URLs du Jour

2021-02-24

If I were a parent of government-schooled kids, I'd probably be disgusted. Instead I'm amused and admiring Michael Ramirez's art: Sacrificing kids.

[Sacrificing Kids]

Let's try to outsource our outrage today:

  • For one, Glenn Greenwald supplies plenty of it. House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Core Press Freedoms.

    Not even two months into their reign as the majority party that controls the White House and both houses of Congress, key Democrats have made clear that one of their top priorities is censorship of divergent voices. On Saturday, I detailed how their escalating official campaign to coerce and threaten social media companies into more aggressively censoring views that they dislike — including by summoning social media CEOs to appear before them for the third time in less than five months — is implicating, if not already violating, core First Amendment rights of free speech.

    Now they are going further — much further. The same Democratic House Committee that is demanding greater online censorship from social media companies now has its sights set on the removal of conservative cable outlets, including Fox News, from the airwaves.

    Glenn goes on to excerpt the Eshoo/McNerney letter to cable providers, handily highlighting the naughty bits. (I mean the Constitutionally naughty bits.) His conclusion is pretty brutal:

    But corporate media outlets and Democrats (excuse the redundancy) who spent the last four years posturing as virulent defenders of press freedoms never meant it. Like so much of what they claimed to believe, it was fraudulent. The proof is that they are now mute, if not supportive, as Democrats use their status as majority party to launch an assault against press freedoms far more egregious than anything Trump got close to doing.

    Indeed. And there's also…


  • Matt Taibbi's headline: Even By Democratic Party Standards, Censoring Fox News Is An Insanely Stupid Idea.

    Two and a half years ago, when Alex Jones of Infowars was kicked off a series of tech platforms in a clearly coordinated decision, I knew this was not going to be an isolated thing.

    Given that people like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy were saying the ouster of Jones was just a “good first step,” it seemed obvious the tactic was not going to be confined to a few actors. But corporate media critics insisted the precedent would not be applied more broadly.

    “I don't think we are going to be seeing big tech take action against Fox News… any time soon,” commented CNN’s Oliver Darcy.

    Darcy was wrong. Just a few years later, calls to ban Fox are not only common, they’re intensifying, with media voices from Brian Stelter on CNN to MSNBC analyst Anand Giridharadas to former Media Matters critic Eric Boehlert to Washington Post columnists Max Boot and Margaret Sullivan all on board.

    So good for Greenwald and Taibbi. Most progressive outlets are stuck bemoaning that censorship isn't going far enough. For example, as Taibbi notes, Alex Jones got bumped off Facebook, yay! But a recent article at Buzzfeed's bemoans: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures. How? Well, Zuck failed to also throw out Jones' "legions of followers" who remained free to "share his lies".

    Well, obviously that won't do.


  • At the WSJ (may be paywalled), James Freeman looks at The ‘Experts’ Cited by the New Censors. Specifically, Eshoo and McNerney, who (in case you hadn't noticed) are only looking asymmetrically:

    But it’s clear that they only want to discipline one side. The Democrats claim, “Experts have noted that the right-wing media ecosystem is “much more susceptible...to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.”

    The “experts” quoted are three Harvard academics, and the lead author is law professor Yochai Benkler. His take on “right-wing” media is perhaps not surprising given that according to the OpenSecrets website he donates exclusively to left-wing politicians, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.).

    Oh, hey! I know those guys, I read their book back in 2019, Network Propaganda, and I wasn't that impressed.


  • At the Dispatch, Nancy Rommelmann writes about yet another source of disinformation. Words as Weapons: How Activist Journalists are Changing the New York Times. Long, it goes into detail on some collateral damage resulting from the NYT's firing of Donald McNeil for use of the n-word. Well worth reading, but this stuck out, where Ms. Rommelmann contrasts the NYT coverage of last summer's Portland Oregon protests, with her own experiences as a reporter for Reason:

    Nearly every piece in the Times about the protests denied that Antifa was causing the mayhem. But I knew they were. I saw them with my own eyes. Antifa members told me they were. Instead, Times coverage skated past Antifa’s culpability; sometimes, it blamed far-right groups for the violence. In the dozens of nights I was on the ground, this was not the case. Far-right groups made appearances, to be sure, but they were not the people setting fires and breaking windows, starting in May and continuing even now. And thus the question becomes: If I cannot trust the paper to accurately report what I know to be true, how do I trust it at all?

    Good question, Nancy.


  • You know what they used to say about immigrants: they do the job Americans won't do.

    I don't think Louise will actually have to immigrate to do this job, but still.


Last Modified 2021-02-24 4:00 PM EST

Dune Messiah

[Amazon Link]

To be sung to the tune of "This Old Man":

Kwisatz Haderach
Give a worm a bone
Paul Muad'dib is going home

So anyway: two down on my Dune reading project. (Frank Herbert novels only.)

This installment is pretty grim. Paul defeated the evil Harkonnens in the first book, but now it's twelve years later. He's become the emperor of the known galaxy, but this has only caused him grief. Jihadists operating under his name have killed about sixty billion folks; he is not consoled by the (apparent) fact that his visions say that this is probably the best outcome that could have been expected.

