URLs du Jour

2019-12-14

  • Michael P. Ramirez captures my own sentiments, drawing The monkeys in the House.

    [Monkeys]


  • I commented on Garrett Graff's unhinged rant about Fox News in Wired a couple days ago. But Kevin D. Williamson says it better. Unsurprisingly. I'll resist quoting the whole thing, but…

    Graff should be both more worried and less worried than he is. He overestimates the problem of Fox News specifically. He underestimates the problem of the way in which cable-news programming as a whole functions as an echo-chamber and amplifier for a relatively small but politically significant demographic of Americans who are old and stupid and credulous. Both Fox News and MSNBC have a median viewer age of 65, and oldsters are by far the most enthusiastic consumers of television across-the-board.

    People who rely on television for their news are dumb. Dumb as rocks. Dumber than nine chickens. Everybody knows this, but some people have professional reasons for declining to say so.

    Graff predictably lacks the courage of his convictions. What do we do about threats to national security — dangerous threats to national security — Mr. Graff? Do tell.

    I was wondering about that last bit myself. I note that Mr. Graff is way too young to remember the Rosenbergs, actual threats to national security, but maybe he's heard about them, and I wonder if theirs is the kind of Fox News Final Solution he has in mind.


  • We don't often see perfection in our flawed world, but David Harsanyi thinks he's got an example: Greta Thunberg Is the Perfect Hero for an Unserious Time.

    Who better than a finger-wagging teen bereft of accomplishment, or any comprehension of basic economics or history, to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019? Greta Thunberg’s canonization is a perfect expression of media activism in a deeply unserious time.

    Has there ever been a less consequential person picked to be Person of the Year? I doubt it. I mean, Wallis Simpson, 1936’s Person of the Year, got King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne. Thunberg can’t even get you to abdicate your air-conditioning.

    These days we celebrate vacuous fire and brimstone. “Greta Thunberg”—the idea, not the girl—is a concoction of activists who have increasingly taken to using children as a shield from critical analysis or debate. She’s the vessel of the environmentalist’s fraudulent apocalypticism-as-argument. Her style is emotion and indignation, histrionics and fantasy. She is a teenager, after all.

    I've gotta write something about David Hogg along these lines. Maybe after Christmas.


  • There's been a distressing lack of chin-pulling end-of-decade analyses, but Jacob Sullum offers one: This Was the Decade When Politicians Stopped Panicking About Marijuana and Started Panicking About Nicotine.

    The shift from demonizing cannabis to demonizing nicotine is not a good sign for anyone who hoped that recognizing the folly of marijuana prohibition would lead to a broader understanding of the costs inflicted by attempts to forcibly prevent people from consuming psychoactive substances. By and large, neither legislators nor the voters they represent think about this subject in a principled way. If they did, the repeal of National Alcohol Prohibition in 1933 would not have been followed four years later by the Marihuana Tax Act, a federal ban disguised as a revenue measure. When it comes to ending the war on drugs, the same arguments have to be deployed anew for every intoxicant.

    Still, there's no denying the dramatic progress we've seen since 2010, when no state allowed recreational use of marijuana (with the partial exception of Alaska, where the state constitution had been interpreted as protecting private possession of small amounts). Today recreational use is legal in 11 states, 10 of which also allow commercial production and distribution, while medical use is legal in 33 states, up from 13 at the beginning of the decade. During the same period, according to Gallup, public support for general legalization has risen from 44 percent to 66 percent.

    It's like we have a hardwired need to always panic about something. (If only it were out-of-control government spending!)


  • Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center says that we are Taking the first step to solving New Hampshire's housing shortage.

    A positive shift is happening in New Hampshire’s pro-housing movement. Gov. Chris Sununu helped highlight it on Wednesday.

    Speaking at a housing forum organized by the Center for Ethics in Government at St. Anselm College, the governor criticized municipalities that use local regulatory powers to impose severe restrictions on housing development.

    Bedford, the governor said, was an example of a town that has made it difficult for people to build lower-priced homes, particularly multi-family housing.

    My town's discussion page on Facebook is full of freakouts about any new housing construction. Open space! New kids at the school! Property values!

