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    They may wonder about the format being outdated, but I don't think they'll ever run out of material.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