"Kerfuffles" Would Be a Pretty Good Name for a Breakfast Cereal

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James Freeman looks at the latest outrage: The ‘Cereal for Dinner’ Kerfuffle.

If Marie Antoinette had enjoyed a press corps as friendly as today’s Washington politicos do, she might have met a better end. Surging food inflation has inspired some desperate consumers to save a buck by eating inexpensive breakfast cereal for supper, and guess who the media wants to blame. No, not the policy makers at the White House and the Federal Reserve who created the inflation, but a CEO who provides the cereal and has noticed that customers often consume it outside of breakfast time.

“Cereal for dinner is something that is probably more on trend now, and we would expect to continue as that consumer is under pressure,” Kellogg’s C.E.O. Gary Pilnick recently told CNBC.

Naturally the standard rule in the Washington press corps is to avoid blaming politicians who create a problem when there’s a business to scapegoat. “Kellogg CEO under fire for suggesting cereal as a money-saving dinner,” says a Washington Post headline.

I've seen some folks recommending you add in a hard-boiled egg for additional protein. Prices for eggs spiked about a year ago, but they are not unreasonable now:

Notes: egg prices are not inflation adjusted. Journalists' opinions of themselves as economic pundits are drastically inflated.

Also of note:

  • It requires you to suppress that instinct to jerk your knee. At Josiah Bartlett, Drew Cline presents an Econ 101 primer to local advocates: How building more luxury apartments helps the poor.

    As pressure builds for local and state policymakers to address New Hampshire’s severe housing shortage, some activists and lawmakers are again blaming developers rather than regulators for the state’s high rents.

    Developers are building “too many” apartments for higher-income renters, some claim. This raises rents, hurting the poor, so government must intervene to make builders reserve a certain percentage of new construction for lower-income households, the argument goes. Some also want the state to give subsidies to low-income renters.

    The idea that building more apartments raises rents has achieved the status of conventional wisdom in some activist circles. It’s done so despite it being untrue, and confirmed untrue by growing stacks of economic evidence.

    This isn't hard to follow. But as we saw above, "activists and lawmakers" search for scapegoats in the private sector to blame and bully.

  • Because California politicians are corrupt. Next question? Eric Boehm asks: Why Is Panera Exempted From California's New Minimum Wage Law?

    When fast food restaurants across California have to start paying workers $20 per hour on April 1, one major chain will be exempted from the mandate—and it just so happens to have a connection to a longtime friend and donor to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

    Panera Bread is poised to get a boost from a bizarre clause in the fast-food minimum wage law that exempts "chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item," Bloomberg reports, adding that "Newsom pushed for that break, according to people familiar with the matter."

    Boehm blames Newsom, understandably. But let's also shower some opprobrium on California voters, who elected the legislators and governor. And it's doubtful they'll blame those pols when the fast food restaurants die off or they prices skyrocket. Except for Panera.

  • [Amazon Link]
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    Wishful thinking. Kay S. Hymowitz reviews Abigail Shrier's new book, Amazon link at your right, and looks at the results When Every Day is a Mental Health Day.

    Abigail Shrier’s first book, 2020’s Irreversible Damage, launched the mother of all cancel campaigns. Because the book attributed the sudden and inexplicable rise in juvenile gender anxiety to social contagion rather than the activist-approved explanation of social progress, Shrier, an occasional contributor to City Journal, was branded a “transphobe.” Amazon employees demanded the company remove the book from its virtual shelves. Unlike the suits at Target, who briefly did exactly that, Amazon stopped short of cancelling the book and settled for banning any paid advertising. Despite growing questions about juvenile transgender treatment, including among practitioners, many libraries continue to treat Irreversible Damage as radioactive. Only last month, a Japanese publisher reneged on plans to publish the book, proving that, whether or not transgenderism is contagious, the urge to cancel those out of line with approved ideas unquestionably is.

    Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy, an astute and impassioned analysis of the mental-health crisis now afflicting adolescents, may cause a similar emotional meltdown in some corners of American culture. Shrier’s target is more expansive than it was in Irreversible Damage; she aims her fire at the therapeutic mindset that pervades not just the offices of psychologists and counsellors, but elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, best-seller lists, middle-class homes, and government agencies. It’s a pernicious development because a therapeutic mindset easily paralyzes kids’ natural defenses and resilience, hence the crisis we confront today. Assuming a Bad Therapy backlash comes, it is unlikely to be as heated as it was in the case of Irreversible Damage—therapists, who have the most to lose if Shrier’s analysis were to win out, are a more sedate crowd than trans activists—but one hopes that for the sake of the rising generation, any pushback won’t prevent people from heeding the warnings of this important book. 

    It's been a few months since Portsmouth Public Library proudly celebrated "Banned Books", proudly displaying one of their three copies of Gender Queer in their promotional exhibit. But they don't own either Irreversible Damage or Bad Therapy. Banned?

    I think I'll request they purchase Bad Therapy.

Recently on the book blog:, a report regular blog readers might find of interest:

Last Modified 2024-02-29 4:24 PM EST

I Don't Want to be in Any Cult That Would Have Me as a Member

Charles C. W. Cooke channels Dana Carvey as John McLaughlin:

That excerpt is from an Atlantic (paywalled) article by Adam Rubenstein ("former New York Times Opinion staffer", emphasis on "former"): I Was a Heretic at The New York Times. Ed Morrissey has further analysis at Hot Air: Former NYT Editor: It's a Cult, and I'm Its Heretic. He provides a further excerpt from Rubenstein:

Being a conservative—or at least being considered one—at the Times was a strange experience. I often found myself asking questions like “Doesn’t all of this talk of ‘voter suppression’ on the left sound similar to charges of ‘voter fraud’ on the right?” only to realize how unwelcome such questions were. By asking, I’d revealed that I wasn’t on the same team as my colleagues, that I didn’t accept as an article of faith the liberal premise that voter suppression was a grave threat to liberal democracy while voter fraud was entirely fake news.

Or take the Hunter Biden laptop story: Was it truly “unsubstantiated,” as the paper kept saying? At the time, it had been substantiated, however unusually, by Rudy Giuliani. Many of my colleagues were clearly worried that lending credence to the laptop story could hurt the electoral prospects of Joe Biden and the Democrats. But starting from a place of party politics and assessing how a particular story could affect an election isn’t journalism. Nor is a vague unease with difficult subjects. “The state of Israel makes me very uncomfortable,” a colleague once told me. This was something I was used to hearing from young progressives on college campuses, but not at work.

As I and many others have pointed out: the precipitous decline in peoples' trust in the mainstream media is richly deserved.

Also of note:

  • Exposing something we've already seen exposed many times before. Like Eva Green's boobs. Reactions continue to Google's Gemini fiasco. Megan McArdle goes for the obvious: Female popes? Google’s amusing AI bias underscores a serious problem. It's not only generated images of the lady popes or the "diverse" Nazis, but also…

    Unfortunately, though, once Google shut down Gemini’s image generation, users turned to probing its text output. And as those absurdities piled up, things began to look la lot worse for Google — and society. Gemini appears to have been programmed to avoid offending the leftmost 5 percent of the U.S. political distribution, at the price of offending the rightmost 50 percent.

    It effortlessly wrote toasts praising Democratic politicians — even controversial ones such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) — while deeming every elected Republican I tried too controversial, even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who had stood up to President Donald Trump’s election malfeasance. It had no trouble condemning the Holocaust but offered caveats about complexity in denouncing the murderous legacies of Stalin and Mao. It would praise essays in favor of abortion rights, but not those against.

    As James Damore found out back in 2017, and Adam Rubenstein (see above) back in 2021, some places are "hostile work environments" for anyone dissenting from the woke ideology.

    Nate Silver weighs in as well: Google abandoned "don't be evil" — and Gemini is the result.

