controversies about his own online statements.

    The "archive" link above goes to web.archive.org, which seems to be from much earlier this year. The tweets are indubitably in-your-face to the woke ideologues.

    I'm not sure what kind of a case UNH thinks it has against Chapman. It appears he fibbed on Twitter about his race, gender, and (perhaps) social origin. That might not be the best behavior, he might have thought it was a good idea at the time, I'd like to hear his reasons. And where is official UNH policy that says that's a firing offense, or even a disciplinary offense?

    I think Chapman had every reason to hide that he was a facule at UNH. He's quite opposed to Official University Dogma on "diversity and inclusion", and that sort of thing can be career suicide.


  • On a (perhaps) related matter, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education provides an objective measure of just how far an allegedly-prestigious institution of higher education will go to abridge First Amendment rights: Censorship Costs: University of California system lost $800,000 defending censorship of ‘The Koala’.

    In 2015, administrators at the University of California, San Diego, pressed their lawyers to find a “creative legal solution” to get around the pesky First Amendment rights of an abrasive, off-color student newspaper, The Koala, which had published an article satirizing “safe spaces.” Administrators found a “creative” solution that was too cute by half: because they couldn’t single out the $452.80 intended for The Koala, they eliminated funding for all student newspapers. They soon found themselves on the wrong side of the “v.” in a federal lawsuit — a costly one. 

    The University of California fought the lawsuit, and a federal district court initially sided with the university before being overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in July of 2019. (FIRE and the Cato Institute filed an amici curiae brief urging this result.)

    You'd think, being college folk and all, they'd have gotten better advice from Constitutional scholars, instead of the lawyers on whom they dropped $662K. (They also had to pony up attorney's fees for The Koala, plus damages.)


  • At the WSJ, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. answers that thorny question you didn't know how to ask: Why Politicians Despise Us.

    “Can you imagine if you knew on January 28th, as opposed to March 13th, what they knew, what you might’ve done to prepare? They covered it up. . . . The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it. . . . So I want to ask the American people, how calm were you when you were panicked about where you were going to get your next roll of toilet paper? How calm were you when your kids were sent home from school . . .?”—Kamala Harris in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate

    Every official on earth knows the rebuttal to Sen. Harris’s canard. She knows it too. Before she agreed to utter this demagoguery, I like to imagine she had to be convinced, with focus-group research, that a part of the public would actually lap it up.

    As it happens, by Jan. 28 the public was already on the receiving end of a torrent of warnings about a looming pandemic. I wrote such a column here myself, coincidentally, on Jan. 28. But Mr. Trump didn’t sound the alarm Ms. Harris now demands for the same reason every leader, from Andrew Cuomo to Angela Merkel, didn’t. There would have been no toilet paper in the stores if Mr. Trump had warned us to stock up on toilet paper. There would have been no masks, for health-care workers or for the public. The economy wouldn’t have fallen off a cliff in March but in January, making the virus’s coming even harder on Americans.

    And every serious public servant (and their groaning shelf of pandemic plans) knows it.

    You have four major-party candidates who are comfortable with flat-out lying on national TV, as long as they think they can get away with it.


  • And a heartwarming local story from the Josiah Bartlett Center: Massachusetts banned the sale of flavored tobacco in June. What happened next was... totally predictable.

    Massachusetts’ June 1 ban on the sale of flavored cigarettes is driving higher sales, and higher tax revenue, in New Hampshire, state and retailer data show.

    In Massachusetts, cigarette tax stamp sales fell vs. the same month in 2019 by 17.2% in June, 23.7% in July and 29.9% in August, the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association (NECSEMA) announced this week.

    In New Hampshire, cigarette tax stamp sales rose vs. the same month in 2019 by 55.8% in June, 27.3% in July and 17.2% in August, the association reported.

    That’s a tax revenue gain of $16.48 million for New Hampshire and a loss of $31.88 million for Massachusetts.

    If Massachusetts ever wised up, we in New Hampshire might find ourselves in serious trouble. By which I mean: we might actually have to pay for the state government goodies we demand ourselves.

    Unfortunately, we're likely to regress to the mean, taxwise and spendingwise, over the next few years. (Sorry, feeling pessimistic today.)

Train to Busan

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

My first Korean zombie movie, I'm pretty sure. A free-to-me streamer on Amazon Prime.

Seok-woo is a semi-big shot fund manager in (I think) Seoul, dealing with some unexpected market turbulence. You can see he's concerned, but he should be more concerned with the underlying cause. Which is a zombie outbreak. But he's clueless. And also a clueless dad to cute-as-a-button Soo-an. He misses her recital. He buys her a Wii, but he doesn't know that she already has a Wii. And also a clueless husband, because his ex-wife lives in … guess where? Yup, Busan.

So they're off on the titular train, but it soon becomes painfully obvious that Korean civilization is quickly collapsing around them. And worse, a zombie made it onto the train, setting off a wave of infection among the crew and passengers, with accompanying chaos.

It's pretty good, albeit predictable. In the sense that "you've seen one zombie movie you've seen them all": there's not going to be many of the characters left at the end. There are some class warfare zingers: Seok-woo's fund is (somehow) involved with the corporate misfeasance that kicks everything off; and the one really bad guy is a train passenger in a business suit who's more than willing to sacrifice other passengers to survive.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-09

[Amazon Link]

  • At Quillette, Samuel Kronen writes on The Prescience of Shelby Steele. The leadoff quote provided from "Seven Days in Bensonhurst", a PBS documentary:

    I have long believed that race is a mask through which other human needs manifest themselves. I think we often make race an issue to avoid knowing other things about ourselves.

    Indeed. I think I've read one of Mr. Steele's books (The Content of Our Character) but it's been a while. Time to reread that and more.


  • David Harsanyi in National Review: Foreign Intervention in U.S. Elections: Peter Beinart Argues It May Be Necessary.

    Peter Beinart, the newly minted contributing New York Times columnist, recently argued in an op-ed at the paper that Israel should be dissolved, its inhabitants thrown to the mercy of terror organizations such as Hamas and the PLO. Apparently, he has something comparable in mind for the United States.

    Calling on the past examples of racist authoritarian Woodrow Wilson, the unapologetic Communist Paul Robeson, Malcom X, Black Panthers, and others, Beinart contends that Democrats might have to summon the U.N. Human Rights Council, a world body teeming with dictators and theocrats, to intervene in what he imagines is America’s “chronic racist disenfranchisement.” Alas, this is the kind of feverish wish-casting that passes for intellectual discourse these days.

    I seem to remember that Twenty-First Century American Progressives were ready to call in a nuke strike on Moscow because of a few thousand dollars worth of lame, but Kremlin-paid, Facebook ads. Times have changed.


  • At Reason, J.D. Tuccille has an infuriating article about another state, useless except as a bad example: Cuomo Clamps Down on New York Churches and Schools (Again).

    There comes a moment as you're listening to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rant when you realize it all seems so familiar. Oh, yeah, you thinkthis guy sounds like the dictator in the movie Bananas who ordered everybody to speak Swedish and wear their underwear over their clothes. Only Cuomo isn't intentionally a joke, and his commands have serious consequences.

    This week, Cuomo announced another closure of New York schools that have already left families floundering through the pandemic and threatened to shutter synagogues and churches if their congregations don't bend to his will.

    "I am not going to recommend or allow any New York City family to send their child to a school that I wouldn't send my child to. We're going to close the schools in those areas tomorrow," Cuomo announced on October 5, in a command that applied to private schools as well as public ones.

    Since places of worship have been resistant to restrictions on gatherings, the governor got specific about penalties. "I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, if you're not willing to live with these rules, then I'm going to close the synagogues," he threatened.

    I've said this before but: I thought that whole "wall of separation of church and state" thing was supposed to work both ways. It's like Cuomo thinks there's an asterisk on the First Amendment's "prohibiting the free excercise thereof*" language, leading to the fine print: "* unless you piss off a Democrat".