    I suppose I should go along in self-interest: keeping the housing market tight makes it more likely that my house will (eventually) sell for an exorbitant price. But (with my luck) that factor will be more than offset by all the other baby-boomer dwellings selling at the same time.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-13

  • Kevin D. Williamson (in an NRPLUS article, I don't know what that means) writes on Marco Rubio & “Common-Good Capitalism”: Government Hubris Will Backfire. Long, with interesting insights into the nature of successful businesses, but …

    Good government — including a steady, stable, predictable policy environment — multiplies the value of labor, just as training and capital do. That is why investment capital around the world for years has flowed largely to well-governed countries, most of them liberal democracies, with the largest recipients of foreign direct investment being the United States and the European Union. (China, the important exception to that rule, is not well-governed; it is governed brutally but predictably, an ugly but useful reminder that stability has economic value, too.) There are many places that businesses could go in search of low wages and a loose regulatory environment, but you aren’t driving a car made in Haiti or using a computer built in Burundi. Investors aren’t putting a lot of money into factories in Yemen or Afghanistan.

    And that is what is so irritating about Senator Rubio’s new push for “industrial policy.” Is the U.S. government really performing its core duties so well, so ably, so competently that we need to add to them with additional duties that demand a kind of competence it does not have and cannot acquire?

    The truth is something closer to the opposite: The U.S. government is in many cases a force for instability and non-confidence in our national economic life. Peter Navarro’s position as Trump’s China hand is as ridiculously implausible as Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, but there he is, whispering into the president’s ear. Senator Rubio is no less implausible in his belief that he has eagle eyes to detect subtle national interests in complex economic affairs of which he has no substantial first-hand knowledge. His problem isn’t stupidity — it’s hubris.

    A perennial theme, and one we'll no doubt return to again and again.


  • Huawei has been on Your Federal Government's shit list for a number of years, starting (as near as I can tell) under Obama. For a contrarian take, take a look at John Tamny at AIER, who claims The FCC’s Treatment of Huawei Is a Tremendous Embarrassment.

    Up front, these actions meant to neuter Huawei are nakedly protectionist, and speak to how far Republicans have slid as the party of “limited government.” It’s truly sad to witness.

    Republicans excuse their embarrassing behavior by claiming that “China” is “communist,” and Huawei has close ties to the communist regime. It’s a reminder that modern Republicans are either ignorant to history, willfully blind to simple economics, or both. Simply put, to visit China is to see it’s “communist” in name only. Anyone with even the slimmest memory of the 20th century knows that communism is defined by relentless misery, starvation, murder, and other horrid things. The latter doesn’t much describe modern China. It’s an economically vibrant country that’s thick with American businesses.

    Tamny considers the "national security" argument against Huawei to be a lot of scarifying, in cronyistic service to American corporations that don't like its competition. I'm not totally convinced, but it doesn't sound totally implausible.


  • Scott Sumner asks the musical question: Compared to what?. Specifically, looking at this recent chart from Our World in Data:

    Pasting Scott's comments in full:

    Notice that prior to 1980, the number of affluent people was growing rapidly, but the number of poor people was also increasing. After 1980, the number of affluent people rose even more rapidly, while poverty began declining. I was in grad school in 1980, and I don’t recall very many people expecting such a dramatic turnaround in the number of poor people. Many experts were predicting a global catastrophe, due to rapid population growth in poor countries.

    So what changed in 1980? The most likely explanation for the plunge in global poverty is the neoliberal revolution, which began around 1980. Poverty fell especially rapidly in countries that adopted market reforms, such as Chile, Bangladesh, India and China. Ironically, the media is now full of stories claiming that neoliberalism has failed. My response is simple—compared to what?

    Neoliberalism didn't fail; we failed it.


  • Hey, good news, Brits! Looks like Brexit will happen, and it can't happen too soon. Matt Ridley notes: The EU’s absurd risk aversion stifles new ideas.

    Last month, at the WTO meeting in Geneva, India joined a list of countries including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Malaysia that have lodged formal complaints against the EU over barriers to agricultural imports. Not only does the EU raise hefty tariffs against crops such as rice and oranges to protect subsidised European farmers; it also uses health and safety rules to block imports. The irony is that these are often dressed up as precautionary measures against health and environmental threats, when in fact they are sometimes preventing Europeans from gaining health and environmental benefits.