Worse, he's opposed by a coalition of enemies: the spice-addicted Spacing Guild, the shape-shifting Tleilaxu, the Bene Gesserit (represented by the crone Gaius Helen Mohiam, who caused Paul a lot of grief in the first book), and Princess Irulan, Paul's loveless wife. The key is a ghola of the dead mentat Duncan Idaho, reanimated and reprogrammed for an evil purpose.

Paul's allies are only semi-reliable: consort Chani (who'd like to bear his child, but is being fed contraceptives secretly by Irulan) and sister Alia (who's even wackier than Paul).

So there's a lot going on, and (if anything) Herbert's portentious, gassy prose from the first book is even more pronounced here. Still, it's short.

URLs du Jour

2021-02-23

[Amazon Link]

  • Our Amazon Product du Jour is in honor of Obnoxious Amazon. Michael Brendan Dougherty:

    A great deal of life in a self-governing nation is well governed by conventions rather than law. Which is precisely what makes Amazon’s decision to no longer sell Ryan Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally: Answers for Our Transgender Moment so obnoxious.

    We trust publishing houses to decide what gets published, and to give those books their imprimatur and prestige. Those who pay close attention to these things know that Regnery is known for big best-selling conservative books. Or they know the prestige of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Booksellers choose what gets displayed and stocked in their stores. That’s an important role. But, aside from dedicated specialty stores, all of the larger and general-audience booksellers will sell you any book that they can reasonably obtain, even if it is not regularly stocked on their shelves. They will sell you Nazi propaganda books. Or Calvinist theology. Or instructional books on making firearms at home. They don’t typically inquire why you want the books you want.

    My respect for Amazon just went down a couple of notches.

    Not that this makes any sense whatsoever. You can get (as I type) Mein Kampf at Amazon. You can get The Communist Manifesto at Amazon. But not When Harry Became Sally? That's (somehow) something people need to be prevented from buying?

    As I find myself saying a lot these days: what am I missing here?


  • The First Amendment prevents Congress from decreeing that news channels they dislike be removed from cable. But (as I've noticed before) some Congressional Democrats would like to pressure private companies into doing just that. Robby Soave at Reason has the story. Lawmakers to Cable Providers: Why Are You Letting News Channels Say These Things?.

    Today two Democratic members of Congress sent letters to the presidents of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Cox, Dish, and other cable and satellite companies implying that they should either stop carrying Fox News, One America News Network, and Newsmax or pressure them to change their coverage. According to the lawmakers, these conservative channels are responsible for promoting misinformation and political violence.

    "To our knowledge, the cable, satellite, and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets," wrote Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, both of California.

    Eshoo and McNerney should (1) peruse the oath of office they took a few weeks back to support the Constitution; then (2) resign in shame.


  • John McWhorter writes more on the Elect. Like many people (me included) Professor McWhorter has noticed the important thing about Wokism: it's a religion.

    It must be clear that I do not mean religion as a comparison. I genuinely mean that we are witnessing the birth of a new religion, just as Romans witnessed the birth of Christianity.

    I found his section on evangelicism very telling:

    “Why don’t they allow people to have different opinions?”

    “How dare they call me a racist and then tell me I’m a racist for denying it!”

    You’re missing the point. The Elect can seem truly baffling – until we see that they are a religion. Specifically, an evangelical one.

    To wit: do we wonder why the fundamentalist Christian does not see their beliefs as just one of many valid opinions? They see themselves as bearers of a Good News which, if all people would simply open up and see it, would create a perfect world. That most of the world does not fall in with them is something they learn to bear with toleration, with a hope that in the future things will turn their way. We see a certain coherence in Christians who see the rest of us as “heathen.” We may disagree, but can easily imagine someone under the impression that their worldview – if it includes unreachable belief in things we never see or feel which they insist are real nevertheless -- is Truth while ours is an error. Christianity (or another Abrahamic religion) is something we often grow up around, or at least know of, from an early age. It feels normal. Because it is.

    I keep going back to that letter sent out from UNH Lecturers United, which pictured their job as "fostering belief" in the tenets of "Anti-Racism". Which they saw as unassailable Truth, with any dissenters similar to flat-earthers. McWhorter has their number pretty well.


  • Kevin D. Williamson notes and wonders: Mystery Economy Succeeding and Struggling. What's Next?.

    Some of it is bewildering. I recently went car shopping, and, like any middle-aged Texan with reasonably good credit and a rich fantasy life based on immoderate boyhood viewings of Red Dawn, I took a look at some wonderful customized trucks, mostly from the Rocky Ridge gang. I had no real intention of buying any such thing (the roads are paved where I live — badly paved, nonetheless paved) but I was almost offended at the prices. Cool fender flares or no, there’s no way I’m paying a hundred grand (in the imaginary world in which I’m in the market for a $100,000 car) for a jacked-up Ram pickup. But they don’t need to sell one to me: They can’t keep them on the lot. High-end Jeeps, Toyota trucks, Range Rovers, Corvettes, the Mercedes S-Class, and other rolling emblems of mid-American ostentation are going as fast as they can unload them.

