URLs du Jour

2021-01-15

  • Kevin D. Williamson ponders the End of the Republican Party. It's a very long essay, but worth your attention. Especially if you care about having a healthy two-party system. KDW's not optimistic on that score.

    Like its financial counterpart, moral bankruptcy happens two ways: gradually, then suddenly. In 2016, I wrote that the likely outcome of a Trump presidency would be the end of the Republican Party as we had known it. And so it ends for the Grand Old Party: From abolition to anarchy, from republicans to rabble, a bloody-minded, homicidal gang in thrall to the very democracy John Adams warned us about. A dog in this condition would be put to sleep. It would be a piece of mercy.

    I'm probably more hopeful, but I'm having a hard time coming up with good reasons to be hopeful.


  • Megan McArdle is not quite as pessimistic as KDW, but almost: If Republicans can’t cast Trump off, their wounds — and the country’s — will only get deeper.

    I have not yet heard anyone on the left outline a credible vision for what happens after we impeach the president and, one hopes, convict him and bar our insurrectionist in chief from ever holding office again. I would like to know that there is one, and not just a fond hope that the backlash for Jan. 6 will break the Republican Party once and for all. The Democrats have wasted the better part of two decades on deterministic assumptions that, one day, demographic destiny or some other deus ex machina will do its work, Republicans will obligingly die off, and the woke will inherit the Earth.

    Try assuming instead that they will be a political force to be reckoned with — and negotiated with — for the rest of everyone’s life.

    But this is a reasonable and benign fantasy compared to the one Republicans indulged in Wednesday: that if they were willing to condemn the Capitol insurrection as the work of a few bad apples, Democrats should admit their part in stoking our increasingly bitter divides, and we should all move on. “It will only serve to further divide a nation that is calling out for healing,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) as the House took up impeachment.

    I'm pretty sure there's no reason for Republicans to take Democrat advice on how to proceed post-Trump. (E.g.: MSNBC's Joy Reid Calls For 'De-Baathification' Of The GOP.) On the other hand, hoping for a magical GOP return to a commitment to fiscal sanity, limited government, individual liberty, free markets,… that seems increasingly pollyannish by the day.

    For example…


  • George F. Will notes a tough competition: Lindsey Graham had a lock on most ludicrous senator — until Josh Hawley pounced.

    Joe Biden and the Democratic-controlled 117th Congress will benefit from what freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) did at the end of the 116th. It and Hawley will soon recede into the mists of memory, but this should be remembered: Before Hawley immolated his brief political career (see the photo of his clenched-fist salute of solidarity as he walked past the mob that was about to sack the Capitol), he seemed certain to be a presidential candidate in 2024. Which probably explains his performance during the December auction in the Senate.

    In late December, President Trump, who was thinking that Hawley and kindred congressional spirits could deliver to him a second term, decided that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) were right to demand that pandemic relief-cum-stimulus legislation should feature $2,000 checks showered evenhandedly on those in need and on scores of millions who are not. Three senatorial mini-Trumps — Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Hawley — promptly joined the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Axis of Generosity.

    Assuming I don't dump my party registration before 2024, I look forward to skipping over Rubio and Hawley on the New Hampshire primary ballot. And maybe just giving up, crumpling my ballot, and walking out of the polling place.


  • But hey, there's always the dim hope that Democrats will act even dumber than the Republicans. For example, Robby Soave finds it necessary to instruct one of their leading lights in First Amendment basics: No, AOC, It’s Not the Government’s Job to ‘Rein in Our Media’.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) told her social media followers earlier this week that Democrats in Congress might respond to the Capitol riot with some sort of "media literacy" initiative.

    The phrase media literacy ordinarily implies helping individuals make sense of the media landscape, but AOC seems to have more in mind than that: She suggested "we're going to have to figure out how we rein in our media environment so that you can't just spew disinformation and misinformation."

    It's true that both traditional media and social media sometimes spread "disinformation and misinformation." But the federal government has no formal role to play in suppressing its spread. The First Amendment explicitly bars Congress from infringing on freedom of the press or freedom of speech, and the Supreme Court has recognized no exceptions for disinformation. If the government could ban disinformation, after all, it could use that as a cover for banning speech that is not actually false but merely critical of the government, or of specific politicians. Recall that Democrats swiftly denounced The New York Post's report on Hunter Biden's foreign connections as "disinformation," even though many underlying aspects of the story have since been confirmed.

    And …


  • Also "pouncing" on the AOC blather is David Harsanyi. AOC, other progressives have a new goal: Silence the press.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a wellspring of truly terrible ideas for years, but her new one might be her worst on yet: A Ministry of Truth.

    During a live stream on her Instagram page, Ocasio-Cortez was asked by a viewer if, to help with national healing, there were congressional plans to institute any “truth and reconciliation or media literacy initiatives.”

    The socialist congresswoman replied that, yes, indeed, she and some of her colleagues have been exploring media literacy initiatives to help “rein in” the press and combat misinformation after last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol.

    “It’s one thing to have differentiating opinions but it’s another thing entirely to just say things that are false,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “So that’s something that we’re looking into.”

    I'm as angered as anyone about Trump and his personality-cult followers promulgating wackadoodle conspiracy crap about the election. It's bad. And giving the state power to "rein it in" is even worse.


Last Modified 2021-01-16 10:09 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-01-14

[Amazon Link]

  • Mark J. Perry deems this the best sentence he read today (which would be yesterday as I type):

    America’s transformation into a giant, left-wing college campus is almost complete.

    That's from a Legal Insurrection post: Supermarket Chain Adding ‘Black-Owned’ Tags to Products Offered by Minority Owned Businesses. Illustrated with a tweeted news story with a totally on-point comment:

    Gee, just in time for Martin Luther King's birthday tomorrow! You know, the "content of their character" guy.


  • Bari Weiss has a Substack, and her first article is on The Great Unraveling. Opening:

    Thought comes before action. Words come before deeds. Media that profits from polarization will stoke it. Lies — maybe harmless for the moment, maybe even noble — create a lying world.

    I’ve known this for a while. It’s why I left The New York Times. And it is why, as much as I miss doing journalism, I’ve been cautious at every next step. 

    Hate sells, as the journalist Matt Taibbi has convincingly argued, and as anyone looking at Twitter trending topics over the past few years can see. If Americans are buying rage, is there a real market for something that resists it? 

    Hate sells and hate also connects. Communities can grow quite strong around hatred of difference, and that’s exactly what’s happened to the American left and the right. It is painful to resist joining a mob when that mob includes most of your friends. It feels good, at least in the short term, to give in.

    I keep thinking back to Arthur C. Brooks's last book, Love Your Enemies. Written back in 2019. Insightful. And seemingly had no effect whatsoever on our current political climate.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has a three-step recipe, which is (as I type) ⅓ complete: Impeach, Convict, & Remove Him from Office.

    If it takes until five minutes before Joe Biden is sworn in to get it done, then so be it. And if Trump runs out the clock, then he should be impeached and convicted after the fact, barring him from ever holding office again and providing a prelude to his likely prosecution on criminal charges in several jurisdictions.

    This process should have started before the sacking of the Capitol by the mob he whipped up a week ago. It should have started with the release of the recording of the telephone call between Trump and Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, which documented the president’s attempt to suborn election fraud in Georgia. This was a scheme to effect a coup d’état by means of rank corruption. If that is not an impeachment-worthy offense, nothing is.

    KDW also provides thoughts at the NR Corner on yesterday's impeachment vote:

    A paltry ten House Republicans mustered the guts and the patriotism to vote to impeach Donald Trump. By way of comparison, 139 Republicans in the House voted to overturn the 2020 election. If the American public concludes that this is a party of irresponsible crackpots who can no longer be trusted with power, it will be impossible to blame them.

    I am a registered Republican. For years now, I've used an excuse for that: "It's more fun to vote in their primary." I'm beginning to think that excuse is inadequate.


  • Jonah Goldberg's latest G-File is Dispatch subscriber only, sorry, but I think you'll get the gist: If Impeachment Could Lead to Violence, Then Trump Should Resign.

    I’ve been arguing for years that part of the problem with Donald Trump is that his pathologies and bad actions get excused because “he can’t change,” or “he was elected to be a disruptor,” or “Trump’s going to be Trump,” etc. The best analogy I can muster is that he’s like the crazy or heavy-drinking or racist relative who comes to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and rather than criticizing him, people get mad at you for “setting him off.” 

    “You knew mentioning the NBA would get him going on one of his rants.”

    Another accurate simile is that Trump is like an abusive father with an enabling wife. “You shouldn’t have made him angry,” she says to the kid with a black eye. “You know how he gets when he’s in one of his moods.”

    Anyway, most of the Republicans saying he shouldn’t be impeached/removed aren’t saying he didn’t do anything wrong (though some seem to be). Instead, they focus on the fact that Joe Biden called for unity and since, they insist, impeaching Trump would be divisive it would be a bad idea. I’m sure some believe this sincerely. But it’s telling that so many of them have to use Joe Biden’s call for unity as their excuse. After all, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, and others can’t claim to be in favor of unity themselves because they’ve defended Trump’s divisiveness at every turn. They have to live off the stated principles of the Democrats and then score points by saying, “They’re hypocrites. They say they want unity, but look what they’re doing.”

    Also, um, problematic: Trump's argument that another impeachment will further inflame the passions of his ardent followers and spur them to more violence. Jonah argues that if Trump believes that, he should resign in order to spare the country.

    But we've been here before: that would require him to love America more than he loves himself.


  • Philip Greenspun relays news from a rich Boston suburb, forwarding a math teacher's remote-learning lesson to her students: The Capitol coup is a teachable moment.

    This is not about politics. My politics are clear to you, but it’s not. It’s not up for discussion. All reasonable people agree that what happened in Washington yesterday was a coup. Armed people, who are in charge, tried to take over the government. They had guns, they had bombs. That is the definition of a coup. . […] I know some of your parents had very clear reasons for voting for Trump. It’s okay, it is just their values are different from mine. These values conflict with our 200+ year old democracy. Everyone agrees about the election, except ONE person and those who blindly follow him. … You can be scared. I want you to be scared. … We need to address this s**** so that it f**** never happens again … When Obama was President, the country was flourishing. Now it’s falling apart.

    More at the link, including some gratifying pushback from the kiddos.


  • Veronique de Rugy's column continues our sorta-theme today: Don't Hate the Political Players; Hate the Political Game.

    Many Americans are very upset that President-elect Joe Biden will replace President Donald Trump. For most of them, it's not that they will miss Trump's unconventional and often unacceptable behavior. Instead, it's that they fear that the size and scope of government will grow so fast that it will permanently change the country they love.

    And this fear has intensified with the defeat of two Republican senators in the Georgia runoffs, resulting in Democrats regaining control of the Senate.

    At the margin, such a worry is justified. With 50 Democratic senators and control of both the House of Representatives and the White House, more policies that would have never seen the light of day when Republicans were in power, such as much more unwise COVID-19 relief, will potentially get through.

    That said, the chief driver of government expansion doesn't come from the identities of the officeholders but, rather, the incentive structures within politics. Personalities and party affiliations matter less than people believe. If limited government is what you're after, neither political party is your friend, since government expands under both. What's more, the rate at which it expands depends less on which big spenders are in power than on whether we have divided government.

    Well, we're probably doomed.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-13

  • In our "Because of Course He Was" department, the Free Beacon reports: Arizona Librarian Fired for Push to Keep Politics Out of Libraries.

    In July, Arizona librarian Ron Kelley received an email from the American Library Association—the largest librarian association in the world—soliciting individuals to join the Black Lives Matter movement. Kelley, who had served in his position for nine years, replied to the list-serve with an email titled "Keep Politics Off This Discussion Group," in which he argued that libraries should remain neutral and apolitical. Following two complaints to the Flagstaff Library regarding his email, Kelley was fired from his job.

    Prior to Kelley's removal, the American Library Association released material instructing employees to embrace "critical librarianship," which asks libraries and librarians to analyze how they "consciously and unconsciously support systems of oppression." Its core tenet is that neutrality harms oppressed groups. As one Portland librarian put it in the American Libraries magazine, remaining neutral as a librarian "upholds inequality and represents indifference to the marginalization of members of our community."

    I have to say that the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library seems to do a decent job of purchasing books across the political spectrum. It's a good thing, too, because I have to shell out for my borrowing privileges; I'm not a Portsmouth taxpayer.