    It’s increasingly apparent that Gemini is among the more disastrous product rollouts in the history of Silicon Valley and maybe even the recent history of corporate America, at least coming from a company of Google’s prestige. Wall Street is starting to notice, with Google (Alphabet) stock down 4.5 percent on Monday amid analyst warnings about Gemini’s effect on Google’s reputation.

    Gemini grabbed my attention because the overlap between politics, media and AI is a place on the Venn Diagram where think I can add a lot of value. Despite Google’s protestations to the contrary, the reasons for Gemini’s shortcomings are mostly political, not technological. Also, many of the debates about Gemini are familiar territory, because they parallel decades-old debates in journalism. Should journalists strive to promote the common good or instead just reveal the world for what it is? Where is the line between information and advocacy? Is it even possible or desirable to be unbiased — and if so, how does one go about accomplishing that?2 How should consumers navigate a world rife with misinformation — when sometimes the misinformation is published by the most authoritative sources? How are the answers affected by the increasing consolidation of the industry toward a few big winners — and by increasing political polarization in the US and other industrialized democracies?

    Full disclosure: I

    1. am a loyal Google customer (their search engine, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Chrome, even a Chromebook);
    2. don't remotely trust Google on any even remotely political issue.

    What can I say. I am large, I contain multitudes.

  • But Jeff Maurer has some advice that won't be taken. And that is: Gemini Can Teach Liberals Why Nobody Likes Us.

    Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the past week enjoying the 50 clown car pileup known as Google Gemini. It’s incredible that a major company shipped such a hilariously inept product; it’s like if Serta released a mattress made of broken glass, or if Playschool sold a xylophone that explodes on contact. Companies don’t normally manufacture and release their own PR disasters; the Harvey Weinstein scandal, for example, was a secret that got revealed — it wasn’t a $100 million film called The Magical Masturbator of Miramax.

    [Jeff's poster for that film is at the link.]

    As useless as Gemini seems, it might actually be good for one thing. I believe that Democrats have a broadly popular agenda centered on things like job growth and preserving abortion access. But I also believe that they punch below their weight because liberals/progressives/whatever you want to call us are frequently really annoying. Worse still: We often don’t know that we’re annoying. We think we’re on a crusade that compels us to speak out, even though probably the best thing we could do to advance progressive causes would be to live in a trailer underground and never talk to anyone. Gemini embodies the type of righteous left-wing jagweed that most people hate. By spending some time with Gemini, I think people on the left can come to understand why much of the country would like to see pianos fall on our heads.

    Of course, Jeff's wrong about the "broadly popular agenda". Otherwise, though…

  • Whatchamacallit. Robert Graboyes has an interesting post about political nomenclature: Equity, Equitist, Equitism.

    Egalitarians aspire to equalize individual rights and opportunities, and perhaps to equalize ex post outcomes across individuals via social safety nets. Equitists, well-intentioned though they may be, pigeonhole people by immutable characteristics (race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability, etc.) and then seek to equalize average outcomes across groups. Someone in charge (an equitist, naturally) must devise a taxonomy of mankind, assign every individual to some cell in that taxonomy, rank each cell along something like an oppressor/oppressed spectrum, and then allocate rights, privileges, opportunities, and wealth among these cells.

    Generally, egalitarians seek to define “equal” objectively (e.g., equal rights, opportunities, access to education, income), whereas equitism’s definitions of “equal” are subjective. Equitism is largely an outgrowth of Frankfurt School critical theory, which rejects the very notion of objectivity.

    I'm not as copacetic as is Graboyes about "egalitarian"; it had a bad French-Revolution odor about it when I was growing up. And I think his label of "equitism" is too obscure to catch on. Still, it's a good essay.

  • See the Headline du Jour. So I'm not "signing up", but David Harsany might: If This Is 'Christian Nationalism,' Sign Me Up!

    The other day, Politico writer Heidi Przybyla appeared on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” to talk about the hysteria de jour, “Christian nationalism.” Donald Trump, she explained, has surrounded himself with an “extremist element of conservative Christians,” who were misrepresenting “so-called natural law” in their attempt to roll back abortion “rights” and other leftist policy preferences. What makes “Christian nationalists” different, she went on, was that they believe “our rights as Americans, as all human beings, don’t come from any earthly authority.”

    As numerous critics have already pointed out, “Christian nationalism” sounds identical to the case for American liberty offered in the Declaration of Independence. Then again, the idea that man has inalienable, universal rights goes back to ancient Greece, at least. The entire American project is contingent on accepting the notion that the state can’t give or take our God-given freedoms. It is the best kind of “extremism.”

    A telling observation:

    It’s also true that the “Christian nationalism” scare is a ginned-up partisan effort to spook non-Christian voters. And, clearly, to some secular Americans, the idea that a non-“earthly authority” can bestow rights on humans sounds nuts. As a nonbeliever myself, I’ve been asked by Christians many times how I can square my skepticism of the Almighty with a belief in natural rights.

    My answer is simple: I choose to.

    “This is the bind post-Christian America finds itself in,” tweeted historian Tom Holland. “It can no longer appeal to a Creator as the author of its citizens’ rights, so [he] has to pretend that these rights somehow have an inherent existence: a notion requiring no less of a leap of faith than does belief in God.”

    No less but no more. Just as an atheist or agnostic or irreligious secular American accepts that it’s wrong to steal and murder and cheat, they can accept that man has an inherent right to speak freely and the right to defend himself, his family, and his property. History, experience, and an innate sense of the world tell me that such rights benefit individuals as well as mankind. It is rational.

    Rational. Well, that's a relief.

Recently on the movie blog:

The Blog is 19 Today!

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The first Pun Salad blog post, Introduction, was made on February 27, 2005. As the Deadhead said: "What a long strange trip it's been."

I reread that post, and it still seems to hold up. Pun Salad remains "a repository for half-baked thoughts, ill-informed opinion, bad-tempered rants, gooey sentiment, and links to things on the Web I think are worth clicking upon, which you could probably find on your own anyway."

Yes, I've always been this eloquent.

Will we make it to an even 20 years? "At my age" it's foolish to make rash promises, so I'll just say: stick around for 366 days and find out.

But on to the important stuff:

  • I assume the moon-nuking will commence any day now. The Time I Shut Down Google. By noticing something a little … off when he asked Google Gemini

    Plenty more examples at the link. Experimentation:

    I went on to do several more experiments to figure out how this “diversity” algorithm worked. I found out it filtered to only add diversity when the result was something where you’d often get white people as the response. So, while “popes” became diversified, you only got black people when asking for “Zulu warriors” and only Latinos when asking for a “mariachi band.”

    I also found it ignored pronouns… but only male pronouns. So, when I asked for “a firefighter wearing his hat,” I got a mix of men and women (all people of color), but when I asked for a “firefighter wearing her hat,” I got only women.

    I also had some interesting results finding some diversity holes with fantasy creatures. When I asked for elves, I only got white elves. But when I asked for vampires, they were all vampires of color. And when I asked for fairies, I got a racial mix, but pixies were all white.

    We could draw somber conclusions from this, but I will just chuckle. Is Google now sorry it fired James Damore? Nah, probably not. But they should be.

    Glenn Harlan Reynolds (blogfather to Pun Salad and countless others) has thoughts about Google's AI Debacle. With more hilarious examples. And deep thoughts.

    Well, this is a funny fail at one level, and a not-so-funny story of built-in prejudice in artificial intelligence at another. One lesson is that it follows up woke revisionist versions of history on college campuses, where we’re supposed to “decolonize” the past.

    Another is that you’d be a fool to trust Google. Assuming this is just bad programming, then, well, it’s really bad programming. That somehow nobody noticed. One suggestion is that this means that Google has a diversity problem:

    Glenn goes on to quote extensively from that last link.

    Keep in mind that Gemini has been in development for nearly a year, and there is no doubt that it has been heavily tested. Google has seen these results for months (at least) and believed they were completely normal. As mentioned: to employees at Google, it was performing AS EXPECTED.

