URLs du Jour

2020-03-31

We open this fine Tuesday with some tweeted wisdom from Iowahawk:

Guilty as charged, I guess.

  • For once we're linking to Kevin D. Williamson's "Tuesday" feature actually on Tuesday: ‘Shane, Come Back!’. RTWT, of course, but his last bit notes an observation from Michael Smerconish:

    On March 18, he predicted on Twitter that Donald Trump would seek to put his own signature on any stimulus checks that were sent out to Americans as part of the coronavirus-emergency stimulus. On March 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump desires to do exactly that:

    Mr. Trump has told people he wants his signature to appear on the direct payment checks that will go out to many Americans in the coming weeks, according to an administration official. The White House didn’t comment. Normally, a civil servant — the disbursing officer for the payment center — would sign federal checks, said Don Hammond, a former senior Treasury Department official.

    There is an epidemic under way. Hundreds of thousands of people already are sick, and the number is likely to reach into the tens of millions before this is over. Thousands of Americans already have died, with many more sure to follow. There are shortages of everything from medical masks to ventilators, the U.S. government’s response has been a series of bungles (negotiations with GM have been a tragedy of errors, a typical one), and President Donald J. Trump, occupant of the highest office in the land and the most powerful political figure in the world, is thinking about how he might use this for petty personal aggrandizement.

    Are the media unfair to President Trump? At times, yes. Are the Democrats awful? Of course. But it is not the media or the Democrats forcing President Trump to conduct himself in this clownish fashion. He behaves like a clown because he is a clown-souled man. The Right’s excuse-making (and its positive celebration) of this clownishness is well beyond what political necessity requires or decency allows. It is shameful, and it will come with a price in the end.

    This put me in mind of Richard M. Nixon's signature on the Apollo 11 and 17 lunar lander plaques. "What, he went too?"


  • Kyle Smith reports from his post at the New York Post: Woke stupidity is spreading as fast as the coronavirus pandemic.

    The coronavirus has already caused far more disruption than 9/11, and figures to take far more lives, albeit in slo-mo rather than on one fireball-strewn morning. You may ask, “Is there anything good about the pandemic? Will it make us more serious? Will it rejuvenate common sense?” Since Britney Spears is now a Marxist, I’d say probably not.

    Spears was once registered to vote as a Republican and supported President George W. Bush during the Iraq War. This week she shared a meme on Instagram calling for a general strike that was decorated with rose emojis symbolizing the international socialist cause. “We will feed each other, re-destribute [sic] wealth, strike,” declared Comrade Spears. Someone might want to inform her that those who have a net worth of $215 million stand to lose if there is much wealth redistribution, but if she thinks well of the idea, she is free to turn her fortune over to the International Communist Workers Party right now. Come the Revolution, she’ll quickly discover how hard it is to secure a Pilates trainer and a blowout in the gulag.

    Also featured in Kyle's crosshairs: Fran Drescher, and (sigh) Gal Gadot "and her Justice League of Idiots".


  • At AIER, Jeffrey A. Tucker analyzes Coronavirus as Ideology. Which is kind of the long form of Iowahawk's tweet above.

    This penchant for channeling one’s ideology was obvious from the beginning of this. Even back in February, you had people going to their corners into camps: this is all a lie vs. we are all going to die. The lie camp was occupied by the people who don’t believe anything ever. The die camp was merely exercising an apocalyptic vision of either left or right. 

    There have been some surprises here, pundits with no previous knowledge of anything medical much less epidemiological who were cocksure that this disease was the new Black Death. They couldn’t wait to explain it to the rest of us. Meanwhile, in the millenarian religious press, we heard that this is proof of the coming rapture, god’s vengeance against a sinful world, the fulfillment of prophecy. 

    There are those who shape everything they believe in opposition to Trump who is the Great Satan. These have been challenging times for them because Trump has whipsawed from one end to the other. He began as a dismissalist who couldn’t even be bothered to follow the news about it, much less look into the egregious failures of testing that were the fault of his own regulatory agencies. Then possibly sensing a chance to exercise the powers of an emperor, he flipped the other way. Now he is this extremely strange mix of opinions but with one overriding theme: he is the hero. 

    Trump has indeed whipsawed on the virus, but has been constant in his belief that it's all about him.


  • J.D. Tuccille has a suggestion at Reason: Tear Up Your Census Form for a Better America.

    If, like me, you've received not one but three mailings from the U.S. Census Bureau proclaiming "Your Response Is Required By Law," you're probably wondering whether to respond, toss the questionnaire in the trash, or fill it with bogus information. We're in good company, since about a third of households plan to ignore the census, according to the government itself.

    In the past, I've filled in preposterous answers, then repeated them with a straight face when a harried-looking census field worker knocked on my door (that's a pleasure I'll miss this year, with in-person interviews suspended). It's good fun, it denies potentially dangerous information to a government agency that has a history of misusing the data it collects and, if repeated far and wide, it might spur nosy bureaucrats to try something less intrusive.

    Less intrusive would be nice.

    Since I occasionally watch Boston-based TV stations, I've been irritated by the recent spew of ads from dog-faced pony soldier William M. Gavin, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Respond to the Census, Gavin implores, else Massachusetts will be denied an adequate Federal funding for commuter trains, schools, etc.

    By most measures Massachusetts is one of the richest states in the union. Gavin is essentially demanding that other states pay for stuff Massachusetts should be able to afford itself.

    In fairness, Massachusetts is (again, by most measures) a donor state, with its citizenry sending off more money to the Feds than the state receives.

    But I suppose there are a lot of people wondering "Hey, why shouldn't all states get more money from the Feds than they send in?" (Not readers of this blog, I'm sure.)


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for this Concord Monitor item from Granite Geek David Brooks: ‘Hempcrete’ is a small way to fight climate change (no, you can’t smoke it).

    Hempcrete is made by chopping up hemp plants and mixing them with a lime binder to create a material that can be cast in molds. It is often made into bricks with high insulation value or used as insulating fill inside walls. Either way, it can replace Fiberglas or some petroleum-based products.

    Because it uses plants, which have pulled carbon out of the air as they grow, and then locks them inside material that last for decades, hempcrete can be carbon-negative. Using more plant-based material in construction in place of material that requires the release of carbon when manufactured – in particular, steel and concrete – is one of the steps we need to take to stop loading up the atmosphere with heat-trapping gasses.

    As is usual, there's no mention of how much it costs compared to concrete. The LFOD is right here:

    Hemp, of course, has a complicated history here. Despite everybody in New Hampshire saying “live free or die” at the drop of a hat, we have been perfectly happy to prevent people from freely growing hemp because the relationship to cannabis spooks us.

    Eye roll at the cheap LFOD. The current state of hemp legality seems to be summed up at NHPR.


Last Modified 2020-04-02 12:53 PM EDT

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

This was unexpectedly good. Unexpected, because I was never a Mr. Rogers fan.

It's the based-on-true story of magazine writer Lloyd Vogel, who has a cynical view of humanity, especially "heroes": he likes to take them down a peg or two in his work. His editor assigns him to write a vignette on Mr. Rogers. The movie is set while "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" is still in production, so Lloyd is off to Pittsburgh, and the studio where it all happens.

Now, Lloyd has problems of his own. He's estranged from his father, who abandoned his family when his wife, Lloyd's mom, was painfully dying. And dad has just resurfaced, bringing with him all those ugly memories.

And it turns out that Fred Rogers really is a nice guy, skilled at digging out Lloyd's neuroses, helping him reevaluate his family and professional relationships.

Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers near-perfectly. Matthew Rhys is Lloyd, and it's nice to see him in a role that doesn't involve him being a murdering commie spy.

The Number of the Beast

[Amazon Link]

Warning: spoilers ahead for a forty-year-old book. (It came out in 1980, after a seven-year hiatus for Heinlein novels. He was ill during that period with a carotid blockage that "interfered with his mental acuity".)

I moved this book up in the queue, because I recently got the Kindle version of The Pursuit of the Pankera, which is related in some way. Now I wish I had (at least) read Time Enough For Love beforehand. And maybe Methuselah's Children before that. But what's done is done.

Anyway: Zeb Carter is at a party, where he meets Deety, daughter of math prof Jake. The party is hosted by Hilda. Zeb and Deety decide to get hitched, Jake and Hilda do the same, and then it develops that some baddies—the "black hats"—are trying to kill Jake for his discovery/invention of the means to travel between parallel universes. Deety and Hilda are impregnated, the universe-hopping gadget is installed in Zeb's flying car, and they're off. Not trying to save the world, but avoiding death. Understandable, if not heroic.

All this happens in the first sixty pages or so of this 500-page book.

It's pretty rough sledding, because there's way too much Heinlein know-it-all yakking between the four protagonists. A lot of tedious bickering. A lot of nudity and sexual references. Much detail on the voice interface to Zeb's car's computer.

And about two-thirds of the way through, things take an unexpected turn, which is why I kind of wish I'd reread the Lazarus Long novels before I read this. Yes, suddenly we have quite a few more Heinlein characters who yak, bicker, and know-it-all. Ah, well, keep those pages turning.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-30

We start off today with some cheer from Michael Ramirez:

[Pandemic vs. Epidemic]

Hm, that's not cheery at all. The bad aftereffects of this crisis will outlast the crisis itself.

  • Kevin D. Williamson thinks big at National Review in an NRPlus article: Coronavirus Pandemic: First Great Crisis of the Post-American Era.

    It is easy to criticize President Trump for his pettiness — in rhetoric and in fact — but he is not the cause of American surrender, only its symptom. It is impossible to blame the American people for their weariness. For one thing, the critics of JFK-style imperialism and those Poughkeepsie pothole-watchers are not without a point: There is an economic and a moral price to be paid for that kind of leadership, and government should, in most ordinary times, be mainly preoccupied with those potholes and not with dreaming up new crusades through which to aggrandize itself and its officers. And didn’t Hercules himself, sometime between killing the Nemean lion and that unpleasant Augean housekeeping business, look over his shoulder and mutter about the unfairness of it all, and wonder aloud why the . . . Belgians . . . weren’t shouldering more of the burden? “They have been very unfair to us,” I am sure he said.

    The coronavirus epidemic is a global problem, one that points to the current deficit in global leadership. Americans are paralyzed by resentment. The European Union, having just been gutted by the departure of the United Kingdom, does not know quite what to do, and those European universal health-care systems so admired by U.S. progressives are failing. China has just reminded the world that it is a socially backward gulag state that is stalled right there between Mexico and Bulgaria in real economic performance. Putin is the czar of Twitter trolls. The U.S. president has two pornographic films, six bankruptcies, and a game show on his curriculum vitae, and the country is so short of emergency supplies that Ralph Lauren is making medical garments and Tito’s is producing hand sanitizer instead of vodka — not exactly in a position to exercise global leadership.

    He makes a good point: it was tiring for us to be out front of everything for decades. Obvious problem: who's gonna step into that vacuum?


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-file says This Pandemic Will Change Us. We Just Don’t Know Quite How Yet.

    By now my joke that this should be called the Confirm Your Priors Virus has become almost a banal observation. But that won’t last. There are still people who think the pandemic proves they were right all along about tax cuts—or socialized medicine or the Green New Deal—but they’re learning to shut up or change their tune. As the crisis worsens, medically, economically, or both, even once-loyal dogmatic voters will start to lose their patience with politicians who refuse to leave their comfort zones—or try to steer the conversation back to them. At some point, they will look at these politicians like the old artillery officer staring at the men holding the horses that weren’t there. 

    I don’t think this is necessarily good news. The West’s commitment to liberal democratic capitalism was already fraying (which is why I wrote a book called Suicide of the West (now out in paperback!)). It’s easy to imagine events going in a direction that tears that commitment even more—or severs it entirely. One could also imagine events going in a direction that is altogether inhospitable to those who only know how to talk about intersectionality or identity politics. I don’t think any of these are the most likely outcomes, but like everyone else I have no idea what the future holds. Unlike a lot of people, I’m willing to admit it.  

    I'm willing to admit the same: Jonah has no idea what the future holds.


  • Michael Huemer looks at the recent spate of "gotcha" questions and wonders: What Should Candidates Know? Come on, man!

    Back when she was still running for President, Amy Klobuchar was criticized for not knowing the name of the President of Mexico. That was reminiscent of the criticism of Gary Johnson in 2016 for not knowing what Aleppo was. (On the other hand, Trump seemed to be undamaged, though he was certainly ridiculed for it, by the revelations that he thought that Frederick Douglas [sic] was still alive, that we might be able to stop a hurricane with a nuclear bomb, or that we might be able to stop Covid-19 with an ordinary flu vaccine.)

    Incidentally, I don’t believe the news media who report on things like this have any interest in those facts, except to attack someone for not knowing them. The Gary Johnson story was literally the first and last time I ever heard the word “Aleppo” anywhere other than in a computer game, and pretty much the only fact about Aleppo that they reported was that Gary Johnson didn’t know about it. Likewise, the only information I have heard about the current President of Mexico is that Klobuchar didn’t know his name.

    I can spot a major difference: Trump volunteers his ignorance; he doesn't have to be asked.

    Michael goes on to make some very good points about the kinds of questions we should be asking potential leaders: what are your justifications for the policies you support? What are basic views of justice, and morality? What rights of Americans do you consider inviolate?


  • The online Keene Sentinel is the source of our recent Google LFOD News Alert, where Paul Soltysiak asks us to Consider the cost of social isolation.

    Good mental health treatment and suicide prevention is about building connections with others, having meaning in one’s life, making sure we are free to choose. This mandatory “social distancing” is coming at grave cost. I am deeply concerned that lives will be lost because of it. What’s worse: No one in government has really stopped to think about that. In the “Live Free or Die” state, should I not be free to choose if I want come to work or school, even in the face of a pandemic?

    I am sympathetic with that.


  • And those wacky dudes at Free Keene have a bone to pick with our Governor and his Stay-at-Home Order.

    Sununu claimed on his facebook post announcing the “order” that disrupting Granite Stater’s daily lives is only done in the greatest of emergencies. Really? This Coronavirus thing isn’t even as bad as the flu yet – even if you go by the government numbers, which of course are in no way trustworthy.

    What is happening is government goons are grabbing power as quickly and as firmly as they can, and they are using fear to do it. It’s the same old scam, but this time they are going farther than ever. Though Sununu hasn’t gone as far or as hard as New York, he’s made it clear that “Live Free or Die” is just an empty slogan. Sadly, the fearmongering works, and many people are begging to be told what to do under the auspices of safety.

    And I am not unsympathetic with that. But here's the thing: that link that says government numbers are untrustworthy goes to the RT.com site, i.e., Russia Today. I mean, come on.

The Farewell

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

Mrs. Salad read the synopsis, and said "I don't want to watch that." She's averse to "grandma's dying" movies. So I was relegated to watching this at my downstairs desk.

Then she asked from upstairs: "What are you laughing at?" Honest, honey: it's IMDB-billed as "Comedy, Drama". And there are some funny bits.

A Chinese matriarch gets tested for some respiratory problems, and in a development that I'm pretty sure couldn't happen in the USA, the doctors do not tell her the gloomy prognosis. Instead, the family finds out, and they decide to not tell her. But they want to get the family together one last time for her, so they arrange for a wedding for some hapless kid. Enter Billi (played by the wonderful Awkwafina), mostly American, and she's aghast at the deception. She can't really afford to go to China, but she does anyway. But will she spill the beans? Over the next few days, she's torn. And she has secrets of her own.

It's a good movie for looking at cultural differences and similarities. Apparently a universal attribute of families is to realize that scrupulous truth-telling isn't always the best recipe for family harmony. Of course, as here, sometimes things get a little out of control.

The Phony Campaign

2020-03-29 Update

Interesting development: We have a new candidate on the list, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, popping up with a small but qualifying win-probability of 3.2%. I assume this is entirely due to Joe Biden's ineffective efforts to look relevant. (Note Joe's nearly five percentage point decline in the betting markets over the week.)

I can see a dramatic scenario unfold that involves a bunch of cancelled primaries, a pile of unpledged delegates up for grabs at the Democratic Convention, maybe a few more Biden incoherencies, and voilà.

Andrew is also our phony leader, nearly two-to-one over Trump. What's up with that?

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
3/22
Phony
Results
Change
Since
3/22
Andrew Cuomo 3.2% --- 2,740,000 ---
Donald Trump 48.7% +1.7% 1,400,000 -130,000
Joe Biden 41.1% -4.9% 422,000 -47,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Let's welcome Andy to our standings with a recent article in Irish Central: AOH condemns NY Governor Cuomo’s fake Irish accent.

    The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) are shocked and disappointed that during a 3/11 press conference dealing with the response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and the heartbreaking announcement that for the first time in 258 years the NY St. Patrick's Day parade will not take place on March 17th, that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo decided that this was an appropriate time to engage in stereotypical stage-Irishmanism. 

    Video at the link. Putting on a fake Irish accent to mock a St. Patrick's Day parade cancellation is apparently acceptable. It was only a matter of bad timing that he avoided making fun of the cancellation of Black History Month events with an an Amos & Andy accent.


  • Mona Charen's column deals with China's Lies, and Ours. Well, not "ours". Trump's. And we know about China, but:

    President Donald Trump engaged in a series of soothing statements himself. On Jan. 22, after the first U.S. case was reported, he said, "We have it totally under control." On Feb. 2, he boasted that "we pretty much shut it down coming in from China." Twice in February, the president promised that "when we get into April, in the warmer weather — that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus." On Feb. 26, when cases topped 60, Trump claimed, "We're going very substantially down, not up." In South Carolina, on Feb. 28, Trump likened criticism of his handling of the pandemic to impeachment, saying that "this is their new hoax." On March 6, he continued this theme. Facing criticism for his false statement that "anyone who wants a test can get a test," Trump tried to string together a "fake news"/Ukraine theme. He said the tests were "beautiful," adding, "The tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect, the transcription was perfect, right?" Asked whether he was concerned about the virus's spread on March 7, the president said, "No, we've done a great job."

    Throughout the first 10 weeks of the pandemic, Trump praised China effusively, as The Bulwark's Jim Swift chronicled. On Feb. 7, for example, Trump said: "Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation. We are working closely with China to help!" A few days later, he shared with Fox News his view that "China is very, you know, professionally run, in the sense that they have everything under control. I really believe they are going to have it under control fairly soon."

    I don't expect Trump to be an expert epidemiologist. And I expect him to bullshit. It's a bad combination when he's bullshitting about epidemiological issues that are killing Americans.


  • Megan McArdle looks at one thing Trump had right… and then proceeded to change his mind about: Why the Defense Production Act won’t get us ventilators any faster.

    General Motors has just been nationalized for the second time in 11 years.

    Well, not the whole company this time, the way it was in 2009. But President Trump has decided to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators under a formerly obscure law called the Defense Production Act.

    For days, as disturbing reports mounted from hospitals in urban covid-19 hotspots, both Trump’s opponents and some of his supporters have been urging the president to use this authority. The president repeatedly said it wasn’t needed, then abruptly changed course as negotiations between GM and the government broke down.

    Trump had it right the first time. This is undoubtedly good political theater, but it doesn’t actually get us ventilators any faster.

    His instincts are poor, and his principles are absent.


  • At the Washington Examiner, Andrew Mark Miller looks at a recent claim from our other major candidate: Biden sparks confusion after claiming he 'became a professor' after leaving the Senate.

    Biden became vice president after leaving the Senate in 2009 and received the title of "Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor" from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. He never taught any classes, according to his own spokesperson at the time.

    […]

    Biden was present on the University of Pennsylvania campus four times to make speeches in 2017 and again in 2018. He was paid $776,527, which amounted to nearly double the average salary of the professors on campus at the time, according to PhillyMag.

    Well, in Academia it's all about the titles, so I don't agree with those who claim he's not a professor. Clearly, he is.

    I'm not sure it shows great judgment for him to draw attention to yet another six-figure sinecure for someone named "Biden".


  • And, oh yeah, Joe also got metooed. At NR, David Harsanyi looks at the controversy and wonders: Will Biden Live Up to His Own Principles?.

    Need I mention Betteridge's law of headlines?

    In the midst of the Democrats’ campaign to deny Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court, Lawfare’s editor in chief, Benjamin Wittes, took to the pages of The Atlantic to argue that traditional concepts of due process were not applicable under the circumstances. Justice, he wrote, was merely an “optical” consideration, and in this case, “Kavanaugh himself bears the burden of proof.”

    This upending of liberal ideals had nothing to do with the veracity of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations — opaque, decades old, and unprovable — and everything to do with the accused party, upon whom, Wittes noted, we were about to “bestow . . . an immense honor that comes with great power.”

    We don’t know if, in 1993, presidential hopeful Joe Biden sexually assaulted a woman named Tara Reade by pressing her up against a wall and digitally penetrating her without her consent. But under Wittes’s standard, it shouldn’t matter. Indeed, that we do not know is all that we need to know. No person in America is accorded a more “immense honor” or more “great power” than the president. Surely, as with Kavanaugh, the existence of the accusation is disqualifying?

    It would be nice to see the hair-splitting arguments that claim "this is different".


  • And Slashdot reports that Great White Mother Elizabeth Warren is freeing her code to roam this vast land: Elizabeth Warren's Campaign Is Making Its Software Open Source.

    While most politicians are pro copyright maximalism and patent exclusivity, Elizabeth Warren's campaign just open-sourced a bunch of software and are proud of having used open source to save money, and build upon the shoulders of other giants. Way to go! "Our tech team worked hard to make getting involved with @ewarren's campaign as easy as possible," reads a tweet from @TeamWarren. "We leaned heavily on open source technology, and we want to contribute back. So we're open-sourcing some of our most important projects for anyone to use."

    Fortunately, they were unable to come up with any software that would convince voters she was their best choice.


Last Modified 2020-03-29 2:08 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-03-28

[Amazon Link]

  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center, the question is asked: How many New England governors really issued "stay home" orders? And answered:

    Here’s a surprise. In New England, only the Republican governors of New Hampshire and Vermont have issued COVID-19 executive orders that direct all individuals to stay home unless otherwise allowed to go out.

    JBC goes on to note that New Hampshire's "order" has piles of exceptions. As noted yesterday, including florists.


  • In his column, Jonah Goldberg says Pandemics Are a Terrible Time for a Frivolous Spending Spree. And he's right!

    During the debate over the economic rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instance of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

    If you want to convince normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a surefire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

    As with past crises, Jonah notes, "a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway."

    Also see: the Patriot Act, way back when.


  • At National Review, David Harsanyi has shocking news: Political Media Are Failing America.

    Here are some of the public figures and institutions that Americans hold in higher esteem than the media according to Gallup:

    • Hospitals
    • Their child’s school and daycare centers
    • State governments
    • Their employer
    • CDC and NIH
    • Mike Pence
    • Donald Trump
    • Congress

    Only one institution that Gallup asked about, the media, had negative approval rating — sitting 19 points behind its archenemy Donald Trump. And there are likely many other people and places that the public has more trust in than journalists.