  • We wrote yesterday about the Great Barrington Declaration, a plea kicked off by professors at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford, since endorsed by 177,786 individuals (as I type) including 11,643 medical practitioners, and 5,765 medical and public health scientists. But you won't hear about it on Reddit, apparently. Ethan Yang at AIER: Reddit’s Censorship of The Great Barrington Declaration.

    The declaration appeared on the Reddit channels r/COVID-19 and r/Coronavirus, both large online communities with over 300,000 and 2.3 million members respectively. Shortly after both posts were removed by moderators.

    I've never been tempted by Reddit.


  • Veronique de Rugy, in her syndicated column, throws some cold water on the big spenders in Congress and the Trump Administration: $75 Billion in Band-Aids Won't Cure Ailing Airlines.

    Regal Cinemas announced recently that it will temporarily close all 536 of its U.S. locations as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and continues to keep customers away. This move will affect approximately 40,000 employees across the country. And yet, nobody in Congress is talking about a bailout for Regal.

    Now compare that with the airline industry.

    The airlines received a $50 billion bailout in April of this year, with $25 billion in subsidized loans and $25 billion meant to keep most of airline workers employed until the end of September. As predicted, since consumers weren't ready to fly yet, this taxpayer-funded Band-Aid only postponed the inevitable. American Airlines and United Airlines just furloughed 32,000 employees. Yet, in this case, most legislators — from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a large number of Senate Republicans to President Donald Trump — want to bail out the industry.

    Veronique recommends bankruptcy. Good idea.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-08

[Amazon Link]
I'm in favor of paying my postal worker more money. She's excellent. But…

  • Trey Trainor,chairman of the Federal Election Commission, writes at National Review: Mail Voting: Unintended Consequences.

    Real-life examples from congressional primaries in the past few months forecast the many failings of mail-in voting. Note that mail-in voting is different from legitimate absentee and military/overseas voting, although recent reports show that even those votes are subject to mistreatment and potential loss.

    On the surface, “vote-by-mail” sounds like a quick and easy way for every registered voter to participate in our democracy. In reality, it opens the U.S. to fraudulent elections on a massive scale that will probably result in invalid results, contested elections, and delays lasting weeks, if not months.

    Trainor has plenty of examples, but one seems to have made the news too late to include …


  • As reported by the Free Beacon: DOJ Brings Charges Over Mail-In Ballots Found in Dumpsters.

    A New Jersey postal worker was arrested Wednesday for dumping almost a hundred mail-in ballots into dumpsters in multiple towns.

    The Justice Department charged Nicholas Beauchene, a 26-year-old mail carrier with "one count of delay, secretion, or detention of mail and one count of obstruction of mail" for discarding approximately 1,875 pieces of mail on his route. The discarded mail included "99 general election ballots" and was recovered from dumpsters in two different New Jersey townships.

    And keep in mind: Beauchene was only caught due to his extreme stupidity. How many more cases aren't being caught, perpetrated by folks with above-room-temperature IQs?

    Campaigns against "voter suppression" seem dedicated to removing safeguards against fraud.


  • But on to more pleasant topics. At the WSJ, James P. Freeman heralds the arrival of the Great Barrington Declaration [GBD], and wonders: Why Won’t the Media Listen to These Scientists?.

    This week dozens of esteemed medical experts with blue-chip academic credentials published a warning about the destructive policies adopted to address Covid-19. Since the Sunday publication of this “Great Barrington Declaration” more than a thousand biological scientists and more than 1,500 medical practitioners have added their names to the petition. Yet it’s been almost entirely ignored by the media outlets that spend much of their days presenting themselves as obedient to science.

    Good luck finding anything about the GBD in your non-WSJ newspaper or TV news.


  • At City Journal, John Tierney considers the lockdowns to be A Failed Experiment.

    Lockdowns are typically portrayed as prudent precautions against Covid-19, but they are surely the most risky experiment ever conducted on the public. From the start, researchers have warned that lockdowns could prove far deadlier than the coronavirus. People who lose their jobs or businesses are more prone to fatal drug overdoses and suicide, and evidence already exists that many more will die from cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, and tuberculosis and other diseases because the lockdown prevented their ailments from being diagnosed early and treated properly.

    Yet politicians and public-health officials conducting this unprecedented experiment have paid little attention to these risks. In their initial rush to lock down society, they insisted that there was no time for such analysis—and besides, these were just temporary measures to “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm hospitals. But since that danger passed, the lockdown enforcers have found one reason after another to persevere with closures, bans, quarantines, curfews, and other mandates. Anthony Fauci, the White House advisor, recently said that even if a vaccine arrives soon, he does not expect a return to normality before late next year.

    Our family has been fortunate, Covid-wise, and I suspect we'll muddle through whatever comes. Other people, obviously, are not so lucky.


  • There's been pushback against the GBD by (to be honest) people who have long been locked into a pro-lockdown narrative. At AIER, Jenin Younes looks at The Great Barrington Declaration and Its Critics.

    While [the GBD-signing] scientists are not the first to express such views, given the degree to which their stance conflicts with the prevailing wisdom that everyone has a moral obligation to participate in efforts to “stop the spread,” it is not surprising that they have already encountered significant opposition. Among their primary detractors is Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, who considers their proposal akin to a suggestion that society “cull[] the herd of the sick and disabled. It’s grotesque.”

     It is hard to see where Gonsalves reads into the Declaration, which seeks to balance the interests of all demographics, a call to “cull[] . . . the sick and disabled.” This accusation is merely part of the drama in what has become coronavirus theater.

    You can follow the links to get to the argument. See what you think. (I'm probably biased toward the GBD position, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.)

URLs du Jour

2020-10-07

[Amazon Link]

  • In his Tuesday column at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson writes on Karma.

    In the 1980s, the belief that God was inflicting a horrible, deadly disease on people as a punishment for their sins and to make an example of them was the kind of thing trafficked in by the Reverend Jerry Falwell and other low-rent bigots of that kind. Today, it is an idea put forward by, among others, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and the comedy writers of Saturday Night Live.

    About 700,000 people in the United States have died of AIDS since the beginning of the ongoing epidemic some 40 years ago; COVID-19, which has been with us less than one year, has killed more than 200,000 Americans, and it is not unlikely that it will outpace, perhaps even far outpace, AIDS in its body count, though it is possible that new treatments or a vaccine will prevent that. One of the people suffering from COVID-19 is a 74-year-old man who is, for the moment, president of these United States. “In a moment that feels biblical,” Dowd writes in her invariably banal New York Times column, “the implacable virus has come to his door.” Imagine having written that about, say, Michel Foucault in 1982 or Freddie Mercury in 1987.

    People will object: It's not the same thing! But it is.


  • However. It's not as if Trump is blameless. Yuval Levin and (former FDA head) Scott Gottlieb opine in the WSJ on The Trump Coronavirus Spread.

    All should hope and pray for a quick recovery for the president, his wife and the staffers, elected officials, journalists and others who seem to have been victims of a spreader event. But it didn’t have to happen. Mr. Trump and his team aren’t passive victims of bad luck and an aggressive virus. For months, some of them condoned nonchalance about the virus, mocking precautions such as wearing masks as marks of weakness and dismissing public-health concerns as overwrought.

    This attitude was reflected in policy choices that put the president and nation at risk. Even if we assume that China’s reported Covid figures—a few dozen cases a day—are a fiction, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam are seeing a combined average of fewer than 1,000 new cases a day. All of these countries combined are reporting fewer new daily Covid cases than Los Angeles.

    I would (however) add the caveat that Trump was certainly not in full control of how Los Angeles dealt with Covid-19. Federalist system, right? Last I checked?

    And also: it's a free country. Lots of people have the odd notion that they should make their own calls on risky behavior. This strongly suggests that they be informed as fully and accurately as possible about what those risks are. Unfortunately, nearly all agree the governments at all levels have failed that relatively simple task.


