Smoke and Ashes

[Amazon Link]

The fourth book on my Edgar Award Nominees reading project. No surprise, it's pretty good. It is the third in a (so far) four-book series, with number five coming out in July. Fortunately, it's not one of those books that depends on knowing much about what's happened in previous entries in the series.

It is set in 1921 Calcutta. The narrator, Sam Wyndham, is on the local police force. One night he comes across a grossly mutilated corpse! And immediately scarpers, avoiding the other incoming cops! Why?

Well, he's not at the location in an official capacity. It turns out that Sam, in the great British detective tradition, is a substance abuser. His substance of choice is opium, the crime scene is a sleazy den, and it wouldn't do for his superiors to discover this nasty habit.

Which is fine, except that another body soon turns up, mutilated in exactly the same way. And the body that Sam discovered seems to have vanished. Complicated.

Meanwhile, Sam is tasked with discouraging the locals from protesting India's colonial status. Coming up is the imminent arrival of the Prince of Wales, who's touring the various domains of the British Empire. Wouldn't do to have the Indians making a ruckus! Sam gets to discuss non-violent resistance tactics with practitioners (some actual historical action figures) (but not Gandhi).

In his investigations, Sam is assisted by his Indian sidekick, "Surrender-Not" Bannerjee. With the book's author having the name "Abir Mukherjee", you might think Wyndham could be caricatured as a total colonialist twit, and Bannerjee the actual crime-solver. That would be a cheap trick, and Mukherjee avoids it. Instead, Wyndham is freer from bigotry than most of his compatriots.

So the question is: what's going on? Who's doing these grisly murders, and does it have anything to do with the upcoming royal visit? (Spoiler: you bet.) Pulse-pounding finish!

Countdown 1945

The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World

[Amazon Link]

The lead author in big type: Chris Wallace, the Fox News guy. In fine print underneath: with Mitch Weiss. Hard to say who actually did most of the typing.

But let's ignore that for now. The book concentrates on the "countdown" to the dropping of "Little Boy" on Hiroshima. Starting 116 days before, with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and ascension to the Presidency of Harry Truman. Truman is quickly told about the Manhattan Project, the super-secret operation at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Hanford, etc. to put together the gadget of then-incredible destructive power.

The book is written for broad audiences, concentrating on a few dozen of the personalities involved. It leans toward telling "good stories" up and down the chain of command: the biggies: Truman, Oppenheimer, Groves; the flight crew: Tibbets and the rest. It also tells the story of Hideko Tamura, a 10-year-old kid in Hiroshima who survived. And many more.

The book also examines the iffy ethics in visiting mass destruction on a city with a lot of civilian deaths. (It's hard for us moderns to remember that intentionally inflicting civilian casualties was considered a crime.) I'm probably a little biased: in 1945, six years before I was born, my dad was in Europe, pretty sure that he was about to be shipped out to the Pacific for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Which was guaranteed to be a meat grinder.

So dropping the bomb may have made my very existence possible. Hard for me to discount that.

I enjoyed the book, certainly a page-turner. It would make a good gift for a high school student interested in history. (Or for one you're trying to get interested in history.)

If I had but one quibble, I'd say the book misses a bet by not including Richard Feynman's Los Alamos stories, a combination of heartbreak (his wife Arline dying of TB in an Albuquerque sanitorium) and hilarity (circumventing security to the consternation of his colleagues, for his own amusement). That's told pretty well in Gliek's bio and Feynman's own memoirs compiled by Ralph Leighton,

Jexi

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

Truth be told, this is an OK comedy, raunchy division. Not great, not awful. The star, Adam Devine is an Iowa boy, like me and Neal Stephenson. So we'll give him a pass, and hope he works on better projects in the future.

He plays Phil, who has a sweet San Francisco pad, coupled with a soul-deadening job at an Internet content farm; he and his co-workers have the non-stop everyday task of composing clickbait listicles. ("Ten Cats That Look Like Ryan Gosling") He's a friendless loner, shies away from any sort of risk-taking, dedicated to the phone he looks at incessantly. (Like all San Franciscans, the movie claims.)

Two things happen: he meets the lovely Cate, proprietor of a bike shop. It's a "meet cute", involving destruction of said phone. So he needs a new one, he gets one from Wanda Sykes, and it has one of those new-fangled AI assistants, named "Jexi".

It turns out that Phil's copy of Jexi is all too advanced, complete with character flaws. For one, she's foulmouthed. (The first five times Jexi deadpans an f-bomb, it's pretty funny. The next few hundred times… maybe not so much.) Jexi dedicates all her CPU cycles to improving Phil's life. And guess what, it works!

It works all too well: as Phil and Cate hit it off, Jexi feels ignored and gets jealous. And dedicates herself now to ruining Phil's new life.

I stayed awake. These days, that's pretty high praise.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-31

[Amazon Link]
Consumer note: searching for "dumpster fire" at Amazon gives you a lot of hits. Probably too late for the Christmas tree ornaments, but our Product du Jour will allow you to properly commemorate the year almost gone by.

  • One of our yearly traditions is to link to Dave Barry's 2020 Year in Review. And here's a one-sentence excerpt:

    And then, sprinkled in amid all the political coverage, we begin to see reports that this coronavirus thing might be worse than we have been led to believe, although at first the authorities still seem to be saying that it’s basically the flu and there is no reason to panic, but all of a sudden there seems to be no hand sanitizer for sale anywhere, which makes some sense although there is also no toilet paper, as if people are planning to be pooping for weeks on end (ha) and then we learn that Tom Hanks -- Tom Hanks! – has the virus and now they’re saying it’s a lot worse than the flu and we need to wash our hands and not touch our faces and maintain a social distance of six feet and use an abundance of caution to flatten the curve (whatever “the curve” is) but they’re also saying we don’t need face masks no scratch that now they’re saying we DO need face masks but nobody HAS any face masks but hey here’s a funny meme about toilet paper but ohmigod look at these statistical disease models WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE but Trump says maybe this hydroxysomething medicine will work no it won’t work yes it will work no it won’t and now they’re saying there won’t be enough ventilators or hospital beds or PPE and Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx are saying everybody has to shelter at home or else WE ARE ALL DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE hey here’s another funny toilet-paper meme but seriously what is PPE and is that different from PPP and where will we get the ventilators and there won’t be enough hospital beds and there is still no hand sanitizer and I keep touching my face and they just canceled the NBA can they even DO that wait now they canceled ALL the sports and closed all the schools the colleges the stores the restaurants the bars the theaters the hair salons the parks the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and now they’re saying we need to stay at home for HOW LONG what about the toilet paper I can’t stop touching my damn face are you seriously telling me all this is because somebody ate a freaking bat maybe Amazon has toilet paper ohmigod they’re sold out too WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE TOILET PAPER not another Zoom meeting I am so tired of shouting at people in little boxes maybe I should take a shower but what’s the point hey here’s a bunch more funny memes ohmigod look at the Stock Market the price of oil maybe I’ll just take a peek at my 401k oh NOOOOOOOO and WHAT ARE PEOPLE DOING WITH ALL THIS TOILET PAPER and how long do we have to keep being abundantly cautious what did Trump say about the ventilators and what did Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci say about what Trump said about the ventilators and what did Trump say about what they said about what he said about the ventilators ventilators ventilators LOOK AT THESE MODELS WE ARE STILL GOING TO DIE but do we really want to go on living in a world where there’s no toilet paper and every single TV commercial sounds like “as we navigate these difficult times together, the National Association of Folding Chair Manufacturers wants you to know that we are committed to running these TV commercials with a somber narrator voice telling you how committed we are” and WHY WOULD SOMEBODY EAT A DAMN BAT these memes are getting old hey do you think that Carole Baskin woman actually fed her husband to a tiger maybe we should order pizza tonight wait I think we had pizza last night are you sure it’s Tuesday because it feels more like Thursday no please God not another freaking Zoom meeting stop already with the memes if the tiger ate her husband shouldn’t there be a skeleton somewhere are we flattening the curve yet Dr. Fauci Dr. Birx because we’re in a recession no wait maybe it’s a depression look at the unemployment numbers we are never going to recover from this if the virus doesn’t kill us we will starve to death we need more money from the government we need billions no we need trillions no we need MORE trillions where is this money coming from we have to open the economy up but if we do WE WILL ALL DIE hey I found some toilet paper oh no it’s one-ply which is basically the same as using your bare hand thank God I also found some hand sanitizer and speaking of good news Bernie Sanders is endorsing Joe Biden so apparently they’re both still alive if I see one more meme I am going to puke in my facemask I’m afraid to get on a scale my thighs are basically two armadillo-sized wads of pizza dough hey Dr. Birx Dr. Fauci when will we have a vaccine when will we have herd immunity when can we go outside when can we go back to work what is the “new normal” good lord what did Trump say about disinfectants DON’T INJECT CLOROX YOU IDIOTS what about the food chain what about reinfection what about the second wave hey they’re showing the NFL draft and Georgia is opening the tattoo parlors and holy crap now it’s...

    Dave's not making this up.


  • Looking to turn things around in 2021? At LessWrong, "Ideopunk" has 100 Tips for a Better Life. Let me just snip the section on "Rationality". Not that a typical Pun Salad reader needs… oh, well. Some links and formatting elided:

    1. Noticing biases in others is easy, noticing biases in yourself is hard. However, it has much higher pay-off.
    2. Explaining problems is good. Often in the process of laying out a problem, a solution will present itself.
    3. Foolish people are right about most things. Endeavour to not let the opinions of foolish people automatically discredit those opinions.
    4. You have a plan. A time-traveller from 2030 appears and tells you your plan failed. Which part of your plan do you think is the one that fails? Fix that part.
    5. If something surprises you again and again, stop being surprised.
    6. Should you freak out upon seeing your symptoms on the worst diseases on WebMD? Probably not! Look up the base rates for the disease and then apply Bayes’ Theorem
    7. Selfish people should listen to advice to be more selfless, selfless people should listen to advice to be more selfish. This applies to many things. Whenever you receive advice, consider its opposite as well. You might be filtering out the advice you need most.
    8. Common systems and tools have been designed so everybody can handle them. So don’t worry that you’re the only one who can’t! You can figure out doing laundry, baking, and driving on a highway.

    I don't agree with all of Ideopunk's tips, but (dude) I had to think about them. Probably I should think more about number 92.


  • Andrea Peyser has some wicked fun at the NYPost: Alec Baldwin must know more about Hilaria than he's letting on.

    Alec Baldwin, love of my life, obsession of my soul. My super-size, gelatinous hunk of Soft Serve non-dairy product. Failed impersonator of President Donald J. Trump. Duped husband of an agile and flexible Spanish impersonator.

    Oh, babe, how I’ve missed you!

    But Alec, dear, sweet, demented Alec. You really need to calm down and listen up.

    That woman you married, Hillary/Hilaria, the one with the smoking body and a craving for celebrities with deep-seated anger issues, is not all that she seems. That ex-yogi, who has been passing herself off for years as exotic and foreign, turns out to be as spiceless and American as a shopping-mall food court that’s run out of Panda Express.

    She’s a full-blown phony!

    Alec's a pretty good actor, especially when he manages to portray "decent human being" convincingly. It's a real stretch.


  • Philosopher Johnny Anomaly wonders out loud: Is Intelligence Overrated? (Betteridge's law of headlines alert!) Bottom line:

    Some of the smartest people in universities deny that intelligence is real, that it is heritable, or that it makes a significant difference in people’s lives. As Russell Warne shows in his excellent new book, they are wrong. University professors and public intellectuals are full of bad ideas. But my guess is that as genetic testing and reproductive technology improve, many parents will ignore the pundits and seek to enhance their children’s intelligence. Some will do this the old-fashioned way—through mate selection. Others are likely to select embryos for intelligence using polygenic scores, along with other traits. But few of them will continue to deny what is increasingly obvious: intelligence is good for individuals and groups, and more intelligence is generally better, at least within the normal range of current human abilities.

    This is not to say that … well, a smart person like you should be able to fill in the rest.


  • And Mark Perry favors us with another Animated chart of the day: World’s top ten billionaires, 2000 to 2020.

    It's volatile. Bill and Warren fight it out, only to be surprised by Jeff!

URLs du Jour

2020-12-30

  • Daniel J. Mitchell deems this 2020’s Tweet of the Year.

    Not bad. Dan could be right about this. Click over for more from him.


  • Jacob "I'm not obsessed or anything" Sullum writes at Reason: Trump Blames Everyone but Himself for His Defeat.

    Donald Trump's presidency provided a rich trove of examples for my annual review of the year's highlights in blame shifting. The 2020 edition focuses on the question Trump has been trying to answer for nearly two months: Why did he lose the presidential election?

    By Trump's account, it was not because voters preferred Joe Biden. Rather, Trump was denied a second term by a long list of malefactors who delivered a phony victory to Biden or ratified that outcome. These criminal conspirators and after-the-fact accessories included:[…]

    … and there follows (1) Dominion Voting Systems; (2) Venezuela, Cuba, and China; (3) George Soros and the Clinton Foundation; (4) State Election Officials; (5) The 'Fake News' Media; (6) Republican Politicians; (7) Attorney General William Barr; (8) Judges; (9) The Supreme Court. Did Trump miss anyone?

    Well, yeah:

    The only person Trump has not blamed for his defeat is the one who apparently alienated enough voters to secure Biden's victory. The personal traits Trump has vividly displayed since the election—vanity, dishonesty, irresponsibility, and recklessness—go a long way toward explaining why that happened.

    Leaving out, inexplicably, laziness.

    It bears repeating: despite Biden winning the national popular vote by about 7 million votes, if Trump had been able to shift just 42,918 votes his way in three states (Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia), he would have won. (And a lot of people would have totally freaked out about that, but…)


  • Power Line's Steven Hayward appends a question mark to his headline, I'm not sure it's appropriate: Get Ready for the “Climate Emergency”?.

    It has been widely noted that many of our government leaders seem to like the air of crisis and the exertion of emergency power that the COVID pandemic has enabled. And there has been open support among the climatistas applying the kinds of strictures used to battle COVID to climate change as well. The superficiality of this parallel will be lost on lots of people—after all, how well are the lockdowns and mark-wearing mandates working?

    Thus we are starting to hear calls for proto-President Biden to declare climate change to be a national emergency when he takes office:

    And that link goes to a Bloomberg article documenting that claim. With the obligatory note that Trump used a similar tactic: declaring an "emergency" to fund part of his border wall.

    As for "many of our government leaders" liking "crisis": true. But a dismaying number of our fellow citizens seem to love it too.


  • You won't often see a Cato author advocate that Our Federal Government spend more money. So click over to see William Yeatman hatch A Proposal to Pay for the Modernization of Congress.

    Earlier this month in the Washington Post, George Will took aim at the Congress’s institutional weakness. In his first two paragraphs, he empties both barrels:

    On Jan 3, the 111th Congress will convene. It’s not clear why.

    Presidents make war without congressional involvement. The declare “emergencies” with Congress’s permission, “repurposing” monies for projects did not authorize. The Constitution vests in Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations,” but Congress has vested presidents with the power to utter “national security,” thereby justifying, on metal imports from Canada, a military ally. And on washing machines. Really. And the power to disburse billions to compensate farmers for injuries a president inflicts by initiating a trade war. Congress thinks it is setting immigration policy, but presidents can substantially alter it by invoking “enforcement discretion.” The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 requires Congress to pass a budget resolution by April 15, but it rarely does … Sixty‐​four percent of members of the 116th Congress have never served under a regular budget and appropriations process.

    Hear, hear! These are the same criticisms we’ve been leveling at Congress. In The Case for Congressional Regulatory Review, I elaborate on our legislature’s decline, the causes of which are too involved to broach in this post.

    Yeatman doesn't actually advocate for an increase in overall spending. (Spoiler.) He advocates cutting the Executive Branch's exorbitant spending on its own PR (the "EPA, for example, employs 165 public relations specialists")and redirecting some of that on Congressional staff. Which (cross your fingers) could act as a check/balance on executive power.


  • On an issue somewhat related to the "Tweet of the Year" above: Scott Sumner notes that it's not only the delay in getting Covid vaccines approved: Nice vaccine; pity there's no distribution mechanism.

    Many people are horrified by the prospects of introducing the profit motive into health care. Thus they oppose paying kidney donors, even though it would save tens of thousands of lives. They oppose price gouging on masks or vaccines, even though it would save many lives. They oppose challenge studies for vaccines, even though it would have brought us a vaccine much sooner, thus saving many lives.

    Instead, we end up with a government controlled health care regime, where decisions are made by slow and cumbersome bureaucracies.

    In a libertarian society, the pandemic might already be essentially over. That’s not to say that libertarianism is necessarily precisely “optimal”, as indeed there is a market failure aspect to pandemics, due to the external effects of infection. Yet despite the theoretical case for government intervention, in reality it does much more harm than good.

    Scott's post will rub a lot of people the wrong way. The one's who think we have a "right" to health care.


Last Modified 2020-12-31 6:29 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-29

[Amazon Link]
You'll see numerous results when you search Amazon for "cat selfie" products, but today's Product du Jour is "Amazon's Choice", so it's obviously superior. Even though that cat looks kind of scared/pissed.

In other news, my post yesterday tweaking Netflix for labelling my DVD queue entry for Heaven Can Wait as a "Very long wait" seems to have done the trick; they're sending one out to me today!

  • Kevin D. Williamson has had it with a journalistic quirk: ‘Scary’ Monsters.

    One of the words I would abolish from our political lexicon is “scary.” It is an insipid, empty adjective with its roots in “one weird trick”–style digital gimmickry, beloved of such master click-baiters as the editors over at Vox. A recent example comes from our friends (“If a man’s character is to be abused, there’s nobody like a relation to do the business”) over at The Bulwark, which carried a headline reading: “The Scary Spectacle of Trump’s Last Month in Office.”

    (The piece, by Brian Karem, opens: “Some may think of these as ‘the last days of Pompeii.’ If that reference strikes you as too erudite to be fitting, you might prefer to think of the month ahead as ‘the last days of chaos in a blender.’” To borrow from Margaret Thatcher: If you have to tell people you’re erudite. . . . And The Last Days of Pompeii was inescapable as a miniseries on ABC — as allusions go, not exactly Finnegans Wake.)

    “Scary” used in this way is irritating for a half a dozen reasons. One of them is that it is a base-stealing stratagem, a way of suggesting, usually in a headline, that the following matter is shocking or revelatory. And what follows almost always is something that is neither shocking nor revelatory. In the Bulwark piece, the “scary” headline is undercut by the copy itself: “The final days of the Donald Trump administration are upon us, and they look much like every other day at the White House for the last four years.” To which some might reply: “Oh, but every other day at the White House for the last four years has been scary, too!”

    In which case, grow the . . . heck . . . up.

    I'm pretty sure he was itchin' to use a different word than "heck" there in the last paragraph.

    But, yeah, now I'm gonna be hypersensitive about using "scary" myself. For at least a day or two.


  • At the Federalist, David Marcus says it well: Dr. Fauci Admits He Has Treated The American People Like Children.

    This quote, which has been rightfully making the rounds, really tells the whole tale. Asked why he changed his mind about how much vaccination would result in herd immunity, Fauci said, “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent … Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85. We need to have some humility here …. We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But, I’m not going to say 90 percent.”

    This is a problem. Fauci is clearly admitting that he was not simply telling the American people what he believed to be true, he was instead trying to manipulate us into behaving how he wants. And it’s not the first time. Back in March, Fauci told Americans not to wear masks. He now claims he did so largely because he feared a shortage. So, once again, instead of just giving us the unvarnished scientific truth, as he understood it, he told us only what he thought it was good for us to know.

    One of my mantras in explaining public policy is: When you treat people like children, you shouldn't be surprised when they act like children.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum is also all over The Fauch for a different quote Is Anthony Fauci Right That Federalism Undermined the U.S. Response to COVID-19?. (Does Betteridge's law of headlines apply here? You bet.)

    Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert who has played a leading role in advising the Trump administration on COVID-19, thinks federalism has undermined America's response to the pandemic. "The states are very often given a considerable amount of leeway in doing things the way they want to do it, as opposed to in response to federal mandates, which are relatively rarely given," Fauci, who has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, recently told BBC Radio 4. "What we've had was a considerable disparity, with states doing things differently in a nonconsistent way….There have been a lot of factors that have led to the fact that, unfortunately for us, the United States has been the hardest-hit country in the world, but I believe that disparity among how states do things has been a major weakness in our response."

    The "leeway" that bothers Fauci is required by the Constitution, which gives states the primary responsibility for dealing with public health threats under a broad "police power" that the federal government was never given. So his beef is not simply with the way COVID-19 policy happened to play out in the United States. It is an objection to the basic structure of our constitutional design, which limits the federal government to specifically enumerated powers that do not include a general mandate to fight communicable diseases or protect public health. Although Congress has invoked its authority over interstate and international commerce to justify certain disease control measures, the power to deal with epidemics lies mainly with the states, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized.

    Jacob goes on to note that Fauci is wrong both in theory and in practice.

    Theory: however imperfectly, local officials are more responsive to their constituents, more attuned to local conditions, and different policies allow us to judge their relative effectiveness.

    Practice: Your Federal Government's Covid response has been marked by "striking incompetence, bureaucratic intransigence, bewildering inconsistency, and lethal foot dragging."

    Whatever quibbles I have with the local folks, they're better than Fauci et al.


  • Not to say they're perfect. For Constitutionally-dubiousness, you can't beat the rulers in the town of Newfields, NH, as reported by NH Journal: Gov. Sununu's Hometown Bans Picketing at Residences Following Protests.

    Newfields’ Select Board passed an ordinance last week prohibiting picketing at private residences. The move follows weeks of peaceful mask protests outside the home of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who lives in Newfields.

    “It is unlawful for any person to engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling of any individual in the Town of Newfields,” the signed ordinance reads. Violators will be subject to fines up to $100 for each offense. Chris Sununu’s brother, Michael, is a Select Board member in Newfields and appears on the signed ordinance.

    What do you think? Constitutional? Before you answer either way, check the relevant page at the "First Amendment Encyclopedia on Protests in Neighborhoods. I'd say it's a coin flip, but I'm not a lawyer.


  • But NHJournal quickly reported on implementation, which managed to offend even more First Amendment fans: Newfields Cops Target NHJournal Reporter Covering Protest at Governor's Home.

    Newfields police used a controversial new ordinance to ticket protesters gathered outside Gov. Chris Sununu’s home Monday night. They also ticketed an NHJournal reporter covering the event, despite being repeatedly informed that he was a journalist on the job.

    Monday morning, NHJournal broke the story of the Newfields Select Board passing an ordinance banning picketing at private residences. According to minutes of a December 8th meeting, the ordinance was a response to weeks of peaceful protests against the governor’s statewide mask mandate by opponents outside Sununu’s Newfields home.

    I think that "freedom of the press" should apply as widely as possible. For example, to bloggers. On the other hand, does it give "journalists" special rights, based on their Official Lanyards, or propeller beanies, to do things that would be illegal for ordinary citizens? Hm. Well, I guess I'm happy I'm not a lawyer.