    The WTO complaints accuse the EU of “unnecessarily and inappropriately” restricting trade through regulatory barriers on pesticide residues that violate international scientific standards and the “principle of evidence”. Worse, they say, “it appears that the EU is unilaterally attempting to impose its own domestic regulatory approach on to its trading partners”, disproportionately harming farmers in the developing nations whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

    The problem is that the EU, unlike the rest of the world, bases its regulations on “hazard”, the possibility that a chemical could conceivably cause, say, cancer, even if only at impossibly high doses. WTO rules by contrast require a full “risk” analysis that takes into account likely exposure. Coffee, apples, pears, lettuce, bread and many other common foods that are part of a healthy diet contain entirely natural molecules that at high enough doses would be carcinogenic. Alcohol, for instance, is a known carcinogen at very high doses, though perfectly safe in moderation. The absurdity of the EU approach can be seen in the fact that if wine were sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under a hazard-based approach.

    I imagine the EU regs claimed to be based on "science".


  • Want to get depressed? Nick Gillespie at Reason notes that Even in Impeachment-Crazed D.C., It’s Always a Good Time To Borrow and Spend!

    The House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, just passed a "progressive" defense spending bill that totals $738 billion, or "$120 billion more than what President Obama left us with," in the words of Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.). Is America under $120 billion more military threats since January 2017? Of course not, but why live in reality when make-believe is so much more fun? The bill is considered progressive only because it includes "paid parental leave for federal workers," a long-sought goal of liberal Democrats and, not unimportantly, President Trump, who is urging "don't delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!" Next week, the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass similar legislation that includes the family leave plan along with money to establish Trump's new Space Force and "the largest pay increase for uniformed service members in 10 years."

    [… damning table elided …]

    So, despite impeachment proceedings and other disagreements, Congress and the president are pulling in the same direction and digging deep into the pockets and couch cushions of current and future taxpayers. Such bipartisanship doesn't come cheap, of course. The deficit for fiscal 2019, which ended in September, was $984 billion. Total outlays clocked in at $4.447 trillion, with revenues reaching $3.462 trillion, both record amounts. For the first two months of fiscal 2020, deficits came in at $342 billion, a 12 percent increase over the same period in a previous year despite revenues climbing by 3 percent. Like GM before it was bailed out, America is losing money despite bringing in more cash than ever before.

    "Sorry, kids. I tried." "OK, Boomer."

Since We Fell

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Dennis Lehane fan since I got hooked on his Kenzie/Gennaro private eye novels, set in seedy old Boston; he's moved away from those two to write more "serious" mainstream fare, including some movies. (Some good, some not.) But his books are automatically pushed into my to-read queue.

And in an epic tale of shopping, I picked up the Kindle version on sale for a mere $2.99. (It has since returned to $11.99.)

All that said, this is a darned odd book. It opens with "On a Tuesday in May, Rachel shot her husband dead." Promising!

But then we go back, way back, into Rachel's upbringing in a fatherless household, subject to a domineering mother. Mom is a famous self-help writer on relationships and marriage, even though she has no relationships and has eschewed marriage herself. She hides dad's identity from Rachel, which kind of messes Rachel up. Rachel goes through her life with bad relationships, some substance abuse, some mental illness. A promising career in broadcast journalism self-immolates after harrowing Haitian experiences. And then…

Well, once we're 63% of the way through the book, we're back at the point where she shoots her husband.

And then, I'm tempted to say, things get interesting, finally. Which is not fair, Lehane is an immensely gifted writer, and that first part is "interesting" in that sense. But what comes in the final third of the book is—and I don't want to spoil anything—totally different and unexpected.

All in all, a decent read. I keep wishing for Kenzie/Gennaro to come back, but I'll keep reading anything Lehane writes.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-12

  • In our occasional "Headline Implies That It Could Be a Very Long Article" department, Reason's Robby Soave: Here’s What’s Wrong with Time Declaring Greta Thunberg Person of the Year.