    I'll go against the grain somewhat and opine that my local TV station and the Wall Street Journal have been pretty good. But I haven't bothered with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, …


  • At Reason, Paul Detrick: The Coronavirus Testing Debacle Stems From Decades of Bad FDA Policy. One example:

    Take the case of Alex Greninger, a doctor and researcher at the University of Washington, who, according to a report in GQ, submitted his application to create a coronavirus test via email. Then he learned that he also needed to submit a paper copy, and then another version burned to a compact disk or loaded onto a drive and delivered to the FDA's Maryland headquarters.

    After he complied, the FDA did not approve his test right away, according to a report in ProPublica. They asked him to make sure his test didn't cross-diagnose with SARS and MERS, other coronaviruses which hadn't been seen in the U.S. in years. His test was finally certified on February 29, at which point the fatal outbreak in his home state of Washington was already underway. 

    As the crisis worsened and the testing shortage drew headlines, the FDA simplified the process. But then on March 20, it shut down efforts to rapidly make available at-home testing kits on the grounds that they were unvetted and could be fraudulent.

    As they say, the country's in the very best of hands.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for Matt Simon: Coronavirus threatens medical cannabis program, endangers patients. Specifically, those who use it to alleviate pain, manage nausea from chemotherapy, etc.

    Patients living in neighboring states are much more fortunate in this regard than those in New Hampshire. Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine all allow dispensaries to deliver medical cannabis to patients, and they also allow individuals to grow their own plants at home.

    Sadly, patients in New Hampshire do not have either of those alternatives. Here, patients’ only in-state option is to drive or send a designated caregiver to one of five dispensary locations. And home cultivation, which is now legal for adults in all three neighboring states, remains a felony for patients in the “Live Free or Die” state.

    How about it, Governor Sununu? As long as you're issuing decrees…

URLs du Jour

2020-03-27

  • The Club For Growth emits its 2019 Scorecards for last year's votes by Senators and Congresscritters.

    Club for Growth’s annual Congressional Scorecard tracks how members of Congress vote on economic legislation. Each year the Club for Growth issues Key Vote Alerts urging Representatives and Senators to vote in favor of economic policies that strengthen our nation’s economy and against legislation that would raise taxes, increase harmful regulations, and grow our already massive government. At the end of the year, the Club for Growth Foundation conducts a study of how members of Congress voted on key issues, including the Club’s Key Vote Alerts, and ascribes a score.

    The CfG has taken on a more partisan cast, unfortunately. Despite their claim to track "economic legislation", it seems they put the Trump impeachment votes on the scoreboard. Whether you think impeachment was a good idea or not, it's hard to cast it as an economic vote.

    And, since both NH senators and my congresscritter are Democrats, they got lousy scores.


  • So my Governor, Chris Sununu, stepped up his Covid-19 game, issuing a "stay-at-home order" for the Granite State. You can Read The Whole PDF here. It's pretty porous. I'm still allowed to walk my dog, for example. Anywhere I want, except Hampton Beach is off limits, social distancing guidelines must be obeyed, etc. At Inside Sources, Michael Graham has some fun asking us to Meet New Hampshire's 'Essential' Workers.

    Who’s ‘essential?’ Doctors and nurses certainly are, and first responders, too. Grocery stores have to stay open and vital supplies must be trucked across America’s highways.

    And then, of course, there are the florists.

    When New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his state was going on stay-at-home lockdown, he issued a list of ‘essential’ jobs and services exempted from the no-go order. Among them: “Workers supporting…florists, and farm stands.” Is a bouquet of roses and a loaf of farm-fresh bread an ‘essential’ service? It is in New Hampshire.

    Not to mention a freshly dry-cleaned shirt.

    I'm slightly inconvenienced by the closure of the UNH Library, my primary source for "serious" non-fiction. (The Portsmouth Public Library, my primary source for everything else, closed back on 3/16.)

    I'll live. I hope.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the latest nonsense, namely Washington’s Counterproductive Attack on Stock Buybacks.

    Back in 2013, I joked that “you get bipartisanship when the Stupid Party and the Evil Party both agree on something.”

    That generally means bad outcomes, with the TARP bailout being a prime illustration.

    We now have another example since many Republicans and Democrats want to restrict – or even ban – companies from buying shares from owners (i.e., company shareholders).

    If you're weak on what stock buybacks are, Dan has links to more information, mostly describing the awfulness resulting from politicians substituting their own judgment for that of business owners and managers.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson accurately skewers pundits and pols who see dead people market failure everywhere. Coronavirus Face-Mask Shortage: Failure of Planning, Not Economics. (Current headline: 'More Cowbell'.)

    For Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other comrades in the socialist vanguard of the Democratic Party, the coronavirus epidemic proves that the world needs socialism. For admirers of Western European universal health-care systems, the outbreak proves the need for the United States to build a Western European universal health-care system. (Like Italy’s?) For Joe Biden, the plague proves that the world needs Joe Biden. It is pretty easy to imagine Joe Biden demanding “More cowbell!” but that is what every political opportunist is saying right now. Like climate change or that infinitely plastic thing known as “national security,” the coronavirus epidemic is a policy palimpsest that political entrepreneurs will be writing over forever, or at least until something more convenient comes along. We know how that story goes, because we have heard it so many times before: Al-Qaeda flies airplanes into a building and Arianna Huffington gets to tell you what kind of car to drive.

    Kevin has a good rundown of the actual producers of facemasks and what they've been up to.


  • At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf detects Two Kinds of Pandemic Failures. Current headline: "The Government Is Failing by Doing Too Little, and Too Much". Is it too much to ask for Goldilocks Government—just right?

    The United States is performing more poorly than it should in the present crisis, even apart from the actions and rhetoric of President Trump, for at least two distinct reasons: underinvestment in public-health infrastructure and unduly onerous government regulations.

    That first category of error has received far more attention. To cite one example of many: the Bush administration noted in its “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza,” released in 2005, that if an infectious disease spread across the nation, federal officials planned “to distribute medical countermeasures ... from the Strategic National Stockpile and other distribution centers to federal, state and local authorities.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the Strategic National Stockpile shipped out roughly 100 million N95 masks to protect doctors and nurses during the 2009 swine-flu epidemic, prompting a task force to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to replenish the supply.

    I'm pretty libertarian, but maintaining public health in the face of pandemic is pretty high up on even my short list of "Valid Government Functions". But even less libertarian folks should wonder: if the government is so bad at this, why should we expect them to do better on more complex and subtle tasks?

Motherless Brooklyn

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

A pretty good movie. Edward Norton wrote it for the screen (adapting a Jonathan Lethem novel), directed, and stars. A cynical take: he's thinking Oscars! Unfortunately, it got zero Oscar nominations (but one Golden Globe nomination). Don't know what happened there. Maybe it was too long. (Two hours, twenty-four minutes.)

It's set in 1950s New York, and Norton plays Lionel Essrog, who works for an investigatory firm headed by his father-figure mentor, Frank (Bruce Willis). Unfortunately, Frank keeps Lionel and his co-investigators mostly in the dark on a job that gets him seriously killed. Lionel and the rest of the crew try to find out what Frank was working on, and bring his killers to justice.

Lionel has Tourette's Syndrome, which causes him to blurt out uncontrollable streams of words at unpredictable times. This bothers people a lot less than you might think. Pretty soon, he's made connections to New York's major development guru, Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a thinly-disguised Robert Moses. Opposing Moses is a plucky activist, Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones), an equally thinly-diguised Jane Jacobs. But also in the mix is Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who unexpectedly becomes a love interest.

Well, it's long and the mystery's solution is pretty sordid. Alec Baldwin is well-known these days for doing a one-note Trump impression on Saturday Night Live, and I'm pretty sure some of that leaks into his performance here, where Moses talks about his, um, liaison with a woman decades past.

The period details are pretty amazing: lots of old cars and storefronts. And a resurrected Penn Station.

The American Dream Is Not Dead

(But Populism Could Kill It)

[Amazon Link]

This short book by (168 print pages, including end matter) was published in late February. It's by economist Michael R. Strain, who works for the American Enterprise Institute. I got the Kindle version for a mere $7.49, link at right. It's a quick read, very accessible.

Consumer note: some of the book's graphs rely on color. If your primary Kindle reading device is monochrome…

Strain's thesis is simple, set out right there in the title; he sets out to debunk the various doomsayers on left and right who claim that the American Dream is … well, if not dead, then seriously unwell. We're simply not doing that badly. Strain is no Pollyanna, setting out various challenges that the US is not meeting well. But he trots out some pretty convincing statistics showing that typical workers have been enjoying modest income gains over the past thirty years or so. He uses the "personal consumption expenditures" price index to account for inflation, as opposed to the more popular Consumer Price Index, arguably a more accurate choice.

Strain also looks at mobility, very relevant to the dream. He looks briefly at "relative" mobility—e.g., how likely is it that a kid growing up in a bottom-income-quintile family will move into a higher quintile? But he makes a good point about relative mobility as judged by income quintiles or some other N percent fraction of the income spectrum: when somebody moves up, someone else has to move down.

So he prefers absolute mobility, and the results are pretty cheery there. Most American men (about 59%) earn more than their fathers did at the same age. And about 80% of sons from the bottom 20% of income out-earn their fathers.

The numbers could be better. But we won't make them better (Strain goes on to argue) by various populist nostrums proposed by left and right: protectionism, industrial policy, punitive taxes on the successful.

Strain's book does something interesting by including rebuttals: one from the left (E. J. Dionne) and one from the right (Henry Olson). And then a final response to these critics—author's privilege—from Strain.

Even though it's a short book, I've left some stuff unmentioned here. It's very accessible and (to my mind) convincing.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-26

  • It's not all bad. Some things have become more obvious. Like, as Eric Boehm points out at Reason, Most Politicians Are Disingenuous Opportunists. The Coronavirus Outbreak Only Makes That More Obvious. Trump, of course. Sen. Richard Burr (R–N.C.) fer sure. But also:

    With millions of Americans out of work and the country facing the prospect of a recession unlike any in recorded history, Congress got to work on a stimulus package that was supposed to tide workers over until the virus passed and the economy reopened. Partisan disagreement sank a Senate coronavirus bailout bill on Monday, so Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) rode to the rescue with a $2.5 trillion spending plan that included such pandemic essentials as $35 million in funding for a performing arts center in Washington, D.C., new rules requiring more diversity on corporate boards, and new emissions requirements for airplanes.

    Pelosi withdrew that proposal on Tuesday afternoon. But the $2 trillion spending bill that appears ready to pass the Senate on Wednesday contains a few questionable provisions of its own, like codifying regulations that limit arbitration agreements, a huge giveaway to trial lawyers.

    Yup, can't wait to be stimulated. I only hope Netflix keeps sending us DVDs.


  • It's late Thursday afternoon as I type, so I'd better point you to The Tuesday from Kevin D. Williamson. And it's mostly not about Covid-19.

    Here is some news that may not exactly rock conservative circles: Several versions of the Toyota Prius hybrid automobile have been discontinued, and there are rumors that Toyota is considering the discontinuation of the model as a whole. Prius sales have been in decline for some time — down by 23 percent in 2018 — and the 2020 facelift may not be enough to revive the O.G. mass-market hybrid, first sold in 1997.

    The Prius is one of those cultural totems — right up there with Birkenstocks, organic kale, and yoga classes — that conservatives associate with a certain especially obnoxious brand of well-heeled consumerist progressivism. In Texas, where I live, you don’t need a “Beto for Senate” bumper sticker on your Prius: “Prius” may as well be Latin for “Beto for Senate.” (The hardcore true believers in my very lefty neighborhood still have “Beto for Senate” signs in their yards, not “Beto for President” signs. These political hipsters were into Beto before he went mainstream.) You can recite the litany of abuse: “Prius-drivin’, soy-latte-drinkin’, Sanders-votin’ wastes of space.”

    I share the contempt for Robert Francis O’Rourke. But the Prius is a work of genius, a genuine landmark, and, almost inevitably, a victim of its own success: The Prius has been so successful that its hybrid technology has been mainstreamed. The Prius C will be replaced by an updated version of the . . . Toyota Corolla, a car that has been with us since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. There are hybrid models up and down the lineups of Toyota and Honda and other economy-minded marques, but also available from makers ranging from Jaguar to BMW to Porsche, which offered a monster hybrid supercar at a price of just under $1 million as well as hybrid versions of many of its less exotic vehicles. A great many things are up in the air right now for American businesses, but Ford is even planning to introduce a hybrid version of the F-150 — the anti-Prius — using those electric motors to increase its torque and towing capacity.

    And there's more, so get on over there. Prius, we hardly knew ye.


  • Back to the Coronavirus: At Commentary, Christine Rosen notes: Public Anxiety over COVID-19 Will Increase Without Straight Talk, brought to us via the Google LFOD News Alert:

    As state and local governments enforce “shelter in place” edicts and President Donald Trump publicly mulls how long people should halt all non-essential activities, it is worth revisiting what we know about authority, responsibility, and obedience in times of crisis. Are we the country of “Live Free or Die” and “Don’t Tread on Me,” or are we able to temporarily suspend essential liberties to accommodate restrictions on our behavior for the common good?

    False choice, Christine. (And how do suspend an essential liberty, anyway?) Everything beyond the first two paragaphs is paywalled, and … eh, that's OK. If someone looks, let me know how it goes.


  • Sensible Sally Satel wonders at the Dispatch: Amid Coronavirus, What Are the Risks to Vapers?

    Does coronavirus present an incremental risk to people who vape? The notion is by no means irrational. While the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes contains vastly fewer toxins and carcinogens than cigarette smoke and those present exist at much lower levels, vapor is not comparable to fresh air. 

    However, early media coverage seems to be trending toward the kind of distortion that we saw with the vaping “epidemic” last fall. At that time, the frightening rash of lung disease and deaths were not due to commercial nicotine vaping products, as was alleged for months, but rather to contaminated THC.

    Consider the headlines now. “Doctors Say Vaping Could Make Coronavirus Worse for Young People,” warned a headline in the New York Post last weekend. A Morning Joe health column written by two physicians echoed the threat, “Vaping: One of the Best Ways to Trash Your Lungs and Maybe Die if you Catch Coronavirus.” Even the surgeon general weighed in on the Today Show on Monday, saying that, “we don’t know if [vaping] is the only cause” among younger people who are stricken with COVID-19.

    Sally recommends Snus, if you must.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-25

  • Brendan O'Neil looks at The luxury of apocalypticism at Spiked Online:

    People’s refusal to panic has been a great source of frustration for the establishment in recent years. ‘The planet is burning’, they lie, in relation to climate change, and yet we do not weep or wail or even pay very much attention. ‘I want you to panic’, instructs the newest mouthpiece of green apocalypticism, Greta Thunberg, and yet most of us refuse to do so. A No Deal Brexit would unleash economic mayhem, racist pogroms and even a pandemic of super-gonorrhoea, they squealed, incessantly, like millenarian preachers balking at the imminent arrival of the lightning bolt of final judgement, and yet we didn’t flinch. We went to work. We went home. We still supported Brexit.

    Our skittish elites have been so baffled, infuriated in fact, by our calm response to their hysterical warnings that they have invented pathologies to explain our unacceptable behaviour. The therapeutic language of ‘denialism’ is used to explain the masses’ refusal to fret over climate change. Environmentalists write articles on ‘the psychology of climate-change denial’, on ‘the self-deception and mass denial’ coursing through this society that refuses to flatter or engage with the hysteria of the eco-elites. Likewise, the refusal of voters to succumb to the dire, hollow warnings of the ferociously anti-Brexit wing of the establishment was interpreted by self-styled experts as a psychological disorder. ‘[This is] people taking action for essentially psychological reasons, irrespective of the economic cost’, said one professor.

    Unfortunately for me, the local elite is … Mrs. Salad, who's pretty freaked out. And is not particularly happy with my refusal to panic.


  • Kevin D. Williamson, writing at National Review is a born editor, and is not enamored of one current cliché. Coronavirus Response: ‘Is The Cure Worse than the Disease’ Question Unanswerable. (NRPlus article)

    Jonah Goldberg wrote a book arguing that we live in part under a “tyranny of clichés,” and one of the most shopworn of clichés — “The cure is worse than the disease” — is at the moment at the forefront of our public discourse. Millions of lives and untold trillions in wealth and income may be saved — or lost — as the result of public policies shaped by that cliché.

    In the matter of the coronavirus epidemic and our response to it, the question “Is the cure worse than the disease?” is almost useless, because it asks us to judge one discrete thing we know against a half-dozen critical things we do not know.

    I refer you back to yesterday's post with a link to the distinction between risk and uncertainty.


  • Some site maintenance is resurrecting old articles at the Law & Liberty site, and here's one from about a month ago, from James C. Capretta: Market-Driven Health Care Is Worth the Effort

    The alternative to Medicare for All is a market-driven health system, but, at the moment, it has few champions. Republicans in Congress and officials in the Trump administration will fight “socialized medicine” in its many forms, but they show little appetite for advancing policies that would move decisively in a less governmental direction.

    Their reticence, though regrettable, is understandable. An unavoidable lesson from other high-income countries is that voters like government-run health care. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh off of securing a substantial majority in the U.K’s December election, has stated that his number one priority is securing more funding for the National Health Service (NHS). Voters see personal autonomy and responsibility as non-negotiable on most matters, but when it comes to their health needs, they want others—mainly their physicians—to make the majority of decisions for them, and the government to take care of the bills.

    I get the psychology, believe me. Nobody wants to "need" medical care that they can't afford. Better to imagine that, whatever ills befall, the government (or "insurance") will provide appropriate care, no questions asked.


  • At the Federalist, Chrissy Clark looks at recent history: Hypocritical Media Downplays Wuhan Virus For Weeks, Then Critiques Fox News For Shifting 'Rhetoric'.

    Mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Vox, have criticized Fox News for allegedly promulgating lies about the severity of the widespread Wuhan virus. But their critiques land with a thud, as these same outlets also played a role in in downplaying the crisis.

    On Monday’s edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” host Tucker Carlson showcased the mainstream media’s inability to hold themselves accountable for initially pushing a relaxed narrative about the coronavirus in late January and early February.

    Chrissy accumulates evidence from Vox, CNN, the NYT, and the WaPo to bolster her contention. It's pretty damning.

    Was there a major media outlet, politician, or health organization that got this precisely right? Finger-pointing is easy, why be selective?


  • And Power Line notes the evolution of the online NYT headlines for the same article: Our Garbage Media in One Story. No excerpt, just check it out.


  • And our local freaks at Free Keene caused the knelling of our Google LFOD News Alert. They're upset about our Gov: As Governor Bans Assembling Over Ten People, Nobody to Lead Gathering at NH State House on April 1st at 2pm! ("Nobody" in this case refers to an actual person that's going by that monicker.)

    On his official campaign blog, ElectNobody.com, Nobody announced the civil disobedience event and reminded people where the state’s supposed motto came from: “Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.” – General John Stark. Before last week, New Hampshire was not a free state, but now all illusions of freedom have been completely wiped away and it’s become all-out tyranny. Something must be done. It’s time to stand up for the freedom to assemble.

    Well, fine. I'll be here. Let me know how that works out.

The Second Life of Nick Mason

[Amazon Link]

This book really has some big guns writing laudatory blurbs: Harlen Coben (front cover), Steven King, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Don Winslow (back cover). Makes you wonder what the author, Steve Hamilton, has on those guys.

But never mind that. Mr. Hamilton takes a break here from his series character Alex McKnight, and tells the story of (surprise) Nick Mason. As the book opens, Nick's getting out of the high-security United States Penitentiary Terre Haute, where he was serving a long sentence. Which has been overturned. Yay, right?

Wrong. Because the release was arranged by a powerful Chicago crime boss, Darius Cole, who sees Nick as sort of a ninja he can groom to be a warrior for his continued dominance over the city's organized crime scene. All Nick really wants to do is reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter, live some sort of straight life. But Darius demands loyalty and obedience, which involves Nick perpetrating some more crimes. And trying not to get caught or killed.

It's a convoluted tale of criminals and dirty cops. A page-turner, no question. But the whole sub-genre of "guy gets out of jail only to get involved in a lot of violent mayhem" is pretty well-travelled. (Remember Jim Thompson's The Getaway? 1959.)

If I had a further quibble, it would be overuse of the f-word, which seems to be Mr. Hamilton's way of indicating that his dialog and the characters' inner monologues are gritty and realistic.

Broken Harbor

[Amazon Link]

This is the fourth entry in Tana French's "Dublin Murder Squad" series. The protagonist narrator here is Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, a supporting character in the previous book, Faithful Place.

Mick makes it clear from the get-go that he's nobody's sweetheart. He's all about the job, corralling the perps, being the best detective on the squad. He's got no patience for fools, and he thinks just about everyone is a fool. For a new and horrific case, he takes on a new partner, Richie. Not because he'd like to show the youngster the ropes and act as a benevolent mentor; instead, he thinks that the youngster will be easier to browbeat into doing things Mick's way.

But the case really is horrifying. "Broken Harbor" is the old name for a new real estate development on Ireland's east coast, and it's only partially finished because the developers have gone bust. But one of the finished houses has been the scene of a gruesome attack, leaving a dead husband, two dead kids, and a wife in intensive care. And there's some really weird shit at the crime scene, involving a lot of baby monitors, holes punched in the walls, an open attic hatch with wire mesh over the opening.

As the case develops, it turns out Mick (unfortunately) has Broken Harbor history that shook his own family, and threatens his ability to deal with the present situation. As has been the case with the previous books in the series, the story is not just about solving the case, but also the psychic damage that the solution wreaks on the participants.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-24

[Amazon Link]

  • Probably-paywalled commentary from Allison Schrager in the WSJ: Risk, Uncertainty and Coronavirus.

    The government response to the coronavirus pandemic has seemed chaotic—underreaction one minute, piling on restrictions the next. It has left many wondering whether anyone is weighing the trade-offs. Do heavy-handed measures carry the benefits to justify the considerable costs? The uncomfortable answer: We don’t know.

    The novel coronavirus appears at first to be a problem of risk management. It is a dangerous disease that threatens the lives of our neighbors and loved ones. Our response—increased social distancing, shutting down businesses—is aimed at reducing that risk. But the problem isn’t risk so much as uncertainty.

    The difference is important. Risk is a measurable quantity and can be managed. Uncertainty means you just don't know enough about the situation.

    The distinction is lost on politicians.


  • I respect the argument Sally Satel makes at National Review: Trump's ‘China Virus’ Coronavirus Phrase -- Needlessly Antagonistic.

    But over the last few weeks, politicians and the media have taken heat for missteps in terminology, particularly since Trump seemed most strongly to insist upon calling it the “Chinese virus” in the wake of China’s “putting out information, which was false, that our military gave [the virus] to them,” as he put it.

    The remedy is easy, critics say: Just call it coronavirus. They’re right. In fact, the profession has been trying to take identity out of diagnosis for a long time. Calling it the Chinese virus goes against a humanizing trend.

    Pissing people off isn't going to get us back to normal any faster. Obvs. Ms. Satel goes through a lot of examples, among them the move away from (for example) calling a patient "schizophrenic", and toward calling him “someone with schizophrenia.”

    Fine. But it seems like another example of the "euphemism treadmill". It will only be a short while before we're looking for even gentler language to designate a problem.


  • Virginia Postrel proposes something sensible: Coronavirus Testing Should Be Random, Not Celebrity-First.