  • Skip at GraniteGrok and his co-bloggers have been all over this, as expected. I left a comment on his article: Newfields, NH Ban on Residential Protests is Probably Illegal and Unconstitutional, referencing the Encyclopedia page linked above. And also reflecting on New Hampshire's history of First Amendment cases; I'm virtually certain it's out of proportion to other states. And maybe the Newfields Selectmen have given us another case to add to our long list.


  • On a totally different topic, Stanley Kurtz at National Review writes on a topic that sounds like a good idea, but probably won't be in practice: New Civics Mandates Will Be Woke.

    Americans dismayed by the mendacity and distortions of the 1619 Project are headed for a fall. A commendable desire to counter both civic illiteracy and the excesses of woke ideology has produced a new national movement to mandate history and civics standards. Unfortunately, that strategy will produce the very opposite of its intended effect. Far from restoring traditional understandings of American citizenship, the proposed history and civics mandates will entrench woke ideology nationally, imposing it on the reddest of red-state school-districts, and ultimately on private and religious schools as well.

    The conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is considering a model bill that would have state legislatures mandate history and civics standards. Bipartisan federal legislation to fund curriculum development and teacher training in civics has also been introduced. Comprehensive proposals to create de facto national history and civics standards on the model of Common Core are in the works as well, and likely to be adopted by a Biden administration. Every one of these initiatives will undermine the very ends they appear to promote. Conservative legislators who support them will one day find themselves facing an army of angry constituents. The blowback against these ill-considered civics mandates will make the battle over Common Core look like patty-cake. By then, unfortunately, the damage will have been done.

    I keep pointing to the Officially Approved Racial Justice Resources site at the University Near Here. It's uniformly Woke, Critical, Intersectional, … basically every adjective you can apply to the Gospel According To Identity Politics. You don't want these people designing your K-12 civics curriculum.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-28

I found this movie's availability notation in my Netflix DVD queue amusing, but I can understand if you don't:

[Loooong wait, I hope]

It's got Laird Cregar as "His Excellency", aka Satan. A role he was born to play.

But now on to less amusing things…

  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum has been all over reportage of the election aftermath. It's like rubbernecking at a crash on the side of the road, I know. But still: Angry at the Failure of His Election Challenges, Trump Calls His Own SCOTUS Nominees Cowardly and Incompetent.

    Explaining the need to swiftly replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett this fall, Donald Trump said the Court likely would have to rule on disputes about the presidential election. "I think this will end up in the Supreme Court," he told reporters on September 23. "And I think it's very important that we have nine justices….This scam that the Democrats are pulling…will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4–4 situation is not a good situation, if you get that. I don't know that you'd get that. I think it should be 8–nothing or 9–nothing. But just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it's very important to have a ninth justice."

    Trump thought Barrett should dance with the one that brought her. But in case that argument was not persuasive enough, he argued that it was in her personal and professional interest to prevent Biden from taking office. In the end, however, Barrett joined the rest of the Court, including Trump's two other nominees and three justices appointed by Republicans George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, in declining to hear two cases that sought to overturn Biden's victory.

    But now, well…

    Jacob looks at the (lack of) reality behind the "absolute PROOF". Which you, if you have the slightest inclination to believe Trump, should read. Conclusion:

    In Trump's view, nearly everyone and everything, including all of the institutions that are supposed to discover and correct the sort of unprecedented criminal activity he alleges, are conspiring against him. This is the world in which Trump demands that his supporters live. And if they do not accept this preposterous tale, he says, "we have no country!"

    Unlike Trump, I have no doubt that we will continue to have a country even when Joe Biden takes office on January 20. But it will be an even angrier, more divided, and less rational country than the one Trump was elected to govern four years ago, which may be his most remarkable accomplishment.

    I have friends who believe Trump. Which makes me sad, but maybe we can, eventually, MoveOn™.


  • Kevin D. Williamson writes at the NYPost on, I fear, a forlorn hope: If Biden wants to heal the nation, he should make the presidency small again.

    Joe Biden says he wants to “heal America” as president. The problem for Biden is that the president and, perhaps more important, the presidency thrive on crisis. It is wars and other national emergencies (real and imagined) that have facilitated the radical expansion of the executive office from FDR onward. Keeping the nation in a state of crisis is good for presidents — and good for their hangers-on, who feed parasitically on the swollen executive in chief. 

    Biden comes into office in an age of big presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump among them. But he also comes into the presidency after having spent nearly 40 years in the Senate. If he truly wants to heal the nation, cooperation and consensus should be at the center of his agenda, as they should be central to everybody else’s approach, too: Bipartisanship and consensus are not sentimental feel-good virtues — they are necessary to creating stable public policy and the prosperity that rests on that stability. That doesn’t mean pretending that our disagreements are not disagreements; it means not treating our disagreements as civil war. 

    KDW notes that Biden's mediocrity might be a plus here.


  • Megan McArdle notes the recent kerfuffle over the Grandma-killing policies (briefly) advocated by experts in "ethics": Public health bodies may be talking at us, but they’re actually talking to each other.

    If you watch the YouTube video of the now-infamous November meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, you’ll hear Chairman José Romero thank everyone for a “robust discussion.” Shortly thereafter, the committee unanimously agreed that essential workers should get vaccinated ahead of the elderly, even though they’d been told this would mean up to 6 percent more deaths. This decision was supported in part by noting that America’s essential workers are more racially diverse than its senior citizens.

    On Dec. 20, after the public belatedly noticed this attempted geronticide, the advisory panel walked it back, so I need not point out the many flaws of this reasoning. Instead, let’s dwell on the equally flawed process by which the committee reached its decision, because that itself is a symptom of much deeper problems that have plagued us since the beginning of the pandemic.

    Megan is charitable about the groupthink, but it's probably already done its part to kill a bunch of people.


  • Hey, I haven't linked to Breitbart for a long time, but when they're right, they're right: New York Times' Reporting Blackout on Swalwell-Spy Ties Continues.

    The New York Times has continued its reporting blackout on ties between Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and suspected Chinese Communist regime spy Christine Fang — not reporting on those ties for more than two weeks after they came to light.

    A Google News search doesn't disconfirm this. Even the WaPo has mentioned it. Even Commie Radio has mentioned it.

    Of course, the WaPo story put on the "Republicans Pounce" template: "Republicans are trying to make it" a "political issue." I'm pretty sure they avoided pointing out Democrats trying to make Russiagate a political issue.

Cynical Theories

How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody

[Amazon Link]

Good deal: I got the Kindle version for $8.53. It's slightly more as I type.

The book is a critical examination of how postmodern epistemology mutated into today's—let's just be honest—raging dumpster fire of "wokeness", "identity politics", "anti-racism", and associated ideologies. But if you're expecting a polemic, you might be disappointed.

The authors, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, do a scholarly job on examining the roots, the so-called postmodernism from the 1960s and 1970s. Postmodernism was (at least) fun, full of irony and playfulness. But its main goal was in challenging modernity, including the liberal consensus on individualism, rationality, empiricism. It contains musings (some, the authors grant, insightful) about the nature of language, power, and knowledge.

Postmodernism murmured in your ear: Oppression and colonialism were built into your freshman calculus course. This appealed to folks who were bad at math, but nevertheless wanted the cushy jobs in academia.

But the (as near as I can tell, unanswered) objection to all this: how well can you construct an argument for your views when you've spent your heavy artillery on the pillars of rationality and language?

I suspect Lindsay and Pluckrose agree, but they press on nevertheless, showing how the various forms of activist scholarship grew from the roots of postmodernism, branching into theories: "postcolonial" theory, "queer" theory, "critical race" theory, "intersectionality", gender/disability/fat/etc. "studies". These all share the theme of anti-liberal individualism: your individual identity isn't particularly important, your membership in the relevant pigeonholed groups is what matters, and classifies you as either an oppressor or oppressed victim. (One quoted theorist distinguishes between someone who thinks of himself as a "black person" and someone who self-images as a "person who happens to be black"; the former being the acceptable way to think. Stay in your pigeonhole, fella.)

Lots of quotes of the resulting academic gobbledygook. But eventually we get to the present day, where the relevant fields of higher education have been successfully taken over by the activists, and the only remaining bones of contention is what to do about those obstreperous kids in your class who "derail" your indoctrination sessions by denying their implicit privelege, asking for evidence, propping up an unwoke narrative.

One thing the critical race theorists can't stand: criticism.

Pluckrose and Lindsay do bend over backwards to present opposing views fairly, which requires the reader's patience. They wind up the book with possible approaches to counter pernicious creeds. They explicitly reject illiberal measures to silence their opponents, instead advocating those good old tools of rational argument. (Liberalism can abide a certain amount of illiberalism, where the opposite isn't true: illiberalism sees liberalism as something that must be stamped out.)

It would be one thing if postmodern lunacy were restricted to academia. Bad enough. But its effects keep creeping into fields where it matters. Latest example, as described by Ben Shapiro

Now we learn that public health officials pushed for vaccine distribution not based on health risk but on racial factors. As the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported this week: “Every U.S. state has been advised to consider ethnic minorities as a critical and vulnerable group in their vaccine distribution plans, according to Centers for Disease Control guidance. As a result, half of the nation’s states have outlined plans that now prioritize black, Hispanic and indigenous residents over white people in some way.”

This insanity is rooted in eugenic concerns. “Older populations are whiter,” public health “expert” Dr. Harald Schmidt of the University of Pennsylvania told The New York Times in early December. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.” In other words, a disproportionate number of white people survive to old age; we should, therefore, give vaccines to younger, less vulnerable nonwhite citizens in “essential industries” and let Grandma die.

It's all academic fun and games until Grandma dies.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-27

[Amazon Link]
<voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice>: we have sort of a theme today. The Susan B. Anthony quote on our Amazon Product du Jour is a hint.

Except I'd make Susie's quote a little broader (albeit clunkier): after the word "God", add in "or Science".

  • At the new site Persuasion, Yascha Mounk explains Why I'm Losing Trust in the Institutions.

    Who should be first in line to get the vaccine against Covid-19?

    These kinds of decisions are never easy, and there are many competing considerations. Highly trained moral philosophers can have deep disagreements about them. Though I myself have studied ethics and political philosophy for much of my academic career, I am deeply grateful that I don't have to make those judgment calls. But for all of those difficulties, there are also some bedrock principles on which virtually all moral philosophers have long agreed.

    The first is that we should avoid “leveling down” everyone’s quality of life for the purpose of achieving equality. It is unjust when some people have plenty of food while others are starving. But alleviating that inequality by making sure that an even greater number of people starve is clearly wrong. The second is that we should not use ascriptive characteristics like race or ethnicity to allocate medical resources. To save one patient rather than another based on the color of their skin rightly strikes most philosophers—and most Americans—as barbaric. The Centers for Disease Control have just thrown both of these principles overboard in the name of social justice.

    In one of the most shocking moral misjudgments by a public body I have ever seen, the CDC invoked considerations of “social justice” to recommend providing vaccinations to essential workers before older Americans even though this would, according to its own models, lead to a much greater death toll. After a massive public outcry, the agency has adopted revised recommendations. But though these are a clear improvement, they still violate the two bedrock principles of allocative justice—and are likely to cause unnecessary suffering on a significant scale.

    Mounk goes into detail on the CDC recommendations, and mentions how they are rooted in the postmodern-inspired illiberal principles of "Social Justice".

    So it's bad enough when that Social Justice stuff is pretty much isolated on university campuses among those wacky academics. But it's now leaking out from academia and, in effect, killing people.

    Mounck also mentions that this got minimal coverage in the New York Times: another reason, as if we needed one, to distrust the NYT to provide us with the whole story on contentious issues. But…


  • … the NYT managed to (perhaps unintentionally) provide another reason not to trust the public health "experts" in a story that appeared in Sunday's dead-trees edition: How Much Herd Immunity is Enough?. For months, we've been told that once 60-70% of the population has Covid immunity, we could return to normalcy. But:

    Recently, a figure to whom millions of Americans look for guidance — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, an adviser to both the Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration — has begun incrementally raising his herd-immunity estimate.

    In the pandemic’s early days, Dr. Fauci tended to cite the same 60 to 70 percent estimate that most experts did. About a month ago, he began saying “70, 75 percent” in television interviews. And last week, in an interview with CNBC News, he said “75, 80, 85 percent” and “75 to 80-plus percent.”

    In a telephone interview the next day, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that he had slowly but deliberately been moving the goal posts. He is doing so, he said, partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.

    And what he "really thinks" is that the number could be as high as 90%,

    What does it say when the official spokesmodels for public health essentially admit they've been shading the truth for months, because they think the country isn't "ready to hear" what their actual estimate is?


  • Or as Eugene Volokh puts it at his Reason-hosted blog: And We Should Trust You Now, Dr. Fauci, Because …?.

    Errors happen; scientists' understanding changes; but Dr. Fauci's statements here aren't just about changed medical understanding, right?

    Right.


  • We finish up with Jonah Goldberg, who correctly observes: Progressives have made a mockery of the slogan ‘listen to science’.

    Over the course of the pandemic (and before that, in debates over climate change, stem cells, etc.), liberals have insisted that we must listen to science and heed the scientists. It was a cornerstone of President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign and a constant refrain of President Trump’s critics. 

    Taken literally, I endorse the phrase “listen to science” wholeheartedly. Scientists have important things to say to policymakers and citizens alike — and let’s not forget that in a democracy, voters are policymakers, too. A well-informed electorate is a useful check on ill-informed politicians.

    The problem, however, is that the people who say “listen to science” tend not to mean it literally but figuratively, and worse, intermittently.

    Jonah also refers to the NYT story mentioned in the first item above. It contains this chilling quote …

    Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it is reasonable to put essential workers ahead of older adults, given their risks, and that they are disproportionately minorities. “Older populations are whiter, ” Dr. Schmidt said. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”

    "Level the playing field a bit" by killing people. Geez, those Ivy League ethics experts are something else.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-26

[LFOD by Richard Herd] Hope everyone had a happy Christmas! We put our celebration off until today, because I'm sure Dr. Fauci was only nagging us about Christmas get-togethers. We should be much safer now.

  • As I've mentioned numerous times before: I have a Google News Alert set for occurrences of our state motto, "Live Free or Die". Lately, it's been bad. Because for months, it's been people talking about Covid stuff, mostly masks. Recent examples, if you want, here and here.

    Trust me, once you've seen dozens of those LFOD invocations, you've seen them all.

    So let me tell you about an unexpected and gratifying use of LFOD, found at BedfordNOW, a news site (apparently) serving Monroe County, Michigan: Actors who took a final bow in 2020. (Translation: "took a final bow" means"died".) The writer, Nick Thomas, takes special note of Richard Herd, who passed away in May at age 87.

    If you watched any TV at all in the past few decades, you'll recognize Richard Herd. But here's Thomas's recollection:

    During his 2-day trip to our campus, we stopped at my office for a break on one occasion and he commented on some colorful photographs on my wall - photos I had taken of crystals of chemical compounds under a microscope. I was flattered that an artist would praise them. So during our drive back to the airport next day, I presented him with one of the framed photos. Several weeks later, a print of his patriotic “Live Free or Die” abstract depiction of the American flag arrived in my mailbox.

    I was able to find an image of Herd's "Live Free or Die", and it's our Eye Candy du Jour. A belated RIP for Richard Herd. (Who, to me, will always be the Klingon warrior L'Kor in Star Trek: The Next Generation.)


  • Cato's transportation guru Randal O'Toole is particularly steamed: Transit Gets $14 Billion in Relief.

    The transit industry will get $14 billion of the $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress on Tuesday. That’s less than half of what transit agencies wanted but enough to tide them over for five months or so by which time (the agencies hope) the next Congress will have a chance to pass another and even bigger relief bill. The $14 billion is on top of the $13 billion that Congress gave to transit as a part of its normal annual funding bill.

    […]

    [U]rban transit, which doesn’t even carry 1 percent of passenger travel in the United States and whose fare revenues represented less than 0.08 percent of the economy in 2019, gets more than 1.5 percent of the money that is supposed to help the entire economy. This is testimony to transit’s successful effort to portray itself as essential to urban living even though, outside of New York, it is actually pretty irrelevant. It is also testimony to the fact that transit, like someone whose job has been outmoded by automation and who refuses to learn new skills, is pathetically depended on public relief in order to survive.

    Randal notes that ridership isn't likely to recover after the pandemic. Which makes our next item even more infuriating…


  • Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center reports: N.H. wasting $5.4 million to design obsolete commuter rail line.

    Amid a historic collapse in transit ridership, the Executive Council has approved a $5.4 million contract to design a commuter rail line from New Hampshire to Boston. The contract is financed entirely with federal money, so New Hampshire taxpayers could choose to take some comfort in knowing that the state is throwing away what is mostly other people’s money. Nonetheless, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    Americans have in the past year avoided mass transit like the plague, largely because of, well, a plague of sorts. But the trends before the rise of the coronavirus show a longer decline in ridership. 

    Key quote from later in the article: "Rail is a 19th century technology that is ill-suited to solving 21st century transportation and environmental issues." A line I've used myself. Independently, I swear.

    It's particularly galling to note that the proposed line will be run by Massachusetts' MBTA. Which is much like partnering with the White Star Line in 1913 for passenger ship service.


  • The WSJ notes A Lone Star Speech Victory.

    Political speech is under attack these days from Beijing to Berkeley, so we’ll take victories where we can get them. One arrived Tuesday when the University of Texas at Austin agreed to disband its PC police and end policies that suppress speech on campus.

    Credit the nonprofit Speech First, which sued on behalf of student members in 2018. The group claimed UT and its officials had “created an elaborate investigatory and disciplinary apparatus to suppress, punish, and deter speech that other students deem ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ or ‘rude.’”

    Students could anonymously report their professors and peers for “bias incidents” to the Campus Climate Response Team, which would investigate and threaten disciplinary referrals and “restorative justice” meetings with administrators. The university gave several examples of what constitutes an act of bias, including “faculty commentary in the classroom perceived as derogatory and insensitive,” and other behavior open to highly subjective judgments about what is offensive.

    Which reminds me (too much) of the still-alive "reportit!" site where people can "report and learn about incidents of bias or hate, discrimination and/or harassment" at the University Near Here.

    Will UNH take the Texas decision as a warning sign and disband "reportit!"? That would be nice, but I'd wager they'll have to be legally threatened first.


  • Wired provides us with our share of stupid articles, but it also brings us stuff we're interested in. Here's an example: The Year of Driving Less—but More Dangerously by Aarian Marshall.

    In theory, bringing society to a screeching halt should curtail traffic deaths. No one’s going to bars and then driving home; few are commuting to work; the occasional trip to the grocery store does not demand excessive speed.

    So when swaths of the country ground to a halt this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it was easy to predict the results. Heeding public health officials, plenty of people stopped traveling. So yes, traffic deaths did decline, at least in the first half of the year, according to the most recent government data available. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which tracks traffic fatalities, says 16,650 people died on US roads from January through June, compared with 16,988 in the same period a year earlier, a 2 percent dip.

    But the volume of traffic fell much more. As a result, more people died per mile traveled—1.25 per 100 million miles in the first half of the year, compared with 1.06 in the same period in 2019, and the highest rate since 2008. From April through June, the figures were even more dire: Deaths per mile traveled jumped by 31 percent compared with 2019, a figure that usually staid government researchers called “striking.”

    Of course there are stupid elements to the Wired story: a lot of chin pulling by would-be social engineers, saying in effect: "Gee, we didn't expect that."

    Those of us with a certain ideological bent reply: "Of course you didn't. You never do."


  • And (back at Cato) Jeffrey A. Singer's article has a widely-applicable headline: Going After Scapegoats Is Easier Than Confronting The Truth. But it concentrates on a specific recent example:

    Yesterday the Department of Justice filed suit against the giant retailer Walmart, accusing it of fueling the opioid crisis by encouraging its pharmacists to fill prescriptions–legally written by health care practitioners licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration–they should have suspected of being inappropriately prescribed.

    The Justice Department seems uninterested in the fact that there is no correlation between the number of opioid prescriptions and the non‐​medical use of prescription pain reliever or the development of opioid use disorder. And while the number of opioid prescriptions has dropped 57.5 percent since 2010, the overdose rate has continued to climb, soaring to record high levels in the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    As Singer observes, the DOJ is letting the real murderer get away: drug prohibition.

Night and the City

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

Another movie directed by that blacklisted ex-Commie, Jules Dassin. It's set in filthy 1950 London. Specifically, in the filthiest parts of town, among the denizens of the semi-underworld: gamblers, black marketeers, forgers, barflies, hookers (thinly-disguised as appropriate for a 1950 movie).

And then there's Harry Fabian, played by frenetic Richard Widmark. He works as a tout, on commission for one of those dens of iniquity, the "Silver Fox Club", bringing in high-rolling tourists to be fleeced. He has a saintly girlfriend, Mary (Gene Tierney, in a far different role that the last movie we saw her in.) And he has big, big plans. He wants badly to "be somebody". But, as Lily Tomlin could have told him, he should have been more specific.

The scheme he latches onto involves breaking into the wrestling promotion business. He erects a complex house of cards to finance his effort, involving the Silver Fox's fat owner, his unfaithful wife, an aged Graeco-Roman wrestler, the wrestler's mobster son, various others on society's edge.

Herbert Lom plays the mobster son. Man, nobody did dead eyes like Herbert Lom. I think Al Pacino studied Herbert Lom's performance here for Godfather II.

URLs du Jour

Christmas 2020

Pun Salad will try to stick to a theme today…

  • … starting off with Michael Ramirez.

    [Merry Christmas, Kids]

    So, Merry Christmas to y'all. Especially you young'uns.


  • Another heartwarming Christmas story from China, as noted by Walter Russell Mead at the WSJ: Beijing’s Collision With Christians.

    In October, National Review’s Cameron Hilditch pointed to a Xinhua News Agency report that the Communist Party has decided to produce a state-approved Bible. Mr. Hilditch reports that one change is to the New Testament story in which Jesus spares a woman taken in adultery from stoning by telling her accusers not to cast the first stone unless they are sinless. In the new, improved version, when the accusers have left, Jesus stones the woman himself, saying, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.”

    If you need reminding on the story Wikipedia has you more than covered. (They reference the China story, and relays: "The publisher claims that this was an inauthentic, unauthorized publication of its textbook."


  • The jokers at Reason produced another fine video: White House Christmas Ornaments.


  • And finally, P. J. O'Rourke provides updated lyrics to your holiday favorites: Baby, It's COVID Outside. For example…

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
    Had a very runny nose
    And anyone who saw it
    Knew he had a viral dose

    All of the other reindeer
    Used hoof sanitizer to prevent
    Rudolph from getting near them
    Even at a Trump event

    Then one foggy Christmas Eve
    Santa told them all
    “Can’t social distance with my sleigh
    Christmas is locked down anyway.”

    Then how the reindeer shunned him
    As they began to rant and spew
    “Rudolph the Runny-Nosed Reindeer
    We’re eating you for Christmas stew”

    It's funny because it could be true.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-24

[Amazon Link]

  • A powerful ex-pol is coming for our Presidential Primary, specifically Harry Reid: Nevada 'Entitled To Be' FITN Primary State. Michael Graham of NHJournal will fill us in:

    When it comes to New Hampshire’s First In the Nation primary, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid is one of the many haters. And he’s never been shy about saying so. “I was always terribly upset about how we were choosing our presidents,” then-Senate Minority Leader Reid said in 2015. “You go to New Hampshire. There are not any minorities there. Nobody lives there.”