    How does that happen? How does an organization with thousands of engineers remain blind to what is easily seen by the rest of the population?

    The answer: a complete LACK of diversity in Google’s leadership and employee population (and this isn’t limited to Google, of course).

  • This item goes well with the book I recently read… And, no, it wasn't by Ayn Rand; it was Crack-Up Capitalism:Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy by Wellesley professor Quinn Slobodian.

    Professor Slobodian could have, but didn't, mention that in some locations "democracy" seems to be dreaming about a world without capitalists. The latest example is described by Daniel Kowalski: California’s Politicians Appear Determined to Bring ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to Life.

    During the 20th century, California was the jewel of America. Beautiful weather, diverse landscapes, access to the Pacific Ocean, and other features made it the leading state of the nation. There is a saying that says “As California goes, so goes the nation” because to many Americans this seemed like the best place in the entire country to live and raise a family.

    Things seem to have changed in the 21st century though. When times were good, the government of California grew and spent more money than it had. In the short term, most people ignored this problem, but as time went on the deficits grew and grew. By the year 2000, the government had run up a debt of $57 billion. Twenty-two years later that number had almost tripled to $145 billion dollars. Since California is a state and not a nation they couldn’t print money to make up for the downfall, so their only options were to either cut spending or raise taxes. They chose the latter.

    For state income taxes, California has the highest rates in the entire nation. They also have a declining population, with a loss of more than half a million people since a peak population of 39.5 million in 2019—and they did not all die of Covid. The majority are people who left to live in other states that did not have oppressive taxes and draconian Covid restrictions.

    While wise leaders might look at this indicator and see it as a sign that they should change course, wisdom seems to be in short supply for the political elite in this state. Rather than move towards freedom, they are instead moving to erode and attack property rights even more through the form of a wealth tax. Of course, the people proposing this are trying to sell the idea to the public by saying only the super wealthy will be on the hook for this. The rest of us in the ninety-percent will benefit thanks to the rich paying their “fair share”.

    Even the Los Angeles Times was forced to sound like a headline in an Ayn Rand novel last December: Rich people are leaving California. That's bad for the economy. Ya think?

  • And this item goes well with a book I read back in 2018. That book is The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan. The Slashdot headline sums it up pretty well: Half of College Graduates Are Working High School Level Jobs. Quoting a CBS News report:

    If a graduate's first job is in a low-paying field or out-of-line with a worker's interests, it could pigeonhole them into an undesirable role or industry that's hard to escape, according to a new study from The Burning Glass Institute and the Strada Institute for the Future of Work. The findings come as more Americans question the eroding value of a college degree, and as more employers are dropping higher education degree requirements altogether.

    "What we found is that even in a red-hot economy, half of graduates are winding up in jobs they didn't need to go to college to get," Burning Glass CEO Matt Sigelman told CBS MoneyWatch. Examples of jobs that don't require college-level skills include roles in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors, according to Sigelman.

    Another study from the HEA Group found that a decade after enrolling in college, attendees of 1 in 4 higher education programs are earning less than $32,000 — the median annual income for high school graduates.

    [Amazon Link]
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    I'm currently reading a different book that sheds some light on how we are stuck with a "higher education system" that makes results described above likely to continue. Link at your right.

  • How about some R-rated hilarity for a palate cleanser? Jeff Maurer hosts a review of a new movie: Ethan Coen's "Drive-Away Dolls". And that review is (um, allegedly) by Ethan's brother Joel.

    Is driving away from something the same as driving towards something? That’s the question that “filmmaker” Ethan Coen asks with his new project, Drive-Away Dolls. But the only place that movie-goers will want to drive after kicking the wheels on this tired turd is straight off a fucking cliff.

    In the interest of full disclosure, my editor has requested that I mention that I am Mr. Coen’s brother, and that he negatively reviewed my film The Tragedy of MacBeth on this site two years ago. I have also occasionally collaborated with Mr. Coen in the past. Nonetheless, I feel that I am fully capable of objectively reviewing Mr. Coen’s work, and in fact, I have gone so far as to obtain this notarized Certificate Of Objectivity from the state of California.

    I strongly recommend you read Ethan's review of Joel's Macbeth movie first if you haven't.

My Ego Surrendered Years Ago…

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I think it was around the time when a computer program I wrote beat me soundly at Reversi (aka "Othello").

Anyway, I could have used our Amazon Product du Jour at the time, putting up some signs around my desk to cheer me up.

There's plenty more ego-bruising going on these days, thanks to AI. Dylan Allman has thoughts at the Foundation for Economic Education: The Ego vs. The Machine.

The insistence that human intelligence is sacred while AI intelligence is profane is not just naive; it’s fundamentally hypocritical. The difference between human and artificial intelligence is not a matter of kind but of degree—of processing speed, of efficiency, and, ironically enough, of impartiality.

AI is not the enemy of human creativity; it’s the next chapter in its evolution. What’s threatened by AI is not our purpose or our ability to create but our ego. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay for a world enriched by higher quality, more innovative, and more efficient creative works.

Not to toot my own horn, but here is my commentary last month about an anti-Machine rant from a local faculty member with an outsized ego.

Also of note:

  • The GOP could use some Artificial Intelligence; they seem to be running short of the natural kind. Kevin D. Williamson looks at the Elephant's current attitudes: Do the Wrong Thing.

    The Republicans have become the party of self-harm. This kind of self-harm isn’t really about harming oneself—people who are very serious about that just kill themselves quietly and deliberately—it is, instead, about theater. Self-harm as a form of political theater has a long and sometimes proud tradition, from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s self-starvation to Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation. I admire Cato the Younger’s resolve to die with dignity by his own hand rather than live under Julius Caesar’s tyranny, though I generally do not approve of suicide. Cato’s was a good death, a concept increasingly difficult to hold on to in a society that values prestige over honor and pleasure above all.

    Republicans took up self-harm as an ethos in the matter of COVID-19 vaccines (to take one example) not because they suddenly had an interest in mRNA technology—it was purely a case of what we would call, if we were talking about a surly teenager, “acting out.” The people Republicans hate (urban progressives, “elites,” etc.) made enthusiastic adherence to COVID-19 protocols (much of that was theater and hysteria, too) into a kind of moral test, one of the few situations in our national life that genuinely demands the much-abused term “virtue-signaling.” Rather than responding to pandemic safety excesses in a mature way—for example, by talking reasonably about the trade-offs involved in vaccinations and vaccine mandates or by dealing patiently but firmly with masking hysteria—Republicans just did what Republicans now do, i.e., they took up the opposite course of whatever the hated cultural enemy was doing. And so the kind of New Age health quackery that once was mainly associated with macrobiotic loonies in Park Slope became a shibboleth for right-wing populists and the cynical radio and cable-news entertainers who milk them for profit. Hence the ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and such, and the paranoid disdain for vaccines. Republicans are “doing their own research,” but that “research” is the dumbest kind: Look at what they’re saying on MSNBC and stamp their feet and insist on the opposite. They are the bleach boys. Thank goodness the so-called elites didn’t get all huffy about hand-washing or we’d have every nut-cutlet Trump voter in the country running around looking like Michèle Lamy

    Unpleasant image at that last link. You were warned.

  • The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind. Unfortunately, Eric Boehm's rhetorical question doesn't fit the meter of the song, but here it is anyway: If Semiconductor Chip Demand Is High, Why Do We Need More Subsidies?

    The Biden administration has yet to announce how it plans to spend the $52 billion in semiconductor manufacturing subsidies that Congress approved more than 18 months ago.

    But the administration is already laying the groundwork for another round of taxpayer-funded subsidies for advanced computer chips—with an argument that reveals how economically illiterate the whole effort has been all along.