    New-car prices are strong because of production interruptions that have taken the slack out of the inventory, but business is booming in everything from flower shops to bicycle builders to guitar luthiers. Some luxury-goods sellers have been hit by the lack of tourists visiting their boutiques on vacation, but even unwieldy global conglomerates such as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton are holding up pretty well — the firm just announced that it has acquired a 50-percent stake in Jay-Z’s Armand de Brignac line of Champagne in a deal said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The wine shops are doing an astonishing trade in $750 bottles of Chateau Margaux, and if you want to buy a new Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini, you’ll be lucky to take delivery sometime toward the end of 2022 — and they’ll act like they’re doing you a favor. Even for a fun-loving capitalist running dog such as myself, this looks like madness.

    But even with all that bananas spending going on, the savings rate is soaring.

    Aren’t we supposed to be in some kind of national crisis?

    Like me, KDW is no economist, but he sees plenty of reasons to be worried about what's coming up in a few months or years.


  • And, my friends, We Need To Have A National Conversation About Offensive Muppets. And Kylee Zempel is the person to lead that conversation:

    “The Muppets” was anything but diverse, inclusive, and inspirational.

    Take Kermit the Frog, for starters. The straight male protagonist’s prejudice shows every time he opens his little amphibian mouth. Kermit’s statement in his hit “The Rainbow Connections,” that rainbows are “only illusions,” is clearly a direct attack on the LGBT community. According to an unnamed source, Kermit’s lyrics are actually a frogwhistle to Pepe and his ilk to literally erase trans people.

    And how about his constant gripes about his skin color? “It’s not that easy bein’ green”? Kermit’s attempts to brand himself as a frog of color is offensive to the BIPOC community.

    Kylee notes that the Swedish Chef's speech patterns are pretty clearly Norwegian. What else is he trying to hide?


Last Modified 2021-02-24 5:23 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-02-22

[Amazon Link]

  • Fabio Rojas writes at Heterodox Academy: Arguments for and Against Capitalism in Black Intellectual Tradition.

    There is a popular view arguing that racial repression and other American institutions are so enmeshed with each other that it is impossible to separate them. Our politics, our economy – everything – is complicit in perpetuating the subjugation of African Americans. In the popular media, this view was best expressed in Ibram X. Kendi’s best seller How to be an Antiracist, which bluntly stated that anti-racism and anti-capitalism are really the same thing. On page 161, Kendi writes, “To love capitalism is to love racism.” Among academic writers, this view is often associated with intersectional theorists, who often argue that racial inequality is “co-constituted” with economic inequality and capitalist repression.

    Just a reminder: the University Near Here puts Kendi's book on its official list of "Racial Justice Resources". It's also one of the recommended works pushed by Portsmouth (NH) Public Library as part of its Read Woke Reading Challenge.

    Were I in a position to do so, I'd ask the folks in charge of these lists:

    1. Do you agree with Ibram X. Kendi's assertion that "To love capitalism is to love racism"?
    2. If not, do you recommend any books that provide an alternate view?

    Just askin'.


  • And this is amusing. From the Daily Wire: Disney Slaps ‘Offensive Content’ Label On The Muppet Show.

    Disney has decided that “The Muppet Show” — featuring Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy — contains “offensive content” and can now be seen only on an adult account.

    When viewers open the streaming service, which made five series available last Friday, viewers are greeted with the disclaimer: “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the Daily Mail reported.

    “Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe,” the statement says.

    Good golly Miss Molly, what utter pap.

    As Ann Althouse observes, they're probably not talking about the Swedish Chef.


  • [Amazon Link]
    So the current dead-trees version of WIRED was entirely devoted to 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, coming out next month, Amazon link on your right.

    It's the story of how the Chinese pwns the US armed forces, and America's infrastructure generally by advanced cybernetic takeovers of networks and computers. I can't recommend it. Let me excerpt a single sentence from a paragraph explaining why an Indian-American diplomat words things a certain way when talking to his mother:

    The cause of their estrangement was an arranged marriage between a teenage Lakshmi and a young naval officer—a friend of her older brother's—that ended in an affair, a marriage-for-love to Chowdhury's father, who had been a medical student with plans to study at Columbia University, which led to Lakshmi's departure for the United States while the family honor—at least according to her elder brother—was left in tatters.

    Man, I lost interest in tracking that story about five words in. How did you do?

    Tom Clancy, whatever his stylistic sins, would not have written that sentence.

URLs du Jour

2021-02-21

[Amazon Link]

I try to live by Elvis Costello's sage advice: "I used to be disgusted; now I try to be amused." Hence our Amazon Product du Jour.

Unfortunately, I only find one of my three items today to be amusing.

  • We mentioned Jodi Shaw back in January. At the time, Ms. Shaw was on "paid leave" from Smith College. Her offense was to speak out against Smith's "anti-racism" theology, publicly and cogently.