    However if they start blacklisting titles because of unwokeness, why, I'll…


  • Jonathan Turley notes the latest from our social media masters: Ron Paul Posts Criticism of Censorship on Social Media Shortly Before Facebook Blocks Him.

    We have been discussing the chilling crackdown on free speech that has been building for years in the United States. This effort has accelerated in the aftermath of the Capitol riot including the shutdown sites like Parler. Now former Texas congressman Ron Paul, 85, has been blocked from using his Facebook page for unspecified violations of “community standards.” Paul’s last posting was linked to an article on the “shocking” increase of censorship on social media. Facebook then proceeded to block him under the same undefined “community standards” policy.

    Even though I was never much of a Ron Paul fanboy, this is pretty rank.

    Even though I try to avoid going political on Facebook, I posted a link to Turley's article as a test. They don't seem to have nuked me yet. But the day is young.


  • Jacob Sullum doesn't like Trump, but he also doesn't like what the Democrats are saying: Prosecuting Trump for Incitement Would Set a Dangerous Precedent.

    When Simon & Schuster canceled publication of Josh Hawley's book The Tyranny of Big Tech, the Missouri senator called the decision "a direct assault on the First Amendment." For reasons the Yale-trained lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk should understand, that description was wildly wrong.

    By contrast, another reaction to last week's deadly assault on the Capitol—the suggestion that President Donald Trump should be not only impeached but criminally prosecuted for inciting a riot—poses a real threat to freedom of speech. Trump's opponents may regret establishing a precedent that speakers who neither practice nor preach violence can be held criminally responsible for the conduct of listeners inspired by their words.

    I'd only add the caveat that Trump's behavior could well be legal, but still fully impeachable. Something I learned from listening to Jonah Goldberg's podcast with Keith Whittington this morning. (I think Jacob knows this, because his language is careful.)


  • Kyle Smith at National Review notes a good reason to turn off your TV next Wednesday, and leave it off for four years or so: Networks Teaming Up to Air Biden Inauguration Infomercial

    Behold the hilarious enthusiasm among the nation’s biggest media outlets to hurl themselves at the feet of power and begin licking intently: Next Wednesday night, after the inauguration of Joe Biden, the three oldest television networks are planning to join forces to air the same heavily produced propaganda special “celebrating the inauguration,” as Variety puts it.

    “Celebrating”? Not “covering”? Not “reporting on”? Not “observing with due detachment and without partisan cheerleading”?

    Yep, celebrating. The film is a DNC production disguised as “news,” produced by the same team that created the DNC’s infomercials at the Democrats’ convention last summer. Observers expect there will be no difficulty finding “A-list talent” to participate in the ritual tongue bath. What’s unusual about this “special” is not that it will exist but that ABC, CBS, and NBC are planning to donate their airwaves for a period of 90 minutes to two hours in order to promote the Democratic Party with glamour and spectacle. In industry parlance, this is known as a “roadblock” strategy — the idea is that viewers are forced to watch the stuff if you turn on the TV. (True, if this is 1974, but at least most people have other options today.) Fox is not participating in the state-propaganda exercise.

    For those wondering if this can possibly be true: it sure seems that way. Here's this morning's story from Poltico. You'll be able to see the tongue bath on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC; Fox and Fox News are opting out.


  • At City Journal, William Voegeli writes About "Whataboutism" and Political Hypocrisy.

    Many things are complicated—but not everything. If you condemned the Antifa/Black Lives Matter violence that took place around the country in 2020, as all conservatives did, then you must condemn the Trumpist riot at the U.S. Capitol in 2021. Period.

    Suppose, however, you spent last summer applauding the riots, or dissembling about them, or dismissing them. In that case, to deplore last week’s violence credibly is not so simple. If you demand that your political adversaries adhere to a principle, but exempt people whose cause you endorse from having to comply, then that preference you enjoy boasting about is not really a principle. It is not a standard of conduct applicable to all, in other words, but just another rhetorical device used for political combat.

    If you’re Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, […]

    Yeah, you'll have to click over to find out what would happen if you were Nancy Pelosi. I know that's a frightening prospect. Go ahead, I dare ya.

Good Girl, Bad Girl

[Amazon Link]

This is the last book on my mini-project to read the "Best Novel" Edgar Nominees for last year. Like the others, it's impressively good. There's a sequel, apparently, featuring the major characters here. I've put it on my get-at-library list.

Those main characters (who take turns narrating chapters) are (1) Cyrus Haven, a shrink who consults for the Nottingham police; and (2) Evie Cormac, an institutionalized child who was found hiding in a secret room where a grisly murder had taken place. Evie (aka "Angel Face", the moniker the tabloids put on her) has petitioned to be released from custody, and Cyrus is asked to evaluate her psychological status.

Evie's rebellious, foulmouthed, borderline wacko, and has an uncanny knack of detecting whether people are lying or telling the truth. Cyrus is both intimidated and intrigued. Ah, she's the "Bad Girl".

But he's also called by the cops to help out in a murder case: sweet Jodie Sheehan, on the brink of figure skating stardom has been found dead in a remote Nottingham wood. (I don't remember if it was, literally, Sherwood Forest.) Ah, that would make her the "Good Girl" of the title.

Except, maybe not. The story has a lot of twists and turns, and (as it happens) Cyrus has a lot of unpleasant back story too.

Wolf Pack

[Amazon Link]

Another stepping stone in my project to catch up with the prodigious output of C. J. Box, in his long-running Joe Pickett series.

The cliffhanger at the end of the last book has been resolved by the beginning of this one. Thanks to the (unfortunately fictional) ex-Governor of Wyoming, Spencer Rulon, Joe has his beloved game warden job back, a new house, and a salary increase. And a welcome respite (at least for one book) from his superiors in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Little Lucy has grown up during the series, and she's about to go to college like her sisters.

Joe's disturbed by some traps that have apparently been left unattended. Fortunately, the owner's name and address are on them, and Joe sets out to track him down. Meanwhile, across the mountains, the game warden, Katelyn Hamm, in the neighboring district witnesses an expensive drone spooking and stampeding mule deer, some to their demise.

Both incidents trace back to residents of a remote compound, who seem unconcerned with trifling violations of state game law. And Joe and Katelyn get visited by the worst kind of FBI agents, the ones who order them to back off. Hm. It's not too difficult for the reader to figure out what's going on, but Joe needs a few more chapters…

Meanwhile, there's a deadly team of killers apparently on the hunt as well. They leave a trail of corpses in their wake, but they are on a collision course with Joe, Katelyn, and Joe's loyal buddy, the falconer Nate Romanowski.

The body count seems unusually high in this book, but maybe that's what the market is demanding.

There's a political angle here: the officious FBI agents make use of the same tactic used to "get" Michael Flynn: 18 U.S.C. § 1001, wedging both Katelyn and Joe into "lying", in an unrecorded "interview". Box is appropriately contemptuous of this abuse.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-12

[Amazon Link]

  • Not that it matters, but I liked this quote from Netflix series The Crown as relayed by Ann Althouse.

    "The situation this country is facing is anything but amusing"

    "Oh, who cares? Honestly. One of the few joys of being as old as we both are is it is not our problem."

    Data point: Ann, who takes this to heart, is a mere three months older than I.

    I still care about what happens to the country. But as a practical matter, I'm probably going to be OK no matter what, in the years I have left.

    It's the younger generations—my kids—who will have to live in the dystopian rubble, or liberty-loving paradise, or (most likely) something in between. And it's their job to steer it toward their desired destination.

    I'll just be here for awhile to nag them with easily-ignored advice.


  • Steve Landsberg asks But This Was Always Obvious to Everyone, Right? What was?

    Is Donald Trump batshit crazy? Obviously yes. He seethes with personal resentments, all of which loom larger in his mind than, well, anything, and appears genuinely incapable of fathoming the possibility that there are people who don’t particularly care whether someone high or low has been “unfair” to Donald J. Trump. He claims to believe that Hillary Clinton’s policies would be disastrous for the country, yet works to undermine the Republican congressional and Senate candidates who stand as a bulwark against those policies, because preventing a national disaster is less important than petty vengeance against those who have failed to pay Trump his due respects. Moreover, he seems genuinely baffled by the suggestion that anybody anywhere might prioritize things differently. He has, as I’ve said before on this blog (and as countless others have said, sometimes more poetically) the mental, emotional and moral maturity of a four-year-old, with an attention span to match.

    That's a quote from an article he wrote before the 2016 election. We're still awaiting disconfirming evidence.

    But seriously folks. I have Deep Thoughts. Probably misguided ones:

    • Let's get away from the "batshit crazy" label for a bit. Let's use less-loaded language: Donald Trump has a number of personality traits that are several sigma away from the mean.
    • But (dude) isn't that true of most successful politicians?
    • How (then) are you supposed to draw the line?
    • Anyway: "batshit crazy" is not only loaded language, it's also judgmental language. I thought the thing about labelling "mental illness" as an illness was to remove responsibility and stigma from those afflicted. It's not your fault you're sick! Even if you're sick in the head!
    • But I assume people don't really believe that last bit; Steve Landsburg certainly doesn't appear to, and he's probably thought about it.
    • So maybe we need to fix that: distinguish "mental illness" (which is not your fault) from "batshit crazy" (which is).
    • Or maybe not use "batshit crazy" at all, when we mean more precisely "dreadful character flaws".

    End of Deep Thoughts. We now return to the shallower end of the thought pool.


  • At my prime go-to blog for sane legal commentary, the Volokh Conspiracy, Steven Sachs mulls Grounds for Impeachment.

    Whether to impeach the President need not depend on whether he incited the attack on the Capitol or stopped just short of incitement. (A sentence I never expected to write.) One proper ground for impeachment is rather simpler, and a matter of public record.

    Last Wednesday, Trump publicly urged Vice President Pence to interfere with the counting of the electoral votes. He maintained that Pence, and Pence alone, could "send it back" to the states for the appointment of different electors. And he complained bitterly when Pence failed to do so […]

    Quotes at link. I don't disagree that Trump's behavior was bad. The more relevant questions (in my mind, anyhow): do you really want to live with the post-impeachment aftermath? Have you thought at all about that?

    Maybe it will all be sweetness and light. I have serious doubts.


  • For another legal take (however), see Jeffrey Scott Shapiro in the WSJ: No, Trump Isn’t Guilty of Incitement.

    House Democrats have drafted an article of impeachment that accuses President Trump of “incitement to insurrection.” Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said Thursday that his office is “looking at all actors here and anyone that had a role” in the Capitol riot. Some reporters have construed that as including Mr. Trump.

    The president didn’t commit incitement or any other crime. I should know. As a Washington prosecutor I earned the nickname “protester prosecutor” from the antiwar group CodePink. In one trial, I convicted 31 protesters who disrupted congressional traffic by obstructing the Capitol Crypt. In another, I convicted a CodePink activist who smeared her hands with fake blood, charged at then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a House hearing room, and incited the audience to seize the secretary of state physically. In other cases, I dropped charges when the facts fell short of the legal standard for incitement. One such defendant was the antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan.

    Also (if you can) see Andrew McCarthy's call (NRPLUS): Democrats’ Proposed Impeachment Article Needs Work. He sees the articles of impeachment, as written, to be more of a political stunt than a good-faith remedy.


  • But let there be no doubt that Trump was behaving badly. Jim Geraghty outlines the Cause and Effect from Last Wednesday’s Chaos. The timeline is damning. Sample:

    Three: At 2:24 p.m. — about eight minutes after the Secret Service determined that the rioters represent a threat to Pence — Donald Trump declared via Twitter:

    Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

    The president does not tweet any criticism or denunciation of those storming the Capitol. He directs his anger and ire entirely at Pence.

    It doesn't get better from there.


  • Oh, well, enough about Trump. The Google LFOD News Alert happily brought me to the Jewish Trivia Quiz provided by San Diego Jewish World. But you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy…

    Entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, just became the richest person in the world, with a net worth of $195 billion, surpassing Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Musk responded to that news with a simple six word statement, “How strange, well, back to work.” Musk, who is often mistakenly thought to be Jewish, visited Israel in 2018, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dining in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, and pouring himself a flaming absinthe in a Jerusalem bar. Musk also went to Masada and posted a selfie from there on Instagram, with what pithy caption?

    1. I have been to the mountaintop.
    2. Live free or die.
    3. I could easily make that cable car solar powered.
    4. In God we trust.
    5. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

    Answer at link. But I bet you've already answered correctly.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-11

Mr. Ramirez says it: [Destroyed]

  • Alexander William Salter tells us at the Foundation for Economic Education Why the Real Villain of 2020 Was Big Government.