    Granite State politicos, like the New England Patriots (until this year, anyway), are used to being hated for their success. There have been multiple attempts to knock New Hampshire out of the top primary spot, and each time they’ve been foiled by Secretary of State Bill Gardner and a united front from the Granite State’s political players.

    Here's our state's dirty little secret (which I relate every few years or so, but nobody's noticed): we do a lousy job at voting for the eventual president.

    • In our most recent primary, Joe Biden did not win. In fact, he came in fifth. Behind Bernie, Mayor Pete, Amy, and Fauxcahontas.
    • The last time the Democrat winner of a contested New Hampshire Primary went on to win the general election was 1976 (Jimmy Carter).
    • Republican primary voters can congratulate themselves on a slightly better record. In the last seriously-contested GOP-side primary in 2016, Trump soundly beat the field, and (as you know) went on to win. (Whether that was a wise choice for GOP voters… well, longtime readers know my opinion there. Probably also short-time readers.)
    • But before that, to find an NH GOP primary winner who went on to become President, you have to go back to 1988 when George H. W. Bush beat Bob Dole.

    So while I like NH having the FITN primary—it's fun, sort of—I can see why pols of both parties might think it's time to pull the plug.


  • At the Dispatch, Timothy Sandefur writes on the antitrust debate, explaining Why We Shouldn’t Abandon the Consumer Welfare Standard.

    Seventy-five years ago, a federal court in New York issued one of the most destructive decisions in the history of American law. Bizarre as it sounds, that ruling, called United States v. Alcoa, essentially made it illegal for businesses to succeed through hard work, and established a precedent that threatened the competition and efficiency upon which economic growth depends. It took decades for legal scholars to persuade judges to abandon that foolhardy rule, and adopt a more pro-competitive principle called the “consumer welfare standard” instead. Their success led to an explosion of innovation and vast improvements in the standard of living. But today, in supporting antitrust actions against Google and Facebook, intellectuals on both the left and right are trying to eliminate that rule and move backwards to a day when antitrust laws served to punish economic success.

    Goodness knows that Big Tech engages in a lot of irritating behavior. But here's one large class of people that they don't irritate: their customers. They continue to sell them stuff at prices they can afford (or just give stuff away). I hope that doesn't become illegal any time soon.


  • Senator Rand Paul issues his 2020 Festivus Report (PDF). I don't recommend it if you're having blood pressure control issues. But otherwise… Sample:

    Pay enough attention to government waste and you’ll start to hear about a few projects that are so crazy, they live on in the memory long after they’ve stopped being funded. Some of my personal favorites include a multi-year NIH study of the sexual promiscuity of Japanese quail while on cocaine, costing roughly $850,000, as well as what has come to be known as “Shrimp on a Treadmill,” a project on which the National Science Foundation (NSF) spent $682,570 to literally run a shrimp on an underwater treadmill.

    Well, now the NSF is back at it, only instead of putting a shrimp on a treadmill, they paid researchers to put a lizard on a treadmill, and the researchers used funds from grants worth $1,557,083 to do it!

    Lizards on a Treadmill would make a pretty good 1950s film noir movie title, perhaps directed by a blacklisted ex-Communist.


  • And as far as I know, this paper was not Federally funded: Senators vs Santa’s Reindeer. It's from five Dartmouth folks: one economist, four sociologists. Here's the abstract, and you'll note a further New Hampshire connection:

    Given the concerns over informed stock trading by U.S. senators and congresspeople at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, we examine these legislators’ short term stock trading results during 2020. We find little evidence for market timing or stock selection ability. Both Senators’ and House Members’ stock selections underperform the S&P at the one month horizon and underperform a size-industry adjusted benchmark at the 3 and 6 month time frames. Returns to legislators’ purchases contrast with returns to the top stock picks from U.S. brokerage houses and stocks chosen by Santa’s Reindeer (Santa’s Village Jefferson NH). As a group the Reindeer outperform the S&P by 4.89 percent in a single month, or over 70 percent on an annualized basis. However reindeer exhibit herding behavior and a preference for momentum stocks.

    Reader, from the linked page you can click through to find the paper itself, and it's very funny. ("Reindeer appear to use a COVID related strategy, investing in both pharma and life sciences companies (e.g. Zoetis and Myovant Sciences) and the technology sectors (e.g. a NASQAQ 100 etf). Reindeer have industry selection ability but not stock picking prowess per se.")


  • And Jonah Goldberg brings us the bad news. A Return to Reaganism for the GOP? Unlikely.. And his poster boy for that unlikelihood is Ted Cruz:

    Cruz has long been a reliable bellwether for the mood of the broader GOP base, which is why he switched from one of Trump’s biggest critics to one of his biggest supporters—and why he offered to argue the Texas lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

    No politician in recent memory has wrapped himself more in Reagan’s legacy than Cruz. He’s read all the biographies, can quote all the big speeches, and has said countless times that he models himself after the Gipper.

    So it was revealing that on Friday, Cruz single-handedly scuttled an effort to protect Hong Kongers facing persecution for supporting democracy. The legislation would have offered temporary protected status to Hong Kongers seeking asylum from Chinese authoritarianism and for Hong Kong residents fearful of returning to it. The measure, so uncontroversial that it passed unanimously by voice vote in the House, is vintage Reagan.

    I'm still a registered Republican, Ted. And I vote. For you? That's getting less likely.

Rope of Sand

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

I watched Rope of Sand on the TV of Sand, while sitting on the Futon of Sand. And slept through most of it, darn. So I got up early and watched it downstairs on the Computer of Sand. Much better.

No subtitles, though. What the hell. Well, I got the gist.

You'll notice something right away about this 1949 movie it reunites a bunch of actors from Casablanca: Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid. (Also, thanks to IMDB's collaboration search tool: Georges Renavent, uncredited in both movies.) Rains and Lorre play very similar characters to their Casablanca roles, Henreid very different. And according to IMDB:

Hal Wallis and screenwriter of "Rope of Sand" saw it as a re-teaming of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. The producer of "Casablanca" did not get the stars but managed to recruit supporting players Claude Rains, Paul Henried, and Peter Lorre.

That would have been neat. We got Burt Lancaster and Corinne Calvet instead.

It's set in South Africa. Henreid plays Vogel, a sadistic mining company cop, dedicated to protecting the diamonds that poachers might retrieve out of the desolate company-owned forbidden zone. That's his job, but really, he just enjoys inflicting pain on people.

Then arrives a man Vogel tortured but failed to break years back: Mike Davis (Lancaster). He had found a fortune in diamonds out there in the desert wastes, but their secret location stayed with him.

In the background: company man Arthur Martingale (Rains), who despises Vogel but must keep him around. He gets acquainted with Suzanne (Calvet), variously described as a "Capetown trollop" and "French harlot". However, you just know that under about three inches of mud there beats a heart of gold. Martingale hires Suzanne to worm the diamonds' location from Mike.

There's a lot of betrayal, violence, sweating, sadism, smoking, cheating at cards, late-40s sex. If you can stay awake, it's a lot of fun.


Last Modified 2020-12-25 5:29 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-23

[Amazon Link]

  • At National Review, Andrew Stuttaford warns us of (Another) Climate Warrior Aiming to Bypass Democracy.

    Whether it’s through their attempts of “legislation” by regulation, litigation, or the pressure of Wall Street’s corporatists, the climate warriors have long shown an interest in bypassing the usual democratic procedures in order to get their agenda through, and there is no doubt that some of the coercive measures that have been put in place to combat the pandemic will have given them additional ideas. That’s not a good thing.

    Andrew's example is Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (Guess the party), who wrorte a WaPo op-ed urging Führer-elect Joseph Robinette Biden to "act boldly" climatewise, invoking (with no additional legislative authority) the National Emergencies Act and/or the Defense Production Act to (for example) mandate that private industry "ramp up manufacturing of clean energy technologies."

    The WaPo adopted the "Democracy Dies in Darkness" motto a few years back. They should add: "And Sometimes in Broad Daylight Too. Check out our editorial page."


  • I used to joke about this: who cares if private companies are leaking your personal data, the government knows that stuff anyway. Well (as Andrea O'Sullivan at Reason points out) The Massive SolarWinds Hack Won’t Stop the Feds from Wanting All Your Data.

    Governments often tell their subjects that they must submit to surveillance programs to stay safe. Whether the boogeyman is terrorism, hate, or even health, government snooping on private data often violates our rights to privacy.

    But surveillance programs are unsafe on their own. Securing major sets of sensitive personal data is a tall order that few can fulfill. What do you know: Government agencies that want more access to your data all too often get hacked and risk exposing your private information to the world.

    I recall the University Near Here bought at least one SolarWinds product for network monitoring. (I wasn't involved.) Geez, I hope they dodged this particular bullet. I hope they can figure out whether they dodged the bullet or not. I gather from news articles that a lot of compromised government sites are having difficulty even doing damage assessment.


  • Andrew Stuttaford (yes, again, sue me) writes the "Capital Note" at National Review. His take on the latest legislative monstrosity: Well, That’s a Relief.

    So, a “stimulus” package has finally been passed, although it is better understood (and justified) as a relief package, even if it contains some extras typical of what comes slouching into view every time Washington is handing out large slugs of money.

    To quote Robert VerBruggen:

    More than $25 million for the Kennedy Performing Arts Center! More than $100 million to Sudan, and $25 million to gender and democracy programs in Pakistan!

    Such spending is insulting as well as infuriating, but, under the circumstances, it was, rightly, not enough to derail the overall package.

    Andrew's a lot more copacetic about the bill than I am, but it's an interesting take.


  • At Quillette, Rav Arora pushes back on woke narrative: we live in A Peculiar Kind of Racist Patriarchy.

    We are frequently told by commentators and theorists on the progressive and liberal Left that we live in a systemically racist and patriarchal society. The belief that Western societies privilege white men and oppress people of color, women, and LGBT citizens is especially popular within academic institutions, legacy media, the entertainment industry, and even sports. However, newly released statistics from the US Department of Labor for the third quarter of 2020 undermine this narrative. Asian women have now surpassed white men in weekly earnings. That trend has been consistent throughout this past year—an unprecedented outcome. Full-time working Asian women earned $1,224 in median weekly earnings in the third quarter of this year compared to $1,122 earned by their white male counterparts. Furthermore, the income gap between both black and Latino men and Asian women is wider than it has ever been. The income gap between white and black women, meanwhile, is much narrower than the gap between their male counterparts.

    Arora includes this Carpe Diem table from Mark J. Perry:

    [peculiar]

    Peculiar indeed!


  • As the Who sang: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Hot Air's Allahpundit notes the latest from Joe Biden: Yes, I still think the stories about Hunter were Russian disinformation. Contained in this tweet:

    OK, I like the "one-horse pony thing."

    But given the MSM relentlessly, aggressively (and often accurately) labelling various Trump claims "false" and "without evidence", I can't wait to see whether Biden gets the same treatment. Certainly he's provided zero evidence that Russia had anything to do with exposing Hunter.


Last Modified 2020-12-24 6:12 AM EST

Shockproof

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

So this got me wondering about movie titles. Shockproof? Who's supposed to be shockproof here? What happens over the course of the movie could (I suppose) be shocking to some of the characters. But they all seem to be appropriately shocked. So I don't know about the title. I suppose it's better than Parole Officer Temptress?

It's the story of Jenny Marsh (played by Patricia Knight), fresh out of the slammer where she's spent a measly five years for murder. She buys some new duds, gets a bleach job for her hair, and is off to meet with her new parole officer, Griff (Cornell Wilde). He's no-nonsense, at least at first: here are the rules (which are pretty strict by modern standards), break them and I'll send you back to the pen. He's particularly adamant that Jenny not associate with previous boyfriend, Harry. Harry's a dapper well-to-do semi-criminal, still has the hots for Jenny. And he's very persistent in his affections.

To complicate matters, Griff gets the hots for Jenny himself. And he fulfills his duty to find her a job… by setting her up in his house, taking care of his blind (but oh-so-wise and saintly) mother.

So it's a volatile situation, and it rapidly moves toward the inevitable gunplay.

The Netflix DVD is a disk out of "The Samuel Fuller Film Collection"; he co-wrote the movie. Apparently his ending was very much a downer; it was rewritten to … semi-spoiler coming … provide a much sappier and less believable conclusion.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-22

  • Help from Your Federal Government is on the way! Also: New COVID-19 Relief Bill Also Creates 2 New Museums and a Library, References Dalai Lama Controversy. From Robby Soave at Reason:

    For instance, one section of spending the bill also instructs the Smithsonian Institution to create two new identity-based museums: one for women, and one for Latinos. (The legislation refrains from using the phrase "Latinx.") The bill also takes a position on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, expressing that in the view of the U.S. government, "the wishes of the 14th Dalai Lama, including any written instructions, should play a key role in the selection, education, and veneration of a future Dalai Lama." The bill includes a provision prohibiting any federal funds from being used by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an activist group that no longer exists in the United States. It attempts to normalize U.S. foreign relations with Sudan, criminalizes illegal streaming, and creates a plan for building a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library in North Dakota.

    Safe bet: Robby spent more time reading the bill than will the CongressCritters voting on it.


  • Lefty-but-honest Glenn Greenwald notes a belated 1984-like effort at the Memory Hole: Instagram is Using False “Fact-Checking” to Protect Joe Biden’s Crime Record From Criticisms. Specifically, his push for the 1994 crime bill used to be fair game. Now…

    While that debate over the damage done by Biden’s crime bill has long raged in Democratic Party politics and the criminal justice reform movement, it is now barred from being aired on the Facebook-owned social media giant Instagram, or at least is formally denounced as disinformation. With Joe Biden about to enter the White House — one that will exercise significant influence in determining Silicon Valley’s interests, will be filled with tech executives, and was made possible in large part by Silicon Valley’s largesse poured into the Biden/Harris campaign — Instagram has arrogated unto itself the power to declare these well-established criticisms of Biden and his crime bill to be “False” and having “no basis in fact.”

    I can't help but wonder if the antitrust noise against Facebook will magically disappear around … oh, say, January 21 or so. (For the record, that would be fine with me, except it should be done for honest reasons.)


  • Man, what is with Ted Cruz these days. Apparently he thinks things like this will help his 2024 Presidential bid? Ted Cruz’s Terrible Case for Keeping out Hong Kong Refugees. Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy:

    On Friday, GOP Senator Ted Cruz blocked a bipartisan bill that would have granted political asylum to residents of Hong Kong fleeing China's increasingly oppressive rule there. Reason writer Eric Boehm has an excellent article critiquing Cruz's lame rationale for his actions. Among other things, he points out that the same theory would have justified keeping out Cruz's own father (who came to the US as a refugee from Cuba) […]

    Maybe he's thinking: "Gee, Trump got to be President by playing on voter's irrational fears about Mexicans. Maybe it will work for Chinese too."


  • John McTiernan has made some great movies! Well, two: Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990). In the thirty years since… eh, not so much.

    Maybe this explains why. Die Hard director: Of course it's a Christmas movie -- an anti-capitalism Christmas movie. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air:

    Puts a whole different spin on “Welcome to the party, pal,” doesn’t it? Kidding! I kid, I kid. Having argued for years that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, as most Christmas movies don’t usually have that much blood on the screen, I owe everyone a chance to see this rebuttal from director John McTiernan. He didn’t set out to make a Christmas movie, McTiernan explains in this lengthy monologue for the American Film Institute. He set out to make an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian movie that just became infused with the Christmas spirit, or something.

    You know what would be really anti-capitalist? Repeal intellectual property rights for movies. See how the Hollywood commies like that!


  • Mark Steyn has some Christmas thoughts on the parade of pols getting their Covid shots: Veinglory in the Highest.

    So it turns out that, like clean elections, mass vaccination campaigns is just another thing America can no longer do.

    Across the pond, my old editor Boris Johnson is a complete arse busily destroying those few remnants of British Conservatism that managed to escape Theresa May and David Cameron. But, granted all that, he knew enough to ensure that the first person on the planet to receive the vaccine was an actual member of the public - an appealing nonagenarian lady ("Patient 1A") - and that the second or thereabouts was some old coot from Warwickshire who chanced to bear the name William Shakespeare, which allowed the tabloids to rise to the occasion with "Patient 2B or Not 2B" and "The Taming of the Flu".

    Here all is cronyism. So the twelve-year-old congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has now received the vaccine, while any actual nonagenarian citizens will be centenarians by the time they get it. Because members of America's decadent pseudo-legislature are "essential". You know they're "essential" because they've spent the last six months hammering out a Corona "relief" package that ensures that citizens whose businesses have been destroyed by state fiat will receive a Treasury check for $600 to cover the last eight months. That's seventy-five bucks a month - or rather less than the average congressman's kid's allowance. But now we've vaccinated them our indispensable legislators can get on to hammering out a new Corona "relief" package that will guarantee Americans get a check for $400 to cover the next eighteen months.

    I'm happy to wait for as long as it takes.

    Our local pols vaccination status is chronicled here by the Union Leader. My own CongressCritter, Chris Pappas says he's going to wait. Good for him, but I'm still voting for someone else in 2022.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-21

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour is from Mr. John Elwood who noticed something amusing in one of Friday's legal stylings from Trump attorney Lin Wood.

    I know spelling flames are considered bad form and have been for a long time. But, sorry, too good to let that guidance prevail.

    Karma dictates I'll probably make a few dozen spelling mistakes in the rest of this post…


  • But really, Lin Wood deserves a lot of scorn. So does Trump. And so does Dr. Kelli Ward, whose tweet is highlighted in this Patterico post: Trump Discussed Possibility of Imposing Martial Law to Steal the Election.

    As Patterico points out, that "crumbing" spelling is bad enough, but the "cross the Rubicon" thing should be beyond the pale:

    Kelli Ward says she wants to keep our republic from “crumbing” but she urges Trump to “cross the Rubicon” — which, as a reminder, was Julius Caesar’s point of no return when he decided to end the Roman republic and turn himself into an emperor. (As a further reminder, it did not work out too well for him in the end.) In the end, Caesar crossing the Rubicon was the very thing that “crumbed” the Roman republic, and it crumbed it real good.

    I thought the "Dr. Kelli Ward" thing was a joke aimed at "Dr. Jill", but Kelli Ward is an Osteopath, and I guess they have a better claim to the honorific than an Ed. D. recipient. In any case, Arizona Republicans deserve better.


  • In case you missed anything important on the general topic of republic-destruction, check Jacob Sullum at Reason, who seems to have it covered: Desperate To Stop Biden From Taking Office, Trump Suggests Military Intervention, Voting Machine Seizures, and Appointing Sidney Powell To Investigate Her Own Fraud Claims.

    Axios reporter Jonathan Swan says "senior Trump administration officials…tell me that Trump is spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists and flirting with blatant abuses of power." One of his sources said "people who are concerned and nervous aren't the weak-kneed bureaucrats that we loathe." Rather, they are Trump appointees "who have endured arguably more insanity and mayhem than any administration officials in history."

    People have been claiming that Trump was insane for years; I've always assumed that was overblown: he just had various personality quirks that were several sigma away from the mean. But maybe…


  • Hans Bader writes a reality check at Liberty Unyielding: Many people never accept an election loss. He reviews the various conspiracy claims that Democrats floated in 2004. But bringing it back to today, in a full circle:

    Trump should have fired lawyers like long-time Democrat Lin Wood, who embarrassed him by making transparently bad arguments in a careless way in their challenges to the election results. Wood was consistently foolish and sloppy to the point of misspelling his own name, and declaring that his facts were “plenty of perjury” — unintentionally calling himself a liar.


  • Kevin D. Williamson (NRPLUS article) tells us, unsurprisingly: There’s Nothing Unfair about Investigating the Bidens’ Shady Dealings.

    In an interview with Stephen Colbert, who was inspired as an imaginary commentator but is insipid as a real one, President-elect Joe Biden blew off the investigation of his son, Hunter: “great confidence,” “not concerned,” nothing but “foul play,” etc.

    Colbert asked:

    People who want to make hay in Washington are going to try to use your adult son as a cudgel against you. In terms of your job as president, can you reach across the aisle to people who’ll be using this as an attack on you when it is such a personal attack, because it’s about family?

    Colbert is wrong on almost every point: The investigation of Hunter Biden is not simply about political haymaking, though hay will be made; it is not simply being used as a cudgel against Joe Biden; and — most important — it is not about “family.” How much and exactly what kind of a weasel Hunter Biden is constitutes the minor question, but the major question is: How much and exactly what kind of a weasel is the incoming president?

    I am reminded of a bit of dialog between Nick Danger and villain Rocky Rococo from Firesign Theatre's The Further Adventures Of Nick Danger:

    NICK: Why, that's nothing but a two bit ring from a Cracker Back Jox.

    ROCKY: I'll sell it to you for five thousand dollars.

    NICK: Huh!? What kind of chump do you take me for?

    ROCKY: First class!

URLs du Jour

2020-12-20

Michael Ramirez has a suggestion for one member of the outgoing administration:

[turn out the lights]

  • And at American Consequences, P. J. O'Rourke looks forward to Life After Covid.

    Returning to a world where a global plague isn’t killing people by the million, sickening millions more, and endangering practically everyone will be a great improvement on dying or having a ventilator thrust down one’s throat. But what will this post-COVID world be like?

    Some of the most common predictions are that work-from-home setups will replace the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of Dunder Mifflin in the reboot of The Office… in-person retail shopping is dead as disco… cities will de-gentrify because millennials are fleeing from their confinement in yoga-mat-sized apartments stinking of kombacha to the spacious fresh air of suburbia… and the size and scope of government will grow faster than you can say “$900 billion coronavirus stimulus plan.”

    The last prediction will certainly come true. Government loves an emergency. And in this current emergency, government discovered that it has all sorts of emergency powers that no one had ever thought of before. Government will be itching to exercise those powers again. Expect bars and restaurants to be closed and lockdowns to be ordered next time there’s an outbreak of toenail fungus. (Also, gatherings of more than 10 barefoot people will be banned.)

    I think he means "kombucha". A pleasure I've never experienced, and with any luck…


  • Maybe the last "Dr. Jill" post, but as long as Kyle Smith keeps at it, so can I. Here's an article on Contradictions and Conceptual Errors in Jill's thesis (NRPlus, sorry, but you should subscribe.)

    Jill Biden’s embarrassing 2006 dissertation, which I mocked here and extensively quoted here, is essentially a weakly argued 20,000-word op-ed that offers zero hard evidence for her policy proposals, which are that Delaware Tech (her employer at the time) should beef up its Wellness Center, add a student center, and offer lots of counseling and mentorship to students in order to increase retention rates, which she says were about two-thirds at her institution, about par for community colleges.