    "I suspect there will have to be—whether you call it Chips Two or something else—continued investment if we want to lead the world," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said this week while speaking at an Intel corporate event, Bloomberg reported. "Chips Two" is a reference to the CHIPS and Science Act, that 2022 bill that authorized $52 billion in subsidies, a sizable chuck of which is expected to find its way into Intel's pockets when the White House announces its funding plans in the coming weeks.

    Perhaps nothing better illustrates the way the government approaches issues than throwing an arbitrary amount of money at a perceived problem, and then declaring that more money will be needed to solve that problem even before the first pile of money has been distributed or the usefulness of the spending measured.

    For the record, this is the way I get some of my tax money back. Nvidia stock makes up a small slice of my portfolio, but I've made a decent amount of money from it.

    Which Uncle Stupid will want his share of, I guess. Gee whillikers.

  • Not a sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, unfortunately. David R. Henderson imagines a pretty good contest though: Piketty Vs. Taylor Swift.

    Contrary to what I used to believe before I researched this article, 19th-century French novelist Honoré de Balzac did not say, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” Yet he is often thought to have said it and certainly a fair number of people, especially on the left, seem to believe it. Indeed, although my father, a public school teacher, never said it explicitly, he seemed to attribute even small fortunes to some kind of crime. He was suspicious of businessmen who earned just 20 percent more than he did. I picked up some of his views on this. Thank goodness I studied economics.

    I thought of all this when watching this year’s Super Bowl. I had bet on a friend’s Facebook site that we would see Taylor Swift eleven times. Midway through the fourth quarter, I lost track at eight because the game was so exciting. But the presence of Taylor Swift got me thinking about what I had thought Balzac had said and about what French economist Thomas Piketty came close to saying. Although Piketty references Balzac many times in his magnum opus, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Piketty comes closer than Balzac to casting aspersions on people who get rich. So the question I want to address, and then widen to other successful people, is “Did Taylor Swift become a billionaire illegitimately?”

    Spoiler: She did not.

Recently on the book blog:

All is Vanity, 2024 Edition

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Our Amazon Product du Jour is a poster version of C. Allan Gilbert's clever 1895 illustration "All is Vanity". If you don't get it (I didn't, not right away), keep looking. Or click the link. Gilbert did other stuff as well, but that's his claim to fame.

Its inclusion here was inspired by Lance Morrow's op-ed in the WSJ, especially appropriate today: Biden, Trump and American Vanity.

The election of 2024 is a train wreck. But is it an accident?

Isn’t it true that America’s presidents reflect the society that sends them to the White House—its tone and style, its character, some intangible national self? Think of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge as representatives of the 1920s. Think of Dwight Eisenhower, icon of America in the 1950s. Or of Ronald Reagan as the incarnation of the 1980s.

Now, a generation or two down the line, the 2020s have given us Donald Trump and Joe Biden. No one much likes the choice. Both men, almost everyone agrees, are selfish, tiresome old cartoons. Does that mean that America itself has turned into a selfish, tiresome old cartoon?

You could argue the opposite—that these things are a matter of random selection, as in quantum mechanics, too complex and contingent to support a theory of karma and comeuppance. Would some oracle, gifted at reading the fate of nations, have predicted that America would wind up with a dilemma like this in 2024? Maybe the gods are as surprised as the rest of us at the country’s bad luck.

Some say a country gets what it deserves. Others claim it gets what it doesn’t deserve. Did the Russian people deserve Stalin in the 20th century? Do they deserve Putin in the 21st? Do Russians have a mystic, Slavic need for an autocrat/czar? What of Hitler and the German people? Was he the fulfillment of their dark, chthonic longings? Or did he preside over the Reich for 12 long years despite the civilized inclinations of his people?

That's a gifted link, so check it out. And then reflect on one of H. L. Mencken's quotes on democracy, politics. and government:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

So we'll see how that works out. He wrote that over 100 years ago, and we've somehow survived, so I suppose there's reason to hope we'll dodge 2024's bullets.

Our weekly look at the oddsmakers' opinions of the field:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 51.1% +1.1%
Joe Biden 31.4% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 4.9% -1.4%
Gavin Newsom 2.7% -0.7%
Other 9.9% +1.5%

As last week, our big gainer is the mysterious "Other". A long shot, but still considered to have better odds than anyone except Bone Spurs and Dotard.

Also of note:

  • "E" for Effort. Noah Rothman sounds like he doesn't want to write about a certain candidate anymore: Nikki Haley Has Run a Courageous Campaign.

    Say what you will about Nikki Haley’s ill-starred bid for the Republican presidential primary, but no one can honestly claim she did not spend the interim between New Hampshire’s election and Saturday’s South Carolina contest running as hard as she possibly could against Donald Trump.

    "Say what you will"… but don't say that.

    But since New Hampshire, Haley has taken a different course — burning her ships in the process. “I don’t care about a political future,” Haley told a crowd of supporters yesterday. “If I did, I would have been out by now.” We have no reason to believe she doesn’t mean it. Haley spent the better part of the last month savaging Trump from every angle in ways no one who privileges her future in a Trump-dominated Republican Party would.

    Haley took maximum advantage of Trump’s implication-laden attack on her husband’s absence from the campaign trail (he is deployed to Africa with the South Carolina National Guard) to criticize Trump’s record expressing his mistrust of the men and women who dedicate themselves to national service. “If you don’t know the value of our men and women in uniform, if you don’t know the sacrifice that they go through, why should I — as a military spouse and all our military families — trust you to know that you’re going to keep them out of harm’s way?” she asked pointedly.

    Rothman has more, and that's my last "gifted" NR link for this month, so I encourage you to check it out.

  • But for a less charitable take… we'll go to Townhall and Matt Vespa: Nikki Haley Couldn't Break 40 Percent in Her Home State...And She Went Wild.

    Nikki Haley isn’t going anywhere, which was expected, but what’s the point? I feel like her entire speech tonight could be summarized in a meme, specifically of sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, with the caption: Just smile politely, y’all. We’re witnessing mental illness. There is no path for Wreck-It Nikki, so she’s remaining in the race to help Democrats and ruin any chances of being part of the Republican Party’s future.

    "Mental illness."

    Stay classy, Matt. Don't for a minute entertain the idea that she's speaking uncomfortable (and in today's GOP, unpopular) truths.

  • But at least he's making Rashida Tlaib happy. Michael Goodwin in the NYPost pulls no punches: Biden’s betrayal at the forefront as he demands ceasefire in Gaza to stoke his re-election campaign.

    Just days ago, I wrote that Joe Biden was “inching toward a full betrayal of Israel.”

    Forget the inching.

    He’s now sprinting toward the final act.

    And he’s doing it at the United Nations, a forum that has been openly promoting antisemitism for decades.

    Biden’s latest salvo against the Jewish state is a new plan to have the UN Security Council support his demand for a cease-fire in Gaza.

    I'm in agreement with JPod's take too:

  • But muh democracy! Dan McLaughlin looks at the latest upcoming crisis: Democrats May Refuse to Certify Trump Election If He Wins. Supreme Court Could Prevent It.

    If Donald Trump wins the election, Democrats in Congress won’t commit to certifying the election. That’s not just speculation from conservatives eyeing the extremely long track record of leading Democrats rejecting the legitimacy of Republican victories. It’s the theme of Russell Berman in the Atlantic, and he’s talked to enough House Democrats to paint a truly alarming picture of what might happen to prevent the winner of the 2024 presidential election from becoming president. That’s never happened in all of our history. As Berman notes:

    As Republicans are fond of pointing out, Democrats have objected to the certification of each GOP presidential winner since 2000. None of those challenges went anywhere, and they were all premised on disputing the outcome or legitimacy of the election itself. Contesting a presidential election by claiming that the winner is ineligible, however, has no precedent.