    First and foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic posed enormous challenges to American institutions, and continues to do so. Frankly, we were not prepared. We need to diagnose what went wrong, so that we are never caught unaware like this again. Fortunately, the diagnosis is straightforward. COVID-19 was going to be bad, no matter what. But the failures of big government made it much, much worse.

    In particular, the Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and public teachers’ unions are the great American villains of 2020. Meanwhile, the heroes of this year are almost entirely in the private sector. From Zoom to vaccine development, Big Pharma and Big Tech—yes, you read that right—made this horrible year bearable. Even amid a crisis that led so many to cry out for vigorous government action, we saw that private markets still work best.

    Incompetence and bureaucratic delay at the CDC and FDA probably cost tens of thousands of American lives. Even now, the FDA is thumb-twiddling on AstraZeneca's vaccine, while other countries are putting it in arms.

    Meanwhile, the US racked up at least 1777 deaths yesterday.


  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer wonders if we're seeing The End of Permissionless Innovation?

    Time magazine recently declared 2020 “The Worst Year Ever.” By historical standards that may be a bit of hyperbole. For America’s digital technology sector, however, that headline rings true. After a remarkable 25-year run that saw an explosion of innovation and the rapid ascent of a group of U.S. companies that became household names across the globe, politicians and pundits in 2020 declared the party over.

    “We now are on the cusp of a new era of tech policy, one in which the policy catches up with the technology,” says Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution in a recent essay, “The End of Permissionless Innovation.” West cites the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee’s October report on competition in digital markets—where it equates large tech firms with the “oil barons and railroad tycoons” of the Gilded Age—as the clearest sign that politicization of the internet and digital technology is accelerating.

    At a certain point, we'll wonder how we pissed it all away. Fingers will be pointed. Almost certainly at the wrong people.


  • Speaking of pissing things away, how about Republicans and their political power? Kevin D. Williamson writes (in an NRPLUS article, sorry) on The Task Ahead for Conservatives in the Biden Age.

    Now that Donald Trump has lost the presidential election to an egg-salad sandwich, taken the Republican Senate majority down with him, and inspired a bloody insurrection that has cratered the credibility of the Republican Party at large, Republicans might want to start thinking about how to use what little power they will retain in Washington for the next two years to do something constructive, and perhaps repair their reputation a little and earn back some of the public trust they have rightly forfeited.

    The good news is that there is an excellent opportunity for responsible conservative action. The bad news is that conservatives are still, for the moment, reliant on the dysfunctional Republican Party as their only practical political instrument. Reforming the GOP is an urgent task that will fall to such leaders as Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, if it can be done at all. It is not obvious that it can be, but it must be attempted.

    KDW outlines some possible strategies for the GOP. I'm probably more pessimistic than he is about their chances, and he's pretty pessimistic.


  • Have you longed for a good, short answer to the question "What Is Critical Race Theory?" Wait no longer, bunkie. James A. Lindsay has you covered:

    To keep this short and simple, I’ll provide you with two quotes from the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (third edition) by Critical Race Theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. These quotes summarize everything that Critical Race Theory is really about in its own words.

    First, Critical Race Theory views race and racism this way: race is a political construction that was invented by white people to give themselves power while excluding all other races from it, and racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society, present in all interactions, institutions, and phenomena, and effectively permanent in society (short of a full sociocultural revolution that puts them in charge). That is, Critical Race Theory assumes that racism is present in everything under a doctrine known as “systemic racism.” Quoting from Delgado and Stefancic,

    What do critical race theorists believe? Probably not every member would subscribe to every tenet set out in this book, but many would agree on the following propositions. First, that racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country. Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material. The first feature, ordinariness, means that racism is difficult to cure or address. … The second feature, sometimes called “interest convergence” or material determinism, adds a further dimension. Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class people (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.

    More (but not much more) at the link. A warning sign that the CRTists are getting their way:

    War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and "equal access" is racial- and sex-biased distribution of goodies from Uncle Stupid.

    Sorry, according to Nancy Pelosi, that should be "Parent's Sibling Stupid".


  • And there's a bit of good news. Sort of. From Jacob Sullum at Reason: Trump’s Lawyers Surrender in Georgia Despite Giuliani’s ‘Conclusive Proof’ of Election Fraud.

    During the rally that preceded Wednesday's deadly attack on the Capitol by enraged Trump supporters, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, said he was about to blow the lid off machine-facilitated election fraud in Georgia. That was not true. The next day, President Donald Trump's lawyers dropped four lawsuits alleging election irregularities and fraud in Georgia, claiming they had reached settlement agreements with state officials, who supposedly had promised to investigate Trump's outlandish charges. That was not true either.

    Those two lies confirm that Giuliani never had any credible evidence to back up his reckless allegations against Dominion Voting Systems, which he claims helped Democrats rig election machines to switch "hundreds of thousands" of Trump votes to Biden votes. That widely promoted conspiracy theory, which on Friday prompted Dominion to sue former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation, was at the heart of the grievances underlying Wednesday's violence. Yet Giuliani now has implicitly admitted it was all a hoax.

    They keep threatening to release the Kraken, but somehow it never shows up.

    A lot of people, some of them friends, got into bed with these people. I can only hope they soon have a Colonel Nicholson moment: "What have I done?"

Heaven Can Wait

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

A fun screwball comedy from 1943, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

The way the afterlife works: you get to apply to the place you want to go to. Poor Henry (Don Ameche) decides to go straight to Hell ("where innumerable people had told him so often to go"). He's apparently not big on self-esteem. This involves an interview with "His Excellency", aka Satan. (Laird Cregar, a role he was born to play.) We are then taken on a cinematic journey through Henry's life, centering on his romance and marriage with Martha (Gene Tierney). It's full of hijinx and as much innuendo as you could get away with in 1943. The supporting cast is wonderful too.

The movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture. But it lost to Casablanca. There's no shame in losing to Casablanca.

Mrs. Salad remarked on how much Laird Cregar looked like a modern American pol. What do you think?

[Laird and Ted]

URLs du Jour

2021-01-10

[Amazon Link]

Y'know, just searching for "impeach" at Amazon, and then checking out the clothing category brings up an amazing number of items like our Product du Jour. I don't know what that means, and YMMV.

  • But in the non-Amazonian world, the issue is about the guy who, under business as usual, would have his finger on the nuclear trigger for the next few days. How do I feel about trying to eject him before then? At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin presents The Case for a Swift Impeachment. Ilya quotes a couple articles from left and … whatever the Bulwark is pretending to be these days. But in his own words:

    Finally, it is important to move decisively against Trump in order to deter future presidents from comparable misconduct. Too many times over the last century, we have allowed presidents to get away with grave violations of the Constitution and horrific abuses of power, without suffering any significant repercussions. I gave some examples here:

    All too many past presidents have gotten away with horrific illegality and abuses of power, such as FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, Woodrow Wilson's massive violations of civil liberties, and—most recently—Obama's starting two wars without congressional authorization, and Trump's cruel family separation and travel ban policies…

    This history—including his own previous impunity—may well have emboldened Trump into thinking that he could get away with doing whatever he wanted. And if we let the impunity continue, it could easily embolden future presidents, some of whom may be less inept than Trump was in their efforts to subvert liberal democracy.

    Good points. But…


  • Jonathan Turley writing at the Hill contends that a Swift new impeachment would damage the Constitution.

    The author Franz Kafka once wrote, “My guiding principle is this. Guilt is never to be doubted.” Democrats suddenly appear close to adopting that standard into the Constitution as they prepare for a second impeachment of President Trump. With seeking his removal for incitement, Democrats would gut not only the impeachment standard but also free speech, all in a mad rush to remove Trump just days before his term ends.

    Democrats are seeking to remove Trump on the basis of his remarks to supporters before the rioting at the Capitol. Like others, I condemned those remarks as he gave them, calling them reckless and wrong. I also opposed the challenges to electoral votes in Congress. But his address does not meet the definition for incitement under the criminal code. It would be viewed as protected speech by the Supreme Court.

    Also good points. I'm trying to work up an ounce of interest in what happens. Few of our current crop of Federal polticians, Republican and Democrat, seem to be concerned with maintaining Constitutional norms. Or maintaining the values we're supposed to be sharing.

    That is, I suppose, what happens when both parties adopt "Flight 93" rhetoric. About everything.


  • Meanwhile, National Review's Isaac Schor points out that Josh Hawley Is Calling You Stupid.

    The latest insult came on Thursday, only a day after a conspiracy theory not only boosted by, but acted upon by Hawley — a Yale Law School graduate who didn’t believe for a moment that the election was stolen by Democrats, or that it could be stolen by Republicans in Congress during the certification process — resulted in an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. But for Josh Hawley, the greatest tragedy of this past week is not that there was a failed insurrection egged on by the president of the United States. It’s that Simon & Schuster, the erstwhile publisher of Hawley’s forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech (Big Tech is another issue where Hawley assumes your ignorance), announced it would not move forward with the project. Here was Hawley’s response:

    This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It’s a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.

    If it’s a constitutional claim that Hawley is planning on making in court, he can expect to have about as much luck as the Trump campaign has had in recent months. Simon & Schuster’s decision is neither Orwellian nor a violation of the First Amendment, much less a “direct assault” on it. The government is not restricting Hawley’s speech. He is free to find a publisher willing to associate itself with him. I believe that Simon & Schuster should not have canceled this contract, as America is better off when its institutions abide by the spirit and not just the letter of the First Amendment. But the company is under no constitutional obligation to associate with Hawley. I can certainly understand why it would not want to after Wednesday’s events.

    The number of probable Republican candidates who I Will Not Vote For Under Any Circumstances just keeps getting longer.


  • At Spiked, Brendan O'Neill writes on The woke purge.

    Cancel culture doesn’t exist, they say. And yet with the flick of a switch, billionaire capitalists voted for by precisely nobody have just silenced a man who is still the democratically elected president of the United States. With the push of a button in their vast temples to technology, the new capitalist oligarchs of Silicon Valley have prevented a man who won the second largest vote in the history of the American republic just two months ago — 74million votes — from engaging with his supporters (and critics) in the new public square of the internet age.

    Not only does cancel culture exist — it is the means through which the powerful, unaccountable oligarchies of the internet era and their clueless cheerleaders in the liberal elites interfere in the democratic process and purge voices they disapprove of. That’s what Twitter’s permanent suspension of Donald Trump confirms.

    In theory, I'm against government regulation of "unaccountable oligarchies". But, like impeachment, I'm finding it difficult to care about what will actually happen.


  • And (you may have missed it but) Joe Biden signalled an upcoming major switch in Covid vaccination strategy. At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen analyzes: "Second Doses" post-mortem.

    The most striking thing about the Biden administration shift to a version of “First Doses First” is how little protest there has been.  Given how many public health experts were upset about the idea only a few days ago, you might expect them to organize a Wall Street Journal petition from hundreds of their colleagues: “Biden administration proposal endangers the lives of millions of Americans.”

    But of course they won’t do that.  Some of that is pro-Democrat partisanship, but that is not even the main factor.  One reason is that public health experts, with their medical and quasi-medical backgrounds, typically have very little sense of how to respond in the public arena if challenged.  For instance, not a single one stepped forward with a calculation to defend “Second Doses.”  They are not especially good at “the internet rules of the game,” which of course are now supreme (not always for the best, to be clear).

    The second and probably most important reason is that, as I had explained, sins of omission are treated as far less significant than sins of commission.  Now that a version of “First Doses First” is on the verge of becoming policy, to do nothing about that is only a sin of omission, and thus not so bad.  Remarkable!  Status quo bias really matters here.

    I'm not sure that "pro-Democrat partisanship" isn't the main factor, but let that go.

    "We must follow the science, which demands this vaccination policy!"

    "Well, let's do this instead."

    "Oh. Ok."


  • And finally, for people (like me) who love interstate competition, check out the "Vaccination" tab on the CDC COVID Data Tracker. It shows our fair state doing… fairly well, actually. As I type NH has had 3079 shots administered per 100K population; That puts us in ninth place out of fifty. Behind only WV, the Dakotas, Vermont, Alaska, Nebraska, CT, and Maine.

    Come on. We should be able to leapfrog Maine! (3082 shots per 100K population.)

    Also good (for state comparison purposes) is Becker's Hospital Review, which provides: States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered. Here, NH is in fourth place (out of 50), administering 48.48% of the doses we've been provided. Doing better: only North and South Dakota, and West Virginia.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-09

  • Let's take a look at Smith College and the bravery of Jodi Shaw, from Specator.us.