  • An interesting thought from Tyler Cowen in his Bloomberg column: How Much Worse Can Things Get? That Question May Be a Good Sign.

    It’s a widely shared belief that technological and scientific progress in America has slowed down since the moon landing. You hear it from Peter Thiel, Robert Gordon, Ross Douthat and other commentators. The U.S. Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office now incorporate lower productivity into their forecasts, and actual productivity has been sluggish.

    The larger question is how to know when this great stagnation is ending. Counterintuitively, the answer might be when people are most upset — because that’s generally how most humans react to change, even when it proves beneficial in the longer run. These feelings arise in part from the chaos and disruption brought about by some pretty significant changes.

    One direct benefit of Covid-19: it may cause permanent good changes in the FDA drug approval process. (Why shouldn't we all get a whack at that drug cocktail the President got at Walter Reed?)


  • And Cato's Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors 2020 brings good news to us Granite Staters:

    Four governors were awarded an A on this report: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, and Mark Gordon of Wyoming. Seven governors were awarded an F: Ralph Northam of Virginia, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, J. B. Pritzker of Illinois, Kate Brown of Oregon, and Jay Inslee of Washington.

    Later details (footnotes elided):

    Chris Sununu has led New Hampshire as governor since 2017 after a career as an engineer and business owner. Sununu has defended New Hampshire’s status as a low‐tax state and kept general funding spending close to flat in recent years. While neighboring Massachusetts imposed a costly payroll tax to fund a new paid leave program, Sununu has twice vetoed such a plan in his state. He said a payroll tax is “an effective income tax,” which would “destroy the New Hampshire advantage.” Sununu also cut the rates of the state’s two main business taxes and defended the cuts from legislative efforts to undo them. The governor is proud that New Hampshire is top‐rated on economic freedom and has worked hard to keep it that way.

    Even so, I'm still voting for Darryl Parry. Sorry, Governor.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for this head-scratcher in Government Technology magazine's website: Should Government IT Be Hiring Hackers.

    About a decade ago I was sitting in a large auditorium listening to valedictorian speeches at my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. Most of the five-minute speeches seemed too long, with predictable thank-yous to parents and teachers, hopes and dreams, future service, etc.

    But one bright young lady shocked everyone. “I’ve examined my options … visited colleges … taken my parents’ money … and have decided to buy a ship. I plan to live life as a pirate!” she declared.

    Her passionate appeal to her classmates was to break the rules. Go the wrong way on one-way streets. Don’t just reach for the stars — explore the universe. Live free or die. Don’t let others define you. Follow your heart.

    I can't recommend the article, it's full of clichés. The interesting thing to me: the valedictorian thought that LFOD fit in well with the recommendation to "Go the wrong way on one-way streets." I hope she didn't move here.

The Star Beast

[Amazon Link]

Another book down on the reread-Heinlein project. (Leaving 21 to go.) This one is in his juvenile series from the 1950s. My recollection is that I read it once in my youth (sometime in the early 1960s). I bought the Ballentine/Del Rey paperback at some point in the late 1970s, can't remember if I actually reread it then, though. But (yay!) I got 'er done this time.

Teenager John Thomas Stuart IX comes from a long line of explorers and risk-takers. While on an early interstellar expedition, his great-granddad picked up a cute creature on a remote planet, brought him back to Earth, named him "Lummox". Unfortunately, that expedition was so early, they were not sure what star system they were exploring at the time, so Lummox's home planet remained unknown.

But years later, Lummox has grown to the size of a Triceratops, and is even more heavily armored. One day, bored, he goes exploring, accidentally wreaking property damage and consternation upon John's neighbors. Demands grow for Lummox's destruction.

But in the meantime, a new race has made itself known to humanity. They are demanding the return of a Very Important Entity, stolen from their planet years back. And they are threatening planetary destruction unless their Entity is returned.

It would be surprising if that were a coincidence, and it's not.

You might expect an explicitly "juvenile" book would concentrate on young John Stuart and his efforts to keep Lummox safe. But much of the book is devoted to Mr. Kiku, a career bureaucrat (today we'd call him a member of the "deep state") devoted to managing peaceful relations with a host of alien races. He takes on the thorny task of preserving Lummox from Terran xenophobes, and also avoiding that whole Earth-destruction thing. This involves very little action, but lots of talk, dealing with idiocy, bypassing ignorant superiors, and political maneuvering.

Don't get me wrong: I found that stuff good, and interesting, and actually hilarious in parts. (Heinlein had a good ear for that sort of thing.) But I'm kind of surprised that juveniles of the day would sit still for it.

I guess they did, though. I did.


Last Modified 2020-10-07 10:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-10-06

[Amazon Link]

  • Rosalind Arden writes at Quillette on Time and Perceptions of Trustworthiness—the Row over a Novel Study. I like this opening:

    So here you are, head down, truffling along cheerfully towards your morning flat white at the local, lost in thought, wondering what kind of poem Catullus might have written about you, had fortune arranged it so, when some geezer calls out, “cheer up, love, it may never happen.” So infuriating. We make fast and frugal snap judgements about each other all the time and they are often wrong. Much pain in human life is caused by our being over-confident about what she/he meant, intended, thought, or felt. We don’t have direct access to each other’s minds. What we have is language—a frosted or sometimes stained-glass window on to others’ minds—and behaviour. Behaviour includes facial expressions. But their interpretations are error prone. A paper interpreting facial expressions has sparked a recent rumpus.

    A September 2020 paper in the prestigious journal Nature Communications has been savaged on Twitter. Small potatoes to those who don’t use the platform, but the authors received tens of thousands of hateful, jeering, or abusive comments that attacked their work, intentions, and characters. The last author, Nicolas Baumard, deleted his Twitter account because of the nastiness. The journal posted “this paper is subject to criticisms that are being considered by the editors.” This sounds ominous especially since we have seen much recent evidence of institutions caving in to criticisms in a way that seems dishonest. I suspect that institutional statements often reflect a desire to quell complainants rather than reflecting the private views of individual decision-makers.

    The paper's authors used an algorithm to analyze European portraiture over the last 500 years or so, and claimed to detect that the subjects were perceived as more trustworthy "paralleling the decline of interpersonal violence and the rise of democratic values observed in Western Europe." Not to mention "increased living standards."

    That might be garbage. There are a lot of garbage studies in science. But Arden suspects, as do I, that the vituperation may be related to the hint of a pro-capitalism conclusion that might be inferred. Can't have that!


  • Kevin D. Williamson, writing in National Review, on the topic of Saint Jerome.

    You might be tempted to call him an effete intellectual, a man who spent his life with his nose in a book and whose most lasting contribution to the world was translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. “How many divisions does the pope have?” Joseph Stalin is supposed to have quipped. None from Jerome, who produced nothing more world-shaking than Latin prose.

    If not an effete intellectual, then maybe an unsparing fanatic — the pope’s account of the saint is admiring, but he also describes him as “polemical,” “impetuous,” and “harsh,” as well as “vehement” and “explosive” and often “inflamed.” (Saints — they can be a bit much.) He turned his unsparing judgment on himself and was shaken by a dream in which he found himself condemned at the Last Judgment for preferring the words of Cicero to the Word of God, which, as Jerome observed, is written in inelegant, unlovely, and often ungrammatical language. Jerome the Latinist was, as the pope writes, “homo Romanus,” a man with a special personal connection to the Eternal City. But he left Rome to study Scripture and live a life of ascetic discipline and poverty in the desert.

    Not being personally Catholic, most of what I know about St. Jerome is in this Dion-written, Dion-sung ditty, which I kind of like:


  • A very good article from print Reason out from behind the subscribers-only wall: Christopher Freiman (Philosophy professor at William & Mary) convincingly argues that Political Ignorance Is Bliss.