    This is no idle threat. Berman talks to former House majority whip and outgoing assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn, who voted against certifying George W. Bush’s victory in 2004; Senate candidate Adam Schiff, who abstained rather than vote to certify Bush that same year; Zoe Lofgren, who did the same; Jamie Raskin, who objected to certifying Trump’s victory in 2016; and Eric Swalwell. None of them would commit to certify electors for Trump, even if it was clear that Trump won. He could not get a response from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, who repeatedly claimed after 2016 that Trump was not a “legitimate president.” As Berman notes, every House Democrat voted for the 2021 articles of impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” and many of them still contend that he is an insurrectionist ineligible for the presidency.

    Voters could ask Democrat candidates for Congress whether they'll commit to certifying election results.

    But they probably won't.

    Power Line piles on Democrat Denialists, with a few more excerpts of the paywalled Atlantic article. And:

    The Democrats have become so insane on the subject of Donald Trump that it is hard to know which of their mutterings to take seriously. But if Trump wins the election and a Democrat-controlled House refuses to certify his election on the ground that he is an “insurrectionist” under the 14th Amendment, we will be past the point of a constitutional crisis. If that happens, the only realistic path forward will be disunion, possibly accompanied by civil war, but preferably not.

    Indeed, preferably not. For one thing, it would really ding my retirement nest egg.

Recently on the book blog:

Snarking at My CongressCritter

I may do this every time I notice a member of my Congressional delegation bragging about bringing home the bacon:

I should add that that cash is nearly never sent back to taxpayers. Instead it goes (mostly) to local governments who may distribute it to favored companies, institutions, or individuals. Benefits may eventually "trickle down" to us, after everyone along the way has taken a cut.

Yes, I'm feeling kinda libertarian today. And snarky. Let's see if that continues below…

Also of note:

  • The answer is obvious. But Jim Geraghty asks the question anyway: Why Does President Joe Biden Need Notecards to Talk to Donors? He provides a host of recent "impromptu" remarks President Dotard has emitted, and they are a mishmash of lies, arrogance, delusion, and incoherence. Some of which we've noted previously, but here's a cute one:

    In San Francisco, at the home of Gordon Getty, one of the heirs to the Getty oil fortune, Biden repeated one of his favorite stories, about the time Jill Biden got mad at him over news coverage claiming that he was the poorest U.S. senator:

    In addition to that, we’re in a situation where — you know, we now have — which is not a bad — I’m a capitalist, although I — for 36 years, I was listed as the poorest man in Congress. (Laughter.) Not a joke. I got a phone call, Jer, when I was campaigning for Pat Leahy in the — in the mid-’90s.

    And I got a call — I called every night, as you all when you’re away and your kid is at home. I called Jill, who was teaching school — my wife. And I said, “How are you doing?” And she said, “Fine.” (Laughter.) Okay, well, I’m in trouble. I said, “What’s the matter?” “Nothing.”

    I said, “Jill, what’s the matter?” She said, “Did you read today’s paper?” — meaning the Wilmington News Journal. And I said, “They don’t have it up here, honey.” And she said, “Well, top of the fold, ‘Biden, Poorest Man in Congress.’  Is that true?” (Laughter.) I swear to God, true story.

    Biden has told versions of this story several times. The best fact-checkers can determine, Biden usually ranked near the bottom of Congress in net worth, but he was never the poorest. No one has ever found the newspaper headline Biden describes. (It must have been an awfully slow news day for the Wilmington News Journal to put Biden’s financial-disclosure forms above the fold on the front page.) And note that as vice president, Biden claimed to audiences that he didn’t have a savings account, when his financial-disclosure form indicated he did.

    Bidenese ➡ English translation: "I swear to God, true story." ➡ "I'm lying."

  • I've been called a lot of dirty names in my time, Pilgrim. But I think this is a first:

    What people are amazed/amused/disgusted by is her assertion:

    “The one thing that unites them as Christian nationalists — not Christians by the way, because Christian nationalists is very different — is that they believe that our rights as Americans, as all human beings, don’t come from any earthly authority; they don’t come from Congress; they don’t come from the Supreme Court — they come from God,” Przybyla said.

    To put it mildly: many people, not just "Christian Nationalists", believe they "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". And not only is that a truth, it's a self-evident truth; attempts at denial mire themselves in self-contradiction.

    (For those of us who are doubtful about "their Creator": substitute "the basic nature of their humanity".)

    Anyway, speaking of miring oneself in contradiction, you might find further amusement/disgust/bewilderment at Ms. Przybyla's further remarks, gathered at the Federalist: Politico Reporter Flails To Defend 'Christian Nationalism' Smears.

    Spoiler: Nowhere does she say, "Gee, I shouldn't have said that."

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-02-24 1:10 PM EST

Who Had "Defying the Supreme Court" on Their Biden Impeachment Bingo Card?

I think you can daub it off. What do you think, Vivek?

I speculate, however, that "if Trump had entered these same words", Vivek would be hailing them as compassionate and necessary.

The (more principled) NR editorialists weigh in on Biden’s Desperate Student-Loan-Relief Giveaway:

If President Biden were to spend even half as much energy trying to secure our southern border as he is spending on finding ways to transfer the debts of American college graduates to the taxpayer, the flow of illegal immigrants would by this point have slowed to a trickle. On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the president announced that 153,000 more borrowers will have their student loans “canceled” — which, in practice, means paid by the people who didn’t take them out and spend them — at a cost of $1.2 billion. In January, Biden “canceled” 74,000 loans, at a cost of $5 billion, bringing the total cost to that point to more than $130 billion. By the time he is finished, Penn Wharton records, the president will have spent $475 billion on the program. Never, in the history of buying votes, have so many been so fleeced for so few.

Last year, the Supreme Court held that Biden’s effort to “cancel” up to $20,000 for every borrower in the United States was illegal — a fact that Biden knew all too well. Astonishingly, he responded to this rebuke with rank defiance, vowing that he would “stop at nothing to find other ways” to achieve the same aim. And so he has. Biden delivered the news to the affected students in an email that contains five uses of the word “my” and five uses of the word “I,” and is signed “Joe Biden,” but at no point refers to “Congress” or the “legislature.” This, suffice it to say, is not how the United States government is supposed to work — especially when it is transferring nearly half a trillion dollars from one group of citizens to another. At best, Biden has found a way to achieve piecemeal what he was prohibited from achieving in one fell swoop. At worst, Biden is thumbing his nose at his oath to uphold the Constitution. Either way, it is a disgrace — and all the more so coming from a president who promised to restore American norms.

At that same site, Charles C. W. Cooke has but one demand: Biden’s Student-Loan Lawlessness Must Not Go Unanswered.

Since the summer of last year, Joe Biden has spent $130 billion transferring money from Americans who did not take out loans to pay for college to Americans who did take out loans to pay for college. Over the next few years, Biden intends to spend an additional $345 billion in this manner. Question: How are we going to pay for this perfidy?

Or, rather: Who is going to pay for this? Obviously, the answer can’t be “taxpayers.” Sure, in the short run, that’ll be how these transfers work. But in the long run? After Biden is out of power? Presumably, we are not to expect that the people who didn’t take out those loans and spend them on a service that they received ought to be taxed to pay for those who did? That would be absurd. So I’ll ask again: Where is the cash going to come from? Are we going to claw the money back from the people who were given the free ride? Are we going to take it from the universities themselves — many of which have enormous, unassessed endowments? Are we going to give a tax break to anyone who didn’t receive this largesse? All of these options have their upsides and downsides. At least one of them must become law.

Why? Because what President Biden has done here represents an extraordinary violation of the social compact, that’s why. This isn’t alms for the poor; it’s a brazen cash-grab by Joe Biden’s friends. Biden likes college graduates in a way that he doesn’t like small-business owners, plumbers, or waitresses, so he has decided to send the property of small-business owners, plumbers, and waitresses to those college graduates. That’s it. That’s the whole game. There’s no principle here; the debts owed by others remain untouched. There’s no reform here; the education system remains exactly as it was before this started. The game is exactly how it looks: Peter, general contractor, has been robbed to pay Paul, Ph.D. It’s shameless class politics — and not in that dishonest boy-made-good-from-Scranton way that Joe Biden likes to pretend. To the victors, the spoils.