    When something is in short supply, getting it can depend on who you know. That’s true of the coronavirus test, with an added twist.

    A striking number of rich and famous people, from basketball star Kevin Durant to Senator Rand Paul, have tested positive for Covid-19 without showing symptoms of the disease, let alone being hospitalized. That’s led to charges of unfair access. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio criticized Durant’s team, the Brooklyn Nets, for testing its players. “An entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested,” he said on Twitter. “Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

    Virginia has a long history of reasonableness. Must have been that stint as Reason editor.


  • Unexpected announcement from Robert Tracinski at the Bulwark: We're All Libertarians Now.

    In a moment of crisis, people like to assert a sense of control, no matter how illusory, by reverting to well-worn habits. In the case of COVID-19, that means using it as a vessel for whatever political hobbyhorses they had before the pandemic. So it’s no surprise to see the headline, “There Are No Libertarians in an Epidemic.” By “libertarians,” the author means advocates of small government and individual liberty.

    This talking point has since been taken up by others in a more technically accurate form: there are no libertarians in a pandemic. The idea is that when a crisis hits, everyone suddenly realizes how much they need Big Government.

    This is a bizarre argument to make about a virus that got a foothold partly because of the corrupt and tyrannical policies of a communist government in China. The outbreak is currently at its worst in Italy, where socialized medicine has not turned out to be a panacea. And it was allowed to get out of control in America because the feds imposed an incompetent government monopoly on COVID-19 testing, blocking the use of better and faster tests developed by private companies.

    Agreed. And finally:


  • I can't help but chuckle at a Tweet from Rand Simberg:

    I went to Walmart for their 6am Senior Hour this morning. I'm pretty sure everyone was wearing pants. Although I'm not sure I would have noticed if someone wasn't.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-23

  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie may be on to something: We Will Regret Not Taking the Economic Effects of Mass Quarantine More Seriously.

    It won't be popular to call attention to the possiblity that such actions might be an overreaction. But it's a serious point, even if that sentiment has no hopes of carrying the day. The federal government botched the early response to coronavirus, so why should we expect it to get its act together now? Whenever we are finally clear of this pandemic, we will need to study our response to understand what we did right and what we did wrong. With a virtually complete halt of the American economy about to begin, we should enter this phase with full awareness that it wasn't the only choice available to us.

    On Friday in The New York Times, David L. Katz of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center outlined in no uncertain terms what is known about the effects of coronavirus and its likely spread among older and sickly Americans. He pointed out that the death rate on the Diamond Princess cruise ship—"that insular and uniformly exposed population"—is roughly 1 percent. Similar or smaller numbers are observed in countries such as China, Taiwain, Singapore, and South Korea, where the rate of new infections is declining, signaling that infection is at least temporarily under control. As a medical professional, Katz in no way scants public health concerns. But he is also

    deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life—schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned—will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself. The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.

    I'm no epidemiologist, but I know what panic looks like, and I know that it rarely … oh, heck, never … results in good rational decisions.

    We'll muddle through. We always do. But my guess is that the next few years will be much rougher than they should have been, and the "lessons learned" will be minimal, because it will be in nobody's partisan interest to look back in honesty about how foolish everyone is behaving.


  • At Power Line (a few days ago), John Hinderaker offered the results of what must have been a pretty fierce competition: The Day’s Dumbest Comment….

    comes from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who issued an order yesterday shutting down all “non-essential” businesses in the state. Of course, pretty much all businesses are essential to those who own them and work for them. But that isn’t what Cuomo meant:

    “I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do,” Cuomo said. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

    This is profoundly stupid. When you are dealing with the lives of millions of people, everything you do–or don’t do–has consequences. When you drive thousands of businesses into bankruptcy, people die. When you unemploy millions of people, some of them die. When tens of millions live in more straitened circumstances, some of them die. There is robust social science research on this point. Shutting down New York’s “nonessential” businesses will kill. How many, we will never know. So Cuomo won’t have to take responsibility for his ill-advised action. And, of course, millions of lives will be blighted even when no one dies.

    One can only hope that the politicians will be held accountable, but if history is any guide, they will not be.


  • David Harsanyi is another lonely voice of sanity: Coronavirus Pandemic Doesn’t Discredit Small-Government Conservatism.

    There are no libertarians during a pandemic, they tell me. Everyone is a Keynesian these days, apparently. It’s not just socialism that leads to shortages and empty shelves, fans of socialism point out. (They neglect to mention that, unlike the grocery shelves in socialistic nations, ours will be restocked as soon as the worst passes — and probably sooner.)

    Yet the coronavirus crisis has only strengthened my belief in limited-government conservatism — classical liberalism, libertarianism, whatever you want to call it. Years of government spending and expanding regulation have done nothing to make us safer during this emergency; in fact, our profligate spending during years of prosperity has probably constrained our ability to borrow now.

    Yes, unforeseen existential threats to America sometimes require extraordinary temporary measures that would normally be considered terrible policy. Asking most of the United States to self-quarantine during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic makes some sense, but asking 350 million people to self-quarantine when there’s no unique health risk would be ruinous, not to mention utterly insane. Perhaps sending Americans $1000 government-stimulus checks, instituting temporary sick- and family-leave pay as an emergency measure to keep families afloat, and bailing out our hardest-hit industries makes some sense, too, but not all ideas are equally beneficial in all situations.

    This pandemic also shows us that government does far too much of what it shouldn’t, and is far too incompetent at doing what it should.

    As noted above, neither Republicans nor Democrats are in any mood to make that point. That would make it difficult to maintain the narrative that they are saviors of America


  • Steven Landsburg wonders: Is It A Crime to Stop the Economy? He hosts a small essay by Romans Pancs:

    It is a crime against humanity for governments to stop a capitalist economy. It is a crime against those whom the economic recession will hit the hardest: those employed in the informal sector, those working hourly customer service jobs (e.g., cleaners, hairdressers, masseurs, music teachers, and waiters), the young, the old who may not have the luxury of another year on the planet to sit out this year (and then the subsequent recession) instead of living. It is a crime against those (e.g., teachers and cinema ushers) whose jobs will be replaced by technology a little faster than they had been preparing for. It is a crime against the old in whose name the society that they spent decades building is being dismantled, and in whose name the children and the grandchildren they spent lifetimes nourishing are subjected to discretionary deprivation. Most importantly, it is a crime against the values of Western democracies: commitment to freedoms, which transcend national borders, and commitment to economic prosperity as a solution to the many ills that had been plaguing civilisations for millennia.

    Pancs makes a provocative and subtle argument. I fear he's right.


  • Ah, but let's look at a stupid argument that has nothing to do with the Kung Flu. Wired hosts one from Gilad Edelman: Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?

    Let’s pretend it really happened. Imagine Congress passed a law tomorrow morning that banned companies from doing any ad microtargeting whatsoever. Close your eyes and picture what life would be like if the leading business model of the internet were banished from existence. How would things be different?

    Many of the changes would be subtle. You could buy a pair of shoes on Amazon without Reebok ads following you for months. Perhaps you’d see some listings that you didn’t see before, for jobs or real estate. That’s especially likely if you’re African-American, or a woman, or a member of another disadvantaged group. You might come to understand that microtargeting had supercharged advertisers’ ability to discriminate, even when they weren't trying to.

    Gilad is pretty cavalier about trashing the business models of a host of companies simply because he doesn't like seeing Reebok ads.


Last Modified 2020-03-23 2:50 PM EDT

Knives Out

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Netflix's algorithm thought I'd love this movie. It was correct. Smart non-formulaic writing, sympathetic heroes, fine acting, interesting plot. That's all I ask.

Daniel Craig plays legendary private investigator Benoit Blanc. (In the mold of Hecule Poirot, a deductive wizard with a sharp eye and some endearing quirks. Like singing showtunes when left to his own devices.) He's been hired by an anonymous client to investigate the grisly death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer): was it suicide, or murder most foul?

There are suspects galore, many played by actors and actresses of renown. Mostly members of the large Thrombey clan, but there's also that pretty nurse; it becomes obvious pretty quickly that she knows more than she's telling.

As an extra bonus, if you pay close attention to the small talk between characters, seeming irrelevancies become important later. I love that too. (You can go to the IMDB trivia page to see if you missed any.)

The Phony Campaign

2020-03-22 Update

[Amazon Link]

I hear you wondering: is that your faithful blogger who posed for the cover photo of the Amazon Product du Jour?

Why, yes. Yes, that's me. Fake background, though.

Well, according to the oddsmakers, we're really down to two likely winning candidates, no more or less: President Bone Spurs and Wheezy Joe. Last week's long-shot betting flirtation with Hillary and VP Pence has subsided to put them below our 2% inclusion threshold… but not that far below.

Note that the bettors have essentially made the Trump/Biden race a coin-flip. Trump is still the landside phony-hit winner, though, with a 3-to-1 advantage:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
3/15
Phony
Results
Change
Since
3/15
Donald Trump 47.0% -0.6% 1,530,000 -50,000
Joe Biden 46.0% +2.0% 469,000 +6,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • P. J. O'Rourke looks at the field in the latest issue of American Consequences, and he writes as if Bernie still has a shot. But I think he's talking about our fair country, when he titles his article Old Enough To Know Better.

    In fact, the entire 2020 presidential campaign has turned into a remake of Grumpy Old Men. And when that 1993 movie was released, Jack Lemmon (at 68) and Walter Matthau (at 73) were younger than any of the three front-running presidential candidates will be on Election Day.

    Being a grumpy old man myself, I guess I should be… whatchamacallit… word’s on the tip of my tongue… Huh? What’s that? Speak up, goldurnit! And where are my dang bifocals?… Oh… I’m wearing them… Anyway, as I was saying… What was I saying?

    We might as well just go ahead and call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue “The White Home” – A National Assisted Living Facility.

    Trump is much too old and far too big for his britches to be hanging around the political playground making up nasty nicknames and teasing the wimpy kids. One of these days, his big fat old ego is going to get stuck in the slide, bend the monkey bars, or break the swing set seat.

    Joe Biden is a zombie from the policy cemetery of the Carter era, with a stump performance like Election Night of the Living Dead.

    And Bernie Sanders is the decrepit grouch who should be sitting on a park bench in Boca Raton, grouching about his grandchildren voting for Bernie Sanders.

    All too true. Allow me a bonus excerpt. Even though we've gone past worrying about the Elizabeth Warren Menace, P.J. quotes an exchange our governor, Chris Sununu, had with WBZ radio guy Dan Rea:

    Dan Rea: “Governor, it looks like Elizabeth Warren is getting a real beating in New Hampshire. What did she do wrong?”

    Gov. Sununu: “She campaigned here.”

    Dan Rae: “And…”

    Gov. Sununu: “People got to know her.”


  • I usually take Politifact fact-checking with … not a grain of salt, but a couple of these:

    [giant halite cubes]

    But they seem to have Our Epidemiologist-in-Chief dead to rights with his recent claim about the pandemic. Trump on March 17:

    Q: "Some people did note that your tone seemed more somber yesterday. […] Was there a shift in tone?

    DJT: I didn't think -- I mean, I have seen that, where people actually liked it. But I didn't feel different. I've always known this is a -- this is a real -- this is a pandemic. I've felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do is look at other countries. I think now it's in almost 120 countries all over the world.

    Trump on January 22:

    JOE KERNEN: --are there worries about a pandemic at this point?

    PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. Not at all. And-- we’re-- we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s—going to be just fine.

    Politifact gives Trump a deserved "Pants on Fire" rating. But in fairness:

    • How seriously can you take Trump's claim that he "felt" it was a pandemic "long before it was called a pandemic"?
    • I'm not sure—even now—he has a firm handle on what a pandemic is.
    • The WHO didn't call Covid-19 a pandemic until March 11. So we're gonna bust Trump's chops about not calling it a pandemic on January 22?

    But, yeah, Trump's a notorious bullshitter on this, as he is on every other topic.


  • Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer points his shaky finger of blame: Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality Did This. "This" being, … well, whatever this is, I guess.

    Trump and the conservative media apparatus have had the predictable impact of persuading audiences not to take health officials’ warnings seriously, viewing them as just another liberal “hoax.” One pastor in Arkansas told The Washington Post that “half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” adding that “in your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype.”

    Conservatives have argued that it is the mainstream media’s fault for being so relentlessly negative about the president. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted that “one of the dangerous consequences of having a totally dishonest left wing news media was that most Americans discounted their hysteria as phony.” Gingrich’s attempted indictment of the mainstream press is a backhanded acknowledgment that the conservative media do not conceive of their job as informing the public.

    Well, that's overblown. Are Trump and "conservative media" to blame for death tolls in Italy and Iran?


  • TruthDig contributor Bill Blum looked back on last week's Biden-Sanders debate, and came to a glum (for him) conclusion: Like It or Not, Donald Trump Won the Biden-Sanders Debate.

    More importantly, neither landed much of a blow against Donald Trump, who will square off against one of them in November. That failure made Trump the big winner of the night, and a major failure it was, especially because the candidates were served a softball question on the all-consuming issue of the coronavirus by CNN’s Jake Tapper at the outset of the debate, inviting each to appraise Trump’s handling of the crisis and to tell us what they would do differently as president.

    Biden, who has never been a good debater, answered that we are “in a war” with the virus and that he would provide funding for temporary hospitals to meet “the surge” in our medical needs, even calling out the military to help build the makeshift facilities. He invoked, as is his wont, the experience of the Obama administration in dealing with public-health emergencies as models that he would follow in his own administration. But like the gaffe-prone speaker he is, he referred to the Obama administration’s handling of the “N1H1” flu when he meant to say “H1N1,” and to the “coronavirus” before correcting himself and saying, “Ebola.”

    Sanders, who is generally a good debater, got off to a strong start, remarking, “The first thing we’ve got to do is to shut this president up right now because he is undermining the scientists and the doctors who are trying to help the American people. It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with unfactual [sic] information that is confusing the general public.” But he then went on to discuss how he would handle the “Ebola” outbreak with universal single-payer health care before correcting himself to reference the coronavirus.

    TruthDig, of course, is usually the number one hit in our phony query for Wheezy Joe: Joe Biden Is a Fraud, Plain and Simple.


  • The Church Militant also tries to boost Joe's phony numbers: Phony Catholic Joe Biden Locks Nomination.

    Biden's record on abortion is rated 0% by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) indicating the highest pro-abortion rating. His record includes

    • Voting NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP
    • Voting NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion
    • Voting YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines
    • Voting NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortion
    • Voting YES on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives
    • Voting NO on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions
    • Voting YES on banning partial birth abortions
    • Voting NO on banning human cloning

    Biden and other prominent Catholics politicians including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Secretary of State John Kerry have rationalized their wildly radical abortion positions by adopting an "I accept Church rule personally, but not in public life" perch.

    That's a phony stance I would guess politicians take on non-abortion issues too, but I'd guess that abortion is the most common.


  • And in the running for the Libertarian Party nod is one Vermin Supreme, who gave us a phony hit with his tweet.

    I'm not sure the everyone-gets-a-pony plank will fly with the big-L Libertarians.


Last Modified 2020-03-22 11:21 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-03-21

[Amazon Link]

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week is titled The Moral Heroism of Our Coronavirus Response.

    The simple fact is that this country is doing something morally heroic. I hate metaphorical war rhetoric, but we’re taking the “millions for defense, not one penny for tribute” approach to this.

    It may not work. It may not last. It may not make the most sense economically. But we’re doing it anyway. And that is something that should be appreciated not just for the “We’re all in it together” platitudes but as a rebuttal to the slanderous way many Americans describe this country.

    He may have a point there. I also enjoyed this:

    It’s sort of like Star Trek. In the show(s) the captain and the top officers go on all the dangerous away missions while the vast crew stays behind to be props and walk through the hallways like the cast of West Wing. I’ve long joked that if Gene Roddenberry wrote the story of World War II, FDR and Ike would parachute behind enemy lines to take out Hitler and Himmler all by themselves. 

    I'd watch that show too.


  • And at the WaPo, George F. Will has some good news for us. Or maybe just you: You are not a teetering contraption.

    “Worrying,” wrote Lewis Thomas, “is the most natural and spontaneous of all human functions.” Thomas — physician, philosopher, essayist, administrator (dean of the Yale and New York University medical schools, head of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) — thought we worry too much about our health, as though a human being is “a teetering, fallible contraption, always needing watching and patching, always on the verge of flapping to pieces.”

    So at this worrisome moment, fill your idle hands with Bill Bryson’s 2019 book, “The Body: A Guide for Occupants.” It will fill your mind with reasons for believing that you are not flimsy, even though “we are just a collection of inert components.” Including seven billion billion billion (7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) atoms, not one of which cares a fig about you. In the time it took to read this far into this sentence, your busy body manufactured 1 million red blood cells that will surge through you every 50 seconds — 150,000 times (a hundred or so miles) before, in about four months, they die and are replaced for the greater good, meaning: for you.

    Mr. Will is 78 years young, and I'm probably more worried about him than he is himself.


  • Back to Jonah at the Dispatch, where he notes that China Is Waging a Very Effective Propaganda War.

    If there’s one thing worth knowing about China—in terms of geopolitics and American national security at least—it’s that its rulers are almost as afraid of the people as the people are afraid of them.

    Think about it. Why would a government place secret cameras everywhere? Censor any criticism of the government? Mount massive propaganda campaigns to defend the infallibility of the ruling Communist Party?

    If the people were all in for their form of government and their way of life, this wouldn’t be necessary.

    “In 2013 the party issued a list of seven topics that could no longer be discussed with students: universal values, a free press, civil society, civic rights, the party’s past ‘mistakes,’ corruption and an independent judiciary,” veteran China correspondent Isabel Hilton wrote in The Economist in 2018. “This speaks of fear rather than confidence.”

    Want insight into what powerful people are most afraid of? Find out what you can't say around them.


  • Via Rand Simberg, an interesting point from David Zaruk, writing at Science 2.0: Coronavirus Shows Our Reliance On The 'Precautionary Principle' Has Ruined Our Ability To Manage Risk.

    With locusts ravaging East Africa and a coronavirus plague shutting down Western economies, maybe it is time to go back and see how the precautionary principle has fared as the (only) risk management tool in our policy toolkit. With a population naively assuming they were living risk-free lives having been reassured how their personal safety was managed by others, the coming crisis is going to hit hard.

    Whatever happened to personal risk management, accountability and autonomy? Populations that have lost an understanding of risks are now incapable of dealing with simple hazard reduction measures. COVID-19 has taught us that two decades of precautionist-driven risk aversion has left an untrusting public without the capacity to protect themselves. Times of mass panic as we’re seeing today are not ideal periods to re-teach simple risk management skills, but perhaps once the outrage has passed and the bodies have been removed, a bit of risk reality education will be welcomed.

    We've been told for decades that we didn't have to worry about taking precautions ourselves, because it was government's job to decide what level of risk was acceptable. See where that's got us.


  • And we noticed last year the semi-coherent writings of one Jim Baer, an occasional op-ed columnist for the Concord Monitor. The Google LFOD alert let us know about his latest "thoughts" on Politics, pandemics and the New Hampshire way.

    In the past, I registered my opinion in the Monitor about the foolishness of replacing the old motto on our New Hampshire vehicle registration plates from “Scenic New Hampshire” to the cavalier “Live Free or Die.” In lieu of the morbidity rates of the COVID-19 virus, it may be wise to return “Scenic New Hampshire” on our plates. Most people do not feel the need to be reminded about dying.

    Cavalier, huh? What's more cavalier than dumping a motto because it might remind people of things they'd prefer not to be reminded of?

    'Twas a mere six months ago when Baer referred scornfully to "the 'Live Free or Die' crowd" in one of his columns. His attitude to the motto might be most charitably described as "mixed". Or, less charitably, "hoplessly confused."

URLs du Jour

2020-03-20

  • I must admit dismay at Gal Gadot's 'Imagine' cover. Going to the New York Post:

    Just call her Blunder Woman.

    Gal Gadot’s attempt to cheer up coronavirus isolationists with a celeb-studded cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” backfired after Twitter users wondered why they couldn’t send money instead.

    Some are evolution denialists, some think the Earth is flat. I, for one, refuse to believe the evidence in front of my own eyes that Ms Gadot is an airhead.

    Because, whoa, that smile.


  • Thomas McArdle at Issues & Insights notes another feature of the utopia envisioned by progressives: Mass Transit, The Pandemic Petri Dish. Bottom line:

    Just as the notorious public housing projects built for the poor in American cities as the wave of the future in the middle of the last century ended up being breeding grounds for violent crime and economic despair, the same approach of treating commuting human beings as cattle to be managed by their bureaucrat betters in authority above them is now proliferating a deadly imported pathogen that will transport death to the masses.

    The author goes through a lot of history and current affairs. Worthwhile reading.


  • And, as Randal O'Toole notes at Cato, it's not as if We Weren't Warned.

    We were warned. After September 11, 2001, historian Stephen Ambrose told us what to do.

    “One of the first things you learn in the Army is that, when you and your fellow soldiers are within range of enemy artillery, rifle fire, or bombs, don’t bunch up,” wrote Ambrose in the Wall Street Journal. Now that the U.S. was under attack from terrorists, Ambrose urged the nation as a whole to learn the same lesson: “don’t bunch up.” “In this age of electronic revolution,” he noted, “it is no longer necessary to pack so many people and office into such small space as lower Manhattan.”

    Ambrose’s advice was ignored. Manhattan’s population has grown by 100,000 people since 2001. Fitting this number of people on a 23‐​square‐​mile island is only possible because of transit systems that force people to pack themselves into buses and railcars.

    Maybe. Although Singapore seems to be doing OK, despite being densely populated.

  • At Econlib, Pierre Lemieux notes that what we're seeing is Government Failure on a Grand Scale.

    Any person or organization can make mistakes, including governmental organizations and the state itself. And, as the popular saying goes, it’s easy to criticize. The problem, however, is that governmental mistakes have much worse consequences than any individual error. It appears that the US government, just like the Chinese government, totally botched the initial response to the coronavirus epidemic, albeit in different ways.

    It is now admitted that the repeated failure of the federal government to provide testing kits or (due to stifling regulations) let private laboratories manufacture them has played a major role in the skyrocketing of infections and deaths in America. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports (“America Needed Coronavirus Tests. The Government Failed,” March 19, 2010):

    While the virus was quietly spreading within the U.S., the CDC had told state and local officials its “testing capacity is more than adequate to meet current testing demands,” according to a Feb. 26 agency email viewed by The Wall Street Journal, part of a cache of agency communications reviewed by the Journal that sheds light on the early response. …

    CDC officials botched an initial test kit developed in an agency lab, retracting many tests. They resisted calls from state officials and medical providers to broaden testing, and health officials failed to coordinate with outside companies to ensure needed test-kit supplies, such as nasal swabs and chemical reagents, would be available, according to suppliers and health officials.

    As we noted Dr. Fauci saying yesterday: it's nobody's fault. It never is, when it's government's fault, it's a massive enterprise evading responsibility for misfeasance.