    Well, that can't be tolerated. Bari Weiss has the next chapter in Ms. Shaw's story: Whistleblower at Smith College Resigns Over Racism. Here are a couple paragraphs from her resignation letter to Smith's president, shared with Bari Weiss (and, hence, the world).

    I can no longer continue to work in an environment where I am constantly subjected to additional scrutiny because of my skin color. I can no longer work in an environment where I am told, publicly, that my personal feelings of discomfort under such scrutiny are not legitimate but instead are a manifestation of white supremacy. Perhaps most importantly, I can no longer work in an environment where I am expected to apply similar race-based stereotypes and assumptions to others, and where I am told — when I complain about having to engage in what I believe to be discriminatory practices — that there are “legitimate reasons for asking employees to consider race” in order to achieve the college’s “social justice objectives.”

    What passes for “progressive” today at Smith and at so many other institutions is regressive. It taps into humanity’s worst instincts to break down into warring factions, and I fear this is rapidly leading us to a very twisted place. It terrifies me that others don’t seem to see that racial segregation and demonization are wrong and dangerous no matter what its victims look like. Being told that any disagreement or feelings of discomfort somehow upholds “white supremacy” is not just morally wrong. It is psychologically abusive.

    But, really, Read The Whole Thing. And wonder if it's Coming Soon to A Campus Near You.

    Or maybe it already has.

    Ms. Shaw says she was offered a "settlement" in exchange for her silence, which she declined. She's a divorced mother of two.

    Bari Weiss includes a link to Ms. Shaw's GoFundMe page.


  • Glenn Greenwald has more head-shaking news: Congress Escalates Pressure on Tech Giants to Censor More, Threatening the First Amendment.

    For the third time in less than five months, the U.S. Congress has summoned the CEOs of social media companies to appear before them, with the explicit intent to pressure and coerce them to censor more content from their platforms. On March 25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will interrogate Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebooks’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai at a hearing which the Committee announced will focus “on misinformation and disinformation plaguing online platforms.”

    The Committee’s Chair, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and the two Chairs of the Subcommittees holding the hearings, Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), said in a joint statement that the impetus was “falsehoods about the COVID-19 vaccine” and “debunked claims of election fraud.” They argued that “these online platforms have allowed misinformation to spread, intensifying national crises with real-life, grim consequences for public health and safety,” adding: “This hearing will continue the Committee’s work of holding online platforms accountable for the growing rise of misinformation and disinformation.”

    House Democrats have made no secret of their ultimate goal with this hearing: to exert control over the content on these online platforms. “Industry self-regulation has failed,” they said, and therefore “we must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation.” In other words, they intend to use state power to influence and coerce these companies to change which content they do and do not allow to be published.

    Glenn notes that it would be obviously unconstitutional for Congress to directly censor Internet speech. How is it any more Constitutional for Congress to coerce a company (via "regulation") to do the censoring on its behalf?

    My Congresscritter is not on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but the other NH representative, Annie Kuster, is. If you're so inclined to write…


  • Boy, if there ever was a news kerfuffle that deserved a "Democrats Pounce" headline, it would be Ted Cruz's Cancun Connection. Kyle Smith finds the Media Coverage Excessive.

    As usual though, our guardians of the truth are embarrassing themselves and making themselves look at least as punchable as Cruz in the childish glee with which they are “covering” — meaning amplifying, commenting on, and generally exploding in spasms of ecstasy about this story. I count seven pieces on this in the New York Times, 17 pieces on CNN, and a mind-boggling 27 pieces in the Washington Post (so far), many of them clickbait meta-stories commenting on the fact that others are commenting on it:  “How Cartoonists are roasting Ted Cruz’s Texas-to-Cancun getaway,” etc. The WaPo has also been kind enough to proffer such advice such as “Why Ted Cruz should’ve known this was a bad idea.” I kinda think people already had that one figured out.

    The media is doing its level best to torpedo any and all GOP national figures, well in advance of 2024.


Last Modified 2021-02-21 11:01 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-02-20

[Amazon Link]

  • P. J. O'Rourke on America's Populism Problem. What say you, Peej?

    One big, honking populist has just been shooed out of the White House. And his replacement – while more of an old political hack and Washington establishmentarian than a populist per se – is coming in trailing strong fumes of populism from his own political party.

    Populism isn’t a Right-wing or Left-wing ideology. Populism isn’t an ideology at all… It’s about feelings, not ideas. Populism isn’t conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic. But it is both MAGA and BLM, both QAnon and Antifa – AOC in a Boogaloo Boys Hawaiian shirt.

    He's not a fan.

    In our populist moment, everyone "knows" that they're a victim. They're oppressed! By … well, pick your oppressor.

    Back in 2014, George F. Will's column was spiked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for daring to observe that "when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate." This has only gotten truer since, and it's a game anyone can play.


  • Kevin D. Williamson looks with amusement at Senator Ted Cruz's cruise to Cancun: Vacation Unseemly, Not Wrong.