    Here's something dumb I do every year. At some point during October in Virginia, the weather cools down enough that I switch the thermostat from air conditioning to heating. But inevitably we run into a spell of hot weather that lasts a few days. How do I respond? I literally get mad at the weather. I stare at the thermostat and fume at the prospect of flipping it back to air conditioning. In other words, I resent having to move my finger an inch because I feel as though I have been wronged by the weather—it's unfair that it would be hot in October. (I told you it was dumb.)

    Why am I mentioning this? Because it illustrates the irrationality of getting angry over something you can't change. I can't change the weather. However, I can adjust my own behavior in response to the weather. It makes no sense to seethe at the heat spell—I should switch on the A.C. and move on with my life.

    You should do the same with politics. You and I cannot change the country's political situation. (For instance, the odds of your vote changing the result of the presidential election are between one in 10 million and one in a billion, depending on your state.) However, we can adjust our own behavior in response to a political situation. It's pointless to rage at politicians and pundits because you think they're wrong about how to alleviate poverty. Maybe they are wrong, but there's nothing you can do about it. Instead, you should focus on what you can control; you could, for instance, do your part to alleviate poverty by working overtime and donating your extra earnings to an effective charity.

    In case you're wondering why this blog (much concerned with politics) is recommending an article from a magazine also much concerned with politics, that says, in effect: stop being so concerned with politics… well, I don't have a brief answer. I'm sorta confident, however, that I'm managing to dodge the maladies that Professor Freiman describes befalling the obsessed.


  • I admit this Granite Grok article set my teeth on edge a little, though: Democrat House Rep. Labels New Hampshire's Republican Governor a White Supremacist. That's Sherry Frost, she's a state rep from neighboring Dover. Often potty-mouthed, because that's how many ladies these days communicate their Seriousness. Anyway:

    Now to state the near-obvious: by any reasonable definition, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is not a white (or even "White") supremacist.

    But that's the problem, isn't it? Twenty-first Century American Progressives have lost interest in reasonable definitions. They don't appear to be worried how they'll refer to actual white supremacists, should that ever become necessary. "Let's just make that tarbrush as wide as possible, the better to apply to all the people we don't like."

    And that (in turn, as I left in a Granite Grok comment): That's the problem with demands to "condemn white supremacy". Sounds reasonable until it very quickly turns out that the "white supremacists" are anyone and everyone who doesn't 100% buy into the Gospel According to Ibram X. Kendi.

    And (final point, I promise): Frost's slander is "hate speech" by (again) any reasonable definition. She's in no danger of being deTwitterized, though, despite the platform's Hateful conduct policy. Another concept that's been drained of meaning and weaponized.


  • Jeff Jacoby's election plans seem to be the same as mine, and he pens a comeback in the Boston Globe to the naysayers, which I wish I could do half as well. How to not squander your vote. The whole thing is great, tough to excerpt, but I'll give it a try:

    But if 2020 isn’t the time for voters to find a better option than the Republican and Democratic parties that have turned American politics into such a dysfunctional mess, when will it be time? Four years ago, the two legacy parties coalesced behind the most widely disliked candidates in the modern era. Now we have “the second straight presidential contest in which both candidates are viewed negatively by a majority of voters,” the New York Times noted in June. One in four Americans believes that neither Trump nor Joe Biden would be a good president, according to Gallup; never has such a large share of the electorate felt that way about both major-party candidates.

    So which Americans are really wasting their votes? The ones who help elect a candidate they don’t believe is fit for the job, primarily because they hate the other candidate more? Or the ones who give their support to a candidate they would be happy to see elected, because they share that candidate’s values and agree with many of her policies?

    I wish more people thought like Jeff and me.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-05

[Amazon Link]
Well, I have eaten lutefisk. Once, about sixty years ago, at Grandma's house. Does that count?

  • I couldn't help but notice two Slashdot stories close to each other. First: Could Our Entire Reality Be Part of a Simulation Created by Some Other Beings?.

    Let's assume these extraterrestrial beings have a computer on which our universe is being "simulated". Simulated worlds are pretend worlds — a bit like the worlds on Minecraft or Fortnite, which are both simulations created by us. If we think about it like this, it also helps to suppose these "beings" are similar to us. They'd have to at least understand us to be able to simulate us. By narrowing the question down, we're now asking: is it possible we're living in a computer simulation run by beings like us? University of Oxford professor Nick Bostrom has thought a lot about this exact question. And he argues the answer is "yes". Not only does Bostrom think it's possible, he thinks there's a decent probability it's true...

    According to Bostrom, if these simulated people (who are so much like us) don't realise they're in a simulation, then it's possible you and I are too. Suppose I guess we're not in a simulation and you guess we are. Who guessed best? Let's say there is just one "real" past. But these futuristic beings are also running many simulations of the past — different versions they made up. They could be running any number of simulations (it doesn't change the point Bostrom is trying to make) — but let's go with 200,000. Our guessing-game then is a bit like rolling a die with 200,000 sides. When I guess we are not simulated, I'm betting the die will be a specific number (let's make it 2), because there can only be one possible reality in which we're not simulated.

    This means in every other scenario we are simulated, which is what you guessed. That's like betting the die will roll anything other than 2. So your bet is a far better one.

    But skip down a couple entries, and the headline reads: Microsoft Office 365 Experienced Two Major Outages Within 3 Days.

    … and it seems to me those other beings could at least do a better job of keeping Office 365 up and running. This weighs against Bostrom's bet.


  • Robert D. King, writing at Quillette, muses on Weaponizing Words: Language and Oppression. It starts as a rather ordinary essay on woke demands to adjust our usage to conform. But further down:

    The deeper issue, however, is whether language can be used to impose changes in perception and behavior. Does forcing inorganic language change really produce a better world, a world of gentleness and right-thinking? Do plumbers feel oppressed when we call them “plumbers”? I doubt many do, even female plumbers. What, if anything, does language have to do with our view of people and the world? Which brings us to what linguists call the “Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis” or the “Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.”

    The idea that language is a prism through which we see and interpret the world is an old one. Greek and Indian philosophers struggled with it. The Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Most linguists today do not believe the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis is true in any significant or useful sense. They may believe, as I do, that language conditions our behavior in certain ways, but this is trifling alongside the view that the world we see or experience “out there” differs in different languages—or the view that saying “every American should do his or her duty” will produce a more level playing-field or less patronizing of women by men.

    King goes on to note that there's not much evidence for strong versions of the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis.

    I (however) have tossed a couple related notions in my head for a while now:

    1. It seems likely that people are too easily self-seduced by slogans that hide objectionable positions back in some dark closet of the brain. E. g.: "Black Lives Matter" or "Make America Great Again". Sometimes language stops thought.

    2. Language is a wonderful tool, and we must use it to describe the world. No choice. But what are its limits, if any? Are there aspects of reality outside its ken? How would we know?

      (I think this is another version of this argument: I don't expect my very smart dog to learn calculus. It's not only that he won'tunderstand it; he doesn't even understand that there's something there to understand. Is there any reason to think that human beings are not in the same situation?)

    But King doesn't go there, which is fine. Oddly enough, I noticed another example of the sort of thing he was discussing…


  • A local institution of higher ed (fortunately not the University Near Here) has made the Daily Signal: Alums, Donors Should Hit Catholic College's Woke Theology in Wallet.

    A student at Saint Anselm College—a Catholic college in Manchester, New Hampshire—received a failing grade on an assignment about the biblical account of Creation because he repeated the Book of Genesis’ “gendered language.”

    Professor Gilberto Ruiz, who teaches theology at the Benedictine college, gave the student a zero on the assignment because the student used the words “man” and “mankind” instead of “humankind” or “humanity” when describing the story recounted in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.

    Professor Gilberto Ruiz is apparently a strong believer in Whorf-Sapir.