    Everything is based on anecdotes or soft data, such as the results of insipid surveys she sent out asking Delaware Tech students whether they agreed with her ideas. Surprise! Students would like a student center to be built. But so what? Wouldn’t students say yes to any proposed amenity? Students would likely say yes to a new screening room, tennis court, or fro-yo lounge, but that doesn’t mean these would be wise uses of the institution’s money. How much would a student center cost? Biden doesn’t say. Would the benefit be worth the cost? Biden is silent on the question. Even if a student center were worth the cost, would some other potential use of that money be even more worthwhile? The question never crosses Biden’s mind. Biden simply proceeds from the assumption that the world is a place of unlimited resources for things she wants. Whatever additional time, money, and effort are required will magically appear. This is not a scholarly approach.

    Kyle performs a valuable public service in exposing the lack of scholarship behind all those Ed doctorates. We should think up a different honorific for those folks. Instead of "Doctor", how about "Edder"?


  • It's been awhile since I read the American Spectator but this, from Melissa Mackenzie (current pubisher) is pretty good: Blue Dress Proof.

    For a damaging story about a Democrat to be true, DNA must be found on a blue dress. There must be Blue Dress Proof™.  It’s not enough to have a witness and a victim. It’s not enough to have a computer, a cache of validated emails, thousands of affadavits signed under the threat of perjury. There must be actual DNA, videotaped evidence. If the bad guy is a Democrat, there must be Blue Dress Proof.

    For a damaging story about a Republican to be true, nothing has to be true at all. Third-hand hearsay about hookers and pee, a smile on a face, or a sarcastic tweet or phrase taken out of context can make even the most absurd conclusion be portrayed as fact and conveyed as truth in perpetuity. If the bad guy is a Republican, no proof is needed.

    I was going to list some examples, but I'm sure you can come up with your own.

    Unfortunately, Melissa goes off the rails a bit about voter fraud. See Ramirez cartoon above, ignore and forgive.


  • Maybe I'm amazed by Tyler Cowen's post at Marginal Revolution: Paul McCartney as management study.

    Paul has been writing songs and performing since 1956, with no real breaks.  Perhaps he has written more hit songs than anyone else.  He brought the innovations of Cage and Stockhausen into popular music, despite having no musical education and growing up in the Liverpool dumps.  His second act, Wings, sold more records in its time than the Beatles did.  On a lark he decided to learn techno/EDM and put out five perfectly credible albums in that area.  He decided to learn how to compose classical music, and after some initial missteps his Ecce Cor Meum is perhaps the finest British choral work in a generation, worthy of say Britten or Nicholas Maw.  And that is from a guy who can’t really read music.  He has learned how to play most of the major musical instruments, typically well.  He can compose and play and perform in virtually every musical genre, including heavy metal, blues, music hall, show tunes, ballads, rockers, Latin music, pastiche, psychedelia, electronic music, Devo-style robot-pop, drone, lounge, reggae, and more and more and more.

    Hope I'm that good at age 78.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-19

[Amazon Link]

  • At Cato, Alan Reynolds asks the musical question: Will Congress Repeat the Worst Blunder of the First "Stimulus" Bill?.

    A bipartisan Congressional group is eager to borrow and spend another $900 billion on a new COVID-19 bill. Yet they appear determined to repeat the most wasteful political stunt of the last “stimulus bill.”

    On December 17, The Wall Street Journal reported that “the package includes another round of direct payments to households,” which was recently added back into the mix after “The Trump administration [via Treasury Secretary Mnuchin] … proposed sending $600 checks.”

    Borrowing money to send everyone a little check may sound clever to myopic politicians. But it is morally indefensible because it does nothing address to the problem of helping those injured by the pandemic itself or by related state‐​mandated business restrictions and stay‐​at‐​home orders Congress should focus on targeted COVID relief, not scattershot direct payments – the overwhelming bulk of which would go to employed people who were not economically injured by the pandemic.

    This seems to be one of those rarities where Betteridge's law of headlines fails.


  • At Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne brings some disappointing news: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls for censorship on the Internet: of celebrities whose opinions he dislikes.

    Former basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has taken up a new career as a writer and activist, and he’s pretty good at it. Well, what I mean is that I often agree with what he says, like decrying the failure to call out anti-Semitism in sports. (“Calling out”, though, means just that; it doesn’t mean censorship.)  And yet he’s also defended the violence accompanying this summer’s racial protests.

    And yes, Abdul-Jabbar is also a bit woke, which isn’t too bad so long as he’s not calling for censorship or other authoritarian actions. Sadly, in his new column at The Hollywood Reporter, where he writes regularly, that’s exactly what he does. He thinks that social media companies should “slap warnings” not just on posts with false claims, but also on posts that “incite violence or are harmful to society.” Who, though, gets to decide what’s violent or harmful? Guess!

    Lefties like Coyne are too rare these days.


  • Paul Sperry of RealClearInvestigations has Georgia on his mind: With U.S. Senate Runoffs Near, Georgia's Not Prosecuting Its Unprecedented Number of Double Voters.

    More than 1,700 Georgians were singled out for illegally casting two ballots in 2020 elections — including last month’s hotly contested presidential race -- but their fraudulent votes weren't canceled out, according to state election officials. And so far, none of the cheaters has been prosecuted, raising concerns about continued fraud as Georgia prepares to vote again in twin U.S. Senate runoff elections next month.

    What the heck is wrong with Georgia?


  • And if you can stand yet another "Dr. Jill" post, here's Kyle Smith with the second part of his exposé on Jill Biden's Weak Dissertation.

    To call Jill Biden’s dissertation thin gruel is an insult to gruel. Whatever meager substance puddled in Bob Cratchit’s miserable bowl at mealtime was a bountiful feast compared with this paper. I wrote yesterday about the problems with this capstone project, the foundation of her Ed.D. degree and of the insistence of so many in recent days that we must call her “Dr.”

    Mrs. Biden’s only original research consists of interviews with two — that’s right, two — ex-students and a few colleagues at Delaware Technical Community College, where she used to teach, plus the results of a vacuous questionnaire she wrote that was returned by about 150 people who worked or studied there. Oh, and she also called two nearby community colleges seeking interviews about their retention rates. One of them wouldn’t answer the question; the other wouldn’t assign anyone to speak to her at all. Telling us about this misadventure serves no academic purpose, though it does fill up four pages of her generously spaced paper. The transcripts of her group chats with campus figures and colleagues take up nearly 30 pages out of 129. The questionnaires eat up another 18 pages.

    I've seen some folks gripe about how mean and awful Kyle is being to Dr. Jill. Apparently that "speak truth to power" thing only applies to White Male Republicans.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

[Amazon Link]

To straighten out the timeline: this 2010 book is (more or less) the transcript of a multi-day inteview the author, David Lipsky, carried out with David Foster Wallace (DFW) in 1996 during the end of DFW's book tour in support of his big novel, Infinite Jest. Lipsky was working under the aegis of Rolling Stone magazine, but (apparently) the article that was supposed to result didn't make it into print until after DFW's suicide in 2008 at the age of 46.

The book was made into a 2015 movie, The End of the Tour which I watched earlier this year. I guess I liked the movie well enough, and was enough of a DFW fan, to get this book from the Portsmouth Public Library.

DFW is, well, complex. (I can see how this might have gone disastrously, but he and Lipsky seem to have taken to each other.) He's both reclusive and revealing, depending on the subject. His tastes are varied; he is, of course, up to speed on his writing peers, knowledgable about literary theory, able to rattle off paragraphs about it. On the other hand his current reading is an (unnamed) novel by Robert Heinlein. And he's most fond of movies "with things that blow up". (He and Lipsky take time out to go see Broken Arrow at the Mall of America.)

Along the way: a considerable amount of biography, musings about fame, drugs, dogs, old TV shows, women, and more. Some insightful comments. (And other asides that sound a lot more profound than they are: see the book title.) There's remarkably little politics: I was somewhat surprised to see DFW mention Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (I think) favorably. But he's fashionably down on actual conservative politicians, referring, e.g., to the "Reagan spasm".

Oh, yeah: prodigous amounts of tobacco are consumed over the course of the book. (For DFW, both cigarettes and chaw.)

The River

[Amazon Link]

The third book on my Edgar Award Nominees reading project.

It's a harrowing tale of two Dartmouth College chums, Jack and Wynn, who decide to canoe the remote Maskwa River in northern Canada. (Semi-fictional apparently, but a little Googling says that it's based on the Winisk River,) "Remote" means: no authorities or facilities until you make it to the Cree Indian village of Wapahk on the shores of Hudson Bay.

The lads are well-prepared, but things start going wrong. For one thing, a forest fire is bearing down on the river. And although it's remote, they run into people. First, a couple of asshole Texan men; then, they overhear a dreadful argument between a man and a woman. Jack and Wynn are as well-prepared as the very best Boy Scouts, but nobody could be prepared for the subsequent dreadful events.

The author, Peter Heller, is both a canoeist and a poet. His descriptions of the trip are meticulously detailed, down to a precise list of the provisions and equipment the boys are carrying. The style is unusual for a thriller, showing the author's poetic streak: lots of unexpected, interesting descriptions with unusual vividness.


Last Modified 2020-12-31 4:10 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-18

[Amazon Link]

  • I'm kind of late linking to this, but just in case you haven't seen it: Kyle Smith at National Review declares Jill Biden’s Doctorate Is Garbage Because Her Dissertation Is Garbage. Pun Salad Fact Check: True.

    You can tell someone is smarting from an inferiority complex when he insists on being addressed as “Dr.” on the basis of holding an academic doctorate rather than being a physician. Ph.D. holders who have genuine accomplishments don’t make you call them “Doctor,” which is why you never hear about “Dr. Paul Krugman” and “Dr. George Will.” None of the professors I knew at Yale, even the ones who were eminent in their fields, insisted on the title, and I think most of them would have scoffed if someone had addressed them as “Dr.” The only reason you ever hear the phrase “Dr. Henry Kissinger” is that Kissy grew up in title-mad, airs-and-graces Germany, where people are awed rather than dismissive even if you insist on a triple-serving title (“Herr Professor Doktor”).

    Insisting on being called “Doctor” when you don’t heal people is, among most holders of doctorates, seen as a gauche, silly, cringey ego trip. Consider “Dr.” Jill Biden, who doesn’t even hold a Ph.D. but rather a lesser Ed.D., something of a joke in the academic world. President-elect Joe Biden once explained that his wife sought the degree purely for status reasons: “She said, ‘I was so sick of the mail coming to Sen. and Mrs. Biden. I wanted to get mail addressed to Dr. and Sen. Biden.’ That’s the real reason she got her doctorate,” Joe Biden has said.

    And our Amazon Product du Jour will help you appreciate the currently incarcerated Dr. William Henry Cosby, Ed D. Whose dissertation at UMass-Amherst was titled "AN INTEGRATION OF THE VISUAL MEDIA VIA "FAT ALBERT AND THE COSBY KIDS" INTO THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM AS A TEACHING AID AND VEHICLE TO ACHIEVE INCREASED LEARNING."


  • Just another minor outrage from a pol elected by the State Across The River, as related by the WSJ: Angus King’s Gambit.

    Democrats have pushed to expand government entitlements and business mandates during the pandemic. Now Maine Sen. Angus King wants Netflix and other streaming services to provide complimentary entertainment to help Americans social distance over the holidays.

    “At this time, we must find ways to incentivize people to follow guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders,” Mr. King wrote in a letter this week to Netflix, Amazon, Disney and WarnerMedia. Americans left to their own devices will “carry on their typical holiday traditions instead of remaining safely at home.”

    Like many pols, Senator Angus is quick with ideas on how other people should run their lives and businesses. Because the Federal Government is obviously a role model for efficient provision of goods and services.


  • For example, Senator Angus probably sees nothing he could fix at NASA. You might feel different after reading this Ars Technica article: The Orion spacecraft is now 15 years old and has flown into space just once.

    The December dawn felt hopeful as we stood outside, watching NASA's Orion spacecraft streak into the Florida sky. We could imagine that America was taking its first tentative step into the future of human exploration of the cosmos.

    "This is the beginning of the Mars era," the space agency's administrator at the time, former NASA astronaut Charlie Bolden, said shortly after the December 2014 launch. And in the moment, who could argue? Here was a spacecraft capable of flying to the Moon and back, acing its first test in space.

    Six years later, some of the shine is gone. Years of waiting for an encore to that flight have worn away much of the enthusiasm that followed this Exploration Flight Test-1 mission. We were supposed to have seen an encore flight of Orion two years ago and a mission carrying astronauts around the Moon next year. Instead, Orion is unlikely to fly into space again before 2022, at the earliest.

    And as for the first time astronauts will climb on board Orion—who can say? The launch keeps slipping to the right.

    Orion and the "Space Launch System" are boondoggles, kept afloat by powerful CongressCritters.


  • We've previously noticed that fear is an ineffective long-term method for getting people to protect themselves against Covid. At the Dispatch, Robert Tracinski describes another counterproductive strategy: Calling People 'Selfish' Is Undermining Our Pandemic Response.

    You’ve probably heard this dozens of times since the pandemic began, and I guarantee you will hear it dozens more times before we stumble across to the other side: how “selfish” it is to ignore pandemic precautions.

    Whether it’s a large family gathering, or crowding into bars, or talking loudly on a phone on the subway without wearing a mask, this behavior will be denounced as a “pandemic of selfishness.” Don’t you know that there is no “I” in “mask”?

    But this casually pejorative use of “selfish” is undermining our response to the pandemic and to a great many other things. This reckless use of language has a real and significant cost. If you tell people that refusing to take the pandemic seriously is something that promotes their own personal well-being, the problem is that they just might believe you.

    "Selfishness" is pretty much the only sin progressives believe in any more. So when bad things happen, that must be due to selfishness.


  • I'm a longtime Thomas Sowell fanboy and love the Babylon Bee, so I was a sucker for this story: Thomas Sowell Slams Santa Claus For Plan To Flood Market With Free Toys.

    The famed conservative economist and free-market advocate Dr. Thomas Sowell took a lot of flak this week by distancing himself from the economic practices of one “Santa Claus”. Sowell pointed out that a sudden flood of free toys will devalue the toys already on the market, causing rapid inflation of the value of things like Nerf guns, Barbie dolls, and toy choo-choo trains.

    Bah, humbug.


Last Modified 2020-12-19 5:15 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-17

OK, no election stuff today. No Covid stuff today. I need at least a one-day break from that.

  • At the Hudson Institute, John P. Walters and David W. Murray are Revisiting "The New Jim Crow". It's a look at the 2010 book by Michelle Alexander. As I type, Amazon says its "Best Sellers Rank" is "#879 in Books; #2 in Criminology; #3 in Criminal Law; #5 in Civil Rights & Liberties".

    But what do (ex-drug "Czar") Walters and Murray say? A lot, but here's a sample:

    Consider that we are told: “The Reagan administration hired staff to publicize the emergence of crack cocaine in 1985 as part of a strategic effort to build public and legislative support for the war.” The point is not a minor one, since it is offered in support of a core thesis: when there really wasn’t a drug problem in our cities, in order to achieve “social control” over blacks through “mass incarceration,” President Ronald Reagan created and then hyped a crisis using the media. This claim is found in the Introduction. Turning to the endnote, however, one finds no documentation, but rather a simple line that Reagan’s action “is discussed in more depth in Chapter 1.”

    That’s a bit cheesy, but what then happens in Chapter 1? There, after reading about “code words” for race, we find again that Reagan “launched a media offensive to justify the ‘War on Drugs.’” And there’s another endnote which, when pursued, leads nowhere. It is a reference to the 1992 National Drug Control Strategy—produced after the Reagan Presidency.

    This is cat-and-mouse. It anticipates an unserious, unquestioning reader, one willing to be led.

    More at the link, of course.

    I'm all-the-way libertarian on drugs. The War on Drugs was (and is) bad in every way. But lousy scholarship used to promote a tedious political agenda isn't great either. Walters and Murray build a decent case against the book.

    But of course, at the ultra-woke University Near Here, Alexander's book is one of those pushed as Racial Justice Resources. It's also recommended at the Paul Business School's Community, Diversity and Inclusion Resources Needless to say, UNH does not recommend any voices that might dissent from the Official Theology.


  • Okay, okay, I said "no Covid" above, but this is only indirectly related: David Harsanyi at National Review keeps us up to date on the gubernatorial antics in the state uncomfortably close to New Hampshire: Andrew Cuomo Continues His Assault on the First Amendment.

    If he had his way, New York governor Andrew Cuomo would do to the Constitution what he’s already done to the elderly of his state. This week, he signed a bill banning the sale of “hate symbols” such as the Confederate flag, swastikas, and “white supremacist” imagery on state property. Of course, neither Cuomo nor the state legislature is empowered to decide what constitutes “hate symbols,” much less selectively ban them — even if New Yorkers had any interested in selling these symbols on state property, which doesn’t seem to be the case. But all of this is just virtue-signaling, as the kids say: a way to get people who still believe in liberal values to sound like they’re defending ugly things like the Confederate flag rather than a neutral principle.

    Then again, perhaps there’s familial confusion over the issue of speech rights among the Cuomos. You may remember Chris, who earned his law degree at Fordham, informing his followers that “hate speech is excluded from protection” in the Constitution. (It isn’t.) Now Andrew Cuomo, who earned his law degree at Albany Law School, argued that his ban would “safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols,” as if his bailiwick or anyone’s else’s in government is to protect you from seeing things you don’t like. If it were, nursing-home residents would be throwing copies of Cuomo’s book American Crisis into a raging bonfire.

    David notes that Cuomo is apparently as uncomfortable with the "freedom of speech" bit in 1A as he is with the "free exercise" bit.


  • Here's something to bookmark for the next time someone blathers about "trickle-down economics": Peter C. Earle writing (at AIER) on The Return of the Trickle-Down Ruse.

    First, and least important of all: the very choice of the word “trickle,” defined as a small, thin and/or gentle stream––as opposed to synonyms like ‘flow’ or ‘spill’––carries a disdainful, incidental, or even accidental air. 

    Second, no political party, economist, or economic textbook has ever referred to “trickle-down” anything as a policy tool or outcome. As Thomas Sowell wrote in 2014: “The “trickle-down” theory cannot be found in even the most voluminous scholarly studies of economic theories – including J. A. Schumpeter’s monumental ‘History of Economic Analysis,’ more than a thousand pages long and printed in very small type.” It is a description typically employed by opponents of free markets and economic liberty, and one which like so many others (“fairness,” “hard-working Americans,” “equality“) has become so freighted with political suggestion as to become a near-metonym. 

    Most important of all, the phrase fails to accurately describe any economic phenomenon or outcome. “Trickle-down economics” is, beyond being a phrase used to evoke an emotional reaction among a certain sector of the populace, a profound illustration of economic ignorance. 

    The real "trickle down" fallacy is that Your Federal Government is an efficient distributor of tax dollars to the less well-off. As the Wikipedia page listing high-income counties shows, a lot of that money tends to hang around the Washington D. C. environs.


  • I'm a dedicated Jeopardy! watcher, and these last few Alex episodes can be rough. Especially when he mentions looking forward to Christmas…

    So Ken Jennings is going to host, at least for a while. We'll see how that works out, but the NYPost's Andrea Peyser has a prediction: Ken Jennings will never approach Alex Trebek's 'Jeopardy!' legacy.

    We’ve lost an icon. And we’re getting a creep.

    Fans of the TV show “Jeopardy!” are counting down the days until just after Christmas, when the quizzer airs the final pre-recorded episode hosted by the late, great Alex Trebek, whose death in November at age 80 from pancreatic cancer broke hearts all over America and augured the end of his incredible 36-year run at the helm of what is widely considered the greatest televised game show of all time.

    But the new year also ushers in the arrival of Alex’s troubling ”interim” replacement, Ken Jennings, 46, whose reign as the show’s winningest contestant is clouded by a level of flippant cruelty previously unseen on a smart program that, for decades, has delivered a necessary and calming distraction during times of war, recession, social unrest and pandemic.

    I was a Ken Jennings fanboy after his Jeopardy! appearance. I read his blog, bought a couple of his books, even went to one of his book signings up in Maine.

    I gradually got the point that his politics were generally left/statist. Sigh, I could abide that.

    But as Peyser shows (with a few examples), his character is not the best. Here's one she didn't mention; it caused me to drop Jennings' blog from my reading and stop buying his books. Via Patterico:

    [I was a fan of Breitbart before his death, although I've since given up on what's become of his website.]

    I can abide political disagreement. I tend to shy away from people who would obviously hold me in contempt for mine, and would cheer my death.


  • Power Line notes an inexplicable development in Texas (of all places): And now, the Dan Rather Medals.

    The University of Texas School of Journalism and Media has just announced the Dan Rather Medals for News and Guts. The medals are to “be awarded to professional and collegiate journalists who go the extra yard — overcoming obstacles like stonewalling and harassment — to get the story that tells truth to power.” You obviously get no credit for avoiding clichés.

    Unlike the Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity formerly conferred by the New Criterion and PJ Media, the University of Texas School of Journalism and Media intends no irony or humor with the Dan Rather Medals. In 2014, however, the Duranty Prize team also awarded the Rather, “a new award for lifetime achievement in mendacious journalism.” Suffice it to say that this is not the spirit of the Dan Rather Medals.

    I'm aghast. The University of Texas couldn't have found someone more honest than Rather? Didn't they check the population of nearby prisons?


Last Modified 2020-12-18 1:53 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-16

  • I promise this is the last time I'm gonna do this. At least until 2024. At National Review, John McCormack does the math and… The Election Came Down to 42,918 Votes in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia.

    In 2016, Trump owed his Electoral College victory to 77,744 individual votes spread across Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

    In 2020, Biden owed his Electoral College victory to 42,918 individual votes spread across Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia.

    John doesn't draw any tsk-tsk conclusions from his calculation, but I will: If Trump had been just slightly less … well, Trumpy, he could have won. A few less irritating/silly/dishonest/insane Tweets. A little more honest about Covid. A little more careful about not catching Covid. I could go on… but won't. You know that stuff as well as I do.


  • At his Tuesday column, Kevin D. Williamson writes on Elector Shenanigans. But let's skip down to…

    Goodness, gracious, the world is mad at Joseph Epstein.

    Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Epstein made the perfectly obvious point that “Dr.” Jill Biden is showing bad form in insisting on being referred to as “Dr.” Biden. She is not a physician, or even a Ph.D., but the (too) proud holder of an Ed.D., the so-called doctorate for vice principals, an academic distinction one step removed from the Cracker-Jack box. Using the honorific Dr. “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic,” Epstein wrote.

    Cue the shrieking.

    Epstein has been unpersoned by Northwestern University, where he had been a lecturer, his biography now purged from the university’s website. Northwestern then released a Maoist-struggle-session statement denouncing Epstein as — inevitable term — “misogynistic.”

    You know what to do: read the whole thing.


  • At the Volokh Conspiracy, David Post provides a crash course in Statistics, and How the World Works.

    Imagine we are back in February 2019, at the start of Spring Training for the 2019 baseball season. I offer you the following wager:

    I have $20 that says that the winner of the 2019 World Series will (a) lose 31 of its first 50 games; (b) find itself behind in in the 7th inning of each deciding game of each postseason series; (c) not win a single game in the Series at home; (d) have a starting left fielder from the Dominican Republic and a starting pitcher whose eyes are two different colors; and that (e) game 6 would be played before a crowd of precisely 43,384, and (f) game 4 would be played in precisely 4 hours 3 minutes and 41 seconds; and that (g) the first base umpire's brother-in-law would be hospitalized right before the start of the bottom half of the 6th inning in game 2; AND that (h) the Dow Jones Industrial Average would decline precisely 140.46 points to close at 27,046.23 on the date of the final Series game.