    If the world is mad at Senator Cruz, it is not because he has done anything that hurt anybody. What he has done is judged to be something else: unseemly. The democratic religion in the United States holds, for reasons of pure superstition, that there must be a radical identification between political leaders and the people they represent, which is why Senator Cruz of Princeton and Harvard Law sometimes does that ridiculous good-ol’-boy shtick of his. If the people of Houston are going to suffer — and they are suffering — then Senator Cruz is expected to stay and suffer alongside them, even if he need not do so, and even if prudence would recommend his not doing so.

    Would his staying make anybody in Texas better off? No. If anything, it might make them worse off: Suppose Senator Cruz and a neighbor three houses down both have an emergency and dial 911 at the same moment — does anybody think that a senator is going to the end of the line, even if he doesn’t ask for or desire special treatment? If it were necessary to evacuate people, does anybody think that a senator would not have a seat on the bus, even if that meant someone else losing one?

    The Fox News headline is pretty good: ABC 'World News Tonight' gives Cruz Cancun fiasco four times more coverage than Cuomo nursing home scandal. You know, the scandal that actually killed gramps and grandma.


  • David Henderson's pretty good on The Opportunity-Killing Minimum Wage.

    Among non-economists and politicians, the minimum wage is one of the most misunderstood issues in economic policy. President Biden and almost all Democrats and some Republicans in the US Congress advocate increasing the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over four years. They argue that many of the workers earning between $7.25 and $15 will get a raise in hourly wage. That’s true. But what they don’t tell you, and what many of them probably don’t know, is that many workers in that wage range will suffer a huge drop in wages—from whatever they’re earning down to zero. Other low-wage workers will stay employed but will work fewer hours a week. Many low-wage workers will find that their non-wage benefits will fall and that employers will work them harder. Why all those effects? Because an increase in the minimum wage doesn’t magically make workers more productive. A minimum wage of $15 an hour will exceed the productivity of many low-wage workers.

    Henderson laments the good old days when the New York Times (!) could officially editorialize: The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00. No, not 1893; it was 1987!


  • Things aren't much better across the pond: Brendan O'Neil writes at Spiked: It’s time to get real about freedom of speech.

    I’m glad sections of the left find the free-speech crisis so funny. Or ‘free-speech crisis’, as they always put it, those sarky quote marks signalling their scepticism towards the idea that there’s a censorship problem on campus and elsewhere in society. ‘Freeze peach!’, they cry at anyone who thinks it is a bad thing that people can be No Platformed, threatened with death or sacked from their jobs for expressing the ‘wrong’ opinion. Hilarious, isn’t it?

    It’s hilarious when activists piss on the door of a feminist academic’s office because they don’t like her criticisms of gender self-ID. It’s hilarious when a disabled working-class grandfather is sacked from his job at Asda because he posted a Billy Connolly skit on social media that made fun of Islam. It’s hilarious when a Labour shadow minister loses her job because she dared to raise concerns about the grooming and rape of working-class girls in various parts of England. It’s hilarious when JK Rowling is bombarded with messages saying ‘fuck you bitch’, ‘bitch I’ll kill you’ and ‘choke on my cock’ because she wrote an entirely non-prejudiced essay on trans issues. It’s all so funny. ‘FREEZE PEACH’ lol.

    Make no mistake: when the cultural and media elites mock the idea of a free-speech crisis, when they insist cancel culture doesn’t exist, this is the reality they are denying. This is the abuse, demonisation and, yes, censorship that they claim is not real. Actually, it’s worse than that. These censorship deniers do not merely question the reality of these grim assaults on people’s free expression – after all, we can all see the tweets calling JK Rowling a ‘cunt’ and a ‘whore’, and we all know what urine splashed on someone’s door looks and smells like, so we know this stuff is real. No, they also implicitly justify these chilling crusades against open discussion. By refusing to describe these attacks as attacks on freedom of speech, they normalise them, they green-light them.

    Well, that language is a little more R-rated than we usually have at Pun Salad, even for quoted excerpts. But Brendan's pissed (in the American sense of that word), and he deserves to be.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

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

Encouraged by a review I saw somewhere, and not wanting to watch another episode of the increasingly dour Blacklist, I switched to the new Roku, and watched this on Amazon Prime. Even better than I expected! It's smart, funny, moving, well-acted, … that's fine by me.

It wouldn't hurt if you've seen Groundhog Day. (I've watched it probably a dozen times.) Because we come in where our hero, Mark, has been dropped into one of those temporal loops, he's already figured it out, and he's gotten to the point where Bill Murray was about 80% of the way through his movie: choreographing his day down to the second. Doing good deeds, trying to put the moves on a pretty girl, stuff like that. Until midnight, when he's transported back to his bedroom for another trip through the same day.

But one day he meets Margaret, who's also aware that she's temporally trapped. (This is something that never happened to Bill Murray.) They travel through their town, looking for amazing moments (aka, "Tiny Perfect Things"): an eagle grabbing a fish from a lake, an impromptu concert from a music store's after-hours custodian, …

But Margaret has a secret, preventing her from Taking Things To The Next Level with Mark. Mark, being a gentleman, takes that about as well he can. But he starts trying to find ways to break out of the loop. An ambition Margaret doesn't share.