  • I'm a fan of Steven Pinker and the Cato Institute, so the combination is irresistable. Pinker has penned a brief article for Cato's quarterly letter: Progress vs. Utopia. First three, no, wait, four paragraphs:

    I don’t think of the case that I have made in my books as optimism so much as “factfulness,” to use the pleasant term introduced by Hans Rosling. Namely, that there are just many facts about changes in the human condition over history that most people are unaware of.

    Most people have no idea that extreme poverty has declined from 90 percent to 9 percent. They have no idea that there’s been a reduction in the number of wars and deaths in wars. They don’t know that the majority of people are literate, when that wasn’t the case until fairly recently. I don’t consider it optimistic to point this out. I just consider people’s worldview to be incomplete if they don’t know these things—and many people don’t.

    But awareness of these facts doesn’t mean that bad things can never happen. Quite the contrary. An appreciation of progress comes from understanding our default condition, which is poor and ignorant and vulnerable to forces of nature. That’s the reality of the universe. What progress consists of is using the special tools that evolved in our species—intelligence and sociality—to try to solve these problems. Once in a while, we do figure out how to solve them. When we’re smart, we remember the solutions and we discard the failures.

    We make progress a bit at a time by fighting against forces of nature that are always arrayed against us. The key is our ability to defeat our natural enemies by the application of reason.

    A lot of concentrated wisdom in Pinker's essay.

The Phony Campaign

2020-10-04 Update

[Amazon Link]

Yeah. Sometimes you want to just shout it out to the world: Whoa!

(And our Amazon Product du Jour allows you to do that for a mere $37.77 as I type.)

It was, to put it mildly, not a great week for President Donald J. Trump at the betting markets. His Tuesday debate performance gave Biden a boost. (And Biden's failure to display any obvious incoherence—at least any unusual incoherence—didn't help Trump either.)

And then the Covid-19 diagnosis. The bettors really jumped on that.

We usually look at the probability gap, and that swung by a net 16.6 percentage points in Biden's favor over the week. And Mike Pence reappears in our standings for the first time since March, with a 2.1% probability of taking the Presidential reins come January 2021.

You'll note that the probabilities displayed by the betting markets don't come close to adding up to 100%. I think this means you could make some money (possibly legally) by betting the entire field. Assuming that nothing even crazier happens between now and … I don't know when.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
9/27
Phony
Results
Change
Since
9/27
Donald Trump 30.9% -12.6% 2,180,000 +640,000
Joe Biden 57.9% +4.0% 815,000 +246,000
Mike Pence 2.1% --- 489,000 ---
Jo Jorgensen 0.0% unch 145,000 +19,000
Howie Hawkins 0.0% unch 25,600 +4,300

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • To remind us of how (relatively) normal things looked like last Monday, Amber Athey wrote in the Spectator: The Trump campaign’s best line of attack against Joe Biden.

    The one attack line for which Biden has not surmounted a reasonable defense is that he is a phony. Biden spent his early childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and his once-wealthy father fell on hard times and had to clean boilers for some time, prompting the family’s move to Wilmington, Delaware. But that’s about as far as his working-class roots run. Biden went on to law school and was first elected senator at the age of 29. Biden’s long-running political career since then has been characterized by his support of policies that sold out blue-collar America and his embellishments of his record and background.

    It was, remember, Biden’s dishonesty that sunk his promising 1988 campaign for president. The candidate lifted entire phrases from a speech by British Labour party politician Neil Kinnock. Conveniently, Biden’s plagiarized speech was intended to demonstrate that he was a champion for the working man:

    ‘Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?… Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree? That I was smarter than the rest? Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse? Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?’

    It quickly came to light that this wasn’t the first time Biden had taken credit for other people’s work — he had failed a class in law school after being accused of using five pages of a law review article without attribution. And other political speeches, Biden had ripped off Robert F. Kennedy’s populist message warning against using the GDP as an indicator of national health and Hubert Humphrey’s famous passage about taking care of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

    Here's one drawback to the "Biden is a phony" attack: the person who would have to make it is Donald J. "Bone Spurs" Trump.


  • Reason magazine has done America a solid favor by bringing out a couple articles from the latest print edition. First up is Matt Welch with The Case Against Trump.

    Focusing on Trump's deeds, instead of words, from Inauguration Day until just before the first reported U.S. death from COVID-19 on February 29, is a clarifying, even liberating, exercise. At a time when so much of American discourse is about symbolism instead of policy, adjectives instead of nouns, feelings instead of facts, this approach waves away the toxic political fog and drills down into the bedrock of this presidency. What has the Manhattan real estate developer actually built in Washington; how has that already impacted the lives of his constituents; and what lasting changes are likely if his job performance is ratified by the voting public in November?

    Working through those questions will produce different answers for everyone, but here's a preview of mine: On the broad federal issues I care about most—limiting the size and scope of government, protecting individual liberties, allowing for peaceable exchange between willing partners, and contributing to international peace and human flourishing—Trump has been not just passively suboptimal but actively malign. Rewarding his record will cement bad policy and complete the Republican Party's transformation into a vehicle for big-government nationalism that's openly suspicious of free markets and perceived enemies.

    Yeah, I miss the days when the GOP at least pretended to care about those things.


  • But here's Jacob Sullum, in the same issue, with The Case Against Biden.

    During a Democratic presidential debate last year, Cory Booker weaponized one of Joe Biden's proudest accomplishments. The New Jersey senator noted that the former vice president, who represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years, "has said that, since the 1970s, every major crime bill—every crime bill, major and minor—has had his name on it."

    Said was an understatement. Biden has not just noted his leading role in passing those laws; he has crowed about it repeatedly over the years, throwing it in the face of Republicans who dared to think they could be tougher on crime and fellow Democrats he viewed as too soft. Now here he was, after a notable shift in public opinion about criminal justice issues, bemoaning the excessively, arbitrarily punitive policies he had zealously promoted for decades.

    "The house was set on fire, and you claimed responsibility for those laws," Booker continued. "You can't just now come out with a plan to put out that fire."

    Jacob notes a recurring theme with Wheezy Joe: "Even when Biden changes his positions—as he has on issues such as gay marriage, immigration, the Iraq war, and the death penalty, as well as drug policy and mandatory minimum sentences—he tends to rewrite history, saying he only did what everybody else was doing, implying that he acted based on the best information available at the time, or suggesting that he voted strategically to prevent even worse outcomes."


  • Philip Greenspun observes and asks, from that state to our immediate south, whether Trump’s date with coronavirus proves that He gives shape and meaning to Democrats’ lives?.

    Donald Trump has given us additional evidence that the Swedish MD/PhDs were correct when they said, back in March, that nearly everyone in western countries would eventually be exposed to coronavirus and that shutdowns and hiding in bunkers merely delay the inevitable.

    Unlike Jair Bolsonaro, however, Trump did not say “I gave the finger to the virus back in March so now I’m just going to recover at home.” Instead, by going to Walter Reed he is apparently hoping to prove that coronavirus is a mild disease from which anyone who has a helicopter, 50 physicians, and four experimental drugs with limited availability can easily recover.

    Phil (like me) has a lot of Democrat Facebook friends. Unlike me, he hasn't unfollowed them, but I believe his take: "They are careful to point out that they don’t want Trump dead. They want him to live so that they can then concentrate on prosecuting and imprisoning him for his crimes in a multi-year process that will begin in January 2021."


  • And David Harsanyi has a word today, from the NYPost: Joe Biden ready to stand for whatever you want him to.

    Lost in the blinding gaslighting over President Trump’s remarks about white supremacists during this week’s presidential debate was the fact that Joe Biden proved again that he’s little more than a stand-in propped up by a compliant political press.

    Biden was unable to answer even the most rudimentary queries about his beliefs, never mind specifics about policy. Apologies to the Twitter expert class, but opposing Donald Trump is neither a moral doctrine nor a policy agenda.

    Biden has one redeeming, and irrefutable, quality: he's not Trump. And that may be enough this time around.