  • Virginia Postrel says Coronavirus Should Mean Higher Pay for Health Aides, But Won't. Here's an interesting bit:

    To boost productivity more significantly, potentially improving both care and wages, start-ups are experimenting with artificial intelligence. An intriguing example is Cherry Home, which markets an unobtrusive monitoring system that distinguishes normal behavior patterns from abnormal ones, including falls, restless sleep or signs of confusion. When something looks off, the system alerts a monitoring center, which contacts caregivers, family members or emergency services as needed. The system has a privacy mode that displays stick figures rather than images of people, and it can communicate with someone in distress without requiring them to press a button. In theory, such systems could allow individuals to stay in their homes without having aides or family members present all the time.

    Welcome to our future, where our caregivers will be robots. I probably won't mind; even today, Alexa can usually make me laugh a few times a week.


Joker

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

Wow, I really disliked this movie.

It's the tale of poor, mentally ill, Arthur Fleck, doomed to be a loser in the hellhole that is Gotham City. All he wants to do is to be a standup comedian. But unfortunately he's not funny. And he doesn't understand enough about people to even act funny. And part of his mental illness is his propensity to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times.

So he becomes a homicidal maniac. Hey, who wouldn't?

Now, there's a Batman tie-in, of course. Bruce Wayne's father, Thomas, is portrayed as an uncaring plutocrat. (Think Mike Bloomberg, except more explicit in his disdain for the less fortunate.) The only thing to wonder about is whether Fleck is gonna shoot him in front of Bruce, or someone else. (Spoiler, because I don't care: someone else.)

The details are thoroughly unpleasant, and go on far too long. But your mileage may vary, as it did with the Oscar folks; they nominated it in a bunch of categories, including Best Picture. And Joaquin Phoenix won best actor.

And the IMDB raters have it (as I type) as number 48 on the best movies of all time. Sheesh. Maybe I was just in a bad mood.

Invisible Man

[Amazon Link]

By Ralph Ellison, not H. G. Wells. One of those books you are Supposed To Read. No question, it's powerful and (arguably) timely, despite being published nearly 70 years ago. I got a cheap Kindle version, link on the right as usual. But (consumer note) it had a bunch of minor typographic glitches, so you may want to spring for something more reliable, perhaps this spiffy Modern Library edititon.

Did I mention timely? I had never used Kindle's highlighting feature before, but here's a couple sentences I found speaking to America's relationship with President Bone Spurs:

Whether we liked him or not, he was never out of our minds. That was a secret of leadership.

Sounds sarcastic, but is it, really?

The unnamed African-American narrator takes us on his life's journey from high school, into an college, into the world of work in New York City, then becoming a "community organizer" in Harlem, finally moving into self-exile from American society. (Oops, spoilers, sorry.) His path is marked with all sorts of incidents: bizarre, absurd, many nightmarish. And (very few) hilarious. He continually makes "seemed like a good idea at the time" choices that come back to bite him in the ass. It doesn't help that he's continually exploited and betrayed by his co-workers, superiors, and friends. He abandons the few actually-decent people he meets along the way.

Note for my fellow right-wingers: Among the exploiters is a thinly-disguised Communist Party, looking to use him as a puppet to engage Harlem into its revolutionary cause.

Ellison's prose is dense and flowery. I think I've seen it described as "Faulkneresque" but it's been a long time since I read Faulkner, so I couldn't tell you.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-19

I think it's all Covid-related today, sorry.

  • At the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein asks a question I've been asking too: When and how does this coronavirus crisis end?

    That’s the question on the top of everybody’s mind. It’s what governments at all levels are struggling to get a handle on. It’s what schools and parents are trying to come to grips with. It’s what sports leagues and airlines and restaurants and hotels need to know. It’s what Wall Street investors and political pundits are all trying to figure out.

    But the truth is, nobody knows when exactly this all ends.

    I hope by July. I (literally) have reservations.


  • A Corner post from Kevin D. Williamson, I'm just gonna show you the whole thing:

    In Slate, infectious disease specialist Kent Sepkowitz writes:

    In early March, Trump told Sean Hannity that, despite million [sic] of cases and thousands of deaths, the Obama administration “didn’t do anything about” H1N1. On Friday, he tweeted that the Obama response had been “was a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now.” And again on Sunday he tweeted, “The USA was never set up for this, just look at the catastrophe of the H1N1 Swine Flu (Biden in charge, 17,000 people lost, very late response time).” It’s become a talking point for his supporters online and off.

    Set aside, for the moment, the question of the truth of these claims. The real question for Trump, who presents himself as a hard-charging business executive, is this: Did we hire you to sit around and kvetch on Twitter about the mistakes of your predecessor, or did we hire you to fix them?

    Emphasis added.


  • John Tamny points out what should be obvious at AIER: If You Bail Out Everyone, You Bail Out No One. It's in response to Kevin Warsh's (a former Federal Reserve Governor) suggestion to “create a new facility that could lend to companies hit by the economic shutdown.”

    The shutdown aspect of the lapse of reason we’re all suffering from politicians and those in their employ rates constant mention in consideration of conservative calls for a “new facility” to bolster businesses whacked by political ineptitude. Those businesses, and those in the employ of those businesses, would normally fund government outlays but for one problem: politicians are in the process of shutting down the economy for weeks, and perhaps even months.

    It’s seemingly been glossed over by Warsh and other conservatives that government spending is just another word for private sector spending orchestrated by politicians. All wealth is created in the private sector only for government to politicize spending of this private sector wealth creation to the tune of $4 to $5 trillion per year. The growth once again already happened, hence the ability of Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell et al to spend.

    It's almost that classic statist slight-of-hand, where (1) the government takes a lot of your money; (2) gives some of it back; (3) tries to convince you it's done you a great favor.

    Bad enough, but the problem in this case is step one: where you gonna get the money when the economy is in shutdown mode?


  • Cato's Jeffrey A. Singer points a finger: Coronavirus testing delays caused by red tape, bureaucracy and scorn for private companies.

    The Food and Drug Administration requires an onerous approval process to bring any test to market. Once the FDA granted "emergency use authorization" to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to distribute and conduct the coronavirus test that it had developed, the CDC took control of distributing and administering tests while the private sector and foreign-developed tests were kept out of the process during the crucial weeks between when the virus was first identified in December and when it started rapidly spreading among the American public. The obstacles to private-sector action are only now being lifted.

    "Emergency use authorization" is a scaled-down approval process that requires fewer criteria to be met to speed a test or treatment to market when time is of the essence. But even a more streamlined process didn't allow tests developed abroad and distributed by the World Health Organization to make the grade. According to White House officials, the WHO test was meant for research purposes and didn't meet American quality control standards amid concern about incorrect results. Yet other countries have been using the test, suggesting our federal government let the prefect be the enemy of the good.

    Neither major political party can turn this into a partisan issue, so it won't become the major scandal it deserves to be.


  • At National Review, Michael Tanner makes another libertarian point: Big Government Has Hurt Our Ability to Deal with This Crisis.

    The government’s most obvious failure so far has been the slowness of testing. The Trump administration’s failure to recognize the urgency of the situation was undoubtedly a contributing factor. But a bigger issue was red tape, bureaucracy, and over-caution on the part of regulatory agencies. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insisted on creating its own diagnostic kit, rather than adopt those already available from other sources, such as the World Health Organization, which had made kits available to more than 60 countries.

    Making matters worse, the CDC botched its first attempt at a test kit. In response, some laboratories tried to take matters into their own hands and create their own kits, only to be blocked by the FDA, which insisted that laboratories first obtain an Emergency Use Authorization, which added more delays. Those delays allowed the virus to circulate undetected for weeks and certainly contributed to its spread.

    Now that testing is finally coming online, the biggest concern is a lack of hospital beds and other equipment such as ventilators. Here again, big government has been part of the problem. For example, 35 states have restrictive certificate-of-need laws that allow existing hospitals and other health providers to block new construction or the purchase of equipment by new and competing providers. Designed to deliberately reduce capacity and reduce competition, these laws have helped lead to a shortage of capacity to handle the expected surge in coronavirus cases.

    NIH spokesmodel Anthony Fauci has been quick to point his finger of blame… nowhere at all.

    "It was a complicated series of multiple things that conflated that just, you know, went the wrong way. One of them was a technical glitch that slowed things down in the beginning. Nobody’s fault. There wasn’t any bad guys there. It just happened," Fauci said.

    Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the narrative: (1) the State's job is to protect us all, and (2) it's "nobody's fault" when it fails to do that.


  • And while the "democratic" socialists keep wanting us to become West Denmark, a different country, #2 in economic freedom, is pointing a different path, as described by Howard Husock at City Journal: As It Confronts COVID-19, U.S. Should Revisit How It Attracts and Retains Governmental Talent.

    Singapore has something to teach the world about the importance of a well-functioning, high-capacity, creative, and trusted government in times of crisis. The coronavirus could have easily overwhelmed the wealthy island city-state, but even as it received infected travelers directly from Wuhan, Singapore effectively tracked and isolated cases—limiting the early total to just 226, with zero deaths. In effect, Singapore quickly instituted the panoply of measures that other countries, including the U.S., appear to have discovered slowly. As its Ministry of Health website demonstrates, the country tested Wuhan arrivals, instituted travel bans, tracked the infected, and, finally, located all their contacts. In addition, Singapore canceled all sporting events and other public gatherings. The public-health response was based on studying and learning from less successful experiences with the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks in 2002 and 2009.

    Singapore’s success owes at least something to its governmental approach. The city-state pays its cabinet ministers and civil servants high salaries, inspiring them to build careers in public service. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earns more than $2 million a year—the highest among world leaders—while cabinet ministers earn more than $1 million. As Lee puts it: “ministers should also be paid properly in order that Singapore can have honest, competent leadership over the long term.”

    I should hasten to point out that on broader measures of freedom, Singapore scores less well. But it's doing a better job of … y'know … keeping its citizens alive than many other countries.


Last Modified 2020-03-19 8:47 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-03-18

  • Answering a question nobody's asking, Hans von Spakovsky at the Daily Signal: Can Trump Use Coronavirus to Delay 2020 Election?

    With Congress, the Supreme Court, sports leagues, schools, and many businesses and companies across America shutting down, only time will tell if we are being appropriately cautious or engaging in a hysterical overreaction to coronavirus.

    But for those imaginative reporters who see a Russian lurking behind every tree and keep asking me if President Donald Trump can use this pandemic as an excuse to delay the 2020 presidential election, the answer is “no.”

    Under our Constitution, the executive branch has no authority whatsoever to delay, reschedule, or otherwise change the federal election in November, much less any of the remaining state primaries. On the other hand, Congress and the states do have that authority.

    I shouldn't have said that nobody's asking the question, I guess. Only "inquisitive reporters" who haven't read the Constitution.


  • It's Wednesday, which means it's a good day to link to Kevin D. Williamson's weekly feature The Tuesday: Character in the Time of Coronavirus.

    One of the maddening things about the U.S. government’s tardy, inadequate, and incompetent response to COVID-19 is that it was the result, in part, of an unnecessarily stupid political calculation. Donald Trump spent 2016 sneering at the idea that the performance of the stock market during the Barack Obama years indicated anything about the quality of the Obama administration’s economic policies; he spent much of his presidency up until a couple of weeks ago boasting about the performance of the stock market during his own administration, arguing that it illustrates the excellence of his administration’s economic policies. He spent the early days of the COVID-19 crisis treating it as though it were principally an economic challenge and spent his time trying to “tweet the markets back to life,” as my National Review colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty put it.

    That’s not exactly working out: On Monday, trading was halted one minute after the market opened and the Dow plunged 2,250.

    Set aside, for a moment, the more substantive question of how the government’s early nonchalance will shape events in the next few months and consider the pure political malpractice of that. Rather than try to bluster through, the president could have said, “There’s a potentially serious new epidemic under way in China, one that involves a virus we haven’t seen before in humans. We are beginning a full national mobilization in response to it. It may turn out to be nothing, in which case we will have spent a few million dollars on a pretty good dry run of our epidemic-response capabilities. That’s a good investment. There isn’t anything to panic about, but we’d rather err on the side of caution than err on the side of inaction. Now, here’s . . . Mike Pence.”

    All right, I might strike that last sentence.

    But he did not.


  • Matt Welch at Reason asks that we Stop It With the Coronavirus Curfews Already. There are serious proposals afoot, apparently. Matt lists four problems:

    1. Shutting most everything down creates real shortages, not just the no-toilet-paper-at-Whole-Foods kind. The more people and industries you order locked down, the more supply chains get broken, the more stores shutter, the fewer goods are available. We all still need stuff, even if we're sitting indoors all day. And in cramped, big cities like New York, where living space is at a premium, there is frequently neither storage space nor predilection for stocking up on weeks' worth of food at a time.
    2. Compressing the commercial day will mean more people shopping together in close quarters. The smart play until now among germaphobes has been hitting up the local Rite Aid in the wee small hours. Mayors, county executives, and governors are increasingly foreclosing that option.
    3. Law enforcement has more urgent priorities than policing the free movement of citizens. At a moment when National Guard reservists are being called up to build emergency ICU capacity, do we really want available man/womanpower scaring peaceable residents straight?
    4. Human beings do not have a limitless capacity for self-imprisonment. We are about to see a lot of resentment from the healthy Youngs about how they no longer have jobs or the ability to make student loan payments because of draconian governmental measures to combat a disease disproportionately affecting the Olds. But even setting that aside, in the absence of V-1 bombs flying overhead, people are eventually going to bust out of their containment. Setting up legal regimes in contravention of human nature is a recipe for all kinds of trouble.

    This is even not considering minor issues like constitutional legality.


  • At Law & Liberty, Reuven Brenner looks Behind the "-Isms".

    Societies around the world have always matched people with capital. No matter when or where, there have been only four institutions through which people carried out this matchmaking: Parents (bankers furnished by nature), savings and financial markets, governments, and criminal organizations. The choice of these means lies at the core of our “-isms,” including the two that figure most prominently in American public opinion right now: capitalism and socialism. The better ability of capitalist democracies to efficiently match capital to people according to their talent comes about because there are more institutions to restore accountability faster, with the deeper financial sector and the risk of default playing the critical roles.

    Sometimes (however) it's difficult to distinguish between "governments" and "criminal organizations", except by reputation.


  • Wired is especially tedious these days, with its writers in full lying-Trump's-gonna-kill-us-all mode. But this article by Jason Lanier and Glen Weyl, Microsoft researchers, contains an interesting idea: AI is An Ideology, Not A Technology.

    “AI” is best understood as a political and social ideology rather than as a basket of algorithms. The core of the ideology is that a suite of technologies, designed by a small technical elite, can and should become autonomous from and eventually replace, rather than complement, not just individual humans but much of humanity. Given that any such replacement is a mirage, this ideology has strong resonances with other historical ideologies, such as technocracy and central-planning-based forms of socialism, which viewed as desirable or inevitable the replacement of most human judgement/agency with systems created by a small technical elite. It is thus not all that surprising that the Chinese Communist Party would find AI to be a welcome technological formulation of its own ideology.

    It’s surprising that leaders of Western tech companies and governments have been so quick to accept this ideology. One reason might be a loss of faith in the institutions of liberal democratic capitalism during the last decade. (“Liberal” here has the broad meaning of a society committed to universal freedom and human dignity, not the narrower contemporary political one.) Political economic institutions have not just been performing poorly in the last few decades, they’ve directly fueled the rise of hyper-concentrated wealth and political power in a way that happens to align with the elevation of AI to dominate our visions of the future. The richest companies, individuals, and regions now tend to be the ones closest to the biggest data-gathering computers. Pluralistic visions of liberal democratic market societies will lose out to AI-driven ones unless we reimagine the role of technology in human affairs.

    You don't have to buy into the whole argument (and I don't) to see some pretty powerful points here.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-17

  • David Harsanyi writes sensibly, is anyone listening? Coronavirus Scary Enough without the Scaremongering.

    Like the reporters and pundits who seek out the most bloodcurdling predictions regarding coronavirus, I have no expertise on infectious diseases. But I’m far more skeptical about what certain experts say — not the scientists and doctors making amazing and tangible strides in combating the disease, but the model-making policymaking experts who often dominate news stories.

    Former CDC director Tom Frieden, reports the Washington Post, says the U.S. death toll for coronavirus could range anywhere from 327 (best-case scenario) to 1.6 million (worst case). As I noted, I’m not an epidemiologist. That sounds like an extraordinarily wide-ranging set of predictions which are probably contingent on thousands of factors, many of which are beyond our control. Any one of you could comfortably predict a death toll somewhere between 327–1.7 million. These numbers need context.

    I know: how brave do you have to be to come out against scaremongering?

    A big part of the story: nobody wants to be accused, either now or later, of underplaying the problem. Then you get blamed for whatever bad stuff happens.

    In contrast, scaremongering looks like a pretty good strategy, especially for those in power:

    • If things turn out well, you can say: "See, people followed my advice."
    • If things turn out badly, you can say: "See, people didn't listen to me."


  • At the NYPost, Rich Lowry notes a different game of gotcha: Suddenly, the left is complaining that Trump isn’t dictatorial enough.

    What happens when the supposed dictator won’t dictate?

    This is the conundrum confronted by the harshest critics of President Trump, who have gone from warning he is a budding despot to complaining he hasn’t done enough to impose his will during the coronavirus crisis.

    They can’t believe that he didn’t urge sports leagues to cancel their seasons, call for school systems to close or tell bars and restaurants to shutter before this wave of closures began.

    As a New York Times report put it, Trump “has essentially become a bystander as school superintendents, sports commissioners, college presidents, governors and business owners across the country take it upon themselves to shut down much of American life.”

    Presidents, in the modern age, have the extra-Constitutional duty to "do something" in times of crisis. "Something" doesn't have to be effective, or even legal. As long as we are Reassured by the Great Orange Father in Washington.


  • Mickey Kaus detects a "not-so-American idea whose time has come again": The Virus of Corporatism.

    Forget whether you were reassured or not by Trump's Friday coronavirus press conference. […] The identity of the real winner was clear: corporatism.

    Corporatism doesn't mean rule by corporations. It means the theory that society is like a body (corpus) with different institutions and people performing different organic roles and maybe having distinct rights and privileges. We have brains (the state and business elite) and eyes and ears (the press!) and arms and legs (the unions).

    In related news, this morning's WSJ notes that US Airlines Seek $50 Billion Coronavirus Aid Package. Helpfully pointing out that this is three times their post-9/11 bailout.


  • At Econlib, Pierre Lemieux goes Spanish: Rothwell Si, Piketty No! It's a review of a review of Thomas Piketty’s new book. Which apparently "naively defends the sort of hard socialism that we would instead expect to find in the dreams of some befuddled French sociologist."

    The Economist quotes the incipit of the book, where Piketty pontifies:

    Every human society must justify its inequalities.

    I checked on Amazon that it is a faithful translation of the French original:

    Chaque société humaine doit justifier ses inégalités.

    Especially for an economist, the declaration raises an immediate question: How does society do that? Is it the top 1% who must provide a justification through its collective mouth? Or the bottom 1% through its different mouth? Or some group of rationally ignorant voters? Or everybody through some mythical “social welfare function”? Or is it some philosopher-king—like Piketty, to take an example at random—who will interpret the general will?

    On this third-hand description, it sounds as if Piketty's trying to do something Rawlsian, without the care Rawls took to develop his ideas.


  • OK, this was something I was wondering about, watching people in line at the supermarket: Why Shoppers Are Hoarding Toilet Paper. Does Time have the answer?

    But why? What is it about toilet paper—specifically the prospect of an inadequate supply of it—that makes us so anxious? Some of the answer is obvious. Toilet paper has primal—even infantile—associations, connected with what is arguably the body’s least agreeable function in a way we’ve been taught from toddlerhood. Few, if any of us, remember a time when we weren’t acquainted with the product.

    “There is comfort in knowing that it’s there,” says psychologist Mary Alvord, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine. “We all eat and we all sleep and we all poop. It’s a basic need to take care of ourselves.”

    What would we do without Associate Professors of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine?

10% Less Democracy

Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less

[Amazon Link]

I got this book via UNH Interlibrary Loan, up from Southern New Hampshire University's Shapiro Library. It's by Garett Jones, econ prof at George Mason and the Mercatus Center. He undertakes a brave task, taking on the sacred cow of "democracy"—is it really the best way to run things?

Well, of course it is. Except when it's not. Jones says: let's back off and really examine real-world results of democratic procedures. And comes to the reasonable conclusion that we'd be better off with slightly less of them. As the title says, about 10% less.

Some of the data is telling. Independent central banks, insulated from "democratic" political pressures, seem to deliver better economic results for their countries. Independent judicial branches reach better decisions than more politicized ones. Bondholders—nobody elected them—can act as important sanity checks on governments' fiscal policies. Plenty of other examples and sensible observations.

This could be all dry and abstract, but Jones isn't afraid to drop some wit into his discussion. For example, in his discussion of "unanimity rule" (as opposed to "majority rule"): "If 90% of the people at the party want to order so-called pineapple pizza badly enough, and if the party can only order one kind of pizza, then even under unanimity rule, those 90% will probably be able to buy off the wise minority who are rightly skeptical of this pineapple-bread monstrosity." Heh.

A late chapter is particularly relevant to the current "democratic socialist" argument that we should be more like Denmark. Jones compares Denmark with (roughly equal in population) Singapore. Singapore's per capita income is about 80% higher than Denmark's. Singapore's life expectancy is 2.5 years longer than Denmark's. And: "Since 1960, Denmark has grown about four times richer per person, but over the same period, Singapore has grown about twenty-three times richer per person."

And Singapore is not particularly "democratic": Jones estimates that it has "50% less democracy". Yet, it flourishes. We don't need to, and probably shouldn't, go "Full Singapore". But it would be a good thing if we were at least wondering if it wouldn't be a decent idea to move in that direction.

Everything Old is New Again

[Amazon Link]

[Note: Depending on your Pun Salad reading habits, you may have already seen something about this in a book post.]

When Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the race for president, we all had a good laugh when MSNBC airhead Brian Williams and New York Times Editorial Board airhead Mara Gay promoted a tweet they found especially profound:

Approximately 5.6 million right-wing bloggers, including yours truly, pounced on the stunning mathematical illiteracy. And we were not averse to finding Deeper Meaning in the fact that the illiteracy was exhibited by people generally in favor of governments spending lots of money they don't have. A good example was Charles C. W. Cooke at National Review, who found it …

… extremely telling. This, right here, is why so many left-leaning Americans think that “the billionaires” can pay for everything. It’s why Elizabeth Warren was enthusiastically boosted by the media despite her ridiculous pretense that she could pay for a series of gargantuan initiatives without raising taxes on anyone but the extremely rich. It’s why Democrat after Democrat promises not to raise “middle class taxes” while promising programs that require the raising of middle class taxes. How did this bad tweet make it onto TV to be endorsed? Why did Mara Gay agree with it? Why didn’t Brian Williams notice? Because the people involved in this clip thought it was true. This is how they see the world.

[Amazon Link]

… and then we went into Covid-19 24-7 social distancing. Which caused me to power through the library books I had out, including Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World, by Matt Parker, Amazon link at right. Which noted a meme from "our side" from back in 2015, criticizing the $360 million spent on the Obamacare rollout. And here 'tis:

[Bad Math Meme]

Not only that, but this spawned a raucous, hilarious, debate on Facebook and Reddit. Details at Daily Mail from that era.