    After decades of treating children as little more than pets, the media now gives too much weight to the opinions of teen activists, particularly when they protest about issues like climate change, gun violence in schools, income inequality, etc. As Ilya Somin has written, young people—even ones who can credibly claim to have been especially harmed by some crisis—do not generally have special insights or strong knowledge of public policy. According to Somin:

    The young, as a general rule, know less about government and public policy than other age groups. For that reason, they are also less likely to have valuable insights on how to address difficult issues. …

    It would be a mistake to dismiss policy proposals out of hand, merely because of the age of their adherents. But it is also a mistake to ascribe any special political wisdom to the young. The fact that large numbers of young people support a political cause adds little, if anything, to its merits.

    Thunberg is Time's Person of the Year, but that doesn't make her claims about the future of the planet any less wrong: We are not "in the beginning of a mass extinction," and the world is not going to end in the next 10-12 years barring the adoption of her radical ideas.

    Also see David Hogg, a discussion of whom will show up here at some point in the next few weeks.

    [Not pictured at right: a young Greta.]


  • Apparenty, according to the Indispensible One: There's a Rumor Biden Will Promise Not to Run for a Second Term. As usual, there's a lot of analysis and insight, but I liked this:

    Either way, Biden is probably going to have to address his age and health at some point in some degree of length and detail. Back in 1996, I thought Bob Dole had a terrific speech accepting the nomination, where he confronted the idea that he was too old directly: “Age has its advantages. Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action. And to those who say it was never so, that America’s not been better, I say you’re wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.”

    (In 1996, Bob Dole was 73 years old and was endlessly mocked for being ancient. On Election Day in 2020, Bernie Sanders will be 79, Mike Bloomberg will be 78 years, Biden will be 77 years, 11 months, President Trump wil be 74, and Elizabeth Warren will be 71.)

    Jim goes on to observe that if you're tired of "wild gaffes, offensive statements from the Oval Office and embarrassing presidential offspring", … well, Biden might not be your best choice.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson, no Trump fanboy, lets loose on FBI Corruption: How Dirty Cops Spied on Trump Campaign.

    The FBI’s actions in the Trump matter were outrageous, with agents going so far as to alter documents included as part of the FISA warrant process.

    Focus in on that for a moment: The Federal Bureau of Investigation under the Obama administration sought to launch an investigation of the rival party’s presidential campaign in order to spy on it under powers reserved for national-security purposes. (FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.) In order to activate those powers, the FBI had to go to a federal court for permission, which it did — with falsified documents in hand. If the FBI attorney who altered that document avoids seeing the inside of a federal prison cell, it will be a grave disservice to justice.

    What makes this even worse is not that there was no good reason to be suspicious of the relationships between Trump’s circle and the Russians but that there was. In that sense, Obama’s investigation of the Trump campaign is a mirror image of Trump’s efforts to strong-arm the Ukrainians into investigating Hunter Biden: The underlying issue was very much worth looking into, and that makes the fact that the process was distorted by petty, corrupt opportunism even more offensive. Trump & Co. may be as crooked as a barrel of snakes, but that does not mean that those who investigated them weren’t crooked, too. Nor does it absolve the FBI and the Obama administration from their wrongdoing.

    This seems obvious to me as well, but good luck cutting through the MSM fog.


  • Apparently nobody at Wired magazine is in charge of saying "wait a minute". Because the headline on this Garrett M. Graff article/screed is: Fox News Is Now a Threat to National Security.

    Monday’s split-screen drama, as the House Judiciary Committee weighed impeachment charges against President Trump and as the Justice Department’s inspector general released a 476-page report on the FBI’s handling of its 2016 investigation into Trump’s campaign, made one truth of the modern world inescapable: The lies and obfuscations forwarded ad infinitum on Fox News pose a dangerous threat to the national security of the United States.

    The funny part is that later in the article Garrett complains about "overheated and bombastic rhetoric".


  • And guess who's on this list of The 10 States With The Most Millionaires compiled by a site called "The Richest"? Coming in at a solid seventh place:

    New Hampshire's motto is "Live Free, Or Die". And it means it. In 1776, it was the first of the American Colonies to establish a government independent of the British Crown. It's an old-money kind of place. Millionaires make up almost 8 percent of the total population, thanks to a number of federal agencies, together with law firms and agencies that advise them. Then there is the booming tourist trade.