  • And John Sexton (Hot Air) goes spelunking among the Trump-COVID truthers: Michael Moore and others on the left suggest Trump is faking illness.

    I mentioned this last night, but there’s a significant number of people on the left who are expressing skepticism of President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. I saw random people on Twitter expressing this last night and figured it would die down by this morning. That doesn’t seem to be the case. On the contrary it seems to have picked up steam overnight, enough that even some people on the left are calling it out. Here’s Joy Reid saying it’s a lot of what friends are saying to her in text messages:

    S'truth: here's Joy, to the world:

    John provides a bunch more examples, including the headline-promised Moore example.

    My (additional) observation: I've noticed the lefty fascination/obsession with the nutbars at QAnon. For example, searching at the Wired website gives 84 results (as I type, maybe more in the pipeline). Some examples of its reporting on the QAnon Menance:

    A certain fraction of humanity will be susceptible to lunatic conspiracy theorizing. And that's independent of politics.

    However, confirmation bias is also universal, independent of politics. So Wired (and the MSM generally) will largely ignore the leftwing looniness. They certainly won't demand that Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/etc shut down Joy Reid and Michael Moore for promulgating their own brand of paranoia.

Rambo: Last Blood

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

Sometimes I'm just in the mood for a flick with a lot of violence. This one was fine, much more to my taste than the John Wicks. Not great, just fine. And it was free on Amazon Prime Video, yay!

And it's a Rambo movie. I've seen all the others, why stop now? Sylvester Stallone knows how to do this stuff.

It's very dark. Rambo is leading a civilized life on his Arizona horse farm, taking his medication. He has a live-in housekeeper. And he's developed a good relationship with his housekeeper's granddaughter, Gabriela, who has just graduated from high school, ready to go off to college.

But first Gabriela needs answers to burning questions about her long-lost father. He's down in Mexico, doing (probably) bad stuff. Rambo tells Gabriela not to go. Gabriela's abuela tells her not to go. She goes anyway, and finds herself mixed up with the kind of Mexicans that haunt Donald Trump's dreams. Rambo (after tossing away his meds) goes down after her on a rescue mission. Which soon turns into a revenge mission. And the violence gets pretty spectacular.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-03

Our Eye Candy du Jour is a consumer report from xkcd on Masks:

[Masks]

Mouseover: "Haunted Halloween masks from a mysterious costume shop that turn you evil and grow into your skin score a surprisingly high 80% filtration efficiency in R. L. Stine-sponsored NIOSH tests."

And in other matters:

  • My local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat reports on the latest embarrassment at the University Near Here: UNH investigates after professor accused of posting offensive tweets while posing as woman of color.

    A white male professor in the University of New Hampshire chemistry department has come under fire with complaints alleging he posted offensive tweets while posing as a woman of color.

    The fake Twitter account, which was deleted along with the personal account of the chemistry professor named by his department chair as the person behind it, was known as “The Science Femme, Woman in STEM” and used the handle @piney_the.

    UNH has not confirmed the identity of the professor being investigated but stated this week on Twitter and in emails to the media: “We were recently made aware of allegations on social media about a member of our faculty. We are deeply troubled by what we’ve learned so far and immediately launched an investigation.”

    Note: It is acceptable nowadays in "news" accounts to characterize tweets (etc.) as "offensive", as if that were objective fact.

    I still cling to the old-fashioned belief: offensiveness is inherently subjective. An reporter committed to reporting facts would say (at least): "someone claimed to be offended by his tweets".

    Oh, well. Foster's has been garbage for years now. Nothing new there.

    One of @piney_the's tweet threads was saved here. And it's remarkably sensible. Excerpt:

    Here it is: I was successful in killing my dept’s woke statement on recent social unrest. This took several weeks and may have permanently burned some bridges, but I think it’s important. It is a toxic ideology that cannot be given an inch. Here are the lessons I learned.

    After the tragic death of George Floyd the wokinistas in my dept felt compelled to make a collective statement. It was a self-flagellating admission of guilt and shame for things we had not done that no sane person would agree to sign.

    I was successful in removing all woke terminology from the statement including anti-racism, white supremacy, white privilege, and claims of systemic racism. Before attempting a similar feat, it’s important to make sure you know what all of these terms really mean.

    My guess is this will filter up into the national sites soon. Hope this poor bastard doesn't get professionally crucified for exercising his First Amendment rights.


  • Kevin D. Williamson writes at NR on health care: Small Reforms Can Win Support.

    "Why did the individual mandate fail in its intended purpose to increase enrollment?”

    Chris Pope of the Manhattan Institute asks the question in his very insightful National Review column, an essay that has far more of substance to say about health care than either of the grunting, sneering buffoons we saw sniffing each other’s butts on Tuesday evening. With California vs. Texas coming before the Supreme Court in November, the grievously misnamed Affordable Care Act is once more before us, and its deficiencies — and the deficiencies in attempts to address those deficiencies — are worth revisiting not only for the light they shed on the still-critical issue of health care but also for understanding what ails American government more broadly.

    The ACA individual mandate is a textbook example of bad program design and implementation. Some people object to such mandates on moral and constitutional grounds, and those concerns must be given due consideration, but there is nothing wrong with an individual mandate as a purely pragmatic matter. In the ACA, the mandate was intended to mitigate the problem of “adverse selection” created by a different, much more popular mandate — that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions at no additional cost. To use the most hackneyed illustration: If you could buy fire insurance after your house burned down, then you would have no real incentive to buy insurance earlier. If you can get comprehensive coverage for serious illness after you get sick for the same price and terms that you would have received had you purchased the same insurance before getting sick, then you have no incentive to buy health insurance until you are sick. The preexisting-conditions mandate transforms health insurance into something other than insurance, which is a financial product in which insurers charge a fee based on risk calculation and in exchange offer financial benefits in the case of certain events. Properly understood, you cannot insure against preexisting conditions, for the same reason you cannot bet on a football game that already has been played.

    It's a really tough debate. One side sees political advantage in fear tactics; the other side is deathly afraid of saying anything that might be characterized at making customers pay more for anything, ever. Because if you can't afford to pay, you're gonna diiiieee!!


  • A lot of the blame can be laid at the feet of our Chicken-in-Chief, as Rich Lowry points out in the NYPost: Trump's failure to offer a new health care plan could be why he loses.

    [Trump] has been promising a health-care plan since he started running for president, often with superlative adjectives attached, and yet never produced one. His lack of a proposal was a stumbling block in Tuesday’s debate and plays into a broader, long-standing GOP vulnerability on health care.

    Polling tends to show that, far and away, the three most important issues to voters are the economy, COVID-19 and health care. Trump leads on the economy and trails on the other two. To the ­extent that issues play a role in a Trump defeat in November, health care will have had some hand in it, and he has done little to inoculate himself — in fact, he has further exposed himself.

    His administration backs a lawsuit that seeks to strike down ­Obamacare, including its popular protections for people with preexisting conditions. This allows Democrats to say — and they say it all the time — that the president wants to destroy Obamacare.

    Guess what, Don? They're going to say that no matter what. You might as well come up with something, be prepared to defend it with rational, measured arguments… oops, forgot who I was talking to.


  • At the Federalist, Christopher Jacobs explains Why ‘The Simpsons’ Shouldn’t Hire Voice Actors Based On Their Race.

    Tuning in to the season premiere of “The Simpsons” Sunday night, something felt different. Halfway through the episode, the thought occurred that one of Homer Simpson’s co-workers sounded off.

    Sure enough, a search online revealed that Alex Desert had taken over the voice of Carl Carlson, who works with Homer at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. The move comes as “The Simpsons,” along with other animated shows, said they will no longer cast white actors to voice African American roles.