    Much like every other liberal arts college in the US, Smith, or at least its leadership, is fully in thrall to the idea of fighting that now-ubiquitous boogeyman, white privilege. In the name of social justice, the university is pushing this agenda on every student, and has even made it part of the obligatory annual review of its administrative, non-faculty staff, requiring them ‘to reflect on how they have contributed to an inclusive campus environment’ in the course of annual performance reviews.

    What is unusual, however, is that Smith has Jodi Shaw: a staff member who has spoken out and publicly criticized the college. 

    Shaw, who describes herself as a ‘desk jockey’ in the Residence Life department, has made a series of videos about how this toxic, racially charged ideology has created a hostile environment. Not for the precious, hothouse flower, all-female student body (though Shaw is concerned about them as well), but for the ordinary men and women who make up the college staff. 

    It's a sobering look at how wokeness works on the modern American college campus. The headline doesn't understate it: Jodi Shaw's very brave. (It's a common name but she seems to be from Portsmouth,) For her sin of outspokenness, she's been put on paid leave.

    Jerry Coyne has more. He notes that paid leave "is what they do to police who kill somebody."


  • [Amazon Link]
    We haven't linked to a stupid Wired article lately, but we'll fix that. Roger McNamee is out for blood: Platforms Must Pay for Their Role in the Insurrection.

    President Trump and his enablers in government and right-wing media will shoulder the blame for Wednesday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, but internet platforms—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, in particular—have played a fomenting and facilitating role that no one should overlook.

    In their relentless pursuit of engagement and profits, these platforms created algorithms that amplify hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. This harmful content is particularly engaging and serves as the lubricant for businesses as profitable as they are influential. These platforms also enforce their terms of service in ways that favor extreme speech and behavior, predominantly right-wing extremism.

    Roger is the author of 2019's Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe (Amazon link above and to your right). So it's not as if the January 6 riot caused the scales to drop from his eyes. He has the usual statist assumptions, that bringing Big Tech under state control (via regulation, antitrust, and voodoo) will make things all better.

    It won't. It will make things much much worse.

    Why? Well, by happenstance, our next link …


  • … will tell you why. David Henderson at the Hoover Institution: Markets Work, Government Doesn’t.

    The year 2020 gave us a huge amount of evidence about the relative merits of government intervention and free markets. The bottom line is that government failed massively and free markets triumphed spectacularly (with one major exception) within the constraints that government placed on them. The one apparent exception to government failure is Operation Warp Speed but, as we shall see, that apparent exception may not be an exception at all.

    As early as April 8, when most of the government lockdowns had been in place for only about three weeks, I noted, in “Covid v. Capitalism,” the drastically different performances of private individuals and businesses on the one hand and government on the other. In the intervening nine months, these differences have become even more pronounced.

    Consider first the bad news: government. An important step early on in the pandemic would have been to have widespread testing for the coronavirus. On February 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had shipped 250,000 tests to over seventy laboratories worldwide. But the US Centers for Disease Control insisted on producing its own. The test that the CDC came up with at first had huge problems so the insistence on rejecting something not invented in the United States cost the country valuable weeks, which is a lot of time when a highly contagious disease is spreading. When CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and an important member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, if the United States should have used the WHO tests, Fauci answered, “If you look back and Monday morning quarterback, it would have been nice to have had a backup.”

    As I've (tediously, repeatedly) pointed out in the past: nobody even pretends to hold markets and governments to the same quality and performance standards. We expect governments to do a lousy job. We excuse it.

    Which brings us to…


  • "I'll take Things That Won't Happen This Year for $200, Alex." From Steven Greenhut at Reason: In 2021, Politics Needs a ‘Leave Us Alone’ Coalition.

    "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong," wrote the late journalist and professional cynic H.L. Mencken. In our modern world, the "answers" to our myriad and complex problems always seem to involve the use of government—through taxation, regulation, bureaucracy, and even military invasion.

    As prevalent as that answer may be, it is usually—although not always—wrong, which is one lesson all Americans should learn from our unspeakably bad year. The pandemic has not only tragically killed more than 300,000 Americans, but has led to previously unimaginable restrictions on our freedom to live our lives as we choose.

    We awake each morning pondering the terms upon which our leaders will even allow us to leave our homes. The COVID-19 restrictions keep changing and the goalposts keep moving. Perhaps we will one-day find out whether any of the governor's oftentimes illogical and arbitrary edicts are working—but for now it's on a need-to-know basis.

    Steven gets today's coveted Pun Salad "Hey, Yeah, That's What I've Been Trying To Say." award.


  • Instapundit links to the musings of Andrew Doyle, creator of “Titania McGrath". Andrew finds that he's been Kicked Out of the Comedy Club.

    The reaction of the “comedy community” — if such a thing exists — was particularly revealing. Suddenly, comics I had known and worked with for years began to block me on social media, or write blog posts to express their displeasure at my diabolical creation. Those who knew me to be fundamentally opposed to racial discrimination started referring to me as “alt-right”, a shorthand term for white nationalist. Others accused me of being a shill for foreign powers and claimed that I was being funded by “dark money”. I remember thinking that this money must be very dark indeed, given that I have never actually seen any of it.

    Me neither. Instapundit also notes Arthur Chrenkoff's reply to this call to arms from USA Today:

    Of course you can't expect a valued member of the MSM like USA Today to treat similar things similarly.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-08

  • Have you been asking yourself: Can President Trump be Impeached and Removed on the Grounds of Incitement? At the Volokh Conspiracy, Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman take a stab at answering:

    Both of us were shaken by the events of January 6, 2021. Over the past several days, President Trump has taken actions that heedlessly risked third-parties' violating trespassing laws, the destruction of public property in and around the Capitol, and the ability of federal officials and civil servants to perform their legal duties. Yet, we again feel an obligation to hit the pause button, ever so briefly, to discuss continuing, permanent, and vital principles of free and democratic self-government. Here, we write, with most immediate relevance, to impeachment—albeit similar principles apply in the context of civil and criminal law as administered by Article III courts. 

    Before the sun had set on the nation's capital, there were immediate calls for President Trump's impeachment, removal, and future disqualification. The timing of the process was not particularly important. With about two weeks until President-Elect Biden's inauguration, it is not likely that a fair investigation and trial can be held with an eye on removal from office. Even the Radical Republicans gave Andrew Johnson time to put on a defense. (The trial began on March 4 and concluded on May 16, 1868). Additionally, in the current rush to impeach Trump, the specifics of the articles of impeachment do not appear to be very important to some supporters of a renewed impeachment effort. Incitement! Sedition! Treason! When all else fails, nebulous allegations relating to "corruption" and "abuse of office" will suffice for some would-be impeachers. The details can be ironed out later. 

    Bottom line: it's a near thing, but Trump's outrageous behavior doesn't rise to grounds for impeachment.

    Bonus queries: can Trump be impeached after he leaves office on 1/20? And can an impeachment conviction bar Trump from (say) re-election in 2024? No spoilers here, click over and check it out.


  • Kyle Smith at National Review wishes to End This Republican Nightmare. Maybe via the 25th Amendment?

    Using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office is a temptation that must be rejected. It would clearly be a political move meant to extract from public life an unpopular figure. The United States of America cannot go down the road of confusing political unfitness with medical unfitness. The cabinet would simply be using the 25th Amendment as a pretext for taking down a lawfully elected leader they oppose. It would amount to an unconstitutional coup. If the 25th Amendment could be deployed in his case, it could be deployed in many other cases. How many times did their political opponents declare that Nixon or Reagan was “a lunatic” unfit to serve?

    No, the Constitution is clear about the remedy for a president who has become politically untenable: impeachment and removal. The House of Representatives could easily pass articles of impeachment declaring that the president has violated his oath of office by attempting to subvert the election results and by sedition. Most Republican senators are probably too lacking in courage to consider removal, but only 17 of them need to come on board, assuming all 50 Democrats agree. Many key Republicans, such as Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, and Susan Collins, do not face the voters for six years, by which time Trump can be ancient history, if they choose to make him so. A process of impeachment, removal, and disqualification from office would render it impossible for Trump to run for president again. This ought to be an immensely attractive prospect for the Republican Party. If Trump is reduced to being just another cable-TV blowhard hawking vitamin supplements and reverse mortgages, the threat he represents to Republicans will be contained.

    So Kyle thinks not. Fine.


  • But I find myself most in tune with the WSJ editorial writers, on Donald Trump’s Final Days. They note that the people who most bemoaned Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election are the ones most enthusiastic about finding ways to overturn the 2016 election.

    But:

    If Mr. Trump wants to avoid a second impeachment, his best path would be to take personal responsibility and resign. This would be the cleanest solution since it would immediately turn presidential duties over to Mr. Pence. And it would give Mr. Trump agency, a la Richard Nixon, over his own fate.

    Key drawback, as the editorialists acknowledge: such an "act of grace" by Trump "isn't likely". To put it mildly. When has he ever put the best interests of the country over the needs of his own massive ego?


  • On to the real news, as reported by Live Science: Earth is whipping around quicker than it has in a half-century.

    The 28 fastest days on record (since 1960) all occurred in 2020, with Earth completing its revolutions around its axis milliseconds quicker than average. That's not particularly alarming — the planet's rotation varies slightly all the time, driven by variations in atmospheric pressure, winds, ocean currents and the movement of the core. But it is inconvenient for international timekeepers, who use ultra-accurate atomic clocks to meter out the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) by which everyone sets their clocks. When astronomical time, set by the time it takes the Earth to make one full rotation, deviates from UTC by more than 0.4 seconds, UTC gets an adjustment.

    Until now, these adjustments have consisted of adding a "leap second" to the year at the end of June or December, bringing astronomical time and atomic time back in line. These leap seconds were tacked on because the overall trend of Earth's rotation has been slowing since accurate satellite measurement began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since 1972, scientists have added leap seconds about every year-and-a-half, on average, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The last addition came in 2016, when on New Year's Eve at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, an extra "leap second" was added. 

    Who can we blame this on? I suspect Dominion Voting Systems!


  • And finally James Lileks checks out some of those clickbait ads. So you don't have to. (And you shouldn't, sucker.) Sample:

    [sick burn]  

    Sick burn! Also please buy this plant-based shoe grown sustainably in Chinese labor camps.

    By the way, the author's name and picture comes back to a real person, who set out five years ago to pursue political journalism. I know work is tight for writers but this is just sitting out there for any prospective employer to google. So . . .  tell me about your understanding of the ozone layer and your recommendations for fossil fuel replacement in the 50s.

    The sad thing about clickbait: it must work. Otherwise it would die the painful death it deserves.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-07

[Amazon Link]

  • I'm at a loss for words about yesterday's shitstorm. Fortunately, Matthew Continett isn't:

    January 6, 2021, is not over, but it already lives in infamy. A sitting president of the United States, having lost reelection, incited a mob to storm the Capitol as the Congress sat in joint session to certify the Electoral College vote. This act was without precedent. It was based on a lie, fed by myth, and culminated in violence, in vandalism, and in the desecration of the people’s house. The lawbreakers cannot go unpunished. Nor can the person ultimately responsible. His name is Donald Trump.

    The men and women who breached the House and Senate chambers were doing it for him. They carried just as many Trump flags as American (or Confederate) ones. They were not chanting “Make America Great Again” as he fueled their anger during his speech at the Ellipse this morning. They were crying, “Fight for Trump.” It wasn’t an idea or even a country they stood for as they knocked over barriers, climbed walls, bashed windows, forced open doors, and desecrated public property. It was one man. And this irrevocable loyalty to an individual, this devotion that places his interests above the plain text of the Constitution and the rule of law, is not characteristic of democracy. It is tyranny.

    And let's slide over to …


  • … Kevin D. Williamson, on the Trump Presidency’s Inevitable, Shameful End.

    The Trump presidency began in shame and dishonesty. It ends in shame, dishonesty, cowardice, and rebellion against the Constitution. For the past few weeks, the right-wing media, including the big talk-radio shows, has been coyly calling for a revolution. Of course they never thought they’d actually get one: That kind of talk is good for business — keep the rubes riled up and they won’t change the channel when the commercials come around on the half-hour. I never had much hope for the likes of Sean Hannity, tragically born too late to be a 1970s game-show host, but to watch Senator Ted Cruz descend into this kind of dangerous demagoguery as he jockeys to get out in front of the Trump parade as its new grand marshal has induced despair.