If you're looking to fill a 1 hour and 36 minute hole in your life, and you have Amazon Prime, this is a pretty good choice.

URLs du Jour

2021-02-19

  • This is … CNN: Fact check: Biden makes at least four false statistical claims at CNN town hall.

    Yes, however mildly and forgivingly, they did point out that President Wheezy had a bad case of Malarkeyism:

    We're still looking into some of the claims Biden made, so this article is not comprehensive. But we can tell you now that he made at least four false claims -- all of them involving statistics -- about the minimum wage, undocumented immigrants, China's economy and Covid-19 vaccinations.

    Well, statistics! That's a hard subject! Who could expect a geezer like Joe to have statistics right?


  • Ann Althouse takes the WaPo "fact checker", Glenn Kessler, to school:

    Biden is making a lot of misstatements of fact. The WaPo fact checker, Glenn Kessler, writes:

    During his recent town hall on CNN, President Biden made a number of mistaken claims and assertions. He suggested racehorse owners receive tax breaks worth $9 billion, almost enough to pay for free attendance at community college — a claim that left tax experts scratching their heads. He said that the $7.25 minimum wage set in 2009 would be worth $20 if indexed for inflation, a statement that only makes sense if you are measuring from 1968. He wrongly stated that “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants were not Hispanic.

    No Pinocchios assigned for any of that. It's all so obviously wrong that maybe it's not worth bothering to investigate. But Kessler's approach in these columns is, I think, to isolate one thing and figure out where it stands on the continuum from utter truth to bald-faced lie. Here, he's chosen the 17,000 with Xi Jingping assertion. 

    Ann detects a Kesslerian Double Standard between Trump's treatment and Biden's. As befitting a retired professor, she observes: "Biden gets graded on a curve."


  • And the least surprising headline of the day comes from Axios and ace reporter Felix Salmon: Trust in media hits new low.

    Of course. But what's the remedy? Well…

    Media outlets can continue to report reliable facts, but that won't turn the trend around on its own. What's needed is for trusted institutions to visibly embrace the news media.

    Emphasis added.

    In other words: "media outlets" are doing just fine! Just keep on reporting "reliable facts", like you've been doing all along, media outlets!

    Instead, we need "trusted institutions" to start propagandizing on behalf of the media.

    Salmon specifically mentions CEOs as one of those "trusted institutions".

    Felix, you know the easiest way for a "trusted institution" to lose that trust? Start telling me things I know aren't true.


  • Jeff Jacoby advises both sides: Don't get hooked on executive orders. He details the whipsaw nature of EOs between Obama → Trump → Biden.

    This has become the norm in American politics, and it should disturb anyone who values representative government and constitutional order — regardless of partisan loyalty. Americans who condemned Obama for bypassing Congress and unilaterally changing policy should have been just as unhappy when Trump later did the same thing. If a president's moves to govern by diktat were alarming under Trump, they should be no less worrisome under Biden. Yet too many pundits and politicos condemn executive imperiousness only when it comes from presidents they don't like. When they support the occupant of the White House, their response is more like that of Paul Begala, one of Bill Clinton's political advisers, who in 1998 summarized the appeal of presidential reliance on executive orders.

    "Stroke of the pen, law of the land," Begala told the New York Times. "Kind of cool."

    It's not cool, man.

    Biden should put down the duckie pen. And Congress should start doing its job of legislating.


  • Patterico has a Substack presence. Unfortunately (but understandably) unfree. But he plugs it on his blog, and includes an excerpt on income inequality that's very good. Working off the story of Dr. Gokal (the Houston was fired for "stealing" COVID vaccines, i.e. vaccinating people with shots that would have otherwise been thrown out) and the CDC's decision for race-based vaccination guidelines:

    So we have now seen two stories — the story of Dr. Gokal and the story of the CDC’s prioritization of vaccines — where officials came to the conclusion that the pursuit of “equality” may be worth sacrificing lives. (Only certain lives can be sacrificed, of course. When you’re seeking equality, some are more equal than others!) Which leads me to my final topic: that of “income inequality.”

    Is there any stupider phrase in the English language?

    Let me be clear: income inequality is never a real problem. If it were, there would be an easy solution: pick the person with the lowest income, and then make everyone else “equal” to that person. If everyone is equally poor, they are still “equal” — and there is no longer any income inequality.

    There will be crushing poverty, but that’s OK, right?

    A point I've made myself, but not so well.


  • Veronique de Rugy notes the coming corporate welfare: Never Let a Good Manufactured Crisis Go to Waste.

    A seemingly effective way for politicians to justify our need for their services is to fabricate or exaggerate a problem, promise to fix said problem with a new program or lots of spending and then claim victory in the form of public acclaim and reelection.

    A good example of this behavior is President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan, which reflects a tweet by then-candidate Biden that he does "not buy for one second that the vitality of American manufacturing is a thing of the past."