Another speculation: Based on this move, and also his betrayal of Israel, President Dotard has gotten it into his head that there's a "Nobel Perfidy Prize", and he's set out to win it.

Also of note:

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? The WSJ editorial board has your answer: Given that Biden promised "devastating" consequences if Aleksei Navalny died in the Gulag, It’s Time to Seize Russia’s Reserves.

    The White House is promising tough new sanctions on Russia after the murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but the test of seriousness will be whether President Biden is willing to seize Russia’s sovereign assets and transfer them to Ukraine.

    Mr. Biden and Western nations have been reluctant to confiscate the $300 billion or so in Russian reserve funds parked in Western financial institutions. They were frozen when Russia invaded, but there they sit two years later collecting dust and interest. It’s almost as if Mr. Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz imagine that the money might be an inducement for Vladimir Putin to negotiate a peace deal and rejoin the civilized world.

    But there are no signs that Mr. Putin will settle for a peace short of Ukraine’s capitulation. His forces are on the offensive again, driving Ukrainians from the city of Avdiivka in the last week. With Ukrainians running low on artillery shells and other ammunition, Russia’s tactic is to saturate territory with days of artillery and aerial bombardment and then move in with infantry when nothing is left.

  • Whatever Biden decides to do about Navalny, he better do it while he's still President. Because, as Casey Michel points out, Trump’s Russia Policy Is Appeasement

    With Donald Trump now heavily favored to be the Republican nominee for president, his policy ideas are in the limelight. But his proposed solution for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the greatest security threat to Europe and the West in decades—has drawn little scrutiny or pushback. It can be summarized in one word: appeasement.

    The word is a charged one, and I don’t use it lightly. It points directly to failed policies, especially those of past Democratic presidents, and implies that Mr. Trump’s proposed solution to the war in Ukraine is similarly doomed.

    Last year he suggested letting Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine, and a few months ago claimed he would “resolve the war within 24 hours.” The only way to do that is to give Vladimir Putin what he wants, including recognition of Moscow’s proclaimed annexations in eastern and southern Ukraine.

    Michel goes on to recall Neville Chamberlain's remark about Hitler's designs on Czechoslovakia: “A quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing”. Geez, I know people who sound like that today.

  • It should be an easy choice. Veronique de Rugy looks at alternative economic strategies for policy makers: Deregulation vs. Subsidies.

    At the end of the day, those in favor of industrial policy must make a choice: Will they first eliminate the regulatory obstacles erected by the government and then assess what might productively be done, or will they instead plow forward with further government interventions — interventions destined to fail? I know the answer, and it worries me. With deregulation, there is less opportunity than there is with further regulation to exercise power.

    Meanwhile, let’s give another $10 billion to Intel on top of the other handouts it already received:

    Poor Intel. Last year was pretty rough for the 55-year-old semiconductor firm, as it accrued just $54.2 billion in revenue, 14% less than the year before. After paying all its bills for manufacturing, research and development, and biscuits, there was just $1.7 billion left over in net income. Poor Intel.

    So when the US administration announced the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022, with a total of $280 billion up for grabs, Intel jumped right in to get some of that golden booty. Only now it’s asking for a further $10 billion, at the very least, to ensure Intel’s US developments can continue.

    But not to worry, our friends on the New Right assure us that they will pick better winners and better industrial policy goals when they are in power.

    For today's statists, both left turns and right turns all lead down the Road to Serfdom.

Where's My Hot Wheels Subsidy?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Drew Cline of Josiah Bartlett notes some New Hampshire legislative mischief: Lawmakers consider a state subsidy for EVs as prices approach parity with conventional cars.

The e-mail version's subject line is punchier: "How to waste $1.5 million on electric vehicles".

Enticing people to buy electric vehicles does not fit comfortably into the core duties of state government. And yet it’s among the list of pet causes legislators will consider subsidizing with other people’s money.

The latest effort comes in House Bill 1472. The bill, as amended, would confiscate $1.5 million that belongs to electric utility ratepayers in New Hampshire and give it to people who buy or lease electric vehicles. The money would come from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds currently rebated to ratepayers.

As Drew notes, with EV prices coming down to earth, subsidies are an unnecessary gimmick. It would have been nice, though, if the article had put the $1.5 million figure in context of the total RGGI rebates.

Let me dig out one of Ronald Reagan's quotes about subsidies:

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

Since Reagan's day, the subsidizers have expanded their vision to things that haven't stopped moving.

George Will looks at a different proposal, and finds it subpar: Local media is struggling. Government subsidies would make it worse. The symptoms of that are well-known (GFW lists some), but:

The common economic problem is the migration, for reasonable economic calculations, of advertising dollars to digital platforms. The Illinois Local Journalism Task Force proposes making local news organizations wards of government by subsidizing them with direct grants, providing subsidies for low-income subscribers, giving tax exemptions and tax credits for news organizations (also for subscribers and advertisers and for hiring reporters), and mandating government advertising in the news outlets.

What could go wrong? Everything.

Soon, government would mandate hiring and coverage quotas for “underrepresented” groups, would enforce government’s idea of editorial “balance,” would censor what government considers “misinformation” about public health, diversity, equity and inclusion, and would dictate all things pertinent to government’s ever-lengthening agenda. The task force’s recommendations — journalism throwing itself into government’s muscular arms — are a recipe for making local news sources as admired and trusted as government is.

It's been a while since I've insulted the Concord Monitor by calling it Pravda on the Merrimack, but I could take it up again.

Also of note:

  • Because they are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. That's my answer to Jeff Maurer's query: Why is the Right Suddenly Horny for Russia?

    I’m bad at predicting trends. I did not forsee the ska revival, nor did I predict that the fashion trend of the late 2000s would be jeans that give you plumber’s butt. I would not have guessed that in the 2010s, people would say “I invented a new currency called SteveCoin,” and then people would buy SteveCoin. I know that I get blindsided by stuff, so I will not be phased if Cardi B cures cancer of if Larry David becomes the 15th Dalai Lama or whatever.

    Even so: I have been caught completely off guard by the American right’s sudden hard-on for Russia. Trump constantly defends Russia, some Republicans in Congress are trying to soften support for Ukraine, and Tucker Carlson just gave Russia the same treatment that Billy Mays used to give to the Samurai Shark on late night TV. That’s a hell of a 180 for folks who used to diss Russia more than Ice Cube dissed Eazy-E. As recently as 2012, liberals like me were lobbing mean girl jokes at Mitt Romney for obsessing over Russia. I now admit that Romney was right, but, strangely, some Republicans have chosen exactly this moment to argue that the Russian regime — which is more of a corpse-producing factory than a government — is not so bad after all.

    I find Maurer's explanations unconvincing (but funny). And of course not all of "the Right" are joining the Putin Fan Club.

  • I don't have a snappy answer to this question, though. It's from Mr. Jim Geraghty: Why Does Vladimir Putin Always Seem to Outfox Our Presidents?

    President Biden, after meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021:

    Q: Mr. President, just a quick follow on the same theme of consequences. You said, just now, that you spoke to him a lot about human rights. What did you say would happen if opposition leader Aleksey Navalny dies?

    THE PRESIDENT: I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.

    Here’s President Biden, Friday.

    Q: And to be clear, you warned Vladimir Putin when you were in Geneva of “devastating” consequences if Navalny died in Russian custody.  What consequences should he and Russia face?

    THE PRESIDENT: That was three years ago. In the meantime, they faced a hell of a lot of consequences. They’ve lost and/or had wounded over 350,000 Russian soldiers. They’ve made it into a position where they’ve been subjected to great sanctions across the board. And we’re contemplating what else could be done.