    I, for one, am working through my Futurama DVD collection. I suppose it could be said they got this right from the start: the main cast has Phil LaMarr as Hermes Conrad (check) and Lauren Tom as Amy Wong (check). But … uh-oh … Bender (robot) is voiced by John DiMaggio (a meatbag). And Morbo (some sort of reptilian alien) is voiced by (puny human) Maurice LaMarche!

    Just kidding. I think. Geez, it was a great show. Better than the Simpsons.


  • And the Daily Wire brings us the sophisticated tweetings of used-to-be-conservative WaPo columnist WaPo Columnist.

    It's fun to pick on the insane ravings of Out There people, but Jen's Odyssey of the Mind has taken her to a very dark place.

Dumbo

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I surprised myself by liking this movie significantly more than I expected. Certainly more than the IMDB raters, Metacritic, or Rotten Tomatoes. And even the Netflix algorithm thought I'd find it a three-star mediocrity.

But nay, it has a fine director (Tim Burton), lavish sets, a bevy of good actors (Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell, Eva Green), and … well, heck, a flying elephant. Sorry, slight spoiler there.

I am not sure I ever saw the 1941 animated movie. I can recall bits and pieces, but maybe that's because I only saw bits and pieces.

The movie opens with the return of Holt Farrier (Mr. Farrell) to America after his stint in World War I, minus his left arm. And his wife has died of the Spanish Flu in his absence, leaving him with his young son and daughter. But they're part of Max Medici's old fashioned circus family. Which has its problems, like a sadistic elephant trainer. And Mrs. Jumbo, a pregnant elephant. After a visit from a stork, voila: her son is born. Unfairly castigated as a freak because (why else) those big ears.

But soon, Dumbo's flying talent is discovered. He's an instant sensation. Which brings the attention of V. A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton, who's really good). He's like a bearded-Spock-universe version of Walt Disney. (I'm kind of surprised this Disney film went that way.) Dumbo is shipped off to his semi-demented amusement park, to become an even bigger spectacle, setting up conflict and eventual climax.

Taken on its own terms, it's a lot of fun. I had a good time anyway.

The Confusion

[Amazon Link]

Oops, I read it again. And I stand by everything I said back in 2005 (back when this blog was only six months old, a baby):

A round of huzzahs should be heard around the land, as I have finally finished reading this wonderful book by the brilliant Neal Stephenson following the adventures of Eliza and Jack Shaftoe in the years 1689 through 1701.

I say it's wonderful, and it is, but I found it very tough sledding. Stephenson's writing is dense and discursive. Paragraphs and sentences are long, the type and margins are small. And the words are often spelled funny. And the page count is over 800. And I kept wishing I knew more late 17th century world history, because Stephenson knows it cold.

Highly recommended. I especially liked the "Trial by Crocodile" Jack undergoes around page 608.

And I really don't have that much more to say this time around, except that I'm looking forward to reading the last book of the trilogy sometime… well, maybe not right away. Give me a couple months, at least.

URLs du Jour

2020-10-02

  • Numerous sites have the news this morn, but we'll link to Patterico's Pontifications: Trump Tests Positive for COVID-19. Because he provides a context tweet from ABC:

    And other numerous schadenfreudelicacies. I'm pretty sure that's not admirable, but it does seem to be accurate.

    Any way: get well soon, Mr. President (and Melania, and Hope). Thanks for your efforts. I'm sure they were well-meaning.


  • Another bit of eye candy, my sample ballot for November, straight from the New Hampshire Secretary of State.

    [Rollinsford 2020 Ballot Page 1] [Rollinsford 2020 Ballot Page 2]

    As I think I've mentioned before, my algorithm is pretty simple:

    • Don't vote in races with unopposed candidates;
    • Vote Libertarian if possible;
    • Otherwise vote Republican.

    I can add special cases if the Republican turns out to be a puppy-eater) But unless something like that turns up, it appears to be a 15-second operation in the voting booth for me.


  • The Federalist adds another reason, if you needed more, why you shouldn't trust Google. It reports on the Daily Caller story: Google Hides Our Article Even If You Search For It By Name. (Appears to be legit as I type.)

    Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Ingersoll on Thursday showed Google hid a Daily Caller article about the World Health Organization’s abortion advocacy in its search results. Searches of the article’s exact title placed it on pages that statistically nearly no one ever clicks on, while articles that present pro-abortion perspectives come up first instead.

    The article in question is here. It begins:

    Abortion is considered an essential service during the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization said in a statement Saturday.

    The WHO said in its statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation that “services related to reproductive health are considered to be part of essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

    Orwellian on a couple levels. (1) Memory-holing the Daily Caller; (2) billing abortion as "reproductive health" is right up there with the 1984 Official Party Slogans

    WAR IS PEACE

    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH


  • So this was big news a few days ago. Now seems like a few weeks ago. KDW on Donald Trump & Tax Laws.

    This leads us, inevitably, to the case of Potemkin billionaire Donald J. Trump, who refused to release his personal income-tax information but couldn’t keep the New York Times from getting into it and merrily writing it up. The story the Times tells comports with my longstanding impression of Trump, who, as I have been arguing since he first got into the 2016 presidential race, was much more successful as a reality-television grotesque than as a real-estate developer. As one critic acidly put it: “He thinks he’s Conrad Hilton, but he’s Paris Hilton.” But it is worth keeping in mind that the tax provision under which Trump was able to carry back (as opposed to carry forward) some extraordinary losses and thus claim a huge tax refund was not some arcane tax scheme — it was part of the Obama administration’s stimulus package.

    Does anybody remember who was in charge of that? Take your time — I’ll wait.

    From NPR: “Joe Biden was instrumental in getting the 2009 recovery act through Congress, then supervised the stimulus for the Obama administration.” Call it a handout to the rich if you like — because it surely was that — but maybe take a little note of whose hand was doing the handing out.

    Good luck on that narrative breaking through.


  • It's billed as Andrew Stiles satire at the Free Beacon, but is it really? New York Times Puts Non-White Lives In Danger.

    The New York Times is being criticized for publishing a lengthy op-ed defending the Chinese government's authoritarian crackdown in Hong Kong. Under the headline, "Hong Kong Is China, Like It or Not," the Times granted valuable journalistic space to Chinese politician Regina Ip to denounce pro-democracy protesters for "stirring up chaos and disaffection toward our motherland," and defending government-led efforts to postpone elections.

    A Washington Free Beacon analysis of the newspaper's decision to publish the controversial opinion piece determined that the New York Times was putting the lives of people of color at risk by effectively endorsing an authoritarian regime that considers pro-democracy advocacy to be a form of domestic terrorism. The dangerous op-ed also threatens the lives of professional journalists attempting to report on the situation in Hong Kong, and empowers a regime that views the media as the enemy of the people.

    The comparison between this and the imbroglio over Senator Tom Cotton's op-ed in June is (a) obvious and (b) deeply unflattering to the New York Times. Which seems to be run these days by the ghost of Walter Duranty.


  • And Cafe Hayek's proprietor reports on the latest example of Expert Failure to Know.

    Phil Magness reports on a new paper co-authored by Anthony Fauci, M.D. In this paper, Dr. Fauci and his co-author (Dr. David Morens) write:

    It is a useful ‘‘thought experiment’’ to note that until recent decades and centuries, many deadly pandemic diseases either did not exist or were not significant problems. Cholera, for example, was not known in the West until the late 1700s and became pandemic only because of human crowding and international travel, which allowed new access of the bacteria in regional Asian ecosystems to the unsanitary water and sewer systems that characterized cities throughout the Western world. This realization leads us to suspect that some, and probably very many, of the living improvements achieved over recent centuries come at a high cost that we pay in deadly disease emergences. Since we cannot return to ancient times, can we at least use lessons from those times to bend modernity in a safer direction? These are questions to be answered by all societies and their leaders, philosophers, builders, and thinkers and those involved in appreciating and influencing the environmental determinants of human health.