    His plan asks for $400 billion to purchase American-made equipment, along with $300 billion in government spending on research and development. Hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of additional subsidies will be used to encourage the production and sale of other domestically manufactured products.

    Joe, the easiest way to ensure the non-viability of American manufacturing is to make it dependent on billions in unsustainable government spending.

UNH COVID False Positives? Probably Not. Unreasonable Panic? Maybe.

[I've broken this out into a separate article because I slag my former employer for so many other reasons. And it's one of those rare occasions where I've come closer to Actual Journalism than my usual arrogant opinionizing.]

I was intrigued by this Greg Piper article at the College Fix: False-positive COVID scandal rocks Harvard, but student paper doesn’t ask for ‘positive’ threshold. Here's the problem:

The PCR tests most commonly used to test for the novel coronavirus are idiotically sensitive, to the point where they can catch dead virus or otherwise insignificant viral loads. This means even a “positive” test indicates a non-infectious person – someone who shouldn’t be forced to quarantine, much less wear a mask. (Reminder that people without symptoms are extremely unlikely to transmit virus even in the same home.)

I winced a little at Greg's "much less wear a mask" wording, implying that masking is a more drastic measure than quarantining. But I get the point: a low viral load means you're probably not going to infect someone, and there's a good chance you're immune yourself. At least for a while.

Greg points to this New York Times article (from August): Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be. It details how the PCR test can, depending on the "cycle threshold" used, generate a positive result for very small, probably negligible, viral loads. See above: there's no need to panic in such cases. But (since only a yes/no result is returned), people panic anyway.

And then Greg points to a February 12 Harvard Crimson article: Updated Lab Protocols Invalidate Positive Covid-19 Test Results for More Than Two Dozen Harvard Affiliates. Indicating that the smart folks at Harvard may have made the exact blunder the New York Times detailed back in August.

So that's Harvard. But the University Near Here recently got its students back on campus. And near-immediately detected a spike in COVID cases, i.e., positive test results. Causing a shift to online classes only.

Which caused me to wonder if UNH was making the same mistake as Harvard. Hm.

UNH has an address for people to ask COVID questions. Even though I'm no longer affiliated other than my (now useless) employee-emeritus library card, I took a chance:

After reading a recent New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/29/health/coronavirus-testing.html) I was wondering if UNH uses the PCR test for Covid, and if so, what "cycle threshold" is used to determine a positive result?

I didn't have a lot of hope on getting a response. But near-immediately:

The UNH Durham lab does use PCR testing. There are actually several different CT thresholds we use in a complicated method, so there isn't a single CT value.

OK… well, nice try. I thanked my correspondent for his answer:

Thanks very much for the response. As a retired UNH employee, I should have known it wouldn't be simple.

If there's publicly-available documentation for the complicated method, I wouldn't mind a pointer, but if there's not, no worries.

Best wishes!

And I really didn't expect a response after that. But I got one anyway:

I don't think there's anything publicly available, but I was able to find some more details for you:

The design of the UNH's testing strategy is unique in that a positive result is analyzed multiple times so false positives are very rare, included a pooled and unpooled test. In addition, if a positive is detected using our surveillance testing, that person is then called into to Health Services to get another swab, this time under CLIA regulations, specifically that the specimen is collected by a trained professional. That CLIA-certified swab is never pooled.

In summary this testing strategy of doing 3 different PCR runs for each positive and the fact that it relies on two separate swabs of a person results in a much lower false positive rate than most labs. Regarding Ct values, the lab analyzes both control and multiple regions of the viral genome. The Ct value is a relative measure of the concentration of target in the PCR reaction. The Ct value is not a lab specific number, nor is it absolute. The COVID method is qualitative (yes/no for presence of virus) not quantitively. So, since the experiment is not designed to be quantitative, Ct values are not clinically relevant and are not reported.

So, good news and bad: UNH understandably worries about people bungling their self-test in a way that causes false positives. But they don't seem too worried about the false positive concern expressed in the NYT article.

Good on UNH for being open about this. They seem confident that they're not getting false positives. Whether they are unnecessarily labelling people with negligible COVID viral loads as dangerous? I don't know.

There's also the possibility that UNH's assertion that "Ct values are not clinically relevant" is totally correct, according to current best practice, and the August NYT article is totally misguided.

I'll keep my non-virologist eyes open.


Last Modified 2021-02-19 7:39 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-02-18

Our Eye Candy du Jour is from xkcd: Animal Songs:

[Animal Songs]

Mouseover: "Dr. Fauci is not permitted to have a cat, because as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, his petting one would be considered giving aid and comfort to an allergen."

  • On a less cheerful note: I can't say much about Rush Limbaugh. I never had much of an opportunity (and not a lot of inclination, for that matter) to listen to the radio during the day.

    And on those rare occasions when I happened upon his show while driving, it always seemed I had a passenger in the car who demanded a station change ASAP.

    Still, rest in peace, Mr. Limbaugh.


  • In our "There's not a bad idea that GOP senators can't make worse" Department, Alex Nowrasteh brings us the latest: Sens. Romney and Cotton Propose Universal E-Verify and $15 Minimum Wage.