Now, there are differences. The 2015 meme was from some anonymous Facebook guy, not respectable TV talking heads. It might have been Russians, for all I know. Or it could have been some progressive troll trying to lampoon right-wing stupidity: what better way to do that than to pretend we don't know how to divide?

Still, I'm glad we're now a lot better at catching silly fake news…


Last Modified 2020-03-16 10:10 AM EDT

Humble Pi

When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World

[Amazon Link]

Picked up on impulse from Portsmouth Public Library. It's good!

The author, Matt Parker, is a British stand-up comedian who also happens to know his math (or, since he's British, "maths") pretty well. His book is (therefore) genuinely funny in spots. Fun feature: the pages are numbered backward, starting at 311, going down to zero.

And then rolling over to 4,294,967,295 (which computer geeks will recognize as 232 - 1) for the end matter. Ha!

So I had to jigger a different version of my Reading Schedule Generator to handle this; it normally sanity-checks its input for things like an end-pagenumber greater than a start-pagenumber. (But it worked once I ripped the checks out.)

The subtitle says the book describes what happens "when math goes wrong", but that's misleading. It's never the math going wrong, it's people trying (and failing) to use math.

An example Parker cites from 2013:

Yes, this is the same stupid mistake that was made a few weeks back by MSNBC anchor Brian Williams and New York Times Editorial Board member Mara Gay:

There's nothing new under the sun, as they say.

Parker doesn't stop at simple division. He wanders into probability, combinatorics, geometry, etc. Lots of computer programming topics, too: rounding errors, cryptography, random number generation, etc. As I said, it's funny in parts, but the upshots of "math going wrong" can be monetary losses, security breaches, structures swaying and falling, planes crashing, rockets blowing up. And, of course, people dying. So it's not all funny.


Last Modified 2020-03-15 6:35 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

Ides of March Update

Well, we might as well get in one last swipe at Bernie, from the great Michael Ramirez.

[Weekend at Bernie's II]

But Bernie dropped below our 2% probability threshold this week, that sad showing in the Michigan Primary seems to have done the trick. To add further insult, the bettors now think Hillary's more likely to be our next President, and have bumped up her probability above our threshold.

Also new this week is Mike Pence. I can imagine the dismal scenarios that the bettors are envisioning that might bring that about.

The odds are pretty even between Trump and Biden now, but Trump is beating the old man pants off Joe where it counts: phony hits.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
3/8
Phony
Results
Change
Since
3/8
Donald Trump 47.6% -4.8% 1,580,000 -50,000
Hillary Clinton 2.2% --- 645,000 ---
Joe Biden 44.0% +5.2% 463,000 +21,000
Mike Pence 2.2% --- 137,000 ---

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • At the Bulwark, Molly Jong-Fast diagnoses Trump in the Time of COVID-19.

    Wednesday night started with 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin dressed up as a furry neon bear rapping “Baby Got Back” on broadcast television. That was not the strangest thing to happen. Because a few minutes later President Trump gave what was probably the weirdest, most unsettling, Oval Office address, ever.

    Trump’s second Oval Office talk lasted 11 minutes—about 40 minutes under his normal speaking time—which was unusual. It also lacked any free-form rapping about Peter Strzok or witch hunts or his historic, landslide Electoral College victory. Also unusual.

    As he does on most serious occasions, Trump clung to the teleprompter and did not ad lib. He did not make jokes or call people names. He sounded almost normal—not actually normal, mind you. But normal-like, in the way you sometimes see when crazy people decide they have to lock it down for a few minutes so as to try and pass.

    Which is the worrisome part. Because this president only controls his behavior when he’s scared. When Donald Trump acts normal, it’s because he’s cornered and has no other choice.

    Ouch! Something I learned from Nick Gillespie's Reason podcast with Molly Jong-Fast: "her mother Erica Jong wrote Fear of Flying, her father is a well-respected author, and her grandfather Howard Fast was a massively popular novelist who wrote Spartacus and received the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize".


  • Matthew Continetti writes at the Free Beacon, warning us that even though Bernie's hopeless, The Fight Against Socialism Isn't Over.

    Don't write off the socialist revival just yet. Sanders might not win the Democratic nomination. But this outcome does not mean the forces that propelled him to second-place finishes in the two most recent Democratic primaries will vanish overnight. Abandoning the intellectual fight against socialism, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, would cede the field to an increasingly sophisticated and networked band of ideological activists whose influence in media and politics is greater than their numbers. Such ambivalence could have devastating consequences for American society.

    The resurgent left has pushed Biden far beyond where he stood as vice president. And a socialist infrastructure guarantees the philosophy's longevity. Aspiring Democratic politicians must at least deal with, if not pay obeisance to, groups such as the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America. Especially if they inhabit a deep-blue district ripe for picking by the "Squad."

    As long as humans have tendencies toward envy and plunder, we'll have socialists.


  • OK, can you stand one more Bernie-bashing link? Trust me, it's good. At the Federalist, Sumantra Maitra describes Why Bernie Sanders’s Dream Of Turning U.S. Into Scandinavia Is Stupid.

    This idea that socialism never turns authoritarian, or can be without eventual authoritarianism, is ridiculous. What exactly would a socialist do in power when the people and the majority of the states oppose his harebrained, unnatural utopian schemes? He or she will try to force it in through executive actions. That in itself is authoritarianism, even in a smiley-badgey version.

    The reason it is unlikely there will ever be communism in the United States is not due to the benevolence of our leftist leaders, who are as power-hungry as their brethren across the globe, but because the U.S. Constitution secures gun rights, which makes it impossible to ram through state-supported totalitarian actions. That is why socialists try to bring about their policies through a combination of judicial fiat (immigration, abortion) to outright hysteria (green economics, guns).

    But that is not the full story. As someone who resides in Europe, it always baffles me that American liberals and socialists consider Scandinavia the best-case scenario. The socialists claim it is the place where socialism is perfected, even though the Scandinavians themselves refuse to be called socialists. Remember the famous quip by the Danish prime minister in reply to Sanders: “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

    Reference: the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World. Denmark is at #13, US at #5.


  • And for masochists only, CNN and Univision will be holding a two-hour Biden/Bernie debate tonight at 8pm. No studio audience. The big question: will either candidate fall asleep before the end?

    Bernie, of course, hopes that he can trick Joe into saying something even Democrats will consider to be, um, revealing of a mental vacuum.

    At the Dispatch, Sarah Isgur wonders: Why Is the Democratic Party Even Having Another Debate?

    There's no downside for Bernie. Just like 2016, he can continue to point out Joe's lack of Socialist Purity and his long career as a total hack.

    But Biden’s biggest weaknesses within the party can still be weaponized against him as long as the primary continues. He’s not as progressive as the base would like, and he has a tendency to stumble over his words, leading to questions about his mental fitness for office. Debates offer Sanders an opportunity to highlight both and cast doubt about the presumptive nominee among the very people Democrats will need to win in November.

    I think Sarah's pretty bummed that her job more or less requires her to watch the debate and pay attention.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-14

Happy π day, folks. Wish we had something along that line to blog about, but…

  • Kevin D. Williamson at NR: MEOW, They Roared. (MEOW == "Moral Equivalent of War")

    One detects a pattern in American politics: Every challenge is a crisis, every crisis is the Moral Equivalent of War, and winning that war, we are told, means giving the Left everything it demands, without opposition and generally with no regard for the Constitution, process, or democratic norms. “Never let a good crisis to go waste,” as Rahm Emanuel famously put it.

    And so it is with COVID-19.

    The novel coronavirus outbreak — a genuine crisis and a real emergency — already is being exploited by Democrats with an eye on the upcoming presidential campaign and political contests beyond that. The emergency demonstrates, they say, the necessity of everything progressives have been demanding for the past 20 years.

    Time to dig out Robert Higgs' Crisis and Leviathan I guess.


  • The intrepid Veronique de Rugy writes at AIER: Sorry, But Stimulus Policies Will Not Work. (OK, but is she really sorry?) Click through for her debunking of payroll tax holidays and spending stimuli. But:

    First, we should give up the fantasy that the government can ‘stimulate’ the economy out of this particular crisis. Second, Congress, the Administration, their advisors, pundits and journalists should not exploit this crisis to subsidize special interests or hand out favors to those seeking to achieve policy aims unrelated to the outbreak. No one should try to get their pet policy preferences implemented either; I am thinking of you, “Medicare for All,” “a hike to the Medicaid matching rate” and “pass a permanent and universal government funded paid leave program.”

    The best that the government can now do, if it wishes not to act either pointlessly or destructively, is to help the most vulnerable Americans by tweaking some existing spending programs. It can, for example, help lower-income workers with temporary and targeted funding, such as to pay for sick leave for the relatively few workers who don’t now have access to this fringe benefit.

    Fortunately, my default behavior these days is "stay at home".


  • We did need groceries, however. And we thought we'd be real smart and avoid the crowds by hitting Hannaford when it opened at 7am.

    Exactly the same thought occurred to approximately everyone else in the Dover/Rollinsford/Somersworth NH area.

    "This is my nightmare," Mrs. Salad said as we were in a very long line for the register.

    I reassured her: "If this were a nightmare, there'd be zombies too."

    I hope Reason's Nick Gillespie, who experienced similar crowds at his Whole Foods is right: Coronavirus. We Got This.

    The most surprising thing about the scene last night at Whole Foods in New York wasn't that it was so crowded. (Like I said, it's always crowded.) It's how chill people were, how polite and respectful. These are the first days of a health crisis that will unfold over weeks and maybe even months, so I'm cautious about loading too much significance into any early indicators. A month down the road, perhaps we'll be at each other's throats like warring factions in a zombie-apocalypse flick. More likely, we'll have minimized the spread of the disease thanks to changes in our behavior, increased the effectiveness of our institutional responses, and learned how to get along a little better than before.

    I can also report chill at the Dover Hannaford.


  • Jonah Goldberg writes on nomenclature at the Displatch: Fighting Over What to Call Coronavirus Is a Silly Waste of Time.

    In his address to the country Wednesday night, Trump said, “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.” The response played out along the same lines as the virus-name controversy, with opponents decrying xenophobic bigotry and defenders noting that the statement is literally true.

    The defenders are right, but the same problem applies. Why call it a “foreign virus”? Have we gone to greater lengths to defeat “domestic” viruses? Would we act differently if this wasn’t some invasive plague?

    The need to troll China or piggyback an anti-China agenda (whatever its merits) as well as the need to decry the “real problem” of racism both strike me as desperate efforts to exploit a crisis or find comfort in more familiar arguments.

    And it’s a spectacular waste of time and energy.

    A theory I've seen floated: Trump isn't particularly xenophobic himself. But he thinks a significant number of his fans are. So he likes to throw them little bits of rhetorical red meat, as above.


  • And Peggy Noonan at the WSJ has a delightfully contrarian take: ‘Don’t Panic’ Is Rotten Advice.

    Now it’s time to lose the two most famous phrases of the moment. One is “Don’t panic!” The other is “an abundance of caution.”

    “Don’t panic” is what nervous, defensive people say when someone warns of coming trouble. They don’t want to hear it, so their message is “Don’t worry like a coward, be blithely unconcerned like a brave person.”

    One way or another we’ve heard it a lot from administration people.

    “Captain, that appears to be an iceberg.” “Don’t panic, officer, full steam ahead.”

    “Admiral, concentrating our entire fleet in one port seems tempting fate.” “We don’t need your alarmist fantasies, ensign.”

    “We’re picking up increased chatter about an al Qaeda action.” “Your hand-wringing is duly noted.”

    “Don’t panic,” in the current atmosphere, is a way of shutting up people who are using their imaginations as a protective tool. It’s an implication of cowardice by cowards.

    I'm tired of hearing "Don't panic." Every. Time. I. Watch. The. News.

Heaven, My Home

[Amazon Link]

Although this book was on the WSJ's list of The Best Mystery Books of 2019, I didn't care for it that much. Anyway, I'm at the halfway point on that list: five down, five to go.

A major part of the problem: it's the second book of the "Highway 59 series" by Attica Locke. This doesn't have to be a problem, but in this case it is: a major part of the book is a continuation of the plot of (I assume) the previous book.

By the way, not that it matters, but the little Iowa town in which I spent my early years was on US Highway 59 too. This didn't assist me in enjoying the book.

The politics is pretty strident, too. Ms. Locke is political, despises Trump, and much of the plot here revolves around various manifestations of his malignant influence, giving cover to various flavors of white supremacist ideology. That's pretty tedious.

Anyway, the book is set in east Texas, near the Louisiana border. The part that's not carried over from the first book involves a missing 9-year-old white kid who's been abducted from treacherous Caddo Lake. He's the son of an Aryan Brotherhood moron in jail for killing an African American; suspicion falls on the black guy who claims to have been the last to have seen the kid alive.

The protagonist is Texas Ranger Darren Mathews, who's got his problems hanging over him from the first book. And nobody really wants him snooping around this case either. And he's not particularly sympathetic: a drinking problem, a very dysfunctional family, an infatuation with a lady not his wife (again, from the first book), suspicions that his wife may have been unfaithful with his old (white) college buddy who's now in the FBI. And said Fed looking to make a name for himself by pinning the (presumed) murder of the missing white kid as a hate crime committed by the previously mentioned black guy.

Lots of characters, difficult to keep straight, including cartoonish rich white people up to no good by screwing over the oppressed.

Ah, well. As I said, five down, five to go.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-13

  • Charles Baird at AIER spells out something which (unfortunately) needs to be said more often: Socialism Must Be Authoritarian.

    Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, asserts that he opposes authoritarianism. He says Fidel Castro’s literacy programs were good, but his authoritarianism was unfortunate. In Bernie’s mind socialism doesn’t have to be authoritarian. This is a pernicious idea. To fight socialism it must be put down every time it is encountered. Hayek explained in The Road to Serfdom that even benevolent socialists must become authoritarians. Worse, people in power under socialism are unlikely to be benevolent.

    The common definition of socialism – government ownership of the means of production – helps socialists avoid the label. American socialists, like Elizabeth Warren, note that since they do not advocate government ownership of the means of production, they are not socialists. 

    Socialism should be understood broadly to mean the use of government power to replace private economic decision-making with collective economic decision-making. Sanders, Warren and Biden may differ (slightly) on the best scope of collective decision-making, but they are all socialists. Hayek’s argument applies to this more inclusive definition.

    There's a lot of explicit coercion involved in "democratic socialist" proposals. But there's a lot of implicit coercion involved in shifting more resources, and therefore choices, out of private hands into the public sector.

    Bastiat might say that some of the coercion is seen, but a lot is unseen: what innovation is foregone by removing private resources.


  • At Cato, John Samples notes Illiberalism Ascendent in proposed antitrust legislation from that allegedly "moderate" Amy Klobuchar. It would shift burden-of-proof onto companies to show that they're not suppressing competition. Liberalism 101:

    In a liberal government, government officials must carry a burden of proof to limit the liberties or rights of individuals. For example, to put someone in jail, prosecutors must show they violated the law beyond a reasonable doubt.

    In an illiberal government, individuals must prove to government officials that they do not deserve having their liberties or rights restricted. In an illiberal government, individuals must prove to the government that they have not violated the law. This assignment of the burden of proof underpins ideals like the rule of law and due process.

    Antitrust has been bad economics for over a century, but Senator Amy wants to make it worse.


  • Brian Reidl is on fire these days. At NR, he asks the musical question: How Effective Would a New Fiscal Stimulus Be? Spoiler: not very.

    The arrival of the coronavirus has plunged the stock market and led to calls for a massive government economic-stimulus package to remedy a possible recession. Reflexive calls for fiscal stimulus are often popular during recessions, for obvious reasons: Voters love tax cuts and spending benefits. Celebrity economists get to show off their mathematical models and play the role of economic savior. And politicians can hand out popular benefits, while claiming to fix the economy.

    Fiscal stimulus may be the wrong tool to address a health crisis in which people decide not to leave their homes. (Where would they spend their rebates? How does this address broken supply chains?) Better to provide targeted relief, such as family-leave benefits to those who lose pay owing to workplace shutdowns.

    But more broadly, do temporary infusions of government spending or tax cuts actually stimulate economic growth? The record is not particularly strong.

    Click through for the weak record. Government spending gets added to GDP axiomatically, no matter how stupid and wasteful. But it also (see above) removes spending power from private hands. To assume that power wouldn't have been used wisely is … problematic.


  • And I love these animated charts from Mark J. Perry. Here's US electricity generation by fuel source, 1949-2019.

    You can draw some obvious conclusions, but click over to get Mark's insights too.


  • Ammoland tells an outrageous story of Brian Harris.

    In August 2015, Brian took a course from me to get his Utah & MA permits. A month later, he was arguing with a woman he was dating. He took his clothes and headed out. After a verbal argument, she called the police. His girlfriend didn’t even know that he had a gun in his trunk.

    They called Brian and asked him to come downstairs. Four police officers greeted him at the door with guns drawn waiting for him. They searched his vehicle and he said he had a firearm and a permit. It was unloaded, locked and secured. There was a temporary restraining order and the police confiscated the firearm. A year later when the restraining order was supposed to be dropped, the district attorney extended it. And pressed charges. He had to spend $13,000 to hire an attorney to fight his case for 2 years.

    We are only seeing one side of the story here ( some more info, don't know how accurate), but Brian (now a New Hampshire resident) wound up spending 18 months in a Massachusetts county jail, which seems steep. What drew my attention: He's started the Live Free Or Die Guys YouTube channel which, as I type, has 18 subscribers. One of the videos there has a guy (don't know if it's Brian) with a "Kill 'Em All" t-shirt. So, um, your call.

The Lavender Hill Mob

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I have the disquieting feeling that I've already seen this, back in the days when I didn't obsessively blog about every movie I watched. I seem to have a vague recollection of the beginning ("Hey! That's Audrey Hepburn, isn't it?") and the end (no spoilers). And absolutely nothing in between. Ah well.

Alec Guinness plays Henry Holland, a guy for whom the noun "milquetoast" was invented. A self-described nonentity disguising an avaricious and criminal streak, he's in the fortuitous position of accompanying British gold from the smelter to the bank. He's worked out most of the heist details, all he needs is a way to smuggle the purloined metal out of the country, where he can sell it on the black market.

Enter Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway, who really should be singing "With a Little Bit of Luck" in this movie too). He's got a factory that casts base metal into tourist "geegaws". (That's actually the name of the company.) But there's no reason he can't use gold…

Anyway, it's very understated comedy, but dreary 1951 England must have been in the mood to laugh at nearly anything. The best part is Henry reading a crime novel to the elderly Mrs. Chalk, titled You'd Look Good in a Shroud. Oh, heck, here it is:

Henry: Where did we get?

Mrs. Chalk: Duke Milligan was about to take a gander at Mickey the Greek's hideout.

Henry: Oh yes, here we are. "I handed my fedora to a hatcheck girl with all that Venus de Milo had got and then more, and I was admiring the more when I glimpsed something in the back of this frail that set my underwear creeping up on me like it had legs."

Mrs. Chalk: I know that feeling well.

Henry: "A guy had soft-shoed out of the door from the gaming room as quiet as a snake on tip-belly, and I didn't need my case history of Smiling Abe Montana to know that sonny boy was his number-one triggerman, Ricky the Filipino."

Mrs. Chalk: I thought it was Little Boy Shultz who carried the rod for Mr. Montana.

Henry: It was, Mrs. Chalk, but surely you remember? Montana found Shultz taking liberties with that lady.

Mrs. Chalk: Yes, yes, they took him for a ride. Only last night, wasn't it? Oh, I must be getting old. Read on, Mr. Holland.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-12

  • Try not to look at the stock market. Instead console yourself with Jeffrey A. Tucker writing at AIER: In a Disease Panic, the Free Market Is Your Friend.

    That hand sanitizer you are using, where did you get it? The local store or an online shop. And who made it? Private enterprise, operating based on profit and loss within a market economy. And that mask you are keeping just in case? Same thing. It came from private investment, brought to you by international trade. It cost a buck or two but it might save your life.

    Those latex gloves? An amazing innovation with a remarkable history. The first ones were invented at the height of the hated Gilded Age in 1883, a result of the booming oil industry which led to countless derivative products. Disposal versions are wonderfully sanitary but they have only been available since 1964, as innovated by the private company Ansell, founded by Eric Ansell in Melbourne, Australia. Thank you international trade. 

    Jeffrey's bottom line: "When it’s the difference between health and sickness, life and death, government is the last institution you want to trust."


  • Away from general philosophy, and down to specifics, is Robby Soave at Reason: The White House Made Coronavirus Meetings Classified. That’s Idiotic.

    Federal health officials' coronavirus meetings should be treated as classified, according to a White House order first reported by Reuters.

    As a result, relevant health experts who lack the necessary security clearances have been kept out of meetings since January. This is a serious, idiotic act of self-sabotage on the part of the Trump administration. It will not only hamper transparency—it will compromise the efficacy of the government's coronavirus prevention strategizing.

    About the only rationale I can think of is the wild market swings that might result from some publicized, misinterpreted remark in one of those meetings. Although could that be worse than what we have now?


  • George F. Will writes on an even sadder pheomenon (because it's likely to last longer than Covid-19): Higher education’s mandatory political participation.

    The Free Speech Movement, an early tremor of the earthquake that shook campuses in the 1960s, began on Sproul Plaza at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964. Today eight of the 10 universities in the UC system are administering faculty hiring practices that involve coerced speech, enforced political conformity and mandatory political participation.

    Any academic seeking a position is required to write a “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) statement affirming support — sometimes even “enthusiastic” support — for, and demonstrating activism in support of, a systemwide orthodoxy. In the required statement (“Demonstrating Interest in and Ability to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”), an applicant should show that he or she has been active, and must promise to be active, in advancing the approved agenda. This process explicitly subordinates assessments of academic excellence.

    Some facules are brave enough to object. The ones with tenure.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for an article in the Root: Detroit Charges Poor People Pay to Not Die From Coronavirus.

    The Free Press reports that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmire have created a program to prevent water shutoffs and restore service for residents who can’t afford to pay the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) for the most abundant natural resource that covers 75 percent of the planet.

    “We know that washing hands is an important defense to this virus,” DWSD Director Gary Brown said in a statement, according to the Metro Times. “[S]o for the duration of the COVID-19 situation, DWSD is implementing this plan to help make sure every Detroiter has access to clean running water.”

    The author, Michael Harriot, is extremely contemptuous of the move, especially the bottom line:

    For the TL;DR crowd, instead of simply offering amnesty, the city will collect $25 from already poor people to prevent the spread of a global pandemic. And if they are really close to dying for the heinous crime of not having enough money, they can ask the state to give them $25 dollars. The city probably got the idea from the great American motto, “Live free or die.”

    I have to say that $25 seems pretty cheap to me. But we appreciate the LFOD shoutout, Michael.