    What odds would you have given me, at the start of the 2019 baseball season, that all of those conditions would be met?! Not a single one of them had ever come true in the prior 100+ years of baseball history; how likely was it that all of them would come to pass in a single postseason?!! Gotta be a quadrillion to 1, no?

    So the Nationals must have cheated! Wake up America! How much more proof do you need?!

    And (yes) this is the kind of argument Texas AG Paxton included in his SCOTUS suit to overturn the election results.

    Ditto for this idiotic argument that purports to use a "statistical model" to show that Trump "actually won" a number of states that … well, that he actually didn't.


  • Is Jacob Sullum belaboring the obvious at Reason? You be the judge: Trump’s Election Conspiracy Theory Requires Followers To Join Him in an Alternate Universe.

    No matter how many times Bullwinkle J. Moose fails to pull a rabbit out of his hat, he remains optimistic. "This time for sure!" he exclaims, disregarding his sidekick's exasperated complaint that the trick "never works."

    If President Donald Trump has any skeptical friends like Rocky the Flying Squirrel, he plainly does not listen to them. Otherwise he would not be demanding that all true patriots join him in an alternate universe where he won reelection.

    Many of Trump's supporters seem to live there, notwithstanding a long series of disappointments for litigants trying to demonstrate that the presidential election was illegitimate, culminating in two unanimous rejections by the Supreme Court last week. According to a recent Fox News poll, 68 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Trump voters believe "the presidential election was stolen."

    No foolin'. I think a fraction of pollees will tend to answer randomly out of sheer self-amusement. But 68% is way too high for that explanation to work.

    That link in the first paragraph above will take you to a YouTube clip that brought back fond memories for me.


  • Ann Althouse notices a Glenn Greenwald tweet, and it's perceptive about MSNBC and its ilk:

    CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, should all just die.


  • And in Wired wokeness today, we have: 24 Gifts We Love From BIPOC-Owned Businesses (2020).

    It's always important to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), and it's at the forefront of many peoples' thoughts this year due to the many conspicuous instances of police brutality brought to public attention. Systemic racism and racial injustice is nothing new—but 2020 sparked a wave of unrest across the United States.

    Well there you go. I especially like the BIPOC explanation.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-15

  • At Reason Jacob Sullum is beyond disappointed with a pol and his party: Ted Cruz’s Eagerness to Fight Trump’s Legal Battles Epitomizes the GOP’s Complete Lack of Principles.

    Ted Cruz will not get a chance to argue that the Supreme Court should stop Joe Biden from taking office by overriding the presidential election results in four battleground states. But the Texas senator's eagerness to do so speaks volumes about the extent to which the Republican Party has abandoned the principles it once claimed to defend, instead organizing itself around the whims of a president who stands for nothing but his own personal interests.

    Donald Trump personally asked Cruz, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1995 and argued nine cases before the Supreme Court as the solicitor general of Texas, to represent the state if the justices agreed to hear Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's last-ditch lawsuit challenging election procedures in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The senator agreed, his spokesman told The Texas Tribune. Cruz had earlier said he stood ready to argue another pro-Trump lawsuit, in which Rep. Mike Kelly (R–Pa.) maintained that Pennsylvania's election results should be set aside because the state legislature had violated the Constitution by expanding absentee voting.

    SCOTUS swatted away the garbage lawsuit unanimously, so it's probably best for Cruz that he didn't get his wish.

    But I have to excerpt a paragraph further down in the article:

    After Trump, who had dubbed Cruz "Lyin' Ted," implicated the senator's father in John F. Kennedy's assassination (yes, that really happened), Cruz was notably angrier. "I'm going to do something I haven't done for the entire campaign," he said in May 2016. "I'm going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump. This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies. He lies, practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying….Whatever he does, he accuses everybody else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist—a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen…..Everything in Donald's world is about Donald….The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him….Donald is a bully….Donald is cynically exploiting that anger [at the political establishment], and he is lying to his supporters. Donald will betray his supporters on every issue."

    Cruz is a smart guy. I wish he were a principled guy.


  • At National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy notices A Stunning Passage from the Latest Court Rejection of Team Trump.

    The most telling aspect of the Wisconsin federal district court’s rejection of another Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday is so obvious it is easy to miss. And no, it is not that the rejecting was done by a Trump-appointed judge, Brett H. Ludwig, or that it was done on the merits.

    After all that’s been said over the last six weeks, this fleeting passage near the start of the court’s workmanlike, 23-page decision and order should take our breath away (my highlighting):

    With the Electoral College meeting just days away, the Court declined to address the issues in piecemeal fashion and instead provided plaintiff with an expedited hearing on the merits of his claims. On the morning of the hearing, the parties reached agreement on a stipulated set of facts and then presented arguments to the Court.

    A “stipulated set of facts,” in this context, is an agreement between the lawyers for the adversary parties about what testimony witnesses would give, and/or what facts would be established, if the parties went through the process of calling witnesses and offering tangible evidence at a hearing or trial.

    I hope Trump got a guarantee from his legal team. "If you don't get the Presidency, you don't owe us a cent!"


  • It's understandable that people are outraged about the sheer gall of the Trump-sycophantic GOP joining in the garbage Texas lawsuit. However, Power Line's Paul Mirengoff notes a newspaper going off the edge on that: The Washington Post throws a mindless fit. He has some good points, notably that the WaPo failed to throw an equivalent fit in 2016 when Democrats were trying to sabotage Trump's win. (Also happened for Dubya in 2000 and 2004, I think.) But here's a really good point:

    Finally, if Democrats wanted the results of this election to have wider public acceptance, they shouldn’t have insisted on voting procedures that removed traditional safeguards against fraud. But the Democrats (like any political party, I assume) were more interested in obtaining power by winning the election than they were in having their opponents widely accept their win.

    It would be and should be a good bipartisan effort to tighten up election security, to clean out dead (and otherwise ineligible) people from voter rolls.

    I still think that the GOP's silly concentration on baseless conspiracy theories makes it easy to dismiss efforts to do that.


  • Jim Geraghty says: Hey, despite all the legal wrangling, Weren't We Supposed to Be in Post-Election Chaos by Now?.

    You may recall that one pre-election simulation run by the “Transition Integrity Project” envisioned “National Guard troops destroy[ing] thousands of ballots in Democratic-leaning ZIP codes, to applause on social media from Trump supporters.” Rosa Brooks of TIP concluded, “A landslide for Joe Biden resulted in a relatively orderly transfer of power. Every other scenario we looked at involved street-level violence and political crisis.”

    Except we didn’t have a clear winner Election Night (the results looked like they were starting to go Biden’s way) and . . . things turned out more or less okay, at least in terms of politically motivated violence. We’re not in a political crisis. The president is rage-tweeting, Sidney Powell is promising the Kraken will arrive any day now, and Lin Wood is calling for martial law. And yet, for the vast majority of Americans, life goes on. The Electoral College is meeting and voting, and the gears of the presidential transition are turning. The National Guard is not running around, destroying ballots.

    So are the TIP simulators going back to the drawing board, asking "Gosh, how did we make such an embarrassing mistake? Let's check our assumptions and methods."

    No, I don't think so either.


  • A couple more notes about the "Dr. Jill Biden" controversy. Paul Gigot of the WSJ, wrote in the Monday paper: The Biden Team Strikes Back. Probably paywalled.

    Joe Biden says it is “time to heal” America’s divisions after the Trump presidency, and The Wall Street Journal has praised him for saying so. Presumably he intends less rancor with the press as part of this mandate, but on that score my run-in with the Biden team this weekend was very Trumpian.

    The catalyst was our Saturday op-ed by Joseph Epstein, “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” Mr. Epstein, a longtime contributor, criticized the habit of people with Ph.D.s or other doctorates calling themselves “Dr.” as highfalutin, using Jill Biden as Exhibit A. Mr. Epstein can be acerbic, and his piece began: “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name?”

    This has triggered a flood of media and Twitter criticism, including demands that I retract the piece, apologize personally to Mrs. Biden, ban Mr. Epstein for all time, and resign and think upon my sins. The complaints began as a trickle but became a torrent after the Biden media team elevated Mr. Epstein’s work in what was clearly a political strategy.

    Biden keeps making noises about unity, but his team sure does like to play smashmouth politics.


  • Bruce Bawer at City Journal writes In Defense of Joseph Epstein on Dr Jill Biden. He notes that Epstein's real point comes later in the column:

    “The Ph.D.,” Epstein lamented, “may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences.” As the author of a 2012 book entitled The Victims’ Revolution, about the rise of such ridiculous academic “disciplines” as (yes) gender studies, I heartily agree. Epstein pointed out that Ph.D.s once had to jump through some major hoops, becoming genuine experts in their subjects, to earn their titles; now, in all too many departments at all too many universities, the doctorates are handed out like free-drink tickets outside of strip clubs.

    On this matter, Epstein was, quite simply, right. Unfortunately for him, he decided to use Jill Biden as a hook for a thoughtful piece on an important issue. In retribution for that politically inadmissible choice, he’s now a non-person—at least in the eyes of Northwestern University.

    Dr. Jill for Surgeon General!


  • We'll let Eugene Volokh at Volokh Consipiracy have the last word (for now?): Who Should Be Called Dr.? Probably Not Jill Biden, Just as Lawyers Like Me Aren’t.

    But at the University of Delaware, where Jill Biden got her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, the Ed.D. appears much more like a J.D. (or perhaps a M.S. or M.A.) than like a Ph.D. The Ph.D. program is a full-time 4-5 year program; the Ed.D. program is a part-time 3-4 year program (though I should note that a master's degree is required for entry). Recall that a J.D. is generally 3 years full-time, though without at thesis; M.S.s and M.A.s tend to be 1½ to 2 years full-time, with a thesis.

    [UPDATE: I've confirmed that, when Jill Biden was in the Ed.D. program, it required 54 credits of coursework (including 12 research credits), which means a workload corresponding to about 14 3-hour-per-week semester-long courses, plus the research time. By way of comparison, using roughly the same credit=hour-per-week during a semester calculation, the 3-year J.D.s require 83 credit hours, some of which also often correspond to research or to practicums. The Ed.D. is thus roughly comparable to a 2-year full-time professional program.]

    So Dr. Jill's Ed.D wasn't even a particularly academically rigorous one.

    People (especially University people) have their "preferred names" and "preferred pronouns". Maybe we're on our way to "preferred honorifics". And refusing to use the preferred honorific would be considered hate speech?

    How does "The Right Honorable Pun Salad" sound to you?

URLs du Jour

2020-12-14

[Amazon Link]

  • I am unusually fascinated by the reaction to Joseph Epstein's op-ed in the Saturday WSJ Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.. (Maybe paywalled, sorry.)

    Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.

    As a number of people have pointed out (including me in the past): the Ed. D. degree is kind of a joke, academically. Bill Cosby got one, fer Pete's sake.

    But a lot of people responded … well, as you might have expected them to.


  • Dr. Jill (apparently) fired off a passive-agressive tweet:

    Note the name and handle. Dr. Dr. In case you missed one of them, I guess.

    Dr. Jill feels diminished by people failing to use her title. I think she feels that a little too easily. I would hope that "our daughters" are made of less fragile stuff.


  • Of course there are few bonds stronger than those in the fellowhood personhood of the higher education establishment. And, for daring to speak his mind, Mr. Epstein received the ultimate academic death penalty, as reported by Hot Air: WSJ op-ed writer critical of 'Dr.' Jill Biden gets canceled by Northwestern University.

    Joseph Epstein was recognized on Northwestern University’s website as “emeritus lecturer” for more than twenty years. That changed Saturday when it was discovered that his profile is no longer available. Epstein has been canceled.

    I wonder if they yanked his campus parking sticker? Library card? That'll show him!


  • Across town the UChicago Bio Prof Jerry Coyne muses at his blog: Should Ph.D.s call themselves “doctor” in everyday life?. Jerry's pretty left, so he makes the obligatory noises about Epstein's "misogyny" and "sexism". Not to mention his "patronizing" and "condescending" tone. But he's got a good quote from "Miss" Manners, Judith Martin, via the NYT:

    Judith Martin, better known as the columnist Miss Manners, said her father, who had a Ph.D. in economics, insisted on not being called Dr. and implored his fiancée, Ms. Martin’s mother, to print new wedding invitations after the first version included the title.

    “As my father used to say, ‘I’m not the kind of doctor who does anybody any good,’” Ms. Martin said in an interview on Saturday. “He didn’t feel it was dignified. I am well aware that this is a form of reverse snobbery.”

    Still, Ms. Martin said, “I don’t tell people what to call themselves and I’m aware that women often have trouble with people who don’t respect their credentials.”

    Respect my credentials!


  • Ann Althouse (retired law prof) is way more copacetic:

    Epstein is an essayist. He's been writing essays and publishing collections of essays for many years. He's 83. And good for him, suddenly scoring so big with this one essay. It really gave people with a need to write essays and mini-essays — tweets 'n' blogposts — something to write oh so easily about.

    That fiend Epstein! He's a misogynist! Why's he a misogynist for calling bullshit on the use of "Dr." for people who are not medical doctors? I haven't read the essay yet and I've only glanced at the criticism — enough to see the charge of misogyny — and what I'm going to presume is that it's perceived as misogynist because it's women — and not men — who style themselves as "Dr." when they are not medical doctors. Why do women do it? Are they guessing they'll be thought less of because they are female? The "Dr." business might be a defense again real or imagined misogyny, but that doesn't make it misogynistic to argue that it's time to lay off the self-puffery of the non-medical "Dr."

    [Amazon Link]
    In his (apparently) web-unavailable newsletter, Jeff Jacoby makes a point too:

    Political and media circles are filled with people who have non-medical doctorates. Examples include columnist George Will; MSNBC host Rachel Maddow; Senators Ben Sasse, Tammy Duckworth, and Kyrsten Sinema; incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen; former Fed chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. To my knowledge, none of them has ever insisted on being referred to as “doctor” in daily life.

    Neither do countless scientific luminaries with doctoral degrees. Richard Feynman … was a Nobel laureate who was one of the most renowned theoretical physicists of the 20th century. He was also perfectly content to be addressed as “mister.” Indeed, he titled his 1985 collection of reminiscences Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feyman [sic]!

    Indeed. Good book, by the way. Click the pic to buy.


  • What people should be maybe more put out by is related by Jim Geraghty at Naional Review: Bill Gates: It's 'Appropriate' to Keep Bars and Restaurants Closed Longer. His comment:

    […] if anyone is going to advocate for longer lockdowns and stricter restrictions, and ask Americans to make even greater sacrifices, losing jobs, losing businesses, facing bankruptcy . . . it probably should not be the second-richest man on the planet.

    Hey, Bill? Maybe you should shut down Microsoft for "four to six months". You know, just as an example for us peons.

The Witch Elm

[Amazon Link]

I'm going to gripe about something I've griped about before. I strongly suspect the book contract Tana French wrote under specified a word count that resulted in (tada!) 509 printed pages.

The problem is that this would have made a pretty good 300 page book.

Don't get me wrong. Ms. French is an excellent writer, and those extra 200 pages-worth of words are pretty decent writing. It's just that they don't add anything. At a certain point they become irritating obstacles to get past in order to make it to page 509.

Don't mind me. I sympathize with writers who need to get to N words, when the story they're telling is only about 60% there.

While Ms. French's previous books have had Dublin cop narrators, this one is narrated by civilian Toby. He's not a particularly likeable character; one of the things that immediately becomes apparent is that he takes ethical shortcuts on the way to a desired goal, but seemingly always gets away with a too-lenient punishment.

Things start going bad for Toby when he interrupts a burglary at his apartment. He gets thrashed to near-death. As it is, he sustains enough damage to earn an extended hospital stay, slur his speech and make his memory spotty.

He has no urgent desire (and maybe no ability) to resume his normal life. But he gets word that his beloved Uncle Hugo is dying from a brain tumor. This causes the extended family to gather at the Ivy House, their ancestral home. A lot of fraught family drama ensues. But then (page 162), one of the family urchins is exploring the titular hollow tree and pulls out … aieee, a human skull!

Well, now you're talking. About time. Who does the skull belong to? And, if it was there via foul play, who done it? There are a lot of suspects. Including Toby himself—remember I said his memory was spotty? He doesn't know.

Things are resolved in ways I only half-saw coming.

Blow the Man Down

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

After three straight 1940s noir movies, I was ready to watch something a little more recent. An Amazon streamer, it's still arguably noir. The IMDB genrecizes it as "Comedy, Drama, Mystery". I'm not too sure about the comedy; if present, it's the darkest variety.

Sisters Mary Beth and Priscilla are up against it: their mom has just died, leaving them with bills to pay and not enough income to pay them. They live in a small Maine fishing village (it was filmed mostly in Harpswell, Maine, just across Casco Bay from Portland) and run a fish shop. Mary Beth is the bad sister, who wants nothing more than to have fun, preferably in the big city. Priscilla is the head-on-her-shoulders sister, who wants to make a go of the shop.

But, unfortunately, homicide intrudes. Probably justified. But it sends off a chain of events that involves a different homicide (not at all justified), the local whorehouse proprietor (Margo Martindale!), and secrets the ladies of the town have been keeping for decades.

It's pretty good, and you might find the comedy I failed to.

Old man note: I remember seeing Annette O'Toole in Smile, playing a hot young beauty pageant contestant. In 1974, she was 23.

Now she's playing old-lady roles.

I can stand getting old myself, but I'd really prefer that Annette O'Toole not get old.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Note: our Amazon Product du Jour is supposed to be ironic humor, I think. The manufacturer is reported to be "Funny Scientist humor shirt", anyway.

    But writing at the James G. Martin Center, Sumantra Maitra seems serious: Who Is Responsible for the Loss of Faith in Science?. But it's a common way of speaking, as his article notes:

    In an essay in the liberal UK broadsheet The Guardian, multiple authors chart out the most important task for the incoming Biden administration: to “restore the faith in science.

    “Joe Biden’s most important promise to the American people was a policy platform taken for granted prior the Trump presidency: believe science,” the article suggests, adding that “Restoring trust in science will not be simple after four years of lies, half-truths, misdirections and conspiracy theories.”

    Days later, the academic journal Nature was under pressure from a concerted effort because it dared to publish a paper showing that “increasing the proportion of female mentors is associated not only with a reduction in post-mentorship impact of female protégés, but also a reduction in the gain of female mentors.”

    Why are those two instances important? Because lately, oblivious to the internal contradictions, a section of the elite is determined to restore faith and trust in a somewhat religious idea of “science” as long as the conclusions adhere to a Whiggish liberal worldview.

    Observations:

    • I get wary whenever people use "faith in science" as if it were something to be desired. It's not really. Trust me, I went through Lutheran Confirmation.
    • I have no idea what a "Whiggish liberal worldview" is.
    • People who do have a wide-eyed "faith in science" should (at least) read the recent book Science Fictions by Stuart Ritchie. (My take here.)

    That said, Sumantra has some good observations too.


  • Related: At AIER, Jeffrey A. Tucker reminds us: The “Expert Consensus” Also Favored Alcohol Prohibition.

    Most people today regard America’s experiment with alcohol prohibition as a national embarrassment, rightly repealed in 1933. So it will be with the closures and lockdowns of 2020, someday. 

    In 1920, however, to be for the repeal of the prohibition that was passed took courage. You were arguing against prevailing opinion backed by celebratory scientists and exalted social thinkers. What you were saying flew in the face of “expert consensus.”

    There is an obvious analogy to Lockdowns 2020.

    I'm not minimizing Covid; it's bad, dude. Worse is the panicked response from the "do something" crowd.


  • If you want to get panicked about something, I have a better candidate. From John Cochrane: Debt denial (copied from National Review where I think it's paywalled).

    Does debt matter? As the Biden administration and its economic cheerleaders prepare ambitious spending plans, a radical new idea is spreading: Maybe debt doesn’t matter. Maybe the U.S. can keep borrowing even after the COVID-19 recession is over, to fund “investments” in renewable energy, electric cars, trains and subways, unionized public schools, housing, health care, child care, “community development” schemes, universal incomes, bailouts of student debt, state and local governments, pensions, and many, many more checks to voters.

    The argument is straightforward. Bond investors are willing to lend money to the U.S. at extremely low interest rates. Suppose Washington borrows and spends, say, $10 trillion, raising the debt-to-GDP ratio from the current 100 percent to 150 percent. Suppose Washington just leaves the debt there, borrowing new money to pay interest on the old money. At 1 percent interest rates, the debt then grows by 1 percent per year. But if GDP grows at 2 percent, then the ratio of debt to GDP slowly falls 1 percent per year, and in a few decades it’s back to where it was before the debt binge started.

    What could go wrong? This scenario requires that interest rates stay low, for decades to come, and remain low even as the U.S. ramps up borrowing. The scenario requires that growth continues to outpace interest rates. Most of all, this scenario requires that big deficits stop. For at best, this is an argument for a one-time borrowing binge or small perpetual deficits, on the order of 1 percent of GDP, or only $200 billion today.

    John's advice: "Borrow long." That's his advice to Janet Yellen. I can only guess his advice to Joe American. Buy gold?


  • A P. J. O'Rourke quote that's always stuck in my head: Earnestness is stupidity sent to college. I feel that Paul Graham deserves equal time, though; here he is on Earnestness.

    Jessica and I have certain words that have special significance when we're talking about startups. The highest compliment we can pay to founders is to describe them as "earnest." This is not by itself a guarantee of success. You could be earnest but incapable. But when founders are both formidable (another of our words) and earnest, they're as close to unstoppable as you get.

    Earnestness sounds like a boring, even Victorian virtue. It seems a bit of an anachronism that people in Silicon Valley would care about it. Why does this matter so much?

    When you call someone earnest, you're making a statement about their motives. It means both that they're doing something for the right reasons, and that they're trying as hard as they can. If we imagine motives as vectors, it means both the direction and the magnitude are right. Though these are of course related: when people are doing something for the right reasons, they try harder.

    A decent argument. I'll grant that Peej may have run up against some very earnest people who have rubbed him the wrong way.


  • We've looked a few times recently at the Constitution-rewriting prjoect. At National Review, Robert VerBruggen offers his take: The Constitution Is Basically Fine the Way It Is.

    Turns out the whole “three branches of government with strong protections for certain truly non-negotiable rights” concept is tough to beat.

    And once you start tinkering with the smaller stuff that’s served us well for centuries, you quickly get into trouble. Despite keeping the basics of the current Constitution intact, these proposals manage to change a lot on a line-by-line basis — and these ideas largely come off as interesting fodder for academic conversations rather than things we’d actually want to try, even setting aside the practical difficulty of passing an amendment. Which, in turn, further drives home the conclusion that what we already have is pretty freakin’ great.

    It's allowed a lot of mischief over the last couple centuries, though.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-12

  • Slashdot has the important news: Harrison Ford Will Return in a Fifth 'Indiana Jones' Movie.