    If you run around threatening “devastating consequences” if Navalny dies in prison, and then Navalny dies in prison and you say you’ve already imposed those “devastating consequences” in response to other Russian actions and you’re contemplating what else can be done . . . everyone will recognize that your talk about “devastating consequences” was bluster.

    JG provides a sobering history, going back to Dubya days, of failing to deal with Putin realistically.

  • But, really, what did you expect? Noah Rothman thinks Biden’s Betrayal of Israel Is Dumb Politics and Insane Policy. (One of my NR gifted links for the month, don't waste it.)

    Rothman sees the problem as the Democratic Party's rabidly anti-Israel wing threatening to damage Biden's November chances.

    This threat to the Biden campaign’s bottom line in November is sufficient to explain the administration’s efforts to mollify the anti-Israel activists in its coalition in ways that, in every other aspect, defy logic. The latest example of the administration’s commitment to folly has taken the form of a proposed draft U.N. Security Council resolution which, if passed, would signal that America’s support for Israel’s defensive war against Hamas has come to an end.

    The text of the resolution calls for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza — a cessation of hostilities Biden has already said he would force Israel to observe indefinitely. It calls on Israel to refrain from taking its ground offensive into Rafah, from which it recently exfiltrated Israeli hostages and in which Hamas fighters are still holding out. A State Department spokesperson defended the resolution by insisting that there should be no “full-scale Israel military operation in Rafah” absent a “credible and executable plan” for protecting civilians — a goal that is in irreconcilable conflict with the resolution’s objection to the “further displacement” of Palestinian civilians from harm’s way. “The best way to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza that provides lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, is our strong commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state,” the spokesperson added.

    Biden is (again) sacrificing American credibility, this time in pursuit of his electoral viability.

Newsflash: TikTok is Actually Good For Something

Via Ann Althouse.

@willrubio Replying to @LilyRubio Reginald Remembers Driving in YOUR car! #tracychapman #fastcar #music ♬ original sound - Will Rubio

I laughed. Unmute and do likewise. I really liked the Tracy Chapman song. I haven't heard the Luke Combs version.

Also of note:

  • Kurt Eichenwald proposes an answer to the question I've been asking for years. And that question is: "What the hell is wrong with this guy?"

    In case the embed isn't working well to show Trump's post:

    The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country. It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION! MAGA2024

    "Malignant narcissism and sociopathy" is a pretty good summary.

  • I demand "Viking Alerts" for missing Norwegian-Americans.

    "What time is it, Jeff Maurer?"

    "Paul, The Advent of “Feather Alerts” is a Great Time to Reflect on How Racist Antiracism Has Gotten."

    California got roasted on social media this week as news of their new “Ebony Alert” system circulated. You see: Ebony Alerts are Amber Alerts, but for Black kids. If you’re thinking “weren’t Black kids covered by Amber Alerts?” the answer is “yes, obviously”. And it gets dumber: California also has a system for finding missing indigenous people called “Feather Alerts”. Please note: “Feather Alert” is California’s terminology, not mine; I would be banished to Antarctica if I proposed that any system for indigenous people be called "Feather Alert”. So, now that “antiracist” thinking has caused California to embrace separate but equal institutions with racist-depending-on-who-says-it names, it seems like a good time to examine how fundamentally racist so-called antiracism has become.

    First, the facts: California has Ebony Alerts and Feather Alerts. These are modeled on the Amber Alert system, which, of course, is the thing that makes everyone’s phone explode at the same time during a meeting. Everyone then wonders for a moment if a nuclear strike is incoming, but once they check their phone, they realize that it’s an Amber Alert and they should dole out brutal vigilante justice to anyone in a white Toyota Camry.

    Amber Alerts are for people under 18. People 65 and over have “Silver Alerts”, so-called because “silver” is the polite word we use to make grey hair seem like an achievement that old people have unlocked. California also has “Yellow Alerts” — stay calm — which are for hit-and-run suspects…why, who did you think they would be for? There are also Blue Alerts for attacks on law enforcement officers, and you can see where this is going: Activists have decided that there needs to be a thing for every color. California can never let anything be; every good idea must be extrapolated past the point of insanity by California’s Nonprofit Industrial Complex, which is basically a jobs program for the dimwit children of millionaires.

    I basically live as far from California as it is possible for an American to live, without living in Maine. And the state still manages to creep me out.

  • It's probably not what it sounds like. The College Fix reports: After 10 students enroll in new UMD racism minor, university plans to offer it indefinitely.

    The University of Maryland has 10 students currently minoring in its new anti-Black racism program after officials announced its creation early last year.

    Now Maryland’s flagship public university, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 30,000 students, plans to continue offering the minor indefinitely.

    “I can share with you that there are 10 students participating in the minor in Anti-Black Racism,” UMD College of Behavioral and Social Sciences communications Director Linda Ours told The College Fix via email.

    No, it's probably not a how-to. But still:

    The minor’s mandatory “capstone course” is titled “Applied Anti-Black Racism,” which is designed to “apply knowledge rooted in Anti-Black Racism to a real-world problem or issue within your chosen discipline or planned career path” according to its description.

    Yes, it's indoctrination. Yes, it's probably a full-employment program for grifting professors. Nothing new there. But nobody seems to have thought about the minor's name very hard; it sounds like a training program for Klan members. "Gee, how can I apply my knowledge, rooted in Anti-Black Racism, today?"

  • Good advice. Martin Gurri has it, in City Journal: Prologue to an Ideology of Freedom.

    The world today presents a picture of uncommon chaos. The complexities of modern society require a class of specially trained persons to manage them, yet public trust in our elites and the institutions they inhabit has plummeted. Every description of reality is now a battleground, including the opinions of scientists. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt likens the moment to a new Tower of Babel: an incomprehensible noise. The causes are global and structural, with radical changes in the information environment playing a decisive role. While the pettiness and corruption of incumbent elites are evident, simply replacing them won’t fix things.

    Inevitably, chaos has triggered a reaction—an impulse to reimpose some sort of order. Governments, legislatures, bureaucrats, regulators—all have lost the taste for debate or compromise and have fallen in love with mandates. Elites have sought to replace the old-fashioned democratic process, muddled by design, with what they call “our democracy,” which expects, by right of superior virtue, the triumph of “our” moral and political judgments. Those opposed to “our democracy” lie beyond the pale—deemed insurgents, racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, climate deniers, vaccine skeptics, Russia lovers—a long and lengthening list of those who don’t deserve a hearing. Accordingly, government censorship and media silence have worked to lock these deplorables inside an information ghetto. The public must, at all costs, be tamed.

    I get it. I'd throw in the "globalists" and "neoliberals". Also pictured as working against "democracy."

    Anyway, Gurri's remedies sound pretty good. Just one more paragraph:

    An ideology of freedom compelling to the twenty-first century, I’ve suggested, must possess certain components: a relentless emphasis on individual rights; an understanding of those rights in light of American history; models of behavior that foster civility and integrity; and a well-adapted engagement with the digital. How would these proposals deal with our current political spectrum? Clearly, structures of control like censorship and group status need to go. We must join battle against progressive enforcers of identity, a reactionary establishment, and the Democratic Party as an institution (though not a majority of the persons who identify as Democrats). But where does this leave us?

    Sign me up.

  • With nothing better to do… Randal O'Toole examines how the employees of the "Federal Railroad Administration" have been spending their work hours: Dreaming Up Amtrak Schemes.

    Ever been in Billings, Montana and wanted to go to El Paso? Or have you been in New York and wanted to spend 36 hours traveling to Dallas? How about going from Minneapolis to Denver via Pierre, South Dakota? Or Detroit to New Orleans? These are just some of the 15 new long-distance trains that the Federal Railroad Administration has tentatively proposed to add to Amtrak’s network.