    On May 4, 2016, I posted a little note to the Corner, headlined: “Pre-Planning My ‘I Told You So.’” It reads, in part: “Republicans, remember: You asked for this.” The path that the Republican Party and the conservative movement have taken in the past four years is not one that was forced on them — it is the product of choices that were made and of compromises that were entered into too willingly by self-interested men and women seeking money, celebrity, and power.

    Of course it ends in violence — this is, after all, America.

    And then we have…


  • John Hinderaker at Power Line, noting A Sad Day.

    I woke up not expecting a good day, but it turned out to be much worse. First we lost both Georgia Senate races, putting us at the mercy of the Democrats (or, more specifically, Joe Manchin) for the next two years. For an interesting analysis of why those races went South–and specifically, why fraud wasn’t the main problem–see this piece by Liam Bissainthe at Liberty Unyielding.

    Then, of course, we had the Washington riot. My position has been consistent through the years: I oppose riots, and believe that rioters should be arrested and, when necessary to preserve order, shot. That is what I thought in January 2017 when Democrats rioted at President Trump’s inauguration, that is what I thought when Antifa and Black Lives Matter destroyed Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis, that is what I thought when Democrats tried to break into the Senate chamber during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, and that is what I think today.

    Noted: the media cover violence differently when the perpetrators are their soulmates. Granted.

    And they bear a certain responsibility for sending the implicit message that violence is OK when you really, truly feel bad.

    But that's a 10% effect at best. The other 90% of responsibility for the current mess (and the upcoming messes) lies with our disgusting President.


  • Jonah Goldberg nails it: The American Right Is Littered With Cautionary Tales.

    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—Lord Acton

    The remarkable thing about this last grotesque chapter of Donald Trump’s presidency is how much he has proved Acton both wrong and right.

    Few axioms are more popular among pompously earnest pundits and politicians than Lord Acton’s line about power. Acton surely believed that power corrupts. His real indictment, however, wasn’t of the wielders of power, but of those who enabled them. He decried those who exempted the powerful from the rules that bind the rest of us. “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it,” Acton wrote in the same letter.

    Note that Jonah wrote this well before yesterday's events. Prescient he was.


  • Sigh. Well on to cheerier topics… No, just kidding: just a different topic. Barry Brownstein writes The Monsters Are Due on Nantucket Island. The reference is to a classic old Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" where a neighborhood's paranoia turns into violence. It's not quite that bad on Nantucket yet, but:

    The monsters have escaped the Twilight Zone and have come to tony Nantucket Island. Early in this Covid-19 crisis, the wealthy fled to Nantucket to escape the virus. Now cases on Nantucket are rising, and as on Maple Street, “residents are pointing the fingers at each other over who is to blame.” Some cast aspersions on the outsiders who swelled Nantucket’s population; others point fingers at those they know.

    Nantucket neighbors are eager to rat out others for perceived transgressions: “For every individual charged with disregarding public-health guidelines, there seemed to be another calling their neighbors out for their reckless behavior either on social media or privately on calls with the board of health.”

    Funny, right? Those wacky progressive, rich, Nantucketers…

    But what really rings a bell for me:

    In their book The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe, Jay Richards, William Briggs, and Douglas Axe correctly explain that during the peak of the lockdowns, the public supported criminalization of low-risk human activities such as walking in the park, family visits, shopping at an open-air fish market, and driving. They report:  

    “This was not a top-down dictatorship imposed on a resistant public. Polls showed that most Americans supported the lockdowns. If anything, we pushed for them. Neighbors snitched on small church groups with gusto. New Jersey posted a form on its website to make it easy to turn your neighbors in to the authorities. In late March, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said that ‘snitches’ in his city would ‘get rewards.'”

    Who are the Tommies stirring irrational fears throughout the pandemic? We are responsible for our decisions, but we can be primed for irrational behavior as in the Twilight Zone episode.

    No foolin'.


  • And while we've been having our problems here, the NYPost reports: The boot comes down in Hong Kong.

    Beijing just put the boot down hard in Hong Kong, ordering the arrest of 50-plus elected pro-democracy officials and activists Wednesday morning. The Chinese Communist Party will no longer brook any dissent in the once-free city.

    It’s the largest roundup of dissidents since Beijing imposed its new “national security” law in June. The charge was “subverting state power” by participating in an unofficial July primary vote to pick a unified dissident slate — a crime in the CCP’s eyes because it could lead to the unseating of lickspittle city Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

    Good luck, Hong Kong. Wish we could help.

The Siberian Dilemma

[Amazon Link]

Reader note: If you find yourself slightly confused by what happens at the end of chapter 41 (as I was), it means you should have been paying more attention to the book's title and the discussion near the end of chapter 28 (as I should have). But I eventually remembered.

It's been about six years since the previous Arkady Renko novel. The sorta-girlfriend he acquired in the previous book, Tatiana, is still in a dangerous profession: truth-telling journalist in Russia. Arkady is still an investigator with the (hopelessly corrupt) Moscow police. And his semi-feral ward, Zenhya, is making a living from hustling chess matches.

Arkady is troubled that Tatiana has failed to return as scheduled from Siberia, where she was investigating corrupt oligarchs. (But it's in Russia, so I'm repeating myself.) In a slight coincidence, his boss Zubrin tells him to bring the "suspect" Aba Makhmud back to Moscow after obtaining a confession. His crime: assaulting Zubrin. Hm.

In Siberia, Arkady acquires some new allies and some powerful enemies. Nature is also an adversary: Siberia is cold, and the bears are mean.

It's a relatively short book (274 pages, big type, wide margins, blank pages) but it's a page turner. I especially enjoy Arkady's outlook on life: Russian-fatalistic, viewed with very dark, very dry humor.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-06

[Amazon Link]

  • The headline on Virginia Postrel's Bloomberg column, "Micromanagement Is Plaguing the Vaccine Rollout", might as well have the obvious addon: "… and is Killing People."

    For too many people, it’s a knee-jerk reaction: Blame the slow U.S. rollout of Covid-19 vaccines on too little central planning by the administration of President Donald Trump. Demand tighter control from the incoming administration of President Joe Biden. Limit the number of vaccination sites! Bring in the military! Put somebody in charge!

    But the problem with the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines isn’t that no one is in charge. Far from the answer, tighter federal control would probably be a disaster. It would only amplify the problem.

    The tenets of statism:

    • If there's a problem, the solution is more central planning.
    • If the central planning doesn't work, it only means that we should have done more central planning.

    These tenets are not to be questioned!


  • Virginia goes on to specific examples, including the (very bad) example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and you should read the whole thing, of course. But if you'd like to drill down on New York's woes, also see Billy Binion at Reason: Andrew Cuomo’s Vaccine Distribution Rules Are a Threat to Public Health.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given hospitals a conundrum. Fail to use all of your COVID-19 vaccines within seven days of receipt? That'll be a $100,000 fine. Vaccinate someone out of the state-designated order? That'll be a $1 million fine.

    Damned if you let your vaccines expire, damned if you don't let your vaccines expire—by using them on anyone outside of the approved hierarchy.

    The state's distribution plan mandates that a slew of people receive the vaccine before the elderly, including health care workers, patient-facing employees at long-term care facilities, first responders, teachers, public health workers, grocery store workers, pharmacists, transit employees, those who uphold "critical infrastructure," and individuals with significant co-morbidities. Such a plan is common across the U.S., and it requires a robust logistical framework to execute properly.

    That hasn't been going so well.

    In my professional career, I never strove for a management position, so I was managed. A lot. But I was never really micromanaged. And—whew!—I was never micromanaged by a politician. And—thank my lucky stars—I was never micromanaged by a politician with delusions that legal threats and fines would make me do my job better.


  • Well, enough Covid, let's look at a perennial topic, as recounted by Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy: Former Time Warner CEO Calls for “Private Accountability for Hate Speech”. It's in response to a Fortune article: Now is not the time to repeal Section 230, but it should be soon. Key quote from that article:

    It is completely possible to require private accountability for hate speech and inciting violence without curtailing the First Amendment. No constitutional rights are limitless—and the repeal of Section 230 has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

    Eugene takes the Fortune writers to school:

    The bulk of the article is indeed about repealing or modifying § 230, and there are perfectly plausible arguments to be had around that. Should Internet platforms be potentially liable for defamatory material posted on them, the way newspapers are potentially liable for defamation in letters to the editor or in advertisements? Should they be liable just on a notice-and-takedown basis, much as bookstores and libraries are (i.e., they would be liable if they keep material up once they're on notice that it's allegedly defamatory)? Or should they be entirely immune, the way they are now, and the way telephone companies have long been? (See this post for more on these three options.) I think that on balance the current § 230 regime is the least bad of the alternatives, but there are reasonable arguments for at least a notice-and-takedown position (and reasonable counterarguments).

    But that debate is about platform liability for speech that fits within a First Amendment exception, such as libel, or one of a few other categories (such as solicitation of crime, true threats of crime, and the like). There is no First Amendment exception for hate speech. The government can't make people legally "accountab[le] for hate speech"—whether by imposing liability on them for their own speech, or for third parties' speech—any more than it can make people legally accountable for "[dis]respectful" speech or unpatriotic speech or rude speech or blasphemous speech or the like.

    And this is so, of course, regardless of § 230. Section 230 doesn't keep posters from being sued or prosecuted for their own speech; but the First Amendment protects them from being held "accountab[le]" for their own "hate speech." Likewise, with or without § 230, platforms can't be held accountable for their users' "hate speech" (whatever that means), either. If what's driving the calls to repeal or modify § 230 is a broader agenda to suppress people's expression of supposedly "hate[ful]" ideas, that is all the more reason to resist such calls.

    It's gonna be a bumpy couple of years. At least a couple.


  • In his Tuesday column, Kevin D. Williamson looks at Trump’s Final Insult. Based on the adage that "liars think everybody lies, that cheaters think everybody cheats, that thieves think everybody else steals, etc."

    And so it is no great surprise to find President Donald Trump and cronies complaining about election fraud even as President Donald Trump and his cronies were recorded in a telephone call attempting to suborn election fraud, threatening the Georgia secretary of state — a Republican, note — with criminal prosecution unless he should “find,” discovering by some black art, enough votes to swing the state’s election Trump’s way.

    No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again. There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.

    No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again. There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.

    It will be interesting to see who floats to the top of the GOP cesspool. Sorry for the metaphor, but that's the one that's dominating my brain right now.


  • I don't get the chance to say this very often: There's a good article from Wired! A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?.

    On March 6, 1995, WIRED’s executive editor and resident techno-optimist Kevin Kelly went to the Greenwich Village apartment of the author Kirkpatrick Sale. Kelly had asked Sale for an interview. But he planned an ambush.

    Kelly had just read an early copy of Sale’s upcoming book, called Rebels Against the Future. It told the story of the 19th-century Luddites, a movement of workers opposed to the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Before their rebellion was squashed and their leaders hanged, they literally destroyed some of the mechanized looms that, they believed, reduced them to cogs in a dehumanizing engine of mass production. 

    Sale adored the Luddites. In early 1995, Amazon was less than a year old, Apple was in the doldrums, Microsoft had yet to launch Windows 95, and almost no one had a mobile phone. But Sale, who for years had been churning out books complaining about modernity and urging a return to a subsistence economy, felt that computer technology would make life worse for humans. Sale had even channeled the Luddites at a January event in New York City where he attacked an IBM PC with a 10-pound sledgehammer. It took him two blows to vanquish the object, after which he took a bow and sat down, deeply satisfied.

    Sale and Kelly made a $1000 bet on whether Sale was correct about his "certainty that civilization will collapse." And they agreed on a deadline: the far-flung future of 2020.

    Well, here we are.

    It's a long article, and (because civilization has not collapsed, at least not as I'm typing this) you can read the whole thing. But the bottom line is that Kirkpatrick Sale is welshing on the bet. Article's final paragraph:

    Like the raging denialist in the White House, the cantankerous anarchocommunalist has quit the game after the final score left him short. Sale says he is seeking some sort of appellate relief, if only by public opinion, when in fact the rules included no such reconsideration. Kelly is infuriated. “This was a gentleman’s bet, and he can only be classified as a cad,” he says. Kelly warns Sale that history will recall him as a man who doesn’t honor his word. But Sale doesn’t believe that there will be a history. For Kirkpatrick Sale, collapse is now, and all bets are off.

    Literally, I guess.

    Wired wasn't always so keen on the Kelly-Sale bet or on Kelly's optimism. See this article.