    Yessss!

    Harrison Ford will be grabbing his whip and ramming on his hat for a fifth "Indiana Jones" movie, Disney has confirmed -- a mere 41 years after the first installment, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," was released. Disney said in a tweet on Friday that the movie would be produced by its production arm Lucasfilm and released in July 2022, and that "Indy himself, Harrison Ford, will be back to continue his iconic character's journey." The entertainment giant also confirmed the news in an investor presentation, saying the movie was currently in "pre-production." There had been mounting speculation that a new movie was in the works. In February, Ford told Ellen DeGeneres in an appearance on her talk show that production on a new Indiana Jones movie would begin this year. "It's going to be fun. I am excited," he said on the show. "They're great fun to make." The last film from the franchise was 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which came almost 20 years after the third movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," which was released in 1989.

    I hope they get Karen Allen back too.


  • Jonah Goldberg is pretty irked at The Galling Hypocrisy of Texas AG Ken Paxton.

    The attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, is suing Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia for “unlawful” changes to their election laws in advance of the 2020 presidential election. Paxton didn’t choose these four states at random, though if you didn’t know they’re the four battleground states that delivered Joe Biden his Electoral College victory, you might think he had. Plenty of states changed their procedures to make voting in a pandemic safer and easier.

    Paxton wants the Supreme Court to invalidate election results in these four states and have the state legislatures decide who gets their electoral votes, on the assumption they’d hand the presidency to Trump. President Trump has joined the suit because, duh, he wants to stay president by any means.

    Even in this particularly dumb chapter in American history, to say that this lawsuit stands out as a shining example of willful stupidity would be an understatement. I won’t focus on all the legal reasons it is deservedly doomed to fail, because it would be like trying to list all the reasons 2 plus 2 does not equal a horse. Nor will I dwell on the innumerate statistical hogwash it cites as evidence, even though it’s about as impressive as that equine equation.

    Well, don't fret, Jonah. Because:


  • As Eric Boehm reported last night at Reason: The Supreme Court Just Dismissed Trump’s Hail Mary Effort To Overturn the Election.

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a last-ditch legal effort aimed at overturning the results of the presidential election, effectively ending President Donald Trump's final bid to reverse his defeat.

    In a one-page statement, the Supreme Court said the Texas v. Pennsylvania lawsuit lacked standing.

    The case had been brought directly to the court by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who challenged the constitutionality of election laws in four states—Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—on the grounds that those states had changed election procedures without the consent of their respective state legislatures. Paxton asked the Supreme Court to postpone the scheduled December 14 meeting of the Electoral College to allow for more time to investigate possible voter fraud in those states.

    I am not a lawyer, but the folks who claim the Texas lawsuit was garbage seem to be credible. I'm dismayed by the folks usually on my side who think otherwise.


  • James D. Agresti, "guest blogger" at Watts Up With That lists some Essential Facts About Covid-19. Fortunately, the take-home points are right up front:

    • the average death rate for people who contract Covid-19 is well below 1% and is much closer to that of the seasonal flu than figures that were commonly reported by the press.
    • the average years of life lost from each Covid-19 death are significantly fewer than from common causes of untimely death like accidents and suicides.
    • the virus that causes Covid-19 is “very vulnerable to antibody neutralization” and has very limited ability to mutate, which make it unlikely to take masses of lives year after year like the flu and other recurring scourges.
    • if 500,000 Covid-19 deaths ultimately occur in the United States—or more than twice the level of a prominent projection—the disease will rob about 6.8 million years of life from all Americans who were alive at the outset of 2020. In contrast:
      • the flu will rob them of about 35 million years.
      • suicides will rob them of 132 million years.
      • accidents will rob them of 409 million years.

    There's a lot of misinformation out there, but this seems like level-headed stuff. Unfortunately, nothing that will make my wife let me go to the movies.


  • Also with the facts on his side: Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution: The Simple Math of FDA Delay.

    Two to three thousand people a day are dying from COVID. Thus anything that delays rolling out a vaccine has a very high cost in human lives. People want to deny this, perhaps because it is so horrifying. I get a lot of pushback when I say that FDA delay is deadly. Let’s dispense with a few objections. It is true, of course, that the people who are dying today can’t literally be saved by a vaccine today but they could have been saved had they been vaccinated four or five weeks ago and similarly projecting forward.

    Another response that many smart people tell me is that a vaccine can’t be rolled out immediately so even under the best scenarios you couldn’t save that many people immediately. That’s true but irrelevant. Since a lot of people are getting this wrong, I want to show this in a simple model using pictures. Red is for deaths. Green is for life. Suppose two thousand people are dying from COVID a day as in panel 1. Let’s for the sake of the simple model assume that you could deliver a vaccine to everyone on Day 1. You would then save 2000 lives a day going forward for however long the pandemic would have lasted as shown in panel 2. If you delay by one day then two thousand people die who would have lived without the delay, as shown in panel 3. Pretty obvious so far.

    As we used to say back in the day: if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-11

  • An amusing juxtaposition from the Twitter account Politically Stripped:

    I need to stop relying on Arwa for female hair analysis.


  • Rational Optimist Matt Ridley provides the good news: The power of science has delivered the best possible news in a ghastly year.

    Happy Christmas! The BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine’s approval, with others to come, is the best possible news at the end of a ghastly year. Vaccination is humankind’s most life-saving innovation, banishing scourge after scourge from the face of the earth. It is a technology that is so counterintuitive as to seem magical, but when it works it is unbeatable. The extinction of smallpox in 1977 was probably science’s greatest achievement.

    Britain has been among the most incompetent countries at managing the pandemic, taking far too top-down and centralised an approach, but it will be the first to get vaccinating, weeks before America and a month before the lumbering bureaucratic dinosaur across the channel. We can thank Kate Bingham, our brilliant biologists and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. I recall being told by somebody with insider experience long before this that the European Medicines Agency added very little to what we do domestically, except duplication and delay. 

    I'm a semi-fan of Jerry Coyne, who blogs at Why Evolution is True. But sometimes he comes up with bad takes, like this (part of his daily "Hili dialogue" post from yesterday):

    Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, so it’s likely that our northern neighbors will start getting vaccinated next week. The NYT says, “The approval could mean that Canadians receive injections of the vaccine from the U.S.-based company before Americans do.” But who the hell cares. This isn’t a race between countries, but a race between death and medical logistics. If Canadians get protected earlier than we, that’s great!

    Ah, Jerry. Saying "it's not a race" is true, but misses the point. Which is: every day of unnecessary bureaucratic delay is killing people.

    "Who the hell cares?" You should.


  • At Hot Air, Allahpundit is properly disdainful of the modern GOP, and notes the latest Stupid Party symptom: 106 House Republicans sign onto Texas's disgraceful election lawsuit because that's what being a good Republican means now.

    I’m reading headlines today at liberal websites like “The GOP Abandons Democracy” and “More Than Half of House Republicans Sign On to Trump’s Election Coup” and feeling the old familiar urge to bristle with indignation. Surely the left is once again demagoging some legitimate Republican project in hyperbolic scaremongering terms. Liberal bias, plain as day.

    It isn’t. Those headlines are accurate. The Republican Party, at least a substantial chunk of it, is now the sort of sinister caricature of itself that a leftist might draw. In an age of hyperpartisanship it’s almost impossible to be as wretched and corrupt as your political enemies claim you are, but somehow they’ve done it. More than half the House caucus has joined a lawsuit that would disenfranchise millions, cause an irreparable schism between U.S. states, install a disordered unelected demagogue in office for another four years, and obliterate whatever remaining institutional credibility the Supreme Court has.

    Patterico notes that the Republican candidates in Georgia's US Senate runoff election have also expressed their support for the Texas lawsuit:

    You know, I thought I favored the GOP winning in the Georgia runoff, but I don’t really think I do any more. This lawsuit is a patently meritless regurgitation of already-rejected claims and is really nothing more than a pretext for a dictatorial grab of power. On one hand, I want the GOP to hold the Senate — but if it doesn’t, because these two people of low character can’t pull it off, then oh well.

    Ditto here.


  • Arnold Kling quotes Charles Murray in asking Who needs the HEEs? The HEEs being "Highly-Educated Elites".

    I’ve written a thought experiment for ongoing work. What happens if everyone with IQs below 110 disappears? Civilization collapses. If everyone with IQs of 110+ disappears except some engineers? Some deterioration here and there, but civilization continues.

    Arnold notes that (aha!) HEEs control a lot of resource allocation, and quotes a recent example from the WSJ:

    Under the GOP plan, businesses could receive a second PPP loan, and schools and colleges would be granted more than $100 billion in aid, while $31 billion would go toward vaccine development and distribution.

    That's the working-class GOP for ya.


  • I believe Jim Treacher is asking a rhetorical question: So, Hunter Biden's Laptop Was Real After All, Huh?.

    Hey, did you ever find out about a particular thing that was absolutely, undisputedly, 100% true? Like, no doubt at all? You had ironclad proof and everything? And after you found out about it, did you then run into somebody else who simply refused to believe it, no matter the evidence? Sure, we all know somebody like that. In 2020, it’s practically a hobby. But that’s not a good thing when the person who refuses to acknowledge facts and evidence is supposed to be a journalist.

    For instance, take Hunter Biden’s laptop. Please! Take it, because CNN and the NYT and the rest of those frauds didn’t want to hear about it before the election. They refused to cover the story, and when they finally had to, they dismissed it.

    Treach has plenty of examples from CNN, NPR, etc. And I note that Politico still has this gem from October 19: Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.

    Right. Let's see how many of those perceptive folks make it into the Biden Administration.


  • And in our occasional "Stupid Wired Article" department, an opinion piece from one Sandeep Vaheesan: Antitrust Litigation Isn't Enough. Biden Needs to Go Further.

    Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam filed parallel antitrust suits against Facebook for the acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, and practices that excluded competitive threats in social networking and messaging. In October, the Department of Justice and 11 states filed a complaint against Google alleging the monopolization of mobile search and search advertising. Though Democrats surely hope President-elect Joe Biden makes a clean break with the Trump administration on many issues, the new president would be wise to embrace partial continuity in one area—antitrust enforcement.

    While there’s been no shortage of antitrust action in recent months, Biden’s trustbusters can and should do even more to remind large corporations that they cannot operate with impunity. Litigation, while important, is not enough. The present antitrust system is costly, complicated, and time-consuming, guaranteeing little besides years of investigation and litigation—and billable hours for lawyers and economists. An effective and durable assault on corporate dominance requires new rules that ensure that powerful firms are quickly brought to account for wrongdoing. Even with a potentially divided government through 2022, the Biden administration—through the FTC—can begin fixing the law immediately.

    Note that when Sandeep advocates "fixing the law", he means, essentially, abandoning the rule of law. Instead of clear, generally-applicable rules to guide acceptable business behavior, American business is essentially at the whim of whatever rules the current presidential administration decides to make up.

    Antitrust is already pretty arbitrary. Sandeep wants to make it more so.


Last Modified 2020-12-11 7:47 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-10

[Amazon Link]
Current news may be causing you to grind your teeth in your sleep! Consider our Amazon Product du Jour!

  • I don't usually get overwrought about legislative votes for bills that are destined to go nowhere. Certainly the 116th Congress has had plenty of them. But the recent vote on the MORE Act of 2020 was pretty interesting. Because it would have decriminalized pot at the Federal level.

    (MORE == "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement")

    The vote was nearly entirely on party lines: Democrats 222-6 in favor, Republicans 158-5 against. (And Justin Amash in favor, of course.)

    This week's Reason podcast participants were pretty livid at the GOP nay-sayers, in particular Thomas Massie who's had libertarian leanings in the past.

    But there's a local angle for me: my own (recently re-elected) CongressCritter, Chris Pappas, was one of the six Democrat nays. His reasoning, such as it was:

    Pappas says he supports several parts of the MORE Act, including de-scheduling marijuana at the federal level and empowering states to determine their own policies that make sense for them. However, he also believes that more deliberation is needed and COVID-19 relief is more pressing.

    “I have serious concerns about the many unanswered questions that I have heard from local public health and safety experts in my state about expunging certain federal drug convictions and implementing aspects of this legislation. I feel we should not rush this bill through when Congress has yet to act on a COVID-19 relief package that is so badly needed as Americans continue to face a global pandemic and an economic crisis,” said Pappas. “Ensuring fairness in our justice system and keeping our communities safe are not mutually exclusive. We can and must do both, and I’m hopeful this issue can be addressed through the legislative process next term.”

    I don't care overmuch; it's not as if I'm ever going to vote for him. But it's interesting that he picked this issue to buck his party on.


  • Tristan Justice reports at the Federalist: YouTube Will Ban Claims Of 2020 Vote Fraud, But Will Allow Russia Hoax.

    YouTube announced Wednesday that the Google-owned video platform would outright remove content critical of the 2020 election results and would only promote videos from corporate media.

    “Yesterday was the safe harbor deadline for the U.S. Presidential election and enough states have certified their election results to determine a President-elect,” YouTube released in a statement. “Given that, we will start removing any piece of content uploaded today (or anytime after) that misleads people by alleging widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome.”

    As previously discussed, the election conspiracy theories are hot garbage. But (of course) they aren't so incandescently hot that they need to be banned from the Marketplace of Ideas.

    This will only allow the nutballs to say: "See, brothers and sisters: the truth is being suppressed!"

    Or maybe I should just…


  • Not only is there violence inherent in the system. There's also incompetence, ignorance, and short-sightedness. For an example, see this quote reproduced at AIER: “We Hadn’t Really Thought Through the Economic Impacts”.

    In a wide-ranging interview in the New York Times, Melinda Gates made the following remarkable statement: “What did surprise us is we hadn’t really thought through the economic impacts.” A cynic might observe that one is disinclined to think much about matters than do not affect one personally. 

    It’s a maddening statement, to be sure, as if “economics” is somehow a peripheral concern to the rest of human life and public health. The larger context of the interview reveals the statement to be even more confused. She is somehow under the impression that it is the pandemic and not the lockdowns that are the cause of the economic devastation that includes perhaps 30% of restaurants going under, among many other terrible effects. 

    That's one of the problems with "following the science". It neglects everything else.


  • Another Covid-related link from Michael Fumento at Issues and Insights: Why Doesn’t The Covidocracy Care About Vitamin D Findings?.

    There’s actually very limited evidence in favor of mass masking, but advocates argue it’s relatively inexpensive (true) and what’s the harm (none if your intent is to create division and distrust among “your” people). But what about something to reduce COVID-19 severity and mortality that’s cheap, easy, and has solid scientific evidence behind it?

    Finally someone in official capacity is pushing this treatment. It’s called “vitamin D.” England has announced that more than 2.5 million of its more vulnerable people, namely those in long-term care facilities, will be offered free vitamin D supplements this winter.

    I Am Not A Doctor. And I have only a personal anecdote: since the end of summer (hence the end of sun-drenched walks with the dog), I've been taking a daily vitamin D3 pill. And I'm still alive and asymptomatic.

    So, maybe Bill and Melinda might look into drone deliveries of D supplements to at-risk communities.

    But I think that John Tierney had a pretty good answer to Fumento's question; we linked to it a couple days ago.


  • But (sorry) back to the election-conspiracy guys, who are making me a little obsessed. They seize on mistakes and flaws as proof of nefarious intent.

    The problem: elections are run by government officials and employees. That guarantees a certain level of incompetence, sloppiness, bias, and (yes) probably even some outright fraud.

    For an example, look no further than New York's 22nd District Chaos, as reported by the Federalist (Tristan Justice again):

    On Tuesday, a judge on the New York Supreme Court demanded the district’s eight boards of elections fix errors after flouting state law. Ignoring the law led to mishaps keeping more than 1,700 votes from being counted in the election. Before the ruling and count of new ballots, the race had shown Republican challenger Claudia Tenney winning by a mere 351 votes.

    New York State Supreme Court Judge Scott DelConte explained in his ruling the errors were from no fault of voter fraud but a lack of due diligence by local officials conducting the process.

    “To be clear, there is absolutely no evidence — or even an allegation — before this Court of any fraud on the part of the Boards of the campaigns,” DelConte wrote. “Instead, problems experienced by the candidates and, consequently, all of the voters across the eight counties in New York’s 22nd Congressional District, were direct results of ‘the careless or inadvertent failure to follow the mandate of statute and case law,’ by the Boards of Elections.”

    It's all fun and games until someone loses your damn vote.

    Note that this could have been avoided under my crackpot reform proposal for House elections.

Ride the Pink Horse

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

Consumer note: the movie is in monochrome. You can't tell if the horse is actually pink. They say it is, though.

Our hero, Gattis, shows up on a Greyhound in the mostly-Spanish speaking town of San Pablo. He mysteriously hides a small piece of paper in a bus station locker, then hides the key (kind of obtrusively). He, for undisclosed reasons, is in search of Frank Hugo, a mobster who's also visiting the town for the local annual fiesta.

Problems ensue: Gattis can't find Hugo right away, neither can he find a hotel room; they're all sold out because of the fiesta. In his search, he accidentally acquires a young hanger-on, Pila, who's (apparently) fascinated by his gringo ways. He also encounters Retz, an FBI agent also on Hugo's case. He eventually makes his way to a local Mexican cantina, where after some initial chilliness, he befriends the clientele, especially Pancho, a fat drunk who runs the local carousel.

On which sits the titular Pink Horse.

It's complicated and nightmarish, and Gattis eventually gets badly hurt. Will he complete his mysterious quest? No spoilers here.

I see from IMDB that the actor playing Pancho nabbed an Oscar nomination for his performance. Losing to Edmund Gwenn, who played Santa in Miracle on 34th Street.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-09

[Amazon Link]

  • Jacob Sullum asks the musical question: Are Americans Insufficiently Alarmed by COVID-19? Eh. He looks at an NYT op-ed, threateningly titled It’s Time to Scare People About Covid by one Elizabeth Rosenthal. A telling criticism:

    "It's time to make people scared and uncomfortable," Rosenthal writes in the Times. "It's time for some sharp, focused, terrifying realism."

    Rosenthal suggests ads featuring COVID-19 patients struggling on ventilators or lying, "eyes wide with fear," in ICU beds, which would show "what can happen with the virus." But the "realism" of that approach is dubious, since those outcomes are hardly typical.

    The vast majority of people infected by the coronavirus do not have symptoms serious enough to require hospitalization, let alone ICU care or ventilators. Rosenthal dismisses that point, saying "most longtime smokers don't end up with lung cancer—or tethered to an oxygen tank—either."

    That's a pretty sloppy comparison given the enormous difference between these two health risks. Epidemiological research indicates that somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of cigarette smokers will die prematurely because of their habit.

    New York Times guideline: Sloppiness doesn't count when you are trying to terrify folks.

    Coincidentally, the WSJ had a special "Cybersecurity" section today. Lead article: Why Companies Should Stop Scaring Employees About Cybersecurity. Why? Because Fear Doesn't Work. Not in the long term.

    Ditto for Covid. Suggestion (for the Nth time): stop trying to scare people, give them accurate and complete information, and let them make their own decisions about risk.

    And since I slagged my friends at Granite Grok yesterday, let me offer some praise today related to this topic: Skip looks at the Covid Terror Porn pushed by our local TV station.


  • So: don't be afeared. But do be disgusted, because while we're losing a couple thousand souls per day to Covid, David Henderson says: We Could Have Had the Vaccine in Early Spring at the Latest. Quoting a (credible) New York magazine article:

    You may be surprised to learn that of the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public in an act of scientific and humanitarian generosity that resulted in China’s Yong-Zhen Zhang’s being temporarily forced out of his lab. In Massachusetts, the Moderna vaccine design took all of one weekend. It was completed before China had even acknowledged that the disease could be transmitted from human to human, more than a week before the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial. This is — as the country and the world are rightly celebrating — the fastest timeline of development in the history of vaccines. It also means that for the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it.

    Eh, what's a quarter-million dead people? I suppose the FDA isn't a mass murderer on the scale of Stalin/Mao/Hitler. They might be a ways down the body-count list.


  • Speaking of shots… In our "Things That Make You Shake Your Head" department, Greg Piper at the College Fix reports: Cornell vaccine mandate only applies to white students.

    One of the amazing things we learned in 2020 is that the novel coronavirus can’t infect people who attend Black Lives Matter protests. Science!

    Apparently the seasonal influenza is even more considerate, at least at Cornell University.

    The Ivy League school offers a race-based exemption from its new mandatory flu shot, requiring only white students to get immunized before returning to the area.

    You'll have to read Cornell's justification for this odious policy yourself to believe it.

    It seems that nobody involved even raised the questions: "What's likely to happen? Who's likely to be harmed?"


  • It appears 1984 was only delayed. David Harsanyi at National Review describes the latest omen: Dictionary.com Changes Definition of 'Court-Packing'.

    During a recent social-media spat over the meaning of “Court-packing,” an intrepid person named J. D. Graham got onto the Wayback Machine and found out that sometime between November 1 and December 1, 2020, Dictionary.com, whose “proprietary source is the Random House Unabridged Dictionary,” changed the meaning of the phrase.

    Here it is before:

    an unsuccessful attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to appoint up to six additional justices to the Supreme Court, which had invalidated a number of his New Deal laws.

    Here is the addition:

    the practice of changing the number or composition of judges on a court, making it more favorable to particular goals or ideologies, and typically involving an increase in the number of seats on the court: Court packing can tip the balance of the Supreme Court toward the right or left.

    “Language evolves. So do we,” was the reply from Dictionary.com.

    Indeed, language evolves organically over long periods of time. It does not miraculously transform one day after 60 years during a presidential election to comport with the new definition a political party has whipped up. Dictionaries are a resource that allows people to find out the meaning of words. They do not get to invent new meanings.

    Trump gets (mostly) rightly slagged for "eroding democratic norms". Exercise for the reader: what norms are being eroded by Dictionary.com?


  • At the Dispatch, Michael Graham asks What’s Next for Chris Sununu?.

    A few weeks ago, Gov. Chris Sununu made New Hampshire the 37th state to impose a statewide mask mandate, the last New England governor to do so. It was a decision denounced as big-government overreach by libertarian-leaning Republicans and dismissed as too little, too late by state Democrats.

    In other words, it was right in the political sweet spot, which is where Sununu spends most of his time.

    A good long article, full of details. (Including an interview with Chris's dad.) The possibilities mentioned are a run for the US Senate against Maggie Hassan, and the veep spot on the 2024 GOP ticket.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-08

  • RIP: American Hero Chuck Yeager Dead At 97. The very definition of the Right Stuff.


  • Arnold Kling pens An essay that calls for courage. But first, let him tell you about it:

    This essay ends with a call for courage. Ironically, it was scheduled to appear a few weeks ago on a different web site, when the editor informed me that a “higher-up” decided that they were afraid to run it. I then submitted it to the Law and Liberty Web site. To their credit, they accepted it.