Last Modified 2020-03-13 4:34 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-03-11

  • Okay, so it's Wednesday. But that doesn't mean you can't go to National Review and read The Tuesday, Kevin D. Williamson's new weekly feature. Excerpt, after noting that he doesn't think highly of the current group of candidates:

    If you at any point feel feverishly obliged to send me a note that may be summarized, “But what about that other guy?” please save yourself the time and go back to . . . whatever it is you do. Not that any of the people reading this newsletter are like that guy. What guy? That guy. You know that guy. The lefty version of that guy will tell you that Trump is Hitler, and the incarnation of that guy you meet at church will tell you Trump is a version of the Bible’s King Cyrus. You do not want to be that guy. That guy cannot and will not hear criticism of any candidate other than the object of his hatred, because, “But what about that other guy?”

    When somebody says to you, “Elections are binary!” he is more or less showing you a flashing neon sign over his head announcing that he intends to be intellectually dishonest and is not worth discussing anything of substance with.

    The things that are wrong with Trump exist independently of the things that are wrong with Biden or Sanders, and vice versa. Yes, those of you who vote will on Election Day be obliged to choose one or the other (or the Libertarian Party candidate, or another third-party candidate), but there are conversations to be had and thoughts to be thought other than “Is it x or y?” Pretending that x/y is the only conversation to be had is sometimes stupidity but more often a form of intellectual cowardice and laziness, a way of not having to think too hard about the flaws and deficiencies of the man carrying the banner behind which you march.

    Partisanship makes you stupid, if you let it.

    There are people in this business who believe that their principal responsibility in professional life is getting somebody elected — or, as they will more likely put it, ensuring that the villain of the season does not get elected. My own belief is that advocacy journalism should still be journalism. I’m not in the propaganda business or the elections business, and I am not planning to go into the propaganda business or the elections business. And if what you want is to be propagandized, then you might want to skip over my byline.

    That was long, but worthwhile. The third-paragraph link goes to his latest book at Amazon, which I strongly recommend.


  • Also at NR, Kyle Smith casts his dispassionate eye on the ability of some to emulate Whitman and contain multitudes, specifically: ‘Grow Up’ vs. ‘Me Too’.

    A  favorite buzzword of the moment, along with “intersectional” and “gaslighting,” is “badass.” It’s peculiar to observe young women applying the label to themselves (though it would seem to be one of those honorifics, such as “intellectual,” and “hero,” that can be bestowed only by others) even as they publicly disintegrate at the slightest perceived transgression. Can you really be a “badass” if you profess also to be traumatized by a bad date, or by a man telling you he thought you attractive, or by being interrupted by a man at a meeting? Very often the self-styled badass woman will tell us that some quotidian male infraction rendered her short of breath, or bereft of speech, or nauseated in the tummy, or unable to work. Why do today’s “strong, confident” women so often make very public displays of weakness and an inability to cope?

    Because, as George Will eloquently put it, victimhood confers privileges. To put it another way, thin skin is now weaponized. Chris Matthews said two flirty things to a woman at a workplace; this “undermined my ability to do my job well,” the woman reported as though she’d been assaulted or brainwashed; and MSNBC brass were, in the current burn-the-warlocks atmosphere, obliged to take her at her ridiculous word that this was a shattering event. Wacky old Chris got the sack. Was firing him really the only suitable remedy? Not apology, not suspension — only ritual electronic seppuku would suffice? For issuing compliments in the third degree? (Oh, let’s not forget — he also made fun of Hillary Clinton a few times and questioned Elizabeth Warren with mild skepticism. A three-count indictment!)

    Fortunately, I'm out of the workplace and most other social interactions, so I don't have to worry overmuch about offending the oversensitive.


  • Pulling a good lesson out of the flaming campaign wreckage is Jacob Sullum at Reason: The Bloomberg and Steyer Fiascoes Should Give Pause to Speech Restrictionists.

    (And when I read that headline, my inner cynic said: "Should. But won't.")

    Two and a half weeks after Bernie Sanders slammed Michael Bloomberg for trying to "buy this election," the former New York City mayor dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, having spent $570 million of his own money to win 61 delegates. Tom Steyer, the other billionaire in the race, did even worse, abandoning his campaign after spending more than $250 million and earning zero delegates.

    Those spectacular failures should give pause to the politicians and activists who argue that money poses a grave threat to democracy—so grave that the Constitution must be amended to authorize limits on campaign spending. The Bloomberg and Steyer fiascoes show that no amount of money can buy victory for candidates who fail to persuade voters.

    I'd be open to the argument that "money" can help to get a message out to voters that they would not otherwise hear. But that's a good thing, friends.


  • Steve MacDonald has some thoughts on that line too, as he notes Philippe Reines' review of the new Hillary "documentary" on Hulu. Clinton FanBoy Wishes Her Hulu Documentary was Available in 2016. Specifically:

    Hillary (the Four-Part Series) would have violated McCain-Feingold on the identical terms under which Citizens United brought their suit to the Supreme Court.

    In other words, the ‘Hulu’ Riefenstahl Documentary on Hillary would be illegal to air as desired if the left got what it keeps saying it wants and overturned ‘Citizen’s United.’

    Unless of course by ‘overturn,’ they mean, as I suspect, that the goal is to silence speech they oppose while allowing biased multi-billion dollar left-wing corporate media to sell the Democrat agenda (for free), and smear their opponents while they have no recourse but to take it and voters to listen or turn it off with no opposing commentary – so many days before an election.

    Can't wait for… December, I guess.


  • At the Washington Examiner, Byron York provides Three reasons Joe Biden will never be president. And number one is:

    So the first reason Biden will not become president is that no one who served 36 years in the Senate has ever become president. No one who served 30 years in the Senate has ever become president. No one who served 25 years in the Senate has ever become president. No one who served 20 years in the Senate has ever become president. No one who served 15 years in the Senate has ever become president.

    That was lined up so well on the Examiner website that I thought it was a typo.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-10

  • At NR, Jim Geraghty makes a lot of sense: U.S. Coronavirus Spread: We Should Prepare for a Disruption. But I'll just share the bit that made me chuckle:

    No matter our politics, no matter our race, creed, or color, it is at moments such as this that everything that divides us falls away, and we realize what unites every last one of us as human beings: None of us can stop touching our face.

    Pun Salad Fact Check: True.


  • Also making even-handed sense is the Dispatch's Andrew Egger, who wonders: On Coronavirus, Can Trump Tell Us What We Need to Hear?

    It’s not hard to see why things like the coronavirus tanking U.S. markets get under Trump’s skin: He’s obsessed with keeping up appearances, and he bristles at being blamed for things he considers outside his own control. It’s the same outlook that was on display in a strange comment about a quarantined cruise ship he made during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, saying he’d prefer infected passengers stay aboard because “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

    I'm not a fan of the view that POTUS must play Reassuring Daddy to the nation. But (on the other hand) wouldn't you think that just this once Trump could turn off his "It's All About Me" default attitude?


  • We found Brian Riedl at the Daily Beast yesterday, today he's at the Dispatch, with the same theme. The Math Doesn't Work: Utopian Progressive Tax Plans Don't Add Up.

    Democratic presidential candidates have spent the primary season promising the largest non-war spending spree in American history. Sen. Bernie Sanders has promised a staggering $97 trillion over the next decade. Before she dropped out last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren had proposed approximately $50 trillion. Former Vice President Joe Biden has looked like Barry Goldwater by comparison, promising “only” $6 trillion in new spending above the current $60 trillion baseline level. All of these candidates are far to the left of President Obama, who regularly proposed about $2 trillion in new spending over the next decade.

    Let me offer an idea that may sound crazy in Washington, D.C. Before doubling government spending, why don’t we pay for our current commitments first?

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that annual budget deficits will surpass $1 trillion this year, and approach $2 trillion within a decade. Even if the presidential candidates actually paid for all their spending hikes—which is nearly impossible—it would still leave $13 trillion in underlying budget deficits over the next decade, and a national debt roughly the size of the entire economy. 

    Not only would it be nice if we paid for current commitments (or, even better, scale back the "commitments" to some saner level); it would also be nice if government got a lot better at meeting those commitments responsibly and competently. Before they even try taking on all that new stuff.


  • Speaking of handling commitments responsibly: At Reason, Peter Suderman notes something of you might not have heard: Congress Quietly Repeals More of Obamacare. But not in a good way.

    At the end of 2019, Congress repealed three significant tax components of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Each of them had been included in the initial legislation to raise the revenue required to pay for the new spending the law called for.

    The biggest of the three was the so-called Cadillac tax, which was expected to raise about $197 billion over the next decade. Congress also nixed the law's health insurance tax, projected to raise $150 billion over 10 years, and the medical device tax, projected to raise $25.5 billion. All three taxes were eliminated as part of a $1.4 trillion year-end budget bill that President Donald Trump signed at the last possible minute in order to keep the government open.

    Moral: it's safe to disbelieve any politician's claim about funding an expensive program. The spending is popular, paying for it less so.

Spenser Confidential

[0.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This Netflix streaming dreck is a "real movie" with an MPAA rating (R) and everything, so I'm counting it as a watched movie.

Reader, if you're thinking about watching this because you've maybe read some of the Spenser books, or maybe you liked the old TV show with Robert Urich? Eh, don't bother. I've read all the Spenser novels, even after Ace Atkins took over writing duties after Robert B. Parker died. Other than three characters in this movie having the same names as the book characters (Spenser, Hawk, Henry Cimoli), and being filmed in the Boston area, that's the extent of the resemblance.

Oh, I forgot: there's also Pearl the Wonder Dog, but she's is transformed into some sort of droopy-eared beagle.

No Susan, she's apparently too classy and smart; instead we have Cissy, a foulmouthed ditz played by Iliza Shlesinger.

The movie is allegedly based on Wonderland, a post-Parker novel, but … yeah, that's bogus too. (Our image is the retitled paperback.) The moviemakers seem to have felt that the novel's plot was too cerebral and short of action set-pieces. Instead, we have a lot of choreographed fistfights, one sleazy sex scene, and a bad guy mastermind I figured out in his first scene.

Here, Spenser is an ex-cop, and also an ex-con, due to his pummelling of a cop he suspects is dirty. Years later, he gets out, and has dreams of becoming a semi driver, and moving to Arizona. But that whole dirty cop thing is still going, and the cop he beat up years back is brutally murdered. So he's dragged back into it.

In other disquieting news, Colleen Camp is … well, way different now than she was back in the 70s-80s. Sigh.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-09

  • At the Daily Beast, Brian Riedl looks at the latest in bad math: In Bernie Land, $42 Trillion in Revenue Pays for $97 Trillion in Spending. It's a horror show, but here's just one of the head-shaking bits:

    Any credible economist will assert that raising taxes by $30 or $40 trillion would substantially harm entrepreneurship and economic growth, which would dampen the new revenues. Instead, Sanders assumes that these taxes would bring a burst of new economic growth that saves $3.6 trillion over the decade from new tax revenues and less need for safety net spending. No economic analysis is provided defending these extraordinarily unconventional assumptions.

    Additionally, the campaign estimates seem to simply ignore much of the revenue lost to the interactive effects of piling various new taxes on top of each other.

    Virtually all campaigns rely on some degree of rosy math and economics to make their promises look affordable. Bernie Sanders is promising the largest non-war government spending binge in world history. Realistically, the campaign remains more than $50 trillion short of paying for its promises, which—combined with the underlying $13 trillion baseline deficit—could push budget deficits beyond 20 percent of the economy. Sanders still has not satisfactorily answered how he would pay for democratic socialism.

    It's probably possible to pay for all the promised free goodies with taxes. But it wouldn't look much like America afterwards. For Bernie, I assume that's the point.


  • At NR, Alexandra DeSanctis has an amusing look at all the misdiagnoses of a campaign flop. Elizabeth Warren Campaign: Sexism Is Not Why She Failed. After looking at feminist post mortems at Medium, the Nation, the New York Times, and the Atlantic

    Shockingly, none of these articles grapple with that rather inconvenient fact: It was Democrats, not hateful Republicans, who voted in the Democratic primaries and who preferred other candidates over Warren. It’s difficult to blame misogynistic conservative white men for Warren’s failure when the people voting against her were Democratic women, very liberal Democrats, college graduates, and African Americans.

    Worth noting, too, is the fact that Hillary Clinton — also a woman — won the Democratic nomination not four years ago and went on to win the popular vote in the general election. Perhaps, then, the problem is not with pervasive sexism but with Warren herself and the way she conducted her campaign. Let’s consider where she might’ve gotten her reputation for insincerity.

    … and, well, we know where she might've gotten her reputation for insincerity.


  • At the Daily Wire, Joseph Curl notes the latest from the eldest female in the family unit that won't go away. NOT SORRY: Hillary Retracts Apology For Hiding Secret Email Server.

    When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was found to have a secret email server in her house, she apologized.

    But now she wants everyone to know that she’s not sorry anymore.

    In the new Hulu documentary titled “Hillary,” released on Friday, Clinton said she regrets offering the apology, saying campaign advisers told her to issue the statement.

    “We’ll just say what you did was a mistake. It was dumb. It’s over. And that will end it. I wasn’t convinced of that. But I understood the frustration of my campaign,” Clinton said. “So against my better judgment, I said, ‘OK, fine.'”

    I don't like Trump, but I can't see how anyone can read that and not realize how the country dodged a bullet back in 2016. Short summary of the admissions here:

    • She admits she was dishonest in her apology.
    • She admits she was insecure enough to let her "advisers" browbeat her successfully.
    • She dodges responsibility, blaming those anonymous advisers for a decision that was hers to make.
    • She refuses to admit that handling government business on a secret mail server was unacceptably risky, arrogant, and almost certainly illegal.

    Ah, well. As some country song said: how can we miss her when she won't go away?


  • How badly can a deep blue state screw up legalizing pot? Easy. Jacob Sullum at Reason: Even in California, Nearly All Patients With Vaping-Related Lung Injuries Used Black-Market THC Products.

    A new study of vaping-related lung injuries in California reinforces the evidence implicating black-market cannabis products, even in states that have legalized the production and distribution of marijuana for recreational use. In a sample of 160 patients, just 9 percent reported vaping only nicotine—a claim that is doubtful in the absence of blood or urine testing. Just 1 percent of the patients who reported vaping THC identified a state-licensed retailer as the source of the products they used.

    In this study, which was published last Friday in JAMA Internal Medicine, 75 percent of the admitted THC vapers said they obtained the products from informal sources. Among the 25 percent who initially said they had bought vapes from legal sources, just one patient named a licensed retailer. The rest either could not name their sources or said they bought cannabis products from pop-up shops, other individuals, or from a storefront that was not listed in the Bureau of Cannabis Control's database of licensees.

    Although licensed retailers have been selling marijuana to recreational consumers in California since the beginning of 2018, illegal dealers still account for about three-quarters of sales, largely because high taxes, burdensome regulations, licensing delays, and local bans have made it difficult for legal merchants to compete with the black market. This study suggests that the black market also accounts for nearly all of the products used by people with vaping-related lung illnesses.

    To slightly belabor the obvious: the study only dealt with survivors. The dead vapers could not be reached for comment.

The Phony Campaign

2020-03-08 Update

[Amazon Link]

Wow, what a difference a week makes. Our field of Four Old White Guys has become a field of Three Old White Guys with the departure of Mike Bloomberg, who (as it turns out) could not get it done.

And so much for the prediction power of betting markets. For all their alleged wisdom, the bettors failed to foresee Wheezy Joe Biden's comeback. Despite Joe's continuing battle with coherent thought, he and Comrade Bernie neatly switched places in the Win-probability standings. The net probability change between Joe and Bernie over the past week is about 46 percentage points.

And the likelihood of having a Trump/Biden election in November instead of Trump/Sanders shaved about four percentage points off the probability of a second Trump term.

Biden and Trump "lost" about 11 million Google phony hits over the week. Poof. Just disappeared. Trump still maintains a comfortable lead, though.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
3/1
Phony
Results
Change
Since
3/1
Donald Trump 52.4% -4.1% 1,630,000 -5,740,000
Bernie Sanders 4.1% -18.6% 456,000 -5,634,000
Joe Biden 38.8% +27.7% 442,000 +39,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • At the Federalist, Christopher Jacobs summons up an epitaph for a failed campaign: Mike Bloomberg Ran For President Like Mr. Burns Ran For Governor. If you need it, Christopher provides a synopsis of that wonderful Simpsons episode, "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish" from 1990 (aka "back when The Simpsons was funny"). But here's the comparison:

    As with Burns, Bloomberg’s campaign seemed designed for him to win the presidency without leaving a television studio. He entered the campaign very late—ostensibly because he developed second thoughts about whether former Vice President Joe Biden could win, but perhaps because he never wanted to bother himself with retail politicking (i.e., interactions with actual voters) in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

    While Bloomberg thought he could float above it all with hundreds of millions of dollars in ads, the first time he received a serious challenge—in the form of his fellow candidates on stage in Las Vegas—all his prior shortcomings came to the fore: His history of offensive comments towards women, his lack of transparency, and his sudden flip-flop regarding his policing policies while mayor of New York.

    In the morality play of an animated drama, the fictitious Mr. Burns found out the hard way that, try as he might, he ultimately couldn’t hide from voters—or his history. Bloomberg learned the same difficult lesson in Nevada, in a way that foreshadowed his candidacy would suffer the same ignominious end.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is an adorable Blinky keychain, which will only set you back a mere $79.99.


  • Also dropping out of the race this week was Senator Elizabeth Warren. Katie Herzog has the campaign obituary at Reason: Sexism Didn’t Kill the Warren Campaign. The Warren Campaign Killed the Warren Campaign. In case you were wondering.

    The candidate herself addressed the issue of sexism at a press conference outside her home Thursday, when a reporter asked about the role gender (née "sex") played in the campaign.

    "Gender in this race?" Warren said. "You know, that's the trap question for everyone. If you say, 'Yeah, there was sexism in this race,' everyone says, 'Whiner!' If you say there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, 'What planet do you live on?'"

    I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it's possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don't want a woman after all? I doubt it.

    There's a simpler hypothesis: she was off-putting.


  • Bernie's still alive, though. But (really) the mainstream knives are out for him. I can't help but wonder why Fareed Zakaria waited until now to let us know about Bernie Sanders’s Scandinavian fantasy.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says that his proposals “are not radical,” pointing again and again to countries in Northern Europe such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway as examples of the kind of economic system he wants to bring to the United States. The image he conjures up is of a warm and fuzzy social democracy in which market economics are kept on a tight leash through regulation, the rich are heavily taxed and the social safety net is generous. That is, however, an inaccurate and highly misleading description of those Northern European countries today.

    Take billionaires. Sanders has been clear on the topic: “Billionaires should not exist.” But Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States — Sweden almost twice as many. Not only that, these billionaires are able to pass on their wealth to their children tax-free. Inheritance taxes in Sweden and Norway are zero, and in Denmark 15 percent. The United States, by contrast, has the fourth-highest estate taxes in the industrialized world at 40 percent.

    More Scandinavian fun facts at the link. A useful article to have ready when some Facebook progressive starts touting them as countries to emulate.


  • One reason Bernie's still a viable candidate is that Wheezy Joe could gaffe his way out of contention. Tristan Justice at the Federalist has the unenviable job of noting the slipups, and here's an unforgivable one: Joe Biden Forgets The Declaration Of Independence.

    Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared to forget words to the Declaration of Independence Monday during a campaign stop in Texas, the day before Super Tuesday primaries.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Biden began before trailing off to forget the rest of the line. “All men and women created by- go- you know- you know the thing.”

    I just tested myself, and—yay, not senile yet—was able to get the quote correct without peeking.

    This is good news, because yesterday I was confronted with a WSJ acrostic clue: "Oscar nominee as Karen Blixen, Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher (2 wds.)" I immediately knew who that was, saw her in my head, I could name at least a dozen other movies she's been in, but it took me a disappointingly long time to remember her stupid name. If I ever get on Jeopardy!, I predict dreadful embarrassment.


  • Oh well. At NR Kyle Smith has an observation: Joe Biden's Super Tuesday Resurgence Should Make Democrats Very Nervous.

    So, let me get this straight.

    After a year of campaigning, discussion, and debate among the Democrats, as of early February the party had decided Joe Biden was the favorite for its presidential nomination: He led in 19 of the 21 national polls taken before the Iowa caucuses. Then people started to vote, and it turned out they didn’t like Biden at all. He finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a distant second in Nevada. As of last week, the Democrats had decided to be an openly socialist party: Bernie Sanders led 20 consecutive national polls after Iowa, half of them by double digits. And then, this week, Democrats decided not to be socialist after all: They just gave Biden, the doddering avatar of the party establishment, a resounding Super Tuesday victory.

    Maybe the Democrats really have no actual policy except beating Donald Trump. Biden and Sanders haven’t been saying anything new this year. (Though it’s possible voters were unaware that Sanders was so extreme he would — in 2020! —go as far as publicly defending Fidel Castro’s Cuba in both a 60 Minutes segment and the South Carolina debate). The thing that has changed twice is voting momentum and its attendant publicity. Sanders rocketed up in the polls when he looked like a winner, and Biden surpassed him after building momentum from a blowout win in South Carolina. Mike Bloomberg looked like a loser from the moment Elizabeth Warren tenderized him in the Las Vegas debate, and today dropped out after spending $500 million to win American Samoa.

    Fun fact: American Samoa has only been mentioned once previously on this blog, back in 2013, where we (for some reason) looked up the legislation

    Stop Tobacco Smuggling in the Territories Act of 2013 - Amends the federal criminal code to include American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam in the definition of "state" for purposes of provisions prohibiting trafficking in contraband cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

    Thanks goodness for that.


  • Also at NR, Kevin D. Williamson looks at Joe Biden: Not a Socialist, Just a Scoundrel.

    He is a vicious self-serving political hack, for one thing, one whose ambition leads him from time to time into shocking indecency. You may have heard that Biden lost his wife and daughter in a horrifying drunk-driving wreck, the fault of a monster of a man who irresponsibly “drank his lunch,” as Biden puts it.

    Never happened.

    Biden’s wife and daughter did, in fact, die in a car wreck. That is true. It is not true that the driver of the other car was drunk, that he had been drinking, or that there was any reason to believe he was drunk or had been drinking — or even that he was at fault. The late Mrs. Biden “drove into the path of [the] tractor-trailer,” the police report says. But Biden, like every other third-rate ward-heeler of his ilk, thinks and speaks only in terms of good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats — and if something bad happens to good people, then it must be because somebody in a black hat did something nefarious. The driver of that truck went to his grave haunted by Biden’s lies, to the point where his children were forced to beg the vice president to stop defaming their late father. The casual cruelty with which Biden is willing to subordinate the lives of ordinary people to his political ambitions — for the sake of a petty tear-jerker line in one of his occasionally plagiarized stump speeches — is remarkable.

    When you are utterly convinced of your own self-righteousness, ordinary checks on behavior can wane.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-07

[Amazon Link]

  • As one WSJ editorialist used to say all the time: what would we do without experts? So it's fitting that this article by Sumathi Reddy appears in the (probably paywalled) WSJ: Here’s Why Health Experts Want to Stop Daylight-Saving Time.

    Early Sunday morning, most people in America will spring forward and move their clocks one hour ahead to daylight-saving time.