    Is having that many millionaires a good thing? Well, for the rich yes. But for the average man or woman on the street, it simply means a higher cost of living.

    Hm. That "thanks to a number of federal agencies" doesn't seem right to me, but let's see…

    This USA Today article ranks states by the percentage of population working for "the government". NH is in 45th place, "only" 13.2% of workforce considered government workers.

    But that includes state/local employees, apparently. This site has a table that ranks "States Most Dependent on the Federal Government". NH ranks #36 on its score (based on a few measures); they say the fraction of our workforce employed by the Feds is 2.1%.

    So I'd rank the "Richest" commentary as "uninformed garbage."


Last Modified 2019-12-13 3:35 AM EST

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

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

Geez, what was I thinking?

Well, Netflix's algorithm thought I'd like it, despite me giving the previous entry a mediocre three stars (and I actually blogged at the time that I wasn't going to bother with this one).

And I think it was Peter Suderman who said he liked it in a Reason podcast episode.

So, I thought, hey maybe.

Well, maybe I was tired and maybe I had one too many glasses of wine, but at a certain point I fell asleep on the futon, … woke up for a bit, and hey, there's Halle Barry shooting people in the head with as much gusto as Wick… then fell asleep again … and woke up about a minute before the credits rolled.

I suppose the cinematography is good, the sets are excellent and imaginative, but it's all in service of a story that's the third try at the same old thing: a bunch of people are trying to kill John Wick, but he kills them instead. And I don't care.

URLs du Jour

2019-12-11

  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham has a question: Hey, Sen. Shaheen--Whatever Happened to 'Medicare For All?'. Our state's senior Senator was happy to co-sponsor Bernie Sanders' "Medicare For All" bill in 2017. But this year, Jeanne was MIA on M4A.

    It turns out that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is the network of professional Democrat campaign operatives that seek to keep Democrats in the US Senate, urged Shaheen to abandon her support for Medicare For All because it was too risky a position for her to win re-election.

    These multi-million dollar campaign professionals now guiding Jeanne Shaheen know that the socialist policies that have taken over the Democratic Party in the last couple of years are putting their campaign prospects in jeopardy.

    Why, it's almost as if Jeanne adapts her principles to whatever is most likely to get her re-elected.


  • Jacob Sullum opines at Reason: Trump’s Congressional Defenders Deny Reality. What, as if there's something wrong with that?

    During Monday's impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year's election. "I don't think the record supports that," Castor said.

    That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president's defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

    Not that it matters. As the reaction to the recent DOJ IG report shows, the other side…


  • … is in a reality-distortion field of their own. As David Harsanyi details at National Review: Inspector General FBI Report: Many Serious Mistakes.

    How many “missteps” does it take for an FBI investigation to be considered improper by the Inspector General?

    According to IG Michael Horowitz, the magic number lies somewhere north of 17. That’s the number of “serious performance failures” uncovered by his investigation into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants obtained by the FBI in connection with former Trump campaign aide Carter Page — who, in the end, was never charged with any crime.

    The IG report also confirmed that agents inflated, and then heavily relied on, the Democrat-funded political-opposition work of former British spy Christopher Steele to help propel “Crossfire Hurricane,” an investigation into whether the Republican presidential campaign had criminally conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

    The number of people I trust to play it straight on these issues is dropping precipitously.

How Charts Lie

Getting Smarter about Visual Information

[Amazon Link]

I picked this off the new-book table at the Portsmouth Public Library on impulse. It's short. The author, Alberto Cairo, is "Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami." His blog is here.

I was slightly disappointed at (1) the basic level and (2) preachiness. There wasn't much in here that I didn't learn long ago, although the presentation is good, examples are fresh.

If you're looking for a good introduction for a bright high-schooler, this might do the trick.

Lost in Math

How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

[Amazon Link]

I picked this book up from the Portsmouth Public Library, spurred by an interesting Econtalk podcast with the author, Sabine Hossenfelder, earlier this year. She is a theoretical physicist, currently at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies. She's German, but her English is very good; as near as I can tell, her writing is mainly in English.

The book is an interesting combination of philosophy and science, spurred mainly by the recent (and continuing) failure of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to detect new particles predicted by theories of "supersymmetry".

Famously, the LHC detected the Higgs Boson a few years back, and that was great, but the Higgs had long been predicted by the so-called "Standard Model". Supersymmetry, though, is (was?) an exciting new theory that was considered to be "beautiful". So beautiful, in fact, that some theoreticians felt it "had to be true".

Could it be that (see the subtitle) that physicists were led "astray" by mathematical beauty? Specifically, led into dropping billions of eurodollars onto a research facility that has come up with (again, so far) disappointing results? (That money could maybe have been directed at more fruitful research. It would have bought a lot of whiteboards and dry-erase markers.)

Sabine (I call her Sabine) explores notions of "beauty" in science. With a philosopher's care, she breaks it down into various components: simplicity, naturalness, elegance. These are not strictly defined, but they're described well. "Naturalness" is probably the weirdest concept: the notion that dimensionless ratios between theoretical parameters "should" be around 1. (Don't believe me? There's a Wikipedia page.)

Sabine travels the world and interviews/argues with a lot of other physicists. Her takes are personal, idiosyncratic, and often funny.

The book is aimed at a popular audience, hence shies away from delving into the actual physics. A lot of theories are described on the surface, but a lot of readers (including me, and I was a physics major long ago) will be left wondering: what's that mean? Unavoidable, I think.

I've mentioned this before, but my concern is that some aspects of the universe might be entirely too complex or subtle for human intelligence to comprehend. I have a very smart dog, but I don't expect him to be able to understand calculus. Or even something relatively simple, like the base-10 numbering system. Not only doesn't he understand it, he doesn't even understand that there's something to understand. How sure can we be that we're not in the same state?

I don't think Sabine mentions this issue in the book.

If you want to explore All Things Sabine, a good place to start is sabinehossenfelder.com, which has links to her blog, videos (including, I am not making this up, music videos), articles in various outlets, etc.

1920

The Year of the Six Presidents

[Amazon Link]

I got this book via UNH Interlibrary Loan (thanks, Wesleyan U!) because (back in July) Jonah Goldberg did a couple episodes of his Remnant podcast with the author, David Pietrusza. It sounded interesting, so…

And it turns out the book isn't exactly fresh: it's from 2007. But he's writing about 1920 and that era, and I suppose that subject hasn't changed much since 2007. As we're coming up on the centennial of that year:

Pietrusza's main topic is the 1920 presidential election, but it ranges wide beyond that, as it discusses the issues and personalities that made the year so memorable. The subtitle is "The Year of the Six Presidents", and they are:

  • Woodrow Wilson, the incumbent. Despite being enfeebled and ill, he entertained fantasies of running for a third term, despite his unpopularity in the country and in his own party. Nobody seemed to take him seriously on this.

  • Teddy Roosevelt. Very popular, despite having torpedoed his party's chances in 1912 by running on the "Progressive" ticket. Bad luck, though: he died of a blood clot in his lungs in 1919. (President Wilson's reaction to the report of TR's death was apparently ghoulish. Not a nice guy was Woody.)

  • Herbert Hoover. Very popular due to his feats in relieving famine abroad and at home. As with Eisenhower, it wasn't exactly clear what his politics were, even his party was nebulous. In 1920, though, his desire for the presidency was low, and he managed only 5.5 votes for the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention. (He went on to be Harding's Secretary of Commerce, and brought us dreadful regulation of the radio spectrum.)

  • Warren Harding, the eventual winner. He backed into the GOP nomination on the tenth ballot, mainly by being someone that nobody especially hated (unlike contenders Leonard Wood, Hiram Johnson, Frank Lowden, et. al.). As we know, Harding had an, um, colorful personal life. And there's a great story about his wife throwing a piano stool at his mistress.

  • Calvin Coolidge, nominated for veep, and assuming the presidency in 1923 on Harding's death. Probably the best one of the six, but that's me.

  • And Franklin D. Roosevelt, who the Democrats nominated to run on the doomed ticket with presidential nominee James M. Cox. Another "colorful" character, he was dynamic, charismatic, unfaithful, dishonest,… Pretty much the whole deal

Pietrusza has an eye for good anecdotes, and details the issues of the day: League of Nations, women's suffrage, suppression of dissent, Navy scandals in Newport RI and Portsmouth NH (!), Sacco and Vanzetti, etc. There was even a "birther"-style controversy, as Harding was alleged to have an African-American ancestor in his family tree somewhere.

Various kind of socialism were in vogue, and the adventures of Eugene V. Debs are chronicled. A big admirer of the newly-formed Soviet Union, he made Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan! Well, not quite, but…

One quibble: the final section of the book contains a "whatever happened to" concerning the dramatis personae appearing in the text. There's an intriguing entry for Alexandra Carlisle Pfeiffer. Problem: if you want to know what she did, the index won't help you. (I can tell from her Wikipedia entry that she seconded the nomination of Calvin Coolidge for vice president at the GOP convention, but I'm not sure that's in the book.)

URLs du Jour

2019-12-10

  • I really don't write much about woke academic silliness, because after a point… well, as an old website once said: "Fish. Barrel. Smoking Gun." It's too easy.

    But the College Fix does that stuff, and there's a local angle here. Academic paper: For black women in physics, ‘social prestige asymmetries affect epistemic outcomes’.

    A new academic paper by a physics professor clams that, for black female physicists, “white epistemic claims about science—which are not rooted in empirical evidence—receive more credence and attention than Black women’s epistemic claims about their own lives.”

    The paper, written by University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and published in the feminist academic journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, examines the way in which “Black women physicists self-construct as scientists and the subsequent impact of epistemic outcomes on the science itself.”

    Thanks to the magic of grep, I can tell you that we've mentioned Prof Prescod-Weinstein a couple times on the blog. Once last year when she was at the University of Washington, Seattle, she opined on the colonization of Mars (worrying specifically whether "we can avoid reproducing deeply entrenched colonial behaviors as we seek to better understand our Solar System.") And just last month when she was quoted in Wired about the term "people of color", fretting that its use doesn't "excavate the historical importance and necessity of multiracial antiracist solidarity."

    Clearly an up-and-comer.

    As previously stated, she's currently an Assistant Professor in Physics at the University Near Here, and also "Core Faculty" in the Women's Studies Department. I shouldn't kvetch: in my truncated physics career, I never came close to obtaining either one of those positions. But the paper contains sentences like:

    Through the recognition of white empiricism, a bifurcated logic that serves white supremacist traditions in science while deontologizing marginalized Black women physicists, I propose that the Black feminist theory intersectionality should change physics—and not just through who becomes a physicist but through the actual outcomes of what we come to know.

    OK. Well, if any of that helps figure out dark matter, I suppose I'll be convinced. Until then…


  • At Reason, José Cordeiro writes that Socialism Killed My Father. The opening three paragraphs tell the story:

    I was working in Silicon Valley when my mother called me from back home in Caracas with some alarming news: My father had experienced sudden kidney failure. I immediately flew from San Francisco to Miami, where I had to wait two days until I could get one of the few flights left to Caracas. Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 ushered in successive waves of nationalization, inflation, and recession, international airlines—American, Delta, United Airlines, even carriers from next-door Colombia and Brazil—had been steadily reducing, canceling, and eventually abandoning all routes to my once-prosperous country. I slept in the Miami International Airport with many other desperate Venezuelans. Finally I was able to purchase a ticket for an exorbitant sum from Santa Barbara Airlines, a Venezuelan carrier that has since gone bankrupt.

    Fortunately, my father was still alive when I arrived in Caracas, but he required continuous dialysis. Even in the best of the few remaining private clinics, there was a chronic lack of basic supplies and equipment. Dialyzers had to be constantly reused, and there were not enough medicines for patients. In several parts of the country, electricity and water were also rationed, including in hospitals. Given the precarious economic situation, and thanks to our comparatively advantageous financial situation, we decided the best course of action would be to leave Venezuela and fly to my father's native Madrid, where he could get the treatment he needed.

    But because of the decimated air travel situation, we had to wait three weeks for the next available flight to Spain. The few airline companies still operating in Venezuela had reduced their flights dramatically because of Venezuelan government controls. Sadly, the Caracas dialysis couldn't hold out that long. Just two days before he was scheduled to leave his adopted country, my father died because of its disastrous policies. I still remember it vividly. I cannot forget.

    I'm not sure how that could have happened, given that Articles 83–85 under Title III of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution "enshrine free and quality healthcare as a human right guaranteed to all Venezuelan citizens". Why it's almost as if calling something a "right" doesn't mean you're going to get it.


  • Buzzfeed reports the latest example of journalistic bravery: British GQ Put China's President And Thailand's King On Its "Worst Dressed" List, Then Removed Them Online So As Not To Cause Offence.

    Sources said management would have stood by the list if “it was a hard-hitting piece of journalism,” but considered it instead a “light-hearted list meant for a UK audience”. Condé Nast, which also publishes Vogue, has local editions of both magazines in China and Thailand.

    In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Friday, a Condé Nast spokesperson confirmed the world leaders had been scrubbed from the worst-dressed list over concerns that it “would travel globally and grant traction” without necessary context.

    "We are conscious that digitally published stories travel globally and can gain traction where they lack the necessary context and can cause unintended offence,” the Condé Nast spokesperson.

    The king of Thailand Maha Vajiralongkorn and China’s president Xi Jinping still appear in the Brit edition of GQ. Where, I assume, Chinese and Thais will be less likely to see it, and it probably would have been too expensive to pulp.

    I would imagine that this is kind of embarrassing to honest journalists working for Condé Nast. If there are any left.


  • George F. Will notes the latest in the decay of the Republican party: Marco Rubio joins the anti-capitalist conservatives.

    Trying to give intellectual coherence to the visceral impulses that produced today’s president, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is joining anti-capitalist conservatives. Those who reject this characterization are unaware of how their skepticism about markets propels them to an imprudent leap of faith.

    In a recent Washington speech, Rubio said America has “neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer.” Careless language — workers are not sharing America’s bounty? — serves Rubio’s economic determinism, which postulates a recent economic cause for complex and decades-long social changes. Economic “negligence” has, he asserts, “weakened families and eroded communities,” diminished churchgoing and PTA participation, and increased substance abuse. If only the explanation of, say, family disintegration — a social disaster since the 1960s, before economic globalization — were monocausal.

    It is utterly mystifying to me that simply by winning a few elections, politicians imagine that they can run large businesses better than the people who actually have skin in the game. Rubio is simply a recent example, but sort of unusual in that this disease is more prevalent on Team Blue.


  • Allen C. Guelzo writes at City Journal about the New York Times effort to revise American history to give us all a massive dose of guilt-trippery: The 1619 Project Is Not History; It Is Conspiracy Theory.

    There is one sense in which the 1619 Project’s attempt to rewrite U.S. history in the image of slavery is right: America’s founding was like nothing else seen in the history of human societies. But not because of slavery. Instead, it was because the American republic modeled itself on the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century by trying to find a natural order in human politics, rather than fall back upon the artificial and irrational hierarchies that governed how the ancients had understood both the physical and political universes. Our Declaration of Independence stated as a self-evident truth of nature that “all men are created equal”; our Constitution prohibited all titles of nobility and required virtually all offices to be matters of public election rather than inheritance or class. The American republic would be a theater of those who, like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, could be “self-made men,” and the solutions to the problems of their day would be generated by a host of voluntary associations, working from the bottom up, rather than through government, from the top down.

    Yet, nature is not always kind or predictable, and neither is the path of the republic. The temptation has always existed to slide back into the comfortable abyss of hierarchy, whether it be the racial hierarchy of slaveholders in the Civil War or the newer hierarchies of bureaucracy and socialism. It is that temptation to backsliding which the 1619 Project wants to insist is the real story; but this is like taking the stage crew out from behind the curtain and insisting that they’re the real musical.

    Economic arguments against liberty and capitalism have failed, so the statists are getting pretty desperate to find new ones.