    The essay is The Decentralized Totalitarianism of Today's Anti-Racists. Begins:

    Anti-racism has emerged as a powerful movement in recent years, especially in 2020. Anti-racism goes beyond simple non-discrimination, and so while many Americans believe that our society has made progress in eliminating racial prejudice, anti-racists do not agree. At the grass-roots level, it manifests as Black Lives Matter (BLM), a movement that seeks to stir people who otherwise might be indifferent to deaths of young black men, especially those deaths that take place in confrontations with police. In the realm of ideas, the movement manifests as Critical Race Theory (CRT), which is promulgated by college professors, human resource professionals at large organizations, and even administrators and teachers in many K-12 schools. Within contemporary anti-racism, BLM and CRT are two important streams, which sometimes blend together.

    Unfortunately, each of these two streams is poisoned by an untruth. In the case of BLM, the untruth is that young black men are often killed by police because of racism. In the case of CRT, the untruth is that white supremacy permeates American life, so much so that combating racism requires radical change in all of America’s formal institutions as well as its informal cultural norms. The centrality of these untruths to anti-racism, when coupled with their propensity to inflame passions, leads to an instinctive totalitarianism which rejects all attempts at correction or critical examination.

    BLM and CRT are (on net) obstacles to racial harmony and progress. Like most of the post-1960s progressive policies.


  • I've been linking to Granite Grok for over 14 years. So it saddens me to see them buying into election conspiracy theories. A recent example is from contributor Sarah Ibanez NH's Voting Machines Are Capable of Redistributing Votes. Her article begins…

    New Hampshire’s voting machines known as the AccuVote OS are owned by Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion is a foreign corporation domiciled in Canada …

    Argh. Wait a minute. That's not true at all.

    Dominion Voting Systems is a non-partisan American company that makes electronic voting systems. No foreign national directly or indirectly owns or controls the company. As verified by the Associated Press, Dominion began as a Canadian company and was later incorporated in the United States. One of the company's founders, John Poulos, serves as CEO. Dominion and other voting system manufacturers submit extensive company disclosures to federal and state authorities as terms of product testing and system certification. The company has no ownership ties whatsoever to UBS, or the governments of China, Cuba, or Venezuela.

    This isn't the first time this misinformation has been peddled at Granite Grok. I commented about that; the response was disappointing. Dominion Voting's response was dismissed as a lie, without evidence. How likely is it that a company will lie about its ownership, when its future business depends on its trustworthiness?

    So I've given up on trying to argue this specific point at Granite Grok. Many commenters there seem to be poster children for confirmation bias. Hope it gets better.

    Of course, this sort of thing has consequences. NH Journal reports: 70 Percent of NHGOP Voters Say Biden's Win Wasn't Legitimate.

    But there's a way to do this sort of thing correctly.


  • At National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy has been debunking conspiracy nonsense, but he notices belated improvement on the legal front: Trump Campaign Files Better Case.

    In the Peach State, the campaign is represented by different counsel than it has been elsewhere. The 64-page complaint is a linear, cogently presented description of numerous election-law violations, apparently based on hard data. If true, the allegations would potentially disqualify nearly 150,000 illegal votes in a state that Biden won by only 12,000.

    To be sure, we have not yet heard a response to the specific claims from the state respondents, led by Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. I should further note that I have seen only the complaint, not the underlying exhibits; I am in no position to evaluate the credibility of the sources or the accuracy of the lawyers’ number-crunching. That said, if the campaign had taken the exacting approach of this lawsuit from the beginning, rather than swinging wildly on farfetched fraud claims, it would have gotten more traction.

    There could be something there, of course. Why the Trump campaign took a whole month to put together a coherent legal case, I don't know. Too busy flirting with incoherent conspiracy theories, maybe.


  • Speaking of coherency, John Tierney at City Journal writes on Pandemic Penitents.

    In 1349, as the Black Death ravaged Europe, a new pandemic-control strategy was adopted in cities across the continent. The protocol was precisely regulated by the experts. Three times a day, for a total of exactly eight hours, hundreds of men known as Flagellants would march in single file through town, wearing caps with a red cross and carrying scourges of knotted ropes studded with nails. “Using these whips,” one witness reported, “they beat and whipped their bare skin until their bodies were bruised and swollen and blood rained down, spattering the walls nearby.”

    This specific strategy is no longer in favor among public health officials, but the spirit of the Flagellants lives on. Instead of beatdowns, today’s regulators favor lockdowns, which are less bloody but inflict more social pain. For all the talk about following science, the authorities—and much of the citizenry—can’t resist the primal intuition that a pandemic can be quelled only through public penance. Consider two strategies for dealing with the Covid-19 virus: urge the public to spend time outside in the sun to build up their vitamin D, and to take supplements of the vitamin, repeatedly demonstrated to protect against viral infection; or shut down most businesses, deprive children of classroom education, and order everyone to stay home, a strategy never previously tested and yet to prove effective.

    Insight into the "Do Something" mind. Draconian measures "definitely enable officials and citizens to demonstrate that they’re taking bold actions against Covid—and the more painful the measures, the more virtuous and heroic they feel."

    And a certain fraction of the citizenry demand this, displaying their own virtue and heroism, of course.

    And if infections and deaths rise anyway? Well, "not enough people are following the rules. Stop sinning! Do your penance!"


  • And in our "Of Course They Did" Department, David Harsanyi reports the latest: Journalists Turn on Free Expression.

    In an interview with MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, The New Yorker’s Steve Coll contends that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “profound” support of free speech — oh, how I wish that were true — is problematic because “free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism.”

    Journalism has turned on free speech, the one belief that had been somewhat impervious to the ideological tendencies of most editors and reporters. There’s absolutely nothing in Coll’s comments — nor in Hunt’s begging a question about the alleged corrosive effects of unfettered speech — which demonstrates that either are particularly concerned about the future of free expression, much less that either hold the principle as “sacred.”

    The denizens of journalism are eager to preserve their own freedom.

    Yours, not so much.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-07

Today's artwork is "American Woman Bathing her Children" according to Getty, a work depicting the customs and activities of foreigners after the forced opening of Japanese ports to American trade by Commodore Matthew Perry. The kid is doing a Biden to the dog.

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson avers There Will Be No ‘Return to Normalcy’ .

    Some people have taken comfort in Joe Biden’s emerging undead administration, in which Biden, who will be 82 years old at the end of his term and was first elected to office half a century ago, has chosen to surround himself with such deathless hacks as John Kerry, who first ran for office in 1972, and Janet Yellen, who took her first job at the Federal Reserve in 1977. These personalities are intimately familiar, like a persistent infection.

    In truth, Biden might have done worse under the influence of today’s Democratic party: Janet Yellen may not be Milton Friedman, but she isn’t Bernie Sanders, either. Incoming National Economic Council director Brian Deese hasn’t been working at Marxists ’R’ Us since leaving the Obama administration — he’s been helping BlackRock profitably manage its $7.4 trillion in assets. We’ll even be treated to the return of Jen Psaki, the witless, feckless, gormless, and generally -less Pippi Longstocking of self-regarding Democratic hackery. Sure, it’ll be like giving the inmates from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest nuclear weapons and a navy, but that’s democracy for you. And they’d have to expend a great deal of energy to come off as weirder than Donald Trump, who has an imaginary friend for a PR man and a habit of citing a Twitter philosopher called “Cat Turd.”

    I'll look for a silver lining here: there will be plenty of stuff to blog about, snarkily.


  • Steven Hayward at Power Line approaches a thorny topic: Asking the Right Questions, Avoiding the “Wrong” Answers.

    Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist who became famous 20 years ago for his “bowling alone” hypothesis about the erosion of social capital in the U.S., is out with a new co-authored book (with Shaylyn Romney Garrett) on racial disparities, The Upswing. Although a liberal, Putnam has not shrunk in the past from reporting data findings uncongenial to liberals, such as his careful work concluding that “diversity” and high rates of immigration actually lead to the erosion of social trust.

    A long excerpt from the book appears today in the New York Times under the title “Why Did Racial Progress Stall?“, and it does not shrink from observing some uncongenial facts about racial progress (and the lack of it in recent decades):

    In terms of material well-being, Black Americans were moving toward parity with white Americans well before the victories of the civil rights era. What’s more, after the passage of civil rights legislation, those trends toward racial parity slowed, stopped and even reversed. . . In measure after measure, positive change for Black Americans was actually faster in the decades before the civil rights revolution than in the decades after.

    Putnam shies away, however, from the obvious explanation: the 60s/70s "Great Society" and associated policies actually disincentivized progress.


  • Brendan O'Neill at Spiked thinks We need to talk about Ellen Page. Why?

    So that’s it, is it? Ellen Page is no more? She’s been disappeared? She’s been shoved down the memory hole, left to stalk that netherworld of people whose names must never be uttered out loud, like Bruce Jenner, Frank Maloney, Voldemort? Ellen Page, the actress most famous for starring in irritant quirkhouse movie Juno, has now declared that she is Elliot Page and that she’s a he. And, boom, just like that, Ellen’s gone. She’s being erased from film history. People are getting into trouble even for saying the word ‘Ellen’. ‘Who?’, woke identitarians ask, as if they’ve all gone mad.

    We need to talk about this. Specifically we need to talk about Ellen Page. We need to talk about the fact that this woman – yes, woman – existed in public life and in the celluloid imagination for many years, and that can’t just be scrubbed from the record, Soviet-style. Yesterday, Ellen issued a statement saying she is now Elliot and her pronouns are he and they. That’s just bad grammar. Swiftly, slavishly even, the establishment media and the film world rushed to erase Ellen, the movie star of a decade’s standing. It’s like she never existed. From IMDb to Wikipedia, it’s all Elliot. ‘Elliot Page is a Canadian actor’, Wikipedia tells us. Where’s Ellen gone?

    Brendan's bottom line:

    The cult of transgenderism isn’t liberation. All it does is allow individuals to ‘liberate’ themselves from reality while heaping pressure on the rest of us to deny the truth, to silence our own knowledge, to lie to ourselves and to others. That is the opposite of freedom. Sorry, Ellen.

    I assume Brendan's on his way to the re-education camp as I type.


  • The NY Post editors note the inevitable asymmetry of "hate" calls: Facebook's 'anti-hate' algorithm assumes only some bigotry matters.

    Facebook is overhauling its algorithms for removing hate speech, The Washington Post reports, because policies it thought were race-blind were upsetting a lot of black users and employees.

    Specifically, it’s telling its robots to focus on “the worst of the worst,” according to internal documents the paper obtained: “slurs directed at Blacks, Muslims, people of more than one race, the LGBTQ community and Jews.”

    Bigotry against men, whites and Americans won’t be automatically flagged, as they’re “low sensitivity.”

    "Hate has no home here", unless you're hating the right people.


  • And Not the Bee is not a fan of USA Today: USA Today fAcT-cHeCkErS compare Trump shirts to Nazi symbols but say pic of Biden staffer with Commie symbol is "MiSSiNg CoNtExT". I'll just toss up the relevant tweet:

    Sheesh. USA Today fact checkers should be fired.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-06

  • I really, truly, laughed at this. Via Viking Pundit: Prove you're not a robot.

    The Brits can still do comedy. Fair play to them.


  • I did not, however, laugh at this: FDA Career Staff Are Delaying the Vaccine As Thousands of Americans Die. From Marty Makary at the Dispatch:

    FDA regulators are wasting precious time in greenlighting a COVID vaccine as more than 2,000 Americans are dying each day and the pandemic continues to starve American society.

    Pfizer submitted data detailing the safety and effectiveness of its vaccine on Nov. 22. But rather than immediately convening experts, the FDA scheduled a review meeting on Dec. 10, almost three weeks later. As Pfizer’s application sits on the shelf at the FDA awaiting authorization, about 27,000 Americans will have died. So what is the FDA doing for three weeks?

    I've been wondering the same thing myself, and Makary's article illuminates the bureaucratic tarpit that is the FDA.

    And Makary isn't some tinfoil-hat crank:

    Marty Makary M.D., M.P.H. is a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is editor-in-chief of Medpage Today and the author of the 2020 Business Book of the Year, The Price We Pay.

    I read The Price We Pay back in July. My take (it's a mixed bag) here.

    You can quibble with Markary's death number, but it's about what you can get on the New York Times Covid page; they, too, have the US going over 2000 deaths/day ((7-day moving average).

    Even back in April there was a good argument for dumping the FDA. That argument might start resonating outside the libertarian bubble.


  • Alex Tabarrok comments on the issue at Marginal Revolution: Don't Delay a Vaccine to Allay Fear.

    I am getting very angry at people like Anthony Fauci who say that FDA delay is necessary or useful to alleviate vaccine hesitancy.

    Fauci told Fox News that the FDA “really scrutinises the data very carefully to guarantee to the American public that this is a safe and efficacious vaccine. I think if we did any less, we would add to the already existing hesitancy on the part of many people because … they’re concerned that we went too quickly.”

    The WSJ says much the same thing just with a slightly different flavor:

    …this regulatory rigmarole is essentially a placebo to reassure the public it will be safe to get inoculated.

    The ‘we must delay to allay’ argument is deadly and wrong.

    Click over for Alex's full argument, but to summarize: Letting the "risk averse, fearful and scientifically illiterate" guide policies is both misguided and pointless; you won't convince a significant number of those people by sitting on your hands for weeks and months. And it gives the public the wrong message, implying this is a difficult decision; it's not.

    Fauci has been making excuses for the Federal health bureaucracy killing people since March.


  • Oh well. Covid isn't just killing people. It's killing universities. Or maybe just killing them faster. Power Line reports The Higher Ed Meltdown Accelerates. They quote an article at VTDigger that describes the woe at the UofTSTOL (University of The State To Our Left):

    The University of Vermont announced proposed cuts Wednesday to 12 majors and 11 minors in the College of Arts and Sciences. University officials say the college has seen a 17% reduction in enrollment in liberal arts classes from 2010 to 2016. Low enrollment is defined as 25 or fewer students or fewer than 5 graduates per year.

    The university plans to eliminate geology, religion and classics departments. Twelve out of 56 majors will go by the boards, including regional studies, romance languages and cultures, Latin, Greek, German, Russian and Italian.

    No announcements, yet, from the University Near Here.


  • A marvelous essay from Paul Graham, rebutting AOC et al.. He runs "Y Combinator", a startup "incubator" (which has incubated, among others, Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and Reddit.)

    Anyway: Billionaires Build.

    As I was deciding what to write about next, I was surprised to find that two separate essays I'd been planning to write were actually the same.

    The first is about how to ace your Y Combinator interview. There has been so much nonsense written about this topic that I've been meaning for years to write something telling founders the truth.

    The second is about something politicians sometimes say — that the only way to become a billionaire is by exploiting people — and why this is mistaken.

    Keep reading, and you'll learn both simultaneously.

    I know the politicians are mistaken because it was my job to predict which people will become billionaires. I think I can truthfully say that I know as much about how to do this as anyone. If the key to becoming a billionaire — the defining feature of billionaires — was to exploit people, then I, as a professional billionaire scout, would surely realize this and look for people who would be good at it, just as an NFL scout looks for speed in wide receivers.

    I'd assume the fraction of Pun Salad readers who are looking forward to an imminent Y Combinator interview is small. But the next time AOC opens her yap about evil billionaires, you'll be ready.


  • And one of the sane people left at Instapundit, Ed Driscoll, excerpts an NYT op-ed

    The secretary of agriculture should lead the fight against corporations that have created a toxic food environment and support groups building healthful alternatives. The secretary should champion unity among farmers, rural people and urban advocates for racial and economic justice against the common enemy of consolidation and concentration of wealth. And the secretary should use the department’s vaunted research and extension capacity to support a food system that can rebuild rural economies, regenerate ecological capital, mitigate climate change and provide nourishing food for all.

    While we’re at it, we might as well change the department’s name from its archaic, misleading misnomer to something that reflects the country’s needs: a Department of Food and Well Being.

    Also left as a comment: Just reading the excerpt, I was saying: "Gee, that sounds like a Mark Bittman parody." I click over, and what do you know? He's moved into self-parody.

    I used to enjoy snarking at Bittman. If you can stand it: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Bittman was never shy about his desires to use state power to force people to eat their beets.


Last Modified 2020-12-06 9:24 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-12-05

  • <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice>: Remy tells the story of Republicans who are Caring Again. About what?

    The federal budget deficit was a record $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020, a three-fold increase over 2019. President Trump was able to accomplish that with help from Republicans in Congress, who stopped paying even lip service to fiscal austerity after Obama left office. With a Democrat about to return to the White House, expect GOP lawmakers to remember that—as it turns out—deficits do matter.

    Lyrics (with explanatory links) at the link above.


  • At the Washington Examiner, Timothy P. Carney solves the election mystery. Except: It’s no mystery: Millions of people voted specifically against Trump.

    It's apparently a mystery to the Donald:

    And also to left-leaning columnists:

    Thomas Edsall at the New York Times puzzles over his own mystery. “Honestly, This Was a Weird Election,” is his headline, with his subheading puzzling that “Biden soared among crucial suburban voters. Democrats? Not so much.”

    […]

    What Edsall finds “weird” is that those same congressional districts tended to vote Republican this time around.

    What is weird to Edsall and impossible to Trump has the same explanation (and Edsall, unlike Trump, understands it): Millions of voters find Trump uniquely awful, and they vote explicitly against him and not for a particular party or candidate.

    The corollary to this story is that in 2016, Trump drew perhaps the only politician in the world as off-putting as he himself was: Hillary Clinton.

    As someone who found both major party candidates (and as a one-armed paper hanger) I find this completely credible.


  • OK, here's another "as a one-armed paper hanger" link. As someone who's been, um, conversing with some conspiracy theorists at an ostensibly conservative blog, I'm in sympathy with Jonah Goldberg, who asserts Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism. First, he notes that he doesn't like "You're not a conservative if…" arguments.

    So why are conspiracy theorists different? Well, for starters, conspiracy theories are almost always offered in bad faith because they are non-falsifiable. The moment you provide evidence disproving a conspiracy theory, the response is invariably to resort to an even deeper conspiracy theory—or to accuse the debunker of being “one of them.” 

    For instance, Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been far too loyal to the president throughout his tenure for my taste, recently told the truth: There’s no evidence for the vast conspiracy theories Donald Trump has belched out to explain his election loss. The response from many of Trump’s most ardent defenders was to insist Barr was in on the “deep state” plot to get Trump. 

    But the incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is more fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.” 

    I don't have any deep insights into conspiracy theorists, other than the ones you've seen from wiser folks than I. I'll admit it's difficult to keep a civil tongue in my head, though.


  • Joel Kotkin is a smart guy, and he writes on a red-meat topic at the Daily Beast: The Real Fascist Threat Was Never Trump—It’s Corporate Power.

    For four years America has shuddered watching Donald Trump, the poor man’s Benito Mussolini, doing his Il Duce imitation. Certainly, Trump's timely political demise should be celebrated, but we cannot ignore a far bigger long-term threat to democracy—one that may be further accelerated by the new regime in Washington.

    Under the kindly eyes of Uncle Joe, we soon may find ourselves living under an updated version of the fascist “corporate state”— an alliance between political leaders and a handful of ultra-rich, ultra-powerful companies that increasingly dominate the economy and culture. This new American-style corporate state reflects not a conspiracy but the politics of a society with unprecedented concentrations of wealth and power.

    I agree halfway: partnerships between big government and big business do not work out to my benefit, and probably not to yours either.

    I will note that yesterday's "ultra-rich, ultra-powerful companies" are not today's. (See Mark J. Perry: Only 51 US companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity). Kotkin writes as if things are different today.

    He could be right, that this time Walmart/ExxonMobil/Apple/etc have figured out a way to live forever at the top. I have my doubts.


  • If you're not worried about corporate fascism, maybe James D. Miller at Quillette will get you concerned about another menace: The Apocalyptic Threat from Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Science Fiction. After Miller provides a deepfake example…

    While [deepfake] technology may create a bit of social havoc, the truly massive disruption will occur when AIs can match or exceed the thinking power of the human brain. This is not a remote possibility: Variants of the machine-learning AIs that today generate fake pictures have a good chance of creating computer superintelligences before this century is out.

    These superior beings could be applied to wonderful purposes. Just this week, for instance, it was announced that the AI system AlphaFold has been recognized for providing a solution to the so-called “protein folding problem,” which holds implications for our fundamental understanding of the basic building blocks of human biology. If, however, mankind releases smarter-than-us AI before figuring out how to align their values with our own, we could bring forth an apocalypse instead. Even the Pope fears the destructive potential of AI, and he is right to do so.

    Yeah, well, maybe. Steven Pinker devoted a section of his recent book Enlightenment Now to the AI "existential threat" and was complacent about it. For now, I'm leaning that way too, but Miller's take is nonetheless interesting. See what you think

The Stranger Diaries

[Amazon Link]

The second book on my Edgar Award Nominees reading project.

Clare Calloway is a divorced English (as in subject) teacher in an English (as in Great Britain) high school. The school inhabits the old mansion of Gothic horror writer R. M. Holland; in her spare time, Clare is researching Holland's strange life, working on a book project. The school is said to be haunted by the ghost of Holland's wife, who committed suicide by throwing herself down the stairs. Ouch!

But one of Clare's friends and co-workers, Ella gets murdered. And it seems the killer has aped one of the murders in Holland's most famous story.

And then Clare finds that somebody—or something?—has been writing in her diaries: "Hallo, Clare. You don't know me." Oh oh.

The book uses multiple first-person narrators, a technique cutely adapted from Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. In addition to Clare, there's the police Detective Sergeant assigned to the case, Harbinder Kaur, a lesbian Indian lady. And Clare's precocious daughter, Georgia. It's amusing to see how their perceptions of each other clash.

There's a lot of spookiness and dread, as appropriate for a Gothic-related novel. And a very good dog.

The Power of Bad

How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It

[Amazon Link]

The Dewey Decimal Code on this book's spine is "158.1", which is "Self Help". I don't usually get self-help books. Haven't read one on purpose since I was in my twenties, I think.

But this one has back-cover blurbs from P. J. O'Rourke, Steven Pinker, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. That shouts out "Read this!" to me. And one of the authors, John Tierney, is a constant source of good stuff at City Journal. So I checked it out. Good move.

The cover is a little gee-whiz, but the premise of the book is provided by a couple pithy sentences right there on page 11:

To survive, life has to win every day. Death has to win just once.

Gulp.

This is a lesson pounded into our genes by billions of years of evolution. We are hardwired to appreciate its truth. This book goes into the broad implications of that "negativity effect". There's a rough rule of thumb: Homo sap. requires the perception of four "good things" to counterbalance one perceived "bad thing". This can lead to irrational, sometimes self-destructive behavior. Writ large, it can cause organizations to stifle innovation and forego valuable opportunities. Writ very large, it can cause an entire society to become overly risk-averse.

But we can learn better, and the book explores possible pathways in numerous scenarios. Some surprising: for example, there's an entire chapter on how a New York hotel deals with negative Trip Advisor reviews. But (for me) the payoff chapter was the public policy chapter. The authors set forth some assumptions:

  1. The world will always seem to be in crisis.
  2. The crisis is never as bad as it sounds.
  3. The solution could easily make things worse.

Covid, anyone? Unfortunately the book was written before that. The authors tick off the implications: The "Golden Age Fallacy" that posits some past era as ideal, our current age in irrevocable decline; terrorism; vaping; the war on drugs; technophobia. And more.