    Is Dr. Fauci unaware of the enormous increase, over the past 250 or so years, in life expectancy? Is he unaware that a disproportionate share of this improvement was reaped by poor people? (Dr. Fauci should spend some time on this site.)

    Phil Magness's Facebook post, linked above, says this is "sufficient to call this guy's competence as a scientist into question."

URLs du Jour

2020-10-01

W00t! Made it to October!

  • Pun Salad fave Timothy Sandefur is one of the libertarians asked to write a new constitution. The Constitution Center has the details. The other two teams are "Progessive" and "Conservative" (which I'll assume are, respectively, "bad" and "flawed".) From the introduction to the good one:

    This was probably an easier project for us than for our conservative and progressive counterparts because the current United States Constitution is fundamentally a libertarian or, more precisely, classical liberal document. So much so that, at the outset, we joked that all we needed to do was to add “and we mean it” at the end of every clause.

    After all, the Constitution set out a government of limited and enumerated powers, powers that are divided both “horizontally” among the three branches of the federal government and “vertically” in a federalist system that recognizes, while limiting, the sovereignty of states, in order to protect “the blessings of liberty.” That original structure provided a mechanism to preserve the full range of individual liberties because it largely withheld from government the power to violate them. The Reconstruction Amendments further advanced that project by extending the Constitution’s libertarian guarantees to protect against state violation, including eradicating slavery, the single greatest contradiction to the ethos of the American experiment.

    The libertarian team did a lot of beneficial tweaking: for example, removing the irrelevant "well-regulated militia" language from the Second Amendment; repealing the monopoly powers of the Postal Service; shrinking D. C. to a Federal District, returning the rest to Maryland; limiting patents and copyright to 28 years.

    And many more. I've sometimes thought that I should accumulate a list of "reform ideas" I've mused about over the years, but this really captures a lot of them, at least the Constitutional ones. I'm not sure I agree with everything, but it's really a great work.


  • At the NR Corner, David L. Bahnsen has worthwhile thoughts On [Tuesday Night's] Debate.

    The fact that I believe the debate was unwatchable [Tuesday] night does not mean I believe President Trump did not have some good moments. And the fact that I imagine it was a net-net win for Joe Biden does not mean he did not have some utterly awful moments. Yet the unwatchability of the debate — the cringe factor that I have to believe the vast, vast majority of Americans felt [Tuesday] evening — was primarily caused by President Trump’s incessant interrupting. I am happy to pile on Chris Wallace, and obviously Biden had moments of getting down in the dirt. But you are blinded by your red hat if you don’t believe the general chaos of the evening was the handiwork of POTUS.

    What I do not mean by that is that President Trump was too feisty or too tough. This is actually where my biggest criticism would lie — he had multiple opportunities to be substantively tough, and neglected to do so. I wanted to come out of my seat to make his case for him as it pertained to much of Biden’s indefensible COVID accusations. POTUS stayed locked on his line about having shut down travel with China — accurate enough, but a totally incomplete summary of the administration’s COVID portfolio. The accusation is ridiculous on its face — that somehow with what was known in February, and with a grand total of one or two American infections at that time, they could have gotten away with shutting down the country earlier than they did — and it is among the most dishonest and absurd things the Biden camp is launching at Trump. But Trump has no answer for it, and in fact, he completely missed the biggest vulnerability in Biden’s entire assault last night: Biden all at once attacked Trump for the wealth disparity the virus has created, and attacked Trump for not keeping the nation locked down. There is nothing — nothing — that exacerbates wealth inequality more than shutting down the country from the activity that employs the vast majority of the bottom 10 percent of wage earners, while allowing the rich and comfortable to work their service jobs via Zoom from their beach houses. How the Left gets away with this absurdity is beyond me, but POTUS last night refused to make the argument, and on substance, it was the most frustrating omission for me.

    It must be disappointing, maybe maddening, for folks that thought Donald Trump would do better.


  • Another debate take, this one from Eric Boehm at Reason: [Tuesday] Night’s Debate Was a Disaster. That’s Exactly Why There Should Be More of Them..

    So much for trying to figure out which candidate you'd rather have a beer with. [Tuesday] night's debate posed a darker question: if you were locked in a bar with both candidates and a pistol with a single round, would you take the easy way out?

    Guess what, America: There is no easy way out. Either Trump or Biden will be president for the next four years. We collectively stared into that abyss for 90 minutes on Tuesday night, and the only ones among us who weren't driven mad by the experience were those who are already insane.

    There should be more debates for roughly the same reason that we should abolish tax withholding. Though originally a well-intentioned idea pushed by none other than Milton Friedman, having taxes automatically withheld from paychecks means that most Americans don't experience the reality of paying roughly one-third of what they earn to the federal government every year. If we could only force people to write massive checks to the IRS every year, the theory goes, more people would feel differently about proposals to increase the size and cost of government. Likewise, if only we had more presidential debates, perhaps we could awaken more of America to the ruinous consequences of having only two viable political parties in a country of 325 million people.

    Every time Biden and Trump speak, they undermine the rotting system that put them in front of the cameras, so they should be invited to speak, literally ad nauseum, until we can't take it anymore.

    Unfortunately, it would be difficult (not to mention non-libertarian) to force Trump/Biden fans to watch their aged boys go at it and be honest about what they're witnessing.


  • Bryan Caplan on Orwellian Othering. Specifically…

    The most noted skirmish of the anti-othering crusade happened in an English class at Iowa State, where the syllabus gave this now-notorious “GIANT WARNING”:

    GIANT WARNING: any instances of othering that you participate in intentionally (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, sorophobia, transphobia, classism, mocking of mental health issues, body shaming, etc) in class are grounds for dismissal from the classroom.  The same goes for any papers/projects: you cannot choose any topic that takes at its base that one side doesn’t deserve the same basic human rights as you do (ie: no arguments against gay marriage, abortion, Black Lives Matter, etc).

    Yes, the media scandal only happened because the story was atypically dramatic.  The professor was even ordered to fix her syllabus and “provided additional information regarding the First Amendment policies of the university.” Yet the “othering” meme – and the attendant crusade – are already commonplace in the humanities and social sciences.

    What is so Orwellian about this crusade?  The fact that most of those who denounce “othering” exemplify the practices they denounce.  The diversity and inclusive movement has a broad list of odious outsiders they mention with scorn and treat with disdain: “straight cis white males,” adherents of traditional religions, conservatives, moderates, opponents of abortion, and even insufficiently radical liberals and progressives.

    Bryan also notes the Orwellian nature of "diversity and inclusion", holding itself up as "anti-racist", while being "the only prominent openly racist movement I have encountered during my life in the United States."


  • And Veronique de Rugy notes the Export-Import Bank is returning to its old tricks: Once Again, the Export-Import Bank Dogs Taxpayers with Pemex.

    As the saying goes, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the recent behavior of the allegedly "reformed" Export-Import Bank of the United States.

    Reauthorized by Congress in December 2019 with the promise that it would suddenly change its ways and focus its fire power on fighting China, this export credit agency quickly returned to its tired routine of propping up its old and favorite customers, including — very prominently — Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.

    Right under Congress' nose, Ex-Im Bank approved $400 million in financing to this Mexican government-owned oil company. This use of taxpayer funds raises several questions, not the least of which is why our federal government would subsidize a foreign state-owned company in the first place. There's no good answer.

    Veronique doesn't fail to quote an even more apt dog-related saying, Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly." Woof!


  • Good news from Jacob Sullum: Amy Coney Barrett has a fine record on civil liberties.

    Democrats worry that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, an originalist and textualist who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia in the late 1990s, will emulate him if confirmed by the Senate. We could do a lot worse.

    Although progressives often portrayed Scalia as an authoritarian ogre, he was, in fact, a more faithful defender of First, Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights than some of his purportedly “liberal” colleagues on the court. Barrett’s track record during her three years on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit suggests she also would frequently prove to be a friend of civil liberties.

    Yeah! So there!