    Senators Romney (R-UT) and Cotton (R-AR) announced that they intend to introduce a bill to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour and mandate E‐Verify for all new hires in the United States. Immigration restrictionists have tried to use minimum wages to reduce immigration for more than a century. Combining a high minimum wage with E‐Verify is not as surprising as it first seems. Restrictionists assume that higher minimum wages will increase unemployment for lower‐skilled workers, which it will, and that will mostly force lower skilled immigrant workers out of the country entirely.

    Why it's almost as if Romney and Cotton were trying to revivify The Racist History of Minimum Wage Laws.


  • But you don't have to be a Republican to have stupid ideas. David Harsanyi takes a look at Bill Gates’s Climate Hysteria.

    This past Sunday, Bill Gates (net worth, $133 billion) and Anderson Cooper ($110 million) got together on 60 Minutes to discuss the numerous sacrifices Americans will be expected to make to avert an imminent climate catastrophe.

    First, we should refrain from referring to these sorts of conversations as “journalism,” since Cooper never challenges any of Gates’s wild predictions nor displays even a hint of professional skepticism regarding the subject matter. Cooper simply cues up the next talking point like a host of an in-house corporate video.

    Gates, who has a new book out called “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” told Cooper that he believes that climate change “is the toughest challenge humanity has ever faced,” and wealthy nations — not China or India, one assumes — must get to zero carbon emissions by 2050 or the world is basically kaput. Not 40 percent. Not five. Zero. Elsewhere in the interview, Gates called for a nationalistic “all-out effort, you know, like a world war, but it’s us against greenhouse gases.”

    Now Bill Gates is not stupid. But (as Harsanyi notes) he's got fearmongering as his main weapon, not rationality.


  • Which reminds me (from the Free Beacon): Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Behind 'Anti-Racist' Math Push.

    A radical new push to purge math curricula of allegedly racist practices like showing your work and finding the correct answer is bankrolled by one of the nation's most prominent nonprofits: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    The Gates Foundation is the only donor mentioned on the homepage of A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, a group of 25 education organizations whose curriculum states that asking students to show their work and find the right answer is an inherently racist practice.

    I can't believe Bill Gates really wants a math-illiterate crop of students coming out of the K-12 system. But it would make them a lot easier to control by technocratic elites.


  • Glenn Greenwald calls out The False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot.

    What took place at the Capitol on January 6 was undoubtedly a politically motivated riot. As such, it should not be controversial to regard it as a dangerous episode. Any time force or violence is introduced into what ought to be the peaceful resolution of political conflicts, it should be lamented and condemned.

    But none of that justifies lying about what happened that day, especially by the news media. Condemning that riot does not allow, let alone require, echoing false claims in order to render the event more menacing and serious than it actually was. There is no circumstance or motive that justifies the dissemination of false claims by journalists. The more consequential the event, the less justified, and more harmful, serial journalistic falsehoods are.

    Which reminds me: on Tuesday, my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, published a column headlined "Misinformation abounds regarding events of Jan. 6".

    Which itself contained (at least) two bits of misinformation: (1) "the Capitol MAGA mob killed one policeman with blows to the head with a fire extinguisher"; (2) the mob "brought zip ties" into the Capitol building with (apparent) intent to "take prisoners".

    Thanks to Greenwald's reporting, I'm almost certain neither of these things is true. I wrote an LTE to Foster's on this, see if they publish it.


  • Twitchy gives us the latest self-reveal from California: Oakley, CA school board members caught trashing parents.

    I wasn't sure where Oakley was, so I looked it up. It turns out the answer is: "not far enough away from San Francisco."

    As has been made eminently clear during the last few months: the government schoolers do not even pretend any more that the purpose of their system is to benefit students.


  • And finally, the Google LFOD News Alert points to an article by Harold Meyerson: What Having No Income Tax Gets a State During a Pandemic. Which contains:

    The states with the most progressive income taxes, it turns out, have been able to ride out the pandemic with little if any fiscal disruption. California, perpetually derided by right-wingers for having the most progressive income tax, actually saw no reduction in revenues between 2019 and 2020, as the wealthy have been doing just fine financially during the plague and paying their regular share of taxes. Likewise New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, which saw revenues dip by just 3 percent. Florida and Texas, by contrast, are by far the largest states that have no income taxes, and they saw their revenues decline by 10 percent. As for reduction in public-sector jobs, good old “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire—another state with no income tax—saw its state workforce shrink by a mind-boggling 26 percent, a full nine percentage points more than the second-ranked state.

    Harold says this like it's a bad thing. I'd point out that the state seems to be running perfectly well with one out of every four state employees gone. Are you sure we needed them in the first place, Harold?

    But it's even stranger: Harold's article is based on this Washington Post story, and it points out something inconvenient to Harold's thesis: New Hampshire's "tax shortfall" between 2019 and 2020 is only 1%.

    How does a 1% drop in revenue cause a 26% drop in state workforce employment?

    I don't know. Maybe someone will figure it out, but I'm betting it won't be Harold.