  • Writing at his Substack site, Matt Taibbi provides us with a compilation: The Wokest News Stories of 2020. There's a lot, and if you're like me you'll have mixed emotions. Specifically "amusement" and "horror". Example:

    8. The Conversation, August 16: “How Hollywood’s ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ movies reinforce anti-Black racism.”

    The unwritten rule during the summer of historic anti-police protests was that commercial media analyses about racism had to invoke George Floyd by the third paragraph. This Conversation article took a bit longer, but that was only because the thesis was more ambitious, tying the killings of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, respectively, to Predator and Alien. The essay connected George Bush’s conquest of Mike Dukakis in 1988 to the hypersexualized representation of a dreadlocked jungle alien in the famed Schwarzenegger flick, while connecting slavery, Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the myth of the Welfare Queen, and the scourge of no-knock warrants to “Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, with its vicious and endlessly breeding carbon black alien mother.” That film, the piece noted, “came at the height of neoliberal experiment and in the U.S. especially, an all-out assault on Black people.” (The British Scott made Alien in 1979).

    Hollywood obviously does play on racialized horror tropes, and though it also makes outstanding monsters out of unmarried white women (Fatal Attraction), naked German dudes (The Terminator), models (Species), Tony Shalhoub, and pretty much anyone or anything else they can think of, it does raise questions that the supposed big joke in Ghostbusters was that civilization could be threatened by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Furious dissections of film and TV content were increasingly common:

    Maybe 2021 will be even funnier. Or even scarier.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Well, it was a nice try, I suppose. In the sense that one of these coldly-calculated sequels to fondly-remembered movies is a "nice try" to shake some cash out of movie-fan wallets.

The original movies were in 1989 and 1991. Let's see, math… yes, thirty years ago. I watched them both. They were kind of amusing fluff. But this movie relies on me remembering plot details of three-decade-old fluff in order to make sense out of what's happening here.

Anyway: Bill and Ted are older, still married to the medieval princesses they grabbed in the first movie. They each have a daughter, who echo their fathers' blissful cluelessness. Unfortunately, they've failed as a rock band, and (more importantly) failed to fulfill their promised destiny of writing and performing a song that will bring the world together in harmony. And time's running out for that: they're notified that they have a little over an hour to accomplish the feat, else the universe will be destroyed.

It's amazing how little I cared about the universe being destroyed.

The movie gets one star, thanks to this bit of trivia

When dialing infinity Ted speaks the number sequences "2718" (pause) "1828". The natural base of logarithms "e" is 2.718281828...

I like math jokes. Too bad there weren't more of them.

[2021-01-07 update: I listened to this week's Reason interview on this morning's dog walk. Nick Gillespie interviewed Alex Winter, who plays Bill. Or maybe Ted. I forget. But anyway: Alex Winter is nothing like his character: he's intelligent, articulate, well-read. Which means he's a great actor, becuase you'd never get that from the Bill & Ted movies.]


Last Modified 2021-01-07 10:34 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-01-05

[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward writes In Defense of COVID Billionaires. Because someone should.

    People love to hate billionaires. And they really love to hate large pharmaceutical companies.

    But at the very least, the last year has complicated the popular narrative that drug manufacturers and businessmen are selfish profit-taking parasites, hoarding wealth at the expense of the sick. Faced with the challenge of the novel coronavirus, big pharmaceutical companies didn't just beat their record for developing a new vaccine. They utterly demolished it. Multiple vaccines have been created and tested in under a year. The previous record was set in the 1960s by the mumps vaccine, which took five times longer.

    The fact that there were numerous firms racing toward many different vaccines wasn't wasteful; it was crucial redundancy on a difficult high-stakes problem where time was of the essence. And one reason so many were able to spin up COVID response efforts quickly is that they were already sitting on giant piles of cash, enormous, expensive labs, and offices full of well-paid scientists, engineers, and strategists.

    I know there are a lot of brave, selfless, first-responding folks out there. Thank them, of course. But you might also give a quick thumbs-up to your local pharma billionaire, as he flies over your town in his private jet on his way to Gstaad or Saint Tropez.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Persuasion, Jonathan Rauch analyzes The Made-Up Conspiracy. Which I dearly hope will burn itself out soon. Excerpt:

    The political scholars Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum describe this approach in their important 2019 book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. Traditional conspiracy theories—claims about staged moon landings or silent mind control—tend to be grand and elaborate, sometimes comically so, weaving tangled narratives that purport to explain everything. The new conspiracism, by contrast, offers no proofs, evidence or theory.

    It “dispenses with the burden of explanation,” write Muirhead and Rosenblum, and it does not necessarily try to be convincing. Rather, it foments confusion, disorientation, cynicism and division. It levels accusations, observes which get traction, then uses their popularity to justify the claim that they might be true. It thus “substitutes social validation for scientific validation: If a lot of people are saying it, to use Trump’s signature phrase, then it is true enough.”

    Trump is a master of this tactic. The “birther” conspiracy theory, which held that Barack Obama had not been born in the United States and thus was not legally the president, was Trump’s route into national politics. Once in office, he repeated and amplified conspiracy theories, no matter how ludicrous or vicious. If many people entertained a notion, he suggested, it should be looked into because—who knows?—it might be true, it probably is true, and anyway you can’t disprove it.

    That book is available at the University Near Here Library. If they ever let us civilians back in there again…


  • At his blog, David Friedman looks at Fauci, Lying, Greyhound Racing, and Trump. Based on Dr. Fauci's recent faux pas of admitting that he's been fudging the truth in his public comments.

    Greyhound racing uses a mechanical rabbit, kept moving ahead of the dogs to give them something to chase. Too close and they might catch it, too far ahead and they might lose interest. The most plausible conjecture I can come up with to explain Fauci’s account of what he is doing is that he is following the same approach. In order to get people to do what he wants, whether that is getting vaccinated or wearing masks, he has to persuade them that it will do some good. If they believe the problem is almost solved, each individual may figure that others will solve it and he can slack off, or may decide to maintain precautions for a little while longer, at which point the pandemic will disappear and he can stop. If, on the other hand, people believe the solution is very far away, it is tempting to give up on it.

    The solution, as for the greyhound race, is to keep adjusting the estimate, subject to what you can get people to believe and how close the rabbit has to be to motivate the dog to run.

    In the short run this approach, like other versions of lying to people for their own good — telling them, early in the pandemic, that masks were useless to them, in order to save masks for medical personnel, or that a lockdown would be only for a few weeks, in order to get people to go along with it — looks attractive, a way of saving lives. In the longer run, it risks persuading an increasing number of people that they should not believe what authority figures tell them.

    I'd say we're well past the point where that's a possible risk.


  • National Review's Jim Geraghty has often floated a Covin origin theory that doesn't rely on Wuhan bat-eating. With Trump on his way out, he notes today that the Lab Leak Hypothesis is getting Strange New Respect. Specifically, New York magazine has an article by Nicholson Baker that plays "what if".

    In other words, the theory suggests that Chinese scientists wanted to study a particularly dangerous version of an existing virus and thus deliberately accelerated a virus’s process of growth and change to generate a more virulent and contagious version of it. Baker notes that SARS-CoV-2 is similar to other viruses found in nature, but more contagious among humans — and asks whether laboratory efforts might explain what makes SARS-CoV-2 so easily spread:

    The zoonoticists say that we shouldn’t find it troubling that virologists have been inserting and deleting furin cleavage sites and ACE2-receptor-binding domains in experimental viral spike proteins for years: The fact that virologists have been doing these things in laboratories, in advance of the pandemic, is to be taken as a sign of their prescience, not of their folly. But I keep returning to the basic, puzzling fact: This patchwork pathogen, which allegedly has evolved without human meddling, first came to notice in the only city in the world with a laboratory that was paid for years by the U.S. government to perform experiments on certain obscure and heretofore unpublicized strains of bat viruses — which bat viruses then turned out to be, out of all the organisms on the planet, the ones that are most closely related to the disease. What are the odds?

    This is a variation of the question that has confronted the skeptics since the beginning. The city of Wuhan had not one but two laboratories — the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control — studying coronaviruses that originated in bats. If there were a terrible outbreak of a rare or new virus in Atlanta, Ga., people would understandably wonder if the virus’s local origins had anything to do with the nearby headquarters of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If someday there is an outbreak of a new, strange, and deadly virus in Frederick, Md., people will understandably wonder if the outbreak has anything to do with the nearby U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. While it is possible for a naturally occurring virus to coincidentally manifest in the same city as one or more labs known to be researching similar viruses, Occam’s Razor instructs us that when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.

    You might think it's odd for me to post this so soon after yammering about conspiracy theories. I can live with that.

    Fun fact:

    Baker is pretty blunt about the fact that many scientists have had these suspicions, or at least concerns, since the beginning of the pandemic, but didn’t want to speak publicly about the possibility of a lab accident while the Trump administration was touting the same idea

    Yeah, so this is either a conspiracy theory item, or a don't-trust-the-experts item.


  • Back to election trutherism. Rich Lowry claims (in the NYPost: The call to Georgia's secretary of state was Trump at his absolute worst. That's a high bar to clear but…

    Trump was repetitive and ill-informed. He had no idea what charges had been ­debunked weeks ago. He didn’t, or couldn’t, distinguish between true and false information. He was fuzzy on the details of his own legal case. He retailed conspiracy theories about ballots being burned and voting machines being ­removed that would be embarrassing if your uncle shared them on Facebook.

    The only thing that mattered to him was getting Raffensperger to pronounce him the winner — legal process and truth be damned.

    The problem with Trump has always been his highly personal view of the presidency, wherein institutions, constitutional principles and sheer propriety take a backseat to the felt needs of his ego.

    I can only hope that otherwise sensible people realize that getting into bed with Trump was a dreadful mistake. Sooner rather than later.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-04

[Amazon Link]

  • Via Transterrestial Musings, we have the feel-good story of the day, from Kelly Brothers at Sacramento Business Journal: A multibillion-dollar f-you from Elon Musk to the state of California.

    As Covid-19 descended on California in March and April of this year, economies began to shut down and the debate raged over what businesses were deemed “essential.” Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, and Alameda County authorities went back and forth over whether the Tesla plant in Fremont should be allowed to reopen.

    This dialogue was punctuated by a pithy tweet from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who describes herself as a progressive Democrat, “F*ck Elon Musk.”

    Read the whole thing, but Brothers notes the irony of progressives trashing somebody you would think they would be lionizing: an immigrant (Progressives: good) whose products reduce greenhouse gases (Progressives: also good) whose purchase is encouraged by generous "pro-green" tax subsidies (Progressives: we're for that).

    But there's also a practical matter:

    [In 2020], Musk is likely paying billions in [California] state tax. Next year, he will be a resident of another state.

    I've read Atlas Shrugged. I'd bet he's not alone.


  • Kevin D. Williamson writes hilariously about Hilaria Baldwin and the Allure of the Invented Persona.

    First, a word of sincere thanks: It is an absolute relief to be writing about a Hillary who is not Herself, last seen scrounging around the metaphorical trash-heaps of our nation’s hideous capital like some kind of political hobo hunting after an imaginary can of beef stew. This Hillary is going to be a lot more fun, for exactly two minutes.

    Hillary, now “Hilaria,” Baldwin, née Hayward-Thomas of the Boston Hayward-Thomases, is the social-media hate object du jour, having used a partly invented biography, an entirely invented accent, and perhaps a bit of cosmetic derring-do to pass herself off as a Mallorca-born Spaniard, when she is in fact the Boston-born daughter of a Harvard professor and a Georgetown-educated businessman-lawyer, a family with pre-Revolutionary roots in New England. Mrs. Baldwin recently was profiled in Latina magazine (which describes itself as “100 percent Latina”) but turns out to be about as much of a Latina as John Quincy Adams. Her stepdaughter Ireland Baldwin recently undertook a ritual public apology for describing Mrs. Baldwin as — in the voguish terminology of the moment — “Latinx.”

    About as far as I've gone in inventing a persona is making the title of my blog an anagram of my name. Which is not Pablo Sanchez.

    For fun, check out Wikipedia which has a whole article on Pseudonyms of Donald Trump. (Gotta get these Trumpy links in while I can.)


  • At Reason, Baylen Linnekin detects another possible source of greenhouse gas: The Uproar Over New Federal Dietary Guidelines Is a Lot of Hot Air.

    This week the federal government published its new dietary guidelines for Americans, inspiring another round of debate over the government's role in choosing which expert nutrition and health options to signal-boost to the nation at large.  