    It is good news for those who enjoy more daylight in the evening. But experts say a growing body of evidence shows that the annual time shift is bad for our health, disrupting our circadian rhythms and sleep and leading to a higher immediate risk of heart attacks, strokes, atrial fibrillation and potentially car accidents.

    So, yet another way Our Federal Government is killing us. If I suddenly stop blogging tomorrow, you'll know what happened.

    Let me trot out once again one of my favorite crackpot ideas: The Right Number of Time Zones is Zero.


  • Genius Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw summarizes The Biden Tax Plan. (And links to a full analysis by the Tax Policy Center.)

    Most noteworthy is the huge increase in taxes on high-income households. The top one percent would see a 40 percent increase in federal taxes (all federal taxes combined). Their average federal tax rate would rise from 29.7 to 41.7 percent.

    The buried assumption is that Our Federal Government will take that extra money (estimated $4,000,000,000,000 over ten years) and spend/"invest" it more wisely and productively than the private citizens from whom they're grabbing it.

    Suggestion: the Feds should demonstrate doing that with the money they already get first. I won't hold my breath.


  • Ann Althouse has witnessed A ridiculous mix of masculinity and femininity, so absurd you're in no danger of believing or empathizing. Yes, it's Bill Clinton, who's interviewed in a new Hulu documentary about his wife. And after twenty-two years, he's come up with a brand new psychobabble explanation.

    Ann's analysis is short and sharp, so here's The Whole Thing:

    It's Bill Clinton, quoted in "Bill Clinton Explains Monica Lewinsky Affair as ‘Managing My Anxieties’/Mr. Clinton was asked about the scandal for the Hulu documentary series 'Hillary'" (NYT):

    "You feel like you’re staggering around — you’ve been in a 15-round prizefight that was extended to 30 rounds, and here’s something that’ll take your mind off it for a while,” Mr. Clinton says. “Everybody’s life has pressures and disappointments and terrors, fears of whatever, things I did to manage my anxieties for years."
    He pictures himself as a boxer going 20 rounds, then suddenly he's in Oprahesque confessional mode,  offering up bullshit bonbons of self-insight. Don't eat that. But it's good for a laugh.

    But it's really not so funny. He says "something that’ll take your mind off it" and "things I did." But the thing was a human being — a woman. Even as he's trying to present himself as having reflected and gained perspective and wisdom, he's still speaking of Monica Lewinsky as an object, understood in terms of what she did for him. His new insight is only to diminish the use she had. He ought to have managed his anxieties better, but at the time he took advantage of her — you know, of the thing.

    Bubba's new bullshit excuse will probably last only as long as it takes to come up with some different bullshit excuse.


  • Jonah Goldberg's new enterprise, the Dispatch, has moved over to paywall mode, subscriptions run $100/year, and since I am not floating in money, I am declining for now.

    But Jonah's weekly newsletter, the revered G-File is still free, as near as I can tell, and it's usually a hoot. In this week's entry, Jonah is Standing Athwart Progress, Literally. There are some political points made, but here's something I did not know:

    I think the brilliant linguist John McWhorter is absolutely convincing when he argues that words are always changing their meaning. Well, the words aren’t doing the changing; they’re not sentient entities. Rather, the meaning of words is constantly changing to fit the needs of speakers and societies. It’s all very, very Hayekian—which in lowfalutin language means “Duh, that’s right.” 

    Consider the word “cheater.” Originally, a cheater was a royally appointed officer who monitored the monarch’s escheats. These were lands that would revert back to being the crown’s property when the owner died without heirs. The thing is, the cheaters were famous, uh, cheats. In 1662, the English writer and clergyman William Gurnall observed that a “Cheater may pick the purses of ignorant people, by shewing them something like the Kings Broad Seal, which was indeed his own forgery.” Cheaters became so well-known for swindling people out of their lands that the title cheater took on a different meaning. I love the irony that we get the term cheater from the fact that cheaters prospered—which, I’ve been told, they never do. 

    Jonah goes on to describe the decline of the word "literally". And (what the hell) I'll excerpt that bit too:

    My use of “figurative” and “literal” above brings me back to McWhorter, who may be the foremost defender of using “literally” figuratively. Saying “literally” is just another way to add emphasis to what you’re saying, McWhorter argues. We all understand that someone isn’t speaking from beyond the grave—or telling their vampire origin story—when they say “I literally died.”

    I get it. But here’s my problem. We still need a word for “literally.” The only synonym for literally on this list that does the job of literally is “not figuratively.” But try using that in a normal sentence. “If we keep spending money this way, we’ll not figuratively go broke!” “The wolverine was so annoyed that it not figuratively ate the man’s penis!”

    Similarly, "racism". Among the woke, you can't be "racist" against white people.

    Yeah, fine, but in that case we still need a word for invidious slurs against people because of their skin tone.

A Trick of Light

[Amazon Link]

Well, I was seduced into getting this book by a Reason podcast interview with co-author Kat Rosenfield. Her collaborator: Stan Lee. Yes, that one. Before he died.

Kat seemed like a nice person, said some sensible things about cancel culture.

So I spent an Interlibrary Loan pick at the University Near Here, the it wended its way down from Bangor Public Library, and…

Well, it wasn't my cup of tea. I commit to reading library books all the way through, but instead of the "what comes next" elicited by even potboiler fiction, my recurring thoughts here were:

"Egads, this is stupid."

"Please make it stop."

"Why did they think this would be a good idea?"

It originally came out solely as an audiobook. Maybe it works better in that medium. But, a page at random (265): "The Inventor has warned him of what's to come: a global takeover that would bring the world as he knows it to an end, ushering in a new era like something out of a nightmare. A horde of networked humans marching through the streets, demanding cooperation — and forcing it one the ones who refuse."

Yeesh.

But, hey, you might like it.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-06

[Amazon Link]
You'll want to grab our Amazon Product du Jour before embarrassment forces it to be withdrawn from the market…

  • At Reason, Peter Suderman has sober analysis: Elizabeth Warren Drops Out. Her Failed Campaign Is a Reminder That Even Democratic Voters Don’t Want a Woke Policy Wonk in the White House.

    On the campaign trail, Warren called for trillions of dollars in new government spending on education and climate change, massive regulatory interventions into the structure and operations of large technology companies, criminal penalties for spreading voting disinformation online, and a radical revamp of corporate governance.

    Although she distinguished herself from the explicit socialism of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), her closest rival, by insisting that she was a capitalist "to her bones," Warren never really demonstrated much fondness for markets. More often than not, she appeared to view them as an inherently corrupt system that required aggressive management from an enlightened expert class. Warren was a capitalist who hated capitalism. 

    We'll probably have Elizabeth to kick around for awhile to come. But as Mark Steyn says, for now it's Pow Wow Ciao.


  • George F. Will has good news: Sensible Americans might be saved from dismay in November.

    “Enlightened statesmen,” wrote James Madison, “will not always be at the helm.” His genius extended to understatement, and until Tuesday it was approaching probable that by midnight of November’s first Tuesday, sensible Americans would be elated and distraught — elated because someone grotesquely unsuited to the presidency would have been denied that office, but distraught because such a person had won it.

    Together, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would constitute the most repulsive presidential choice in U.S. history. The Democratic Party, however, is not the world’s oldest party because it fecklessly allows its presidential nomination to be grasped by someone who — let us plainly state the most important fact about Sanders — dislikes this nation.

    I'm sorry, Mr. Will. The prospect of President Biden also dismays me.


  • At that notorious right-wing mag, the Atlantic, Edward-Isaac Dovere explains How Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden Enriched Their Families.

    Donald Trump has set a new bar for presidential self-dealing. But two of the Democratic front-runners have their own, lower-level history of mixing family and politics.

    Since the 1970s, Senator Bernie Sanders, who has spent his entire career railing against the political establishment, and Joe Biden, who likes to point out that he was for years the poorest member of the Senate, have repeatedly directed campaign dollars to close relatives. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders even directed taxpayer money to his wife. Some of these practices were touched on in reporting at the time, but the full picture has acquired new importance in the context of the campaign against Trump, whose golf outings alone have sent millions of taxpayer dollars to his family-owned firm.

    Click through for the deets. Trump is bad on this, of course. But when your self-image is one of overweening righteousness, it obviously gives you license to engage in behavior you'd decry as corrupt in others.


  • And I rarely tweet, but:

    Context, if you need it, is all over the place this morning, but I think Charles C. W. Cooke has an exceptionally cogent point beyond pointing fingers and laughing: The ‘Million Dollars Per Person’ Affair Is Telling.

    This, right here, is why so many left-leaning Americans think that “the billionaires” can pay for everything. It’s why Elizabeth Warren was enthusiastically boosted by the media despite her ridiculous pretense that she could pay for a series of gargantuan initiatives without raising taxes on anyone but the extremely rich. It’s why Democrat after Democrat promises not to raise “middle class taxes” while promising programs that require the raising of middle class taxes. How did this bad tweet make it onto TV to be endorsed? Why did Mara Gay agree with it? Why didn’t Brian Williams notice? Because the people involved in this clip thought it was true. This is how they see the world.

    If you're the kind of person who likes Facebook-fencing: the easiest way to knock a progressive off balance is with facts, data, and math. They'll often try to change the subject.


  • Tyler Cowen summarizes a recent paper: The Consequences of Treating Electricity as a Right. (We wild-eyed classical liberals would usually put sneer quotes around "right".) From the abstract (reformatted):

    1. In step 1, because a social norm has developed that all deserve power independent of payment, subsidies, theft, and nonpayment are widely tolerated.
    2. In step 2, electricity distribution companies lose money with each unit of electricity sold and in total lose large sums of money.
    3. In step 3, government-owned distribution companies ration supply to limit losses by restricting access and hours of supply.
    4. In step 4, power supply is no longer governed by market forces and the link between payment and supply is severed, thus reducing customers' incentives to pay.

    Left as an exercise for the reader. Plug other goods in for "electricity" and see how closely you get to reality.


  • And an LFOD reference at a law blog: Can You Be Sued for Spreading Coronavirus?

    What happens, for example, if you know you have the COVID-19 infection and fail to take the proper precautions—thereby spreading the contagion around and infecting others?

    A New Hampshire man could prove to be an interesting (hypothetical) test case here.

    According to a local NBC affiliate in New York, City, the unnamed Live Free or Die State’s index patient was told to stay put and self-isolate by medical professionals after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier last week.

    Dartmouth. What a smart bunch of people they have.

    Sometimes people use "Live Free or Die state" to avoid typing "New Hampshire" one more time. But in this case, it seems somewhat more than that.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-05

[Amazon Link]
Observation: you get an incredible amount of crap by searching for "billionaire" on Amazon. Unfortunately, I can't get the image for Fell For a Billionaire Vampire 2 to work here. So you get this instead.

  • I don't know if Bernie Sanders has specifically spoken out about the Billionaire Vampire Menace, but I assume they would be subsumed under his general aversion to billionaires.

    At AEI, James Pethokoukis dares to stand up for the disrespected: Here’s one way ‘abolishing billionaires’ would undermine Silicon Valley and America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. RTWT, but I especially like the quote James digs out from a debate between Steven Kaplan and billionaire-bashing Gabriel Zucman:

    Jeff Bezos was worth $4.7 billion or $5 billion in 2000, at the peak of the dot.com bubble. Amazon hadn’t really succeeded then.… So if you would put a 5 percent wealth tax on him when it was $5 billion, that’s a $250 million tax. By the time he would probably get around to paying it, which would be June, his shares were worth 2.5 billion. So now to get the $250 million, he would have to sell 10% of his shares. But then oops! But we have a 50% capital gains tax. Got to sell 20 percent of my shares. So in six months, under this plan, he would have to sell 20 percent of Amazon in that situation. Which would probably — what would that do to the stock price? Probably drive it down further. So maybe 25 percent of Amazon. Do you want Jeff Bezos to be selling 25 percent of Amazon? In 2000? Then you wouldn’t have Amazon, there wouldn’t be ton of innovation.

    Kaplan also recounts the likely effect of a wealth tax on Elon Musk's and Steve Jobs' ventures.


  • When he's not excoriating rich people, Bernie's mooning over the "democratic socialist" states in Scandinavia. In the WaPo, Fareed Zakaria has some reality-based observations about Bernie Sanders’s Scandinavian fantasy.

    Take billionaires. Sanders has been clear on the topic: “Billionaires should not exist.” But Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States — Sweden almost twice as many. Not only that, these billionaires are able to pass on their wealth to their children tax-free. Inheritance taxes in Sweden and Norway are zero, and in Denmark 15 percent. The United States, by contrast, has the fourth-highest estate taxes in the industrialized world at 40 percent.

    Fareed has other valuable insights, so if you know how to evade the Post's democracy-dying-in-darkness paywall, go for it.


  • Hey, kids, what time is it? At NR, Congresscritter Dan Crenshaw says It’s Time for Conservatives to Own the Climate-Change Issue.

    There is an interesting political tactic often employed by the Left, and it follows a predictable pattern. First, identify a problem most of us can agree on. Second, elevate the problem to a crisis. Third, propose an extreme solution to said crisis that inevitably results in a massive transfer of power to government authorities. Fourth, watch as conservatives take the bait and vociferously reject the extreme solutions proposed. Fifth and finally, accuse those same conservatives of being too heartless or too stupid to solve the original problem on which we all thought we agreed.

    This is the pattern we have seen play out with respect to climate change. With ever-more-extreme “solutions” such as the Green New Deal being proposed, conservatives have quickly taken the bait, falling into the tired political trap set by leftists. But I believe we no longer have to do this. We can fight back against the alarmism with tangible solutions based on reason, science, and the free market.

    Dan focuses on carbon capture technologies. We've previously linked to this skeptical article by Steve Milloy. I'm more persuaded by Team Milloy, but make your own call.


  • Is there anything more mealymouthed than the overused "moderate" label? At Reason, Peter Suderman is even more put out than I when it gets used inappropriately: Joe Biden Is No Moderate.

    Consider Biden's health care plan. Although he has criticized Medicare for All, the fully government-run system favored by Sanders, Biden has proposed a significant expansion of the Affordable Care Act that his campaign estimates would cost $750 billion over a decade, nearly as much as the original bill signed by President Barack Obama. Although it would not nationalize the financing of health insurance, as the Sanders plan would, Biden's proposal would nevertheless set up a new, government-run insurance plan, expand eligibility for insurance subsidies well into the middle class, and make benefits available to people who can access coverage through their employer. If enacted, it would represent a major increase in government spending on health care and a substantial increase in the government's involvement in the health care system. 

    Beyond health care, Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion climate plan that is similar in scope to many candidates on his left and a $750 billion education plan that would be used, among other things, to increase teacher salaries and provide expanded access to pre-kindergarten. He favors an assault weapons ban and other gun control measures, a national $15 minimum wage, and a raft of subsidies, loans, and other government-granted nudges designed to promote rural economies. Has proposed $3.4 trillion worth of tax hikes—more than double what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed when she ran in 2016. 

    It would be nice if we had a presidential candidate who could point this out effectively to the voters. Unfortunately, we got Trump.


  • Hey, remember when Kirsten Gillibrand was running for president. Good times, huh? Unfortunately, she didn't go away. The intrepid Veronique de Rugy considers a scheme she's pushing: Paid Family Leave Act Will Have You Paying $10 for a $4 Cup of Coffee.

    Under the FAMILY Act, the federal government would offer 12 weeks of paid time off to enable workers to care for infants, recover from major illnesses and care for severely ill relatives. During that time, employees would receive benefits administered by the Social Security Administration equal to 66% of their regular earnings, with a minimum monthly benefit of $580 and a maximum monthly benefit of $4,000. To pay for this new handout, the federal government would impose a 0.4% payroll tax to be divided evenly between employers and employees.

    Gillibrand argues that the act would provide greatly needed benefits to employees at a minimal cost to them. One of her favorite talking points about the proposal is that it would cost employees only $4 a week, or the equivalent of a cup of coffee.

    Unfortunately, the senator's assertion is quite misleading. For starters, a 0.4% hike in the payroll tax would not be enough to pay for the federal spending under the plan. The Congressional Budget Office, or the CBO, released a score of the bill as introduced and found that the FAMILY Act would increase spending by $547 billion in benefits and administrative costs over 10 years, but it would only increase net federal revenues by $319 billion during that time. That means that $228 billion in spending wouldn't be paid for by the FAMILY Act's new tax.

    Free stuff from the government can be very, very expensive.

Jojo Rabbit

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Like probably everyone else in the movie-watching world, I had my doubts about this. But I admit I was surprised at how well this worked for me.

Jojo is a 10-year-old boy. Unfortunately, he lives in 1944-5 Germany, and he's fully invested in the whole Nazi thing. To the extent that his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. He's off to Hitler Youth camp, but to the despair of the camp counselor and most of his fellow young Nazis, he still retains a few shreds of decency (being unable to strangle a bunny on command) and is extraordinarily inept at soldiering. That last bit leads to a near-fatal unfortunate grenade incident. Which (in turn) sends him, limping and scarred, back home to Mom (Scarlett Johansson).

Where he discovers that Mom is hiding a young Jewish girl.

None of this sounds remotely as if it could be funny. But it is ("at least for me") because imaginary-friend Hitler is a boob, and everyone else realizes the absurdity in all the mayhem.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture) and won one ("Best Adapted Screenplay"). Scarlett Johansson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and I think Sam Rockwell was robbed by not being nominated for his role as Captain Klenzendorf, a cynical German soldier relegated to teaching Hitler Youth.

Dark Sacred Night

[Amazon Link]

Another page-turner from Michael Connelly. I'm trying to figure out why I like his books so much. His style is pedestrian, dialogue is pretty wooden. In his favor, his stories firmly hold my interest, and the police-procedural details are hyper-realistic. At least as far as I know.

This is billed as a "Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch" novel. We met Renée a couple books back (The Late Show). Here, she's working the night shift, doing her usual brilliant detective thing at the LAPD's Hollywood Division. When she notices a stranger pawing through some old case files. Meet Harry, Renée.

Bosch is not supposed to be doing that. But he's working a plot thread from the previous book (Two Kinds Of Truth) where he met a painkiller-addicted woman despondent over the murder of her daughter years ago. Harry pledged to investigate.

Renée wants in. And so they both set out to investigate this very cold case. Do they succeed in bringing the perpetrator to justice? Spoiler: yes, eventually.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-04

  • I got into a "discussion" on Facebook with a guy who posited a cause-and-effect relationship between the tax rates of the Eisenhower era (91% top marginal rate, 50% corporate rate) and the allegedly-healthy middle class and general economic prosperity.

    We didn't get much into substance, and I could tell the guy was someone who'd automatically disdain sources like Kevin D. Williamson at National Review. But, dear reader, I assume you are OK with it, so check out Bernie Sanders’s — and the Left’s — Fake Fiscal History of 1950s America. For people—like Bernie—who hold the era up as an example of an "economy that works for everyone":

    Start with the taxes. In real terms, Americans paid almost exactly the same taxes in the 1950s as they pay today. Federal taxes from 1950-1960 averaged 16.8 percent of GDP; this year, federal taxes are projected to amount to almost exactly the same: 16.7 percent of GDP. There were some very high statutory (that’s how political types say “on paper”) income-tax rates in those years — 91 percent at one point — but practically nobody paid those rates. In fact, in spite of the claims you hear from Senator Sanders et al., wealthy Americans pay remarkably similar tax rates today to what they paid in the past. If you dig into the Congressional Budget Office numbers, you’ll see that the effective total federal tax rate for the top quintile and the top 1 percent have not moved very much over the years.

    When the famous/infamous Reagan tax bill was passed, the top 1 percent were paying about 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to the CBO, and in 2016 they paid quite bit more, about 33 percent. The 1-percenters have been paying a federal tax rate in the high 20s to middle 30s since for a long time, even as tax legislation has changed. What has changed more significantly is that the lower-earning half of U.S. households have been taken off the income-tax rolls almost entirely, though they still pay a relatively heavy payroll tax. It is no great surprise, then, that the wealthy pay most of the federal taxes in gross terms and pay much higher tax rates, as the CBO reports: Households in the top income quintile pay about twice the tax rate as those in the middle; those in the top 1 percent pay even more.

    KDW goes on to note that the guns/butter ratio for Federal spending was also much higher in the 1950s.


  • In a Reason article written before Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the race, Eric Boehm has some advice: Losers Bloomberg and Steyer Spent Millions. Stop Freaking Out About Money in Politics. (And, actually, make that hundreds of millions.)

    It's fashionable for Democrats—and, if polls are to be believed, many Republicans too—to believe that something must be done about the supposedly intolerable influence of money in American politics.

    Indeed, there is a lot of money in American politics, as the ongoing Democratic primary (and every election in recent memory) makes clear. But after Super Tuesday, it seems clear that candidates cannot buy their way into the White House.

    Former Vice President Joe Biden, who appears to have been the big winner on Tuesday, had fundraising issues during the primary campaign. He was outspent not only by Bloomberg and Steyer, but by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). Biden won Tuesday's primaries in Minnesota and Massachusetts while spending hardly any money in either place.

    "We believe in old-fashioned democracy: one person, one vote, not billionaires buying elections," Sanders said at a rally in mid-February.

    Well, good news for Sanders. Billionaires aren't buying this election.

    As Fidelity continues to tell me, however: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. If the GEICO ad geniuses turned their talents to political commercials, the results could be different.

    But until then…


  • At AEI, James Pethokoukis—thank goodness for copy-and-paste—baits and switches: Wealth inequality in America has skyrocketed — unless it hasn’t. And it might not have.

    One of the supposedly indisputable economic facts about “Late Capitalism” America is soaring wealth inequality. By some calculations, the wealth share of the top one percent has grown by about 10 percentage points — from around 30 percent to 40 percent — over the past three decades. That’s a big jump.

    Now by “wealth,” inequality researchers typically mean marketable wealth, or the value of all assets owned by households, net of debt. But there’s a weird quirk with that definition, one that may cause wealth inequality to be vastly overstated. The issue is explored in a fascinating preliminary paper with a spoiler in the title, “Social Security and Trends in Inequality” by University of Pennsylvania researchers Sylvain Catherine, Max Miller, and Natasha Sarin. From that paper (bold by me):

    Recent influential work finds large increases in inequality in the U.S., based on measures of wealth concentration that notably exclude the value of social insurance programs. This paper revisits this conclusion by incorporating Social Security retirement benefits into measures of wealth inequality. Wealth inequality has not increased in the last three decades when Social Security is accounted for. When discounted at the risk-free rate, real Social Security wealth increased substantially from $5.6 trillion in 1989 to just over $42.0 trillion in 2016. When we adjust for systematic risk coming from the covariance of Social Security returns with the market portfolio, this increase remains sizable, growing from over $4.6 trillion in 1989 to $34.0 trillion in 2016. Consequently, by 2016, Social Security wealth represented 58% of the wealth of the bottom 90% of the wealth distribution. Redistribution through programs like Social Security increases the progressivity of the economy, and it is important that our estimates of wealth concentration reflect this.

    Interesting! I've never been persuaded by the folks who beat "inequality" like a drum. I doubt (however) they'll stop beating it even if/when more careful accounting makes it significantly less of a "problem".


  • Megan McArdle… well, you should read her no matter what, because she's a refreshing voice of sanity on any topic. But here she is on the crisis du jour: Coronavirus and government responsibility on testing.