Of course, people can make money and/or gain political power off the negativity effect. Plenty of examples of that too.

Brute Force

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

Well, it's a prison movie. With two about-to-be big stars, Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn. And a bunch of supporting actors who would go on to be on Star Trek one day: Whit Bissell, Jeff Corey, John Hoyt, John Harmon, and Tom Steele!

OK, I had to have IMDB help for those last two.

But there's also Mrs. Munster, Yvonne De Carlo. And the bad sister from Mildred Pierce, Ann Blyth. And… well, you can read IMDB as well as I can.

There's also a lot of pretentious dialog, and—I think—ham-handed symbolism, but I tend to ignore that. (The director was ex-Commie Jules Dassin.)

Set in a brutal prison. With a brutal Hume Cronyn running the show, easily bypassing the effete warden. He gets his kicks from inflicting pain (mental and physical) upon the cons he dislikes. Which includes Burt Lancaster, the noble victim who decides to hatch an audacious escape plot while in solitary confinement.

The convicts are a decent lot in comparison. Oh, sure: sometimes they need to inflict their own brand of rough justice on stoolies. Fortunately, they work in a shop where there's a massive piece of machinery that's ideal: I'm pretty sure it's called the Stoolie Masher.

Everyone seems to be in the joint because of some dame, though.

Anyway, the escape attempt, when it finally happens, is pretty spectacular and violent for 1947.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-04

[Amazon Link]

  • One of our annual Christmas traditions is to link to someone else's annual Christmas tradition: Dave Barry Holiday Gift Guide for Christmas 2020. I will quote generously, probably way outside the fair use guidelines.

    But the point is, we can celebrate the holidays, but we need to take certain precautions this year. Specifically we need to follow the Centers for Disease Control’s pandemic holiday guidelines, which include:

    MISTLETOE: Everyone within 25 feet of a mistletoe sprig must wear a hazmat suit.

    CHRISTMAS TREES: According to the CDC, it is “unlikely” that the coronavirus can be transmitted via Christmas trees, but out of an abundance of caution, CDC guidelines state that you should keep your tree quarantined outdoors “until all the needles fall off, or Easter, whichever is later.”

    CAROLING: When singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” carolers should stop after Day Ten, to avoid the emission of saliva droplets caused by singing the words “pipers piping.” Also, in “Deck the Halls” carolers should sing the “fa la la la la” parts directly into their elbows.

    EGGNOG: If you’re planning to serve eggnog in a communal punch bowl, CDC guidelines state that your eggnog recipe should “meet the same requirement for alcohol content — 60 percent or higher — as hand sanitizer.”

    CANDLES: There should be no candles within 250 feet of the eggnog.

    FRUITCAKE: Under no circumstances should you allow fruitcake into your home. This is not because of the coronavirus. This is because, according to the CDC, “fruitcake sucks.” Also you should go easy on the figgy pudding, because — again, quoting the CDC — “That stuff will give you a bad case of wassail.”

    Of course these are just a few of the CDC’s holiday guidelines, which run to 237 pages in the full document, titled “Let’s Have A Fun Holiday Season By Reducing Our Risk Of Death.” We urge you to read the whole thing, maybe after a couple of eggnogs.

    The Amazon Product du Jour is one of Dave's picks. And it's supposedly the high-quality one. Dave quotes the creator as warning of “knockoff, low-budget, blurry copycat calendars”. You don't want a blurry picture of a crapping cat on your wall.


  • I keep saying this myself, but maybe you'll belive Steven Greenhut at Reason: Trump Has Only Himself To Blame for Losing the Election.

    […] it's time for President Donald Trump's supporters to consider that, quite possibly, there are reasons beyond a vast voter-fraud conspiracy that explain his decisive loss. The president and his legal advocates have argued that Trump actually won by millions of votes, Democratic operatives stuffed ballots (but were too stupid to fix down-ticket races), and rigged electronic voting software.

    Maybe those local GOP election officials who dispute those claims were actually helping Biden. A dark, deep-state secret might also explain why the Department of Homeland Security disputed them. It's hard to prove a negative. I suppose the only reason you dispute my thesis about aliens is that they have also invaded your body. Prove me wrong.

    I got involved in a voter-fraud comment discussion over at Granite Grok, a site with which I'm normally in sympathy. Probably a bad idea.


  • At the Daily Signal, Victor Davis Hanson asks the musical question: Why Do Progressives No Longer Defend Free Expression?

    A half-century ago, progressives used to push limitless free expression, blasting conservatives for their allegedly blinkered traditionalism. They boasted of obliterating once-normal boundaries in art, music, and literature to allow nudity, profanity, sexuality, and anti-American boilerplate.

    Now?

    The left is Victorian—increasingly puritanical, regressive, and hypersensitive. Even totalitarian censorship and book-burning have weirdly become part of their by-any-means-necessary methods.

    The left (I think) seems Puritanical, but it's only because they're beginning to realize they don't have very good arguments.


  • The passing of Walter E. Williams has brought a lot of tributes out there. But I was especially moved by Thomas Sowell's: Farewell to Economist and Teacher Walter E. Williams, My Best Friend.

    Walter E. Williams loved teaching. Unlike too many other teachers today, he made it a point never to impose his opinions on his students.

    Those who read Walter Williams’ syndicated newspaper columns know that he expressed his opinions boldly and unequivocally there. But not in the classroom.

    Walter, a professor of economics at George Mason University for 40 years, once said he hoped that, on the day he died, he would have taught a class that day. And that is just the way it was when he died Wednesday, Dec. 2.

    He was my best friend for half a century. There was no one I trusted more or whose integrity I respected more.

    The link goes an archive of Professor Williams' columns at the Daily Signal. Lot's of wisdom in a small, convenient package.


  • The Free Beacon notes price-gouging from an unlikely source (but its it really unlikely?): AOC Sells $58 'Tax the Rich' Sweatshirts on Campaign Website.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), a prominent critic of capitalism, is selling sweatshirts on her campaign website that feature the socialist mantra "tax the rich." The sweatshirt can be yours for a steep $58 (not including tax).

    Just sayin': you can get a "Tax the Rich" sweatshirt with the AOC logo from Amazon for only $30.99. And I don't even get a cut if you use that link; just say no to AOC's price-gouging!


  • And the Babylon Bee notes the latest in social justice: Elliot Page Retroactively Awarded 17 Oscars For Amazingly Convincing Portrayals Of Women.

    At a lavish press conference today, actor Elliot Page received 17 Oscar awards for his previous work portraying women in a variety of films, even though Page himself is a man, which is something we definitely believe, as you can tell by our use of words like “his” and “himself.”

    “We are proud to recognize Elliot’s amazing work in portraying women so very realistically -- most people didn't even know he was a man,” said Brett Long, Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Subcommittee on Preemptive Apologies and Narrative Alignment.

    It's about time this was remedied.

URLs du Jour

2020-12-03

[Amazon Link]

  • In our occasional "Of Course They Did" Department, the Free Beacon reports: San Francisco Bans Smoking Tobacco in Apartments—but Allows Weed.

    The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ban smoking in apartment buildings—but made an exception for marijuana, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. 

    Supervisor Norman Yee (D.) brought forward the original measure—which included a ban on smoking weed—last week, with the intent of protecting nonsmokers from inhaling secondhand smoke inside apartment complexes.

    Nothing in the article about vaping. So I guess that's OK, right? Well … from June 2019:

    San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the city. The city is the corporate home of Juul Labs, the biggest producer of e-cigarettes in the United States.

    Yeah. Only politically correct addictions are allowed in Frisco.


  • Michael Graham of NH Journal noticed (as we have a number of times over the past year): the 'Confucius Institute' Has Ties to Communist Chinese Regime, Support of UNH Officials.

    With the latest report of China’s attempts to mislead the world about COVID-19 by hiding data that could have helped fight the pandemic, the Communist regime is again reminding the world why it cannot be trusted.

    It’s also a reminder of how problematic it is that the University of New Hampshire is currently hosting an organization funded by the Chinese Community Party, one designed to spread propaganda, and which is under investigation by the FBI. Even more concerning, UNH recently renewed the organization’s contract for on-campus operations, despite knowing these facts.

    It’s called the “Confucius Institute.”

    The University Near Here has been stonewalling Graham's inquiries, but he requotes the "Hey, it's free money" excuse provided to NHPR by Asian Studies Professor Lawrence Reardon.


  • A different professor, Jerry Coyne, wonders: Are we “scientific fascists”?. He's responding to a Medium essay, On Scientific Fascism by still another academic, Associate Professor of Sociology at Old Dominion University Roderick Shawn Graham.

    In response to this bit of Graham:

    The scientific fascist adopts as their tools of choice science and reason. The purpose of using these tools is only ever to mount an attack on the ideas underpinning social justice activities. These ideas include “lived experiences”, “safe spaces”, “white fragility”, “heteronormativity”, “systemic racism”, “toxic masculinity” and “microaggressions”, to name a few. This is one of the qualities that separates scientific fascism from scientism. Scientism is an extreme belief in science. [JAC: no it’s not!] Scientific fascists, on the other hand, are using science and reason for the political goal of pushing back social justice activism.

    Coyne responds well:

    Now of course science and reason can be used to criticize any ideology or idea, be it Critical Studies, other aspects of social justice, liberalism as a whole, the ideology of Republicans, Communism, and so on.  But Graham uses the term “scientific fascist” only for those who use science and reason to attack social justice—and his conception of it—which already shows that the two words of his mantra “scientific fascist” have been construed more narrowly.

    But he’s dead wrong in his second quote, for the purpose of using “science” and “reason” is NOT “only ever” to mount an attack on social justice, or to try to “maintain social inequalities and erase the experiences of minority groups from public discourse.” But you could, of course, use science to see if safe spaces work, or if there is such a a thing as implicit bias, but somehow I don’t think Graham would favor that kind of science. He’d rather use “lived experience”—those people who say that they require safe spaces and have been victims of unconscious bias.

    I'd be proud to be called a "scientific fascist" by the likes of Graham.


  • Bryan Caplan tells us The Sense in Which [he doesn't] Trust the Media. But more specifically, he provides multiple reasons for ignoring the media. Here's number three:

    Importance.  Whenever the media cover a story, there’s a subtext.  And the subtext is: This is important! The also goes when the media ignores a story.  The subtext is: This is not important! Even if I knew nothing about the world, I would wonder, “What qualifies these people to adjudicate events’ importance?”  And since I do know a great deal about the world, I am convinced that the media’s sense of importance is radically defective.  These are the kind of people who would rather cover an insensitive tweet than Uighur concentration camps.  They would rather report a fatality-free nuclear accident than the vastly greater health damage of coal.  They would rather investigate the latest terrorist attack than discuss the global murder rate.  These are not isolated shortcomings.  The media’s main function is to distort viewers’ priorities.

    Ever since I was a young 'un, I was impressed with the bogosity of TV shows who managed to fit the "news" into exactly 30 minutes (less commercials) every evening. No matter what actually had happened that day.

    You'd think some days they'd have to cut it short: "Well, that's about it. Not much else going on. Enjoy this video of Erich Brenn!"

    But other days they'd need to go long in order to mention all the important stuff, right?


  • J.D. Tuccille tells a simple truth at Reason: In a Complex World, Politicians Have a Simple Demand: More Power.

    Fans of a large and intrusive state are fond of arguing that leaving people alone is fine for simple, primitive societies, but that the growing complexity of the modern world requires a strong hand and centralized control. It's a convenient position for authoritarians to take, since it leaves them eternally amassing power unless the rest of us give up on roads and electricity and crawl back into caves to preserve our stone-age liberty. It's also completely backwards. Authoritarianism is actually easier to implement (though no more palatable) in settings where rulers can closely monitor their subjects; larger, complicated societies require decentralized power.

    It's a point to remember in a pandemic year that has handed government officials new excuses to expand their authority.

    It's also important to remember how much of the populace cheered each expansion of state authority and derided people who dissented. How long can liberty last in a society that doesn't value liberty that highly?

URLs du Jour

2020-12-02

  • The Free Beacon writes on another do-as-I-say pol: LA Democrat Dines Outdoors After Voting to Ban Outdoor Dining.

    A Democratic Los Angeles County official dined outdoors at a Santa Monica restaurant just hours after she voted to ban outdoor dining, Fox 11 Los Angeles reported Monday. 

    At a county board meeting on Nov. 24, Los Angeles County supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted to ban outdoor dining, which she called "a most dangerous situation" for spreading the coronavirus. After the vote, which passed 3-2, Kuehl stopped by Il Forno Trattoria, an Italian restaurant she frequents, before the outdoor dining ban took effect the following day. 

    But the really interesting thing here was Sheila Kuehl was an actress, playing Zelda on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (1959-1963). The TV show Bob Denver was on before "Gilligan's Island". I couldn't find a embeddable pic of her in that role, but the above shows her in a 1971 role: The Feminist and the Fuzz. With Joanne Worley, Penny Marshall, and Barbara Eden.

    And she's definitely checking out the lady on her left.

    And those pics on the wall seem as if they could be pretty raunchy for a TV movie. It was a different time.


  • In other celebrity news, the IMDB page for Elliot Page sure got changed quick. With a whole bunch of "(as Ellen Page)" appended to past roles.

    She was good in Juno.


  • Armond White gives a good review of an old rocker making a comeback as a libertarian dissenter: Van Morrison's 'No More Lockdown' Re-Energizes Pop-Music Rebellion.

    Van Morrison knows what censorship means even if Internet mobs don’t. He has released three new songs, “No More Lockdown,” “As I Walked Out,” and “Born to Be Free,” that movingly speak against the new autocratic culture that too many people — especially trusted media figures, particularly left-leaning pop artists — accept without flinching.

    The hysterical social-media response castigating Morrison’s compassionate new music (a fourth song, “Stand and Deliver,” is promised) only proves his point: We are deep into a second wave of undemocratic submission. It’s taken such a strange turn that Twitter thugs set out to rewrite cultural history, denying Morrison’s expressive genius in songs such as “Gloria,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Domino,” “Moondance,” “Into the Mystic,” and the masterpiece albums Astral Weeks and Irish Heartbeat. The hecklers are trashing his musical legend (“He was never any good!”) merely to explain their own unease. Morrison’s anti-lockdown songs — his freedom songs — disturb their willing obedience to political authority.

    Anything's better than his recent jazz-vocalist albums.


  • Veronique de Rugy is no fan of the shiny new Bipartisan Senate Group Stimulus Compromise.

    I have a running theory that government officials, and the policies they support, are often disconnected from reality. Politicians on both sides of the aisle tend to do what they always do, no matter the current state of the world. They use the same policy tools, whether appropriate or not. They use every opportunity and emergency to push the same old policies they always peddle. And even when they claim they are reforming a program or an agency, they continue to serve the same special-interest groups. This alleged $908 billion compromise deal that includes state, Amtrak, airlines bailouts, unemployment bonuses, childcare subsidies, and a renewal of the PPP is a good example of that.

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Democrats’ Heroes Act — its size, its design, and the programs it includes — is oblivious to the improved economic conditions. They have been pushing this package when the unemployment rate was 14 percent, when unemployment rate was 10 percent, and when, at the end of October, the unemployment rate had fallen to 6.8 percent. They will continue pushing the same package of large unemployment bonuses, individual checks, and state and airline bailouts even if unemployment falls to 5 percent or less. The White House at the time seemed willing to go along with a big chunk of that Democratic wishlist.

    It's the "Do Something" fever at its worst.


  • Lefty Matt Taibbi is pretty hilarious: With Tanden Choice, Democrats Stick it to Sanders Voters.

    The Democratic Party is not known for its sense of humor, but news that Joe Biden will appoint longtime Center for American Progress chief Neera Tanden to his government qualifies as a rare, well-earned laugh line.

    Tanden is famous for two things: having a puddle of DNC talking points in place of a cerebrum, and despising Bernie Sanders. She was #Resistance’s most visible anti-Sanders foil, spending awe-inspiring amounts of time on Twitter bludgeoning Sanders and his supporters as a deviant mob of Russian tools and covert “horseshoe theory” Trump-lovers. She has, to put it gently, an ardent social media following. Every prominent media figure with even a vague connection to Sanders learned in recent years to expect mud-drenched pushback from waves of “Neera trolls” after any public comment crossing DNC narratives. No name in blue politics is more associated with seething opposition to Sanders than Tanden.

    I'm pretty much a sucker for any post that includes the phrase "in place of a cerebrum".

URLs du Jour

2020-12-01

[Amazon Link]

  • At Law & Liberty, Peter Foster predicts Sustainable Newspeak by 2050. Sample:

    Perhaps the most significant new weasel word to have emerged from the UN’s equivalent of the Ministry of Truth is “sustainable.” Commitment to sustainability is now mouthed by every politician, bureaucrat, marketing executive, and media hack on earth. It sounds so benign, so reasonable, but what it actually means is “bureaucratically controlled and NGO-enforced within a UN-based socialist agenda.” Like most aspects of socialism, it is based on incomprehension and/or hatred of the nature and function of market capitalism, not least because markets—which signal scarcity, reward economy, and promote profitable innovation—are the only true source of sustainability. Projected catastrophic man-made climate change was enthusiastically embraced by global socialism becasue it was—in the words of Nicholas Stern, who was ennobled for his manufacture of an egregiously skewed review of climate impacts for his political masters in the UK Labour Party—“the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.” The problem is that we haven’t actually seen it, except, that is, through the biased lens of “official” science and an alarmist crusading media.

    Like “social,” “sustainable” tends to vitiate or reverse the meaning of words to which it is attached. Thus sustainable development is development retarded by top-down control, and whose effectiveness is further compromised by the insertion of a long list of cart-before-the-horse social policy objectives, from gender equity to “responsible consumption.”

    Just buy our Amazon Product du Jour, so the authorities will know your heart's brain's in the right place.


  • Jacob Sullum asks the musical question at Reason: If the President Doesn’t Have Standing to Pursue Wild, Unsubstantiated Claims of Election Fraud, Who Does?. It's about a Sunday morning interview with Trump on Fox News:

    In addition to claiming that voting machines were rigged, Trump said large numbers of fraudulent ballots mysteriously arrived at counting locations to save the day for Biden. "This election was over, and then they did dumps…big, massive dumps in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and all over," he said. "If you take a look at just about every state that we're talking about, every swing state that we're talking about…they did these massive dumps of votes. And all of a sudden, I went from winning by a lot to losing by a little….They started just doing ballot after ballot very quickly and just checking the Biden name on top. " This is another claim that the Trump campaign has failed to substantiate in court. "They backdated all these ballots that came in," Trump said, referring to yet another accusation that did not pan out.

    It's been my limited experience that when you swat down Claim A from a conspiracist, the response is not a rebuttal, but immediately make (equally vague and unsubstantiated) Claims B, C, D. If you bother to chase those down, the response is new Claims E, F, and G. And so on,… But if you're lucky, things eventually circle back to still-unsupported Claim A, an implicit admission that there's no actual search for truth going on.


  • AEI Visiting Scholar Mark Jamison offers 3 broadband mistakes that Biden should avoid. (Implied subtitle: "But Probably Won't".)

    Mistake 1: Allowing politics to distribute subsidies

    Candidate Biden promised $20 billion for rural broadband, a tripling of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Community Connect program, in addition to unspecified Department of Commerce support for municipal broadband. Biden didn’t say how the $20 billion would be distributed, but agriculture and commerce broadband programs during the Obama administration largely wasted money.

    As I wrote in 2015, Obama’s USDA mishandled $3.5 billion in broadband subsidies: “40 out of the 297 approved projects never started,” “more than $137 million of the approved loans had incomplete or inaccurate applications,” and while the program promised to connect 7 million people, it connected only 729,000 (or fewer). My friends in USDA tell me the program improved during the Donald Trump administration, but it is unclear that the improvements will survive the transition to the new administration.

    Obama’s Department of Commerce spent about $4 billion on broadband development. As I wrote in 2017, “As with other federal spending, these programs favor the politically powerful and are generally wasteful and ineffective.”

    As Robert Frost wrote (about something else): "But waste was of the essence of the scheme."


  • Issues & Insights editorializes on The ‘Great Reset’ Con: Forget The Rhetoric, It’s Just Re-Heated Socialism.

    So-called progressive Democrats are buzzing about a “Great Reset” under Joe Biden, as if they have some completely new ideas to make our economy better and stronger. Sorry, but they’re merely repackaging the failed ideas of socialism and hoping Americans will be suckers enough to buy it. Don’t fall for it.

    After months of COVID-19 lockdowns and growing restrictions on your personal liberties, you’ll soon be hearing from Democrats that this is the “new normal.” To function in this brave new world, we need to join the rest of the nations in a global “Great Reset” to create a better, more sustainable economy.

    Sounds great? It isn’t. In fact, it’s a thinly disguised assault on free markets and Americans’ individual liberties and rights. Once those things are given away, you’ll be little more than a pawn in the globalists’ big game.

    I'm not a fan of dark mutterings about "globalists". We're seeing plain old statists: using the coercive power of the state to move decisions out of private hands and into those of "stakeholders".


  • In his weekly "Tuesday" column, Kevin D. Williamson looks at the new movie Hillbilly Elegy.

    The Ron Howard film Hillbilly Elegy, a cinematic extract from J. D. Vance’s eponymous memoir, has received savage reviews. Remarkably so, in fact. One suspects that this is not entirely a question of its cinematic merits.

    Howard is a conventional Hollywood commercial filmmaker and has made a conventional Hollywood commercial film. Howard’s record for adapting literature into film is mixed: His adaptation of Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind is good, but his films based on Dan Brown’s novels are dreck, as are the novels themselves. Howard often has been at his best when there is no underlying literature to agonize over (as in The Paper and Cinderella Man) or when adapting a play, as in Frost/Nixon. In Hillbilly Elegy, Howard has bitten off a big morsel, and, though he intelligently shapes the film as a family drama in which the social commentary is generally implicit, it may be more than he can chew.

    I'll give it a miss, probably. Although I recommend the book.

Big White Ghetto

Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the "Real America"

[Amazon Link]

A compilation of 22 of Kevin D. Williamson's National Review articles 2012-2019. It's short: 231 pages including endmatter. But each article is a little gem, and if you're wondering what all those asterisks in the magazine meant, they're spelled out here. Including the title of the article about the stage version of Glengarry Glen Ross which in the magazine was "Death of a F*****g Salesman".

But he's also good at indirectly saying what he means. The state of city finances in San Bernardino, California? "This is a paddle-free scato-riparian fiscal expedition of the first order."

The articles are mostly reportage; no extended discussions of political philosophy, only as much as necessary to expose the folly of clueless pols. The title article is about Owsley County, Kentucky, which, at the time of writing, was the poorest county in the US. (It's since been "surpassed" by two others.) In a memorable section, KDW describes how food stamps (EBT payments) are near-immediately traded for more liquid assets, specifically cases of soda.

There's a lot of variety, and KDW is a gifted reporter and writer, avoiding clichés of both left and right. (His analysis of white poverty has irritated at least one other NR writer.) But he visits civil court in Lubbock; drug dealers in Birmingham; pot marketers in Denver; slums in Chicago; and many more. Each article is full of insight and pyrotechnic prose. Highly recommended.