    The (linked) FRA study was done in response to legislation:

    The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 requires the FRA to conduct a study to evaluate the restoration of daily intercity rail passenger service along —

    • any Amtrak Long-Distance routes that were discontinued; and
    • any Amtrak Long-Distance routes that occur on a nondaily basis.
    • FRA may also evaluate potential new Amtrak Long-Distance routes, including with specific attention provided to routes in service as of April 1971 but not continued by Amtrak.

    … so maybe don't blame the FRA bureaucrats too much. They had to do it. President Dotard loves his choo-choos, and we have to humor him.

    O'Toole drops some reality-based truth bombs:

    If your gut reaction is that most if not all of the proposed passenger trains are impractical, you would be right. The United States is not Europe, with lots of closely spaced major metropolises. Passenger trains don’t even work that well in Europe, carrying only about 6 percent of passenger travel (see page 100). The airlines carry more and air travel is growing much faster despite gigantic subsidies to passenger trains from the governments of most major European countries.

    Currently, Amtrak carries less than one-tenth of one percent of U.S. passenger travel. The FRA proposal would double the number of long-distance routes, but since long-distance trains carry less than a third of Amtrak’s passenger-miles, doubling those trains won’t come close to doubling rail travel.

    There are two good reasons why airlines carry well over 100 times as many passenger-miles per year as Amtrak: planes are faster and they are less expensive because they don’t require costly infrastructure every foot of the way between any two cities. Air fares in 2022 averaged 20.1¢ per passenger-mile while Amtrak collected fares averaging 36¢ per passenger-mile in its FY 2022.

    I stopped at three paragraphs but you don't have to; click over and Read The Whole Thing.

Last Modified 2024-02-21 7:10 AM EST

Let's Not Work at Cross Purposes

I diligently do the WSJ and NYT crossword puzzles in the (probably mistaken) hope that they'll help keep my brain from calcifying, so I really liked this cartoon from xkcd:

[Crossword Constructors]

Mouseover: "Also, we would really appreciate it if you could prominently refer to it as an 'eHit'."

Crossword authors are ingenious, constantly surprising me with outrageous wordplay, references to obscure figures in science, business, history, and the arts, … But if you want to get a leg up on some of the music stuff that appears again and again:

  • Know your genres, particularly: SKA and EMO
  • Artists too: Yoko ONO, Brian ENO, ABBA, ENYA, Dr. DRE, CHER, REM, the Korean BTS, ACDC, …
  • And all the rappers billed as LIL Something. Especially Lil NAS X, a twofer, …
  • I'd throw in AHA, but usually the clue doesn't refer to the group, …
  • And (thanks to all the vowels) ADELE.
  • If the clue is (for example) "Nirvana or ZZ Top", don't hesitate to fill in TRIO in ink.
  • Be on the watch for musical instruments, like the OBOE or LUTE.

I'm sure I'm missing some. I might come back later and add.

Also of note:

  • Did you have "Ignoring the Constitution on Student Loan Relief" on your Impeachment Bingo Card? Well, you probably already crossed it off, but in case you missed it, Emma Camp has the details: Biden Announces Plan To Forgive Student Debt Over Financial 'Hardship'.

    On Thursday, the Biden administration announced a new plan to enact large-scale student loan forgiveness, this time by targeting borrowers experiencing financial "hardship."

    Under the proposal, borrowers would be eligible for forgiveness if they meet certain criteria demonstrating financial hardship, such as their "total student loan balance and required payments relative to household income" and "high-cost burdens for essential expenses like healthcare or childcare," according to a Thursday press release. The goal of these standards is to identify students who are likely to default on their payments in the next two years.

    The new proposal builds on rulemaking changes proposed in December, which seek to provide forgiveness to borrowers who saw their balances increase after not paying enough to cover interest and who have been paying for 20 or 25 years, among other groups.

    It's unclear exactly how much these new changes will cost. But based on previous, smaller-scale student loan forgiveness measures, these changes are likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. In the same press release announcing the new plan, Education Department officials bragged about approving $136.6 billion in student loan forgiveness through a series of forgiveness programs.

    Hundreds of billions of dollars.

    It doesn't actually have to be put into place in order to "work". I.e., the implicit promise that if borrowers vote for him, Biden will keep trying to give them money.

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Nate Silver has today's answer: It's time for the White House to put up or shut up.

    Personally, I crossed the rubicon in November, concluding that Biden should stand down if he wasn’t going to be able to run a normal reelection campaign — meaning, things like conduct a Super Bowl interview. Yes, it's a huge risk and, yes, Biden can still win. But he's losing now and there's no plan to fix the problems other than hoping that the polls are wrong or that voters look at the race differently when they have more time to focus on it. Neither is so implausible and it is likely to be a close race. But even the most optimistic Democrats, if you read between the lines, are really arguing that Democrats could win despite Biden and not because of him. Biden is probably a below-replacement-level candidate at this point because Americans have a lot of extremely rational concerns about the prospect of a Commander-in-Chief who would be 86 years old by the end of his second term. It is entirely reasonable to see this as disqualifying. The fact that Trump also has a number of disqualifying features is not a good reason to nominate Biden. It is a reason for Democrats to be the adults in the room and acknowledge that someone who can't sit through a Super Bowl interview isn't someone the public can trust to have the physical and mental stamina to handle an international crisis, terrorist attack or some other unforseen threat when he'll be in his mid-80s.

    Silver draws obvious conclusions from Biden's reluctance to do Improvisational Public Appearances (IPAs), and invokes a stat-head's term of "Truncated Sample Bias".

  • Only a few tweaks to the Weekend at Bernie's screenplay… and you get a plausible picture of a second Biden term. So Kevin D. Williamson insists on something that should be non-controversial: Biden’s Decline Is a Legitimate News Story.

    The media isn’t the driver—the media is the passenger. That’s one of the things we consistently get wrong in how we talk about politics and political discourse. 

    Former New York Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan writes

    Biden’s advanced age is, granted, far from ideal for a president seeking a second term, even the very effective president that he has been. Yes, he’s old; and, never a gifted public speaker, he makes cringe-inducing mistakes. It would be great if he were 20 years younger. His age really is a legitimate concern for many voters.

    But for the media to make this the overarching issue of the campaign is nothing short of journalistic malpractice.

    In other words, after the throat-clearing and the obligatory “to be sure” bit: Stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

    But “fetch” is happening. And not because the “corporate media,” as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate calls it—meaning CNN and the New York Times and presumably the outlet in which she writes (Slate’s parent company does approximately $4 billion a year in revenue; it isn’t exactly Fugazi on tour in 1989)—wills it to be so. It is not as though media outlets and like-minded groupings of media outlets do not have agendas of their own—they certainly do. But their ability to drive the national political agenda is wildly overstated—traditionally by conservatives, who have got a lot of mileage out of complaining about being shut out of the mainstream media and persecuted by it, but also by Democrats and progressives when it suits them.

    For readers not as immersed in pop culture as KDW and are puzzled by the "fetch" reference: here you go.

  • Least surprising news of the day. Elizabeth Nolan Brown reveals that Sarah Silverman's Copyright Lawsuit Against OpenAI Is Full of Nonsense Claims.

    Is it a crime to learn something by reading a copyrighted book? What if you later summarize that book to a friend or write a description of it online? Of course, these things are perfectly legal when a person does them. But does that change when it's an artificial intelligence system doing the reading, learning, and summarizing?

    Sarah Silverman, comedian and author of the book The Bedwetter, seems to think it does. She and several other authors are suing OpenAI, the tech company behind the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT, through which users submit text prompts and receive back AI-generated answers.

    Last week, a federal judge largely rejected their claims.

    Also see one of my favorite posts from last year, a fisking of a Facebook item from Joyce Maynard: My AI Wants To Kill Your Mama.

Recently on the movie blog: