Good Non-Fiction I've Read Over the Past Year

(May 2018 - May 2019)

A break from our usual content. Usually people do this at the end of the year. Pun Salad marches to the beat of a different xylophone. In no particular order. Clicking on a book's image will take you to Amazon. Clicking on a title will take you to my book report.

[Amazon Img] The Wizard and the ProphetTwo Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World by Charles C. Mann. A fascinating look at Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. The author is scrupulously fair and agnostic on environmental issues that spark bitter division in lesser writers.
[Amazon Img] Suicide of the WestHow the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg. Jonah's latest magnum opus discusses "The Miracle": the mere fact that you and I live in an era of unprecedented wealth and liberty. Which we are in danger of pissing away.
[Amazon Img] Who We Are and How We Got HereAncient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich. Reich is a Harvard researcher, and he's got a pretty interesting story to tell about what the molecules in old skeletal remains tell us about human migration and races.
[Amazon Img] The Practicing StoicA Philosophical User's Manual by Ward Farnsworth. Ward sets out to present, and advocate, Stoic philosophy, quoting a pile of philosophers (mostly ancient, some just old). Their writings turn out to be lively and not at all dated. One book I kind of wish I'd bought, instead of getting at the library.
[Amazon Img] The Big PictureOn the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll. Carroll is a research physicist at Caltech — yes, a non-fictional version of those guys on The Big Bang Theory. (So you can more or less assume he's got his science right.) And he's got very entertaining, and insightful, observations on the questions that philosophers have been arguing about for years. His discussion of free will is worth the price of admission by itself.
[Amazon Img] Stubborn AttachmentsA Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen. Short and readable defense of traditional "common sense" morality, libertarian principles, and economic growth from a polymathic economist.
[Amazon Img] OverchargedWhy Americans Pay Too Much for Health Care by Charles Silver and David A. Hyman. A Cato publication. It's very long, but by the end you'll (probably) be incensed at the American "system" of health care. And you'll be pessimistic about the prospects for fixing things, or even moving in the right direction of fixing things, anytime soon.

And you won't hear the "Medicare for All" campaign slogan without shaking your head in wonder and (defying Arthur C. Brooks' advice below) contempt.

[Amazon Img] ThemWhy We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal by Ben Sasse. Like Arthur C. Brooks (below), Ben Sasse is concerned with the increasing spittle-flecked vituperation political junkies fling at each other in America today. Sasse blames loneliness, as individuals become socially more isolated, alienated, disengaged. And start treating politics analogously to a first-person-shooter video game. (And, if you're of a certain bent, taking the shooting thing too literally.)
[Amazon Img] Governing LeastA New England Libertarianism by Dan Moller. Like Tyler Cowen's book above, a defense of "common-sense" morality and libertarian policies. Unlike Cowan, Moller is a philosopher, so the arguments and their style differ. And Moller goes to some unexpected places, like affirmative action, political correctness, and reparations. Heavy going for those who may have forgotten what "deontic" means.
[Amazon Img] Love Your EnemiesHow Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks. He's also concerned about the worsening sewer of American political discussion, which he attributes to an increase in contempt. It's a positive feedback loop, never a good thing: your loudly-expressed contempt makes you contemptible yourself. Just ask Hillary.

If you'd like to view my yearly book lists, 2003-present: (1) Why in the world would you want to do that? (2) If you come up with a good reason, here.


Last Modified 2019-06-03 7:11 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-05-30

[Amazon Link]

  • Nick Gillespie writes wisely at Reason: If You Think Having Too Many Choices Is Tyranny, Wait Until You Have Too Few. People have been bemoaning "choice" for ages:

    A quarter-century ago, it was Walmart, Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores, and a few other bricks-and-mortar retailers that touched off panics over "the tyranny of choice." Too many flavors of Pop-Tarts, don't you know, was the new slavery, paralyzing us mere homo sapiens, who had evolved really only to choose between strawberry, blueberry, and brown sugar–cinnamon (either with or without frosting). Suddenly the breakfast aisle was overflowing with a few dozen types of breakfast pastries and we just couldn't deal with it. "Choice no longer liberates," wrote psychologist Barry Schwartz in a 2004 best-seller called The Paradox of Choice, "but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize."

    Unsurprisingly, the same basic argument migrated frictionlessly into cyberspace, where the Long Tail wags us all near to death. When faced with such plenitude, who can decide? Here's the latest, steaming-hot iteration of that basic take, courtesy of Amanda Mull of The Atlantic. "There Is Too Much Stuff," reads the article's headline, neatly summarizing its argument. "The human brain can't contend with the vastness of online shopping," insists the sub-headline. A search for clothing hangers at the online retailer Amazon, writes Mull, yields over 200,000 options, which are too many to sift through, proving that "contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety." Even as she grants that it's "tempting" to see more choice and variety as "advantageous to consumers," she concludes that "infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state" and that "after shopping online, I often don't remember days later whether I actually made a decision."

    Tell me about it! I searched for "choice" at Amazon for a Product du Jour that might fit in with Nick's article, and all I got was pro-abortion crap. (The single area it seems that leftists are cool with "choice".) So instead I went with something relevant to the next URL…


  • Veronique de Rugy poses a leading question: Are Politicians Purveyors of Outrage?. Unsurprisingly, this is an exception to Betteridge's law of headlines ("Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.")

    One of the many problems with politicians is that it seems like they're in the outrage business. Some act as if they won't be needed unless there is some extreme wrong or insufferable unfairness to address. That's how we end up with politicians fighting mostly imaginary battles, which they propose to address through great sound bites and bad policies.

    The latest case in point is presidential hopeful Kamala Harris' plan for "Holding Corporations Accountable for Pay Inequality in America."

    The Democratic California senator's stated goal is to produce a world with "equal pay for equal work." There's nothing wrong with that, of course, if there's actually a problem. In her new report, she claims, like many others before her, that this is indeed an issue and that "women who work full time are paid just 80 cents, on average, for every dollar paid to men." That's the foundation of her report, and that number is actually meaningless.

    Note: the WaPo fact checker gave Two Pinocchios to this dishonest factoid over four years ago when it was uttered by Bernie Sanders. It's safe to say that its falsity doesn't matter to Kamala Harris; it's simply a useful tool to push the buttons of her audience.

    "Yeah, I'm insulting your intelligence. What are ya gonna do about it?"


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith reacts to a threatened boycott over Georgia's anti-abortion laws. But, he says, Netflix Will Have to Pay to Punish Georgia.

    Will Hollywood finally deliver on its threat to boycott Georgia over politics? Netflix has become the first major studio to threaten to leave the state over the new abortion restrictions. Yet Netflix is in Georgia in the first place only because of the state’s ruthless capitalism: Tax breaks for big business and right-to-work policies. My favorite smash-’em-up of Hollywood grandstanding and economics is The Campaign. Remember that? It was Will Ferrell’s 2012 Koch Brothers movie. In the film, the nefarious capitalists the Motch Brothers are harnessing the full power of NAFTA to outsource American jobs. The sole funny element of the movie is that it decried the Motch Brothers while being made in union-unfriendly, tax-refunding Louisiana. Ferrell and his lefty buddies (Zach Galifianakis, Adam McKay, etc.) outsourced the movie from California and its crushing cost structure. I suppose they could have demanded the movie be made in L.A. instead of LA, but then it might not have gotten made. (As it is, it appears to have lost money.) I mean, whoa, you know we’re liberal, but let’s not do anything crazy like cost ourselves a paycheck.

    They would be doing Georgia a favor. Subsidies for moviemakers are invariably a taxpayer ripoff. (The Union Leader recently ripped into the latest proposal to re-institute them in New Hampshire.)


  • Our Google LFOD News Alert notes a sighting in (of all places) the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazettte: Don't tread on me. It's about zoning. Specifically, a county government bemoaning litigation costs when it is sued for adverse decisions.

    Zoning in unincorporated areas is not as robust as it is in most cities, nor should it be. Most rural areas do not need strict rules that would make rural living difficult. But at the heart of the county's likelihood for being sued is the almost universal desire of rural residents to "live free or die" -- that is, to be left alone by county government -- and the resulting lack of specificity in county zoning regulations. In other words, there seems to be a lot of subjectivity in decision-making, and that doesn't always hold up in court.

    I don't know what the specific triggering issue here was, but the editorial makes a good point: vague and subjective laws governing use of your property are a big "sue me" sign on the back of authorities. And deservedly so.

    And it's nice to see that LFOD spirit even down in Arkansas.


  • And… oh, no! As reported in New Hampshire Business Review New Hampshire’s image taken down some pegs in online survey.

    “New Hampshire has low wages” and “you do see a poor class of folks.”

    Ouch.

    "The jobs are a problem, and so is our transportation system.”

    Double ouch.

    “Restaurants suck,” “no nightlife” and “generally a pretty boring place to live out your 20s and early 30s.”

    Ouch, ouch, ouch!

    These are some of the comments garnered in an unscientific survey commissioned by 603 and Me, an organization seeking to promote the state and carried out by students at the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire.

    When applied to survey methodology, "unscientific" is a nice way to say "worthless".

    "603 and Me" has a website! It seems pretty anodyne. Its big idea is for NH to adopt a slogan:

    [603 and Me founder Scott] Baker said the general opinion of the state ran counter to some nationally rankings, which often list the state as the best place to live (CNBC), raise children (CNN), the safest (US News) and with the third-lowest unemployment rate. Such figures prompted Baker to tell the students to ask what people thought of the tagline, “New Hampshire: America’s Best-Kept Secret.”

    The students prompted respondents to compare it with the state’s current motto, though Baker stressed to the NH Business Review that he wasn’t trying to replace “Live Free Or Die,” but to complement it with another.

    It turns out that total respondents preferred “Live Free or Die (74.7%), but Granite State respondents were split: 52.6% in favor, 47.4% against. “Best-Kept Secret” had a less favorable response overall: 54.1 percent, but outside the state only 44 percent had a favorable view.

    I would prefer the slogan: "Come live here if you want. Or not."

URLs du Jour

2019-05-29

[Amazon Link]

  • Avik Roy provides advice at National Review about health care policy: To Stop Socialized Medicine, Expand Individual Choice. It's a longish but perceptive study of the dysfunctions of our current "system", and recommendations about how to move forward more sensibly. Skipping to the bottom line:

    First, we have to end welfare for the rich, and refocus health-care subsidies on those who truly need the help.

    Second, we have to expand the freedom to choose customized, private health-insurance plans: both in the employer-sponsored system and in public programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

    Third, we have restore competition to the provision of health care, so that hospital monopolies, drug monopolies, and the like have an incentive to reduce prices and improve quality.

    The probability that any of that will happen is pretty low, but it's nice to have it out there.


  • This editorial, discussing Kamala Harris's latest vote-for-me scheme is probably behind the WSJ paywall, but I've heard that it's semi-permeable: The ‘Wage Gap’ Commissars. On her proposal to demand that businesses with over 100 workers receive “Equal Pay Certification” from the federal government:

    North of 100,000 companies in the U.S. have at least 100 workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Together they employ some 80 million people. How in the name of Post Office efficiency does Ms. Harris expect the government to expertly second guess all of their performance reviews? She says certification must be complete in three years. The process would be run by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has a staff of about 2,000.

    Most workers aren’t in a factory making identical widgets. Say that one lawyer writes a long and complicated legal brief, while another writes several short and simple ones. Is that equal work? What if output is similar, but one employee requires heavy managing, while the other is at risk of being poached?

    Senator Kamala should resign and start, and mind, her own business. Instead of trying to micromanage others'.


  • Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center provides A skeptic's guide to commuter rail boosterism. He looks primarily at that poll, commissioned by a group called "N.H. Business for Rail Expansion", finding that about ¾ of respondents were in favor.

    I had previously speculated it was a "push poll". That was incorrect; the question asked was: “Would you support or oppose commuter rail connecting Manchester or Nashua with Boston?” Ostensibly neutral. But:

    Before accepting these poll results at face value, journalists and lawmakers should consider whether they would publish a story or cast a vote after asking only a single, generic question. Commuter rail is a complex issue. Asking whether people would prefer commuter rail in the abstract is like asking if people would prefer to eat ice cream every day. Of course they would. But their answers will change if asked to weigh the tradeoffs.

    There's a link to details: the (large and certainly underestimated) costs; tax increases; negligible impact on highway traffic; zero reduction in commute times; zoning changes; and much more.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Law & Liberty, Kevin Gutzman looks at a new book: Cleansing Our Institutions the Lessig Way. (Amazon link to the Kindle version at right.) Sample:

    The book’s chapter on our corrupt media presents what by now has become a standard left-liberal account of the contemporary American political and media scene. Where once Americans shared a common news culture, which was highly admirable other than its various race-, class-, and gender-based biases, they now lack one.

    “We are leaving an era of rich democratic journalism,” he laments, “when strong ideals about the purpose of journalism were set and practiced.” These included being independent of government, of commerce, and of partisan politics. “Journalism, like many institutions in modern America, has suffered from a growing, almost universal skepticism.” That skepticism marks “the gap between what we imagine journalism should be—vibrant, focused on truth, and independent—and what we see it actually is—too often cowardly, commercially interested, and deeply partisan.”

    I've (reluctantly) put the book on my get-at-library list. Sounds tedious, but might have gleanable good stuff.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell asks the musical question: Where in the Developed World Are Average Workers Most Over-Taxed?. Spoiler: it's Belgium. But click through for the details.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-28

[Amazon Link]

  • At Granite Grok, Steve MacDonald tells us: You Can Stop the NH Democrat Expansion of the MBTA Money Pit into New Hampshire. The MBTA? Oh, right. The thing now demanding "at least" $10.1 billion to modernize its trains.

    The argument should not be “do trains pay for themselves,” they don’t. They lose money. A lot of money. Forever. Even in major cities with millions of people using them, trains don’t just lose money; they take it away from other priorities.

    So, the question should not be, “do we need or want a train?” It should be “does that train provide something that justifies the significant and permanent loss of revenue from other priorities, every year, forever?”

    Steve also points to an excellent (PDF) document from Dick Lemieaux that excoriates this stupid project from all possible angles.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson says Welcome to Washington’s Silly Season. Which is now a year-round thing.

    Somebody tried to play a dirty trick on Nancy Pelosi, slowing down and editing a video of her to make it appear as though she were drunk and incoherent. That’s pretty low: Nancy Pelosi is, whatever her other flaws as a public figure, generally sober and incoherent.

    The speaker, for her part, is not exactly conducting her affairs with high seriousness of late. She argued last week that President Donald Trump’s family should stage an “intervention.” The president had briefly attended and then abruptly ended a meeting with Democratic leaders, arguing — not without some reason — that negotiating about taxes and infrastructure with people who pretend to believe that he is guilty of treason and who are seriously talking about impeaching him for . . . something . . . is not the best use of his time. Why waste time on “Chuck and Nancy,” the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Comprehensively-Useless of American politics, when he could be watching reruns of Fox and Friends?

    It's been said (by Ben Stein's dad, I think) that "If something can't go on forever, it will stop." I have mixed feelings about that. What comes next could be worse.

    Oh well. Dow is up. At least as I type.


  • At PJMedia, Tyler O'Neil has the latest example of how "campaign finance reform" is weaponized: Is This the Next Citizens United? In Supreme Court Appeal, Freedom Foundation Challenges Ruling That Campaign Finance Law Applies to Pro Bono Legal Aid.

    In October 2015, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D-Wash.) accused the Freedom Foundation of breaking the law by not reporting its pro bono legal work as a political contribution. The Freedom Foundation helps workers opt out of union dues if they disagree with a union's political stance, and Ferguson supports unions. A superior court rightly overruled his ridiculous attack on the foundation's pro bono work, but Washington State's Supreme Court ruled against the foundation. Now the Freedom Foundation is appealing this important case to the U.S. Supreme Court, with powerful implications.

    "This case has the potential to do for state campaign finance regulations what Citizens United did for federal law," Eric Stahlfeld, the foundation's chief litigation counsel, told PJ Media this week. He was referring to Citizens United v. FEC (2010), in which the Supreme Court ruled that groups of citizens ("corporations" in legal terms) have free speech in politics and can pay to promote political messages. This limited the impact of campaign finance laws at the federal level, and prevented the government from penalizing a nonprofit (Citizens United) for publishing a video about a political candidate (Hillary Clinton).

    It's (truly) frightening when I hear people use "Citizens United" as a swear word. You know, the law that would have allowed book-banning by the government.


  • And the WSJ editorial page alerts us to the latest drivel from the American Mathematical Society's publising arm: Mathematics for Social Justice: Resources for the College Classroom.

    Mathematics for Social Justice offers a collection of resources for mathematics faculty interested in incorporating questions of social justice into their classrooms. The book begins with a series of essays from instructors experienced in integrating social justice themes into their pedagogy; these essays contain political and pedagogical motivations as well as nuts-and-bolts teaching advice. The heart of the book is a collection of fourteen classroom-tested modules featuring ready-to-use activities and investigations for the college mathematics classroom. The mathematical tools and techniques used are relevant to a wide variety of courses including college algebra, math for the liberal arts, calculus, differential equations, discrete mathematics, geometry, financial mathematics, and combinatorics. The social justice themes include human trafficking, income inequality, policing, environmental racism and justice, gerrymandering, voting methods, and access to education.

    Yes, it's just that bad. My advice: if you see a copy of this book on your kid's math teacher's desk, yank the kid from that school asap.


  • Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative: #MeToo Comes For Martin Luther King. New revelations about MLK's … um … sexual peccadillos have not hit the mainstream yet. They may not. But… from a commenter:

    I hope Dr. King remains celebrated; I also hope that his sexual behavior (again, assuming this story is true) is not forgotten. And in the future, when someone on the Left advocates the abolition of Columbus Day, or the taking down of monuments to Washington or Jefferson or many less well-known figures, I hope that people bring up Dr. King, NOT in the spirit of “Whataboutism”, but in order to remind them that there is no incompatibility between celebrating the achievements of people in the past and acknowledging that those people had – as we all do – major flaws.

    Good point. If this has a positive outcome, let it be the return of sanity to discussions about flawed historical figures.

Badlands

[Amazon Link]

A non-Joe Pickett entry from C. J. Box. This is the third entry in his "Highway Quartet", a series of books … well, it's hard to find an overall plot or theme. Still, it's compulsively readable. This particular novel could make a good season of the TV series Fargo, if it were weirded up a bit.

The action centers on Cassie Dewell, the heroine of the previous book in the series (The Highway). Recovering from the horrors she experienced there, she's accepted a new job as chief investigator of a North Dakota town's police force. The town is in the middle of the Bakken Formation oil boom, which in the span of a few years turned it from a dying sleepy farmburg into a boom town. With attendant problems, like drugs and gangs.

Young Kyle Westergaard is the sad victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. (Thanks, substance-abusing mom!) He's not stupid, though. He witnesses a fatal car crash, caused by a run-in between two gangs; he takes posession of an ejected bag full of heroin, meth, and cash.

Needless to say, the bad guys want it back. But mom has a boyfriend who's looking to make a quick score from Kyle's interception. Before you can say what an idiot, there's a lot of ruthlessness, violence, gunplay, explosions, and torture. And very cold weather. A real page-turner, in other words.

(There's also some bridging material to link in the previous book and I assume the next book. Which is already on my bookshelf.)

Love Your Enemies

How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt

[Amazon Link]

The author, Arthur C. Brooks, reveals on page 2 that this book was spurred by a conversation he had at a meeting of "a large group of conservative activists in New Hampshire". Hey, they let inactivists in as well, and I was there!

Arthur's speech that day noted that conservatives traditionally lose to leftists when people are asked whether a politician "cares about the problems of people like me". His suggestion to conservatives: frame your proposals better. Fine, but: he was accosted afterward by a woman who thought he was being too nice to liberals: "They are stupid and evil."

Whoa. Political activists have never been especially nice to their opponents, but Arthur argues that things are getting worse, threatening the very fabric of America. We have (see the subtitle) a large and growing "culture of contempt", destroying relationships and hurting the country. And not only hurting the country, hurting the individuals feeling contempt. It ain't good for you, mentally, and probably not physically.

I admit to a continual guilty feeling while reading this book. Because for a few years now, I've described my primary emotion toward politicians as "contempt". With a caveat: Arthur defines "contempt" neatly as "anger mixed with disgust". That doesn't seem quite right in my case, as I tend not to get angry, at least not as angry as I used to.

But I have one of the primary symptoms of contempt Arthur mentions: eye-rolling. Man, sometimes it feels as if they're gonna roll right out of their sockets.

Well, enough about me. Arthur's ruminations on improving one's attitudes toward political opponents are wise, insightful, occasionally funny. He conveniently summarizes his recommendations at the end:

  1. Stand up to the man. Refuse to be used by the powerful. Pols know how the culture of contempt works, and are not shy about pressing their supporters' buttons to "fire them up". Don't play that game.
  2. Escape the bubble. Go where you're not invited, and say things people don't expect. This should be easy in pre-primary New Hampshire. But am I too lazy?
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it's difficult. Maybe especially when it's difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas. I will try.
  5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates. I've mentioned my lefty Facebook friends from time to time. Sometimes I disagree in their threads. Resolution: when I feel that I'm repeating myself, I'm probably right. If I said something once, that's enough.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has political opinions and might want to discuss them.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-27

Memorial Day 2019:

[Memorial Day 2019]

  • Our guest lecturer today is Calvin Coolidge, contradicting somewhat his "Silent Cal" nickname, with his remarks at Arlington National Ceremony on May 30, 1924: "American Citizenship Is a High Estate".

    This principle can not be too definitely or emphatically proclaimed. American citizenship is a high estate. He who holds it is the peer of kings. It has been secured only by untold toil and effort. It will be maintained by no other method. It demands the best that men and women have to give. But it likewise awards to its partakers the best that there is on earth. To attempt to turn it into a thing of ease and inaction would be only to debase it. To cease to struggle and toil and sacrifice for it is not only to cease to be worthy of it but is to start a retreat toward barbarism. No matter what others may say, no matter what others may do, this is the stand that those must maintain who are worthy to be called Americans.

    Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover Calvin Coolidge again.


  • Usually we'd reserve the following for our Sunday "Phony Campaign" featurette, but… it's pretty appropriate for Memorial Day, too. The Daily Wire reports: Dem Candidate Pete Buttigieg On Trump’s Vietnam Deferment: He Used ‘His Privileged Status To Fake A Disability’. An interview with the WaPo's Robert Costa:

    COSTA: Do you think he should have served in Vietnam?

    BUTTIGIEG: Well, I have a pretty dim view of his decision to use his privileged status to fake a disability in order to avoid serving in Vietnam.

    COSTA: You believe he faked a disability? Do you believe he has a disability?

    BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, at least not that one. No, I don't mean – this is actually really important because I don't mean to trivialize disability, but I think that's exactly what he did. When you think about the way somebody can exploit the system and needless to say the way he has treated and mocked disabled people is just one more example of the many affronts to just basic decency that this president has inflicted on this country, but manipulating the ability to get a diagnosis. I mean, if he were a conscientious objector, I'd admire that.

    But this is somebody who, I think it's fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place. And I know that that drudges up old wounds from a complicated time during a complicated war, but I'm also old enough to remember when conservatives talked about character as something that mattered in the presidency. And so I think it deserves to be talked about.

    Yes, conservatives used to talk about character. Then Bill Clinton won anyway.


  • At Cato, Gene Healy looks carefully at Justin Amash's recent take on impeachment. And finds a lot to like, especially Amash's emphasis on "public trust".

    With his emphasis on “the public trust,” our least Hamiltonian congressman is channelling Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 65. In that essay, Hamilton described impeachment as a remedy aimed at:

    those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. 

    But that broad understanding wasn’t a point much in dispute among the Framers. James Madison described impeachment as an “indispensable” provision for “defending the Community against the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief Magistrate.” And throughout American history, federal officers have been impeached for offenses ranging from petty corruption, to neglect of duty, to withholding information from Congress, and “behaving in a manner grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office.” When Amash says that impeachment can extend to “careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct,” it may sound sweeping, but he’s on solid ground.

    I'm not quite persuaded that impeachment is an appropriate check-and-balance tool in the current day, but… maybe I'm getting there.


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File is nearing the end of its National Review run, so maybe Jonah is getting philosophical: The Problem with Certainty: Its Roots, and Its Consequences.

    I have a love–hate relationship with certainty. I often cannot stand people who inveigh against certainty as if it is a great evil. My go-to example of this is Anthony Lewis’ thumb-sucky (the thumb is silent) “Big Conclusion” of his career. He said: “Certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.”

    The first response to this, which would cause one of Harry Mudd’s android friends to implode, is “Are you certain about that?”

    Certainty, like dogma, is one of those things that people hate only when they disagree with what people are certain (or dogmatic) about. Certainty about evil things is almost always evil (even when good people are mistakenly certain about it). Certainty about good things can lead to evil if applied poorly (see The Bridge on The River Kwai). But certainty is not an evil thing in itself. I am certain that slavery is bad. I am certain that torturing puppies for fun is bad. My certainty about such things doesn’t make me an enemy of decency any more than being certain that decency is generally a good thing.

    As I get older, I find myself using the phrases "As near as I can tell…" and "I'm pretty sure that…". I could just be saving myself some future embarrassment, or maybe I'm just trying to be a good Bayesian.


  • Michael Huemer undertakes Studies in Irrationality: Marxism.

    I’ve been known to cite Marxism as an example of an irrational political belief. This is controversial in intellectual circles (indeed, some will probably be outraged by this post), but that doesn’t prevent it from being clearly true; it just means that certain forms of irrationality are popular in intellectual circles. In fact, I regard Marxism as the paradigm of an irrational political belief; if it’s not irrational, nothing is. The theory has been as soundly refuted as a social theory can be. Sometimes, people ask me to explain why I say this.

    Click through for Michael's thoroughgoing explanation. Pretty devastating.


  • At Reason, John V. C. Nye has an outrageous suggestion (also in the June 2019 magazine): Make School Hard Again. Taking off from the recent admissions scandal:

    The revelations have understandably provoked much wailing about the corruption of the university admissions process. But much less notice has been paid to another sea change that enabled this scandal to occur: It is still very hard to get into elite schools, but it's not at all difficult to graduate.

    In a different era, obtaining a diploma from an Ivy League school required hard work and real educational attainment for almost any major. The kinds of students admitted through money or connections would often struggle to make it through—hence the so-called "gentleman's C." But the vast majority of those who completed a degree could take pride in their accomplishments and rest easy knowing they were well-prepared to succeed in life.

    Not so anymore. Since the late 1960s, universities have increasingly suffered from grade inflation and an emphasis on ensuring that all admitted students graduate. At the same time, schools have become more liberal about accepting applicants based on unorthodox qualifications, from athletic ability to nonacademic accomplishments, disadvantageous backgrounds, and demonstrated social "awareness."

    Subtext: other things being equal, thanks to demographics, universities face declining enrollments. To keep the cash coming, relaxing admission requirements and dumbing down courses are obvious answers.


  • And (somewhat relevant to the previous item) Dave Barry links to a good, funny article: Why becoming a Wienermobile driver is harder than getting into Harvard. But what really made me punch my fist in the air was:

    (Thanks to Paul Sand)

    Yes! Dave typed my name with his own two hands! I'm feeling immortal today.


Last Modified 2019-06-13 4:50 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2019-05-26 Update

[Amazon Link]

Once again, no changes to our phony lineup this week. Although: Tulsi Gabbard has received some betting support at Betfair recently, making her the most likely to break our 2% "credible candidate" threshold. I imagine her new slogan ("Easier to pronounce than 'Buttigieg'") has won her some new adherents. Beto! appears to be the most likely to disappear.

Among the major candidates: Trump's win-probability improved a tad, creeping ever-closer to "even money" status. Biden faded a bit.

And phony-wise: Buttigieg remains in the lead, but by a much narrower margin over Trump this week.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/19
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/19
Pete Buttigieg 4.9% +0.9% 4,900,000 -3,850,000
Donald Trump 46.9% +1.2% 2,360,000 +580,000
Bernie Sanders 9.5% +0.2% 407,000 +17,000
Joe Biden 14.1% -1.8% 313,000 +43,000
Elizabeth Warren 3.7% -0.6% 279,000 +63,000
Kamala Harris 6.5% -0.2% 93,900 -3,300
Beto O'Rourke 2.4% -0.1% 72,800 -3,200
Andrew Yang 2.8% -0.8% 22,000 -600

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • The New York Times reported the phony news: Trump, Angered by ‘Phony’ Inquiries, Blows Up Meeting With Pelosi and Schumer.

    President Trump abruptly blew up a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday, declaring that he could not work with them until they stopped investigating him and lashing out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi for accusing him of a cover-up.

    He then marched out into the Rose Garden, where reporters had been gathered, and delivered a statement bristling with anger as he demanded that Democrats “get these phony investigations over with.” He said they could not legislate and investigate simultaneously. “We’re going to go down one track at a time,” he said.

    I would imagine it's tough to negotiate with people calling you a criminal. Never having been in that position myself. Just speculating.


  • Writing at the Daily Signal, David Harsanyi has some advice for 'liberals': Impeach Trump or Go Home, Liberals.

    For two-plus years, Democrats and their allies took advantage of a cooked-up conspiracy theory, and used the subsequent investigation as cover to disparage their opponents as traitors and spineless enablers—not only crowding out useful debate of the Trump presidency but fueling an emotionalist argument that confuses “attacks on democracy” with “not getting my way.” Now, they’ve merely transferred those hysterics to another manufactured drama.

    The same people who never met a constitutional amendment they didn’t want to weaken or destroy will now act as if a middling procedural showdown is the next Watergate.

    Fearless prediction: outside of a handful of loose cannons, Democrats will continue to do whatever the polls and focus groups tell them will maximize their election prospects.

    Ditto for Republicans.


  • What's driving Mayor Pete's continuing strong showing of phony hits? Well, one thing might be this Washington Examiner story: Pete Buttigieg outs himself as a fake moderate.

    Pete Buttigieg is articulate, intelligent, and, at least on the surface, looking to reach across the aisle.

    He has traveled the country during his campaign, saying things such as “freedom does not belong to one political party,” and “security is not a Left or Right issue." So it’s not exactly surprising that the media narrative surrounding Buttigieg’s insurgent presidential campaign has painted him as a moderate Democrat, a fresh but relatively safe alternative to the radicalism offered by candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

    It’s too bad this narrative is a sham. On Thursday, Buttigieg finally updated his campaign website with a policy platform, and his issues page reads like a socialist’s Christmas list, betraying his image as a supposed moderate.

    Yeah, they're pretty odious, and pretty much on par with the rest of the Democrat field.

    Particularly irritating: under his "Freedom" label, he advocates uniformly for giving the government more money and power to control, regulate, and shower "free" goodies on chosen constituencies. (E.g., teachers: "Freedom means empowering our children by investing in our nation's teachers.")

    Coming to a New Hampshire license plate near you: "Increase Teacher Pay or Die".


  • In our occasional "Of Course He Did" Department, Paul Mirengoff notices at Power Line: Joe Biden flips on the Hyde Amendment.

    The extent to which Biden is standing up to the Democratic left is also overstated. Recognizing the degree to which his party has moved left, Biden is repudiating positions he held for years, perhaps most notably on immigration and most pathetically on Anita Hill.

    Now, as John McCormack of NRO observes, Biden has switched his position on the Hyde Amendment. This piece of legislation prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger.

    Paul dredges Biden quotes (one as recent as 2008) in which he proudly refers to his principled stand against federal funding of abortion. A principle easily jettisoned when inconvenient to his election prospects.

    The media has already given Biden a pass this time around on his past lies and plagiarism, so I imagine this will also go unnoticed outside the circle of rabid right-wingers.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith calls for an autopsy. Because Phony Betomania Has Bitten the Dust.

    In mid-March Beto was clocking up to 12 percent in national polls. The last two polls have him at 4 percent and 4 percent. A Pennsylvania poll put him at 2 percent. Same in South Carolina. He’s winning only 22 percent in the Texas Democratic Primary, a point behind Joe Biden. Voters seeking someone normal are going with Uncle Joe; voters seeking youthful dynamism are turning to Pete Buttigieg. As Seth Mandel puts it, the more people look at Beto, the more they prefer Pete. It turns out that being cuter than Ted Cruz just isn’t worth as much on the national stage as we all thought. He might be the first person ever to run for the White House on a platform of asking the nation to help him figure out who he is,” I wrote in March. O’Rourke is a lightweight. He’s tissue paper. He’s a rice cake.

    Other Democrats have taken to openly mocking O’Rourke for his standing-on-things shtick. Today, the rudest news of all. No one cares about Beto enough, anymore, to seek out oppo research on him.Requests for oppo on him have completely died off, notes an operative. O’Rourke is reduced to apologizing for his privilege on The View. After that appearance, he tried to reenergize his campaign by live-streaming himself getting a haircut. This is not the move to make when voters are beginning to seek out substance. Even the glossy magazine profilers are losing interest. And they were his main constituency. If O’Rourke thought he was going to skateboard into the Oval Office, that appears unlikely.

    That's a telling sign of a campaign on its last legs: nobody's interested in digging up dirt on you.


  • George F. Will also has Beto observations, but also on Kirsten, Joe, Bill, and Pete. Let's just snip out one paragraph from How the Democratic field is winnowing itself.

    The first substantive sentence — this counts as substance nowadays — in New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s video announcing his candidacy is: “There’s plenty of money in this world, there’s plenty of money in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands.” He is a socialist who means it: Redistribution and nothing but, because wealth creation is so 20th-century, now that there is “plenty” of money sloshing around. His solutions to our national problems include banning Manhattan: “The glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming” have “no place in our city or on our Earth anymore.” A thought experiment: If O’Rourke, de Blasio and some other presidential candidates were Republican moles insinuated into the Democratic scramble in order to make that party look absurd and the current president look thoughtful, how would they behave differently?

    I don't know the answer to that question.


URLs du Jour

2019-05-25

[Amazon Link]

I believe a more appropriate subtitle for our Amazon Product du Jour would be: "Why It's So Hard To Get White People To Shut Up and Listen To Us Harangue Them About Their Shortcomings". But I could be wrong! If someone's read it, let me know.

  • That's inspired by Jay Nordlinger's recent Impromptus, 'White' and Other Current Epithets. In which he observed:

    Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania state legislator went on a rant against a woman protesting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. You can read about the incident here. I would like to fasten on a single detail — not the most important, by a long shot. The legislator called the woman “an old white lady.”

    I wonder, “Why ‘white’?” (We can leave the “old” till another time.) What does race have to do with it? I often find this on Twitter — when my critics condemn me as “an old white man.” Okay — but are my views right or wrong? Smart or stupid? Well expressed or badly expressed?

    Those things are ignored. “Old white man” seems enough.

    In the wake of Alabama’s anti-abortion legislation, critics have said that the legislators are “white men.” (I haven’t seen “old” as much.) The “men” I get, in the context of pro-choice rhetoric. But the “white”?

    It seems to me just a reflex epithet — like “fascist.” George Orwell said, “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’”

    Speaking as an old white man myself, I'm slightly puzzled by the implication that pigeonholing-by-skin-color is seen as a useful tactic. Folks, it doesn't make your argument insightful or even correct. It just shows that you're willing to be distracted by trivialities for imagnined rhetorical effect.


  • Case in point, as reported by the Daily Wire: Anne Hathaway Scolds Pro-Life ‘White Women’ Over Abortion Laws.

    Over the weekend, award-winning actress Anne Hathaway scolded pro-life "white women" for supporting abortion-restricting legislation sweeping the nation. Hathaway accused such women of being "complicit" in the allegedly inevitable deaths of racial minority women due to such laws.

    "Yes the anti-abortion movement is primarily about controlling women’s bodies under the premise (for many, sincere) of saving lives, and yes this law is primarily the work of white men HOWEVER a white woman sponsored the bill and a white woman signed it into law," she wrote in an Instagram post.

    There might be people out there on the fence, who are persuaded by Anne's ominous invocation of "white". Especially when it comes from someone who was so charming in The Princess Diaries.

    But are those the people you want to have on your side?


  • Reason's Steven Greenhut makes an observation and asks for clarification: The State Can’t Keep Drugs Out of Prisons. How Was It Ever Going to Keep Them Out of America?.

    Of the 1,000 or so California bills that likely will become law this year, virtually every measure will give government more power to do one thing or another. The consensus in the Capitol is that the government "must do something" about any problem that pops into a lawmaker's mind. Most bills deal with relatively small expansions, but make no mistake about it: state officials want to seize control of big stuff, too, such as the healthcare system.

    However, lawmakers routinely shrug at the crises that afflict every government-controlled system in the state. The public pension funds, which provide lush retirements to state and local workers, are awash in "unfunded liabilities" (debt), thus driving municipal budgets toward the fiscal cliff and crowding out public services. Nothing to see there. California's public schools range from incompetent to mediocre, but nothing ever changes. No one listens.

    There's something a little bizarre about not-particularly-competent pols assuming they can twist enough coercive dials and flip enough regulatory switches to usher in Nirvana.

    Oh, the drug part? Here: "Nearly 1,000 men and women in California prisons overdosed last year and required emergency medical attention in what officials acknowledge is part of an alarming spike in opioid use by those behind bars," (San Francisco Chronicle)


  • Bobby Dylan turns 78 today! Fellow Minnesotan Scott Johnson celebrates here and here at Power Line. Reflecting on Dylan's origins in remote Hibbing, MN:

    I wonder how Dylan could have absorbed all the strains of American popular music in a town as remote as Hibbing. The radio was apparently Dylan’s indispensable source, but the development of his gifts seems incredibly unlikely. How could he have formed the ambition to become “Bob Dylan” from his roots in Hibbing? The town must have provided some encouragement, even if it also provided the impetus for him to move on and not look back. The people he left behind there remain incredibly nice.

    Confession: I didn't "get" Dylan when I was growing up. I've come to appreciate him more.

    Scott provides a number of YouTubed covers of Dylan songs. Here's a goodie, an Elvis cover that Dylan claimed to be “the one recording I treasure the most.”:

  • And you will not want to miss the answer to a question that I've wondered about since I was 10 years old or so: US Astronaut Reveals if Space Farts Can Send One Soaring in Zero-Gravity.

    Yes, it's clickbait. And probably not news you can use. Still…

URLs du Jour

2019-05-24

[Amazon Link]

  • At Cato, Derek Bonett asks Wherefore the Freedom Caucus? I believe that "wherefore" is used here in the sense of "What's the point of".

    In a column for Reason Magazine yesterday, Matt Welch asks “What’s the point of a ‘limited government’ bloc that doesn’t limit government?” Indeed, in the Trump era some of the President’s most strident defenders can be found amongst the ranks of the Freedom Caucus, and, as my colleague Chris Edwards points out, they seem every bit as comfortable with big deficits as the other fiscal-conservatives-cum-spendthrifts in the GOP.

    But, to my knowledge, nobody has yet performed a systematic analysis of the Freedom Caucus’ voting behavior vis-a-vis other Republicans in the House. Do they, as a caucus, even vote cohesively? If so, are they at all differentiable from generic Republican House members? I set out to test this using the NOMINATE methodology to assign an “ideal-point” estimate for each member of the House during the modern era of Republican dominance (2011-2018). […]

    What follows is an interesting use of software and visualization to investigate Freedom Caucus voting behavior. Marred somewhat by the time period chosen, 2011-2018; Matt Welch was pretty clearly bashing them for their behavior under Trump, so 2017-2018 would have been more appropriate.


  • Charles Sykes writes at the Bulwark on those In Pursuit of Fiscal Unicorns.

    Pollsters want to know: Would you like to make the world a better place and help plants, animals, and small children? How about a program to save the earth from imminent destruction that won’t really cost you anything, cuz it’s free?

    I mean who wouldn’t? And why wouldn’t progressives in places like Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. think they are massive political winners?

    All we need is a Fiscal Unicorn –a magical source of cash that makes the desired object – universal child care, health care, and Green New Deals – pain free. The national debt now tops $22 trillion, but we live in an age that is more than willing to suspend disbelief and mathematics alike.

    Charles goes on to note that a recent poll that claiming "that more than 80 percent of the public supported the Green New Deal" was "basically a push poll." Which brings us to, coincidentally, …


  • … the Union Leader reporting that Survey finds wide support for NH commuter rail.

    A new poll indicates a large percentage of Granite State residents favor passenger train service between Boston and southern New Hampshire.

    The Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll found 75.5% of residents surveyed said they are in support of expanding passenger rail service to Boston from Manchester and Nashua, according to a release Monday from New Hampshire Businesses for Rail Expansion, a statewide, nonpartisan business coalition that launched in January 2018.

    Is this another poll in favor of making the world a better place and helping plants, animals, and small children? Probably.

    Could it have been a push poll, where all sorts of benefits were rattled off to the pollees, with no mention of costs? Possibly. I can't find any report of the actual question asked. The poll was commissioned by a "coalition" calling itself the "New Hampshire Business for Rail Expansion". Cynics (like your blogger) might read this as "New Hampshire Businesses Who Stand to Reap Rent-Seeking Profits From Rail Expansion".

    [Update 2019-05-29: Actual question asked was pretty bare-bones: “Would you support or oppose commuter rail connecting Manchester or Nashua with Boston?” No costs mentioned, but no rosy benefits either.]

    The group's website lists theoretical benefits that might have been pre-fed to the pollees. "5,600 permanent jobs supporting 3,600 new residential units"! "1,730 jobs would be created every year beginning in 2030"! And the like.

    More cynicism: rail projects traditionally are sold by lowballing costs, and wildly inflating benefits. Unpleasant surprises inevitably are revealed once things are in motion.

    And even taking those rosy numbers at face value, it's an object lesson in Bastiat's Seen/Unseen. What we don't see when all that money is "invested" in rail: to what other uses could that have gone to?


  • Michael Graham of NH Insider interviews Marianne Williamson, Tea Party Progressive?. This bit was, um, "interesting":

    But perhaps Williamson’s most progressive position is her call for up to $500 billion in cash payments for slavery reparations, which she says “is not some black agenda. It’s an American agenda.”

    “My campaign is based on the idea of moral and spiritual regeneration,” Williamson told NHJournal. “Lincoln said a nation must confess its sins. A nation, like a person, must take a serious moral inventory. We simply can’t have the future we want if we don’t clean up the past.”

    According to a statement from her campaign, “Marianne supports reparations in the form of establishing a commission or council which would direct investment in economic and educational revitalization and renewal, not cash payments.”

    Hm. Calls for "up to $500 billion in cash payments" in the first paragraph. Followed by a "not cash payments" clarification in the third.


  • So let's go to Marianne's website. The relevant page is titled: Racial Reconciliation & Healing.

    For that reason, I propose a $200 billion - $500 billion plan of reparations for slavery, the money to be disbursed over a period of twenty years. An esteemed council of African-American leaders would determine the educational and economic projects to which the money would be given.

    "Esteemed". Well, all righty, then!


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for an article in Yes! Weekly, a publication from down in North Carolina: Greensboro Roller Derby to celebrate LGBTQIA Pride month with themed bout.

    Greensboro Roller Derby (GSORD) is excited to announce its third home team bout of the season, the Mad Dollies versus the Battleground Betties! These two teams will face off for the first time this season in a Pride-themed bout, as June is national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) Pride month. Spectators are encouraged to wear rainbow to show support for LGBTQIA rights, culture and communities while watching exciting derby action as these two rival teams square off.

    Greensboro Roller Derby strives to be a place of acceptance to all of our skaters and volunteers, and our skaters are excited to come together in our first ever Pride-themed bout to celebrate Pride month. Battleground Betties Co-Captain Live Free or Die (aka FOD) remarked, “I’m beyond excited that GSORD is hosting our first Pride-themed bout. I’ve seen other derby leagues do it before and I think it’s such a wonderful concept to celebrate our community of Queer skaters and help them feel heard or seen, whether they are out or not. Although I don’t look forward to hitting my amazing derby wife, Queenie, the Dollies are always such an amazing and fun team to play against! It’s going to be a great bout!”

    I have… no additional comment. Except to wish everyone involved good luck.


Last Modified 2019-05-29 4:37 AM EDT

Nothing Stays Buried

[Amazon Link]

The 2017 entry in P. J. Tracy's "Monkeewrench" series. P. J. Tracy was a mother-daughter writing team, but mom passed away. The daughter continues the series here without a glitch.

As always, there are two crime-fighting teams here: there's the Minneapolis Police Department detectives, concentrating on the able and likeable duo of Magozzi and Rolseth. And then there's "Monkeewrench", an elite team of super-hackers. An important link: Magozzi is sweet on chief-Monkewrencher Grace. To the extent that (in this book) she's pregant with his child.

But as far as crime goes: there's a serial killer on the loose in the Twin Cities, gruesomely preying upon young women jogging in parks after dark. Which understandably is occupying the cops.

But the Monkeewrench folks are taking their show on the road, responding to a southwest Minnesota farmer whose daughter has gone missing. Are these two investigations linked. (Spoiler: yah, you betcha.)

There's also a lion that provides an important clue. (Yes, I said: a lion. Honest.) And a very bad storm which leads to more gruesomeness.

The series is not my favorite, but it's pretty good.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-23

[Amazon Link]

  • Mark J. Perry, at AEI, does some anti-mythologizing of Big Business: Only 52 US companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity. Much data, names are dropped, and here's the bottom line:

    As consumers, we should appreciate the fact that we are the ultimate beneficiaries of the Schumpeterian creative destruction that drives the dynamism of the market economy and results in a constant churning of the firms who are ultimately fighting to attract as many of our dollar votes as possible. The 500 top winners of that competitive battle in any given year are the firms in the Fortune 500, ranked not by their profits, assets or number of employees, but by what is ultimately most important in a market economy: the dollar votes (sales revenues) cast by consumers — the “kings and queens” who rule supreme in the marketplace.

    Emphasis in original. Next time someone tells you that the game is rigged in favor of big business, show them this article and ask why big businesses don't "rig" things to assure their immortality?


  • In Pun Salad's occasional "Of Course She Does" Department, Reason's Peter Suderman reports: Kamala Harris Wants to Force Companies to Report Pay Data to the Federal Government—and Fine Them If They Don’t Offer Equal Pay. Hey, what could go wrong with that? Well, among other things:

    There are plenty of things that could go wrong with a plan like this: For one, it might end up backfiring if firms responded to the threat of fines by avoiding hiring women for certain types of jobs. Overt discrimination would be prohibited, but with incentives to discriminate in place, and the threat of penalties looming, some firms would probably find a way, at least at the margins. It could also encourage firms to outsource jobs that might have gone to women, in order to keep them out of the reporting data.

    … and much more at the link. But (generally speaking) putting the inner workings of your biz under the eye (and thumb) of Federal bureaucrats who don't really care much about it sounds like a bad idea.


  • At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok discusses One of the Greatest Environmental Crimes of the 20th Century. Quoting a Pacific Standard article:

    It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.”

    Whoa. In other words, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, without all the space and time travel stuff. But (as it turns out) all that slaughter was literally without purpose.

    The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products. “Whalers knew that no matter what, the plan must be met!” Berzin wrote. The Sovetskaya Rossiya seemed to contain in microcosm everything Berzin believed to be wrong about the Soviet system: its irrationality, its brutality, its inclination toward crime.

    Sure, we're told: socialism will do a lot better next time.


  • Also on that topic, Bryan Caplan muses on the use and abuse of the S-word: "Socialism": The Provocative Equivocation.

    The socialists are back, but is it a big deal?  It’s tempting to say that it’s purely rhetorical.  Modern socialists don’t want to emulate the Soviet Union.  To them, socialism just means “Sweden,” right?  Even if their admiration for Sweden is unjustified, we’ve long known that the Western world contains millions of people who want their countries to be like Sweden.  Why should we care if Sweden-fans rebrand themselves as “socialists”?

    My instinctive objection is that even using the term “socialism” is an affront to the many millions of living victims of Soviet-style totalitarian regimes.  Talking about “socialism” understandably horrifies them.  Since there are plenty of palatable synonyms for Swedish-type policies (starting even “Swedenism”!), selecting this particular label seems a breach of civility.

    If this seems paranoid, what would you say about a new movement of self-styled “national socialists”?  Even if their policy positions were moderate, this brand needlessly terrifies lots of folks who have already suffered enough.

    The civility issue aside, Bryan notes that a lot of self-billed "socialists" are high on criticism, weak on clearly defining their actual proposals.


  • The always-sensible Veronique de Rugy writes that Trump’s Immigration Plan Could Use Some Work.

    Last week, the Trump administration released the outline of an immigration plan meant to reshape how and which people are allowed into the United States. The plan would prioritize merit-based immigration and high-skilled labor over those who already have family here. Far from comprehensive or sufficient, it's a modest improvement over the administration's previous restrictive pushes.

    The plan's centerpiece is a shift toward a "merit" system very similar to those in place in Australia and Canada. The reform would boost skill-based immigration from 12% to 57%, while decreasing family-based and lottery-based immigration by 50%. This is great news for employers in the market for high-skilled workers. Indeed, the cap for H-1B visas (for temporary, skilled workers) and employment-based green cards has not increased for many years, while the U.S. workforce has grown by 38 million since these programs' inception.

    So what needs work? There's no resolution for the so-called "Dreamers". And (Veronique thinks) there needs to be more low-skill immigration too. I'm skeptical on that last point, but I'm willing to be convinced.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-22

[Amazon Link]

  • P. J. O'Rourke, writing in the WaPo, has a modest proposal: It’s time to make rich people uncomfortable again.

    Lately there has been a lot of anger and indignation about income inequality. Some blame this on . . . income inequality. I blame it on rich people in T-shirts.

    I won’t mention Mark Zuckerberg by name. But, honestly, young man, you’re almost 35 years old, worth $72 billion, and you’re wearing your underwear in public.

    Peej is always worth reading. But the subtext… The article features an illustration with Zuck, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Richard Branson,… and Jeff Bezos. Who (you probably don't need to be reminded) owns the WaPo.

    Even better, or worse, depending on your attitudes: Peej also complains:

    Rich people are also having fun — launching their own rocket ships, sending lewd selfies, buying private islands (Manhattan, for example). Having fun was something rich people didn’t used to do, at least not as far as we poor people could tell.

    And (as you also probably don't need to be reminded) two of those three examples are Bezos-relevant.

    I'm not sure what to make of that. I would expect Peej to take shots at Bezos. But I can't help but wonder what the fate of the relevant WaPo editors will be in the near future.


  • Guaranteed to make lefty heads explode is a New Republic article by Win McCormack, Socialism in No Country.

    There is now an organization in the United States called the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA)—the youth wing of the older DSA. Unfortunately, no self-identified socialist regime in the world—all of which have been installed by professional revolutionists in the Marxist-Leninist tradition—has ever been the least bit democratic. No democratically elected legislative body has ever voted to take control of their nation’s “means of production,” except to the most modest extent. Jacobin magazine, which could reasonably serve as the house organ of the YDSA, points to Salvador Allende’s brief presidency of Chile as an example of a situation in which true socialism might have been democratically installed, had it not been for America’s intervention.

    There’s good reason to be skeptical of that claim. Allende, elected to his nation’s presidency in 1970 with 36.3 percent of the vote, was ousted in a bloody coup by right-wing forces three years later. Thirty years on, Chilean socialists would argue that Allende’s basic error was in disregarding “the law of the three-thirds,” meaning the almost even division between left, right, and center in Chilean politics. Allende represented a Popular Unity coalition, in which his principal partner was the Chilean Communist Party. While Allende seems to have been sincere in his commitment to build a “democratic, pluralistic, and libertarian” model of socialism (whatever he imagined that meant), Chile’s hard-line Communist Party was not so committed. Its leaders pressured Allende to move ahead ever faster with a radical socialist agenda, alarming not only Chilean rightists and many centrists as well, but also Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, an informal adviser to Allende. In conversation with the Chilean foreign minister, Zhou said tersely, “You’re going too fast,” and implied doubt about whether it would be possible to create socialism in a country with a parliament and free press (i.e., a democracy), especially at such reckless speed.

    Win McCormack is editor in chief of The New Republic. The mag is probably not going to turn into National Review, I suppose, but still.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum weighs in on the last honest Republican Congresscritter: Justin Amash Is Right About Impeachable Conduct.

    Justin Amash thinks Donald Trump is guilty of "impeachable conduct," and he is absolutely right. Impeachable conduct is whatever the House of Representatives decides it is, a point the president's defenders and some of his critics seem determined to obscure.

    The House impeached Bill Clinton for lying under oath about oral sex, and the conduct described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report is more troubling and consequential, even if it does not amount to a crime that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. When Amash, a five-term Michigan congressman, became the first Republican legislator to make that point, the reaction revealed how determined his colleagues are to evade their responsibilities.

    I can't help but think "obstruction of justice" is what prosecutors charge you with when they can't find enough evidence to make the case for an actual crime.


  • Baseball stats geeks will love Dave Sheinin's article in the WaPo: Velocity is strangling baseball — and its grip keeps tightening.

    A flame-throwing relief pitcher enters a game — mid-inning, runners on base, tie score — sending the telecast to another commercial break, dialing back the tension in the stadium and pushing the game into its fourth hour. As he faces his first batter, two more relievers are warming up in the bullpen.

    He takes huge breaths and lengthy pauses between pitches, as he gears up for each neck-straining, 100-mph heater or sharp-breaking slider. The hitter, fully aware he has little chance of making contact, likewise gears up to swing for the fences, just in case he does. The defense, anticipating the full-throttle hack, shifts acutely to the hitter’s pull side.

    Within this scenario are the ingredients many believe are strangling the game of baseball: long games with little action, the growing reliance on relief pitchers at the expense of starters, the all-or-nothing distillation of the essential pitcher/hitter matchup. Those are some of the problems Major League Baseball is contemplating, with newly installed and proposed rule changes. But they are merely the symptoms.

    A lot of impressive numbers and neat visualizations help Dave make his point. I'm impressed, but… I tend to take baseball as it is, not as I might wish it to be. No, it's not thrill-a-minute. But here are a couple things I've fantasized about in the past: (1) A pitch clock: throw the ball within 35 seconds of your previous pitch, or it's an automatic ball. (2) No batter-requested timeouts. If you're not ready to swing the bat when the pitch comes, it's just too darn bad. Plan your day better.


  • And finally a Babylon Bee twofer, both riffing off Robert F. Smith's promise to pay off the college loans of Morehouse College's graduating class. First up: Bernie Sanders Criticizes Billionaire For Giving Money To Students Instead Of The Needy Federal Government.

    Bernie Sanders's favorite pastime is calling out evil billionaires for their evilness. Sanders found the perfect opportunity to do this once again as billionaire Robert F. Smith announced he would be paying off the student debt of those who graduated from Morehouse College.

    Sanders pointed to the egregious waste of funds as a perfect example of what happens when billionaires are allowed to keep their money.

    Satire, but… is it, really?


  • But another presidential candidate weighed in (fictionally) as well: Elizabeth Warren Surprises Grads By Announcing She Will Sharply Increase Their Taxes To Pay For Their Student Loans.

    Speaking to the graduating class of 2019 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Senator Elizabeth Warren proudly announced she would be sharply increasing their taxes in order to pay for their own student loans, which were inflated by government subsidies in the first place.

    After an inspiring speech in which she encouraged students to let the government do everything for them instead of doing things themselves and to exploit any minority status they have, or even ones they don't have, Warren unveiled her generous offer.

    Snopes will no doubt rate this article "false", including the final shot: "At publishing time, Warren had told all the students to look under their seats for a free, authentic Indian headdress she had purchased at the Dollar Tree."

URLs du Jour

2019-05-21

[Amazon Link]

  • At the Bulwark, Christian Vanderbrouk asserts that we are becoming A Nation of Fake Lawyers.

    A generation ago, the politically aware citizen with a bee in his bonnet might write a letter to his member of Congress or the newspaper. Today he’s spamming memes across Twitter and Facebook, and applying engagement metrics to A-B test the most effective lines of attack.

    As a result, Americans are embracing sophistry, and arguing more like litigators than citizens. This is especially true for discussions about presidential accountability, which take place in the gray area between four quadrants: the legal, the political, the moral, and the prudent.

    For example, Christian continues, take the emoluments clause. How hard is that to understand, even without passing the bar exam?

    Well, Christian thinks it's a slam-dunk against Trump. Maybe!


  • At NR, Rich Lowry deploys a gun-violence metaphor: Bernie Sanders Targets Charter Schools.

    Few things offend Bernie Sanders as much as people escaping from command-and-control government systems, even minority students whose parents are desperate to get their kids a decent education.

    The socialist wants to turn George Wallace on his head and not block black children from attending traditional public schools, but block them from exiting those schools for something better.

    Sanders' proposal wouldn't affect "the rich"; like Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, they can afford to opt out of government schools and send their kids elsewhere. But Bernie's not just "targeting" the charter schools, he's targeting the kids whose parents can't afford other options.


  • And the (possibly paywalled) WSJ published a pun-filled op-ed on the metric system from James Panero: Be a Leader, Not a Liter.

    World Metrology Day is Monday. Forgive me if I don’t raise a pint—sorry, 473 milliliters—in commemoration. This date is meant to celebrate the International System of Units, otherwise known as the metric system. Against pascals of pressure, the U.S. stands nearly alone in maintaining its own “customary units” of weights and measures. We should stand tall on our own 2 feet. The metric system has never measured up. It was customary units that calibrated the machinery of the Industrial Revolution and took us 240,000 miles to the moon.

    Proponents of the metric system have been metering out contempt since their inhuman invention emerged from the French Revolution. In 1793 France’s own customary units, including the pied du Roi (king’s foot), fell victim to Jacobin Terror. The radicals standardized regional differences and went the extra mile, rationalizing their measures through the blinding logic of Enlightenment thought.

    The single reasonable argument for the metric system was (allegedly) easy calculation; just move the decimal point! But that argument went out the window when calculators became cheaper than dirt. And today, you don't even need that: Google will be happy to tell you the speed of light in furlongs per fortnight (1.803 x 1012).


  • And Iowahawk has taken his priceless schtick to Twitter these days where (as the Daily Wire reports) he's happy to use the media to mercilessly mock the sophisticates. Latest mockable example from a Politico reporter:

    Just one of the Hawk's tweets:


  • And, yes, I know Jimmy Fallon can be Politically Tedious, but he can also be wonderful, especially if you are a Who fan: Jimmy Fallon, The Who & The Roots Sing "Won't Get Fooled Again" playing Classroom Instruments.

    I look at some folks and say "Wow, that guy has the best job ever." Often about Dave O'Brien, NESN announcer for Red Sox games. But Jimmy Fallon is right up there too.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-20

[Amazon Link]

  • At American Consequences, P. J. O'Rourke provides a primer: Negative Rights vs. Positive Rights.

    There’s a reason why so much political thinking starts out in the neighborhood of Idealism, crosses Naive Street, and winds up in Stupidville.

    The reason is confusion between negative rights and positive rights.

    We all agree that rights are wonderful, and we’ve got a lot of them – at least in this country – and we should get a lot more.

    But there are two kinds of rights – Getoutta Here Rights and Gimmie Rights. Or, as they’re called in political theory, “negative rights” and “positive rights.”

    Negative rights are our rights to be left alone – to do, be, think, and say (and buy and sell) whatever we want as long as our behavior doesn’t cause real harms.

    Positive rights are our rights to real goods – our rights to get things. The right to education. The right to health care. The right to a living wage, etc.

    And positive "rights" can be established and expanded at whim. Peej is a little easier on those than I am.


  • At his Fake Nous blog, philosopher Michael Huemer looks at the A-issue: Abortion Is Difficult. There's a long discussion, but here's the bottom line:

    I don’t have many conclusions from all this. But here is one conclusion: If the abortion issue seems very simple and obvious to you, then you’re probably a dogmatic ideologue, and your ideology is stopping you from appreciating this very subtle, complex question. Abortion is a highly intellectually interesting issue, connected with all sorts of important — and very difficult and controversial — issues: Issues about personal identity, potentiality, the foundation of rights, the physical basis of consciousness, the doctrine of double effect, special obligations to family, negative vs. positive conceptions of rights, and the problem of moral uncertainty.

    I think that's pretty much correct. Darned biology keeps invading our neat philosophical air-castles, causing a mess.


  • Big news, reported by Reason's Eric Boehm: Rep. Justin Amash Says Trump ‘Has Engaged in Impeachable Conduct’.

    In a series of tweets this afternoon, Justin Amash accused President Donald Trump of having "engaged in impeachable conduct." The libertarian-leaning Michigan congressman blamed his fellow Republican legislators for choosing to defend the president rather than the Constitution in the wake of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's report.

    "Mueller's report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment," Amash tweeted. "In fact, Mueller's report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence."

    I think Trump should be impeached, but not for some bogus "obstruction of justice" allegation, but for his multiple sins against the Constitution.

    Of course, I've thought Obama should have been impeached for similar reasons.

    Also Dubya, for signing McCain-Feingold even though he thought it was unconstitutional.

    Bill Clinton, of course.

    George H. W. Bush? Well, maybe.


  • At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff is not a fan of Justin Amash, a party of one.

    Amash is a hard core libertarian of the Ron Paul variety. Earlier this year, he did not rule out running for president in 2020 as the Libertarian Party candidate.

    Amash is a Palestinian-American. He routinely votes against Israel’s interests. For example, he voted against additional funding for Israel’s anti-missile system, Iron Dome, during the 2014 Gaza war. He even voted against a bill to set a 90-day deadline for President Donald Trump to fill the position of anti-Semitism monitor. Apparently, the bill would have passed unanimously but for Amash’s opposition.

    Yeesh. Of that I was unaware. If Amash winds up on the ballot, I could conceivably just skip voting for President in 2020.


  • Kevin D. Williamson is not a Trump fan, but he sees merit (heh) in Trump's latest effort: Immigration Reform: Merit-Based System Serves U.S. Interests.

    Having chain-migrated his way into the White House and a little bit of political power, Donald Trump’s son-in-law is shopping around an immigration plan. And if you can get past the hilarious juxtaposition of the words “merit-based” and “Jared Kushner,” it’s a pretty good one.

    As things stand, the majority of immigrants to the United States (the majority of legal immigrants, anyway) qualify for entry on the basis of having a family member legally present in the United States. This is the mechanism behind what is known as “chain migration,” in which one member of a family provides entry to another, who provides entry to another, who provides entry to another, and so on.

    In contrast, a small share of immigrants — about 12 percent — enter the country on the basis of a job offer or the possession of certain skills or education that make them desirable to employers. (Others enter as investors, coming in as potential employers rather than potential employees.) These are everything from doctors to software developers.

    Kushner’s agenda is to reverse those proportions, reducing the number of entrants through family-based immigration and loosening up restrictions on highly skilled workers. The plan would also eliminate the “lottery,” the visa system under which 50,000 applicants are selected randomly (almost randomly, anyway) in the name of diversity, albeit a kind of diversity that excludes Canadians, Englishmen, Indians, Brazilians, Nigerians, and many others. It is difficult to think of a worse criterion for the admission of new Americans than randomness.

    Sounds (mostly) good to me, but (of course) even mostly-good is a dealbreaker for Democrats.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for an article in the UK (!) edition of Wired: 3D-printed guns are back, and this time they are unstoppable. Discussion centers on "Ivan the Troll" a spokesmodel for the decentralized, so far successfully unsquelched, movement.

    One of his most recent videos shows the polymer Glock 17 frame in various stages of production in his workshop. The footage is set to fast-paced synthwave music and is run through a trendy VHS filter – the aesthetics are important. Toward the end, Ivan fires several rounds with the fully built handgun, as text flashes up saying “ANYONE CAN MAKE IT”, “LIVE FREE OR DIE”, and “GO AHEAD TRY TO STOP THIS YOU FILTHY STATISTS”. He’s also uploaded the complete CAD reference model designs for a 3D-printed AR-15 assault rifle to his file-sharing space online. It’s clear Ivan is trying to provoke his detractors as much as possible.

    It's Wired, so there's some expected hand-wringing about "gun violence", but it's pretty clear that homemade guns are a negligible-to-zero part of that.

The Phony Campaign

2019-05-19 Update

[Amazon Link]

Another busy week in the presidential race! Did you hear that Bill de Blasio is running? Probably you did, but the Betfair betters were unimpressed (probability: sub-1%, comparable to Jay Inslee, Steve Bullock, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Julian Castro, Oprah, Eric Swalwell, Cory Booker, and a pile of others.)

So: again, no changes to our phony lineup. According to Betfair, Elizabeth Warren is showing surprising signs of life; Beto! is flirting with elimination; Bernie's fading.

And Donald Trump is coming close to even odds for re-election. But continues to be walloped by Mayor Pete in phony hits. C'mon, Big Orange, you can do it!

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/12
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/12
Pete Buttigieg 4.0% -0.2% 8,750,000 +610,000
Donald Trump 45.7% +2.0% 1,780,000 +300,000
Bernie Sanders 9.3% -1.7% 390,000 +11,000
Joe Biden 15.9% -0.5% 270,000 -5,000
Elizabeth Warren 4.3% +0.3% 216,000 +19,000
Kamala Harris 6.7% +0.8% 97,200 +600
Beto O'Rourke 2.5% -0.8% 76,000 +6,800
Andrew Yang 3.6% unch 22,600 -700

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • The p-word featured prominently in a recent Dana Perino interview with Gov. Sununu on Fox News. They concentrate on the horse race:

    Dana: So Joe Biden is up by a point in this poll. But what is it really?

    Sununu: Um well I gotta tell ya. That's very telling. I mean Bernie is from Vermont, so naturally Bernie should do very well in New Hampshire.

    Dana: Elizabeth Warren is from Massachusetts. Shouldn't she do better in New Hampshire?

    Sununu: No. Because whether you… policy aside, our first litmus test is being genuine, do we buy into you as a person. Right? Do we connect with you at a gut level. And that goes with Republicans and Democrats. Bernie, I mean his policies are just insane, but at least he is what he is and he doesn't apologize for it. Warren is more of a phony, right, and people don't buy into any sense of genuineness there.

    Notes: I take responsibility for any transcription errors. And in more recent polls, Joe Biden is up by double digits, not "a point".

    And I'm not sure how Warren's bad polling reflects here perceived phoniness, as opposed to her strident unlikeability.


  • And not everyone's as convinced of Bernie's authenticity. For example, At least one smart guy down in Cambridge: Harvard's Laurence Tribe calls Bernie Sanders a 'phony'.

    Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe on Monday took a swipe at 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), calling him a “phony.”

    Tribe tweeted that he was making his assertion “based on watching [Sanders] for decades,” while also saying he did not think the Independent senator is “a monster” like he believes President Trump to be.

    “I’d prefer him massively over Trump. But I’d prefer a cardboard box over Trump,” Tribe added.

    I, for one, might vote for a cardboard box over just about anyone.

    [Note: Tribe's tweet may have been deleted, I can't find it. Perhaps he sobered up at some point since.]


  • Luke "Grr" Savage writes to (I guess) his fellow Jacobins at Jacobin magazine: We Can Do Way Better Than These Guys.

    […] there’s good reason to believe that the upcoming primary contest will end up resembling the GOP’s chaotic and disorienting 2016 race, in which Republican elites scrambled to find the secret formula that could arrest Donald Trump’s momentum, cycling awkwardly through donor-friendly suits like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich before finally settling on the widely loathed (and spectacularly unsuccessful) Ted Cruz. (Most of those Republican elites then swiftly turned on a dime, becoming die-hard Trump loyalists.)

    In similar fashion, Democratic power brokers and consultants have already auditioned several Anything But Bernie vehicles and are likely to test-drive a few more before the race is through. Even at this early stage, the primaries have become a kind of phony war in which an array of functionally indistinguishable establishment candidates compete to make the contest about something, anything, other than a decisive break with the political and economic status quo.

    Interesting point of view. By which I mean: completely delusional and mistaken. The non-Sanders candidates are "indistinguishable" only if you view them from the far left wing, and you still have to scrunch up your eyes to intentionally view your vision.

    Still, it's kinda what you expect to see from a publication named after a movement primarily known for beheading its opponents.


  • In our occasional "Of Course She Does" Department, we have the report from Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason: Kamala Harris Lies. At issue: Kamala's on-again, off-again support for the California truancy laws that criminalized parents if their kids skipped school. You might find this squirming to be hilarious:

    In any event, Harris explicitly defended her truancy crime lawsand lied about themin an interview with Jake Tapper that aired Sunday on CNN. Harris told Tapper, falsely, that "not one parent was sent to jail" because of her initiative:

    TAPPER: Well, you pushed for a statewide law, right, a statewide truancy law.

    HARRIS: And the state…

    TAPPER: And people were thrown into jail under that law.

    HARRIS: Not by me.

    TAPPER: Not by you, but you supported the law.

    Of course they weren't literally put in jail by Harris, who was attorney general of California when the truancy law was enacted and not an arresting officer. Yet no common understanding of "no one was sent to jail" means People were sent to jail, but they weren't personally put there by the attorney general. Again, we see Harris trying to rewrite her record and history.

    I have to say, President Kamala might be entertaining, in an Orwellian sense.


  • Roger L. Simon also has news on the phony front: Blowhard Democrats Are Green Phonies.

    Listening to politicians expound on the imminent dangers of that neologism "climate change" you wonder if any of these people could even pass a high school physics test. Maybe Rand Paul — he's an ophthalmologist. He had to take some chemistry. But most of them?

    Nevertheless, the Democratic Party at the moment seems to be in a knockdown, drag-out fight for who can be the greenest of the green and push us forward to a brave new world propelled exclusively by solar and wind energy. Only the strongest (i. e. most slavishly devoted to renewable energy at all costs) will survive.

    Read on for the sad story of Germany, dropping the equivalent of $36 Billion per year on renewable energy sources, only to announce… nope, not gonna make their 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments.

    Bonus: Germany also "announced plans to bulldoze an ancient church and forest in order to get at the coal underneath it."

    And I'm on record favoring testing candidates on a range of subjects, making the results publicly available: not just physics, but civics, current events, math, general intelligence, logic…


  • And we haven't had much to say about Andrew Yang, even though his Betfair odds have consistently stayed well above our credible-candidate cutoff. But Nick Gillespie pays him some attention and concludes… Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Is Wrong About the Future of Work. Yang's big thing is a claim that we need a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program paid for by, well, you, assuming you're a taxpayer. Because automation and AI will gobble up all the jobs!

    Yang's animating concern is ultimately misguided in two profound ways. One concerns the pace of change. At least since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, critics have always worried that technological revolutions will wipe out whole industries overnight, causing a huge amount of human suffering and social dislocation. But that is essentially never the case. Consider manufacturing jobs. The share of factory workers as a percentage of the labor force peaked in 1943, at around 40 percent. Since then, it's been a steady decline for decades. When it comes to contemporary fears about things such as autonomous vehicles and trucks, self-interested hucksters such as Elon Musk can easily gull reporters and others with predictions that we're just a couple of years away from never having to touch a steering wheel again. But as Reason Foundation's transportation guru, Robert W. Poole will tell you, we are in fact multiple decades away from such technological marvels becoming commonplace. Even disruptive economic change unfolds at a pace to which we can generally adapt.

    Second? People have been making predictions like Yang's for centuries, so far with a perfect record of failure.


Only to Sleep

[Amazon Link]

This is the third Philip Marlowe novel written entirely by someone other than Raymond Chandler. (First was 1991's Perchance to Dream by Robert B. Parker; second was 2014's The Black-Eyed Blonde by John Banville writing as "Benjamin Black").

It's easy to be cynical about this: the Chandler estate wants to squeeze some bucks out of suckers who love Chandler's private eye and desperately want to know what he's been up to. Worked in my case!

The year is 1988, and Marlowe is an old man, living the expatriate life in Baja California. He's retired, but couple of insurance company guys show up on his doorstep. One of their customers, Donald Zinn, has (apparently) drowned further down Mexico way, and their payout is huge. Could Marlowe kind of check things out to see if they could, well, weasel out of their obligation?

Well, sure. Phil could use a break from retirement lassitude. Some things become immediately apparent: the beneficiary is the Zinn's knockout wife, and she's somewhat less than grief-stricken. Zinn was teetering on the edge of financial ruin. And his body was near-immediately cremated, after a cursory investigation and autopsy by obviously corrupt Mexican officials.

A promising setup, but even this short book (253 pages) seems plot-padded. The author, Lawrence Osborne, explains in his Author's Note that he considered Chandler's plots to be "bewilderingly dreamlike", and decided to emulate that. Unfortunately, this has Marlowe doing things that don't make a lot of sense, like walking into an obvious deadly set-up.

Also: people who expect Chandleresque prose ("It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”) will probably be disappointed. Instead, the prose seems (to me anyway) overly flowery. As if Marlowe, the narrator, got both more cynical and more grandiloquent in his seventies.


Last Modified 2019-05-19 9:52 AM EDT

Governing Least

A New England Libertarianism

[Amazon Link]

Note the subtitle. And yet, the University Near Here's Interlibrary Loan folks needed to obtain this book from Southeast Missouri State University. My geography is weak, but I'm pretty sure that's not New England. I'm grateful, but isn't it kind of ironic that it wasn't available from someplace… closer by?

The author, Dan Moller, is a philosophy prof at the University of Maryland (also: not in New England). In this book, he attempts to promote and defend a version of libertarianism that (unlike, say, Nozick) does not depend on assertions about the absolute moral rights of individuals.

Instead, Moller aims to show that our everyday, common-sense, views of morality look askance at "burden-shifting". (And the "New England" part of this is based on an imaginary thought experiment involving a wannabe welfare recipient pleading his case before his peers at an old-style town meeting. Also, Emerson and Thoreau are cited.) Moller notes (reasonably enough) that some burden-shifting might be necessary, but thresholds must be met; it's not anything-goes.

The beginning of the book was the roughest going for me, where Moller defends his take on civic morality. Unsurprising: this is an area where people have been trying and failing to resolve issues for millennia; there's a whole language (using terms like "deontic"). Things get easier once we're past that.

Moller lays out his thesis with a lot of insight and some wit. If you're interested at all in libertarian political philosophy, recommended.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-18

[Amazon Link]

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson describes The 50-Way Abortion Fight. ("NRPlus Member Article")

    The state legislatures are full of activity related to abortion. This is as it should be.

    New York passed a law making it easier to perform grisly late-term abortions and then celebrated by lighting up the Empire State Building in pink, as though a baby girl had been born rather than sentenced to death by surgical dismemberment. Other states are considering similar laws, while in Georgia abortion has been prohibited once a heartbeat is detectable, and in Alabama the procedure has been almost categorically outlawed.

    This is what the post-Roe world is going to look like: divisive, ugly, and possibly irreconcilable — democratic, in a word.

    That's the best case scenario, at least for now. My own state is one of those who say that baby-killing is fine up until birth, but then immediately becomes a heinous crime. People claim this with a straight face.


  • Roger L. Simon answers your burning questions about the College Board's 'Adversity Score' scheme: The College Board Just Shot Itself in the Foot with Its New 'Adversity Score' Scheme.

    In the midst of multiple college admissions and general higher education scandals -- celebrity-paid test taking, discrimination lawsuit against Harvard, overwhelming academic bias, administrations growing faster than faculties, etc. -- The College Board decided to institute an "adversity score" for applicants. This score would use 15 variables to quantify the student's socioeconomic challenges -- poor neighborhoods, bad schools, etc. It's masked affirmative action.

    This would all be done in secret, the applicants and their families unable to question or even see the results. Only the colleges could see it.

    In a probably-related development, the University Near Here announced that it was dumping the SAT/ACT requirement for applicants. (Also probably related to that: the so-far unannounced drop in admitted UNH students for Fall 2019. "Hm. We need to make it easier for kids to get in.")


  • There's new P. J. O'Rourke content at American Consequences. In which he announces: It’s The End of the World.

    Classical Liberalism has had a good run. Now it’s about to get run over… by a bus full of stupid “post-capitalist” political trends – the new socialism, the new nationalism, the new trade-war mercantilism, and the new social media platforms that drive this bus. Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, and the countless candidates running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are all on board. So are the Brexiteers and so, for that matter, are the maniacally micro-regulating bureaucrats of the EU that the Brexiteers want to leave.

    Wave goodbye to Classical Liberalism.

    Or you could just wave at the camera you’re facing on your phone or computer. Too late to put a sticky note over it. Your civil liberties are already gone, swiped left. Neither a click falls on a keypad nor a finger taps a touch screen without the Internet seeing.

    Peej is a tad pessimistic this month. Still… I wouldn't bet heavily on him being wrong.

    Oh, wait. (Eyes retirement savings.) I am betting heavily on him being wrong.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Reason, Nick Gillespie provides a sobriety check: If You Think Capitalism Is Dying Because Two Companies ‘Control 90 Percent of the Beer Americans Drink,’ Go Home, You’re Drunk. That particular factoid is from Jonathan Tepper, author of The Myth of Capitalism (available at right if you care).

    Among the evidence he marshals is the fact that "two corporations control 90 percent of the beer Americans drink." Tepper's numbers seem a bit high. According to the latest edition of Beer Marketer's Insights, a trade publication, Anheuser-Busch Inbev controls 41 percent of the market, MillerCoors owns another 24 percent, and "since 2017, more than 9 percent of the market volume has shifted from large brewers and importers to smaller brewers and importers."

    But let's grant Tepper his large point: Two mega-players dominate the market for beer. How has that been working out for beer drinkers? Pretty damn well, actually. Go back to, say, 1990, when the microbrewery revolution was barely a thing and I started graduate school at SUNY-Buffalo. My friends and I would drive across the Peace Bridge to Canada specifically to drink Molson and Labatt's because it was so much better than American beer. Such a thought is inconceivable now given the proliferation of choices available to today's beer drinkers. Some of that choice comes from Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, and other big brewers, and much of it comes from small, scrappy startups.

    Could be that Tepper spends too much time writing and not enough time wandering down the beer aisle at Walmart.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-17

[Amazon Link]

  • George F. Will unloads: The Ex-Im Bank and the essence of socialism. You probably know the story, here are some telling details:

    [Senator Mike] Lee says: “The No. 1 buyer of exports subsidized by Ex-Im between 2007 and 2013 was Pemex . . . the notoriously corrupt petroleum company owned by the Mexican government. Pemex, which has a market cap of $416 billion, received more than $7 billion in loans backed by U.S. taxpayers. . . . During the same period, Ex-Im backed $3.4 billion in financing to Emirates Airlines — a company wholly owned by the government of Dubai — for Emirates’ purchase of Boeing planes.” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) identifies the second- through-fifth-biggest beneficiaries of Ex-Im subsidies: (2) state-owned Kenya Airways, (3) state-owned Air China, (4) Russia’s state-owned bank VEB (currently under U.S. sanctions for bad behavior; two hands of the U.S. government, one caressing, one smiting), (5) Roy Hill mining, owned by Australia’s richest woman, a multibillionaire.

    George names the (only) 16 Republican senators who "mean what they say when praising free markets and limited government: Barrasso, Blackburn, Braun, Cruz, Daines, Grassley, Hawley, Inhofe, Kennedy, Lankford, Lee, Rubio, Sasse, Shelby, Toomey, Young."

    When the Republicans come asking for your campaign contributions… just say no.


  • The Bulwark's anti-Trumpism can get a little tedious at times, but Christian Schneider has some fresh observations about Trump's "humor": We're Laughing At Trump, Not With Him. Which is not exactly accurate, but the article itself, I think, nails the issue:

    Trump’s humor is largely dependent on the shock value of him saying things unbecoming of a U.S. president. Or, for that matter, a normal, well-adjusted adult. His sick burns are obvious, often juvenile nicknames he gives to people who are clearly renting space in his head: “Sleepy Joe,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Crazy Bernie,” “Pocahontas,” “Lyin’ Ted.” Over the weekend, he dubbed Pete Buttigieg “Alfred E. Neuman,” which does nothing but remind people how very old the president is.

    And as for Trump’s non-insult laugh lines, most of them elicit more applause than actual laughter—they’re much closer to the conservative version of clapter. And the lines that aren’t call-outs to his fans are only funny in the sense of being out of place in what’s supposed to be a semi-serious setting. Kind of like when a speaker at an insurance conference can turn into Jerry Seinfeld by making a joke about how he found out his “umbrella” insurance policy only covered being stabbed by an actual umbrella.

    Get it? UMBRELLA!

    Yeah, the "clapter" thing is on-target. Not a genuine response to actual humor, but signalling to all around your tribal membership.

    [Case in point: watching recent Amy Schumer "comedy" specials on Netflix. The audience howls; I just sit there thinking that was not even close to funny.]


  • Dr. Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health notes: 'Mexican Blood Flu' a Hoax, Started by Supplement-Selling Dirtbags.

    Uh oh. We're in trouble. The "Mexican Blood Flu" is upon us. I've never heard of it but it sure sounds nasty.

    Rumors of a superbug virus that kills 70% of the seniors (55+) who become infected are flying around the internet via emails and a Facebook Page which is hosted a group called Wake Up America and Stand United. The group maintains that the bug has managed to cross the border from Mexico into the US.  And, damn, look at some of these claims...

    An extremely lethal, infectious virus that’s set to EXPLODE among America’s seniors in 2019.

    It can spread at the rate of one person per second, killing 7 in 10 victims

    It’s fully airborne, spread by a simple cough or sneeze…

    Dr. Bloom notes: "there is a real threat of death here, but it's from dying of laughter if you somehow manage to make it through the end of the article."

    Worse, the Facebook group involved seems to be (mostly, the referenced post excepted) involved with rabid, borderline loony, conservative politics. Nothing wrong with that, but it makes me wonder if their account was hacked by the Blood Flu fraudsters.


  • In our occasional "I'm a sucker for this stuff" Department, a travel site provides us: The Top 50 Sexiest Accents In The USA.

    Whether the voice of Pauly D does it for you or you’re more of a Mark Wahlberg fan, it’s true to say that some accents are saucier than others.

    America is uniquely diverse when it comes to dialects, with the country’s vast history of immigrants influencing how people talk from coast to coast.

    Following on from sample survey results of our 1.5million social audience, we have the official ranking of the sexiest – and least sexy – accents in the USA.

    Sorry, Granite Staters: we are not explicitly mentioned. But Bostonian is number 2, and Mainer is number 4. A simple matter of geography says that we'd probably be in 3rd place, if we were there. I think that's implied by the Intermediate Value Theorem or something.

    Last place: Long Islander.


  • James Lileks comments on the same article from his Minneapolis perch: Survey says Minnesota accent good for birth control. Yeah, you betcha. But his comment on Minnesota's excellent showing on the USNews rankings deserves excerpting:

    We would have finished higher but the criteria didn’t include things at which we clearly excel: best place to speak knowingly about lutefisk even though you’ve never had it. Top place to consider telling Marge she put a bit too much pepper in the hot dish. Best state that has a pointy end that jabs into Canada’s white, soft underbelly. Best state that looks like it’s sitting on Iowa, which is literally bulging on the side because we’ve put on a few pounds. It was a long winter. We’ve been meaning to hit the gym.

    So true.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for Kadia Goba's Bklyner article "welcoming" Bill De Blasio's entry into the presidential campaign: Park Slope Neighbor Runs For President.

    When he visits New Hampshire, where the state motto is ‘live free or die’ I hope Mayor de Blasio will touch on the red tape and over-regulation he’s created in New York City, not to mention, the high taxes that are driving businesses and people to low tax cities and states. I hope Democrat voters will visit New York City, ride our failing subways, visit our failing schools and ask our vanishing middle class about the real record of Bill de Blasio as mayor; the effect will be chilling.

    Rudy Giuliani finished a poor fourth place in the GOP-side primary in 2008. Maybe Bill will do better on the D side.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-16

[Amazon Link]

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson analyzes The AFL-CIO’s Daft Marxism .

    The AFL-CIO, whose constituents once expended some effort expelling the Communists from their ranks, apparently has decided on another course and is now using its social-media accounts to distribute Marxist propaganda. This comes hot on the heels of the same organization suggesting guillotines as the solution to the nation’s economic troubles.

    There are many objections to this line of thinking, beginning with the 100 million people the champions of this philosophy murdered in the 20th century and the horrors they are inflicting today on the people of Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea. Our friends on the left like to lecture conservatives about the occasional outburst of violent rhetoric in our midst, and they are not entirely wrong to do so. But what the AFL-CIO refers to here is not violent rhetoric but actual violence in the form of mass murder.

    The link goes to a hand-waving babbler urging the "working class" to "seize the means of production". Kevin notes that workers already have the power to buy the means of production, but… I guess that's not as much fun.


  • Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center has a modest proposal: Before outlawing plastic bags and straws, try persuasion.

    The Senate votes Wednesday on two bills to regulate the distribution of plastic straws and bags. Before making outlaws of restaurateurs and grocers, senators ought to consider that there are other, less heavy-handed ways to address the issue of plastics pollution — and they have been shown to work better than bans.

    Up for a vote are House Bill 558 and House Bill 560. HB 558 would prohibit restaurants from serving plastic straws unless a customer specifically requests one. HB 560 would prohibit stores and food service businesses from providing single-use plastic carry-out bags. It also would force those businesses to offer reusable bags at a price of “no less than 10 cents” per bag.

    News says that the Senate killed the straw bill, and the fate of the bag bill doesn't look good.


  • A little bit of economic sense from the blog with the best name in the universe, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, author Nick Rowe: Accounting Identities and the Implicit Theory of Inertia.

    Animals can be divided into Carnivores and Non-Carnivores: A = C + NC. Therefore, if we add some wolves to an island of sheep, the number of animals on that island will increase.

    It's easy to see why that argument might not be right. Wolves kill sheep. But if you didn't know that fact about wolves and sheep, the argument looks very appealing. But the equation A = C + NC tells us absolutely nothing about the world; it's an accounting identity that is true by definition. The only thing it tells you is how I have chosen to divide up the world into parts. And I can choose an infinite number of different ways to divide the world up into parts.

    What does that have to do with economics? Well, Nick goes on to tell you. But if you remember your Samuelson even dimly, you might be able to tell what's coming…


  • Advice from the American Council on Science and Health: Relax, McDonald's Touchscreen Menus Aren't Covered in Poop.

    A story that has gone viral (again) claims that McDonald's touchscreen menus are covered in poop. Is it true?

    No. There is no brown, smelly fecal matter covering McDonald's touchscreens. The global headlines saying otherwise are total lies. So, on what basis are they making that ridiculous claim?

    In November 2018, a British tabloid called Metro published a "study" (I'm using that term loosely) by a microbiologist in London who sampled McDonald's touchscreens to determine what sort of microbes were present. To the surprise of nobody except click-hungry media outlets, the microbiologist found lots of bacteria, some nastier than others.

    Bottom line: bacteria are everywhere, including (yes) restaurant touch screens. But also on everything else that people touch. It should be pretty far down on your list of things to worry about. (Unless you have a compromised immune system, in which case you shouldn't only be worried about McDonald's.)

    [And I don't know if it's biologically correct to say that a yarn about bacteria has gone viral. Seems wrong, somehow.]


  • Our Google LFOD News Alert rang for a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed: Trump abolished the health care mandate. California needs to restore it.. A statist pleading for more mandatoriness, as usual. But LFOD?

    Today we know that seat belts reduce the risk of death for drivers and front-seat passengers by 45%, and they cut the risk of serious injury by 50%. The overwhelming majority of drivers buckle up because not only is it the law in nearly every state (New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state, is the only holdout), we know that life can change in an instant.

    The same is true for health care.

    Just like the seat belt law, the Affordable Care Act initially required consumers to protect themselves or face the possibility of a fine. Unfortunately, the mechanism to enforce that requirement has been stripped away from all but Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and the District of Columbia. These states have a mandate in place to “nudge” people to do the right thing and purchase the virtual seat belt of health care coverage.

    Yes, the argument really is that since you bought being forced to wear your seat belt, you should also be forced to buy health insurance. No slippery slope there!

    Similar (but even weaker) arguments are made internationally. From the Daily Mail (via Hot Air): UK minister: We must treat online trolls like drunk drivers.

    [Jackie Doyle-Price, Britain's "first suicide prevention minister"] told the Press Association: ‘It’s great that we have these platforms for free speech and any one of us is free to generate our own content and put it up there, but free speech is only free if it’s not abused. I just think in terms of implementing their duty of care to their customers, the Wild West that we currently have needs to be a lot more regulated by them.

    I am pretty libertarian, so I probably would not recommend lengthy jail sentences for public officials who seize on far-fetched analogies to advocate boneheaded policies.

    It's a close call, though.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-15

[Amazon Link]

  • Something I just noticed: wellbeing.google, a site established by Google, which demands the reader "Find a balance with technology that feels right for you."

    I suppose there are some folks out there who need help with that. And who are not driven away with smarmy piffle like:

    As technology becomes more and more integral to everything we do, it can sometimes distract us from the things that matter most to us. We believe technology should improve life, not distract from it. We’re committed to giving everyone the tools they need to develop their own sense of digital wellbeing. So that life, not the technology in it, stays front and center.

    But somehow I imagine some higher-up at Google set this "Digital Wellbeing" initiative up as a sinecure for his earnest niece, just out of college with a communications BA.

    Alternate suggestion: imagine yourself and your too-much-tech problems plugged into this classic Bob Newhart video. And take his (cheap) advice. Or, taking even less time, peruse our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • In our occasional "Of Course He Did" department, we have the Intercept reporting on a BBC interview with an ex-Google CEO: Eric Schmidt Defended Google’s Censored Search for China.

    In an interview with the BBC on Monday, Schmidt said that he wasn’t involved in decisions to build the censored search platform, code-named Dragonfly. But he insisted that there were “many benefits” to working with China and said he was an advocate of operating in the country because he believed that it could “help change China to be more open.”

    Key revelation: "A Google employee with knowledge of Dragonfly was angered by Schmidt’s remarks, characterizing them as 'bullshit.'"

    But you gotta admire the Orwellian bravado of saying a censored search engine would help China "be more open".


  • At Reason, Veronique de Rugy says what needs to be said: Congress Just Restored the Export-Import Bank. It Still Deserves to Die..

    With so much evidence that the Ex-Im Bank—an agency that provides financial support to foreign and domestic companies to boost U.S exports— was nothing more than corporate welfare for large domestic firms and so many foreign state-owned companies, including Chinese ones, and with no impact on net exports, I assumed members of Congress would feel embarrassed to vote to restore the funding. I was wrong.

    But the evidence that the Ex-Im Bank serves no productive function except to enrich large corporations continues to be overwhelming. Congress may have given the bank new life, but it still deserves to die.

    The next time your Senator bewails "crony capitalism", you might want to check out how they voted on Ex-Im. In my case, Senators Shaheen and Hassan need to feel some heat.


  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson makes The Case for Being Born.

    Why are pro-abortion activists such as Brian Sims so angry? Because they abhor the alternative.

    Sims, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, filmed himself berating an old woman and a few children who were praying outside of an abortion clinic in Philadelphia — a city that, as the home town of that ghastly butcher Kermit Gosnell, knows something about the horror of abortion. Sims even went so far as to share photos of the children on social media with requests that his followers help him “dox” them, meaning to track down private information about them for the purpose of harassment.

    Children, these were.

    And that is what this is really all about.

    Sims is a thug. But at least he's an overt thug.


  • At the Library of Economics and Liberty, David Henderson has a take on SEC Privilege. It's a response to/comment on the concept of the "accredited investor", those folks blessed by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) with the ability to put money into startups like Impossible Foods.

    It’s clearly a case of the SEC trying to protect us from ourselves. Yet there are no such rules for betting in Las Vegas. Someone with a $10,000 net worth can go and bet it all on “investments” that are just as risky as, and often riskier than, an investment in Impossible Foods.

    We claim to be a capitalist country, yet we put a whole lot of restrictions on capitalist activities between consenting adults.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for a story in (of all places) Mississippi Today, about license plates: The story behind the dirt-colored, off-center, Canadian-made car tag that could land Mississippi back in federal court.

    At issue is the MS plate's new design, which features their state seal, which (gasp!) contains he motto (sensitive souls may want to avert their eyes!) "In God We Trust".

    OK, so some folks don't like that, even in Mississippi. But the article goes astray here:

    The U.S. Supreme Court also seems serious about what states put on their license plates. In 1978, the high court ordered New Hampshire to issue a second default license tag without the state’s motto — “Live Free or Die” — after a Jehovah’s Witness argued the message went against his religion and personal beliefs, telling the court, “I believe that life is more precious than freedom.”

    Unless I'm missing some important history here—and I don't think I am—this is pretty bad history.

    They seem to be talking about good old Wooley v. Maynard. Which was decided in 1977, not 1978. But the decision simply disallowed the state from prosecuting folks who (like Mr. Maynard, the Jehovah's Witness) obscured the license plate motto on their vehicle. The state wasn't required to (and as near as I can tell, does not) offer motto-free tags.

    [Also left a comment to this effect at Mississippi Today.]

URLs du Jour

2019-05-14

[Amazon Link]

  • If you've been nursing the suspicion that your blogger isn't a very nice guy, I have some evidence for you.

    Yesterday, Mrs. Salad was reading news online, and told me: "Jimmy Carter broke his hip."

    My immediate response: "Doo dah, doo dah."

    Maybe you have to say it out loud. But in any case, I am not proud of myself.


  • I've been a Red Sox fan of varying intensity ever since the 1975 World Series. (Yes, kids, I saw Pudge Fisk use his telekinetic powers to entice his walk-off home run to stay fair in Game 6.) That means putting up with a certain amount of nonsense. For example, as recounted by Kyle Smith at NR: The Red Sox and the Norm-Shattering Left.

    It was a saddening spectacle when the Boston Red Sox were invited to the White House to honor their World Series win and nearly all of those who showed up were white. A slate of black and Latino players, plus Puerto Rico–born manager Alex Cora, pointedly declined to attend. Cora made it clear in statements that this was an act of political opposition.

    Naturally the media blamed the target of this calculated mass protest. “Did Donald Trump honor the Red Sox or the ‘White’ Sox?” asks columnist Edward Montini in the Arizona Republic, adding, “Trying to pretend that President Donald Trump has not caused a widening racial and ethnic divide means not believing what you can hear with your own ears and see — clearly — with your own eyes.” MSNBC guest and former Joe Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said, “I bet [Trump] was happy today that he was able to say that the white players were here and players of color weren’t. That’s the kind of division he fosters deliberately.”

    Also see the on-again, off-again relationship between the Red Sox and Curt "Bloody Sock" Schilling.


  • In Granite State news, at the Josiah Bartlett Center, Drew Cline lists Five reasons Gov. Sununu was right to veto paid family leave wage tax. First:

    The tax to fund a mandatory, state-run paid family and medical leave program was entirely unnecessary. The governor had proposed an alternative program that would allow businesses to opt in. With a voluntary option on the table, there was zero need to create a state-run program funded by a $168 million annual tax on workers’ wages, and which cost $6 million a year to run.

    After that, four additional reasons would seem superfluous, but … they are there if you want to check 'em out.


  • The Google LFOD alert rang for a recent article in the Bellingham (WA) Herald Know anyone who got a ticket for not wearing a seat belt?. And, yes, it's yet another slam at our state for declining to nanny its adult population. After noting Washington's 95% seat belt rate…

    The state with the lowest rate of seat belt use? New Hampshire at about 68%. Its state motto is, “Live free or die.” I’m pretty sure General John Stark was not thinking about seat belts when he wrote that in 1809, but that’s the reason many New Hampshirites give for why they don’t want a seat belt law.

    Notes:

    • The article describes how they measure seat belt usage: they deploy "trained observers" at "pre-identified locations around the state." It's "not really spying", the article assures us.

      Um. Except that it is really spying.

    • We keep returning to this page from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Despite Washington's goody-two-shoes 95% buckled-up rate, their traffic deaths per 100K population stat is the same as New Hampshire's (specifically, 7.6). And their traffic deaths per 100 Million miles travelled are greater than New Hampshire's (0.92 vs 0.76).

      Seat belt use isn't a panacea, especially if it causes drivers to drive marginally more recklessly.

    • This isn't to say you shouldn't buckle up. You should.


  • And USNews ranked us pretty high on its "Best States" list. Yay! Here's their article, concentrating on: Foreign-Born Population in New Hampshire Finds Opportunity.

    Many left countries at war, or foreign refugee camps where their lives were in limbo. Some came for a better life, a safe place to raise a family and educate their children. All were willing to grapple with the massive culture shock of moving from Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East to a place with a different language, foreign customs and harsh winters.

    That place is New Hampshire, No. 2 overall in U.S. News and World Report's 2019 Best States rankings and No. 1 for opportunity. And while the Granite State is long known for its homogeneity (it's 94 percent white), the foreign-born population is an increasing presence, with the international population growing by more than 53 percent, between 2000 and 2017.

    And of course:

    Independence is a stubbornly held trait in New Hampshire, where the state motto is "Live Free or Die." It has no personal income tax. "Undeclared" voters outnumber Democrats and Republicans.

    That last link is kind of interesting, by the way. Since Election Day 2016, the count of registered Democrats has gone from 288,808 to 284,174, a 1.6% decrease. Democrats have gone from 308,808 to 307,360, a 0.47% decrease. Undeclared: from 409,786 to 415,316, up 1.35%.

    I don't know what that means, but I went through the calculation, so …

Past Tense

[Amazon Link]

Another Jack Reacher book from Lee Child, and it's wonderful fun as usual.

Jack is on the Maine coast, looking to turn south for the winter. He decides to hitchhike across New Hampshire, and a quick series of events puts him at an intersection where he's forced to decide: toward Laconia, or Portsmouth? Hey, his deceased father grew up in Laconia! Or at least said he did. Why not check to see if the old family homestead is still around? Maybe some relatives?

Now, if you or I did that, we might uneventfully discover whatever facts that could be gleaned from local records. It's Reacher, though. So he rather rapidly runs afoul of a local junior thug menacing a young lady, which causes a retaliatory response from senior thugs from Boston. And (separately) he also irks the owners of an apple orchard. All this in addition to finding out some strange stories from his father's past.

And, in a separate thread, a couple of young adults from New Brunswick with a mysterious heavy suitcase are travelling down to New York in an aging Honda Civic on the verge of a total breakdown. So they have to stop, and take refuge in a local out-of-the-way motel. Which turns out to be a bad mistake, as things turn very creepy very quickly.

And eventually, Reacher shows up for them too. And we find out what's in the suitcase, but don't expect that revelation quickly.

Maybe more fun than usual for New Hampshire residents, most of whom (trust me) have no idea of the kind of nefarious activities going on in their state. Research note: the ghost town of "Ryantown" Reacher explores seems to be an Child invention, but it's a pretty good one. Reacher also visits the Laconia Public Library; based on Google Street View, there might be some license taken there as well, but not a lot.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Hey, ignore the Amazon Product du Jour. At the Claremont Review of Books, David Gelernter announces that he's Giving Up Darwin.

    Darwinian evolution is a brilliant and beautiful scientific theory. Once it was a daring guess. Today it is basic to the credo that defines the modern worldview. Accepting the theory as settled truth—no more subject to debate than the earth being round or the sky blue or force being mass times acceleration—certifies that you are devoutly orthodox in your scientific views; which in turn is an essential first step towards being taken seriously in any part of modern intellectual life. But what if Darwin was wrong?

    Like so many others, I grew up with Darwin’s theory, and had always believed it was true. I had heard doubts over the years from well-informed, sometimes brilliant people, but I had my hands full cultivating my garden, and it was easier to let biology take care of itself. But in recent years, reading and discussion have shut that road down for good.

    This is sad. It is no victory of any sort for religion. It is a defeat for human ingenuity. It means one less beautiful idea in our world, and one more hugely difficult and important problem back on mankind’s to-do list. But we each need to make our peace with the facts, and not try to make life on earth simpler than it really is.

    Disclaimer: I'm not an evolutionary scientist, I'm not even a dilettante. But I took a biochemistry course back in the day, and when we got to exploring the citric acid cycle, I got real skeptical that the Blind Watchmaker could have come up with something so beautiful.

    But maybe.

    But maybe not.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson explores Our Own Private Singapore. Yes, it's Facebook. But not just Facebook:

    The government of Singapore is, in fact, not so different in its thinking from Facebook. It is just a little ahead of the curve. Facebook insists (sometimes laughably) that its speech restrictions are not directed at unpopular political ideas but exist to serve the “safety” of the public. Singapore, too, cites safety as it prohibits certain unwelcome political activism and cultural innovation. “Public safety” is, like “national security,” an almost infinitely plastic criterion in the hands of an entrepreneurial politician: In March, President Donald Trump blocked the acquisition of Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom, offering only the vague explanation that the company “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” Senator Marco Rubio has argued that corporate welfare for Florida sugar barons is a matter of national security, while others make the same argument for their favorite commodities; Democratic party officials have suggested that Second Amendment activists be investigated or suppressed as terrorists; the sniveling cowards who run the University of California at Berkeley cited “public safety” when they forbade conservative polemicist Ann Coulter to speak on campus. Et cetera ad nauseam.

    In Singapore, “public safety” is the rationale for a remarkably thorough program of official censorship, much of which is directed at the worthy goal of keeping the peace among the city-state’s unamalgamated ethnic and religious groups. For example, if a crime has a potentially inflammatory ethnic or religious component, that fact generally will be omitted from media coverage as part of an unspoken agreement between the state and the newspapers. Films or books that are deemed to denigrate an ethnic or religious group are prohibited. The sale of Malaysian newspapers is prohibited. And in the same way that U.S. progressives seek to suppress political speech as a matter of “campaign finance,” the authorities in Singapore have prohibited the unlicensed showing of “party political films,” which may be the of “any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore.” Such films are permitted only if the government considers them objective; the irony of demanding a subjective ruling about objectivity seems to have been lost on Singapore’s rulers, who are not famous for their sense of humor.

    Which brings us to…


  • … the latest nod to safety from our Silicon Valley nannies: Twitter Blocked Ray Blanchard, a Ph.D. Psychologist Who Helped Write the DSM V Rules on Gender Dysphoria, for ‘Hateful Conduct’ in Expressing His Clinical Views on Transgender Identity.

    In the early hours of Sunday morning, an expert Ph.D. psychologist who helped write the official psychological position on transgender identity was blocked on Twitter for expressing his opinion informed by clinical experience. His well-reasoned position was flagged for "hateful conduct."

    On Saturday, Ray Blanchard — the Ph.D. psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto who served on the working work for gender dysphoria (the persistent condition of identifying with the gender opposite your biological sex) for the DSM V, the gold standard of definitions helping psychologists diagnose disorders for patients — tweeted out his clinically-informed opinion on transgender identity.

    Don't worry. It was (yet another) "mistake". From the man himself:

    As always, it's unknown if Twitter would have acknowledged an "error" if the perpetrator were not quite as famous.


  • [Amazon Link]

    At Reason, Matt Welch has sage advice: Don’t Be Like the Rainbow Fish.

    Like so many of the best socialist products, Marcus Pfister's The Rainbow Fish has been a runaway capitalist success. The children's classic, in which the most brightly colored fish in the ocean finds happiness only after handing over all but one of his glittering scales under duress to the gray grumps around him, has sold since its 1992 debut more than 30 million copies worldwide.

    Whereas Rainbow Fish achieves transcendence through literally becoming colorless, the exact opposite was the case for The Rainbow Fish. Using an expensive and novel combination of holographic foil stamping and watercolor, the Swiss-born Pfister and his publisher, NorthSouth Books, produced a striking visual package that proved irresistible.

    Matt is normally easygoing, but in this case he "took the rare step of expelling" the book from his home.

    If only Ayn Rand were alive to give us her review…


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for an article from a site called News Intervention. Its interviewer, Scott Douglas Jacobsen, had a Conversation with Md. Sazzadul Hoque.

    Who is that? Well:

    Md. Sazzadul Hoque is an exiled Bangladeshi secularist blogger, human rights activist, and atheist activist. His writing covers a wide range of issues, including religious superstition, critical thinking, feminism, gender equality, homosexuality, and female empowerment. He’s protested against blogger killings and past/present atrocities against Bangladeshi minorities by the dominant Muslim political establishment. He’s also written about government-sponsored abductions and the squashing of free speech; the systematic corruption in everyday life of Bangladeshis; and the denial of the pursuit of happiness.

    In 2017, after receiving numerous threats, he was forced to leave Bangladesh out of safety concerns.

    OK, but I also hear you asking: what's the deal with "Md."? That's answered here.

    And how about LFOD? Ah, here it is, right up front:

    Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We can see the development of ex-Muslim councils around the world. Council of Ex-Muslims of Bangladesh is a new one. Why found one amongst the most dangerous regions, and countries, for ex-Muslims?

    Md. Sazzadul Hoque: We do things not because it is easy, but because it is hard (JFK). either we confront the evil now or later, regardless the cost is high relative to the time when it is fought. We must live free or die trying. We must stir and start the process of contradiction in the subjugated mind of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the ground zero to kill this evil.  Historically Bangladesh was Shanatan then Buddhist then turned to Shanatan (Hindu) then to Muslim. If we can change Bangladesh, it will change the surrounding country.  Majority of Bangladesh population is growing population, if we can have the right kind of message to these people, they will bring about the change Bangladesh had seen historically. If Bangladeshi changes India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iran will follow. Just these mentioned countries combined over a billion people.

    Um. Well, good luck with that.

The Phony Campaign

2019-05-12 Update

[Amazon Link]

Welcome to our regular Sunday featurette, in which we check out the presidential candidates who are judged by Betfair betters to have a non-negligible shot at winning the 2020 election. I should point out that at this point four years ago, Donald J. Trump did not meet that criterion. Instead, we were looking at Jeb!, Hillary, Rand Paul, Handsy Joe, Little Marco, Scott Walker, and Fauxcahontas. Bottom line: things can change. And, as William Goldman wisely noted: nobody knows anything.

Our Amazon Product du Jour speaks for itself. Literally.

Thanks to his polling strength, Joe Biden has pulled significantly ahead of his fellow Democrats at Betfair this week. But most savvy commenters on the horserace seem to think he's only one gaffe away from sinking his own ship. Bernie's fading a bit, and everyone else seems to be stuck in the single digits, or worse.

Phony-wise, Pete Buttigieg bounced up in the Google hits this week. Which seems to be due to a phony smear promulgated by stupid right-wingers. So ignore that.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/5
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/5
Pete Buttigieg 4.2% -0.9% 8,140,000 +3,640,000
Donald Trump 43.7% +1.1% 1,480,000 -260,000
Bernie Sanders 11.0% -0.2% 379,000 +72,000
Joe Biden 16.4% +3.0% 275,000 -27,000
Elizabeth Warren 4.0% +0.7% 197,000 +1,000
Kamala Harris 5.9% -1.8% 96,600 -5,400
Beto O'Rourke 3.3% unch 69,200 -10,400
Andrew Yang 3.6% -0.2% 23,300 +2,500

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • At Reason, Matt Welch looks at Joe Biden, Rusty Weather Vane.

    Say what you will about the ethics of plagiarists—at least they have an ear for what audiences want to hear.

    When Joe Biden cratered in his first official run at the White House in 1987, it was because of a series of borrowed speech passages, hand gestures, and even biographical details (no, he didn't derive from a family of coal miners, as he once claimed, nor was he "the first" in his clan to ever attend college; he lifted those details from a speech by U.K. Labor politician Neil Kinnock). The deceptions nonetheless revealed a political truth: Ronald Reagan had peeled off blue-collar voters from the Democratic Party, and it would take a relatable, regular-sounding Joe to lure them back.

    Fortunately for Joe, he'd have to step up his game considerably in order to compete with Our Current President on the dishonesty score.

    Unfortunately for America, he's likely to attempt that.


  • Ella Nilsen, writing for the young-adult website Vox, was down the road at the University Near Here, and she thinks the New Hampshire primary will make or break Bernie Sanders. Fine, but here's a rare bit of honesty:

    There’s another problem that could eat into candidates’ support from young voters: a new state law passed by Republicans in 2018 that effectively prevents out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire elections.

    The law requires prospective voters to declare New Hampshire as their state of residency 60 days before they vote. That means they would be subject to other requirements, like getting a New Hampshire driver’s license and car registration before voting. Before the law was enacted, students had to prove they lived in the state by bringing their licenses and other proof of residency, like mail or records showing their on-campus address. Students and voting activists alike object to the new rules in the state, characterizing it as a “poll tax” that makes voting financially untenable for students who can’t afford the fees for a new license and registration.

    Emphasis added to the honest bit. Can you think of the slightest reason why out-of-state college students should be able to vote in local elections? Me neither.

    And the "poll tax" complaint is bogus, too. Simple workaround, college kids: get an absentee ballot from the locality in which you really live. You're in college, you're supposed to be smart. Figure it out.


  • Another MSM writer, Michael Kruse, belatedly notes Beto’s Long History of Failing Upward.

    O’Rourke, 46, campaigns with the wanderlust of the wannabe punk rocker he once was and the vigor of the regular runner, hiker and cyclist he still is. His hair is somehow simultaneously boyish and salt-and-pepper-streaked. He drives himself around in rented Dodge minivans, dressed almost always in plain brown shoes, Banana Republic chinos and blue oxford shirts with no tie and the sleeves rolled up just so. He often dons locally appropriate dad hats, from a maroon Iowa State cap at Iowa State to an orange Clemson cap at Clemson and so on. He holds microphones with his right hand kind of like a singer, and he extends his left arm into the air kind of like a preacher, and he punctuates his points with grins that flash perfectly imperfect teeth.

    Man, that brings back memories of 1992; went to see Jerry Brown at the University Near Here Memorial Union Building. He was wearing a checked flannel shirt and jeans, both looking like they'd been bought at Penney's earlier that day. He came in fifth in the NH Primary that year, behind Paul Tsongas, Bill Clinton, Bob Kerrey, and Tom Harkin.


  • One of our ignored-so-far candidates, Colorado ex-Governor John Hickenlooper, took to the op-ed page of the WSJ with the bold headline I’m Running to Save Capitalism.

    Click through if you need to, and if you do, you might be reminded of that famous (and perhaps bogus) quote from the Vietnam War, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

    But anyway, one of Hickenlooper's bits of evidence for Capitalism's imminent demise was: "Forty percent of Americans in 2017 didn’t have enough savings to cover a $400 medical emergency or car repair, according to the Federal Reserve."

    Causing Cato's Alan Reynolds to wonder: Is it True that 40% of Americans Can't Handle a $400 Emergency Expense?. Looking at the Fed link, Alan objects:

    But that is not the question that was asked, and it certainly is not the answer.

    The question was about how people would choose to pay a $400 “emergency expense” — not whether or not they could pay it out of savings (or checking) if they wanted to.  Respondents were also free to choose more than one way of paying the extra $400 (“please selects all that apply”), so the answers add up 143% rather than 100%.  Even if 100% said they could pay an extra $400 with cash, there could still be more than 40% who would choose a different method.

    Dear Governor Hickenlooper: I don't want to understate the travails of the financially insecure, but when you have to misrepresent one of your bits of evidence this badly… maybe American Capitalism isn't in quite as much need of saving as you're trying to suggest.


  • Senator Spartacus hasn't made our credible-candidate cut since mid-March, but he's out there trying to climb back into it. Which involved moving past the usual Democrat mealy-mouthed rhetoric on gun control. And the Washington Examiner has the honest take: Cory Booker wants a ban on 'assault weapons,' and yes, it means putting gun owners in jail. (Could have also added: "Or Shooting Them If They Don't Go Quietly")

    For all of [Booker's] tip-toeing around the question, he had to concede a central truth about law: after a "reasonable" grace period, any gun owner refusing to give up "assault weapons" by choice will be forced to do so under threat of prison time.

    Democrats have long positioned themselves as the party of criminal justice reform and restorative justice. Drug War-happy Republicans were once happy to split that narrative. But times have changed, and Democrats must reckon with the reality of what their stringent policies imply. Every new ban or law puts a state-sponsored gun to the head of all citizens. Fail to pay a massive tax hike? You could very well face prison time. Refuse to comply with the legal proceedings bringing you there? The police may use force, including deadly force, to incarcerate you.

    Something that needs to be pointed out over and over.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-11

[Amazon Link]

  • Jonah Goldberg lets us in on Washington's dirty little secret: No one is running the show. The whole thing's good, of course, but I especially liked:

    Capitalism nauseates because we come into this world with programming for a “Stone Age conception of clan life,” as economist Michael Munger puts it. Our brains are wired to expect someone to be in charge. When bad things happen, it must be because someone intended it. We get angry at perceived slights, inconveniences, and tragedies, and our anger needs a target.

    This wiring was perfectly adapted for a zero-sum world where resources were finite, and political and economic transactions were essentially face-to-face and communal. But in a world where the price of a bag of rice from India is influenced by political turmoil in Indonesia and heavy rains in Arkansas, never mind the overproduction of potatoes (a substitute for expensive rice) in Russia or the Netherlands, blaming your local grocer for charging an extra 50 cents is silly. But it’s still natural.

    The "wiring" isn't destiny. It's not even hard to override; we've been doing so, however imperfectly, for the last few centuries. But it requires constant effort.


  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson looks at Brian Sims and Today's Political Fanaticism.

    How to explain Brian Sims? None of the three most likely possibilities — that he is not very bright, that he is insane, that he is a fanatic — speaks very well of the Pennsylvania state representative, who for some reason decided to accost an elderly woman praying silently in front of an abortion facility, to film the attack, and then to boast about it on Twitter.

    It is tempting to lean toward stupidity as an explanation for Sims’s shenanigans, if only because that is the most statistically likely scenario when the subject in question is a member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, as witless a collection of moldering goofs and ravening mediocrities as you will find in any of our state capitals.

    But let’s not give short shrift to the insanity option. Sims — who holds elected office and previously worked for the Philadelphia Bar Association — offered a cash bounty to his social-media followers for identifying information with which to “dox” three teenage girls who were praying outside the same clinic. Mentally normal adult men do not go around photographing teenaged girls and then trolling for their names on social media in order to facilitate harassing them. Generally speaking, adult men who go around taking photographs of teenaged girls are considered creeps; Representative Sims is a homosexual, which may spare him the charge of lechery in this matter, but his behavior is still pretty weird.

    The stupid/insane question is one that can be asked of a lot of legislators. For example, NH Rep Judith Spang (D-Durham, of course), who admits to haranguing constituents in the supermarket parking lot, if she feels they have too many plastic bags in tow.


  • Bleeding-Heart Libertarian Steve Horwitz asks the musical question: Why do Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Hate Poor People?. It's about the Bernie/AOC proposal for federal legislation to cap credit card and payday lender rates at 15%. Steve lists the likely outcomes:

    1. Reduced access to credit, especially for the poor and those with less human capital and riskier credit profiles.
    2. The folks denied will turn to less reputable and more expensive forms of credit, from payday lenders who will surely charge higher fixed fees that won’t count as interest to actual loan sharks (rather than the banks accused of such behavior by these two). This is bad for many reasons.
    3. One of which is that it will hinder their attempts to improve their credit rating and thereby get access to better credit card deals in the future. Getting a high rate card from an actual bank and making on time payments every month will improve your credit rating over time. This policy will extend the very reasons those behind it (wrongly) think it necessary.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine!"


  • Just One Minute explores a different bit of the Sanders/AOC scheme, and deems it Non-Crazy Idea With A Foundation Of BS.

    America's Sweetheart and America's favorite cranky old coot paired up to talk up the idea of turning the Post Office into a banking system for the under-served. To cur to the spoiler: After roughly an hour with Google and my Sixers, I am confident that the advocates, including Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and the US Post Office team, have failed to understand the numbers and the revenue opportunity they are tossing about and are talking about $89 billion when $30 billion is nearer the mark. $30 billion is not a trifle, but its not $89 billion either. And that sort of easily discovered error does not do much for my confidence in the quality of the research effort by the advocates. 

    And what is it with these progressives anyway? They want the government to have all our medical information and now they expect people (many of whom have, well, documentation challenges opening a conventional bank account) to trust the government with their financial information and savings? Do they know who is President or did Bernie forget?

    Click through for the (easy, I promise) math. Their numbers, are, unsurprisingly, garbage.

    And, also unsurprisingly: After Losing Nearly $4 Billion Last Year, Postal Service on Track to Lose $7 Billion This Year. Is that an organization that should be taking on additional responsibilities, or should it be quietly taken off to an Assisted Living Facility?


  • OK, so it turns out Donald Trump is not Putin's puppet. But CBS executives seem to be in thrall to a different tyranny. At the Daily Wire, Emily Zanotti reveals: CBS 'The Good Fight' Showrunners Threaten To Quit After Network Cuts Segment About Chinese Censorship.

    The series, a spinoff of "The Good Wife," airs on CBS's online platform CBS All Access and, unlike its parent program, focuses less on the soap opera-like lives of Chicago defense attorneys, and more on tackling "current events" and "Trump-era politics" and occasionally includes "an animated musical short that digs into controversial political issues of the day with an explanatory style similar to 'Schoolhouse Rock!'" according to The New York Times.

    This time, though, the short disappeared from the final program, which aired online last week, and was replaced, instead, by a black screen with white type reading, "CBS HAS CENSORED THIS CONTENT."

    Disclaimer: I didn't watch The Good Wife, and (even though there's a Star Trek series) I'm loath to shell out for Yet Another Streaming Service.

    Still, I wonder how much CBS's cowardice infects its other offerings.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-10

[Amazon Link]

  • A cool article from Adam Thierer at the Technology Liberation Front: I (Eye), Robot?.

    I became a little bit more of a cyborg this month with the addition of two new eyes—eye lenses, actually. Before I had even turned 50, the old lenses that Mother Nature gave me were already failing due to cataracts. But after having two operations this past month and getting artificial lenses installed, I am seeing clearly again thanks to the continuing miracles of modern medical technology.

    My eyeballs have occasionally been under the knife too. Also the laser. And the results are nothing short of miraculous. Unless and until Jesus comes back, ophthalmologists are the next best thing.

    But Adam has a deeper point to make:

    Critics are fond of falling back on worst-case “technopanic” scenarios ripped from sci-fi novels, movies, and shows to explain how, if we are not careful, we are all just one modification away from creating (or becoming) Frankenstein monsters. We should heed those warnings to some extent, but not to the extent those critics suggest.

    There are legitimate ethical issues associated with certain medical treatments and human enhancements. Genetic editing, for example, holds both promise and peril for our species. By modifying our genetic code, we can counter or even defeat debilitating or deadly diseases or ailments before they hobble us or our children. Of course, genetic modification could also be used in unsettling ways by parents or governments to create “designer babies” that have no choice in how their genetic code is altered before birth.

    Ethical guidelines, and even some public policies, will need to be crafted and continuously updated to keep pace with these challenges. But, we must not let worst-case thinking determine the future of all forms of human modification such that the many possible best-case outcomes are discouraged in the process. That would represent a massive setback for the millions of humans, including the unborn ones, who might be threatened by debilitating ailments.

    I say: bring it on.


  • At AEI, Timothy P. Carney tells the truth: the Export-Import Bank is a swampy tool of self-enrichment for insiders.

    The Export-Import Bank of the United States is a corporate-welfare agency that puts U.S. taxpayers at risk when foreign companies, and foreign governments, buy U.S. goods on credit. Standing at this intersection of multinational business deals, banking, bureaucracy, and Big Government, it’s no surprise that Export-Import is also characterized by corruption and self-enrichment — of both the legal and illegal nature.

    Foolishly, the Republican Senate is on the verge of reviving Export-Import on Wednesday.

    And they did. New members were confirmed to the bank by votes of 77-17, 72-22, and 79-17. A "victory for bipartisanship", surely. Which (as usual) means we lose.


  • At NR, Michael Brendan Dougherty writes on Our Corporate Clericalists.

    This modern clerical class is not actually composed of the ordained ministers of what’s left of the Christian church. It is made up of corporate boards, much of the media, and academia. It has its communions in ideas summits, and its occasional witch-burnings in social media. There is in the written Constitution a formal prohibition against the establishment of traditional religions. But this new clerical class understands that unprovable assertions about human nature and human society can be established, so long as they trade under the name of equality.

    Why did Evangelicals vote for a thrice-married man who says he has never felt the need to ask God for forgiveness? Because they see what the unity of this new church and state produces.

    Michael cites Tim Cook as a prime example, "who does nothing for freedom of conscience in China, when he instructs a state governor that the normal conscience protections consistent with religious freedom and pluralism in America are impermissible and bad for business."


  • George F. Will's column has sage advice: Want to take money out of politics? Keep politics out of money.. Makes sense! But GFW goes to town on Senator Kirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand's "Democracy Dollars":

    Every eligible voter could get these just by asking the government for up to 600 of them. For each federal race, the Federal Election Commission would provide $200 worth of vouchers that voters could contribute to House, Senate and presidential candidates, $100 in primaries and $100 in general elections. Voters could donate only to House and Senate races in their states.

    All campaign-finance laws are written by incumbent legislators, so they usually serve incumbent-protection. Gillibrand’s proposal would require candidates accepting “democracy dollars” to accept no contributions larger than $200, a boon to incumbents, who usually are better known than their challengers and have more ways of generating free media coverage.

    “Democracy dollar” vouchers will be paid for by — wait for it — taxing the rich. Gillibrand wants to take more than $60 billion over 10 years from chief executives who make “excessive” salaries, defined as more than 25 times the median salary of their employees, or more than $1 million, whichever is less.

    There is something Orwellian in the terminology: "dollars" that you get from the government as long as you … give them right back to politicians.


  • Our Google LFOD News Alert rang for the latest … sad news, I guess: Finland Just Keeps Getting Happier and U.S. Can't Keep Up.

    The UN-funded World Happiness Report for this year’s out, and once again dark, cold Finland tops the list (the criteria are GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption), followed closely by Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands. It must be great to know that you live in the happiest nation in the world, but of course we Americans have no such dreams, despite our nation’s reputation for greatness. The US is ranked 19 this year, down one from number 18 last year. Soon we’ll be out of the top 20, as we’re not currently on a happiness trajectory.

    Among the things the US is built for, promoting the kind of happiness the Finn feels is well down on the list. Would a nation built for happiness have a state whose license plates read, “Live Free Or Die?” That’s “die,” not “fight.” The flinty Americana this motto represents doesn’t involve the government lending a helping hand for your contentment.

    My guess is that Finnish-Americans are probably happier than Finns. Because they're not in freakin' Finland.

    You might also be interested in a more serious rebuttal to a previous edition of the World Happiness Report from Kyle Smith: That world happiness survey is complete crap.


  • I got a chuckle out of this Wired headline: Bad Air Linked To Dementia, Bezos' Lunar Lander, and More News.

    OK, I get dementia. Maybe. But who knew bad air could also be linked to Bezos' Lunar Lander and also More News? That's very powerful bad air. (Also left a comment at Wired, they may fix.)

Knight of Shadows

[Amazon Link]

Number nine in Roger Zelazny's ten-book Amber series. And no relation to the new Jackie Chan movie.

I must confess that I've lost track of much of the series' continuity at this point. Every new book seems to introduce new characters, revealing and exploring new facets of the universe in which our protagonist, Merlin, is merely trying to survive. So there's not only Amber, but also Chaos. Amber has its Pattern, but Chaos has its Logrus. Both sides have Powers behind the scenes. Then there are the Shadow worlds (hey, that's us!). But there are also (I think I got this right) worlds between Shadows, not accessible by the usual Amberite legerdemain.

When you read the novels over the space of many months, it's tough to remember the characters and the rules of the universe (which seem to change from book to book anyway).

Frankly, it's kind of tedious. There are occasional flashes of humor, very welcome. But it's mostly Merlin speculating (usually ineffectively) about what's going on, broken up by occasional duels with swords and spells. He does make what is clearly a Bad Jewelry Mistake near the end of this section of the tale, but the denouement will have to wait until the final book. Assuming I get to that one in this lifetime, I will read it more with relief than anticipation.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-09

[Amazon Link]

  • At the (possibly paywalled) WSJ, Ryan P. Williams of the Claremont Institute writes on Our Brush With Google Censorship. (Previous Pun Salad mentions here and here.) He poses some relevant, so far unanswered, questions:

    • Why do Google’s censorship “mistakes” always seem to cut against conservative speech? Google should release in full its internal instructions and guidelines that were followed by the representatives with whom we interacted.

    • Google employees initially concluded the censorship decision was correct. But if the original “mistake” was indeed algorithmic, what search terms and phrases does Google police? Google should release them in full.

    • Why did Google’s representatives tell Claremont that there was no appeal? And how many speakers end up being suppressed because they lack our bullhorn?

    I'd like to see Google's "official" answers to those questions, too. But I bet their honest answers would be

    • "Our censorship cuts against conservative speech because it is designed and implemented by left-wing Torquemadas on a fanatical never-ending inquisition against heretics."
    • "We won't release details of our censorship algorithms, because doing so would make it obvious that they were designed to detect deviations from progressive orthodoxy."
    • "We thought we could get away with stonewalling the Claremont Institute on this. That was our actual 'mistake'."

    "And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!"


  • At Reason, Eric Boehm asks: Will Trump’s Authoritarian Impulses Derail His Deregulatory Successes?.

    Trump has presided over two years of near-record low growth in the size of the federal regulatory state, and his administration has hacked away at both the total number and the annual cost of federal regulations, rules, and so-called "regulatory dark matter" like regulatory guidance letters and notices. According to an annual report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute assessing the size and cost of federal regulations, released Tuesday, Trump has delayed or withdrawn more than 1,500 Obama-era rules that were in the pipeline, and has kept his promise to repeal two rules for every new one passed.

    But there are warning signs that progress might be slowing, says Clyde Wayne Crews, CEI's vice president of policy and the author of the annual "Ten Thousand Commandments" report.

    "Despite the progress made on regulatory reform under President Trump, American consumers and businesses are still on the hook for the 'hidden tax' of federal regulation," said Crews in a statement. "And that progress is further threatened by President Trump's own regulatory impulses on issues ranging from antitrust enforcement to trade restrictions to food and drug matters, and more."

    Since Trump has (as near as I, or anyone else, can tell) no guiding principles other than narcissism, it's a pretty good bet that the answer to Eric's headline query is: "sure, probably."


  • Chris Edwards of Cato detects One Problem with Big Government: Often Run by Crooks and Liars.

    Presidential candidates are proposing ideas to expand government, including a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. One flaw with such schemes is that they would give government officials large new powers to be exercised not by angels but often by very shady characters.

    James Madison wrote that politicians sought office “from 3 motives. 1. ambition 2. personal interest. 3. public good. Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent.”

    Pun Salad Fact Check: absolutely true. Chris goes on to note two recent examples: Baltimore ex-Mayor Catherine Pugh and late diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

    Almost goes without saying that the character flaws of powerful "progressives" tend only to come to light after they are safely away from the levers. So in addition to the warranted distrust of pols, neither can the media be trusted to tell you about this stuff until it's too late.


  • From across the pond, Matt Ridley writes non-insanely on biodiversity and land sparing.

    Driven perhaps by envy at the attention that climate change is getting, and ambition to set up a great new intergovernmental body that can fly scientists to mega-conferences, biologists have gone into overdrive on the subject of biodiversity this week.

    They are right that there is a lot wrong with the world’s wildlife, that we can do much more to conserve, enhance and recover it, but much of the coverage in the media, and many of the pronouncements of Sir Bob Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are frankly weird.

    The threat to biodiversity is not new, not necessarily accelerating, mostly not caused by economic growth or prosperity, nor by climate change, and won’t be reversed by retreating into organic self-sufficiency. Here’s a few gentle correctives.

    For example: "Much of the human destruction of biodiversity happened a long time ago".

    The IPBES pronouncements were widely covered ("One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns"). Ridley's rebuttal will be largely ignored.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for a Keene Sentinel story Booker sets sights on gun control ahead of NH return.

    Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker proposed sweeping reforms to gun ownership Monday and plans to pitch his prescription to New Hampshire voters this weekend.

    The New Jersey senator’s 14-part plan would regulate guns as a public health issue and require licenses for all gun owners, according to a blog post Booker wrote on Medium, a free publishing website.

    No surprise: It's the usual fear-driven "do something" set of proposals that would only impact law-abiding gun owners. Ah, but a LFOD defender has his say:

    But Republican state Rep. John Hunt said he sees Booker’s proposal as a misstep, particularly among “Live Free or Die” Granite Staters.

    “The Democrats have passed a lot of nanny bills this year, and gun control is certainly in the ‘nanny’ category,” Hunt said in comparing his Statehouse colleagues to Booker in what he considers legislative overreach.

    Hunt recalled another Statehouse anecdote to further his point.

    “I always find it ironic when everyone was talking about marijuana, and how everybody said ‘prohibitions don’t work,’ “ Hunt said. “And yet, you know, people want prohibition on guns as though that’s going to be a solution to gun violence.”

    Fortunately, Booker won't be our next president. Unfortunately, this means he'll probably continue in the Senate.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-08

[Amazon Link]

  • Veronique de Rugy got into the NYT with her anti-Trump column: Corporate Welfare Wins Again in Trump’s Washington. And that would seem to be in line with our Amazon Product du Jour! Except it's not that simple:

    Fools like me who believed that President Trump would “drain the swamp” in Washington have been enduring one disappointment after another. For the latest, he has exerted political pressure so the swampiest agency in town, the Export-Import Bank, can be restored to its full potential.

    For nearly four years the Senate leadership blocked confirmation votes to fill the vacancies on Ex-Im’s board, depriving it of the quorum needed to authorize deals over $10 million. Sadly, Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell and with the help of nearly all Democrats, are expected to end their blockage this week by confirming Kimberly Reed as the head of the bank and two other nominees to the board.

    Emphasis added. Veronique does a good job of summarizing recent history, including the recent golden era when Ex-Im was not operating at "full potential".

    I assume the "nearly all Democrats" will resume nattering about being against "corporate welfare" a few minutes after voting for Ex-Im.


  • And it's not just Ex-Im on which Trump is caving. At NR, Mark Krikorian comments on Immigration & Unemployment Rate -- The White House Is Undermining Recent Job Success. After recounting recent good news:

    This is the precondition for drawing more people into the labor market who are currently neither working nor looking for work. And it is sorely needed; the share of prime-working-age men who need to be drawn back into the job market remains unprecedented. As Jason Richwine wrote recently, “With one in nine prime-age males still sitting idle, terms such as ‘full employment’ and ‘labor shortage’ ring hollow. There is much room for improvement.”

    A tight labor market isn’t the only thing needed to draw idle men back into the workforce. Changes in welfare and education policies, among other things, would help too. But if a tight labor market isn’t sufficient in itself, it is indispensable.

    So what is the White House doing in response to the good economic news? It is taking steps to loosen the labor market, to move toward a buyer’s market in labor (benefitting employers) rather than a seller’s market.

    The moves (specifically) are to increase the H-2B program by 30K (a nearly 50% increase); and a proposal to keep green cards at about 1.1 million/year, and to "further increase the importation of guest workers".

    Disclaimer: I don't know what the "right" level of immigration is, nor the "right" mix of skills immigrants should have. But Krikorian has a point: it's not the worst thing in the world to have employers deal with a tight labor market.


  • The latest step-on-rake censorship effort from Silicon Valley is told by Robby Soave at Reason: Twitter Suspends Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Parody Account for ‘Spammy Behavior,’ Which Seems Dubious.

    Twitter has banned a parody account that made fun of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY), as well as the account's creator and operator, Michael Morrison.

    Parody accounts are permitted on Twitter as long as they are clearly identified as such. This account, @AOCPress, obeyed that rule, and its termination has prompted conservatives to accuse the platform of hypocrisy. They have a point.

    Robby, bless him, suggests that Twitter "should make a better effort to communicate what kinds of behavior are forbidden and then apply those rules fairly."

    By now it should be obvious that Twitter has absolutely no interest in doing that.


  • The Bulwark's anti-Trump obsession can be pretty tedious. But they employ a few excellent writers, like Jonathan V. Last, who occasionally writes on something else, like The Suicide of Liberalism. It tells the story of "Sam", once a "nice progressive boy" who was overheard saying what someone thought was Badthink at school, and was dropped into a Kafkaesque nightmare of woke discipline.

    And now, as reported by his mom, Sam is now a full-fledged alt-right semi-fascist.

    In a classic David Frum essay on immigration, Frum notes (I paraphrase) that if liberals insist that only fascists enforce borders, then eventually voters will say, Who are these fascists, and what is their phone number?

    Which seems to be pretty much what went on in the case of Sam and his mother. They were confronted with what was either a titanic failing, or wild excess, of liberalism, depending on how charitable you’d like to be.

    I don't like Last's use of "liberalism" here. But I take his main point: leftism has become a religion, and if you don't buy any part of it, you are to be cast out as a heretic.

    And the mirror image is what Last calls "Trumpism"; it too demands that "adherents sign on for the entire program, in full."

    The lesson for The Rest Of Us: don't be a joiner. I guess.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for a couple articles on the William Weld campaign. First, from Politico: This Republican Is Running Against Donald Trump. Is Anybody Listening?. After describing White House aides living in fear of Trumpian wrath:

    “That’s what we want in the office?” asks Weld. “Somebody so mercurial that everyone knows he can blow a gasket? That’s not really what we want in the Oval Office. And I suppose that’s an argument I would make, even to a Republican.”

    Even to a Republican. Weld tends to talk about his nominal party as if it were a once-proud civilization descended into barbarism. It’s a reminder of Weld’s estrangement from the Trump-era GOP, even as he runs in its primaries. In the 1990s, Weld was Massachusetts’ socially liberal, budget-hawk Republican governor, but in the 22 years since he last held office he has strayed from the center of the GOP. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and ran as the Libertarian candidate for vice president in 2016. Now, Weld’s trying to foment a revolt against Trump in live-free-or-die New Hampshire, where an open primary system offers him a chance to lure persuadable independents to the polls.

    Yeah, fine. Except New Hampshire doesn't have an "open primary system"; that term is reserved for states where you can waltz in and ask for either party's ballot. Our primaries are better described as semi-closed. (Also left a comment at Politico to that effect.)


  • And Fox News also invoked LFOD in its look at the Weld: Weld could face scrutiny on party loyalty, lobbying, more amid Trump primary challenge.

    Weld is on the board of directors for Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company. However, it’s widely known that as a governor and as a vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, Weld favored relaxed drug laws. Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner also sits on the Acreage Holdings board.

    “Weld is on the board of a pot company, which might be an issue, but might actually help in New Hampshire,” [Republican political strategist Liz] Mair said, noting the libertarian bent of the “Live Free or Die” state.

    Yeah, maybe. But this Person Of Libertarian Bent has zero interest in voting for an opportunistic weasel who only a few years back pledged to be a "Libertarian for life".

URLs du Jour

2019-05-07

[Amazon Link]

  • Katherine Mangu-Ward's excellent lead editorial in the current print Reason is out on the web: The Cat in the Hat Is Right About Parenting.

    Why do parents still read The Cat in the Hat to their children? The cat gives terrible advice, after all. His risk assessments are poor. He urges reluctant kids to break rules. His games are unstructured and seemingly pointless; "UP-UP-UP with a fish" is certainly not going to get anybody into college. He's a stranger who has broken into their house while they are unsupervised, bringing unsuitable companions with him. All in all, the book seems to cut against everything today's parents stand for.

    For some reason, we near-totally bypassed Dr. Seuss for our kids' literature back in the day. Probably warped them for life! Or maybe avoided warping them for life! (If that doesn't make sense to you, I suggest you read KMW's editoria carefully.)


  • This is still generating outrage, but at least Google's in damage-control mode: Google First Shuts Down Claremont Institute Advertising Their Gala For Pompeo, Then Apologizes.

    Google has now acknowledged that it made a mistake when it refused to allow The Claremont Institute to advertise on their own online publication to their readers about the 40th Anniversary Gala at which they are honoring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Claremont had wanted to advertise on their own online publication, The American Mind.

    Google claims it made a "mistake". But these "mistakes" seem to be more and more common, and they are of asymmetrical impact.


  • At AEI, Ramesh Ponnuru has an article whose title triggers a "Gee, ya think so?" response: Infrastructure bill might be a bad use of $2 trillion.

    There is reason to doubt that increased federal spending on infrastructure would increase employment on net. With the unemployment rate already at its lowest level since 1969, such spending could simply redeploy labor that is already active. If the bill did stimulate the economy significantly, it would also make the Federal Reserve more likely to resume its course of raising interest rates, leaving us roughly where we started.

    Would new spending at least help us “rebuild our crumbling roads, aging bridges, crowded airports and other infrastructure,” as the White House hopes? Maybe. But the condition of our infrastructure is already better than the political rhetoric suggests. The percentage of structurally deficient bridges has, for example, been falling for decades.

    That $2 Trillion sounds nice if (and, for many of us, only if) you imagine that it magically appears in government coffers to be sprinkled around on worthy projects to make life better for all.

    But in actuality, it's $2 Trillion that won't be spent on other things, extracted (now or later) from the private economy. Will the projects be "worthy"? By the lights of the politicians will be directing the process, almost certainly. By the people paying the bills? That's not the smart way to bet.


  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham asks the musical question: Why Are Some Republicans Trying To Hand Warren A Win On Her Casino Bill?. At issue is a gambling den the (corrupt) Mashpee tribe wants, and Warren supports. A couple paragraphs illuminate how seamy the whole thing is:

    There are broader political issues at play as well.  While the Mashpee tribe is based on Cape Cod, the land they’re trying to acquire is 40 miles away in Taunton, MA, much closer to the Rhode Island border. Not surprisingly the state of Rhode Island, which makes a significant amount of revenue from casinos, opposes the plan. In a letter to the Natural Resources Committee chairman, Rhode Island Congressmen David Cicilline and James Langevin wrote:

    “Like Governor Raimondo, we are opposed to H.R. 312 because it would deliver a devastating blow to our state’s economy by allowing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to build a casino on our border. The Twin River and Tiverton casinos in Rhode Island generate over $300 million in revenue, representing the third largest source of revenue for our state. Rhode Island would suffer tremendously if H.R. 312 became law.”

    It's crony vs. crony, and nobody's pretending that there's any sort of public interest involved. It makes a mockery of Fauxcahontas's rhetoric; she's quite happy to rig the game for the people she likes. (I.e., that can help her politically.)


  • The Google LFOD alert rang for a news report from Vermont's TV station: Seat belt-free or die? A look at laws in NH and Vt..

    Police can ask but they cannot force you to buckle up in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is the only state without an adult seat belt law.

    Vermont has one but police say it has serious limitations.

    Our Celine McArthur is investigating the impact these rules have on drivers on both sides of the border. Monday, she went to Concord, New Hampshire, where safety experts from across the region met to discuss the issue. And she hit the road in New Hampshire and Vermont to investigate the deadly impact these week [sic] or non-existent laws are having on your safety.

    Nothing like illiterate editorializing about "week" laws.

    It's posted on the sign that welcomes you to New Hampshire: Live Free or Die. It's a motto Christopher Russo embraces.

    "We've lived here 20 years now and the culture of New Hampshire has kind of settled in," Russo said. "I would probably consider myself a little bit more of the live free and die [sic] kind of person."

    But not a "seat belt-free or die" kind of person. Russo buckles up every time he's in the car. A practice that recently saved his life.

    OK, so Christoper ran off the road, and into a tree, while trying to avoid deer. He was banged up quite a bit, but he survived.

    The answer, according to the TV station is for NH to get with the other 49 states and require adults to wear seat belts. And for Vermont to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense. (Right now, it's secondary: you can only be ticketed for non-use if you've been stoppped for some other reason.)

    We've made the usual anti-paternalism argument before. Won't repeat it. But it's worth pointing out that even with its paternalism Vermont is a deadlier state to drive in than is New Hampshire. The 2017 statistics show NH with 7.6 deaths per 100K population and 0.76 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Vermont: 11.1 deaths per 100K population, and 0.93 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

    The TV station doesn't consider that "news", because it wouldn't fit in with their advocacy.

    This isn't to say you shouldn't buckle up. You should. A mind is a terrible thing to spread over the inside of your windshield.


  • LFOD also shows up in an article at The Verge about a new podcast: Blackout imagines the collapse of civilization from a small New Hampshire town.

    In the first moments of Blackout, a new podcast from Endeavor Audio, we ride along with the pilot of a fighter jet who is flying over the White Mountains of New Hampshire, when suddenly he notices something off, and abruptly loses power and crashes.

    The episode jumps to a recording made by a DJ named Simon Itani (voiced by Mr. Robot / Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek), who says that he’s documenting what’s transpired in the months since power went out across the United States. The series follows several storylines as Itani’s small town copes without power. Itani gets shot at when he goes to investigate the power outage at a local broadcast tower, while his son Hunter and some friends discover the downed pilot — and end up stumbling on a bigger plot when they come across an individual in the woods.

    Sounds neat! But where's LFOD? Ah, here:

    The series comes from former political reporter Scott Conroy, who tells The Verge that he’s very familiar with the state of New Hampshire and its motto, “Live free or die” — he grew up in the region. “I actually grew up in Massachusetts and have family in New Hampshire,” he says, “I was a journalist for about 11 years, and mostly covered politics and in particular, presidential campaigns. I spent a lot of time in New Hampshire covering the primaries and wrote a book about [them].”

    Neat!

URLs du Jour

2019-05-06

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson takes to the pages of the New York Post: Mark Zuckerberg's 'hate ban' isn't about safety. (Spoiler: it's about his own ego.)

    Facebook on Thursday announced that a small assortment of kooks — Alex Jones, Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Paul Nehlen, Louis Farrakhan — will be permanently banned from Facebook, Instagram and other platforms it controls. Jones’ publication, Infowars, also will be banned. Praise of these figures, and expressions of support for them, also are to be prohibited.

    Facebook is a private company and is under no legal obligation to provide accounts to figures whose views its executives find objectionable.

    But how far do we want to extend that line of thinking?

    There are about 30 cellphone-service providers in the United States, although the market is dominated by four of them: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. Federal regulation might prohibit them from discriminating against customers based on their political views, but the principle is the same. Why should Louis Farrakhan be allowed to use a telephone to spread his hateful message? Why should anybody sell him paper — or a pencil, for that matter? Think of the damage he might do with them.

    Why should people with unpopular political views be allowed to have jobs? If you employ people with ugly political beliefs, you are providing financial support for the cultivation of those beliefs. Imagine your next job interview: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Communists murdered 100 million people in the 20th century. If that isn’t a hate group, I don’t know what is. In most states, there is no law against corporations discriminating against employees and job applicants for their political views.

    I am pretty sure it's trivially easy to set up your Facebook experience so you can avoid looking at any Jones/Loomer/et. al. authored content. That's not what's bothering the people behind the banning; it's that other people might look at such things. Can't be allowed!


  • But it's not just Facebook acting censoriously. At Power Line, Steven Hayward reports: reports Google Censors the Claremont Institute. A longer version of Claremont's side of the story is available s The American Mind: Algorithms of Suppression

    The Claremont Institute has launched a campaign to engage our fellow citizens in discussion and debate about what it means to be an American. As part of that effort, we have begun to point out the increasingly existential danger of identity politics and political correctness to our republic. As if to prove our point, Google has judged our argument as wrongthink that should be forbidden. They are now punishing us for our political thought by refusing to let us advertise to our own readers.

    We wanted to advertise our 40th Anniversary Gala on May 11, at which we’re honoring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to readers of our own online publication, The American Mind. But Google refuses to allow us to do so. (If you’re interested, buy tickets here—Monday is the deadline!)

    So that's Claremont's side of the story, and you can read for yourself the nefarious essay that (apparently) triggered the Google censors. What's Google's response? Well…A

    One of my colleagues spent two hours on the phone with Google to determine whether we could appeal this ruling or determine which section of the essay was in violation. The response, in short? There is no appeal; we recommend you remove the content to bring yourself into compliance.

    It's the usual opaque stonewalling that has become Standard Operating Procedure for Big Tech: you broke the rules, we aren't going to tell you what the rules were, we're not going to be specific about what you did to break them, and we're not gonna discuss it with you. So shut up and go away.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has a twofer today, this one at NR: Republicans Must Stand Firm on Commitment to Free Trade.

    Conservatives who gave in to an uncharacteristic bout of unsecured optimism quickly were reacquainted with our customary disappointment when President Trump, despite whispers to the contrary, decided to stand firm on his anti-trade agenda.

    The issue was a narrow and relatively straightforward one from an economic and policy point of view: The Jones Act, an antediluvian anti-trade measure signed into law by Woodrow Wilson, has many unintended and destructive consequences, one of which is that Americans in the northeast and in Puerto Rico are being forced to import natural gas from Russia and the Caribbean at a time when the United States is producing jaw-dropping quantities of the stuff — but cannot get it from the places where the gas is to the places where the people are. This piece of old-fashioned crony capitalism hurts everyone from utility customers to manufacturers to farmers.

    KDW is, as usual, completely correct. It would be nice if Republicans could ally with (at least a few) knee-jerk anti-Trump Democrats to get rid of Jones and other facets of protectionism.


  • What else do we need to do? Well, Jonah Goldberg has one answer in his column this week: Conservatives need to reread their Hayek.

    It has “invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing,” the philosopher and economist Friedrich Hayek famously wrote. Hayek’s larger point was that while conservatism plays an important role in pumping the brakes on radical ideas that go too far, too fast, it lacks a positive alternative agenda itself.

    In fairness to American conservatism, Hayek was talking primarily about the European variant that defended a status quo of aristocracy, theocracy, and a fairly closed economy. But his basic point about the conservative temperament has always resonated with me, because it rings true. Conservatives often start from the position of saying “No” to any new proposal or reform and end up, because of the nature of politics, agreeing to some compromise between no and a total yes.

    The specific issue discussed is the "bipartisan" $2 Trillion infrastructure initiative; the primary issue separating the parties is which taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.


  • At the WaPo, Megan McArdle has a message for our favorite totalitarian: Sorry, Bernie, but most Americans like their health insurance the way it is.

    The 2020 presidential race looks increasingly like it will be the Medicare-for-all election, as an increasing number of Democratic primary candidates — including front-runners such as Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — sign on to the slogan. The policy ought to be an easy sell, given that Medicare polls so well and American insurers so badly.

    Except no, it’s not going to be easy at all — at least not when vague talk about Medicare-for-all turns to the specifics of a system that could rationalize the myriad insanities of the fragmented U.S. health-care system and get a handle on its exorbitant costs. That would inevitably mean bulldozing most private insurance to build something simpler and more straightforward. Unfortunately, people are actually pretty attached to their own little corner of the country’s collective disaster.

    No, really. You wouldn’t know it to read most of the news coverage, or to listen to politicians, but that is one of the more consistent results in health-care polling: Over and over again, roughly 7 out of every 10 Americans report that they’re fairly satisfied with the quality of their personal coverage.

    It reminds me of why we're stuck with lousy government schools: although "everyone agrees" they're lousy, polling shows that people tend to like their own kids' schools just fine.


  • And we can always take the kids to the latest kids' movie, as imagined by Michael Ramirez: Old and White and the nineteen dwarfs.

    [Old and White and the nineteen dwarfs]


Last Modified 2019-06-13 4:56 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2019-05-05 Update

[Amazon Link]

Hey, Happy Cinco de Mayo! An authentically phony holiday, very appropriate!

And, not that it matters, but it's been a source of campus friction at the University Near Here in the past. This year, as near as I can tell, there's been no outrage, no hectoring lectures about sombrero-wearing, no demands to only frequent authentic Hispanic-owned restaurants. At least for now.

Anyway, as for our regularly scheduled programming: it's slightly interesting that the Betfair punters have boosted Uncle Joe's odds over Bernie's. And, in phony hits, Mayor Pete is still well ahead of Donald Trump, but his lead is narrowing.

Amazingly, Elizabeth Warren continues to avoid sub-2% oblivion. I imagine Gabbard, Swalwell, Booker, Gillibrand, etc. calling her: "Join us, Liz! Join us in obscurity!".

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
4/28
Phony
Results
Change
Since
4/28
Pete Buttigieg 5.1% -1.4% 4,500,000 -3,000,000
Donald Trump 42.6% -1.1% 1,740,000 +50,000
Bernie Sanders 11.2% -1.5% 307,000 -24,000
Joe Biden 13.4% +2.3% 302,000 +69,000
Elizabeth Warren 3.3% +0.5% 196,000 +15,000
Kamala Harris 7.7% +1.2% 102,000 +21,500
Beto O'Rourke 3.3% +0.2% 79,600 +19,700
Andrew Yang 3.8% +0.5% 20,800 +3,200

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • Ann Althouse has some interesting things to say about likability, commenting on an NYT article from Claire Bond Potter.

    Potter fails to make a serious attempt to understand what people who like Donald Trump like about him. She tosses out the Trump hater's aversive summary, "rambling and bullying." Potter purports to be interested in "reinvent[ing]" what likability is, but she never takes the trouble to consider the ways in which Donald Trump has reinvented likability. She does breeze through the historical example of Theodore Roosevelt, though she only looks at him second hand, letting us know how Dale Carnegie saw him — "naturally friendly."

    […]

    Now, Trump haters, think about Trump and why the people who like him like him, and think hard. Don't shield yourself from the truth by reflexively interposing Trump-hating ideas like "rambling and bullying." Trump stands up in front of crowds for an hour and more at a time and speaks directly, without a script. You get to see how his mind works. He's a real person. It's weird but it's natural— natural in some way that's available to a 70ish billionaire TV-and-real-estate man from New York City.

    Now, I don't find Trump likeable, but Ann is right that we should take seriously the people who do.


  • As is fitting for the new-front-runner-not-named-Trump, at NR Jim Geraghty profiles: Biden the Liar.

    A few days ago, Biden declared on The View, “We were asked, what are you proudest of from your administration? You know what I said — he said the same thing as I did. No one single whisper of scandal. That’s because of Barack Obama.”

    Perhaps Biden believes there was no whisper of scandal because there was so much shouting about veterans dying while waiting for care at the Department of Veterans Affairs; the “Fast and Furious” gunwalking operation at the ATF; the dysfunctional launch of Healthcare.gov; the Syrian “red line”; Benghazi; the hacking of Office of Personnel Management records; the IRS targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups; other government agencies harassing and targeting the president’s critics; drunkenness and reckless behavior at the U.S. Secret Service . . .

    Of course, the MSM "fact checkers" don't examine Biden with the same level of scrutiny as they do Trump. That would inconvenience the narrative.


  • I know you're out there wondering: how do we get Bernie. I know I am. Fortunately, Robert Tracinski of the Bulwark is here to tell us: This Is How You Get Bernie.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter recently about Democrats being uncomfortable with Bernie Sanders now that he is emerging as the front-runner early in the campaign. In the New York Times, Thomas Edsall quotes one center-left economist declaring that Sanders’ “economists don’t understand basic economics. They are not just dangerous, they are clueless.” Others worry that Sanders proposes solutions “from the heart and not the head” and that his platform is “chock full of fuzzy math and wishful thinking.” They are worried that he is too radical and too crazy, that he might not be electable, and worse, that they themselves might not want him to be elected.

    Robert thinks the non-Berniecrats may be doomed to repeat the history of the #NeverTrump movement. Yeah, well, maybe.


  • As NR's Jim Geraghty (again, sorry) points out Life Is Rough for Lesser-Known 2020 Democratic Candidates. Specifically,…

    Gillbrand is now in the “Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” stage, unveiling a cockamamie plan “to give every voter up to $600 in what she calls ‘Democracy Dollars’ that they can donate to federal candidates for office.” Yes, she wants to take your tax dollars, give you $600 back, and then allow you to donate that money to political candidates like her.

    Her plan is spectacularly contradictory: “The money could go only to elections in the donor’s state, although they could be used for House candidates outside the voter’s district.” Apparently it’s somehow unethical to donate to candidates in another state, but not in another congressional district.

    Gillibrand based her plan on a program enacted in Seattle in 2017, which gave four $25 Democracy Vouchers to every Seattle resident for use in two at-large city council races and the contest for city attorney. Advocates for the program celebrated the fact that more than 18,000 Seattle residents used the vouchers. Less celebrated was the fact that this number represented less than four percent of eligible residents; more than 96 percent of Seattle residents ignored the program.

    "Let me get this straight, Kirsten: you want to make it easier for candidates to call me at dinnertime with push-polls, and to carpet-bomb my TV with intelligence-insulting ads? I'm sold, were do I sign up?"


  • You'll note that Beto! is currently given a 3.3% shot at being President. Back on March 24 he was at 10.0%! Wha' hoppen? According to Margaret Carlson in the Daily Beast, it's pretty simple: Beto O’Rourke Blew It.

    According to my unscientific poll asking every woman I see, Beto reminds them of the worst boyfriend they ever had: self-involved, convinced of his own charm, chronically late if he shows up at all, worth a meal or two but definitely not marriage material. When he should be home with the kids or taking out the trash, he’s jamming with his garage band or skateboarding at Whataburger. He’s “in and out of a funk” which requires long and meaningful runs to clear his head. Every thought he has is transcendent, worthy of being narrated, videotaped, and blogged. He is always out finding himself. At age 46, the man asking to run the country is currently lost.

    Of course, nobody in the MSM mentioned this sort of thing when he was running against Ted Cruz last year. Even though it was all apparent at the time. Do you really need to ask why?


URLs du Jour

2019-05-04

[Amazon Link]

  • At Cato, Ryan Bourne plays Government Jeopardy! Specifically: $2 trillion: The Infrastructure Answer To What Question?.

    Media reports suggest President Trump and Democratic leaders have agreed in principle to a $2 trillion infrastructure plan “to upgrade the nation’s highways, railroads, bridges and broadband.”

    Minor details such as how to finance it have yet to be agreed. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney doubts the deal will come to fruition anyway, given differences between the parties on environmental regulations surrounding new projects.

    But it’s difficult to think of a worse way to make major policy than to dream up a big round number and then work backwards in deciding how money is spent.

    When a deal is touted as "bipartisan", it's a safe bet that's a synonym for "bad for the taxpayer".

    With respect to the Amazon Product du Jour, I can't find any recent news about Mitt Romney weighing in on this proposal.


  • Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder offers advice at her blog: How to live without free will. It's (yet another) effort via crude reductionism to explain away free will as a "stubbornly persistent illusion." One of her bits of advice:

    No one presently knows exactly what consciousness is or what it is good for, but we know that parts of it are self-monitoring, attentional focus, and planning ahead. A lot of the processes in your brain are not conscious, presumably because that would be computationally inefficient. Unconscious processes, however, can affect your conscious decisions. If you want to make good decisions, you must understand not only the relevance of input, but also how your own brain works. Instead of thinking that your efforts are futile, identify your goals and the strategies you have for working towards them. You are monitoring the monitor, if you wish.

    No matter how you feel about free will, you don't get to avoid making decisions, or shirking responsibility for your actions. So I think "illusion" is a poor word to describe free will. Illusions typically don't survive prolonged contact with reality so well.

    I don't have a better word, though.

    I also read a lot of the comments. Given her position, Sabine is usually (but not always, and who could blame her) reasonable and measured in her responses to them.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum asks the musical question: Did the Attorney General Commit a Crime by Lying to Congress?. Spoiler: probably not.

    The perjury statute, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, pretty clearly does not apply to Barr's April 9 testimony. Whether 18 USC 1001 applies is a closer call. But if we give Barr the benefit of the doubt, which is what he would get if he were actually prosecuted for lying to Congress, his "masterful hairsplitting" seems like enough to prevent a conviction.

    Also see a more full-throated defense of Barr at NR from Andrew McCarthy: The Big Lie That Barr Lied


  • Or you can read Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week on the same general topic: William Barr's Testimony -- Cover-Up Allegations Reveal a Never-Ending Spin Cycle.

    You know that feeling when you and your fellow Knights Templar are sitting around drinking absinthe-flavored Fresca watching turtles play chess, but no one else notices that the bigger turtle, which is actually a rare breed of parrot that likes to wear unlicensed Phish concert T-shirts, brings its queen out way too early? No wait, that’s a different feeling. A somewhat related one is when everybody is screaming about stuff you don’t think is scream-worthy.

    That’s how I feel about this Barr stuff. On the substance, I mostly fall in with my colleagues on this one. Bill Barr stands accused of a heinous cover-up. But he didn’t actually cover up anything. He wrote a letter that characterized the findings of the Mueller report in terms that were favorable to the president, but not inaccurate. The monster! He then released the report less than a month later with minimal and, by most objective accounts, perfectly reasonable redactions.

    In the long history of attorneys general playing the role of political fixers and cronies, this doesn’t seem to amount to much. George Washington’s first — “handpicked” — attorney general, Edmund Randolph, served as a political operative and confidante of the president. JFK appointed his 35-year-old, unqualified brother to run interference for him. FDR’s first AG was a former head of the DNC who spent much of his tenure concocting dubious constitutional arguments to give the boss wartime powers over the economy. If you’ve seen Boardwalk Empire, you probably know that Harding’s AG, Harry Daugherty, was a piece of work.

    I wish I could come up with that stuff as easily as Jonah. I mean, how do you do this?

    Much like that time the border patrol opened my car’s trunk during my Bolivian-tree-frog-smuggling phase, a few things jump out at me.

    Work backward from the last part, I guess. But I'm pretty sure I'd sound stupider if I tried.


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi didn't get the memo about not calling leftists "liberals". But other than that, he's on target: Liberals Were Very Wrong About Tax Cuts. Once Again..

    The tenor of left-wing cable news and punditry was predictably panic-stricken. After asserting that the cuts wouldn’t help create a single job, Bruce Bartlett told MSNBC that tax relief was “really akin to rape.” Kurt Eichenwald tweeted that “America died tonight … Millenials [sic]: move away if you can. USA is over. We killed it.” “I’m a Depression historian,” read the headline on a Washington Post op-ed. “The GOP tax bill is straight out of 1929,” proclaimed the same writer. And so on.

    None of this is even getting into the MSM’s straight news coverage, which persistently (and falsely) painted the bill as a tax cut for the wealthy. “One-Third of Middle Class Families Could End up Paying More Under the GOP Tax Plan” noted Money magazine. An Associated Press headline read, “House Passes First Rewrite of Nation’s Tax Laws in Three Decades, Providing Steep Tax Cuts for Businesses, the Wealthy.” “Poor Americans Would Lose Billions Under Senate GOP Tax Bill” reported CNN. Yahoo News ran one piece after the next predicting doom.

    Instead we got… well, as the WSJ headline screams at me this morning: "Jobless Rate Hits a 50-Year Low"

URLs du Jour

2019-05-03

[Amazon Link]

  • At Heritage, David R. Burton has a long, useful article Comparing Free Enterprise and Socialism. Summary:

    What is being offered by contemporary socialists are fairy tales, and we should not mistake them for the truth. These portrayals of socialism and their caricature of capitalism are inaccurate, vacuous, and utopian. Socialism takes from those who work, take risks, innovate, educate themselves, or save and gives to those who do not—or to those who have political power. A century ago, at the advent of the Russian Revolution, one could be a socialist and hope in good faith that socialism could achieve, or at least advance, its utopian aspirations. Now, socialism has a long record of dismal failure. In fact, it has been tried many dozens of times and failed each time.

    There are no huge surprises in the article, but it's nice to see another full-throated defense of economic liberty against its enemies.


  • At Reason, Peter Suderman notes a small warning from the CBO about a current threat: A New Government Report Shows Why Single Payer Would Be Really, Really Hard.

    For example, what would happen when the expansion of health coverage inevitably increased the demand for health care? More people with insurance would invariably mean more people trying to access medical services, posing a challenge to the system. "Whether the supply of providers would be adequate to meet the greater demand would depend on various components of the system, such as provider payment rates," the report says. "If the number of providers was not sufficient to meet demand, patients might face increased wait times and reduced access to care."

    Single payer plans like the one proposed by Bernie Sanders typically assume that the new system would pay something like today's Medicare rates, which are often quite a bit lower than those paid by private coverage. So the delivery infrastructure, from hospitals to doctors offices to emergency rooms, would face a dual shock—lower rates to providers on the one hand, greater demand on the other—that would likely result in longer waits for care. That's hardly surprising, given that long wait times are a frequent complaint in countries like Canada, which has single payer, and Britain, which runs a fully socialized health care system.

    You can read the CBO report for yourself (PDF) here.


  • Getting rid of the Jones Act (which prohibits foreign-flag cargo ships from operating between US ports) is on any free-marketer's long list of Good Ideas. But, since we have a president with zero appreciation of economic liberty… well, you get stories like this one from Colin Grabow at Cato: Jones Act Waiver Gets Swamped.

    A week after reports emerged that President Trump was leaning toward granting a ten year Jones Act waiver for the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by non-U.S.-flag ships, he seems to have reversed course following a meeting with congressional Jones Act advocates. Confronted with the very swamp creatures that he loudly campaigned against, the president apparently folded—bigly. The members of Congress who spoke with President Trump emerged from the White House projecting supreme confidence that a Jones Act waiver is now effectively off the table. 

    The only meager hope here: Whatever quantum-uncertainty that governs Trump's policy proposals might still cause him to issue a waiver.


  • At the Federalist, David Harsanyi knows The Real Reason Democrats Hate Bill Barr.

    Another thing Mueller didn’t seem at all concerned about was whether the Trump-Russian collusion conspiracy had been initiated or stoked by Russians. Those clamoring for transparency when useful—now acting as if investigating how the entire country was thrown into a panic over non-existent Russian infiltration of the White House is absurd—are the true conspiracy theorists.

    Yet Barr, who dropped some interesting tidbits in yesterday’s hearings, seems willing to investigate the impetus of the Russia “collusion” investigation, the role of the infamous dossier, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants used by the previous administration for “spying.” Now that Trump has been cleared of criminal conspiracy, it seems reasonable for the American people to have an understanding of how the Obama administration rationalized spying on its political rivals during a presidential election.

    I don't know if Russia was behind the dossier. I'm pretty sure Democrats don't want that small matter investigated.


  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center, Drew Cline gives credit where credit is due: Joe Biden promotes occupational licensing reform in campaign kick-off speech.

    “Why should someone who braids hair have to get 600 hours of training? It makes no sense. It’s designed to keep the competition down. Look, folks, you can’t just transfer your licenses across one state to another. They’re making it harder and harder in a whole range of professions, all to keep competition down. Why should we get rid of these unnecessary hoops out there? Because we have to restore America’s ability and individual Americans to be able to fight for their own dignity.”

    Biden is right on this — as was President Obama before him.

    Unfortuately, this is not really a Federal issue. Feds can bribe states to relax their licensing restrictions, and that happened some under Obama, but that's indirect at best.

    It's sad (however) that there aren't more Republicans yelling about this.

Lonesome Dove

[Amazon Link]

Saw this at a yard sale years ago. I figured I'd see what all the fuss was about. It finally worked its way to the top of its TBR stack. Yay!

It's long: my edition's last page is number 945. Took me a long damn time to get through. It's not your usual Western, either. I believe nobody gets shot until page 480 or so. And there's only one death before that, an unfortunate gruesome encounter between a cowboy and a nest of water moccasins (page 301).

But after that, people start dropping like flies.

Anyway: the novel centers around two ex-Texas Rangers, Call and Gus, making a living in Lonesome Dove, Texas, just a tad north of the Rio Grande. Their business model seems, roughly: when someone in the area is in the market for cattle or horses, they go down to Mexico and steal some, which they proceed to sell.

But it seems there's some restlessness: when their old buddy Jake shows up telling a tale of unspoiled land (and possible riches) up north in Montana, they organize a cattle drive and undertake a perilous trek.

A lot of colorful characters. The women are mostly prostitutes, none with hearts of gold (but not otherwise unsympathetic). Plenty of action in the last half of the book. Tragedy and humor throughout. (Humor mainly in the dialogue between Gus and Call, even in the bleakest of situations.)


Last Modified 2019-05-03 7:40 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-05-02

[Amazon Link]

  • At the NR Corner, Jim Geraghty analyzes the 'True Socialism' Argument. Specifically, from …

    The Socialist party of Great Britain asks, “When did the people of Venezuela get collective ownership of the means of production?” This is part of that perpetual argument, “True socialism has never been tried.”

    If the argument of the Socialist party is that many who claim to be acting in the name of economic equality get into power, focus their efforts on securing their grip on power, and then act in their own interest and only their own interest . . .  yeah, no kidding. Thanks for noticing, guys.

    If the argument for socialism is that it’s a noble theory that delivers economic and social equality on paper, but that every single time it gets tried, the leaders succumb to temptation and start accumulating wealth for themselves and stifling dissent and building a secret police and gulags . . .  then as a theory, it’s worthless. It would work when it’s run by human beings who can resist the temptation to take what they want through force, and those humans don’t exist. As Alexander Hamilton wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Coincidentally, I made a similar argument with one of my lefty Facebook friends the other day; he claimed that "actual communism" had never been implemented.

    My obvious, cheap rejoinder: wouldn't a more accurate term, then, be "imaginary communism"? The problem being when adherents of "imaginary communism" get real power it inevitably leads to immiseration, oppression, and mass murder.


  • At the Library of Economics and Liberty, Bryan Caplan looks at Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, and asks Could Such a Man Care?. Pretty clealy not, but:

    Which raises a deeper question. Namely: Deep in his soul, when did Maduro stray from the path of decency?

    For Maduro’s former fans, it’s tempting to sigh, “Power corrupts.” Power turns a good man bad. He – like his mentor Chavez – started out as an idealist. Yet ironically, he ended up a tyrant.

    On reflection, however, this “ironic” account is absurd.  Think about the nicest, sweetest person you personally know.  Can you seriously imagine that this person, given power, would forge a brutal police state, destroy the economy, and cling to power with fire and blood?  I can’t.

    Bryan derives what should be an obvious conclusion: politics draws awful people, like moths to a flame: "extreme power-lusters".

    How to proceed, then? Click over for Bryan's conclusions.


  • An amusing takedown from Alex Berezow at the American Council on Science and Health: Chemicals on Panera Bread's 'No No List' Are In Its Food. Couple examples of ingredients that Panera claims "will never be in our pantry":

    L-cysteine. L-cysteine is an amino acid and one of the (roughly) 20 building blocks of proteins. Your body makes L-cysteine, even if you don't eat any of it3. Foods that contain protein are loaded with L-cysteine. If Panera Bread serves protein, and I know absolutely that it does because I just ate a chicken sandwich, then its food contains L-cysteine. The company violated its own No No List.

    Vanillin (synthetic only). Almost all, as in probably 99+%, of the vanilla flavoring used in food is at least semi-synthetic. The reason is that there isn't enough natural vanilla to satisfy the gigantic demand for it. So, chemists make it. It is identical in every way to natural vanilla, so the only thing that Panera Bread is accomplishing by insisting on fully natural vanilla is paying a premium and passing along those higher costs to customers.

    We occasionally go to the local Panera, but I try to ignore their obnoxious pandering to ignorance and fear.


  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson has a take on Felon Voting Rights: Cynical Bid For Democratic Votes.

    When challenged on felon voting, Democrats ask rhetorically: “Why should these men and women continue to be punished after they have served their time?” It is an unserious question asked by unserious people. If we were serious about completely restoring the civil and social status of felons after release, then we would, among other things, allow them to buy and keep guns, to serve in security-sensitive positions, to be protected from exclusion in professional licensure and discrimination in hiring, etc. None of that is talked about very much — the discussion mostly begins and ends at voting rights. Cynical, but predictable.

    KDW goes on to note that some of the burdens placed on released felons are actually pretty unreasonable (“administrative fees”), but such burdens aren't being discussed by Democrats.


  • The Google LFOD alert rang for an article in the [Rhea County, Tennessee] Herald News: Buckle Up: States with the Most Car Accidents. And, as you might expect, LFOD appears in their discussion of state #6:

    6. New Hampshire

    • Percentage of drivers with prior at-fault accident: 14.68%
    • Number of fatal crashes in 2017: 98
    • Accident-related deaths per population of 100,000 in 2017: 7.6
    • Seat belt use among vehicle occupants: 67.6%

    New Hampshire is best known for its rugged individualism and beautiful New England landscapes. However, one surprising fact about the “live free or die” state is that it’s in the top 15 nationwide for the presence of law enforcement officers, according to the FBI 2017 Crime in the United States report. Yet, in spite of this elevated police population, New Hampshire is still both within the top 10 states in the country for prior accident rates and at the very bottom of the ranking for seat belt use. It seems that the threat of a state patrolman around every corner is not a sufficient deterrent to dissuade New Hampshire drivers from the reckless driving that has put them in the number six slot for accidents in America.

    Pretty bad, right? Well, there's more than one way to look at it. Here is the latest data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2017 (latest year analyzed) New Hampshire had 7.6 motor vehicle deaths per 100K population; that's significantly below the US average of 11.4. There were 0.76 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled in NH; US average was 1.16.

    But 73% of vehicle occupant deaths were "unrestrained". Geez, folks: buckle up even though it's not the law.


  • And our Tweet du Jour is from Charles C. W. Cooke, commenting on a tweet from part-time presidential candidate and full-time statist blockhead Eric Swawell:

    I keep saying this, but am more fully persuaded every day: we should demand that candidates for public office take a battery of tests: intelligence, civics, science, etc. And publicize the results.

URLs du Jour

2019-05-01

[Amazon Link]

Welcome to May!

  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) notes the high price of ignoring Individual Rights for a nearby public school: The cost of censorship: Plymouth State to pay $350,000 for firing professor over witness testimony.

    Former Plymouth State University adjunct professor Nancy Strapko reached a settlement with the university after she was fired for testifying in a criminal proceeding. Plymouth State agreed to pay Strapko $350,000 to avoid a lawsuit over her firing.

    Earlier this year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education listed Plymouth State as one of its 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech because of Strapko’s firing and the chilling effect it has on faculty exercising their civic responsibilities.

    Ex-prof Strapko isn't the most sympathetic character; her testimony was in support of leniency for Kristie Torbick, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student while she was his high school guidance counselor. Torbick was Strapko's student at PSU.

    Strapko may not have adequately taught Torbick: "don't sexually assault students you are counseling." But also PSU administrators may not have been adequately taught about that whole First Amendment thing. I wonder if they'll be fired for putting PSU (read: NH taxpayers) on the hook for $350K.


  • Dan Klein provides, at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Call Leftists "Liberal". Just ten? Well, let's jump down to Reason #10:

    Although we can do little to change public policy, we can change our own personal semantic practice. Such an improvement enhances wisdom, which pays off in the grand scheme of things. To advance universal benevolence, use words wisely.

    If we are to stand up for liberal civilization, we must first appreciate the great arc of liberalism—that is, the development of liberalism, beginning, say, with the printing press in the fifteenth century and its subsequent ups and downs, and across liberal civilization, not just the American scene. Such higher appreciation is sabotaged by calling leftists “liberal.”

    In The Lion King, the spirit of Mufasa tells Simba: Remember who you are.

    You are not an “anywhere,” but a “somewhere”: a son or daughter of liberal civilization.

    Dan Klein maintains a website, Lost Language, Lost Liberalism, which explores the degraded semantics of the "big words" describing liberal civilization. Pun Salad sez: check it out.


  • But equal time demands that we also plug a slight rebuttal to Dan Klein's list, from Alberto Mingardi at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Is Liberal Civilization a ‘Somewhere’?.

    Dan says that “Liberalism 1.0 is the soul of Western civilization,” and those who want to “conserve” that soul should not acquiesce to the use of the word “liberal” to mean something very different.

    Dan knows well that “Western civilization”, at least in terms of political thinking, has been many things, including the distortion of the word liberal, including Marxism, including the modern state against whose power classical liberalism is in part a reaction, and indeed including the French Revolution (perhaps the political event with more momentous consequences, in the world of ideas too). Yet in the piece (reason #7) he writes that accepting the narrative that underpins the current use of the word “liberal” is tantamount to accepting a narrative by which liberalism has been imported from France into England, while it can be argued that it was especially a product of the Anglo-Saxon world. There are many “Wests” indeed.

    Alberto makes some good points. But I'm still going to avoid calling leftists "liberals". That's a noun they do not deserve.


  • Another language-related item: oft you'll the term "ideology" (or, worse, "ideologue") used pejoratively. Usually by people who fancy themselves as "pragmatists". At the American Institute for Economic Research, Don Boudreaux writes In Praise of an Ideology of Freedom. Specifically, in reply to a "pragmatist's" contentions about the efficacy of government intervention:

    For [the pragmatist's] criticism to begin to make sense at least two conditions must hold. First, government officials must possess enough knowledge to intervene productively into the affairs of individuals acting in markets. Second, these adequately informed government officials also must have incentives to intervene productively into the affairs of individuals acting in markets.

    Alas, in reality, these conditions are met only rarely.

    Nothing is easier than observing the countless ways in which reality comes up short of the ideals that we can conjure in our imaginations. And almost as easy is imagining how god-like creatures could intervene to move reality closer to our imagined ideal outcomes.

    But the presumption that government officials have superior knowlege is a symptom of ideology, all the worse because the holder of that presumption doesn't recognize it as an ideology.


  • At the Atlantic, Johns Hopkins Associate Professor Yascha Mounk cares about what political leaders should care about. Specifically: Political Leaders Should Stop Caring About Twitter.

    Obligation breeds habit and habit addiction. The most active Twitter users I know check the platform as soon as they wake up to see what they missed. Throughout the day, they seize on the little interstices of time they have available to them—on the way to work, or in between meetings—to follow each new development in that day’s controversies. Even in the evening, when they are settling down to dinner, they cheer attacks against their enemies, or quietly fume over the mean tweet some anonymous user sent their way. Minutes before they finally drift off to sleep, they check their notifications one last time.

    It is not the mental health of Twitter addicts that most concerns me, though; it is the well-being of the nation they collectively rule. To decision makers who spend most of their days ensconced in an elite bubble, Twitter can seem like a way out, a clear window into pure public opinion. In reality, it’s an extreme distortion.

    Tweeters aren't representative. On the other hand, they can be funny and perceptive.


  • Good news from the Daily Wire: Bernie Has 'Truly Heroic' Idea About What Disney Should Do With All Those 'Avengers' Profits.

    Democratic socialist and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has a "truly heroic" idea about what Disney can do with the massive profits it's racking up through the record-smashing finale to the Avengers series.

    "What would be truly heroic is if Disney used its profits from Avengers to pay all of its workers a middle class wage, instead of paying its CEO Bob Iger $65.6 million — over 1,400 times as much as the average worker at Disney makes," said Sanders in an income inequality-themed tweet Monday noted by The Hill.

    When I mentioned that Avengers: Endgame made a record-setting $1.2 Billion in its opening weekend, Mrs. Salad (as is her wont) wondered why the US Government didn't make movies.

    Aside from they obvious retort ("those movies would suck"), I did the math: current (FY2019) spending by Uncle Stupid is estimated at $4.53 Trillion. So (if my math is right) Your Federal Government would burn through $1.2 Billion in approximately 2.3 hours. Which is less than the running time of Avengers: Endgame.


  • And I'm just gonna "excerpt" this entire Babylon Bee story: Update: We Now Have Only 12 Seconds Left Until Climate Change Destroys The Planet.

    WORLD—A new update issued by watchdog groups on climate change indicated this afternoon that we only have 12 seconds left until climate change destroys the planet.

     We previously thought we had just 12 years, then 10 years, but the latest update indicates that we have well under a minute.

    "The earth will be totally destroyed in the next, oh, 12 seconds," said Beto O'Rourke at a rally. "If you don't give the government a bunch of money and power, it will happen. Trust me."

    "So hand over the cash, guys," he said. "Like, now. I'm super serious."

    This tragic development means that humanity won't have time to correct climate change, and our writers probably won't even have time to finish thi


  • And finally: LFOD fans must visit If 6 US States Were Films. And one of those is New Hampshire, and it's even more wonderful than you might imagine.

Avengers: Endgame

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As I type, the IMDB raters have pegged this at #8 on their list of best movies of all time. Well, I don't know about that. But I had a real good time.

It's set after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which ended on an incredible downer, Thanos gaining all six Infinity Stones, and successfully carrying out his mad mission to liquidate half of living species throughout the universe. And unfortunately, that also got rid of a significant fraction of the Avengers team.

What happens next? Well, the survivors deal with it the best they can. And you won't be surprised, I hope, that they deal with it with bravery and resourcefulness.

Consumer notes:

  • I rewatched Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix just to refresh my memory, and that was a good idea. Generally speaking … and it's difficult to do this without spoilers: the more Marvel movies you've seen, the more you'll pick up watching this movie.

  • It's three hours, really, and that doesn't include previews. So plan according to your own characteristics and abilities, restroom-wise.

  • I don't really consider it to be a spoiler, but don't sit through N minutes of credits simply because you're used to Marvel movies having amusing/revealing mini-scenes in mid-credits or post-credits. Not here.