    It’s not yet clear how serious coronavirus is. It is difficult to calculate fatality rates for a novel virus when many people who are infected may be asymptomatic. For the same reason, it’s challenging to know exactly how fast the virus spreads. That’s also why the precise effect of strong public health measures, such as hand-washing campaigns and school closures, cannot be predicted — whether they can slow it enough to keep the load on the health system manageable and give researchers time to develop a vaccine.

    Two things, however, are abundantly clear. First, the virus is potentially serious enough that you should wash your hands. A lot. Grab a handrail as you went down the stairs? Wash your hands. Returning home from the grocery store? Wash your hands. About to pull a chip from the chip bowl? Wash your hands first. Happen to be strolling past a bathroom but don’t need to go? Make a quick pit stop anyway to wash your hands.

    [Yeah, OK, Mom!]

    It’s also obvious, however, that the federal government will have to do more than tell everyone to wash their hands, or even get out of its own way and let hospitals test for coronavirus. For example, Congress and President Trump should jointly announce that the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of testing and treatment.

    Sounds eminently sensible.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for this article from a local radio station: Here Are the 5 Most-Watched Videos Featuring New Hampshire. Here's number five, rough language ahead:

URLs du Jour

2020-03-03

  • Show either how historically well-informed or surprisingly ignorant you are by taking this Storyline Quiz on Democracy.

    I … did not do as well as I would have hoped.


  • What could go wrong? Ryan Saavedra tells us the latest shrewd Biden move: Joe Biden Declares Beto O’Rourke To Lead Biden’s Anti-Gun Agenda.

    Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden embraced far-left anti-gun extremist Robert Francis O’Rourke during a rally on Monday night in Texas, declaring that the failed Senate and presidential candidate was going to lead Biden’s anti-Second Amendment efforts.

    “I wanna make something clear, I’m going to guarantee you this is not the last you’ve seen of [O’Rourke],” Biden told the audience. “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me. You’re going to be the one who leads this effort.”

    Beto, of course, is the guy who famously said "Hell Yes, We're Going To Take Your AR-15'." Some one should ask Joe if that's the position he's adopting.


  • With Steyer, Klobuchar, and Mayor Pete no longer playing the "I can be President" game, it may seem obvious, but Jonah Goldberg hits it: Early voting is a bad idea.

    Under California’s new voter protocols, as many as 4 in 10 Californians may have already voted, either by mail or at voting centers, in the primary set for Tuesday. And what about those who cast ballots for Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg or Tom Steyer, all of whom announced in the last few days that they were dropping out? Their votes simply won’t count. As [the Los Angeles Times] reported on Sunday, almost half of the 20 Democrats whose names appear on the California primary ballot have pulled out of the race.

    But that’s only the most obvious problem with this infernal fad that puts convenience above citizenship. Early voting also makes strategic voting more difficult. Say you voted for Elizabeth Warren a month ago, on the first day of early voting. It’s not that you loved her; it’s just that you thought she’d be a better general election candidate. Well, she’s now looking like such a long shot that a vote for Warren is likely to be a vote wasted — and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    It's yet another thing New Hampshire gets right.


  • Another entry in the "Headline Implies a Very Long Article" department here at Pun Salad comes from David Harsanyi: What Young Americans Don't Know About Socialism.

    Pundits have argued that younger voters, especially those under 30, are less inclined to be bothered when they hear the word “socialism,” since they have no firsthand memory of the Cold War.

    To some extent, this must be true. Those who weren’t alive during socialism’s cruelest catastrophes—or even its many banal failures—will be less put off by the idea.

    Then again, if a presidential candidate were praising the excellent public transportation system of the Third Reich or going on about some alleged benefit to American slavery, they rightly would be chased from the public square forever— even though the vast majority of voters have no firsthand knowledge of the Holocaust or slavery. Anti-Semitism and racism haven’t disappeared, and neither has Marx, sadly.

    Only in the Babylon Bee could you read "Bernie Sanders Praises Slave Owners For Free Housing Program."


  • At the NYPost, John Podhoretz describes What the NYT’s 1619 Project aims to teach your kids. Assuming you know the background of "1619":

    The Pulitzer Center (not related to the Pulitzer Prizes) has designed an entire curriculum based on 1619: “The 1619 Project is more than a magazine issue. It’s a national conversation that demands analysis, reflection and insight from students.”

    The material invites students to “come together as a class to create a new timeline of US history. Your timeline should start with the year 1619; work with your classmates to order the rest of the events you compiled.” Yes, students who don’t know anything about US history are being tasked to “create a new timeline” of it. This is what propaganda is. This is what propaganda does.

    It's shameful.


  • At AIER, J.P. Koning touches on a long-standing bête noire of mine. Specifically, The $1 Coin: World’s Worst Monetary Idea.

    I mean, I used to rant about it on Usenet fer goodness' sake.

    There are a lot of bad monetary ideas floating around. Few are as awful as the American one-dollar coin, however. Despite almost fifty years of existence, the $1 coin has perennially failed to gain currency in the US.

    Unfortunately, this particular bad idea hasn’t expired. Alaska’s governor has just signed a bill into law urging the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury to authorize the production of 5 million one-dollar coins for circulation in Alaska. According to Coinworld, this would amount to seven coins for each Alaskan.

    Previous Pun Salad ranting on this abomination in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2016.


Last Modified 2020-03-03 1:04 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-03-02

[Amazon Link]
Amazon Product du Jour explained below.

  • We have to hustle to keep up with all the disappearing Democrats. Jim Geraghty brings us yesterday's news: Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of Democratic Primary Race.

    Pete Buttigieg is leaving the presidential race. His decision comes as a surprise; this morning, his campaign was still urging supporters to get out the vote on Super Tuesday.

    A decent number of Buttigieg supporters are now up for grabs in the Super Tuesday states. Buttigieg is at 13.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average of Massachusetts, 13 percent in Colorado, 11.5 percent in Virginia, 9.5 percent California, 7.5 percent in Texas, 6.8 percent in North Carolina.

    (As of Thursday, more than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting. Hope they didn’t vote for Tom Steyer or Pete Buttigieg.)

    That last bit is interesting. Do early voters for defunct candidates feel especially stupid when their vote becomes even more meaningless than usual?


  • Katherine Mangu-Ward only writes once per month for her magazine, but it's always worth reading: The National Interest, C’est Moi. During impeachment, Alan Dershowitz was pilloried for his expansive notion of the limits of valid exercise of Presidential power. Yet…

    Yet the same Democrats who descended into dread at Dershowitz's thought experiment about the relationship between executive power and national interest seem disconcertingly lacking in self-awareness about how such a critique would apply to their own plans for the day their party once again holds the reins.

    [Today's dropout Amy Klobuchar] has promised to use executive action in her first 100 days to enact new policies on gun control, financial regulation, immigration, union protections, cybersecurity, and much more. She has made these promises, one assumes, out of mixed motivations: She believes such actions would be in the national interest, but she also thinks that promising to do these things will increase her chances of being elected and that doing them will increase her chances of being re-elected.

    Staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) have already begun drafting the dozens of executive orders that would be required to fulfill the promises he has been making for the debut of his presidency, from directing the Justice Department to legalize marijuana to declaring a climate change emergency to banning the export of crude oil to canceling all federal contracts that pay workers less than $15 per hour.

    And of course there's Bloomberg.


  • I got a huge favorable response on Facebook when I noted to my high school class group about the 50th anniversary of the release of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Mark Steyn does his usual exhaustive job on the song's history. Sample:

    When you're weary of songs that feel small, it's nice to have a song that feels big - seems to be about something more than just boy-meets-girl, goes on twice as long as your run-of-the-mill pop record, has a sense of its own importance but not to the point of self-parody ("Bohemian Rhapsody"). For a long time "Bridge Over Troubled Water" fulfilled that role. In 1973, when Capital Radio became the first ever (legal) commercial music-format radio station in the United Kingdom, Richard Attenborough launched the station by welcoming listeners and then playing, as the very first record, Simon & Garfunkel. Until well into the Eighties, whenever Capital and many other stations polled listeners on their all-time Top 100, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" would invariably be voted Number One. It had a broad appeal. Back in the Sixties, Simon & Garfunkel were the rockers your parents liked. Not just put up with, but really liked: Nestling among the Ray Conniff LPs and Fiddler on the Roof cast album, you could usually find a Bookends or Sounds of Silence, and well played, too. I once made Paul Simon visibly bristle when I said airily that a lot of suburban couples with two on the aisle for Hello, Dolly! listened to their eight-tracks of Bridge Over Troubled Water while driving to the theatre. But he conceded the essential truth of the observation. The Bridge album became one of the biggest sellers of the rock era, and its title track hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 exactly fifty years ago - February 28th 1970. It marked the high point of the Simon & Garfunkel collaboration - and also the end:

    More at the link, including this True Fact: Paul Simon had written a song titled "Cuba Si, Nixon No" for the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album, but we were spared that when Art Garfunkel refused to sing it. (You can find it via the Google; I listened to about 20 seconds and gave up.)


  • Tom Gagnon, "Guest Columnist" for the Rock Springs Wyoming Rocket-Miner, triggers our Google LFOD News Alert for his musings on Hitchhiking, yesterday and today.

    Driving by the sign “HITCHHIKERS MAY BE ESCAPING INMATES” took me aback. Making an illegal U-turn in front of the medium-security WS Key Correctional Center on a rural Oklahoma highway this February, I drove back to snap a couple of pictures of the sign.

    Reflecting upon many hitchhiking journeys of my own, through Europe, Canada, Alaska, across the U.S., and even across the length of Central America and parts of Mexico, too, was I being stigmatized as an “escaping inmate”?

    Maybe I am an escaping New Hampshirite, from the “Live Free or Die” state of my birth. Besides the state’s motto sounding like something from a suicide cult, the French motto on retreating is more appealing, “Live to fight another day.”

    Tom, you are … not missed, I'm pretty sure. But please note that LFOD was originally French ("Vivre Libre ou Mourir"). Just before they started guillotining people they didn't like.


  • I've seen people griping that the Union Leader may be "mellowing" from its once-ferocious conservatism/libertarianism. Maybe, but you can't tell from this recent editorial: Is 'Live Free or Die' being replaced?

    If New Hampshire nanny state partisans have their way, you will soon be fastening your seat belt not because you choose to, but because you are ordered to. It kind of makes driving around with “Live Free or Die” on your license plates a bit ironic, no?

    The editorial goes on to wonder whether the motto will be changed to "Buckle Up Or Else".

Venom

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

Surprisingly good!

A megazillionaire is sponsoring space exploration for his own nefarious purposes. Mankind is destroying the planet, so he plans to set up shop Out There somewhere so he can live like a space emperor. Or something; I may not have been paying attention when the evil plot was explained.

But one of his probes returns with deadly aggressive metallic snot creatures, some of which immediately get out of control. They are "symbiotes", who like to glom onto humans, infiltrate their bodies, and take over, not always successfully. The bad guy sees them as someone he can do business with, and sets about experimenting with human subjects. Who are not providing informed consent. Results are discouraging and disgusting.

But the overall goal is for the bad guy to bring back lots of these creatures to Earth and take over.

Enter our hero, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). Fired from his investigative journalist gig because he tried to investigate the wrong guy (our villain), he blunders into the lab/lair where the aliens are being held and… oops, he's taken over. Fortunately, he survives, and develops a complex relationship with his symbiote, aka Venom. And they mutually decide to do that thing heroes do: defeat the villain's plot.

It's even more ludicrous than the usual comic book movie, but maintains a surprising amount of humor. Venom and Eddie have a contentious relationship and bicker a lot. Remember The Odd Couple? Yeah, like that.


Last Modified 2020-03-02 8:50 AM EDT

The Contact Paradox

Challenging our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

[Amazon Link]

I picked this book up on impulse from the Portsmouth Public Library. A decent read, sometimes mind-blowing, marred somewhat by the author's politics.

The concept is pretty simple: we're here, we're (somewhat) intelligent, there's nothing to say we're particularly special in the universe, therefore it's easy to conclude there's almost certainly other intelligent life out there. OK, not on Mars or Venus (sorry, 1940s SF fans). But on other stars' planets. So let's use the tools at our disposal to look for it.

Fine. Some people go a lot further than that: the language they use betrays their fervent hope/belief that there must be ETIs Out There. Is that a proper scientific mindset? I don't think so.

The author, Keith Cooper, starts at an unexpected place with a chapter on "altruism." Which turns out to be kind of a shorthand. If we assume ETIs, can we also assume the ETI's motivations and attitudes toward (say) us would be benevolent, and willing to share? Intelligence aside, is whatever evolutionary path they followed likely to have resulted in a psychology that would be similar to ours?

And (for that matter) let's not put intelligence aside. Say that some alien evolutionary process produces living beings capable of complex responses to the environment. Would that result in an "intelligence" we'd even recognize, let alone communicate with?

Well, you get the idea: evaluating the likelihood of ETI involves looking hard at "how we got here". This takes Cooper down some unexpected paths, for example, plate tectonics. Which (many believe) caused upwellings of trace elements into the oceans, driving the proliferation of species.

How rare are planets with plate tectonics? We don't know.

And then there's the Moon: it's huge. Because it's huge, it stabilizes Earth's axial tilt, which gives us a relatively stable climate, giving species precious time to adapt and thrive. And yet, it was (probably) caused by a freak collision between Earth and some Mars-sized early planet.

How likely is that to happen elsewhere? We don't know that either.

Then there's the possibility that "intelligent" species have a finite lifetime. That would explain why they're not obviously knocking on our door: they're dead. Cooper goes into (you might find this depressing) detail about various ways our species could bite the dust, either by suicide (climate change, nukes, aieee!) or natural catastrophe (e.g., asteroids, nearby supernovae or gamma ray bursts).

These musings are only a small part of the book. Cooper delves into the details of the history and current status of searches for ETIs. Radio? (What frequencies, Kenneth?) Maybe the ETIs are using lasers? Masers? Infrared? Neutrinos? Maybe we should be looking for Dyson (RIP) Spheres?

And another issue: should we be proactively sending out signals to other systems, hoping for a response? This is surprisingly controversial. My old college classmate David Brin is mentioned here about being pretty freaked out about efforts in that area. Who exactly should bear responsibility for "talking" to ETIs? How should "we" decide the content of such messages? Do we hold a democratic vote? I say: just let Brin decide.


Last Modified 2020-03-02 8:41 AM EDT

One Good Turn

[Amazon Link]

This is the second entry in Kate Atkinson's series about sorta-detective Jackson Brodie. For some reason, I liked it better than the first one. There's still plenty of sordid and violent behavior. The characters are a miserable bunch, saddled with guilt, depression, and an number of dead parents, children, spouses, and siblings. Jackson's probably the most likeable of the lot, but even he's kind of a Sad Sack, unhappy even with the small fortune and the girlfriend he (spoiler coming up!) acquired in the previous book.

But he's off to Edinburgh with that actress girlfriend, who's appearing in a local play. And he's one of the bystanding witnesses to an inexplicable display of road rage; the would-be victim is saved by the intervention of a meek author. Whose ouevre is solely pseudonymous cozy mysteries set in the 1930s. Also involved in the (at first seemingly unrelated) plot threads: the wife of a corrupt homebuilder who's had a heart attack while under the ministrations of a Russian hooker; the lady cop who's charged with investigating the various crimes involved, but her son and his buddy have come into possession of … oh, well, that's enough.

Even among all the darkness, there's a considerable amount of hilarity. Ms. Atkinson is fond of providing the stream-of-consciousness for her multiple characters, and they're fond of making acerbic comments on their various plights. ("Squirrels are eating my house," the lady cop observes to Jackson.)

The Phony Campaign

2020-03-01 Update

[Amazon Link]

Welcome to March! Our phony campaign loses another candidate today, with Mayor Pete's hopes of being President Pete (again) plunging below our 2% threshold.

But President Biden suddenly looks significantly more attractive to the oddsmakers, his win-probability bouncing up by over 8 percentage points. Still well behind Bernie and Trump, though.

Bloomberg is still alive after losing nearly 4 percentage points, but he's obviously having some difficulty explaining to people why his manifest personality flaws are more excusable than Bernie's or Joe's.

In terms of phoniness, however, it's really come to a two-person race:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
2/23
Phony
Results
Change
Since
2/23
Donald Trump 56.5% -2.0% 7,370,000 +5,440,000
Bernie Sanders 22.7% -1.0% 6,090,000 +5,589,000
Joe Biden 11.1% +8.1% 403,000 -72,000
Michael Bloomberg 4.8% -3.8% 100,000 -18,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

Diversity watch on our current slate: 100% white, 100% male, 100% septuagenarian. But (hey) 25% Protestant, 25% Catholic, 50% Jewish.

  • Although he's not (yet) running for President, Andrew Walz has made some phony history.

    Andrew Walz calls himself a "proven business leader" and a "passionate advocate for students." Walz, a Republican from Rhode Island, is running for Congress with the tagline, "Let's make change in Washington together," or so his Twitter account claimed.

    Earlier this month, Walz's account received a coveted blue checkmark from Twitter as part of the company's broader push to verify the authenticity of many Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates currently running for office. Twitter has framed this effort as key to helping Americans find reliable information about politicians in the leadup to the 2020 election.

    But there's just one problem: Walz does not exist. The candidate is the creation of a 17-year-old high school student from upstate New York, CNN Business has learned.

    To quote Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot: "Well, nobody's perfect."


  • Philosopher Michael Huemer attempts A Right-Wing, Populist Critique of President Trump. He contends that "most Republican voters" are immune to Trump-bashing emanating from other viewpoints.

    He also equates "most Republican voters" as "alt-right", which I consider sloppy and somewhat slanderous; I left a comment to that effect.

    But slanderous labels aside, this seems spot on:

    Mr. Trump is not Christian, nor is he helping Christianity in the long run. He is among the least pious public figures in America and is probably the first atheist President (though he will not publicly admit that). He shows no interest in such Christian virtues as humility, or charity, or chastity, or piety; he is if anything an enormous advertisement for the opposite of all those traits. His position as the nation’s leader helps to promote his combination of deeply profane attitudes, to make them seem socially acceptable and even to encourage admiration for them.

    His current putative pro-life stance is probably just a stance of convenience, as he previously called himself “pro-choice in every respect”. Most likely, he does not care about the unborn, any more than he cares about conservatism or the Republican party. But, just as he is weakening the Republican party, he is probably weakening American Christianity, through dividing Christians and turning ordinary Christians against core values that their belief system has hitherto supported.

    By the way, he also used to be a ‘liberal’ and a fan of Hilary Clinton, before he was running against her. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK1QzLW13hI, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7BsXluIq-0). He just decided to become a “Republican” so he could get power. Mr. Trump does not care about the things that sincere Republicans or Christians care about; he just says whatever he thinks is useful for manipulating other people, to get himself money and power. His business career was focused on tricking other people into giving him as much as possible of what he wants, while giving them as little as possible of what they want in return (often refusing to pay even what he agreed to pay). And that is exactly what he has done to the Republican party, and to the country.

    I've never been a Trump fan, so I'm 80% in agreement with Huemer. But he fails to consider the obvious objection to his argument: "Yeah, maybe, but [insert Democrat name here] is worse."


  • At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty says Goodbye, Liz, You Lied & Pandered Your Way Out of Race. (Okay, Liz hasn't been in our credible-candidate list for a long time, but this is hard to resist.)

    But the Left rejected her as a phony. She wouldn’t call herself a socialist, like Bernie Sanders. Also, if you looked carefully, the plans weren’t socialist in a traditional sense. They weren’t intended to destroy the social stratification of American life, but to reinforce it. In the debate preceding the South Carolina primary, Warren said that cancelling student debt was one of the ways she would help black and Latino Americans achieve equality with their white peers. But of course, this would be the equivalent of passing reparations for the doctors, lawyers, academics, and other professionals who hold the bulk of the loan debt and who would benefit the most from seeing it disappear. Working-class kids, disproportionately black and Latin, who saved their pennies, paid their freight as they went along, and chose an affordable night school would come out the biggest sucker of all.

    She was also a phony in deeper ways. Elizabeth Warren vowed to stop taking the support of super PACs, which she opposed as part of her anti-corruption agenda. She had already tapped out her donor network in super Pacs before she stopped taking their money. Or so she thought. More recently, she reversed her position on super PACs once again and raised millions of the supposedly corrupt soft money in the days leading to Super Tuesday.

    I saw a Super PAC ad for her while watching Friday's Hawaii Five-O on a Boston station. I'm not the target audience, but I wasn't impressed with the quality.


  • Peter Kirsanow posts at the NR Corner about the most likely Democrat: Bernie Sanders, the Most Useful Idiot.

    Bernie Sanders is, to put it gently, either terminally obtuse, mentally unbalanced, or dangerously dishonest.

    That Sanders could’ve visited the Soviet Union during the Cold War and, with all of the evidence before him, come back extolling the country’s systems, programs, and infrastructure, reveals either stupidity on a galactic scale, certifiable delusion, or a willingness to perpetuate the greatest lie in modern history.

    Is there an "all of the above" option there, Peter?


  • Joe won big in South Carolina yesterday, the voters there apparently unappalled by Ed Morrisey's post earlier in the week on Joe Biden's gaffery. For example:

    Just to be clear, Joe Biden was last in the US Senate eleven years ago, and last ran for that office in 2008, beating Christine O’Donnell handily (after which he resigned to be VP). That might be just a force-of-habit mix-up, but it’s a strange one to have after nearly a year of running for president and two consecutive terms of running for vice-president. On top of that, the delivery almost sounds as though Biden’s on autopilot, using a speech he might have written in 1978 and regurgitating as though it’s the best his memory can do.

    And maybe that’s exactly what is happening.

    Also mentioned: Biden's claims (1) that he met with Deng Xiaoping, long after that despot was safely in Hell; (2) that he was arrested in South Africa for attempting to visit a jailed Nelson Mandela.

    Ah, well, at least President Biden will be entertaining for a while.


  • And Pete's gone from our standings, but Power Line gives us one last phony observation: is Mayor Pete: Plain Vanilla Obama?. Providing this video:

    How many hours did Pete practice in front of a mirror to get that down?


  • And finally a Reason shot across the Bloomberg bow from Matt Welch: Michael Bloomberg Wants Public Health Policy Based on ‘Science,’ Which Would Be a Huge Change for Michael Bloomberg. Matt's especially teed off by Bloomberg's smug debate hubris: "You should listen to the scientists and the doctors."

    Bloomberg is the country's leading advocate for banning e-cigarettes in the name of public health, despite conclusive proof that vaping is one of the best harm-reduction strategies that smokers can employ short of quitting nicotine altogether. He is also the leading advocate for gun control, in which service he tells campaign whoppers about children killed by gun violence that are just 73 percent off the mark.

    Nonetheless, credit where credit's due to the Democratic presidential candidate currently polling in third place nationally after dropping a cool half-billion on his three-month quest: The government should listen more often to scientists and doctors. Then maybe politicians wouldn't campaign on such anti-scientific, freedom-restricting claptrap.

    Letting people decide on their own what to ingest is anathema to the nannies.