    Published jointly every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, the guidelines are based on the recommendations of a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). The committee, made up of a rotating host of expert appointees, recommends new guidelines in the form of a report. USDA and HHS leadership review the report and decide, ultimately, whether or not to adopt its various recommendations. Just as the release of the last iteration of the guidelines did five years ago, the agencies' decision about which advice to adopt (and not) is generating criticism. 

    Click through, but for me the wannabe nannies deserved to lose their fight to recommend that men cut back on alcohol.

    Apparently getting Our Federal Government out of the "Dietary Guidelines" biz is not an option. Sad!


  • Jeffrey Singer advoates at Cato for a different revolutionary idea that's not in the cards, unfortunately: Getting The Vaccine to Those Who Want it Most.

    The first wave of Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines arriving at health facilities across the country in the past few weeks sparked optimism that we may soon see a light at the end of the tunnel. As more people get vaccinated, the goal of herd immunity—where enough of the population is immune to the virus to prevent its easy spread to the vulnerable—becomes more attainable.

    Markets provide the most efficient means of distributing the vaccine to those who want and need it. Instead, policymakers on all levels of government have chosen the opposite: central planning. Now we read of reports in the news than many frontline health workers—those assigned top priority for immunization—are not following the plan. They are reluctant to take the vaccine.

    As I've tediously pointed out in the past: we have different standards for government action versus private action. Government is expected to be wasteful and error-prone. Such behavior is excused.


  • My Sunday paper brought yet another advocacy-thinly-disguised-as-"news" article on the front page: NH's minimum wage stands out as lowest in New England. I was about to fire off a screed LTE, but… eh, what's the point? I can bitch to my blog readers.

    But Michael Graham of NH Journal saves me from most of that work: Another Media 'Miss' on Minimum Wage.

    And like so much Granite State media coverage of the issue, it misses the most significant fact about income, wages and poverty in the Granite State: Income is high and poverty is low — without a minimum wage.

    More to the point, in 2019 New Hampshire had both no minimum age and the lowest poverty rate in the U.S.

    More telling stats at the link. A couple points:

    1. A statistic Michael didn't mention is Labor Force Participation Rate which (as I type) rates New Hampshire as the best in New England, and ninth place overall among US states. (Curse you, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, and Wisconsin!)
    2. I'll also make the ethical point: if an employer wants to hire someone for X dollars/hour, and that employee wants to work for X dollars/hour, what right does some government functionary have to come in and say: "Sorry, X isn't high enough."

      I don't know why we put up with it.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-03

[Amazon Link]
I think our Amazon Product du Jour is a repeat. But that's OK.

  • Jonah Goldberg reports on The Mad Rush To Be on the Stupid Side of History.

    A lot of stupid things are said about history. 

    For example, there is no “right side” of history, if by that you mean events are destined to play out in some sort of preordained way. 

    But there is such a thing as being on the stupid side of history—and there’s a mad rush to be on it. 

    President Donald Trump’s lawyers failed to convince a single judge, Trump-appointed or otherwise, that there was systemic fraud in the 2020 election, never mind sufficiently outrageous fraud to warrant literally disenfranchising millions of voters. So Rep. Louie Gohmert is suing Vice President Mike Pence to force him to do exactly that. 

    The lawsuit is premised on an idea very popular in the more feverish corners of the right. It holds that because the vice president has a ceremonial role in receiving the certified votes from the states, he actually has the authority to reject any votes he doesn’t like. There are people who want Pence on January 6 to take the official, certified, and approved electoral votes and say, in effect, “Nope, these don’t count. Send me electoral votes for my boss, Donald Trump.”

    OK, that's bad enough. But …


  • … it gets worse. Patterico notes the latest: UnAmerican Senators Proudly Proclaim Their Intent to Challenge the Results of a Free and Fair Election.

    I woke up this morning to news that at least eight sitting Senators and four Senators-elect plan to challenge the results of the free and fair 2020 presidential election. On what basis? That there was rampant fraud that likely swung the outcome? No, they don’t allege that, because that didn’t happen. Instead, they cite the fact that some citizens distrust the election results — while failing to mention that they themselves have sown that distrust, with no basis whatsoever.

    The abhorrent Ted Cruz will be part of this unAmerican group, and he’s super excited to tell you about it:

    And you can follow the link if you'd like. But Pat is pretty irate about it:

    My reaction to this is unpublishable. All I can say is that I hope this life affords me at least one opportunity to meet Ted Cruz face to face, so I can tell him that I supported him for President and gave him money — and now, I’m sorry I ever said a kind word about him and would like to personally tell him to go straight to hell.

    I didn't give him money, but… well, here's what I tweeted in response:

    And I also need to quote…


  • Just One Minute's dumbfounded query to the GOPeople: "Can You Please Get A Grip?".

    They want an "emergency audit" because state government don't know how to count and Trump's lawyers failed to release the Krakpot, or something.

    This is playing with fire. In four or eight years when the Reps win the Electoral College (again) and the Dems win the popular vote (again) and AOC is screaming that some of the swing state results should be tossed because "the billionaires" corrupted the result, Republicans will regret this performance art. However it should help Hawley and Cruz with their 2024 Presidential aspirations, so first things first.

    Hey, it could work. There seem to be a lot of folks out there whose primary membership is in the Trump Personality Cult. And this is seen by Cruz et al as some sort of loyalty test they gotta pass, or doom their election hopes.

    Feh.


  • OK, let's move on to cheerier subjects…

    Hey, wait a minute. This, from David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy isn't cheery at all! “Diversity” Nonsense Cost Tens of Thousands of Lives.

    CNBC in September (but I just saw this today): "One of the developers in the lead for a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, is slowing enrollment slightly in its large clinical trial to ensure it has sufficient representation of minorities most at risk for the disease, its chief executive said."

    This is particularly egregious because apparently Moderna felt the need to ensure sufficient representation of Hispanic Americans. Even if you buy the dubious notion that there is a significant chance that vaccines will have significantly different effects by "race," what race are Hispanics supposed to be, exactly? The average American Hispanic is about 3/4 European by descent, based on DNA studies. Essentially, then, Moderna allowed tens of thousands of people to die to ensure that "enough" white people who happen to have Spanish-speaking ancestors were included.

    At least Ted Cruz isn't killing thousands of people. Right? Or is that next, Ted?


  • Scott Aaronson writes at his blog Shtetl-Optimized on vaccine crackpottery. Which doesn't sound like crackpottery at all, but I want to quote this recently-added bit:

    If you want a sense of the on-the-ground realities of administering the vaccine in the US, check out this long post by Zvi Mowshowitz. Briefly, it looks like in my post, I gave those in charge way too much benefit of the doubt (!!). The Trump administration pledged to administer 20 million vaccines by the end of 2020; instead it administered fewer than 3 million. Crucially, this is not because of any problem with manufacturing or supply, but just because of pure bureaucratic blank-facedness. Incredibly, even as the pandemic rages, most of the vaccines are sitting in storage, at severe risk of spoiling … and officials’ primary concern is not to administer the precious doses, but just to make sure no one gets a dose “out of turn.” In contrast to Israel, where they’re now administering vaccines 24/7, including on Shabbat, with the goal being to get through the entire population as quickly as possible, in the US they’re moving at a snail’s pace and took off for the holidays. In Wisconsin, a pharmacist intentionally spoiled hundreds of doses; in West Virginia, they mistakenly gave antibody treatments instead of vaccines. There are no longer any terms to understand what’s happening other than those of black comedy.

    Let me repeat: Scott gave those in charge way too much benefit of the doubt.

    Reader, run your life the way you want. Mask up, or not; either way, accept responsibility for the consequences.

    But I strongly urge you to turn up your government skepticism up to eleven. It's the smart way to bet.

Three Hours in Paris

[Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad is a big Cara Black fan, so she asked for this book for Christmas. Sure thing, hon.

The book also appeared on Tom Nolan's Ten Best Mysteries of 2020 list in the WSJ a few weeks back. So (this is probably a lapse in Christmas etiquette) I read it before she got a chance to. Sorry, hon.

Anyway, the title refers to Hitler's tour of occupied Paris in June 1940. He spent three hours visiting. (Everyone else in the book spends more time there.) Ms. Black constructs an elaborate what-if scenario around the quick in-and-out visit, involving Kate, an American female sharpshooter. She's near-suicidal due to the loss of her husband and young daughter in a Nazi raid on the Orkney Island village where they happily resided. An obscure branch of whatever they called MI-6 back then recruits her to a dangerous, probably hopeless, mission to assassinate Adolph.

Well, she misses Hitler. (This isn't totally alternate history.) But she accidentally plugs a Nazi Admiral, which puts a dogged German cop on her trail. And what follows is a cat-and-mouse caper, as Kate tries to escape Occupied France, The bad guys are pretty good at their jobs, but Kate manages to keep a step or two ahead of them through most of the book. She's much better at spycraft than her cursory training would lead you to expect. Complication: there are a lot of collaborators and traitors within the French citizenry. And the true nature of Kate's mission is only gradually revealed.

Ava

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

A Netflix streamer. For some reason, Hollywood makes a lot of these lady assassin movies, where the lady assassin's employers decide she's more trouble than she's worth. Where they decide to take her off the board with extreme prejudice. And soon discover they've got more than they bargained for. How long have they been doing this? Well, I thought back to The Long Kiss Goodnight where Geena Davis filled the role.

So anyway, the lady assassin here is Ava, played by Jessica Chastain. Her handler is father-figure Duke, played by John Malkovich. And Duke's boss, the one who decides he's had enough of Ava's quirks is Simon, played by Colin Farrell.

What's different is that when Ava decides she needs to get her head on straight, she heads back to Boston and her estranged family: sister Judy (Jess Weixler), her ex-boyfriend and Judy's current boyfriend Michael (Common), and they go to visit Mom in the hospital…

And, whoa: Mom is played by Geena Davis. I did not see that coming.

Anyway: lots of bad language, violence, smoking. And (spoiler, why not) an inconclusive ending. If you hate those, avoid. Or turn off the set about thirty seconds before the movie ends.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-02

  • Mr. Ramirez is not confused about our kids Getting dumber.

    [Getting Dumber]

    Supplemental reading from the Federalist: To Politicize Curriculum, Teachers Are Dumping More Classic Literature.


  • Or you could read a (somewhat longer) discussion on a related topic: (Higher) Education Is Destroying America.

    Consider this apparent paradox: commanding, as they do, behemoth corporate entities, the media, the entertainment industry and the social media and tech hubs of Silicon Valley, the educated today arguably wield more power, influence and ubiquitous social control than they have ever wielded in American history, and yet they are also as scorned and distrusted as they have ever been. The prevalence of loony conspiracy theories on the political right notwithstanding, less educated people have their reasons for feeling conspired against and for distrusting those who are ostensibly their betters. They distrust the educated contingent’s claims to knowledge and expertise because they both consciously and instinctively know that such “experts” can no longer be trusted, that knowledge claims by the educated elites now routinely come packaged with liberal doses of barely concealed political prejudice. Experts are the ones who tell us that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump in a blowout and that Democrats are set to pick up significant gains and take control of both houses of Congress in the 2020 election. Experts are the unelected backroom technocrats at Twitter and Google who take it upon themselves, despite having transparent political biases and no obvious qualifications for such roles, to intervene on the side of “Truth” in complex political and factual debates — inevitably citing as backup for their decisions some of their favorite sources, such as CNN or The Washington Post — and then proceed to label, take down, bury and censor competing claims and their conservatives or contrarian sources. Experts are the ones who issue confident pronouncements about Covid-19, only to issue inconsistent but equally confident pronouncements a few weeks or months later, the ones who tell us masks don’t help to protect healthy individuals only to completely reverse that guidance, the ones who command us that frequenting religious services, Trump rallies, restaurants, hair salons or family gatherings poses a mortal risk to our health while turning a blind eye to or even throwing full support behind massive #BLM protests or disregarding their own edicts and going unmasked into chic hair salons or large parties at expensive French restaurants. And, as I’ll have reason to discuss in more detail below, the kind of “expertise” that emanates from the mainstream media or the educational establishment is egregious in its political biases.

    Let me point to (once again) the Racial Justice Resources page issued by the University Near Here. Where the ideological "diversity" displayed ranges from left to far-left.


  • In an "NRPLUS" article (sorry), Kevin D. Williamson reflects on Annus Horribilis, aka 2020.

    How much better or how much worse the American experience might have been if government had done this or that differently is the subject of a great deal of motivated reasoning. Democrats point to the buffoonery of the whining incompetent Republicans made president in 2016 and say “See! See!” while Republicans emphasize that the federal response has been relatively effective compared to the efforts of, say, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York.

    That kind of exercise is foolish for many reasons (as a practical matter, does a coronavirus death in Houston count against the Republicans who run the state or the Democrats who run the city?) and distracts from the single fact that should command our political imagination right now: The second wave of infections revealed that almost no Western government has been able to respond effectively to this epidemic. The United States has its problems, which are obvious enough, but the United Kingdom has hardly managed any better, the European Union has been divided by the issue, and Switzerland, arguably the best-governed country in the world, has tripped over its own skis so relentlessly that Geneva has one of Europe’s highest infection rates. Neither guidance from Brussels nor Sweden’s early laissez-faire approach nor Governor Cuomo’s authoritarian threat to board up the synagogues has proved effective.

    KDW's eloquent and wise bottom line: "[T]he real divide in American life is not between Ocasio-Cortez and Trump but between those who look to such figures for insight and leadership and those who know better."


  • If you've been wondering: Why Is It Taking So Long to Administer COVID Vaccinations?. Well, click on over, brother, to the Dispatch and Declan Garvey:

    It’s been just longer than two weeks since the first batches of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine began rolling out nationwide, and 10 days since Moderna’s did the same. According to CDC data, a combined 12,409,050 doses of these two vaccines—both of which were developed and received FDA authorization in less than a year—have been distributed across the country, and 2,794,588 of those doses have been administered. 

    In a vacuum, inoculating nearly 3 million people against a deadly virus less than a year after it was sequenced is nothing short of a miracle. But given that the daily death toll in the U.S. has averaged nearly 2,500 this month, some are saying it’s not good enough.

    For those of us who expect incompetence and unnecessary delay from any and all levels of government, it's no shock. But if you're interested in the details of the delay and incompetence, check out the article.


  • In still-related news, Reason's Jacob Sullum notes other business-as-usual: Increases in Opioid-Related Deaths Show That Drug Warriors (Including Biden) Have No Idea What They’re Doing.

    Last year President Donald Trump bragged that "we are making progress" in reducing opioid-related deaths, noting that they fell in 2018 "for the first time since 1990." That 1.7 percent drop was thin evidence of success at the time, and it looks even less impressive in light of the the 6.5 percent increase recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019. When you add preliminary CDC data indicating that opioid-related deaths rose dramatically this year, you have even more reason to wonder whether the government is actually winning the war on drugs.

    The 49,860 deaths involving opioids that the CDC counted in 2019 set a new record that is likely to be broken when the data for 2020 are finalized. "Synthetic opioids other than methadone," the category that includes fentanyl and its analogs, were involved in 73 percent of opioid-related deaths last year. According to the CDC's preliminary data, "the 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months ending in June 2019 compared with the 12 months ending in May 2020."

    If you're expecting better from Biden, don't. Jacob's judgment: "more of the same". A fitting prediction in general for 2021, unfortunately.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-01

  • The good folks at Reason bring us a New Year's gift: Citizen vs. Government (Vol. 6).

    They may wonder about the format being outdated, but I don't think they'll ever run out of material.


  • At National Review, Steve H. Hanke and Richard Conn Henry make The Case for a Permanent Calendar. Specifically, theirs, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar (HHPC):

    The HHPC offers a comprehensive template for revising the contemporary calendar. It adheres to the most basic tenet of a fixed calendar: Every date would fall on the same day of the week every year. New Year’s Day, for instance, would always be a Monday. The year would be divided into four three-month quarters, with first two months of each quarter lasting 30 days and the third lasting 31 days. Each quarter would contain 91 days resulting in a 364-day year comprised of 52 seven-day weeks. This is a vital feature of the HHPC: By preserving the seven-day Sabbath cycle — and by not inserting “extra days” that break up the weekly cycle — it would avoid the major complaints from ecclesiastical quarters that have doomed all other attempts at calendar reform.

    As for holidays, with the HHPC, they predictably fall on the same date and day of the week year‐​after‐​year. For example, seven existing federal holidays, such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, fall on Mondays. The HHPC would also pin down floating holidays, such as Memorial Day, which would eternally fall on Monday, May 27, and Labor Day, which would fall on Monday, September 4. The calendar places both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve on Sundays.

    I'd be OK with it. You can get more details at their website. And find out that it's still 2020 according to the HHPC (Aaargh!) Specifically it's "2020 Xtra 5". And they also advocate doing away with time zones, something of which I've been in favor of since 2013.

    It will almost certainly never happen. But we all need one or two totally crackpot ideas in our back pockets.


  • Cato's Michael F. Cannon tells the tale of The Great Bucatini Shortage of 2020 and the FDA's History of Telling Italians How to Make Italian Food.

    Rachel Handler has a delightful piece at New York magazine’s food and restaurant blog Grub Street on how Big Pasta is using government regulation to punish competitors and consumers. The result is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in addition to causing a shortage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and vaccines, is basically causing a nationwide shortage of bucatini.

    On March 30, at the beginning of a pandemic whose supply shocks were making everything from toilet paper to pasta harder to get, the FDA blocked imports of De Cecco bucatini. The FDA found the iron content of the Italian company’s bucatini to be—brace yourself—10.9 milligrams per pound rather than the 13 milligrams per pound the FDA requires. The product in question is perfectly safe. It presents no threat to the public. It is legal to sell throughout the European Union. But since the FDA alleges it does not meet the agency’s arbitrary standard, the agency turned a temporary shortage of bucatini into a…less-temporary one. Handler surmises the FDA took the action at the behest of one of De Cecco’s competitors.

    I believe the government's logic is that the rules must be enforced, otherwise people might get the idea that the bureaucrats writing the rules are a waste of space, time, energy, and oxygen. Can't have that!


  • Which brings us to a guest essay by David Hart at Cafe Hayek about the Presumption of Government Failure. Why is it, David wonders, that government action is assumed to be "safe and effective"? When we have a number of reasons to think it won't be. Here's one of those reasons:

    The principle of the impossibility (or great unlikelihood) of rational economic calculation by government planners applies just as much to government public health and hygiene planners as it did to Stalinist central planners. Thus, it is up to advocates of government intervention to demonstrate how the central planning of the health economy in particular and the broader economy in general can avoid the fatal problems identified exactly 100 years ago by Mises in his essay “Economic Calculation under Socialism” (1920). For example, how is the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” economic activity even possible in an economy as complex as ours? How do you avoid the problem of the overproduction of ventilators (which turned out not to be needed and in fact harmed the patients who were forced to use them), or the overproduction of temporary “Nightingale hospitals” in England or the underused naval vessels in New York harbor?

    If government were held to the same standards that it imposes on private actors,… we'd have a lot less government, and a lot more liberty.


  • And we're winding up the Alex Trebek era on Jeopardy! with his last few shows airing next week. And then it's Ken Jennings, at least for a while. At the Federalist, Jordan Davidson reminds us: Wannabe 'Jeopardy!' Host Ken Jennings Is A Kavanaugh Rape Truther Who Hates Republicans.

    “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings is attempting to backtrack on years of insults hurled at conservatives and others on his Twitter feed in what some have speculated is a bid for the popular game show’s open host position.

    Jennings, who is a Brett Kavanaugh rape truther and currently an interim host of “Jeopardy!” following the death of longtime host Alex Trebek in November, issued a statement on Twitter on Wednesday addressing any “insensitive” and “unartful” content he has shared in the past.

    “Hey, I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I’ve definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things. Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on-screen,” Jennings wrote, claiming he did not delete his tweets “just so they could be dunked on” and so he wouldn’t be “whitewashing.” He continued the thread by claiming it “wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone.”

    Geez, Ken. Own up to your lack of basic human decency.

Top Ten Nonfiction Books read in 2020

[Excuse blatant copying from last year's post.] Just in case you're interested in what I found informative, interesting, thought-provoking, etc. last year. Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Amazon page (where I get a cut if you buy); clicking on the title will whisk you to my blog posting for a fuller discussion.

I read a lot of good books this year, and it was hard to limit myself to 10, an arbitrary (but traditional) number. Apologies to those who didn't make the cut. I could have come up with a slightly different set on a different day. Feel free to peruse the full list of books I read in 2020 (including fiction).

In order read:

[Amazon Link] Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need by Randal O'Toole. A combination of history and public policy. Randal loves the choo-choos, but he's honest enough to admit their time has passed.
[Amazon Link] Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll. A good discussion for the layman about different "interpretations" of quantum mechanics; Carroll is in favor of "many worlds", see if he can convince you. Some handwaving is involved, since he avoids math.
[Amazon Link] Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes. Amity looks at LBJ's massive social engineering project, meant to end poverty, establish racial harmony, beautify the interstates, … It didn't work; you may have noticed. Vietnam, of course. But also the implementation was left to socialists full of hubris and huckster activists with their schemes for power and to grab some of that sweet taxpayer cash.
[Amazon Link] Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey. Deirdre's overall purpose here is to update and defend her thesis about the cause and nature of "The Great Enrichment", started in northwest Europe in the 18th century: it was due to a newfound and unique respect for the tools of the marketplace, bourgeois moral values, and individual liberty. Marred by her illiberal turn against people who fail to buy into her transgender ideology. Try to ignore that.
[Amazon Link] The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It) by Michael R. Strain. A short book, but very fact-dense. Michael's argument is that various economic doomsayers on left and right are (largely) wrong, that the American economy is delivering for most (but not all) people, and that various nostrums peddled (by those doomsayers) would make things worse.
[Amazon Link] How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe. A lot of fun: Randall (yes, another Randy made this list) takes "normal" questions, answers them by going to amusingly absurd lengths using scientific insight and very dry humor.
[Amazon Link] Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth by Stuart Ritchie. It's necessary to say that the author is not an anti-science loon. But he's profoundly disturbed by the lousy research incentivized by the current system. He does a masterful, meticulous job of investigating examples of shoddiness and detailing how "Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype" are encouraged. With results that hurt, sometimes kill, people.
[Amazon Link] Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class by Charles Murray. And when he says "Diversity", Murray means it in the classic sense: differences. A noble effort to bring science into the discussion, tempered by a classical-liberal view of essential, underlying, human equality. As the subtitle implies: when it comes to issues of "gender, race, and class", biology plays an important role in explaining observed differences. Avert your eyes if that shocks or offends you, but ignoring it will ensure that your efforts to improve/reform/transform society will be misguided, ineffective, wasteful, and almost certainly invidious.
[Amazon Link] Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the "Real America" by Kevin D. Williamson. A compilation of 22 of Kevin D. Williamson's National Review articles 2012-2019. Each is a little gem, and if you're wondering what all those asterisks in the magazine meant, they're spelled out here. Clichés avoided, plenty of insight and pyrotechnic prose.
[Amazon Link] Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay. A critical examination of how postmodern epistemology mutated into today's raging dumpster fire of "wokeness", "identity politics", "anti-racism", and associated ideologies. Not a polemic, the authors bend over backward to be "fair" to the deep thinkers they criticize, quoting them extensively. Unfortunately, this means the reader has to navigate piles of barely coherent academic gobbledygook.

Some Graphs

2021 Update

The yearly Pun Salad update. Mostly copied from years previous.

Back in 2016, I made an early New Year's resolution to blog more diligently. This was unusual, in that it was actually successful. Through 2020, there have been 1469 consecutive days of Pun Salad posts (not counting book/movie/geek posts) since 2016-12-24. And yet I am still not famous.

I suppose this can't go on forever, but we'll keep trying.

There's twelve more months of data on the chart showing the monthly blog posts since Pun Salad's birth in February 2005: (Hat tip: the Chart::Gnuplot Perl module)

[Pun Salad Monthly Posts]

Once a geek develops a hammer, it's tough to stop finding nails to pound. Here's an updated chart on my book reading; you can tell that I've been trying to read more over the past few years:

[yearly books]

Aha, a record for 2020! At least since I've been keeping track. I blame Covid.

And movies watched since 2004 shows an "unexpected" uptick for 2020.

[yearly movies]

Two factors were at play: (1) Covid, of course; We stayed in a lot. But (2) the dreadful team fielded by the Boston Red Sox last year caused us to cut down on baseball-watching, too. I hope this returns to near-normal in 2021.

For the curious: My 2020 book list is here; my 2020 movie list is here.


Last Modified 2021-01-01 7:31 AM EST